Saudi Arabia, UAE rising as global champions of ‘soft power’

Campbell said that Gulf nations, in particular the UAE and Saudi Arabia, were undergoing a major economic transformation as reflected by the index’s results. (AFP/File)
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Updated 06 March 2023
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Saudi Arabia, UAE rising as global champions of ‘soft power’

  • UAE enters top 10 of Global Soft Power Index for the first time 
  • Saudi Arabia up five places to 19 in ranking by Brand Finance

LONDON: Gulf nations have made significant improvements in the 2023 Brand Finance Global Soft Power Index, with Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia leading the rest of the Arab region.

Arab nations have continued to emerge as key players in this particular study, produced annually by Brand Finance.

Soft power experts, researchers and government delegates met at Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London on Thursday to discuss the index, which is billed as the world’s most comprehensive study on perceptions of nations as brands.

The UAE jumped five places to enter the top 10 for the first time since the index was started in 2020. Brand Finance’s Chairman and CEO David Haigh described it as a “stellar performance.”

Saudi Arabia was confirmed as the second among Arab nations with a rank of 19, up five positions compared to last year.

Favored by a shifting energy landscape, the Kingdom scored 51.3 out of 100 index points, 4.1 point increase on the previous year’s score.

“I was not surprised to see UAE in the top 10, and was not surprised seeing Saudi Arabia entering the top 20,” said Lord Ed Vaizey, a former UK minister of culture. The Gulf nations’ soft power “really does pay a difference.”

Qatar also rose in the ranks, thanks in large part to the hosting of the football World Cup.

The US held top spot and further increased its lead over other nations, with an overall score of 74.8, a 4.1-point increase on last year. It was followed by the UK and Germany.

According to Andrew Campbell, managing director of Brand Finance Middle East, the new rankings show that Saudi Arabia has all the attributes to become a soft power player within the Middle East and across the world.

“The UAE is showing the way, showing what it can be done. And we have seen Saudi Arabia coming up strongly, into the top 20 for the first time in our global rankings,” Campbell told Arab News.

“With its very strong diplomatic roots, strong international relations, respected leaders and the economy being strong and stable, Saudi Arabia is now emerging, coming up as a significant soft power.”

The Kingdom, which has made ‘soft power’ a priority in its Vision 2030, advanced to ninth in the index’s ‘influence’ ranking on the back of a strong economic position and promotion of its cultural heritage.

Being home to one-quarter of the world’s known oil reserves and with the largest output of oil production globally, this year’s report reflected the nation’s crucial role in providing energy security for the rest of the world, with the country climbing 7 places to 14th in the “strong and stable economy” index. 

Haigh however said in his speech that the Kingdom has proved an ability to look beyond oil, and praised its continued efforts to diversify the economy. Its growing appeal as a tourist destination saw the Kingdom’s rank 11th in the ‘rich heritage’ category.

Saudi Arabia has also performed well in other categories including ‘investment in green energy and technologies,’ where it ranked 25th. 

It ranked 27th on ‘sustainable cities and transport,’ further demonstrating its commitment to a transition to a more sustainable economy.

The UAE performed well in a number of categories, most notably ‘reputation’ and ‘influence’ as it enjoyed a successful EXPO 2020 and prepares to host the COP 28 climate summit.

“The UAE was one of the first economies to roll out mass vaccination and open during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving it a head start ahead of others and allowing it to maintain positive perceptions across … business and trade, with a particular improvement on the ‘future growth potential’ attribute, where it ranks third globally,” Haigh said.

The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi said his country was doing a good job establishing soft power because it embraces diversity and strives to be open and welcoming.

During his speech in London, Al-Zeyoudi defended the UAE’s decision to appoint Sultan Al-Jaber, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as president of COP28, pointing out the importance of having the private sector at the table where this conversation happens because that is “where the money is, the talent is and the solutions are.”

He said the UAE was committed to transforming its global image, and that his country had cut its direct dependence on oil and gas to a historic low of 30 percent of its GDP. It had made significant investments in other industries, he added.

Campbell said that Gulf nations, in particular the UAE and Saudi Arabia, were undergoing a major economic transformation as reflected by the index’s results.

He said both were successful soft power stories because their leaders “have created a vision, decided where they want to go, and followed a very clear path developing their economies, their international relations, their tourism infrastructure, their education and health and so on. They are building all the pillars which influence soft power.”

Brand Finance said that the index scores were based on a variety of metrics, which in combination provided “a balanced and holistic assessment of nations’ presence, reputation, and impact on the world’s stage.”

These include: Familiarity, influence, reputation and performance, with the latter being based on the eight pillars that are business and trade, governance, international relations, culture and heritage, media and communication, education and science, people and values as well as sustainable future.

