The Middle East is sensitive stomping grounds for anyone in business – for many reasons. Then again, oil money pays well.
The world’s largest PR firm, Edelman has recently been hired by the Saudi Arabian government. Their female staff who works on the account won’t need to worry about driving when they go visit their client – Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world which doesn’t permit women drivers. The American State Department says “discrimination against women is a significant problem” in Saudi Arabia. Quite a contrast for an industry where it’s estimated that 75% of the PR industry is women.
According to a federal lobbying filing Edelman Worldwide is working on a variety of assignments for the Saudis from December 19, 2012 through the end of 2013 – with tasks including development and production of brochures, book development/giveaways, video production, and more. And just 2 weeks ago, the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) hosted “The 4th Public Relations Forum” in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The SaudiKingdom (which spent millions after 15 of the 19 9/11 bombers were found to have been Saudis) has consistently spent a lot on public relations efforts. Of course, what should be examined is why they spend so much oil money on PR.
In part, perhaps its because Saudi Arabia has the highest execution rate per capita in the world. Recently seven men were executed by the government – after torture and without lawyers or the right to appeal at their trial. Saudi Arabia doesn’t recognize the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Saudi Arabia has a judicial system based upon Islamic law – which considers public beheadings to be acceptable forms of punishment – along with occasional stonings. All Saudi Arabian women are required to have a male guardian and need their guardian’s permission for marriage and divorce; travel, if under 45; education; employment; opening a bank account; and they can’t drive or vote.
While we have worked for political and governmental interests in Lebanon, Morocco, Israel and elsewhere in the region, am wondering (aloud) if others in the PR industry have concerns about working in the Middle East. Some have made clear that Arab oil is holy.
A NY PR Agency, Brown Lloyd James has worked with Syrian President Assad and Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi. Burson-Marsteller in Europe made their feelings clear a few years ago about the Middle East: “Israel is an extremely controversial project, and we will not deliver tender to such a project in Norway. We must think of our other customers; and cannot without any good reason undertake controversial projects. Israel is a particularly controversial project.” (Israel ranks higher on democracy, freedom and women’s rights than any other Middle East country.) Bahrain, which has a horrid human rights record in the last 12 months, has hired at least ten public relations companies since last year.
One wonders how many reporters are spun every year with Arab oil dollars – while terrorism continues.