Middle East, New in Lobbying

UAE hires PR firm to boost Mars mission

The United Arab Emirates has retained a St. Louis public relations firm to boost its space program as the country prepares to make history this month with the Arab world’s first mission to Mars.

Fleishman-Hillard is assisting its affiliates, the Fleishman-Hillard Group in the UK (FH UK) and Impact BBDO in the UAE, in building awareness of the Emirates Mars Mission and its broader space program. The firm is to be paid $24,250 for work carried out between June 17 to July 31, according to a June 24 contract with FH UK. Vice President Caitlin Teahan, Senior Account Executive Steven Shaw and Account Executive Kamilla Rahman are registered as foreign agents on the acocunt.

The firms are working for the Public Diplomacy Office of the UAE Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, which oversees the implementation of the government’s priorities. US activities are expected to include “outreach to US-based journalists, sharing of press releases about the mission and coordination of interviews/briefings with Mars mission spokespeople for journalists.”

“While the media relations activities relate to the scientific aspects of the UAE’s Mars mission,” Fleishman-Hillard’s lobbying registration states, the firm’s activities “are also intended to create a general positive reputational impact for the UAE by highlighting the scientific advancements and commitments to technology and innovation made by the country.”

“Registrant’s activities are also intended to create a general positive reputational impact for the UAE by highlighting the scientific advancements and commitments to technology and innovation made by the country.”

Fleishman-Hillard lobbying filing

The Hope Mars Mission is scheduled to take off from Japan on July 14 and reach the Red Planet in February 2021, in time for the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence. Emirati scientists working with international institutions will notably study the planet’s weather cycles and dust storms, generating both practical and reputational benefits.

“The name of the Emirati probe reflects the great scientific and economic aspirations of the UAE as an emerging space power,” science historian Jorg Matthias Determann wrote in a June 30 article for Nature Middle East. “The unmanned orbiter will observe the Martian atmosphere, including weather events such as dust storms, which feature prominently in Arabia’s climate. More broadly, the Emirates Mars mission aims to advance the country’s technological capabilities and inspire young Emiratis to pursue careers in science and engineering. As such, the venture is also part of a long-term strategy pursued by Gulf nations to move away from oil and gas and to build a knowledge-based economy.”

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Sometimes described as the Arab world’s moon shot, the Mars mission has seen the UAE leap ahead of its regional competitors in the space race.

Last year, the UAE’s $6 billion space program garnered international headlines when Hazza al-Mansour spent eight days in space, the country’s first astronaut to go to space. Mansour flew to the International Space Station on a Russian spacecraft launched from a Kazakh spaceport leased to Moscow. The UAE space agency has also been cooperating with the United States, signing a new arrangement with NASA in October 2018 that outlines cooperation across a range of areas related to space exploration and human spaceflight.

Saudi Arabia’s ambitions and ties to NASA go back much further. Saudi Space Commission Chairman Sultan bin Salman Al Saud was aboard the Discovery space shuttle when it launched into space in 1985. More recently in 2009, the US space agency and the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) signed a joint statement that allows for collaboration in lunar and asteroid science research.

Meanwhile Qatar’s ties to the US space program have lagged behind. In March, Doha parted ways with James Gallagher of the Gallagher Group, a longtime lobbyist who’d helped build ties to NASA in recent months. After relying on a European rocket to carry its first satellite into space in 2014, Doha chose a US delivery mechanism for its second one in 2018 — a Falcon 9 operated by private entrepreneur Elon Musk‘s SpaceX.

“In the Emirates, the narrative is partly about this initiative factoring into the broader context of international partnerships and cooperation,” regional experts Giorgio Cafiero and Kristian Alexander wrote in a May 7 blog post for the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “The UAE seeks to bring together other Arab countries with the UAE taking the lead via the Arab Space Cooperation Group, focusing on environmental and weather-related projects.”