With a lot of contracts, Riyadh would try to restore its image in France. According to Mediapart, an advisor to Jean Castex would have taken part in this type of communication operations, of which a source from RT France confirms the existence.
Does Saudi Arabia have well-placed intermediaries in France to defend its image damaged by the murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi or the war in Yemen? According to Mediapart, the current communications advisor to Prime Minister Jean Castex, Mayada Boulos, would indeed have led a lobbying operation in favor of the Saudi kingdom when she worked at the Havas agency between 2016 and 2020.
The advisor explained to the online media that the agency’s client was not the Saudi state but the philanthropic foundation Misk, nevertheless created in 2011 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said MBS. Also according to Mayada Boulos, it was a promotion mission of the tourist site of al-Oula, in the north-west of Saudi Arabia, aimed at “publicize a historical and cultural site, its monuments and activities ”. She still ensures: “[les] diplomatic or sovereign subjects were not part of the mission ”. As part of her function with the Prime Minister, the one who went through the office of the former Minister of Health Marisol Touraine ensures “not to deal with subjects which were the subject of a mission within the framework of [ses] functions at Havas ”.
Khashoggi case does not call into question our contract with Saudi Arabia
Yet traditionally an ally of the United States and France, the Saudi kingdom (and in particular MBS) is accused in a declassified American intelligence report on February 26 of having “validated” the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. The body of this journalist, who became a critic of Saudi power, had notably been cut out in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
In addition, in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia started the fight in March 2015 against the Shiite Houthi rebels supported by Iran, the conflict caused what the UN calls “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”. Riyadh has also been singled out on several occasions for strikes targeting civilian populations.
However, the Havas agency does not deny its commitment to the communication of Saudi power, as explained by its vice-president Stéphane Fouks, to Challenges, in November 2018: “The Khashoggi affair does not call into question our contract with Saudi Arabia. The empty chair policy has never been ours. We prefer to be on the side of the reformers and do useful things. ”
One of its French competitors, the Publicis agency, would also have adopted the same position, according to Benoît Muracciole, vice-president of the NGO Action Sécurité éthique Républicaine, interviewed on March 1 on RT France. . “According to our information, the Saudis have paid the Publicis and Havas agencies to prevent bad talk of what is happening in Yemen,” he explained. Mediapart specifies that the Publicis agency “has increased the number of contracts in recent years” with Riyadh. “Obviously, the tactic [de l’Arabie saoudite] seems to be very effective, ”confirms Benoît Muracciole.