UAE's Soft Power Strategy and Lobbying Influence: Unveiling Strategies and Tactics

UAE’s Soft Power Strategy and Lobbying Influence: Unveiling Strategies and Tactics

The initiation of the UAE’s soft power strategy in 2017 has triggered a discernible surge in lobbying activities within the Brussels landscape. While the US-based Emirati lobby, extensively examined by various research institutions, provides insights into tactics applied in Europe, the UAE’s substantial investments in US think tanks offer a lens through which these strategies manifest. Notably, the UAE’s heightened spending on lobbying initiatives in the US, Brussels, and European capitals has drawn attention, especially since the launch of its soft power strategy.

In the United States, financial contributions to think tanks have emerged as a formidable tool to shape policy narratives. The Center for International Policy’s assessment reveals a near doubling of lobby and PR spending by the UAE in the US post-2017. A staggering $15.4 million was allocated to six major think tanks between 2014 and 2018. This places the UAE as the third-largest foreign government donor to US think tanks, following Norway and the UK. The Aspen Institute, the Atlantic Council, and the Brookings Institution stood out as major recipients, each receiving substantial donations exceeding $4 million. An additional “secret” $20 million donation orchestrated by Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE’s Ambassador to the US, was made to the Middle East Institute. Such funding often comes with strings attached, influencing discussions, op-eds, research papers, and even fostering relationships with select individuals.

These funding patterns extend beyond think tanks to lobbying and consultancy firms. The Center’s investigation revealed that over $20 million was paid by the UAE to numerous consultancies and PR firms in the US, resulting in more than 3,000 political activities carried out on behalf of the UAE. This extensive engagement included contact with over 200 Congressional offices and campaign contributions totaling nearly $600,000. Evidently, the UAE has emerged as a significant player in terms of financial engagement with lobbying and consultancy services in Washington.

The UAE’s lobbying activities are not limited to financial contributions; establishing personal relationships has been crucial. Yousef Al Otaiba’s appointment as the UAE’s Ambassador in Washington showcased the efficacy of such connections. Otaiba’s charismatic demeanor and ability to cultivate people-to-people relationships aided in shaping perceptions of the UAE. This proactive approach enabled the UAE to present itself as a reliable and liberal ally for the US. Otaiba adeptly tapped into networks, including the neoconservative Israeli lobby, strategically aligning with their concerns and securing a significant role in shaping policy narratives.

The UAE’s influence extends to media narratives as well, with Otaiba maintaining relationships with journalists and even challenging their editorial outputs. Media outlets such as The Washington Post, Ozy, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Fox News, and Politico have been targeted by UAE foreign agents.

The UAE’s lobbying reach also extends to high-profile individuals. The case of Thomas Barrack, indicted for operating as a foreign agent for the UAE, highlights how lobbying efforts extend to influential figures with close ties to the US administration. Barrack’s connections allowed him to advocate for UAE interests on matters such as the Saudi-led regional embargo against Qatar and the classification of the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization.

UAE’s comprehensive lobbying strategy involves funding think tanks, engaging with consultancy firms, nurturing personal relationships, and exerting influence through media outlets. This multi-faceted approach underscores the strategic intricacies that underlie the UAE’s efforts to shape global perceptions and policies.

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