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The Emirati lobby: The biggest spender and the largest Arab one

The history of the Emirati lobby in Washington throughout the decade of the Arab Spring
US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates (L) meets with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan at the Mina Palace in the Emirati capital during an official visit to the United Arab Emirates on December 9, 2010 [WIN MCNAMEE/AFP via Getty Images]
US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates (L) meets with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan at the Mina Palace in the Emirati capital during an official visit to the United Arab Emirates on December 9, 2010 [WIN MCNAMEE/AFP via Getty Images]

Read part one of this report here.

This report is part of the "Hajj (Pilgrimage) to Washington" Project published by Sasapost; it covers the activities of Middle East lobbies in the United States between 2010-2020. Most of the information in the report is based on documents from a database belonging to the US Department of Justice, operating under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). This legislation requires lobbyists to disclose their activities and funds; all documents are accessible for browsing on the Internet.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has risen to fame in the Middle East. It has relentlessly stood against Arab revolutions and the Arab Spring of 2011, placing it at the forefront of Arab kingdoms and states. The UAE 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.

However, the "Emirati Hajj" to Washington is different from the others. The Emirati lobby is one of the most important in the Middle East in terms of size, and one of the biggest spenders, despite being among Washington's newest lobbies. Its establishment began only a few years before the advent of the Arab Spring.

Sasa Post has read and reviewed more than 766 documents relating to the UAE from the US Department of Justice's database, operating under FARA. The documents reveal the lobby's movements and the UAE's alliances with various parties such as the extremist and anti-Islamist US right-wing and pro-Israeli groups.

According to the documents, since 2011, the Emirati lobby's disclosed payments in Washington have amounted to $132,716,000. According to records from the US Department of Justice, this sum was paid out in return for lobbying services and public relations campaigns to secure Emirati interests in Washington.

This report covers the Emirati lobby's establishment in 2008, moving onto the most prominent figures of the lobby, those working for it, the major firms it has instructed, and their agendas and methods. This report provides a brief overview of the Emirati lobby's activities in Washington during the first decade of the Arab Spring.

Notice: The term "Emirati lobby" in this report covers individuals, firms, Emirati governmental and private parties, and all those representing the UAE's interests in the US.

The establishment of the Emirati lobby

An influential Emirati lobby did not exist before the appointment of Yousef Al-Otaiba as UAE ambassador to the US, whose nomination took place in July 2008. Prior to that, most UAE contracts in the US were channelled through the Emirate of Dubai and its financial and tourism institutions, either to conclude investment agreements or to promote tourism services in Dubai.

Before Al-Otaiba's posting to Washington, the UAE tried to acquire six US ports through the Dubai Ports World firm (DP WORLD). Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer led a fierce campaign in Congress to qualify this acquisition as a "national threat" to the US. He succeeded in turning the debate on this matter into a national security issue. Congress lobbied against the deal, defended by George W. Bush's administration, but Congress's pressure paid off, and DP World backed down. It was the first and toughest battle of the Emirati lobby in the US.

Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum (L) and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan attend the inauguration of the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum on November 8, 2017 on Saadiyat island in the Emirati capital [LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images]

Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum (L) and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan attend the inauguration of the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum on November 8, 2017 on Saadiyat island in the Emirati capital [LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images]

As the world's economy plunged into the 2008 crisis, Dubai became concerned with its own crisis and debts, while the influence of Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed grew. The UAE launched a plan to reposition itself in the region and thereby in Washington.

At this very time, Al-Otaiba is appointed ambassador to Washington to implement the new vision and launch a recruitment campaign to attract talent and key figures knowledgeable about Washington's doorways and working approaches. Upon his arrival, he hired many major lobbying firms, some of which are now still working for Abu Dhabi.

The following is a brief account of the firms and key figures that have worked alongside Al-Otaiba:

