Even as evidence mounted last week that a Saudi Arabian hit squad had murdered and dismembered his friend, Jamal Khashoggi, Washington operative Ali Shihabi took to Twitter to do what he does best: defend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The global outrage over Khashoggi’s murder has forced many Washington lobbyists and public relations pros to cut ties with the Saudi government. But not Shihabi, a Saudi national who may be the country’s most effective defender in the U.S. capital. Media savvy and politically shrewd, Shihabi has relationships with prominent journalists, Trump administration officials and think tank experts throughout Washington. The Saudi ambassador left Washington earlier this month and reportedly may not return, but it matters less given that many already consider Shihabi, who is close to the Saudi leadership, to be the kingdom’s unofficial envoy.
A former banker and novelist who leads the nonprofit Arabia Foundation — a think tank founded in the belief that the Saudi government was not making an effective case in the U.S. — Shihabi can often be seen on the D.C. circuit, hitting book parties hosted by the likes of the operative-hostess Juleanna Glover and dining at spots like the Monocle and the Four Seasons with such A-list media figures as Fox News host Tucker Carlson. He also hosts off-the-record dinner-discussions in Georgetown for journalists and policymakers.
He describes the foundation as an independent think tank funded by himself and other Saudi businessmen. The foundation doesn’t take Saudi government money, Shihabi says, though he acknowledges that he informed Saudi officials about his plans to establish the foundation, partly to ensure financial support from other Saudis.
Here is a link to the Arabia Foundation.
Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about think tanks weighing whether or not to take Saudi money.