Saoud Alqahtani and Salman Al-Ansari are two of the most important figures in the new Saudi lobbying team, both coming onto the political scene after the current crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, took power.
Alqahtani is responsible for talking to the Saudi citizen and Al-Ansari is responsible for gathering foreign support, in a newly focused lobbying strategy for the kingdom.
Alqahtani is a top royal court advisor, who started work there in 2012. He then became a minister and was in charge of media observation and analysis.
Alqahtani graduated from the school of law at King Faisal University, before receiving a master’s degree in criminal justice from Naief Arab University. He then started lecturing at King Faisal Air Academy.
Here comes the link between Alqahtani and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (or MBS). Alqahtani was lecturing at military school when MBS was assigned as minister for the military.
MBS replaced his old lobbying team after it failed to influence foreign public opinion in the way that he had hoped.
The 11 September 2001 attacks on New York mark the beginning of Alqahtani’s role. They were the milestone that made the Saudi administration realise it needed to guarantee its influence on the US administration. This was the reason the Saudi lobby enhanced its communication and public relations sectors.
Qorvis Communications LLC sent a statement to the Saudi ambassador in the US at the time, Bandar Bin Sultan, revealing that he had spent $11 million in four months on lobbying activity.
Spending on communications companies kept escalating until 2006, before levelling off in 2014.
As the 2015 Iranian nuclear programme negotiations at the UN Security Council achieved progress, Saudi Arabia felt the need to contract the largest possible number of communications companies to influence the executive and legislative powers in the US.
But Saudi lobby efforts went in vain, especially when US Congress passed the JASTA law, which enabled 9/11 victims to sue the countries that were involved in the attacks – with Saudi Arabia being the primary target.
Alqahtani emerged during the ascendance of the new regime led by Salman.
Documents reveal that the royal court media and studies centre, led by Alqahtani himself, contracted the Podesta Group in 2016 for $140,000 a month for public relations services.
MBS’s men continued to take control of Saudi lobbying activities, but Alqahtani was leading the media campaigns against supposed threats to the kingdom, especially Qatar, Iran and other Islamist groups inside and outside Saudi Arabia.
Alqahtani makes use of the information he gets in his position and uses it in the Saudi context.
Hence, Alqahtani moved between between directing the lobbying groups outside Saudi Arabia and influencing the Saudi people within the MBS administration.
Alqahtani is one of those who had a special position due to their personal relationship with MBS. Those who have personal relationships with MBS have major influence now and they are treated especially well by the Saudi media.
The political exploitation of their campaign against terrorism affected the credibility of Saudi intentions, as they have attacked Qatar while continuing to flatter Israel, while trying to promote their social and economic plan, Vision 2030.
Political analyst Salman Al-Ansari, the leader of the Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee, is meanwhile working to educate US citizens of the Saudi-US relationship.
King Salman nominated his son Khaled to be Saudi ambassador to the US, which is considered an indicator of the strong connection between Saudi and US administrations.
Saudi lobbying activities also go in tandem with those of the UAE, with both pushing for a normalisation of relations with Israel.
Al-Ansari called for a Saudi-Israeli alliance, considering it a historical chance for a new era of peace.
Al-Ansari wrote in a June 2017 article, “Israel has a unique location that would help Saudi Arabia in the economic development in the coming years.”
Al-Ansari alleged that, “Israel has the most advanced technologies at water and mining, which are going to be a crucial know-how disciplines for Saudi Arabia.”
He continued that Saudi Arabia and Israel would form the twin pillars of “peace and development” in the Middle East.
The Times of Israel announced that the normalisation of activities with Saudi Arabia is not yet public, but the two countries recently held several secret talks about regional security and improving the relationships.
The Times of Israel also reported that the campaign in the Saudi media against antisemitism was a means of achieving a key goal of the pro-Israel lobby – the normalization of relations between the countries.
Observers have speculated that MBS is using the idea of Saudi Arabia’s normalisation with Israel as a gateway to influencing the US, which requires showing hostility to all Palestinian resistance movements.
Despite all of these efforts, the Saudi lobby represents political failure. It has failed to stop the passing of the JASTA law or the Iran nuclear deal, making it relatively unsuccessful compared to the UAE lobby.
Trita Parsy, professor of international relations at John Hopkins University, expects the Saudi lobby will continue to influence the current US administration, perhaps pushing it to change some parts of the JASTA law. Either way, the Saudi kingdom would face the annoying prospect of lobbying for minor changes, rather than calling the shots.