Bell Pottinger: a disgraced PR firm and its work in the Middle East


Since 2009, Bell Pottinger has had a series of lucrative contracts with Bahrain’s repressive regime aimed at polishing up its image. However, its Bahrain-related activities — which included placing favourable articles in the media and lobbying western governments — attracted criticism, even from some who supported the regime.


In 2011, as Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule in Yemen was coming to an end, Bell Pottinger got a contract from a mysterious body called the National Awareness Organisation — headed by president’s nephew, Colonel Tareq Saleh, who was also in charge of the presidential guard.


In 2006 Asma al-Assad, the Syrian president’s wife, approached Bell Pottinger for help in creating a more open and westernised image for Syria and its ruling family. Lord Bell told the New York Times she contacted the firm after several first ladies, including Laura Bush, began to hold annual meetings and conferences. “She wanted to be a part of that club,” he said.


Last year the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that Bell Pottinger had been paid more than $500 million dollars by the United States for “dark arts” work in Iraq following the 2003 invasion.


In 2011, shortly after the uprising against the Gadafi regime began, Mohammed El-Senussi, the self-styled Crown Prince of Libya, hired Bell Pottinger to help “arrange humanitarian aid”, assist with a tour to meet Libyan groups and — some suspected — to improve his chances of succeeding to the throne.

Other Middle East clients

Other notable Middle East clients of Bell Pottinger have included Qatar Airways, the Emirates airline and the Egyptian government during the Mubarak era. The firm currently has wholly-owned Middle East offices in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Dubai.



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Brian Whitaker

Brian Whitaker

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: Author of 'Arabs Without God'.