The rise of influence in the Middle East
Over the last decade, the Middle East has witnessed remarkable growth in influence, corporate footprint and public diplomacy, fueled by the strategic use of communications.
This surge in influence has in fact deep historical roots, as the Arab and Muslim world were among the first innovators in the art of diplomacy and soft power. Historically, the Arab and Muslim world excelled in diplomacy and cultural exchange, fostering intellectual and artistic achievements that had a profound impact on the global stage. Centuries ago, they established trade routes that connected the East and West, creating a crossroads for culture, commerce and knowledge. This rich heritage laid the foundation for modern-day soft power.
Today, it is coming back to this heritage of influence and innovation, full circle. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar specifically, continue to harness the power of strategic communications to assert influence on the global stage.
The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 is a dominant example. What was first seen by global pundits as perhaps an over ambitious ideology has transformed into a globally renowned, public pledge and manifesto with very tangible outcomes. There is no government or corporation today, across the world, that isn’t talking about Vision 2030 and the Kingdom’s ambitions.
What is particularly resonant about Vision 2030 is its master branding within Saudi Arabia itself. Every person and business within the Kingdom is aligning their work within this Vision. It is a masterclass in both internal and external communication, as well as inclusivity. After all, the excitement around Vision 2030 is fueled largely by the harnessing of the national pride and passion of the people of the Kingdom; each of whom are driving this vision forward akin to the country’s brand ambassadors.
It recognizes that influence starts at home. This recognition may not seem particularly revolutionary to some, but it is an ideological shift for global communicators, particularly in the PR world, where the main impact audience desired by countries and corporates alike has historically been external.
There is no government or corporation today, across the world, that isn’t talking about Vision 2030 and the Kingdom’s ambitions.
Selina Rashid Khan
One of the reasons for this, is the youth population of KSA, of which those under 30 years of age, make up 63 percent.
The Kingdom’s Riyadh Season speaks to this population. Currently in full swing, Riyadh Season is bringing the world’s top sporting and entertainment personalities to the Kingdom, exemplifying their efforts to diversify the economy and reshape its image as a dynamic, open, and welcoming nation, fostering goodwill and soft power. Equally, the Red Sea Film Festival has opened up new storytelling avenues for young Arab directors, producers, and actors. Such moves indicate a clear understanding of the power of a narrative to influence global perception.
On storytelling and influence, the growing importance of Middle Eastern media is significant. New networks, channels, radio stations, and digital content continue to provide the world with another perspective and narrative, away from BBC, CNN, and the like. It has allowed the Middle East to tell its own story.
As I write this, with Israel’s ongoing, devastating aggression in Palestine, Middle Eastern networks and channels such as Al Jazeera, Arab News and more, are bringing an honest and nuanced perspective to the world. The fact that the US Secretary of State had to formally ask Qatar to ‘turn down the volume’ on Al Jazeera’s coverage shows the impact of their media’s ability to shape global discourse and influence diplomatic interaction.
On the public diplomacy front, the success of the FIFA World Cup is an important example of the region’s soft power. The opening ceremony itself was a great show of regional strength and the power of unity, with prominent guests attending, including Crown Prince and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Presidents of Egypt and Algeria, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General.
Ultimately, the experience of the players, officials, fans, and visiting media was so overwhelmingly positive that it didn’t actually matter that the BBC decided not to air the opening ceremony. Indeed, the image of football icon Lionel Messi, adorned in the traditional Arab Bisht, raising the trophy high, conveyed a visual narrative that words alone could not capture.
In conclusion, it is worth discussing the rise of corporate power and a growing economic footprint. Expo 2020 in Dubai was momentous in its positioning and portrayal of the city as a hub for innovation, business, and sustainability. One year after the closing of World Expo 2020 Dubai, a study by EY found the economic impact of the Expo is expected to contribute a total of AED 154.9 billion (USD 42.2 billion) of gross value added (GVA) to the UAE’s economy from 2013 to 2042. The expo welcomed 24.1 million visitors during its six-month run, and its success has driven new business growth, attracting more globally significant events such as the UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP28), being held later this month.
Yet the Middle East’s growing influence is not limited to these specific examples. The region’s governments and corporations are increasingly using strategic communications to shape perceptions, expand their reach, and promote their interests on the global stage. With their rich historical heritage as a backdrop, the Middle East continues to play a significant global role.
- The writer is founder & CEO of Lotus Client Management & Public Relations. Twitter: @selinarashid