  • Hagir Elawad, Al-Otaiba's assistant in Washington and a prominent figure in the Emirates lobby, is a Sudanese-American who worked at the UAE Embassy from 2008 to 2016. She has lobbied for and coordinated several UAE arms deals. At the beginning of Elawad's career at the embassy, she worked on the UAE nuclear file. Later, Elawad set up her own firm to exclusively serve the Emirates Embassy, focusing on political issues. She pioneered the UAE's war against Al-Jazeera in the US, promoted the UAE and its role in the war in Yemen and coordinated lobbying campaigns against legislation calling to end US participation in the war. Elawad now works as a political advisor for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld (Akin Gump), providing her services to the UAE. More on Elawad's work in Washington is available here: https://www.sasapost.c o/hagir-elawad-the-otaiba-assistant/
  • Richard Mintz is Al-Otaiba's first man and an expert in public relations and lobbying. Mintz does not appear much at public events, and his photos are rare to find online. During his professional career, he moved between the White House, Congress and lobbying firms, before settling at The Harbour Group that Al-Otaiba hired in 2009. The Harbour Group is one of the most important firms in the UAE lobby because it oversaw the lobby's complex relations with US think tanks and the media, as well as with senior US officials. The Harbour Group played an instrumental role in the UAE's relations with pro-Israeli groups and the US right-wing. The firm, headed by Mintz, has supervised other contracts for the UAE in Washington. Since 2011, payments to the firm have reached $34,858,000. Further details on Mintz's relationship with the UAE are available here.
  • Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld (Akin Gump), a firm hired by the UAE in 2007, has overseen the UAE's work on the nuclear file and coordinated the Open Skies agreement between the US and the UAE. It played a prominent role in the UAE's campaign against Al-Jazeera. Since 2011, the firm has received $20,197,000. Among the most notable people working for the UAE are Hal Shapiro, a US political and economic advisor who previously worked at the White House, and former Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a leading Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committees. More about Akin Gump's work for UAE is available here.

The contract for Elawad's company with the Emirati Embassy, signed by Al-Otaiba and Elawad. Source: US Department of Justice website

The contract for Elawad's company with the Emirati Embassy, signed by Al-Otaiba and Elawad. Source: US Department of Justice website [sasapost.com]

Elawad, one of the most active employees of the UAE lobby, signed a contract for her company with American Defence International. Source: US Department of Justice website [sasapost.com]

This photo shows meetings to discuss US foreign policy after the 2018 congressional elections. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

From the meetings of Elawad's company with actors in Congress. The meeting appears to discuss the UAE's role in the battle of Hodeidah in the war in Yemen. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

From the documents of Elawad's company. The picture shows meetings of Congress officials with Tahnoun Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (whose name is not mentioned in the documents), in addition to a meeting with the minister of state for international cooperation, to discuss the situation in Yemen and the UAE's role in the war. [sasapost.com]

US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates (L) meets with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan at the Mina Palace in the Emirati capital during an official visit to the United Arab Emirates on December 9, 2010 [WIN MCNAMEE/AFP via Getty Images]

US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates (L) meets with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan at the Mina Palace in the Emirati capital during an official visit to the United Arab Emirates on December 9, 2010 [WIN MCNAMEE/AFP via Getty Images]

How does the UAE lobby work?

After his arrival in Washington as ambassador, Al-Otaiba very carefully selected the staff that would work with him in the years to come, forming a team of experts to manage the UAE's political agenda in Washington. Al-Otaiba nominated Amy Little Thomas, a former State Department official in the Bush administration, to be in charge of protocol at the UAE Embassy.

Regarding legislative and military affairs, Al-Otaiba heavily relied on Elawad. Her tasks included communication with Congress and coordination with the US authorities. From outside the embassy, Al-Otaiba counted on Mintz, the driving force behind the Emirati lobby, the managing director of The Harbour Group and a public relations expert.

When establishing the lobby in 2008, Al-Otaiba strongly depended on two firms. The first was a global law firm that focused on bilateral agreements such as the peaceful nuclear programme. The second was The Harbour Group, which established contacts between UAE government officials and US think tanks, the media and pro-Israeli organisations.

In 2017, Elawad left the embassy to set up her own firm working for the UAE lobby. She worked there for three years, only to return in 2020 to work for Akin Gump for the UAE's benefit.

However, the UAE lobby was not limited to only recruiting lobbying firms. The Emirati interests were represented by other parties, such as The US-UAE Business Council, which played an instrumental role in implementing bilateral agreements between the two countries. The council was created in 2007, ensuing a meeting between Bush and Bin Zayed to put an end to the Dubai Ports World controversy. The council is chaired by Danny Sebright, who previously worked for the Pentagon's Defence Intelligence Agency. Sebright boasts a long track record of work in the Middle East 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.

The US-UAE Business Council hosting Senator Blunt. Sebright (far left) and Elawad (centre back) appear in the photo [sasapost.com]

Another method used by the UAE lobby, distinguishing it from the rest of the Gulf and Arab lobbies, involves the preparation of research data and figures on the economic and investment relations between the UAE and the state represented by the politician with whom the lobby wishes to liaise. These reports become a tool to focus on the direct common interests between the two sides and an opening to lobby these politicians to support the UAE in Congress.

Simply put, the figures speak for themselves – the more investment there is, the more job opportunities there will be. The politician may then boast a new achievement in their career to win new voters.

Among the lobby's most essential activities are the intensive and vigorous contacts it establishes with the various think tanks in Washington, regardless of political orientation, and the work carried out in coordinating trips for the think tank's researchers to visit the UAE.

