Influencer's 'Insensitive' Saudi Arabia Photoshoot Sparks Age-Old Debate

Fever pitch irony.

Saudi Arabia is now hiring influencers to boost their kingdom’s popularity after, among other things, last year’s murder of The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Of course, its government’s actions in Yemen, as well as other cultural factors (and the fact that it’s exceedingly difficult to get a visa) mean Saudi Arabia has never been Amalfi-coast popular.

However, as Bloomberg reported last week, Instagram influencers like Los Angeles-based travel blogger Aggie Lal have been invited to give Saudi Arabia a social media facelift, as the kingdom prepares to make tourist visas available for the first time later this month.


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It took me a while to decide if I should accept the invitation of @gatewayksa and visit Saudi Arabia. I asked myself: Do I judge a country by its people or the government? Am I willing and capable of visiting a place that has gotten a lot of negative press in Western media and see it and its people with an open heart and mind? ::::: I’ll share with you my impressions of Saudi in the next few days so stay tuned and in the meantime let me know what you would ask a local Saudi person if you got a chance to chat with them over a cup of Arabic coffee? How much do you know about Saudi in general? I’m curious! ::::: ***’Disclaimer: ‘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’. ::::: @gatewayksa is a NGO not assosicted with the KSA, all views are my own. Photo by @moliverallen ::::: #DiscoverAlUla #LivingMuseum #AlUla @gatewayksa #gatewayKSA #saudiArabia #saudi #abaya

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“Her 10-day tour was arranged by Gateway KSA, a program that started offering tours two years ago and is funded by Saudi corporate sponsorship. It’s hosted by Prince Turki Al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief who later had a short stint as Saudi ambassador to the U.S. following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,” Bloomberg reported.

Bloomberg also divulged that Prince Mohammed, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, has “loosened social restrictions and championed events including a concert by French DJ David Guetta at a motor racing festival also attended by influencers.”

However, even though Gateway KSA operates in the private sector, the fact that its sponsors include state-controlled Saudi Telecom, Saudi Basic Industries, and Saudi Arabian Airlines has drawn scathing criticism online, with many of Aggie Lal’s followers calling her involvement “insensitive” and “cheap.”

“Kinda insensitive,” one wrote. “If money was accepted from the government to further the political agendas of improving the country’s image. Is this not sneaky government-sponsored propaganda, or am I mistaken?”

“This country that paid you to promote it kills innocent people and mostly children in YEMEN for years now, kills women for stupid reasons, killed a journalist and now you are there telling us… to visit? SHAME ON YOU,” wrote another.

“Ummmmm…. what? You do realize how oppressive that government is, right? How you’re a pawn right now,” another remarked.

Others asked her to consider how her “influencer life” would have panned out had she been born in Saudi Arabia, and slammed her caption in which she explains how hard it was to choose whether or not to accept Gateway KSA’s offer.

“Well, money helps to decide right?”

However, despite receiving a deluge of criticism, Lal stayed strong, asking her followers to trade their “cleverness” for “bewilderment” and posing a question that leads into an age-old debate.

“If you wanted to help women in Saudi have better human rights would you boycott visiting the country OR would you encourage all women around the world to travel there to connect, get to meet and make friends with and listen to the needs of Saudi women so we can help each other out?”


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Sell your cleverness for bewilderment 🐫 ✨🐪 ::::: 📸 by @moliverallen for @gatewayksa #saudiarabia #desert #camels

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In any case, as Bloomberg points out, “[Photoshoots like] this would have been inconceivable in Saudi Arabia five years ago, when religious police roamed the streets shouting at women to cover up.”

Enter 2019 and they are now choosing the scantily-clad demi gods of Instagram (yes, Jay Alvarrez got in on the action too) to spruik their kingdom.


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Fever pitch irony.


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