UAE passport today is the strongest in the world, reflecting a degree of global influence linked to SWF investments, tantamount to hush money to silence critics
The United Arab Emirates is reportedly now the world’s most powerful passport, according to website passportindex.org (although the UAE passport is still listed as number 21 on the more reliable Henley Index. Emiratis can gain entry to 167 countries without obtaining a prior visa; 113 countries visa-free, and another 54 using visas on arrival. Conversely, the UAE only grants citizens from fewer than 70 countries visas on arrival.
The UAE has become an active investor worldwide, with real estate development and business projects financed by the nation’s considerable Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs); it is believed visa-free access for Emirati citizens has expanded globally as more countries wish to facilitate investment from the oil-rich Gulf state. But there are concerns that the UAE is buying more than hassle-free travel across borders.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, and a leading expert on human rights and legal abuse in the UAE, says the country is using its wealth to purchase the international community’s silence over its increasingly belligerent behaviour in the region. “In just the past 9 months, the UAE has attacked an American sea vessel in international waters, abducted a US citizen, abducted a Finnish citizen, allegedly co-conspired in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, falsely convicted UK academic Matthew Hedges of ‘espionage’ for doing PhD research, and sentenced him to life imprisonment,” Stirling remarked. “The UAE has defied a United Nations enquiry into the enforced disappearance of Princess Latifa, the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Makroum; and Emirates has repeatedly ignored the UN’s concerns over their military campaign in Yemen. It is, frankly, disappointing that countries around the world offer the UAE such a remarkable degree of acceptance, while the UAE is increasingly exhibiting disregard for the most fundamental framework of international relations; namely, the rule of law.”
The UAE controls 5 major SWFs worth a total of $1.3 trillion; these are used to buy real estate and companies, and to fund investment and development projects around the globe. The UAE is also the top contributor to Interpol, giving the international policing organization $54 million last year; more than all other contributions combined. The Emirates also spends millions of dollars on political lobbyists in Washington DC, more, in fact, than any other country seeking to buy influence in the US. The same applies to their lobbying expenses in the UK. Combined with funding to think tanks and academic institutions, the UAE’s SWFs give the country a tremendously powerful presence in the West and around the world.
“The UAE’s Sovereign Wealth Funds appear to be flooding the international community with hush money,” Stirling concludes, “The fact that the Emirati passport opens more doors than any other passport in the world is testimony to the level of influence the Emirates has acquired; but unfortunately, this influence is being used to cover up a corrupt legal system, to draw foreign investors into extremely risky business deals; to habitually misuse Interpol; and to buy immunity from accountability for criminal acts of aggression. It is time for the world, and Western governments in particular, to realise that this is a losing transaction for us, and we need to reassess our relationship with the UAE.”