UAE and Saudi Arabia lead Arab nations in 2022 Global Soft Power Index

Expo 2020 Dubai has been hailed as a model of soft power. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 17 March 2022
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UAE and Saudi Arabia lead Arab nations in 2022 Global Soft Power Index

  • Saudi Arabia comes in second place among Arab states, making notable improvement in its Global Soft Power Index score
  • By embracing innovations and sound business practices, 13 MENA countries featured in the 2022 Brand Finance Global index

LONDON: The UAE and Saudi Arabia have emerged as the leading Arab nations in the 2022 Brand Finance Global Soft Power Index, which was inaugurated at the Global Soft Power Summit in London on Tuesday.

Soft power practitioners and researchers came together at the forum to launch the Global Soft Power Index, the world’s most comprehensive study on perceptions of nations as brands.

Of the 13 Arab countries featured in this year’s index, the UAE ranked 15th, the highest position for any nation brand in the Middle East and North Africa.

Saudi Arabia came second among Arab nations with a global ranking of 24, maintaining last year’s position, but with a notable improvement in its index score, which climbed to 47.1 out of 100.




Saudi Arabia came second among Arab nations with a global ranking of 24, maintaining last year’s position. (Supplied)

Globally, the US bounced back to first place this year, recovering from a major deterioration in its public perception in late 2020 and 2021, while the UK also moved up to second after overcoming the the fallout from COVID-19 and the Brexit debate.

According to Andrew Campbell, managing director of Brand Finance Middle East, the new rankings show that Saudi brands are growing and leading right across the Middle East.

“Each of the major Saudi brands is working toward Vision 2030 in its respective sector, recording impressive growth,” he told Arab News.

“Ma’aden is the fastest-growing brand in the entire region and Saudi brands across different industries are making their mark. These include Saudia Airlines, the Middle East’s fastest-growing airline brand this year.”

Indeed, Saudi Arabia has made soft power and nation branding key priorities in its Vision 2030 social and economic reform agenda.
 




King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) is a key international aid brand. (SPA)

The Kingdom is considered the center of the Arab, Islamic and international energy world, imbued with a rich history and culture. By promoting these qualities, it has used soft power as part of its foreign policy strategy for many years.

Meanwhile, in the UAE, exhibitions such as Expo 2020 Dubai have been used to cement the country’s role as a global soft power, and as a tool to connect nations and build bridges through innovation and inspiration.

Speaking at the Global Soft Power Summit, Sarah bint Yousef Al-Amiri, UAE minister for advanced technology and chair of the UAE Space Agency, said that her country claimed its place in the index by embracing change.

“It’s not by chance that the UAE is the strongest from a soft power perspective in the Middle East and North Africa. It is due to complete dedication and evolution, and embracing change and embracing innovation.”

The UAE also recognizes “the importance of leading, not by dictating what is right and wrong, and what form of governance is right and wrong,” she said.

Instead, it leads by “demonstrating how you create opportunities, leading by demonstrating how you create change, leading by demonstrating how you build growth within your own nation.”

Index scores were determined through a range of metrics across seven fields: Business and trade, governance, international relations, culture and heritage, media and communication, education and science, and people and values.

The Brand Finance Index also added a special metric to measure how nations responded to the challenges of COVID-19.

Soft power, a term coined by US political scientist Joseph Nye in 1990, is defined as the ability to obtain preferred outcomes by attraction rather than through coercion or payment.
 

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Nye argued that there is an alternative tool of foreign policy for states to win the support of others. Instead of the traditional hard power approach, which relies on military and economic means, soft power, achieved through shared values and norms, can be utilized to appeal to states rather than coerce them.

“Soft power will reduce some of the future needs for hard power and, ultimately, should lead to more peace and prosperity,” Scott McDonald, CEO of the British Council, told the London summit in his opening remarks.




The Global Soft Power Summit was held in London on March 15, 2022. (Supplied)

According to the 2022 Global Soft Power Index, the UAE performed best on the business and trade pillar, ranking among the top 10 globally. It came fourth for being “easy to do business in and with,” and ranked eighth for being a “strong and stable economy.”

Performing well on a variety of other metrics, the UAE made the most rapid improvement this year in education and science. The UAE’s focus on high-tech industries and its leap into space exploration with the Emirates Mars Mission are likely to have influenced its score in this field.

“Innovation for us is not a choice,” Al-Amiri told Arab News. “It is actually an imperative mechanism of development, just by the fact that five decades ago, we didn’t have access to basic education, basic infrastructure, or any of the ways of modern life that we have today.”

