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Emirati lobbying as an Instrument of UAE’s Foreign Policy and Diplomacy
Material posted: Publication date: 02-03-2020

Influential groups in the countries of presence constitute an essential element of the UAE’s diplomacy. Such groups contribute to the implementation of the Emirati foreign policy strategy, especially since the UAE pursues regional leadership. The presence of the groups enables the Emirates with the opportunity to place an implicit pressure on other states in the interests of the UAE government. In this context, we can identify a range of activities: the UAE’s membership in international organizations; groups of interaction with the civil society (by means of diaspora and non-governmental organizations); and most importantly, the pressure placed on governments, business and social structures in the countries of presence via lobbying. The UAE has created a solid lobbying network and, as a result, possesses multiple political leverages to exercise an implicit pressure. It is the financial aspect that plays the key role in this regard.

In general, lobbying, being absolutely legal, serves as a perfect example of a foreign policy strategy implementation. By exploitation of the lobbying activities, the UAE seeks to generate a beneficial national image in the eyes of the partners from the West. According to the news website Al-Monitor, the Emirati lobbyist groups are considered the most powerful among the Arab states[1].

In particular, Emirati lobbying is proactive in the US, where it can be classified into the economic, political and oil lobby. According to the outcomes of the inquiry conducted by former US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the Emirati lobby in the US is believed to be the most powerful one among the Arab countries, even in comparison with, for example, Saudi Arabia, and the second most powerful after the AIPAC pro-Israel lobbying group[2]. Abu Dhabi positions itself as the main strategic partner of Washington and annually spends more than 14 million $ to maintain lobbying activity there. Based on the data provided by Al-Monitor report, the Emirati lobbying groups focus the efforts on several tracks, including the pressure on the Congress and the members of the President’s Administration, business circles, experts and think tanks, in addition to groups on social media platforms.

In political terms, the UAE’s lobby ensures adjustments in decisions of the US  via UAE ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba. Mr. Otaiba promotes the UAE’s image as a tolerant and reliable partner of the US, who shares the US’ concerns on regional security in the Middle East. The maneuvers of the Emirati lobbying group aim at multiple goals: obtaining privileges related to arms purchases in the US; gaining benefits over ship service in the US’ ports; promoting anti-Iranian sentiments, as Associated Press puts it[3].

The UAE government spends significant part of funds to ensure the lobbying  activity related to the American think tanks, that, to a certain extent, influence decisions of the US government. For example, in 2007, the UAE began working with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), organizing a series of «explanatory» seminars on the UAE’s foreign policy and sponsoring trips of the Center’s experts to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for meetings with the Emirati government. Another example is the Atlantic Council that receives more than 1 million $ annually as a donation from the UAE. This makes the UAE the main sponsor of this think tank and allows the Emirati government to influence opinion of the Council’s specialists. Besides, the UAE has close relations with other famous American think tanks, such as the Middle East Institute, RAND and Brookings Institution.

The UAE’s lobbying group is not less powerful in the UK, where the major part of the Emirati diaspora lives. The UAE and the UK share close ties that trace back to the colonial period. According to a detailed report issued by Spinwatch, a project of Public Interest Investigations (a non-profit company incorporated in England and Wales investigating lobbying activities of different countries) in 2018[4], the UAE’s lobbying presence in the UK has become significantly more active under Prime Minister David Cameron. In this regard, the Emirati government has relied heavily on English legal firms (for example, public relations and consulting company Quiller Consultants was working for the UAE Foreign Ministry till 2015). There is evidence that the pressure placed by the UAE’s lobbyists on the government of the UK has adjusted the UK’s stance on terrorist organization Muslim Brotherhood (banned by Russia and some Arab states), in addition to Qatar, which is seen by the UAE as posing a threat to the country’s security. Interesting to note that in the UK there exist an unofficial behind-the-scenes group consisting of the pro-Emirati Members of Parliament - the All Party Parliamentary Group. The Emirati government sponsors their trips to the UAE in return for the MPs’ statements clearing up doubts over human rights violations in the UAE.

Like in the US, the UAE spends vast amounts of money to finance English think tanks. The most prominent in this regard is, undoubtedly, Chatham House, the oldest international think tank. Annually, Chatham House receives 100 thousand pounds from the UAE Foreign Ministry and its embassy in London. Moreover, according to Spinwatch report, the UAE’s lobbyists coordinate with the Royal United Services Institute specializing in security, to promote the idea of Qatar being the main sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East. As for educational institutions, Spinwatch underlines the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) as a channel of UAE’s lobbying activity. Suffice it to point out that many members of the Emirati ruling families have graduated from the Academy, including the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, a de-facto ruler of the UAE. In relation to mass media, the Emirati lobbyists have repeatedly exercised pressure on the BBC corporation because of the publications criticizing the UAE’s foreign policy and ruling families. Nevertheless, these measures have proved unsuccessful[5].

To cut a long story short, in general we can emphasize the effectiveness of Emirati lobbying in the countries of presence as an instrument of UAE’s foreign policy and diplomacy. Obviously, vast financial resources of the UAE have laid a firm foundation for this kind of activity that allows to influence the decisions of  both governmental and non-governmental institutions. However, there is every likelihood that the UAE would face difficulties related to lobbying. Aggressive pressure, bribes, UAE’s sponsorship of high-level trips for politicians, enormous donations for think tanks and other strategic mistakes have become drawing more attention of the international community and mass media, especially in the US and the UK. The UAE government should use more well-thought and implicit mechanisms to adjust the public opinion in order to prevent its policy and diplomacy from turning into rude pressure that scares away potential partners.

Anastasia Ilyukhina

 

[1] تفاصيل مثيرة عن اللوبي الاماراتي السعودي في أمريكا (details of the activities of the lobby UAE and KSA in the USA) [Electronic resource] / An-Naba [website] URL: https://m.annabaa.org/arabic/reports/15660 (date accessed: 29.07.2019)

[2] Never mind Russia, the UAE has united with AIPAC to capture Washington [Electronic resource] / Middle East Eye [website] – 09.03.18 – URL: https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/never-mind-russia-uae-has-united-aipac-capture-washington (date accessed: 29.07.2019)

[3] تفاصيل مثيرة عن اللوبي الاماراتي السعودي في أمريكا (details of the activities of the lobby UAE and KSA in the USA) [Electronic resource] / An-Naba [website] URL: https://m.annabaa.org/arabic/reports/15660 (date accessed: 29.07.2019)

[4] New Spinwatch Report! The UAE Lobby: Subverting British democracy? [Electronic resource] / Spinwatch [website] – 24.07.18 – URL: http://spinwatch.org/index.php/issues/lobbying/item/6003-the-uae-lobby-subverting-british-democracy (date accessed: 30.07.2019)

[5] UAE spends heavily on lobbying in the US, the UK [Electronic resource] / Daily Sabah [website] – 19.07.18 – URL: https://www.dailysabah.com/mideast/2018/07/20/uae-spends-heavily-on-lobbying-in-us-uk (date accessed: 30.07.2019)


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