"The documents reveal the different ramifications of the lobby and its movements, as well as the UAE's alliances with various parties such as the extremist, anti-Islamist US right-wing and pro-Israeli groups."

In recent years, the UAE has worked on building research partnerships with some of these think tanks through financing their projects related to the Middle East or Arab affairs. These centres are significant because they are the thinking minds of the currents within the Republican and Democratic parties. Some of these centres feed into major governmental institutions, such as the RAND Corporation, the research institution working for the US Department of Defence.

Over the past decade, the UAE lobby has focused on its contacts with six think tanks. Below is a summary of all such centres:

  • The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), for whose researchers the lobby coordinates visits to the Emirates. FARA documents have recorded contacts with several WINEP researchers, such as Michael Knights, a Gulf and Iraq affairs specialist. It is worth noting that the institute was established with direct funding from one of the most important arms of the pro-Israeli lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The institute is a proponent of US foreign military intervention, particularly against Iran, and promotes the strengthening of US relations with Israel.
  • The Middle East Institute: The centre has received financial donations from the UAE worth $20 million in 2016 and 2017. It has a branch in Abu Dhabi, which the UAE continuously contacts.
  • The Centre for American Progress: A research centre closely related to the Democratic Party. The centre receives donations from parties close to AIPAC and the UAE. Leaked emails from Al-Otaiba have revealed coordination between him and Brian Katulis, one of the centre's leading researchers. US magazine Jacobin reported that the centre prohibits its staff from criticising Israel in their research.
  • The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research: The lobby coordinates annual visits to the Emirates for some of the institute's researchers. The centre is very supportive of Israel. In 2015, it honoured Benjamin Netanyahu during the peak of his dispute with US President Barack Obama over Iran's nuclear programme and the US approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
  • The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) receives significant funding from the UAE.
  • The Hudson Institute: A research centre closely related to the neoconservatives in the US. The institute is a staunch supporter of Israel.

The UAE nuclear programme

Amid the rise of the Iranian nuclear threat, the UAE was able to persuade the Bush administration at the end of its second term to approve the development of a peaceful Emirati nuclear programme. They then signed an initial Memorandum of Understanding to develop this programme in 2008.

David Scott was instrumental in implementing the MoU. Scott was a key figure, working for the Bush administration as the director of the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa ​​Affairs at the National Security Council at the White House. After leaving this post, he headed the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation.

With the arrival of Obama's administration to the White House, Obama wanted to develop a peaceful nuclear programme model that would set an example to the rest of the region.

In October 2009, the UAE agreed to develop its peaceful nuclear programme, having signed Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1958. This act requires countries seeking to develop a nuclear programme to adhere to specific "peaceful" criteria and not to enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel or use nuclear energy in any non-peaceful form.

The UAE nuclear programme agreement triggered a debate in Congress between its supporters and opponents. Energy experts questioned the feasibility of the programme, especially with the decline in the nuclear energy market, not to mention the fact that the UAE is a country whose economy depends on oil. The lobby responded to the opposition by maintaining that the UAE would face a shortage of electric energy in the future and that relying on nuclear energy would compensate for its future needs.

After bidding for the project's implementation, the Emirates selected the Korea Electric Power Corporation's (KEPCO) nuclear reactor, with the design of the US Westinghouse 80 + system. In 2012, it founded the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in Abu Dhabi, and in September 2020, it was announced that the reactor would reach 50 per cent of its production capacity.

The following points encapsulate the efforts of the UAE lobby to develop a peaceful nuclear programme:

  • The Akin Gump firm worked on the nuclear issue with assistance from DLA Piper. Shapiro worked on the subject on behalf of Akin Gump, in coordination with President of the US-UAE Business Council Sebright. UAE payments for the implementation of the agreement during this period amounted to $1.6 million.
  • Akin Gump continued to work after the agreement and lobbied Congress to allow a US firm to sell nuclear technology to the UAE.
  • Outlook Investments, a firm owned by Abu Dhabi, hired the Investment Diplomacy Group, owned by Scott, to provide "analytical services" on the UAE and US security partnerships. A figure of $150,000 has been paid to the firm, without the disclosure of any of its activities.
  • The American Defence International firm coordinated a congressional delegation trip to visit the UAE from 5-8 October, 2019. The delegation visited the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation.
  • As the first plant in the UAE reactor to have reached 25 per cent of its capacity, the UAE lobby has launched promotional campaigns for the reactor.

Moreover, this Emirati firm hired The Camstoll Group, one of the most critical cogs of the Emirati lobby's machine. The firm is run by senior officials who previously worked for the Treasury Department, specifically in the Financial Crimes and Financial Terrorism offices. It is reported that they worked for the UAE immediately after quitting the department.

