The Arabic language online magazine Sasapost published a report in February titled “Hajj (Pilgrimage) to Washington” (الحج إلى واشنطن), revealing how the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has emerged as one of the most powerful influencers among US lawmakers and policy elites, and thus ultimately over the direction of US foreign policy.
The revelations that have emerged from a review of 766 documents relating to the UAE from the US Justice Department’s database, operating under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), are jaw dropping. The files indicate that the “Emirati Lobby” – a term used to describe individuals, corporations, government, and private parties working to advance UAE interests – has paid out more than US$132 million since 2011 in disclosed payments for lobbying services to secure Emirati interests in Washington, DC—making it the largest spender among Middle East countries.
“The UAE has risen to fame in the Middle East,” observe the authors of the report. “It has relentlessly stood against Arab revolutions and the Arab Spring of 2011, placing it at the forefront of Arab kingdoms and states…[it] has not only led the ‘counter-revolution’ efforts within the region, but has also moved the battle abroad to the world’s most important political capital – Washington.”
What’s also remarkable about the Emirati Lobby is the fact that it’s one of the youngest operating in the United States capital, establishing itself in 2008, only a few years before the Arab Spring and only after the appointment of Yousef al-Otaiba as UAE Ambassador to the US.
“Prior to that, most UAE contracts in the US were channeled through the Emirate of Dubai and its financial and tourism institutions, either to conclude investment agreements or to promote tourism services in Dubai,” notes Sasapost.
Once in Washington, al-Otaiba hired a number of major lobbying firms and prominent individuals within congressional channels, including Hagir Elawad, who “pioneered the war” against Qatari-based news media organization Al Jazeera; Richard Mintz, a career lobbyist employed by The Harbor Group, which mediated and formed relationships between the Emirati Lobby and US think tanks and media organizations; and the firm Akin Gumo Strauss Hauer and Feld, which played a lead role in the UAE’s effort to lobby the Trump administration into designating Al Jazeera a foreign agent and sanctifying the UAE’s nuclear energy program.
In the final months of the Trump presidency, the UAE announced the launch of its Barakah nuclear energy plant, the first in the Arab world and the first since China launched one in 1990.
In the final months of the Trump presidency, the UAE announced the launch of its Barakah nuclear energy plant, the first in the Arab world and the first since China launched one in 1990, because of the Emirati Lobby’s influence over key figures among the Trump administration.
Emirati interests are not only represented by lobbying firms but also by other entities, including the US-UAE Business Council, which was formed following a meeting between President George W. Bush and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed in 2007. It’s chaired by Danny Sebright, a former employee at the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, who has vast experience in coordinating Israeli-US arms deals.
“The council usually coordinates meetings with members of Congress or US government officials, such as the dinner hosting Republican Senator Roy Blunt on the occasion of the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019, attended by Sebright and Elawad,” observes Sasapost.
What makes the Emirati Lobby stand out from the lobbying efforts of its Gulf and Arab neighbors, according to the authors of the report, is the manner in which it builds economic and investment relations with each US state and its elected federal level officials in order to curry favor in the US Congress. Indeed, which US Congressperson is going to vote against UAE interests when UAE activities in his or her state are producing investment and jobs?
What makes the Emirati Lobby stand out, according to the report, is the manner in which it builds economic and investment relations with each US state and its elected federal level officials.
The Emirati Lobby has also been successful in establishing and building research partnerships with the leading think tanks in the US, specifically on projects related to the Middle East, knowing that these institutes form the foundational knowledge for the foreign policy initiatives and directives of both major political parties.
Many of these think tanks, however, are perversely tied to pro-Israel, US right-wing and anti-Muslim groups, and to what has been dubbed the “Islamophobia Industry.”
Some of these think tanks include the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; the Middle East Institute, which received US$20 million from the Emirati Lobby in 2016 and 2017 alone; the Center for American Progress, which prohibits public criticism of Israel, according to the US magazine Jacobin; the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a staunch advocate of Israeli foreign policy; the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and the Hudson Institute, which advocates a neoconservative US foreign policy.
It’s important to note here that the Center for American Progress severed its ties with the Emirati Lobby in 2017, after The Intercept obtained and published emails showing the think tank to be pushing the UAE’s agenda in return for cash.
The Emirati Lobby has converted its growing influence in Washington, DC into some of the largest arms deals on record.
The Emirati Lobby has also converted its growing influence in Washington, DC into some of the largest arms deals on record, with the UAE now the third largest procurer of US manufactured weapons on the planet, according to Statista.
The lobby can also boast of influencing Congress to approve the first overseas sales of the THAAD missile defense system. It also persuaded the Pentagon into arranging a US$5 billion arms package in 2013. And finally, the lobby swayed former US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter into offering his full support to the Saudi-UAE led war in Yemen, according to Sasapost.
Beyond affecting arms deals and foreign policy, the Emirati Lobby has also guided the US government into whitewashing or turning a blind eye to the UAE’s atrocious human rights record, one that includes the imprisonment of critics and dissidents and exploitation of foreign slave labor.
For an outlay of US$132 million over ten years, the UAE has certainly gotten a bang for its buck!