Skip to main content

Re-branding Abu Dhabi: From oil giant to energy titan


This article presents a case study of Abu Dhabi's ‘energy re-branding’ since 2005 when it declared its intention to transform itself from an oil exporter to a total energy giant that also embraces alternative (renewable and nuclear) energy. The first part of the article identifies the benefits of this policy for Abu Dhabi's external diplomacy but argues that the real driver is the emirate's domestic gas shortage and its effects on economic diversification and political legitimacy. The second part of the article discusses the motivations and interactions of local and foreign agents by focusing on the implementation of alternative energy platforms. It therefore provides a rare glimpse of the policy-making process in Abu Dhabi. The final part of the article examines the extent to which energy re-branding may be linked to a process by the government to reiterate, reinterpret and repudiate Emirati identity in order to enhance regime legitimacy in the twenty-first century.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. See, for example, Dinnie (2008) for a wide variety of case studies. For place branding on a supranational and regional levels, see van Ham (2005) on Europe; for place branding on a national level, see Jansen (2008) on post-Soviet Estonia and Ooi (2008) on Singapore; and for place branding on a sub-national level, see Vasudevan (2008) on Kerala and Balakrishnan (2008) on Dubai. The bibliography also contains many references to other excellent case studies.

  2. The Gulf Co-operation Council is a loose political and economic alliance formed in May 1981 comprising six Gulf monarchies - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar.

  3. The term ‘intermittency’ refers to an energy source's vulnerability to supply interruptions that would reduce its reliability. For example, wind turbines may be affected by wind direction and wind speed whereas solar panels can be rendered less effective by dust particles.


  • Abdullah, A. (2010) Contemporary Socio-political Issues of the Arab Gulf Moment. London: London School of Economics. Working Paper for the Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalisation in the Gulf States.

  • A.D.C.E.D. (n.d). Abu Dhabi Economic Data Bank. Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development,

  • A.D.Exco. (2007) Policy Agenda 2007–2008: The Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi, Executive Council of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

  • A.D.Govt. (2008) The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030. Abu Dhabi: Government of Abu Dhabi.

  • Al Jaber, S.A. (2010) How we won IRENA, and why it's only the beginning. Abu Dhabi, Masdar,

  • Allison, G.T. (1971) Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. Boston, MA: Little Brown.

    Google Scholar 

  • Anholt, S. (2004) Is place branding a capitalist tool? Place Branding 2 (1): 1–4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Anholt, S. (2008) From nation branding to competitive identity – The role of brand management as a component of national policy. In: K. Dinnie (ed.) Nation Branding: Concepts, Issues, Practice. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ant, C.O. (2009) UAE: Going green. Energy Compass 23 January.

  • Aronczyk, M. (2008) ‘Living the brand’: Nationality, globality and the identity strategies of nation branding consultants. International Journal of Communication 2: 41–65.

    Google Scholar 

  • Balakrishnan, M.S. (2008) Dubai – A star in the east: A case study of strategic destination branding. Journal of Place Management and Development 1 (1): 62–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barnett, J., Dessai, S. and Webber, M. (2004) Will OPEC lose from the Kyoto protocol? Energy Policy 32 (18): 2077–2088.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Batora, J. (2005) Multistakeholder public diplomacy of small and medium-sized states: Norway and Canada compared. International Conference on Multistakeholder Diplomacy; 11–13 February, Malta.

  • Becker, B. (2011) Live from Masdar: Flower in the desert. Think,, accessed 19 January 2011.

  • Blanchard, C.M. and Kerr, P.K. (2010) The United Arab Emirates Nuclear Program and Proposed US Nuclear Cooperation. Washington DC: Congressional Research Service. CRS Report for Congress.

  • Bond, R., Mccrone, D. and Brown, A. (2003) National identity and economic development: Reiteration, recapture, reinterpretation and repudiation. Nations and Nationalism 9 (3): 371–391.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • C.A.N. (2010) Over a dozen countries share fossils for carbon capture & storage and ‘hot air’. Climate Action Network International,

  • Carvalho, S. (2011) Masdar delays $2.2 billion joint venture with BP. Reuters 18 January.