The firm's documents reveal its contact with right-wing US journalists to write defamatory articles about Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. Since 2012, the UAE's payments to the firm amounted to $41 million. The Camstoll Group is the most expensive among UAE lobby firms, with its fees accounting for nearly a third of the Emirati lobby's expenditures over the past decade.

Details of lobbying for the Emirati Nuclear Energy Programme are available here.

Arms deals and relations with defence parties

"Our military ties with the UAE are exceptional, surrounded by mutual respect, and a long history of operational engagement." – James Mattis, US secretary of defence (2017-2019).

The UAE is one of the biggest purchasers of US weapons, and over previous decades it has signed many defence deals with the US. The Emirates, like others, have direct relations with major US defence companies.

For example, its relationship with the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the largest US defence firm, goes back to before 2000. In 2000, the UAE signed a deal with it worth $6.4 billion to purchase 80 F-16 fighters, with the US administration's approval. Other deals followed, such as one in 2014, in which the UAE purchased another 30 aircraft.

The deals were not only limited to aircraft. The UAE was able to persuade the Bush administration to sell to it the THAAD missile defence system manufactured by the same US firm. However, the deal was suspended until Congress approved it at the end of 2011, during the first wave of the Arab Spring, thus representing the first overseas sale of the defence system capable of destroying short and medium-range ballistic missiles.

Before the arms deal's approval in 2011, Defence Minister Robert Gates met with Emirati Crown Prince Bin Zayed at his palace in Abu Dhabi. Al-Otaiba was present at this meeting.

A few weeks later, an Emirati delegation headed by Bin Zayed travelled to meet President Obama to discuss "combating extremism in the region." During this visit, the delegation arranged a dinner attended by Gates, Chief of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen and Head of the CIA Leon Panetta, who became defence secretary months later. The meeting also included Commander of the Joint Forces Command and Donald Trump's first Secretary of Defence James Mattis.

The following summarises Emirati work on US defence files and some of the lobby's efforts over the past decade:

  • US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates (2006-2011): Gates attended the Arab Strategy Forum in 2017, in the UAE, in the aftermath of the events of the Qatar blockade, in which he discussed problems with Qatar that the US and the UAE shared.
  • During the signing of the THAAD defence system deal in 2011, the UAE-US alliance firm led by Mintz coordinated a meeting with Director of Intelligence Projects at Lockheed Martin Ryan McCarthy, who later assumed the position of US secretary of defence in July 2019. McCarthy met with Bin Zayed in September 2019 to discuss common issues. McCarthy's online pages reveal his visit to the UAE in July 2020, two months before the normalisation deal was announced.
  • US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta (2011-2013): In September 2015, Panetta published an article stating that the US should confront Iranian expansion by arming its allies in the region – the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – to achieve a balance of power.
  • The period during which Chuck Hagel was defence secretary (2013-2015): In April 2013, the US Department of Defence arranged a $5 billion arms deal with the UAE to purchase 26 F-16 fighters.
  • US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter (2015-2017): Carter offered his full support to the Saudi coalition, in which the UAE took part, in the war in Yemen, and stated: "We will provide them with intelligence and monitoring assistance, and some equipment and ammunition."
  • US Secretary of Defence James Mattis (2017-2019): Before joining the Trump administration as secretary of defence in January 2017, Mattis had worked after his retirement from the Marines as a military advisor to the UAE. Mattis served in this position with the approval of the Pentagon in 2015. He nicknamed the Emirates "Little Sparta".
  • Between 2017-2018, Elawad contacted Christopher Michael of the US Air Force to discuss defence purchases, a defect in one of the Apache helicopters and the UAE's desire to purchase the AIM-9X missile.
  • At the same time, the UAE liaised with Robert Hunter, head of the Defence Policy and Strategy Office at the National Security Council, to discuss the war in Yemen.
  • In April 2019, Elawad coordinated a meeting for Bin Zayed with a group of Congress members and staff. The meeting was attended by Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Republican Senator James Risch and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, the minority leader in the Foreign Relations Committee. The meeting was also attended by General Miguel Correa, the defence envoy at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, and Eric Trager, a senior staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Panetta was one of the attendees of the 2016 Arab Strategy Forum. This forum promotes in its annual conferences what it terms "the direct costs of the chaos of the Arab Spring", the value of which, according to the forum, reaches $833 billion.

After he quit the position of defence minister, Panetta travelled to Abu Dhabi to give a lecture in which he stated that the Gulf states have three to five years before they would be able to lead and correct the course of the Arab world. Panetta advised the UAE and Saudi Arabia to build their military capabilities to confront Iran.

In March 2012, Akin Gump contacted Panetta to request "assistance from the US Army". The UAE lobby contacted Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for House Affairs (a coordinating position between the Pentagon and Congress) Brian Morrison to discuss the possibility of a defence deal with the UAE.

