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Do Arab Countries Have Power in International Politics? What about ‘Soft Power’?

posted on: Mar 22, 2023

Do Arab Countries Have Power in International Politics? What about ‘Soft Power’?
Picture of President Biden Standing at the “Jeddah Security and Development Summit” with the Leaders of the GCC, Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan. Photo: Wikicommons

By: Adam Abdel-Qader / Arab America Contributing Writer 

Often times the Western world does not think of Arab countries as having much, if any, political power in global affairs. However, Arab nations have been utilizing a strategic method of influence in international politics called ‘soft power.’

Soft power is one of three main types of international influence a nation can have, and it mainly emphasizes the methods of attraction and appeals over classical coercion methods. Putting both of these methods into a strategic agenda gives you the last power, and that is ‘smart power.’ 

Recent endeavors of Arab nations show a dramatic increase in their efforts to promote soft power, mainly through cultural diplomacy, media displays, religious traditions, sports, and foreign aid. 

Joseph Nye’s Original Book “Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics” described and popularized the idea of ‘Soft Power.’ Photo: eBay

The Different Types of Power:

A nation’s soft power comprises multiple components. It includes the nation’s culture, customs, social institutions, political values, and foreign policies. All of these incorporated together and the degree to which they are appealing represent how that nation can project a more attractive image to the international community.

Hard power differs vastly from soft power as it considers using military and economic advancements to influence other nations. At one point or another, all nations in the international system, including Arab countries, have used hard power throughout history and in the present time.

Smart power is the strategic combination of both hard and soft power. By strategically combining persuasiveness and prudence, this strategy empowers the nation by maintaining an attractive image towards other countries while acting precautiously.

Soft Power and the Global Soft Power Index:

It is clear from the 2022 global soft power index scores that many of these Arab countries are on the rise in their uses of soft power, specifically Saudi Arabia and UAE.

The Global Soft Power index depicts nations’ relations within the international system through thorough research on their projection and efforts to appeal to the international community. Different organizations create many specific indexes with some differences, but a significant organization with accurate assessments within their past indexes is Brand Finance. 

Within the Brand Finance Global Soft Power index, holding a position in the top 25 countries is quite an incredible privilege and an excellent recount of how well a government promotes positive relationships with other nations. In international relations, it is critical to have good use of soft power in a nation’s foreign policy because when it comes down to the level of an individual, we’re all human and enjoy the promotion of fostering good relationships instead of using intimidation tactics to get our way. 

Do Arab Countries Have Power in International Politics? What about ‘Soft Power’?
Image of the Top 25 countries on the Global Soft Power Index. Photo: Brand Finance

Arab Countries in the Top 25:

The Arab countries listed in Brand Finance’s top 25 nations with the most soft power were UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. While UAE takes a notable stance because they were placed in the top 10 along with superpowers such as the United States, UK, Japan, China, and other nations, Saudi Arabia and Qatar undoubtedly provided outstanding results within the past couple of years. As of recent, these Gulf nations have given the Arab world an excellent reputation and name within the foreign policy realm. 

Do Arab Countries Have Power in International Politics? What about ‘Soft Power’?
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 Initiative. Photo: Wikicommons

Saudi Arabia: 

In 2023, Saudi Arabia currently takes the spot for 19th place on the overall soft power index with a score of 51.3, increasing by 4.1 points from the previous year, and notably has taken 9th place in the more specific influence ranking. 

Saudi Arabia has growing brands across its nation that continue to spread across the Middle East. At the same time, it has a far-sighted vision for the next decade. Its proclaimed Vision 2030 is an economic and social reform agenda that has proven itself as an invaluable pursuit. The nation’s overall cultural richness, Islamic traditions, centralness within the Arab world, and technological innovation have also been giving it a step up in its foreign policy for decades. Notably, in May 2023, Saudi Arabia will become a part of the second-ever commercial space launch. 

Do Arab Countries Have Power in International Politics? What about ‘Soft Power’?
Picture of Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director of EXPO 2020 Dubai. Photo: Wikicommons


UAE is positively reestablishing the global reputation of Arab and Gulf countries year by year. It has had an exemplary performance from 2020 through 2023 and has shown up for its fourth consecutive year as the highest-scoring Arab nation on the soft power index. Since last year UAE also managed to have a 3.2 point increase in its soft power score, which raised it to 55.2 overall, placing it at number 10 in the world. 

The nation has been busy since 2020. UAE became one of the first nations to maintain safe and efficient COVID-19 pandemic vaccinations. It also managed to hoist cultural diplomacy through its Dubai EXPO 2020 event. EXPO 2020 was a multilateral forum where over 192 countries exchanged cultural outlooks and potentially world-changing ideas. And most importantly, UAE continues to be one of the world’s biggest foreign aid donors. 

picture of FIFA World Cup Tournament in Qatar
Picture of FIFA World Cup Tournament at the Education City Stadium, Doha, Qatar, Shortly Before Korea vs. Uruguay Match. Photo: Wikicommons and Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism Official Photographer: Heo Manjin


Last but never least, Qatar has raised its score by 4.1 points in 2023, amounting to a total score of 49.9 and an overall placement of 24. Qatar continues to be a paramount nation concerning Arab soft power. 

Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA world cup at the end of 2022, although under some controversy, led to a dramatic increase in understanding, standing, and influence in world politics. In such a phenomenal and successful event, soccer fans from all over the world were able to tune in and get an up-close look at the displays of culture, heritage, and hospitality of the Arab nation while at the same time enjoying their favorite sport. For that reason alone, Qatar raised its soft power score into the top 25.


Arab and Gulf nations have been experiencing an overall skyrocket in soft power from 2020 to 2023, and it only seems to be going up. With that in mind, Arab countries must continuously increase their appeal and strategic influence. In time, Gulf nations’ foreign policy brands will spread throughout other Arab nations. Subsequently, Arab governments should keep soft power a main priority within their foreign policy agendas, as it will not only allow them to increase both longstanding international appeal and multilateral fluency but will also embrace peace and prosperity. 

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