The notion of cultural and public diplomacy is an integral element of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s soft power strategy. Cultural and public diplomacy is concerned with the exchange of progressive cultural practices, ideas, languages, and art among divergent nations and is an integral element of soft power. Through an elaborate national branding process, the UAE has established itself as the leading capital for culture, art, and tourism in the Middle East, thus, improving its cultural and public diplomacy capacity in the international plane. The UAE, through the prudent exploitation of its soft power assets, such as its Emirati culture, has emerged as a leading soft power nation not only in the Middle East but also globally. The UAE’s strategy of cultural and public diplomacy has enabled it to create an internationally attractive national brand that has enhanced its soft power capabilities and global ranking.
The UAE’s Soft Power Strategy
The UAE’s soft power strategy is based on the concept of cultural and public diplomacy that is concerned with the nation’s culture and people. Soft power, an international relations, and diplomacy concept, coined by Professor Joseph Nye, is the ability of a country to achieve its national interests and shape the preferences of other nations through the use of non-coercive attributes of appeal and attraction (Saberi, Paris, & Marochi, 2018). The soft power capabilities of appeal and attraction, are achieved through the use of non-coercive resources such as culture, technological advancements, humanitarian assistance, and political values. The notion of soft power is different from that of hard power, which is concerned with the use of coercion, such as military and economic force, to achieve a nation’s interests. In 2017, the UAE launched a national Soft Power Strategy whose main aim was to increase the nation’s global reputation abroad by leveraging and highlighting its soft power assets, such as culture, technological advancements, and humanitarian aid (“The UAE Soft Power Strategy,” 2020). An objective of the UAE’s Soft Power Strategy was to establish itself as a leading center for culture, art, and tourism while improving its reputation as a modern and tolerant nation welcoming to all people across the world. Thus, cultural and public diplomacy is at the epicenter of the UAE’s soft power strategy.
Cultural and Public Diplomacy in the UAE
The notion of cultural and public diplomacy is integral to the concept of soft power and, therefore, quite beneficial not only to the UAE but also to other nations. The notion of cultural and public diplomacy is quite advantageous in the realm of international relations as it enables the peaceful and mutual co-existence of countries in the world. Cultural and public diplomacy promotes international synergy and, therefore, allows for international dialogue, collaboration, exchange, and global prosperity (“Cultural and Public Diplomacy,” n.d.). Moreover, cultural and public diplomacy enables states with a weak military and economic capacities, such as the developing nations of Africa and Asia, to engage with developed countries in the international plane without the fear of imperialism or manipulation. The UAE has exploited its cultural and public diplomacy strategy to not only widen its influence globally but also to achieve its national interests. For example, by leveraging its cultural and public diplomacy, the UAE has annually attracted more than 11 million tourists who contribute massively to the nation’s economy (“Cultural and Public Diplomacy,” n.d.). The UAE’s cultural and public diplomacy has also enabled the country to attract expatriates from more than 200 nations who have been instrumental in transforming it from a nomadic country to a modern developed country (Stephens, 2020). Cultural and public diplomacy is, therefore, beneficial and integral to international relations and prosperity.
The UAE has invested in numerous divergent initiatives and projects that are in line with its cultural and public diplomacy strategy. One of the leading projects of the UAE’s cultural and public diplomacy strategy is EXPO2020. EXPO2020 is a strategic initiative whose main objective is to expose in great detail the UAE’s Emirati culture to the entire world. According to Reem Al Hashimi, the managing director of EXPO2020, the initiative is the hallmark of the UAE’s Soft Power Strategy of globally manifesting the nation as a leading cultural center in the world (Prentis, 2020). More than 190 countries have confirmed to attend the multi-million-dollar event, EXPO2020, which is located on a 1000 acres piece of land stretching between the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai (Stephens, 2020). Even though it is primarily focused on orchestrating the Emirati culture and people, the EXPO2020 will also address universal issues related to green energy and food security (Stephens, 2020). The EXPO2020 offers the UAE an immense opportunity to sell its national brand on the international plane and, thus, seal its place as the leading soft power nation in the Middle East (Khaleej Times, 2020). Due to the widespread ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly its impact on international travel, the EXPO2020 has been postponed to 2021.