Towards the end of 2018, Elawad coordinated a briefing with Colonel Randall Allen, the UAE affairs official at the Defence Security Cooperation Agency at the Department of Defence, and coordinated a meeting for the UAE defence envoy with Colonel Allen to discuss pending sales.

During the same period, Elawad organised a meeting for a delegation from the UAE Ministry of Defence, the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) and the Defence Technology Security Administration (DTSA). This meeting was attended by Senior Regional Policy Advisor for the Middle East in The Department of Defence Michael Bedke and Natalya Dean, working in the Defence Cooperation Office at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

From Akin Gump's communications with the US Department of Defence, specifically with Panetta. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

From Akin Gump's documents. The photo shows meetings with Head of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) Joe Lieberman. The meetings were held to discuss severing the UAE ties with Qatar, in addition to discussing the accuracy and transparency of the media owned by the Qatari government. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

From Akin Gump's documents. The photo shows meetings with the American Jewish Committee. The documents convey that the meetings are to discuss the UAE's severing of its relations with Qatar, in addition to discussing the accuracy and transparency of the media owned by the Qatari government. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

This image shows Akin Gump's contacts with the offices of members of Congress, discussing the Turkish military intervention in northern Syria. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

The LAPIS MEA payment to Andrea and Associates for the defamatory Qatar documentary. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

From the UAE National Media Council contracting CSL Social Limited to launch a campaign against Qatar. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

Payments by the Emirates National Media Council to CSL Social Limited. The amount paid is $166,500. The company says in the document that it receives other amounts from the customer, in return for activities that are not required to be disclosed by FARA, suggesting that there are other cooperation projects between the UAE and the daughter company of Cambridge Analytica. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

The ads promoting media content linking Qatar with "terrorism". Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

Lobbying money dedicated to the continuation of the Yemen War

The UAE was one of the first countries to join the Saudi coalition in the Yemen War in 2015. As it partook in the war, the UAE focused on coastal areas and ports. However, the war kept coming under threat of being blocked with every piece of legislation presented by Congress to stop US support for the Yemen War, but what would stopping this support entail?

If Congress prohibited support for the coalition in its war in Yemen, it would have to decide on banning the use of US weapons in the war, such as US aircraft, missiles and ammunition, as well preventing the various US intelligence services from cooperating in Yemen with the Gulf states involved in the war. This is besides the greater embargo – stopping arms deals altogether with these countries.

If Congress were to issue a resolution preventing the US from participating in the war, it would have deprived the war of US cover. Because this would be highly detrimental to the UAE's interests, the Emirati lobby launched its own battle in Washington to ensure continued US support for the war.

At the beginning of 2016, Al-Otaiba established a division for political and military affairs at the Emirati Embassy. He appointed Elawad as his assistant and as head of division of the Emirati lobby in Congress. After leaving the embassy to set up her firm, Elawad worked to burnish the UAE's image and role in Yemen, to block any bill introduced in Congress against the war and on legislations submitted to hinder Saudi Arabia and the UAE's arms deals. Elawad's firm hired American Defence International to lobby Congress and communicate with US defence agencies to ensure that the arms deals were passed.

Dragon Blood trees tower above each other in the Yemeni Island of Socotra, 27 March 2013 [KHALED FAZAA/AFP/Getty Images]

Dragon Blood trees tower above each other in the Yemeni Island of Socotra, 27 March 2013 [KHALED FAZAA/AFP/Getty Images]

The following is a summary of the most prominent efforts of the Emirati lobby for the continuation of the war in Yemen:

  • The UAE Embassy oversaw an offensive defamation campaign against Yemeni human rights groups that submitted reports to the UN on Yemen's human rights situation and the UAE's role in the war. Greenwich Media Strategies launched the campaign. Its plan consisted of having one of the UAE's allies in a research centre write a report on these human rights groups accusing them of working for the Houthis. Greenwich Media Strategies would then distribute this report to diplomats at the UN and to US media.
  • Elawad thoroughly worked on the Yemeni file with the help of American Defence International. She promoted the UAE's role in the war and contacted US defence agencies to conclude arms deals, followed by lobbying in Congress to ensure that these deals were passed.
  • In September 2017, Democratic Representative Ro Khanna submitted a bill requiring the US president to withdraw US forces from unauthorised "hostilities" in Yemen. Elawad coordinated a meeting for Al-Otaiba with Khanna to lobby him to withdraw his bill. Eventually, the bill was not passed.

