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Gallup Opens Abu Dhabi Center

Polling giant Gallup has opened a new social research center in Abu Dhabi headed by a U.S. government appointee. But the center’s affiliation with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Court has ramifications for public diplomacy.

Abu Dhabi license plate

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Gallup, the management consultancy best known for its polling service,
has opened a new social research center in Abu Dhabi headed by a U.S.
government appointee. The center’s affiliation with Abu
Dhabi’s Crown Prince Court
is a diplomacy coup for the country, but it raises questions about the limitations of doing research in a constitutional monarchy.

The Abu Dhabi Gallup Center is scheduled to open
this fall, specializing in research and analysis of both the Persian
Gulf region and the larger Muslim world. Described in a press
release
as a “partnership” between Gallup and the Crown
Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, the Gallup Center is one of the polling
agency’s first collaborations where a foreign government has
a stake in operations. Although the Crown Prince Court is nominally
independent, in practice it is a government
agency
.

Gallup’s Eric Nielsen confirmed in an
interview with Fast Company
that the Crown Prince Court has provided funding for the Abu Dhabi
Gallup Center, but further specifics were not immediately
available. Nielsen emphasized that Gallup will have full editorial
control over reports and projects coming out of Abu Dhabi, with the
Crown Prince Court primarily being limited to “assisting on topic
selection.”

The
Abu Dhabi Gallup Center will be headed by Dalia Mogahed, currently
chair of the Gallup
Center for Muslim Studies
. Mogahed recently finished a term on the President’s
Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships
,
where she served as an advisor
to President Obama on Muslim affairs
 and other topics.

A
number of American researchers and analysts will be working alongside
Mogahed in Abu Dhabi this fall, with approximately 10 initially
headed overseas. In addition, Gallup has been hiring
locally
. The Gallup Center Abu Dhabi will be working under the
supervision of the more well-established Gallup Center for
Muslim Studies.

First
on the agenda for the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center is a follow-up report
to “Who
Speaks for Islam
?” The massive 2008 project is described by Gallup
as the result of “tens of thousands of interviews with residents
of more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have
significant Muslim populations.” Co-written by Mogahed and
Georgetown University’s John Esposito, the updated edition will
reflect data compiled by Gallup from 2007-10. The report is slated
for a late November release.

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Other
projects at the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center will parallel goings-on at
other Middle East branches of western think tanks such as the
Brookings Doha Center

or International
Institute for Strategic Studies Bahrain
: According to Hassan
Hassan of UAE paper The National,
the Gallup Center will have a full slate of seminars
and events
.

Abu
Dhabi’s neighboring frenemy, the emirate of Dubai, is unlikely to be happy
about the news: The higher profile-but-financially-ailing city is
already
home to Gallup’s Middle Eastern headquarters
. Gallup’s Dubai
office will continue to stay open.

Public
diplomacy experts see interesting smoke signals coming out of the Abu
Dhabi center. Paul Rockower of the University of Southern
California’s Public
Diplomacy Corps
project notes that Gallup’s affiliation
with the Crown Prince Court may give them wiggle room on their
operations: “If they’re established with the Court, Gallup might
get some leeway from the government to ask more interesting questions
but it really varies country-by-country. In-country polling firms are
very careful as they know what will get them in trouble and they know
where they can bend the rules.”

Rockower also emphasized that landing
Gallup was a major public diplomacy coup for both Abu Dhabi and the
Emirates: “It lets Gallup create a broader global presence and lets
the Emirates, and Abu Dhabi in particular, further brand itself as a
Gulf hub of research and scholarship. The Emirates has been working
for a long time to conduct public diplomacy via nation branding to
highlight its internationalist credentials. This is just one more
piece of that branding push.”

For Abu Dhabi, bringing Gallup to the
Emirate is just the latest in a series of savvy public diplomacy
moves. The Crown Prince Court just
donated $1 million to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard
University
for Middle Eastern projects and the larger Abu Dhabi
government has taken on even more ambitious projects: Their
collaboration brought
New York University to Abu Dhabi
and generous
donations to American causes.

[Photo via Flickr user woodysworld1778]

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