In that time, the UAE has “transitioned from a country that has focused entirely on building infrastructure, because that didn’t exist, to a nation that is building what I call the intangible infrastructure that is based on talent and on the utilization of science and technology, that utilizes research and development as the engine of economic growth and sustained economic growth,” she added.

The UAE is also emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than before, with its trade and investment accomplishments underscored by the success of Expo 2020 Dubai.

However, embracing change and innovation does not mean the UAE has lost sight of its authentic character. Instead, the nation has allowed its identity to develop in tandem with its economic diversification.




Brands such as Saudia Airlines have played a role in building Saudi Arabia’s national brand. (Supplied)

“We have no problem looking retrospectively with regards to culture, with regards to values, understanding what works, understanding what needs to continue to evolve and develop it moving forward,” Al-Amiri said.

“We are about understanding and appreciating the differences between people. Legislations are there, but never set in stone.”

Besides the UAE and Saudi Arabia, 11 other Arab nations were included in this year’s Global Soft Power Index.

Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait, and Morocco ranked third, fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, followed by Oman, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon and Iraq ranked from seventh to 13th.


Israel revokes order to cut AP live Gaza video feed

Updated 22 May 2024
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Israel revokes order to cut AP live Gaza video feed

JERUSALEM: Israel walked back its decision to shut down an Associated Press live video feed of war-torn Gaza on Tuesday, following a protest from the US news agency and concern from the White House.
Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said he had revoked an earlier order that accused the AP of breaching a new ban on providing rolling footage of Gaza to Qatar-based satellite channel Al Jazeera.
“I have now ordered to cancel the operation and return the equipment to the AP agency,” Karhi said in a statement, after Washington called on Israel to reverse the move.
“We’ve been engaging directly with the government of Israel to express our concerns over this action and to ask them to reverse it,” a White House spokesperson said.
Karhi’s original order earlier Tuesday said communications ministry inspectors had “confiscated the equipment” of AP on orders approved by the government “in accordance with the law.”
The AP said Israeli officials had seized its camera and broadcasting equipment at a location in the Israeli town of Sderot that overlooks the northern Gaza Strip.
In a statement issued after the order the news agency said it “decries in the strongest terms” the move by the Israeli government.
Reacting after Israeli officials ordered the equipment to be returned, it added: “While we are pleased with this development, we remain concerned about the Israeli government’s use of the foreign broadcaster law and the ability of independent journalists to operate freely in Israel.”
AP said Al Jazeera was among thousands of clients that receive live video feeds from the agency.
Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said the government “went crazy.”
“This is not Al Jazeera, this is an American media outlet that has won 53 Pulitzer Prizes,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
AFP global news director Phil Chetwynd said Israel’s initial order was “an attack on press freedom.”
“The free flow of verified information and images from reliable sources is vital in the current highly-charged context,” he said in a statement.
“We would urge the authorities to immediately reverse this decision and to allow all journalists to work freely and without hindrance.”
The United Nations said it was “shocking.”
“The Associated Press, of all news organizations, should be allowed to do its work freely and free of any harassment,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera was taken off the air in Israel this month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government voted to shut it down over its coverage of the Gaza war.
Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem offices were shuttered, its equipment confiscated and its team’s accreditations pulled.
The AP said communications ministry officials arrived at its location in Sderot on Tuesday afternoon and seized the equipment.
It said officials had handed the AP a piece of paper, signed by the communications minister, alleging it was violating the country’s new foreign broadcast law.
The ministry later confirmed the incident.
It said the US news agency regularly took images of Gaza from the balcony of a house in Sderot, “including focusing on the activities of IDF (army) soldiers and their location.”
“Even though the inspectors of the Ministry of Communications warned them that they were breaking the law and that they should cut off Al Jazeera from receiving their content and not transfer a broadcast to Al Jazeera, they continued to do so,” it said.
The AP said it had been broadcasting a general view of northern Gaza before its equipment was seized, and that the live feed has generally shown smoke rising over the Palestinian territory.
“The AP complies with Israel’s military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troops movements that could endanger soldiers,” the agency added.
The Foreign Press Association in Israel said it was “alarmed” by the confiscation of the AP’s equipment, calling it “a slippery slope.”
It denounced Israel’s “dismal” record on press freedom during the Gaza war, and called the move against AP “outrageous censorship.”
In the 2024 press freedom index by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Israel ranked 101st out of 180 countries — dropping four positions from the previous year.
The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Hamas also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,647 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Palestinian detainees ‘tortured’ in Israeli hospitals, BBC investigation finds

Updated 21 May 2024
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Palestinian detainees ‘tortured’ in Israeli hospitals, BBC investigation finds

  • Patients are kept shackled to hospital beds, blindfolded, naked, forced to wear diapers
  • Probe recalls report alleging violation of detainees’ health rights as act of revenge

LONDON: A BBC investigation has revealed that Palestinian detainees from Gaza are “routinely tortured” in Israeli hospitals.

