Qatar has been finding itself in the news more and more recently.
The small Gulf kingdom that has been under economic siege by its neighbors for the past year has been persistently under coordinated information attacks since the summer of 2017. The fact that Qatar has been trying to tighten relations with the West and become more of an asset to those powers has not been a welcome development for the country’s opponents.
The unrelenting campaign to tarnish Qatar was brought up once again recently in a borderline comical incident in the U.K.
On July 23, British media reported that the casting agency Extra People had advertised for paid extras to come and stand outside the gates of the Prime Minister Theresa May’s official residence at 10 Downing Street. The extras were needed to stage a mock protest for when the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani made his visit to speak with May the following day. Of course, Extra People doesn’t deal with political events. They provide extras (“background artists” is the polite terms these days apparently) for films and TV shows.
Unfortunately, the agency didn’t realize the nature of the advert until after it had been posted online. “This is NOT a film or TV production,” read the job post, which offered £20 to respondents willing to take part. “The company are looking for a large group of people to fill space outside Downing Street during the visit of the president of Qatar. You will not have to do or say anything, they just want to fill space.” Soon after the ad began to draw attention, Extra People took down the ad. “Upon receiving further information about the event, which regrettably was after our inquiry went out to our artists, we began to understand what the hirer was asking of our artists and the event involved,” said a spokesperson for the booking agency.
After news of the attempt to stage the demonstration, Qatari officials said the culprits were the country’s regional rivals that placed it under economic blockade last year. The vicious and expensive media war that ensued has often been fought through lobbyists, online advertising, and selective leaks to journalists in the West. Supposedly, hiring extras for fake protests is a favorite tactic of Qatar’s opponents.
What is important to note here, is not just that there was a coordinated attempt to disparage a
foreign diplomat - we all know that is the name of the game in politics. Furthermore, the row between Qatar and its neighbors is old news. Claims the Saudis and others have against the country, namely that it passively and directly aides terror finance, may have merit.
The more important element is that this incident demonstrates the foreign money that has infiltrated the U.K. for the purposes of political propaganda. Londoners have for a while now been witnessing this phenomenon with the anti-Qatar billboards that litter the city. Individual politicians have also become the targets of these campaigns. Several months ago, a British MP was paid over $20,000 to attend an anti-Qatar conference.
In the age of the so-called “Russia-Gate” investigations and the mountains of evidence showing a coordinated effort to influence the last presidential election, the West as a whole must develop a strong vigilance toward these trends.