The Louvre Museum Abu Dhabi is another leading initiative in line with the UAE’s cultural and public diplomacy strategy. Opened on November 11th, 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is the culmination of a ten-year strategic collaboration between the UAE and France and is considered one of the biggest and best museums in the Middle East (Aldroubi, 2018). According to Donya Saberi, a lecturer at the Middlesex University Dubai, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is central to the UAE’s plans of exposing both the Arabic and Emirati cultures to the world (Saberi, Paris, & Marochi, 2018). The Louvre Abu Dhabi contains more than 600 pieces of art detailing the nascent historical heritage and cultural practices of the Emirati (Aldroubi, 2018). The Louvre Abu Dhabi, thus, enables both contemporary UAE residents and foreigners to have a deeper understanding of the nation and its origins hence further strengthening the global perception of the Emirati culture and way of life. Apart from traditional Emirati art and cultural artifacts the Louvre Abu Dhabi also showcases more than 300 works of art by leading artists such as Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Cy Twombly (Aldroubi, 2018). Showcasing various art pieces by leading international artists, such as Vincent van Gogh, at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, has contributed to UAE’s soft power by luring millions of tourists into the nation each year.
The UAE has numerous cultural programs that contribute immensely to the nation’s cultural and public diplomacy strategy. According to Zaki Nusseibeh, UAE’s Minister of State, the divergent Emirati cultural programs are integral to the country’s Soft Power Strategy as they enhance cultural exchanges between the UAE and its international allies, thus, further strengthening both the Arabic and Emirati culture on the global scale (Kaabi, 2018). Kaabi (2018) holds that the UAE can only achieve massive international appeal through the continuous global manifestation of its numerous Emirati cultural programs (Kaabi, 2018). The UAE has several traditional cultural programs, such as the Al Gharbia Watersports Festival, Al Shara, the Liwa Date Festival, and the Al Dhafra Festival, which manifest traditional Emirati cultural practices and art. Currently, the UAE has diversified its cultural programs and founded numerous art foundations, such as the media zone twofour54, Art Dubai, and the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, to help promote its culture and art forms internationally. Cultural programs are integral to UAE’s soft power capacity and, therefore, immensely beneficial to the nation’s cultural and public diplomacy strategy.
Top-class universities and colleges in the UAE have also contributed to the nation’s cultural and public diplomacy strategy of soft power. Education exchange is an integral element of UAE’s cultural and public diplomacy and by far the best way of selling the nation’s brand in foreign countries (Masudi, 2019). Saeed Mohammad Al Eter, director-general of Public Diplomacy Office at Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and Future, and secretary-general of UAE Soft Power Council espouse that the education exchange programs enable international students to experience the Emirati culture and, therefore, return home with a positive image about the country (Masudi, 2019). Education exchange programs enable the UAE to use international students as the ambassadors of not only their nation but also their culture. The UAE has several internationally accredited universities, such as the New York University Abu Dhabi, Canadian University of Dubai, Middlesex University Dubai, and the American University of Sharjah, making it a leading center for education exchange. Saeed Mohammad Al Eter argues that more than 25,000 international students are studying in the UAE, and this presents the nation with a golden opportunity to improve its soft power capabilities (Masudi, 2019). The numerous internationally accredited universities in the UAE play an influential role in the country’s cultural and public diplomacy strategy.