Soft power is a term coined in 1990 by Joseph Nye, a political scientist and former US assistant secretary of defense, to refer to a nation’s ability to gain desired outcomes through persuasion, rather than by means of coercion or payment.

It can be used to appeal to countries instead of coercing them, in contrast to the traditional hard power approach that relies on military and economic means.

In his opening remarks, Haigh said that while the world had been “dominated by hard power” in the previous 12 months, “soft power actually provides the way out” and will ultimately lead to more peace and prosperity.

This year’s summit was largely dominated by the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

In an event packed with international speakers and world leaders, including Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affair Dmytro Kuleba, Boris Johnson gave his first speech in Europe since being deposed as prime minister by his own party.

Johnson commended Ukraine’s ability to use soft power to gain international support.

Besides the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, 10 other Arab nations were included in this year’s Global Soft Power Index.

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


US police arrest Jadaliyya co-editor Sinan Antoon during pro-Gaza demonstration at New York University

Updated 48 min 43 sec ago
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US police arrest Jadaliyya co-editor Sinan Antoon during pro-Gaza demonstration at New York University

  • Antoon was arrested along with other NYU faculty members while attempting to protect demonstrating students from the police
  • NYU students were calling for a ceasefire in Palestine's Gaza Strip

LONDON: US police officers on Monday arrested Sinan Antoon, the co-editor of Jadaliyya magazine, during a pro-Gaza demonstration at New York University in Manhattan.

The Arab Studies Institute publication announced in a post on X that Antoon, an associate professor at NYU, was arrested with other faculty members while trying to protect protesting students, who were reportedly calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

Antoon is an Iraqi-American poet, novelist, literary translator and academic. He was born and raised in Baghdad before moving to the US after the 1991 Gulf War. 

The Israeli onslaught on the besieged enclave has since Oct. 7 killed at least 34,000 Palestinians, displaced some 1.9 million, and injured more than 75,800 people, according to Gaza’s health authority.

Confirming Jadaliyya’s announcement, human rights attorney Noura Erakat wrote on X: “NYPD is arresting faculty on their campuses for protecting their students.

 “The academy is imbricated with the state and the military industry intent on war in blatant abrogation of its mission and any semblance of independence. What a gross betrayal.”

On Monday, officers from the New York Police Department moved in on NYU demonstrators after a deadline expired for people to clear an area of the campus, the Financial Times reported.

This came hours after New York’s Columbia University, where more than 100 people were arrested last week, announced it would switch to online classes in an attempt to defuse pro-Palestine protests.

The arrests at the NYU campus are part of a string of US police clampdowns on university students across the country protesting against the war on Gaza.

Local authorities claimed the clampdowns came amid scrutiny over “antisemitism” on US university campuses. 

US police also arrested at least 47 pro-Gaza demonstrators at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

The Columbia University clampdown, the first of its kind in three decades, triggered protests on other US campuses, including at Brown University, Berkeley, Princeton, Northwestern, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Emerson College in Boston.

In addition to calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, the protesting students also reportedly called for divestment of the university’s funds from companies linked to Israel.


PEN America awards canceled after writers’ boycott over Gaza

Updated 23 April 2024
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PEN America awards canceled after writers’ boycott over Gaza

  • Almost half of nominated authors withdrew works from consideration
  • PEN America accused of complicity in ‘normalizing genocide’ in Gaza

LONDON: PEN America has cancelled its 2024 annual literary awards after several authors boycotted the event over the organization’s perceived failure to take a strong stance against Israel’s war on Gaza.

The decision came in response to an open letter signed by dozens of authors and translators who withdrew their work from consideration for the awards.

Sixty-one authors and translators were nominated but 28 withdrew their work, according to a statement released on Monday, forcing the organization to cancel next week’s event.

“This is a beloved event and an enormous amount of work goes into it, so we all regret this outcome but ultimately concluded it was not possible to carry out a celebration in the way we had hoped and planned,” said CEO Suzanne Nossel.

The boycott emerged amidst growing tensions with PEN, with authors urging the organization to take a stronger stance on the Palestinian crisis and advocate for a Gaza ceasefire.

In the letter, PEN was accused of acting as a “cultural front for American exceptionalism” and complicity in “normalizing genocide” by failing to address the situation in Gaza adequately.

“In the context of Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza, we believe that PEN America has betrayed the organization’s professed commitment to peace and equality for all, and to freedom and security for writers everywhere,” said a separate letter signed last month by several famous writers including Michelle Alexander, Naomi Klein and Zaina Arafat.

PEN America has defended its actions, citing its recent condemnation of the loss of life in Gaza, calls for a ceasefire, and the establishment of a $100,000 emergency fund for Palestinian writers.

