Pierre Kunisa, a former senior employee of the French Ministry of Defense, prepared a confidential report on the Saudi lobby in France for the benefit of prominent French companies, and singled out “Al-Akhbar” with an interview in which he presented his most prominent conclusions.
In what context did Saudi Arabia realize the necessity to develop a policy of communication and influence in Western countries?
– Qatar represented the most prominent challenge for Saudi Arabia because it possessed its own diplomacy and achieved great successes, such as the establishment of the “Al-Jazeera” channel, which has turned into a recognized international media outlet. Since the 1990s, the Qataris have normalized their relations with Israel quietly and without making much noise about the matter. When Abu Dhabi recognized Israel, he presented this as a great achievement, even though the Qataris were pioneers in this area. On the other hand, we must not forget that Qatar’s wealth is due to its investment as a joint gas field between it and Iran, which means the impossibility of its complete bias with Saudi Arabia. In exchange for these successes, the Saudis realized that they do not know how to communicate effectively with Western countries and influence them, and that they need a real policy in this field. They estimated that they should rely on international communication companies that know well Western societies and the most effective ways to influence them. Ironically, the Saudi media policy was based on not discussing the situation in Saudi Arabia and preventing any discussion of this country as much as possible.
Riyadh has signed contracts with the 5 largest companies operating in the field of communication, with the French “Havas” and “Publicis”, and with “Interpublic”, “Omnicom” and “WPP” of America. The latter has assigned other companies to carry out their tasks to not reveal the identity of their customers.
How did you put this policy into practice and managed to achieve one of its most important goals, which is to prevent what is happening in Saudi Arabia?
– The policy makers considered that its goal is to communicate with 3 parties and seek to influence their positions. The first party is the Western politicians. The best way to buy their silence is to sign “letters of intent” for possible decades during their visit to Saudi Arabia. When former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2015, he promised to negotiate contracts worth 10 billion euros. In May 2017, Trump went to Riyadh and signed arms contracts worth $ 110 billion. In fact, we are nothing but promises to negotiate. We cannot claim that there are actual contracts that have not been implemented since that date. However, this is enough for Western officials to announce their success in achieving achievements upon their return home. In this way, their silence is bought and they do not say a word as long as negotiations over these hypothetical contracts do not take place.
The second party are businessmen. When they are invited to “Davos in the Desert” and learn about the huge “NEOM” project, this futuristic city whose construction cost rises to 500 billion dollars, businessmen consider that even if they get 0.5 percent of the project, they will make huge profits. And cheerfully return to their countries. The organizer of “Davos in the Desert” was keen to attract intellectuals and industrialists, and a significant portion of the world’s business circles and political leaders, to attend it, one year after the session that was boycotted due to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. All of these travelers are drawn to their countries, convinced that the future of the global economy is linked to developments in Saudi Arabia.
The third party that the Saudi lobby is heading to is the Muslim elites in the West. The latter was persuaded that criticism of Saudi Arabia was a criticism of Islam. The “French Islamic Council” did not issue any statement regarding the Yemen war. The interpretation of this silence cannot ignore the fact that the majority of its members have travel agencies and organize annual Hajj campaigns. If the Saudi embassy suddenly announces that it will reduce the number of entry visas it grants, they will be directly affected. I’ll give you another example. When preparing a report entitled: “What policy to combat the growth of extremism in France?” In 2014, I contacted the Anti-Islamophobia Committee and asked to meet with them to find out their views on this topic. The spokesperson for the committee answered me that this topic does not concern them and that they only deal with issues related to Islamophobia. We are faced with institutional silence about Saudi Arabia’s role in spreading Salafism, which I touched upon in my books, “Dr. Saud and Mr. Jihad” (written by former Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine).
Will the Saudi lobby function in France similar to the one in the United States?
It is not an organized lobby with a central leadership, rather it is decentralized to a large degree, but the result of the efforts of the various parties working within its framework is flowing in the same course. In the United States, the Saudi lobby is very strong and gives great attention to universities and provides them with gifts and grants to neutralize researchers. In France, it deals with various political, economic and media institutions. Imagine that Mrs. Elizabeth Badinter, the well-known feminist thinker, who on the other hand owns 35 percent of the shares of Publicis, is defending women’s rights across the globe, with the exception of Saudi Arabia. It is true that the Khashoggi case shook consciences, but the Western reactions to it cannot be compared to those directed against Russia after the Scripal case. In the second case, the bank accounts of members of the Russian oligarchy abroad were frozen, and punitive measures were taken against this country, etc. … No action has been taken against Saudi Arabia until now.
Researcher and former employee of the French Ministry of Defense
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