Expatriates in the UAE
The massive number of expatriates in the UAE highlights the success of the nation’s cultural and public diplomacy strategy of soft power. According to Stephens (2020), almost 80% of the UAE’s population is made up of expatriates hailing from more than 200 nations globally. The UAE is a top destination for both skilled and non-skilled employees due to its strong economy, peaceful and stable political environment, and attractive and accommodative culture. Due to the UAE’s incredible soft power capabilities, the nation can attract and retain a large number of expatriates, a factor that not only exhibits the strength of the nation’s cultural and public diplomacy strategy but also its success. According to Stephens (2020), the UAE’s cultural and public diplomacy strategy has made the nation a top worker destination due to its focus on culture and people. The UAE’s cultural and diplomacy strategy promotes the traditional Emirati culture that is not only welcoming but also accommodative to all, thus, ensuring that foreigners are treated with dignity and respect. Saeed Mohammed Al Eter argues that the nation’s cultural and public diplomacy strategy that is focused on humanity and the creation of an egalitarian society, based on brotherhood, has helped distinguish the UAE as a leading destination for workers (Stephens, 2020). Expatriates have played an integral role in the development of the UAE and constitute a big part of the nation’s population, thus, pointing to its successful cultural and public diplomacy strategies.
UAE’s International Image
The concept of cultural and public diplomacy has helped improve the UAE’s national image, thus, immensely improving its soft power capabilities. According to Saberi et al. (2018), less than twenty years ago, the UAE had a bad national image characterized by a wanting humanitarian record, gender inequality, and lack of democratic space. The UAE has since rebranded its national image through place branding and the implementation of genuine political and social reforms (Jeong, 2020). A country’s brand represents how the state promotes and represents its identity to the world, and it informs the nation’s global reputation. Place branding is concerned with presenting an attractive culture, policies, and values to the world in order to make a country more appealing to both state and non-state parties (Saberi et al., 2018). The UAE has also implemented different political and social changes related to gender inclusivity, human rights, and democratic space. According to Saeed Mohammad Al Eter, the UAE has, in the last few years, made incredible improvements in matters of gender equality in the nation in order to bolster its appeal among non-Islamic nations, particularly the developed democracies of the West (Stephens, 2020). The UAE’s cultural and public diplomacy strategies have boosted the nation’s national branding efforts cemented its place as a leading soft power nation.
Notwithstanding the fact that the UAE has a well-thought cultural and public diplomacy strategy, the nation needs to strengthen its international communication and information apparatus. According to Professor Nye, daily communications and information are an integral element of cultural and public diplomacy (Saberi et al., 2018). Daily communications and information are concerned with the permanent issuance of correct information that is not only in time but also creates a correct perception about a given nation. Prof Nye argues that daily communication and information attract international public opinion and establishes holism and cohesion that are quite integral for an appealing soft power base (Saberi et al., 2018). The UAE currently has both national and private media outlets that consistently provide news about the daily happening in the nation. However, UAE’s media outlets do not have massive international appeal and this, in turn, means that issues in the UAE do not easily attract international public opinion. To further improve its soft power capacity, the UAE should strengthen its news media outlets and, thus, enable them to have a strong international appeal. The UAE can emulate the U.S.A. that has dominated the international news scene and, therefore, enjoys massive international public opinion.
The UAE has an effective cultural and public diplomacy strategy that has enabled it to build on its soft power capabilities. The main objective of the UAE’s cultural and public diplomacy strategy is to establish itself as a leading capital for culture, art, and tourism in the Middle East while shoring up its reputation as a modern and tolerant country welcoming to all. The UAE’s cultural and public diplomacy strategy has enabled the nation to come up with numerous pertinent initiatives and projects, such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi and EXPO2020, which have raised the nation’s soft power capabilities. Place branding, an integral element of UAE’s cultural and public diplomacy strategy, has also increased the nation’s soft power capacities and international appeal. Through its cultural and public diplomacy strategy, the UAE has also been able to attract and retain its high number of expatriates. Although it is the leading soft power nation in the Middle East, the UAE has to improve on its daily communication and information dissemination process in order to further improve its global appeal levels.
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