UAE's Expanding Influence Strategy Amidst Gulf Dynamics

UAE’s Expanding Influence Strategy Amidst Gulf Dynamics

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has intensified its efforts to navigate the complex landscape of Gulf politics, allocating more than $18 million to shape perceptions and manage relations with its neighboring countries. Renowned for its robust involvement in Washington’s influence game, the UAE has significantly increased its lobbying and public relations expenditure since its diplomatic split with Qatar in June 2017. This substantial budget expansion aims to cast doubts on Qatar’s reliability as a US ally, particularly focusing on pressuring Al Jazeera to register as a foreign agent of Qatar.

However, the UAE’s influence campaign has encountered unforeseen challenges, notably in light of its association with Saudi Arabia, its primary ally. The fallout from the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi significantly eroded Saudi Arabia’s reputation in Washington, subsequently prompting bipartisan congressional efforts to limit US support for the Saudi and Emirati partnership in Yemen. Despite these concerns, President Donald Trump employed his veto power to maintain arms sales to the coalition.

The UAE’s apprehensions have led to recent lobbying activities, as evidenced by a filing from UAE lobbyist American Defense International. The document outlines the UAE’s attempts to remove specific provisions from the pending annual defense bill. These amendments include the elimination of requirements for detailed descriptions of military involvements in Libya and curbs on US support for UAE and Saudi interventions in Yemen. Additionally, the UAE seeks to evade a study on US monitoring of exports related to surveillance capabilities and their potential misuse by foreign governments.

The UAE’s entanglements in Yemen have further complicated its stance, particularly concerning its support for southern secessionists. Formerly an ally against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, the UAE now faces accusations of bombing Yemeni government forces. Amid escalating turmoil and civilian casualties, the United States has heightened calls for an end to the four-year war, with reports indicating that the Trump administration is considering direct talks with the Houthis.

Seeking to maintain its standing on the international stage, the UAE is keen on highlighting its domestic reforms and accomplishments. In a region marked by religious intolerance, the UAE scored a public relations triumph by hosting Pope Francis in February, marking the first-ever visit by a pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula.

Simultaneously, the UAE’s influence campaigns in Washington continue to expand. Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba enlisted TRG Advisory Services to collaborate on developing US programs centered on science, technology, cultural diplomacy, education, tolerance, values, women’s empowerment, and related domains. Moreover, the UAE’s embassy turned to the Glover Park Group for in-depth research into public attitudes through in-person focus groups and online community discussions.

As the UAE navigates these intricate dynamics, its evolving influence strategy remains pivotal in shaping perceptions, navigating complex relationships, and addressing global concerns.

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