According to medical workers and whistleblowers interviewed by the broadcaster, detainees are kept shackled to hospital beds, blindfolded, sometimes naked, and forced to wear diapers.

Some in need of surgery and other medical procedures are denied painkillers, causing “an unacceptable amount of pain.”

Testimonies indicated that critically-ill patients held in makeshift military facilities are denied proper treatment due to public hospitals’ reluctance to transfer and treat them.

The Israeli army has denied the allegations, asserting that detainees at the facility in question were treated “appropriately and carefully.”

Yossi Walfisch, the head of the country’s Medical Ethics Board, said in a letter: “Terrorists are given proper medical treatment with the aim of keeping restraints to a minimum, and while maintaining the safety of the treating staff.”

The investigation detailed various episodes of mistreatment, which were described in some testimonies as “a deliberate act of revenge.”

In one instance, a detainee had his leg amputated after being denied treatment for an infected wound.

In another, a doctor refused to administer painkillers to an elderly patient while treating an infected amputation wound.

Senior anesthesiologist Yoel Donchin confirmed that patients at Sde Teiman hospital were kept blindfolded and permanently shackled to their beds, while forced to wear diapers instead of being allowed to use toilets.

Donchin argued that the practice could cause long-term nerve damage and admitted to performing surgical procedures on handcuffed patients due to a lack of alternatives.

Despite complaints from medical staff, only minor changes have been implemented.

An army spokesperson said that violence against detainees was “absolutely prohibited” and promised to investigate the allegations.

The revelations recall a report in February by Physicians for Human Rights Israel, which described Israel’s civilian and military prisons as “an apparatus of retribution and revenge,” violating detainees’ human rights, particularly their right to health.

In March, following a similar BBC investigation into alleged abuse and torture by the Israeli army at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, the UK government called for an “investigation and explanation” into the allegations.

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Media watchdog ‘welcomes’ arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli leaders

Updated 21 May 2024
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Media watchdog ‘welcomes’ arrest warrants for Hamas and Israeli leaders

  • ICC’s action is a promise to end impunity for the deaths of journalists, says Committee to Protect Journalists

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the International Criminal Court’s announcement on Monday that it was seeking arrest warrants for leaders of both Hamas and Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, and Ismail Haniyeh might face prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“The ICC’s application for arrest warrants for crimes against humanity in Israel and Palestine recognizes atrocities committed against civilians,” said CPJ CEO Jodie Ginsberg.

“The civilian deaths include an unprecedented number of journalists killed since Oct. 7. The ICC’s action is a promise for an end to the impunity that has historically plagued the killing and persecution of those who write the first draft of history.”

Over 100 journalists and media workers have been killed since the beginning of the conflict last October, the vast majority of them in Gaza by Israeli forces.

CPJ reported that the conflict has claimed the lives of more journalists in three months than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year since record-keeping began, underscoring the tragic toll this war has had on journalists.

The watchdog, along with corroborating investigations by Reuters, AFP, and Human Rights Watch, has documented at least three instances of journalists killed by Israeli forces that involved deliberate targeting.

An additional 10 cases may also involve deliberate targeting, which, according to international law, could constitute war crimes.

CPJ has urged the ICC to investigate these killings and called on Israel to grant investigators unrestricted access to Gaza, highlighting a disturbing pattern of systematic killings of Palestinian journalists that have consistently gone unpunished.

The announcement of potential arrest warrants for Netanyahu was met with strong reactions.

Netanyahu called the decision “a moral outrage of historic proportions,” while US President Joe Biden rejected the ICC’s application altogether, adding that “there’s no equivalence between Israel and Hamas.”


Meta Oversight Board set to rule on ‘genocide’ video case, two others

Updated 21 May 2024
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Meta Oversight Board set to rule on ‘genocide’ video case, two others

  • Meta submitted cases as part of goal to create policy on criminal allegations based on nationality
  • Decision to help Meta better navigate critical questions at a crucial time, board spokesperson told Arab News

LONDON: The Meta Oversight Board announced on Tuesday that it is reviewing three cases, including one involving a user accusing Israel of committing “genocide” and another concerning a Facebook comment in Arabic.

Meta, which submitted the cases as part of its review system aimed at creating a policy on criminal allegations based on nationality, said it removed the posts for breaching its Hate Speech Community Standards.

The first case involves a user’s reply on Threads, featuring a video that includes accusations of “genocide” and claims that “Israelis are criminals.”