From Greenwich Media Strategies' contacts with journalists working for the UN and US research centres as part of a campaign to improve the UAE's image and its role in the war in Yemen. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

From a contract of Greenwich Media Strategies with The Harbour Group. The picture shows Mintz's signature, representing The Harbour Group, and the signature of Hagar Chemali, the company's executive director and service provider to the Emirates. [sasapost.com]

From Greenwich Media Strategies' contacts with journalists working for the UN and US research centres as part of a campaign to improve the UAE's image and its role in the war in Yemen. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

By continuously communicating with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Elawad worked on polishing the UAE's image in the war in Yemen and highlighting the UAE's "philanthropic" activities there.

It is worth mentioning that Elawad met with one of the US congressman's aides, and later, the chairman of Mubadala, Khaldoun Al-Mubarak. The Emirati investment firm met with him and discussed the investments of the UAE and the firm in California, which Khanna represents.

In February 2021, Congressman Khanna told The Intercept that Al-Otaiba shouted at him in a meeting. In response to this statement, Al-Otaiba responded that what Khanna had mentioned was inconsistent with his usual "style" of communication, and invited Khanna on his official podcast to have a "direct and calm discussion" about the issues of interest to them. Congressman Khanna replied that he accepts the offer, provided that the UAE requests the Abu Dhabi-backed Southern Transitional Council in Yemen to release Yemeni journalist Adel Al-Hasani.

From Greenwich Media Strategies' contacts with journalists working for the UN and US research centres, as part of a campaign to improve the UAE's image and its role in the war in Yemen. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

At the beginning of 2019, prominent Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders proposed another bill to withdraw "United States Armed Forces from hostilities" in Yemen. This legislation worried the Emirati lobby, so the lobby's figures held meetings with several representatives and senators to persuade them to stop the bill. However, the tide was greater than the UAE's pressure this time, and the bill was passed in the US Senate. However, Trump came to rescue the UAE and the Saudi coalition in Yemen, using the presidential veto power to block the bill.

In the second half of 2019, Democratic Senator Menendez introduced a bill opposing an arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Emirati lobby stepped up its efforts to hinder the bill, while Elawad conducted a promotional campaign that positively portrayed the UAE's role in the Yemen War. Trump emerged once again to block the proposed bill using the presidential veto.

The impact of lobbying dollars on US policy is evident – Arab funds paid to secure US support for a war that has plunged Yemen into tragic humanitarian conditions. Some details are outlined below:

  • The UAE lobby reached out, in particular, to the Conflict Armament Research Centre in charge of publishing research studies on the use, transfer and type of weapons in various conflicts around the world. As far as Yemen is concerned, the centre only talked about the weapons used by the Houthi group, without any mention of other parties to the war. The UAE lobby worked on providing the centre with information to be used in its research on Yemen.
  • The lobby communicated with various research centres and sponsored research trips for researchers to visit Yemen, including Michael Knights, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Knights stated that he went to Yemen, accompanying the Emirati forces as a field observer, and wrote about the UAE and its importance in Yemen.
  • The UAE lobby has worked on campaigns to promote Emirati aid in Yemen and other campaigns about the UAE's willingness to participate in peace talks, seeking a lasting solution in Yemen.
  • By the end of 2019, the UAE coordinated meetings for congressional delegations attended by Mohammed Bin Zayed and Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed to promote the Emirati role in Yemen. Among other attendees were member of the Foreign Relations Committee Republican Senator Todd Young, and independent Senator Angus King, a member of the Armed Forces Committee.

A meeting attended by Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed Bin Zayed accompanied by other high-ranking Emirati officials. The meeting was with Republican Senator Young and Senator King. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

The UAE and the US right-wing: A perfect friendship

In Washington, the UAE looked for partners whose interests could intersect with its own, and sought to liaise with the entire spectrum of the US right-wing. The right-wing supports military action against Iran, upholds the complete criminalisation of Palestinian resistance movements and calls for placing the Muslim Brotherhood on terrorist lists. Its supporters are not concerned with Israel's crimes in the West Bank or Gaza.

This sensitive relationship between an Arab state with a Muslim majority and the US' neoconservatives serves the UAE in several ways. Most importantly, their shared hostility towards Qatar, which has played a mediator role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for years, has hosted the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas's political bureau.

The US Department of Justice documents show that the UAE hired The Camstoll Group, which employs former US Treasury officials, most of whom worked on economic sanctions and "terrorist financing". Some have a background in working with Islamophobic leaders in the US, according to The Intercept.

As Trump won the US presidency, his advisor and campaign leader Steve Bannon, one of the most influential leaders of the US populist right-wing, became notoriously influential. He is also one of the proponents of the notion of the conflict between "the Christian-Jewish civilisation" and the Islamic civilisation. Bannon is one of the architects and founders of the famous Cambridge Analytica firm, accused of manipulating the behaviour of US voters in the 2016 elections, as well as in elections in other countries around the world. Due to Bannon's capabilities and status within the US right-wing populist movement, he was wooed and asked by the Emirati lobby to hire one of his companies to promote propaganda material against Qatar.

