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These are unprecedented times in the Gulf as a deep political conflict pits Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain on one-side, and Qatar on the other. In this intensive face off, the first victim is the truth – a media war so vociferous and relentless in its scale and audacity that it is difficult to know where to start. It is also difficult accessing voices directly from the region because of the laws criminalising views expressing any sympathy or criticism of state policies with threats of 5 – 15 years imprisonment.

To help outsiders make sense of what is going on, a small army of Gulf experts working for Western think tanks are commonly drawn on by the mainstream media for comment. What isn’t usually made clear however is that many of those Western think tanks — even the most prestigious — receive a not insignificant amount of patronage from the very Gulf states that are a party to the conflict being commented on. In December, for example, we showed, using leaked documents, that the International Institute for Strategic Studies was being bankrolled by the Bahraini government – up to half its funding over the past five years alone!

In this regard, we have compiled a short cheat sheet of the most prominent think tanks known to receive significant funding from Gulf states, or who have an international office in one of them. The list is by no means exhaustive and is it is largely based on self-disclosure by the think tanks. That a think tank receives financial patronage from a Gulf state does not automatically mean that all of its researchers are necessarily biased in favor of the patron, as there certainly are cases of researchers with a track record of independence and integrity. However, when the analysis of a think tank aligns with the views or interests of its financial patron, it should raise questions about whether the line between independent research and political lobbying or PR is being blurred.

This list is a work-in-progress and we welcome any further information or feedback to improve or correct it.

Think Tank Funder(s)

International Institute for Strategic Studies

  • International office in Bahrain
  • Funding from government of Bahrain of well over £25 million between 2010 and 2016, representing 30% of IISS’s income, rising to 50%.

Brookings Institution

Royal United Services Institute

Atlantic Council

  • Funding of at least $1 million from the UAE in FY 2016
  • Funding of at least $1 million in FY 2016 from Bahaa Hariri, of Lebanon’s Hariri family with close political and business ties to Saudi Arabia, to establish the Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East

Center for Strategic and International Studies

Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington

  • Sole source of income is funding from the UAE’s Future Center for Advanced Research and Studies and the Saudi Embassy in Washington, which amounted to $2.6 million in 2015 and $3.7 million in 2016.

Chatham House

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