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Report: UAE lobbying ‘subverted democracy’ and fuelled Islamophobia

David Cameron, former British Prime Minister. [File photo]
David Cameron, former British Prime Minister [File photo]

The UAE is “subverting” British democracy through its powerful lobbying, a new report by Spinwatch has found.  The UK-based investigative agency has obtained documents revealing the extent to which the wealthy royals of Abu Dhabi have influenced government decision-making in Britain and the USA.

In the 50-page report, Spinwatch provides details of how the UAE carried out its campaigning by “promising billions in return for influence in the US, infiltrating the British media to smear rivals, threatening to interfere in parliamentary select committee reports, buying politicians’ loyalty with lavish trips, donating to think tanks and trying to influence them, aiming to deport political opponents, trying to influence BBC coverage and protesting against press freedom”.

The authors expose “a highly sophisticated, aggressive and clandestine UAE political lobby” which they say has “emerged to head off the threat of democracy in the Middle East”.

Over the last few years, the UAE’s “intense lobbying campaign” is said to have helped shape UK government policy towards Muslims at home, and the UK, as well as US foreign policy in the Middle East. Outside the corridors of power, the UAE is accused of “polluting the narrative on Islam in the West, whipping up Islamophobia and hardening media coverage and public opinion against Muslims”.

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The discoveries were made from leaked emails obtained by Spinwatch, which it said “exposes in granular detail how the UAE went about this lobbying strategy in the UK, and shows the massive effort by the Emiratis to influence the British press and court influential MPs”.

Findings made in the report also show how UAE’s lobbying has served to advance its position in its dispute with Qatar.

While the UAE has been playing politicians on both sides of the Atlantic using funds that are said to be the most spent by any country in the world on lobbying, the report gave lengthy accounts of Abu Dhabi’s influence in the UK where a narrative against the Muslim Brotherhood was being pushed in the highest echelons of the government.

Former Prime Minister, David Cameroon is said to have been effectively “bullied” into investigating the Muslim Brotherhood. Cameron was threatened with the loss of important defence and oil-related contracts unless he cracked down on the Islamist group.

Cameron’s 2014 inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood was widely suspected of being the result of UAE lobbying. The publication of the report was delayed by over a year. It was also widely criticised including by the UK’s Foreign Affairs Committee, which “characterised the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as a fundamentally non-violent group”.

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The UAE’s anti-Brotherhood lobbying is thought to have led to the UK overlooking the atrocities carried out by the Egyptian military under the then Defence Minister and now President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, following a military coup in 2013.

Elsewhere the UAE was found to have led a campaign through its lobbying companies in the US and UK to link senior Qataris, preferably royal family members, to terrorism.

Besides subverting democracy through political lobbying, perhaps the most damaging to social cohesion is Abu Dhabi’s role in fuelling anti-Muslim bigotry in the West. The report says that the anti-Brotherhood hysteria spurred on by British media outlets worsened attitudes towards Muslims as a whole.  It soured the narrative against Muslims in the West, cemented Islamophobia and eroded broader relations between the West and the Muslim world.

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