The United Arab Emirates has operated a highly sophisticated, aggressive and clandestine political lobby in the UK to undermine, vilify and smear groups and individuals that it perceives as its enemies, according to a new report.
Spinwatch, which carries out research into key political issues in the UK and Europe, said in the report on Wednesday that the UAE’s intense lobbying campaign over the last few years has helped shape UK government policy towards Muslims at home, and UK and US foreign policy in the Middle East.
Authors Alex Delmar-Morgan, a freelance journalist, and David Miller, a professor at the University of Bath, say the lobbying campaign has also polluted the narrative on Islam in the West, whipping up Islamophobia and hardening media coverage and public opinion against Muslims.
Spinwatch says the targets of this lobbying strategy include Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran – all of which are perceived opponents of the UAE.
The research group says it obtained leaked emails that expose how the UAE went about this lobbying strategy, and which show the massive effort by the Emiratis to influence the British press and court influential lawmakers in the parliament.
The UAE worked with Quiller consultants, a lobbying company in London, who were allegedly asked to draw up names of Emirati dissidents in London who had claimed asylum, as well as research BBC journalists who were deemed unsympathetic to the UAE for their alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The media is another important avenue that was exploited. Journalists were briefed by London-based lobbying firms paid by the UAE government. Senior journalists were also targeted, including both those sympathetic to the UAE’s politics and those who weren’t, but whom lobbyists felt might be persuadable.
And UK thinks tanks and policy centers, which are supposed to be independent institutions, have received large donations from the UAE over the past few years, raising questions about whether they are more lobbyists than researchers.
Those who received large donations from the UAE included the prestigious Chatham House, one of the UK’s oldest and most respected international affairs think tanks. It received between £50,000 and £99,000 ($65,805 - $131,609) from the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in 2015/16.
Another of the UK’s most prominent think tanks received money from the UAE in 2015-16. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) was paid £50,000 -£99,999 ($65,805 - $131,609) by the UAE embassy.
Spinwatch approached the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the embassy of the UAE in London and the embassy of the UAE in Washington for comment, but they did not respond.
Spinwatch expressed doubts about the legality of UAE’s lobbying campaign in the UK, saying the small Persian Gulf country was trying to deflect attentions from its widespread right violations.
“ ... does the UAE have the right to lecture Western countries on terrorism and regional stability when it locks up and tortures dissidents, shuts down free speech and continues to engage in a large-scale military campaign in Yemen, contributing to an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe where over 10,000 have died?” said Spinwatch.
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