The other two cases involve a December speech in which a user called all Russians and Americans “criminals” and a recent post in which a user stated that “all Indians are rapists.”

An Oversight Board spokesperson told Arab News: “Tensions in the region, and increasingly around the world, are dominating the discussion online.

“It’s vitally important that when looking at these issues, Meta gets the balance right and works to protect safety, without unduly limiting the ability of people to speak out about the abuses they see or the frustration they experience.”

The spokesperson added that while the board cannot review every appeal, it selects those of critical importance to public discourse “to help Meta better navigate these critical questions at a crucial time.”

Meta said the three posts were removed after human review for “targeting people with criminal allegations based on nationality.”

Despite its decision, Meta referred the cases to the Oversight Board to address the challenge of handling criminal allegations directed at people based on their nationality, as they might be interpreted as attacks on a nation’s policies.

The board’s decision to review these cases comes as social media platforms have seen an uptick in violent, hateful, and misleading content since the start of Israel’s war on Gaza last October.

The Oversight Board reported a nearly 2,000 percent increase in appeals from the region in the first three weeks after Oct. 7, with many complaints about content inciting violence and promoting hate speech.

The moderators have called for public comments addressing the platform’s hate speech policy in relation to users’ ability to speak out against state actions during times of conflict and Meta’s human rights responsibilities in relation to content targeting users based on nationality.

They also requested insights into potential criteria for determining whether a user is targeting a concept or institution rather than people based on nationality.

In the coming weeks, the board members will deliberate on the cases.

Facebook and its parent company Meta have previously been accused of deliberately censoring pro-Palestine content. Human Rights Watch stated last December that Meta routinely engages in “six key patterns of undue censorship” of pro-Palestine posts.

Recently, the board introduced a new 30-day expedited review mechanism and will rule on whether the pro-Palestinian phrase “from the river to the sea” is considered “acceptable” speech.

In April, the board overturned Meta’s decision to leave up a Facebook post claiming that Hamas originated from the population of Gaza, comparing them to a “savage horde,” leading Meta to take the post down.


Report: Meta approved anti-Muslim political ads in India

Updated 20 May 2024
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Report: Meta approved anti-Muslim political ads in India

  • ICWI and Eko found Meta’s system failed to detect prohibited content in most cases
  • Indian election sees surge in anti-Muslim, Hindu supremacist sentiment

LONDON: Tech giant Meta approved political advertisements on its platforms inciting violence and hate speech during India’s general election, a report released on Monday revealed.

The investigation, conducted by non-sectarian diasporic organization India Civil Watch International and corporate watchdog Eko, found that Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, allowed AI-manipulated political ads that spread disinformation and incited religious violence, particularly targeting Muslims.

The report found that Meta’s system failed to prohibit a series of inflammatory ads designed to mimic real-life scenarios, uploaded by ICWI and Eko.

The ads, submitted to Meta’s ad library, contained slurs towards Muslims in India, such as “let’s burn this vermin” and “Hindu blood is spilling, these invaders must be burned.”

Another ad featured Hindu supremacist language and false claims about political leaders, including an opposition leader allegedly wanting to “erase Hindus from India” and calling for their execution.

According to the report, all of the adverts “were created based upon real hate speech and disinformation prevalent in India, underscoring the capacity of social media platforms to amplify existing harmful narratives.”

Out of 22 ads submitted in English, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati and Kannada, 14 were approved by Meta, while a further three were approved after minor tweaks that did not alter the overall provocative messaging.

Only five ads were rejected for violating Meta’s community standards on hate speech and violence.

The ads, which largely targeted Muslims, were immediately removed after approval by ICWI and Eko.

The organizations accused Meta of profiting from hate speech and failing to uphold its pledge to prevent AI-generated or manipulated content from spreading on its platforms during the Indian election.

Campaign spending for India’s elections, the largest and longest in the world, is estimated to reach $16 billion.

The report also claims that the approved ads violated India’s election rules, which ban election-related content 48 hours before polling begins and during voting.

Meta, which requires vetting approval for accounts running political ads, had already faced controversy during this year’s Indian elections.

A previous report by ICWI and Eko found that surrogate or “shadow” accounts aligned with political parties paid vast sums of money to disseminate unauthorized political ads on platforms.

Some approved accounts for running political ads were even up for sale in public Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members.

Many of these real ads endorsed Islamophobic tropes and Hindu supremacist narratives.

The tech giant has struggled for years with the spread of Islamophobic content on its platforms, raising concerns about Meta’s ability to enforce its policies and control the situation amid rising anti-Muslim sentiment in India.