The following is a summary of the Emirati lobby's relation with US right-wing networks:

  • The UAE lobby paid $565,000 to Andrea and Associates, headed by Charles Andrea, a former Pentagon media official who oversaw "psychological warfare" propaganda during the Iraq war. The firm produced a defamatory documentary on Qatar entitled Qatar: A Dangerous Alliance. Later, this documentary was distributed at a conference organised by the Hudson Institute under the name Countering Violent Extremism: Qatar, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood. US politicians spoke at the conference about Qatar's role in "supporting terrorism", including Bannon.
  • The UAE launched another smear campaign against Qatar before the UN General Assembly met in 2017 through SCL Social Limited, a Cambridge Analytica sister company.
  • The Camstoll Group contacted right-wing or pro-Israeli journalists to write media coverages against Qatar, linking it to Jabhat Al-Nusra and Hamas.

Israeli and Emirati lobbies: Hand in hand in the war on Al-Jazeera

To lift their siege on Qatar, the blockading countries presented a list of demands, on top of which was the shutdown of Al-Jazeera. As soon as the blockade was imposed, lobby battles began in Washington. The Emirati lobby launched a fierce campaign against the TV channel and AJ+, the widespread media platform in the US that stood out for its coverage of the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict in the US media. The platform stepped into thorny issues by providing media coverage of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

The UAE sought to register Al-Jazeera as a foreign agent of the Qatari government's interests, in accordance with FARA.

But what could registering the AJ+ platform as an agent of the State of Qatar ensue? Well, FARA binds the platform to declare all of its activities in the US and the money it receives from Qatar. From there, Al-Jazeera's rivals will go onto the next stage and accuse it of "working for Qatar".

This campaign paid off when the US Department of Justice ordered Al-Jazeera to register AJ + in accordance with FARA. Strikingly enough, the order was issued on 14 September, 2020, one day before signing the Emirati-Bahraini normalisation agreement with Israel at the White House. Al-Jazeera denounced the decision and deemed it part of the normalisation agreement.

This order of the Department of Justice places Al-Jazeera among TV channels promoting the governments that fund them, such as Russia Today, which is owned by the Russian government, TRT, owned by the Turkish government and other Chinese TV channels.

It is worth noting that Elawad's firm widely distributed a video that it named Al-Jazeera video denying Holocaust events, referring to a video published by the Arabic version of the AJ+ platform on the Holocaust, claiming that the State of Israel benefited from it. Ironically, Emirati and Saudi media commented on Al-Jazeera's removal of the video, asserting that Al-Jazeera is "giving in" to Israel and that the channel expels employees for the sake of Israel.

A snapshot of Elawad's firm's correspondences, showing that the firm sent a video clip about the Holocaust to Al-Jazeera and widely circulated it. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the largest US human rights organisation, considered the Justice Department's decision a threat to the freedom of the press. Thus, an ACLU official stated that US citizens rely on credible media to know the effects of their government's policies on the world, adding that the US government: "Should not misuse a vague and overboard 'foreign agent' law to target news organisations for political purposes."

In the end, the US Department of Justice ordered the registration of the platform.

The following is a timeline of the war launched against Al-Jazeera, leading to the decision taken by the US Department of Justice:

  • In 2017, The Harbour Group worked with pro-Israeli organisations on campaigns against Al-Jazeera, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organisation that advocates for Israel and harshly opposes any criticism of it.
  • In mid-2018, the UAE lobby contacted Congress members and employees, including Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin and Republican Senator Ted Cruz, to discuss Al-Jazeera's registration and legal status in the US.
  • In September 2018, Akin Gump coordinated a special meeting with the US Federal Communications Commission to discuss the requirements for registering Al-Jazeera as a foreign agent for Qatar. Elawad attended the meeting representing the UAE Embassy.
  • In April 2019, the UAE Embassy hired Gilliland and McKinney International Counsellors to provide lobbying services regarding Al-Jazeera's
  • After Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen started working for Akin Gump in July 2020, she released a 124-page report to reinforce the Emirati narrative on the channel's situation.

UAE-Israel normalisation

"Your Excellency, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of the State of Israel, thank you for choosing peace, and for halting the annexation of Palestinian territories, a decision that reinforces our shared will to achieve a better future for generations to come." – Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The Abrahamic Family House, a project whose inauguration was announced for the end of 2019 in the UAE, bringing together in the same place temples of the three monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), came as a further step in the Emirates' years-long journey to normalise relations with Israel. At the forefront of this normalisation process, the UAE places references to tolerance and acceptance of the "other", without any mention of the Palestinian "other" and rights, which are usurped daily in the occupied territories.

