Saudi promotional campaign for crown prince's UK trip flops
Saudi efforts to rally support in Britain for a controversial state visit by the kingdom's crown prince seem to have fallen short despite a costly public relations campaign.
Promotional posters of Mohammed bin Salman have popped up across London in prime locations this week ahead of the much-hyped visit while major newspapers have published half-page advertisements for the charm offensive.
UK-based Campaign said that Saudi authorities have spent close to £1 million ($1.4 million) on the ads.
Industry sources told the business magazine on Monday that the advertisements, with slogans such as "United Kingdoms" and "He is bringing change to Saudi Arabia", could appear on as many as 50 digital outdoor billboards.
Local dailies The Guardian and The Evening Standard have also carried the promotions, which hail Saudi Arabia's "Vision 2030" plan to diversify its oil-reliant economy and encourage social media users to post using the hashtag #ANewSaudiArabia.
But the hashtag has only so far managed to be mentioned in 170 posts on social media platforms despite the expensive campaign, according to real-time hashtag tracker Keyhole.
Many Twitter users have used the hashtag to voice concerns about the crown prince's visit, which is expected to draw protests.
"Britain rolls out the red carpet for Saudi Arabia as they help propagate this #ANewSaudiArabia spin. Glad @IanBlackfordMP has used the opportunity to raise the dreadful situation in #Yemen - PM can’t duck UK complicity in Yemen crisis," said lawmaker David Linden.
A rival hashtag - #SaudiPrinceNotWelcome - has been used by Twitter users to condemn Prince Mohammed's visit.
"No matter how much he pays for the campaign using the money of the Saudi people, who are suffering from poverty, he will not overshadow issues such as the war in Yemen and lack of free speech," Saudi political exile Omar al-Shahrani told The New Arab.
Britain is rolling out the red carpet for the three-day visit, which Downing Street hopes "will usher in a new era in bilateral relations".
Salman will lunch on Wednesday with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, while Prince Charles will host him at a dinner with Prince William among the guests.
The crown prince will jointly host with British Prime Minister Theresa May the inaugural UK-Saudi strategic partnership council in No. 10, the prime minister's office and residence.
Protest group Stop the War will hold a rally outside Downing Street at 5.00pm on Wednesday to denounce Saudi Arabia's "brutal and illegal bombing" in Yemen and London's support for the Middle Eastern regime.
Meanwhile NGO Save the Children will also protest the conflict by placing a life-size statue of a child near parliament "to draw attention to the violence that is being fuelled, in part, by British-made bombs".
More than 9,200 people have been killed in the Yemen war since 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition joined the government's fight against the Houthi rebels.
More than eight million people are at risk of famine as port blockades, cholera and diphtheria bring the Arab world's most impoverished country to its knees.
The UK has licensed £4.6 billion ($6.3 billion) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since it began the intervention in neighbouring Yemen.