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.
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 abou