With the help of the pro-Israel lobby in the US, the UAE lobby has worked in the past decade on consolidating relations between the UAE and Israel. The normalisation journey first began in Washington by introducing "soft normalisation" and "cultural normalisation" and intensified networking with pro-Israel organisations conducted via The Harbour Group, headed by Mintz.

https://media.gettyimages.com/photos/prime-minister-of-israel-benjamin-netanyahu-us-president-donald-trump-picture-id1272678399?s=2048×2048

Image 26: UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan celebrates the normalisation agreement with Israel. Getty Images, Alex Wong.

The Emirati lobby has succeeded in maintaining close and strong relations, perhaps the closest among Arab lobbies, with the Israeli lobby in Washington.

The following is an account of the most prominent UAE efforts in this regard:

  • The Harbour Group liaised with the Bronfman Centre for Jewish Student Life at New York University, chaired by Yehuda Sarna, who was later appointed chief rabbi of the Jewish community of the UAE.
  • Since 2010, The Harbour Group has coordinated annual trips for members of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), a pro-Israel organisation, to visit the UAE annually and meet with Emirati officials, including Minister of Education Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash and Emirati academic Abdulkhaleq Abdulla.

The AJC delegations visited Al-Arabiya TV at least twice and met with Palestinian journalist Nabeel Al-Khatib, who held the position of executive editor of the TV channel. The delegations also visited the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, accompanied by Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, an Emirati intellectual concerned with Arab and Islamic arts.

  • The lobby carried out intensive contacts with the ADL and coordinated meetings between Al-Otaiba and the league's Executive Director Jonathan Greenblatt. The Emirati lobby cooperated with the ADL in its campaign against Al-Jazeera and coordinated these efforts with Washington Director for International Affairs at the pro-Israel organisation David Weinberg, who was focusing on his mission on the Al-Jazeera

The UAE pays for Sisi in Washington

Following the military move that led to ousting elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, several members of Congress called on President Obama to oppose what happened in Egypt and urged him to qualify the army's move as a coup. This would be legally binding for the Obama administration to cut off the aid package granted to the Egyptian Army, amounting to at least $1.3 billion.

One of the most prominent of such Congress members was Republican Senator John McCain, who declared that the US should suspend aid until the drafting of a new constitution and the holding of fair and free elections in Egypt. There were other voices in Congress that were not as loud as McCain's, but rather more worried about Israel's security. One such voice was that of Democratic Senator Menendez, who only demanded the use of US aid as a means to exert pressure on the Egyptian Army to transfer power to a civilian government.

In July 2013, the UAE lobby established contacts with Senator Menendez and his colleague Democrat Senator Jack Reed, who wondered about the feasibility of suspending aid directed to the Egyptian Army. In addition, the Emirati lobby reached out in that period to research centres to discuss developments in Egypt.

The Intercept revealed, using leaks from Al-Otaiba's email, that the UAE paid $3 million on behalf of Egypt for a lobbying contract in favour of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

A former Mossad agent at Dubai Ports World

At the end of 2019, the Dubai Ports World firm contracted Ari Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli intelligence official. The purpose behind the contract was to acquire a 20-year agreement to take possession of the Southern Port of Sudan. The contract stipulated that Ben-Menashe would lobby the government and US intelligence to ensure that the Emirates wins the contract.

It is worth noting that Ben-Menashe was also hired by the Sudanese Transitional Military Council (TMC), Nabil Karoui, a former Tunisian presidential candidate, General Khalifa Haftar and Aguila Saleh.

Full details of the contract are available here.

Ambassador Al-Otaiba censors Google search results on him

Al-Otaiba hired Terakeet LLC, which specialises in search engine optimisation (SEO) services, to improve his online presence on Google after press headlines critical of him topped search results. The firm managed to clean up the ambassador's search findings, bringing to the fore Al-Otaiba's page on the embassy's official website, followed by his personal website and his LinkedIn account.

Al-Otaiba paid $350,000 for these services. It is worth noting that the firm's CEO is Mac Cummings, director of finance affairs during Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign of 2008.

The UAE lobby's documents reveal a contract with TRG Advisory Services LLC and its owner David Rothkopf, former CEO and editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy from 2012 to 2017. The UAE hired Rothkopf after leaving the magazine to provide advisory and media services to the Emirates, including coordinating the production of a podcast moderated by Al-Otaiba. So far, the firm has received $1.3 million for its services.

A snapshot from the contract between Al-Otaiba and the TGR Advisory Services LLC owned by Rothkopf. Source: US Department of Justice website. [sasapost.com]

Translated from Sasapost, 17 February 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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