Tony Blair consultancy firm 'working with Saudi government'
A consultancy firm run by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is advising the Saudi government on its current controversial reforms, according to a media report on Sunday.
A report by the UK's Sunday Telegraph said that Tony Blair Institute for Global Change made an agreement with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, effective ruler of Saudi Arabia, earlier this year to help with a programme of modernisation for the kingdom.
Although the deal is supposed to be "not for profit", the institute received at $10 million payment in January for its work in the Middle East.
That figure was later revised to nearly $12 million following additional payments by Media Investment Ltd (MIL), a subsidiary of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group.
Blair's institute insists that the former prime minister did not receive any payment from Riyadh and profits are not generated from its consultancy work.
Instead it says its mission is to promote stability and reform in the Middle East – with staff based in the UAE, a key ally of Saudi Arabia.
Following a visit by the crown prince to the UK, the institute also published a gushing article on Mohammed bin Salman.
"As part of his broad, sweeping and ambitious plans to revolutionise Saudi Arabia, economically, socially and religiously, the crown prince has demonstrated a level of conviction, clarity and coherence in identifying and understanding the nature of Islamist extremism that Western policymakers should seek to learn from," the article read.
"Britain should learn from Saudi Arabia and how it has demonstrated a clear commitment to tackling the politicisation of Islam to inform policymaking."
Mohammed bin Salman has introduced a raft of economic and social reforms he insists are necessary to modernise the intensely conservative country.
Riyadh is seeking to diversify its economy away from a reliance on oil and gas, with the crown prince's Vision 2030 plan the centrepiece of these economic reforms.
High-profile social reforms - such as ending a ban on women drivers and re-opening cinemas - have also been established.
But critics insist the reforms are cosmetic, intended to give the kingdom a much-needed PR boost after growing criticism in the West regarding the regime's links with hard-line Wahhabi clerics, human rights abuses and bloody war in Yemen.
While the reforms have been implemented, the crown prince has also rounded up potential opponents and activists, including women's rights campaigners.
Tony Blair was the UK's prime minister from 1997 to 2007.
Despite many successes at home, his premiership was overshadowed by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with Blair a leading architect of the war.