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

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)