Middle East, New in Lobbying

Twitter dragged into intra-Saudi feud

Twitter has been dragged into the Washington feud pitting Saudi dissident Ali al-Ahmed against the government of Saudi Arabia and its US agents.

Ahmed, the director of the now-dormant Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, sued the social media giant in US district court in New York on Monday. He accuses Twitter of failing to protect his account from being hacked and refusing to reinstate an account that has been suspended since 2018, alleging that Saudi funding for the company played a part.

“Twitter continues to bar Mr. Al-Ahmed from access or use presumably,” the suit alleges, “because Twitter is in league with the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia]; preferring access to the KSA over human rights, freedom and abiding by the terms of its owner agreements.”

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit is the latest wrinkle in a years-long saga that began around 2013 when two Twitter employees, Ali Alzabarah and Ahmad Abouammo, allegedly accessed the company’s information on several Saudi dissidents, including Ahmed. The US Justice Department charged both men with being Saudi spies last year.

Then in June of 2018, Ahmed sued the founder of a pro-Saudi advocacy group who called him a terrorist in an interview with a US blogger. The suit against Salman al-Ansari and his Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC) was filed in DC court.

A supposedly independent advocacy group, SAPRAC was forced to register as a foreign agent by the Department of Justice in 2017, according to an advisory opinion that Foreign Lobby Report first reported on June 2. The department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) office concluded that the “principal beneficiary” of his anti-Qatar media campaign “was and is the Saudi government.”

In both lawsuits, Ahmed is being represented by David Schwartz of New York law firm Gerstman Schwartz. The firm previously lobbied for the Libyan Investment Authority in Tripoli.

And the lobbying connections don’t end there: Gotham Government Relations, the lobbying firm founded by Schwartz and his law partner Bradley Gerstman, has also been lobbying on behalf of Ahmed’s Institute for Gulf Affairs since May 2019. The firm has disclosed $60,000 in payments since then, but no activity under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.