Of succession and lobbying

[Ed. note: This post contained numerous typos and has been edited to correct them.]

This piece by David Roberts of The Gulf Blog about a looming succession crisis in the emirate of Ras al-Khaima is one of the most interesting pieces on a part of the Arab world I don't know well I've read in a while. Like my previous post on Tunisia hiring lobbyists in DC and other posts on lobbying efforts by Arab government I've done before, it illustrates the extent to which these governments (each their own variation of grotesque) have completely internalized the need to appeal to and cajole US politicians, the American public and Washington, DC power brokers for their own internal strength.

It starts off with a classic succession battle in one of the emirates you rarely hear about (at least outside the UAE) between Sheikh Saud, the Crown Prince and son of the Sheikh Saqr al-Qisimi, the emirate's dying leader, and his half-brother Sheikh Khalid (formerly the Crown Prince and now in exile):

What is different in this case is the 21st century manner in which Khalid has gone about resuming his place in line to the throne. Much like the Emirates’ economy is described as a ‘rentier’ in nature with their income (or rent) largely derived from oil and gas with an exceedingly heavy reliance of foreign workers, this appears to be a rentier coup. Specifically, Khalid hired Californian Strategies, an American public relations firm to devise a plan to return him to power. Some members of the PR staff even reportedly get a $250,000 bonus if they succeed.

Cognisant of exactly what will grab the attention of America and the world at large, the PR agency — paid some $3.7 million to date according to The Guardian — began to formulate an image of Khalid as a Western-orientated, modern, pragmatic, facebook and twitter-friendly leader. They even arranged meetings and photo opportunities with, for example, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Saud, in stark contrast, was depicted as either fostering or at least harbouring terrorist elements including Al Qaeda. The decision of the America’s Cup yachting team not to stop off in RAK due to alleged terrorist concerns was one strand of this ploy. Moreover, RAK’s close links to Iran and their Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) were highlighted. RAK was portrayed as an offshore sanctions-busting Mecca for Iran; a ‘rogue state’ within the UAE.

The PR agency collated these charges into a report (with similar visual similarities to official US Congressional Research Service reports) which opens with the line “Closest to Iran and furthest from UAE central authority is the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, which lies some 60 miles from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and enjoys excellent deep-water ports.” From the very beginning, therefore, insinuation and nefarious implications abound.

This blog has over the years made much of the disinformation and simply bad information that is bandied about in the US media about this part of the world. Some of it, and I'm beginning to think more than I previously thought, may be attributable to paid disinformation agents, propaganda, and PR firms who are able to take advantage of a media environment with fewer and fewer experienced foreign correspondents and budgets for oversea travel.

But coming back to my pain point, it's quite sobering to see that, in these succession crises, the pretenders to the throne see it as an essential part of their strategy to spend money on lobbying the Americans. Remember how Muatassim al-Qadhafi launched a major lobbying and PR initiative when his brother Seif was estranged last year. 

Which brings me to introducing a new website, which I believed in the most polished Egyptian government site out there: www.modernegypt.info. The contact section says it's been put up by the press and information office of the Egyptian embassy in Washington. Which is headed by Karim Haggag, the press attaché at the embassy. And what did Haggag do before that?

He was Gamal Mubarak's personal secretary.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.