Saudi Arabia turns to foreign social media influencers to improve its image

The kingdom aims to present to young people that there's another side to the story about Saudi Arabia than what they simply read in the press, according to the program's chief.


News Desk |

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has turned towards social media influencers in a bid to clear its tainted image of being an authoritarian regime. The reputation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sharply nosedived after the horrific murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi happened, at a time when Saudi Arabia was seen to be gradually releasing itself from the clutches of conservatism and religious fundamentalism.

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Saudi Arabia received global dissension for its heinous act of silencing the dissent. An American influencer and travel vlogger Aggie Lal recently toured Saudi Arabia for 10 days. Her Instagram account with 800,000 followers was flooded with interesting pictures including her exploration of ancient Saudi ruins and frolicking in the desert.

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You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I love to imagine there's no countries… Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too. Just all the people living life in peace ✌🏻👩‍👩‍👧‍👦👩‍👩‍👧‍👦 ☮️ #JohnLennon #mood #dreamers ::::: Captured by @moliverallen for @gatewayksa ::::: Special thanks to my dad for exposing me and explaining this song to me at the age of 7 — changed my world for sure😊 ::::: #gatewayksa #saudiarabia #saudi #desert #camels

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Her visit was organised by the Gateway KSA, a program that started offering tours two years ago and is funded by Saudi corporate sponsorship. The program runs under the supervision of Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the former Intelligence chief. Saudi Arabia has approached several social media influencers to hone its positive image worldwide.

“What we present to these young people is that there’s another side to the story about Saudi Arabia than what they simply read in the press,” Prince Turki says of the guests of Gateway KSA. “We have much to do in the kingdom to affect the opinion of others.”

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The Gateway is a program launched by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to open up Saudi Arabia to the world through social media. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman seeks to transform the country towards modernity under his signature Vision 2030, a comprehensive plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and lessen its dependence on the dwindling oil reserves.

Saudi Arabia has gone far beyond its conceivable limitations to facilitate social media influencer. In a country where unmarried couples are admonished and even subjected to lashes in severe cases, Lal was allowed to travel the country with her boyfriend. Lal and a shirtless man, his face covered, posed in the desert with a sword.

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There was a language in the world that everyone understood. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired 💫 #TheAlchemist ::::: It’s been forever since I was in the flow of creativity so deep, this entire week has felt like a one long moment of ‘now’. I owe it to the talent (& humor) of @moliverallen who together with @seapea.vibes and myself created some incredible moments (& photos) together like this one here. Moment I will remember forever! Thanks boys for your drive & wiping my tears sometimes haha ::::: Photo idea: me 😌 Photo by: @seapea.vibes Photo edit: @moliverallen using his presets 💪🏻 #dreamteam :::: Please note that the sites of Madain Saleh are currently closed to the public whilst the Royal Commission develops the area to allow for future tourism. I received an official invitation allowing me to film and document these sites to share it with you. #DiscoverAlUla #LivingMuseum #AlUla @gatewayksa #saudi #saudiarabia #stars #nightphotography

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Gateway KSA, an idea originally rooted by Dutch-Australian influencer Nelleke Van Zandvoort Quispel who visited the Kingdom on business but used her platform to reveal the world the other side of the KSA. She proposed the idea to Prince Turki when they met at a Georgetown University event. The first Gateway KSA delegation, a group of students from Harvard, visited in 2018.