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.




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 is also currently a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, where she serves as an advisor to President Obama on Muslim affairs. Members of the Advisory Council are appointed to one-year terms; Mogahed is serving on the 2009-10 council. Advisors for 2010-11 have not yet been announced.

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.

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.