The awards, which celebrates voices across various genres including writers of fiction, poetry, children’s literature and drama, was scheduled for April 29 at the Town Hall in New York City.


Russia orders jail term for Meta spokesman in absentia on ‘terrorism’ charges

Updated 22 April 2024
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Russia orders jail term for Meta spokesman in absentia on ‘terrorism’ charges

  • Andy Stone was sentenced to six years in what has been described as a symbolic ruling agaist Western social media platforms

MOSCOW: A Russian military court on Monday sentenced in absentia Meta spokesman Andy Stone to six years behind bars for “justifying terrorism,” as part of efforts to restrict Western social media platforms in the country.
The largely symbolic ruling came several months after Mosocw, which has blocked Meta platforms Instagram and Facebook, put the US citizen on a wanted list.
Judge Roman Kiforenko said the sentence would begin upon Stone setting foot on Russian territory or being extradited to Russia, news agencies reported.
The case followed a post by Stone in March 2022 — weeks into Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine — in which he said Facebook would not punish users calling for violence against Russian forces.
Stone said Meta had “temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders.’“
“We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians,” the post read.
Nick Clegg, the President of Meta Global Affairs, said at the time that the policy would only apply “in Ukraine itself.”
Clegg said the decision was taken in “extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances” and was designed to protect “people’s rights to speech as an expression of self-defense.”
Russia barred Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg from entering the country shortly after launching hostilities in Ukraine.
Moscow does not tolerate criticism of the offensive on social media, imposing fines or jail terms to thousands for denouncing the large-scale military campaign now in its third year.


Terry Anderson, US journalist held hostage nearly 7 years in Lebanon, dead at 76

Updated 22 April 2024
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Terry Anderson, US journalist held hostage nearly 7 years in Lebanon, dead at 76

  • Former AP correspondent was abuducted by pro-Iran Shiite Muslim group as part of “continuing operations against Americans”

LONDON: Terry Anderson, a US journalist who was held captive by Islamist militants for almost seven years in Lebanon and came to symbolize the plight of Western hostages during the country’s 1975-1990 civil war, died on Sunday at age 76, his daughter said in a statement.
The former chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press, who was the longest held hostage of the scores of Westerners abducted in Lebanon, died at his home in Greenwood Lake, New York, said his daughter Sulome Anderson, who was born three months after he was seized. No cause of death was given.
Kept in barely-lit cells by mostly Shiite Muslim groups in what was known as The Hostage Crisis, and chained by his hands and feet and blindfolded much of the time, the former Marine later recalled that he “almost went insane” and that only his Roman Catholic faith prevented him from taking his life before he was freed in December 1991.
“Though my father’s life was marked by extreme suffering during his time as a hostage in captivity, he found a quiet, comfortable peace in recent years. I know he would choose to be remembered not by his very worst experience, but through his humanitarian work with the Vietnam Children’s Fund, the Committee to Protect Journalists, homeless veterans and many other incredible causes,” Sulome Anderson said.
The family will take some time to organize a memorial, she said.
Anderson’s ordeal began in Beirut on the morning of March 16, 1985, after he played a round of tennis. A green Mercedes sedan with curtains over the rear window pulled up, three gunmen jumped out and dragged Anderson, still dressed in shorts, into the car.
The pro-Iran Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, saying it was part of “continuing operations against Americans.” The abductors demanded freedom for Shiite Muslims jailed in Kuwait for bomb attacks against the US and French embassies there.
It was the start of a nightmare for Anderson that would last six years and nine months during which he was stuck in cells under the rubble-strewn streets of Beirut and elsewhere, often badly fed and sleeping on a thin, dirty mattress on a concrete floor.
During captivity, both his father and brother would die of cancer and he would not see his daughter Sulome until she was six years old.
“What kept me going?” he asked aloud shortly after release. “My companions. I was lucky to have people with me most of the time. My faith, stubbornness. You do what you have to. You wake up every day, summon up the energy from somewhere. You think you haven’t got it and you get through the day and you do it. Day after day after day.”
Other hostages described Anderson as tough and active in captivity, learning French and Arabic and exercising regularly.
However, they also told of him banging his head against a wall until he bled in frustration at beatings, isolation, false hopes and the feeling of being neglected by the outside world.
“There is a limit of how long we can last and some of us are approaching the limit very badly,” Anderson said in a videotape released by his captors in December 1987.
Marcel Fontaine, a French diplomat who was released in May 1988 after three years of captivity, recalled the time cell mate Anderson thought freedom was near because he was allowed to see the sun and eat a hamburger.
In April 1987 Anderson was given a suit of clothes that his captors had made for him. “He wore it every day,” Fontaine said.
A week later, however, Anderson’s captors took the suit back, leaving him in despair and certain he was forgotten, Fontaine said.
Scores of journalist groups, governments and individuals over the years called for Anderson’s release and his Oct. 27 birthday became an unofficial US memorial day for hostages.
Anderson said he considered killing himself several times but rejected it. He relied heavily on his faith, which he said he had renewed six months before being kidnapped.
“I must have read the Bible 50 times from start to finish,” he said. “It was an enormous help to me.”
His sister, Peggy Say, who died in 2015, was his fiercest advocate during captivity.
She worked tirelessly for her brother’s freedom. She visited Arab and European capitals, lobbied the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and every US official and politician available.
Under pressure from the media and the US hostages’ families, the Reagan administration negotiated a secret and illegal deal in the mid-1980s to facilitate arms sales to Iran in return for the release of American hostages. But the deal, known as the Iran–Contra affair, failed to gain freedom for any of the hostages.
Born Oct. 27, 1947, in Lorain, Ohio, Anderson grew up in Batavia, New York. He graduated from Iowa State University and spent six years in the Marine Corps, mostly as a journalist.
He worked for the AP in Detroit, Louisville, New York, Tokyo, Johannesburg and then Beirut, where he first went to cover the Israeli invasion in 1982.
In that war-torn city, he fell in love with Lebanese woman Madeleine Bassil, who was his fiance and pregnant with their daughter Sulome when he was snatched.
He is survived by his daughters Sulome and Gabrielle, his sister Judy and brother Jack, and by Bassil, whom Sulome Anderson called “his ex-wife and best friend.”
Anderson and fellow hostages developed a system of communication by tapping on walls between their cells. Always the journalist, Anderson passed on news of the outside world he had picked up during captivity to Church of England envoy Terry Waite, being held hostage in an adjacent room in September 1990 after years of solitary confinement.
“Then the world news: the Berlin Wall’s falling, communism’s demise in eastern Europe, free elections in the Soviet Union, work toward multiracial government in South Africa. All the incredible things that have happened since he was taken nearly three years ago. He thought I was crazy,” Anderson wrote in his 1993 book “Den of Lions.”
After his release, Anderson taught journalism at Columbia University in New York, Ohio University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Florida until he retired in 2015.
Among businesses he invested in were a horse ranch in Ohio, and a restaurant. He unsuccessfully ran for the Ohio state Senate as a Democrat in 2004 and sued Iran in federal court for his abduction, winning a multimillion-dollar settlement in 2002.


