Extreme Makeover: Mideast Autocrat Edition

From Moammar Qaddafi to the house of Saud, six repressive rulers who hired PR firms to help clean up their images

<a href="https://secure.flickr.com/photos/byammar/2701802819/in/photostream/">Ammar Abd Rabbo</a>/Flickr

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It’s gotten tough for Middle Eastern autocrats to keep up appearances. But Western PR firms are ready to help—for a price. As a disgusted former employee of Qorvis Communications told the Huffington Post, “These scumbags will pay whatever you want.” Some recent examples:

Hosni Mubarak

Egypt

World Economic Forum/Flickr

Egypt

darkroom productions/Flickr

PR headache:

The former Egyptian president’s (above left) record of 26 years of economic stagnation and political repression

Image makeover:

DC-based Qorvis Communications announces in 2007 that Mubarak has embarked on “a new era of open elections.”

Price tag:

$125,000

Bahrain

World Economic Forum/Flickr

Bahrain

malyousif/Flickr

PR headache:

The 230-year-old monarchy answers calls for reform with arrests, beatings, and shootings.

Image makeover:

Qorvis publicizes the regime’s $3 million donation to famine-stricken Somalia. Sanitas International and ex-Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi sign on to provide “strategic communications counsel.”

Price tag:

$40,000/month (Qorvis)

Undisclosed (Sanitas/Trippi)

Syria

Anmar Abd Rabbo/Flickr

Syria

Syria-Frames-of-Freedom/Flickr

PR headache:

International condemnation for the bloody repression of antigovernment protests

Image makeover:

Brown Lloyd James helps get First Lady Asma al-Assad (above left) a spread in Vogue. The magazine calls her “the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies” and Syria the “safest country in the Middle East.”

Price tag:

$5,000/month

Yemen

Egypt

Wikimedia Commons

Egypt

Al Jazeera English/Flickr

PR Headache:

Months of demonstrations and violence threaten the Yemeni government, headed by President Ali Abdullah Saleh (above left).

Image Makeover:

Qorvis does “media outreach” for the National Awareness Authority, a pro-government propaganda group

Price Tag:

$30,000/month

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

Ammar Abd Rabbo/Flickr

Saudi Arabia

NidalM/Flickr

PR Headache:

The Middle East’s oldest ruling family, headed by King Abdullah (above left), gets a tad nervous about the Arab Spring.

Image makeover:

A Qorvis press release emphasizes that the country’s restless youth—not oil—are “its greatest natural resource.”

Price tag:

Undisclosed. (The Saudis paid Qorvis more than $11 million for similar work in 2002.)

Moammar Qaddafi

Lybia

Vectorportal/Flickr

Ammar Abd Rabbo/Flickr

PR Headache:

The former Libyan president’s reputation as a megalomaniacal, terrorism-sponsoring despot

Image Makeover:

Brown Lloyd James helps set up Qaddafi’s 2009 speech at the UN. Hopps & Associates buses in fans to watch and hands out T-shirts. The Monitor Group, a consulting firm, signs up “to enhance the profile of Libya and Muammar Qadhafi.”

Price Tag:

$1.2 million (BLJ)

$665,000 (Hopps)

$3 million/year (Monitor)

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This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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