British man investigated for hate crime after viral racist rant against Muslim women

Updated 21 April 2024
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British man investigated for hate crime after viral racist rant against Muslim women

  • ‘I don’t understand why people stand by and let it happen,’ says witness

LONDON: A hate crime investigation is underway following a viral video of an attack against Muslim women in East London, police confirmed on Sunday.

The incident occurred on Saturday in Romford when a white male, wearing glasses, targeted the group, some of whom were wearing hijabs and pushing shopping trolleys.

The footage, shared by Redbridge Community Action Group, shows the man following the women down South Street, a busy shopping area, while shouting and gesturing aggressively as they attempt to leave the scene.

The man is heard using profanities and labeling the women “Muslim traitors.”

In an outburst caught on camera, he accused one of the women of supporting missile attacks against Israel, adding: “We don’t want you here.” He went on to use an expletive.

The Metropolitan Police has confirmed it is treating the confrontation as a hate crime.

Scotland Yard posted on X: “We are aware and urgently investigating this clearly unacceptable incident. We will be speaking to the victim later.”

Vaseem Ahmed, 55, who was participating in a rally supporting a free Palestine, and located near Barclays Bank on the high street, witnessed the incident.

As police arrived, Ahmed noted that the activists dispersed, with the confrontation occurring as the women headed home.

He told The Independent: “I’d say to him (the white male) ‘If you’re going to be brave, do the same thing in front of some Muslim men (and) then see what the outcome is.’

“Don’t target innocent people; it’s the worst kind of bullying. And grow up. Some of the stuff he was saying was really vile.

“He was so angry and so worked up he couldn’t get his words out properly. It wasn’t the most eloquent rant.”

He added: “I know those women from other demonstrations. I was shocked in the way it happened, but then not shocked at the same time. Islamophobic attacks have skyrocketed since Oct. 7.

“A lot of government ministers and even Rishi Sunak refuse to call out Islamophobia when it happens, and people get emboldened.

“We are visibly Muslim, especially women, (and) they become easy targets. That’s the saddest thing.

“I didn’t see anyone intervene. They might have been concerned for their safety, but all you have to do is shout a few times; you don’t have to put yourself in danger. I don’t understand why people stand by and let it happen.”