  • Crane, G.T. (1998) Economic nationalism: Bringing the nation back in. Millennium Journal of International Studies 27 (1): 55–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cronin, S. and Masalha, N. (2011) The Islamic Republic of Iran and the GCC States: Revolution to Realpolitik? London, Kuwait Program on Development, Governance and Globalization in the Gulf States at the London School of Economics.

  • Crystal, J. (1995) Oil and Politics in the Gulf: Rulers and Merchants in Kuwait and Qatar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dargin, J. (2010) Addressing the UAE natural gas crisis: Strategies for a rational energy policy. Dubai Initiative – Policy Brief. Harvard, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.

  • Davidson, C. (2005) The United Arab Emirates: A Study in Survival. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reiner.

    Google Scholar 

  • Davidson, C. (2006) After Shaikh Zayed: The politics of succession in Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates. Middle East Policy 13 (1): 42–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Davidson, C. (2007) The emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai: Contrasting roles in the international system. Asian Affairs XXXVIII (1): 33–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Davidson, C. (2008) Dubai: The security dimensions of the region's premier free port. Middle East Policy 15 (2): 143–160.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Davidson, C.M. (2009) Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond. London: C Hurst & Company.

    Google Scholar 

  • Depledge, J. (2006) The opposite of learning: Ossification in the climate change regime. Global Environmental Politics 6 (1): 1–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dinnie, K. (2008) Nation Branding: Concepts, Issues, Practice. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

  • Drenttel, W. (2004) My country is not a brand. Design Observer. 25 November.

  • E.C.A. (2009) Exploring the Potential for Electricity Trade and Interconnection among Yemen, and GCC Countries. London: Economic Consulting Associates.

  • E.I.A, U S Energy Information Administration. (2011) Country analysis briefs: United Arab Emirates,

  • Early, B.D. (2009) Strategies for Acquiring Foreign Nulcear Assistance in the Middle East: Lessons from the United Arab Emirates. Dubai, United Arab Emirates: The Dubai Initiative. The Dubai Initiative Working Paper.

  • Elhadj, E. (2010) Abu Dhabi's nuclear power plant folly. Middle East Review of International Affairs 14 (2): 49–58.

    Google Scholar 

  • El-Hokayem, E. and Legrenzi, M. (2006) The Arab Gulf States in the Shadow of the Iranian Nuclear Challenge. Washington DC: The Henry L Stimson Center.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eurosolar/W.C.R.E. (ed.) (2009) The Long Road to IRENA: From the Idea to the Foundation of the International Renewable Energy Agency. Bochum, Germany: Ponte Press.

  • Fan, Y. (2009) Branding the Nation: Towards a Better Understanding? Uxbridge, UK: Brunel Business School.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ford, N. (2007) Gulf renewables: Like chalk and cheese. The Middle East (issue 374, January 2007).

  • Fox, W. and Hayward, B. (2011) Developing a Workforce for the Knowledge Society in Dubai: Higher Education Challenges. Dubai: Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Government of Dubai.

    Google Scholar 

  • Frye, T. (2000) Brokers and Bureaucrats: Building Market Institutions in Russia. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Gause, F.G. (1994) Oil Monarchies: Domestic and Security Challenges in the Arab Gulf States. New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • G.F.N. (2010) National footprint accounts. Global Footprint Network,

  • Gulf News. (2006) SembCorp arm enters into pact with Adwea. Gulf News 6 July.

  • Harder, L. (2009) Cost-benefit analysis of solar energy in Abu Dhabi. Unpublished literature review,

  • Heard-Bey, F. (1999) The United Arab Emirates: A quarter century of federation. In: M.C. Hudson (ed.) Middle East Dilemma: The Politics and Economics of Arab Integration. New York: Columbia University Press,

    Google Scholar 

  • Hellyer, P. (2001) The evolution of UAE foreign policy. In: I. Al Abed and P. Hellyer (eds.) United Arab Emirates: A New Perspective. London: Trident Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Henrikson, A.K. (2005) Niche diplomacy in the world public arena: The global ‘corners’ of Canada and Norway. In: J. Melissen (ed.) The New Public Diplomacy: Soft Power in International Relations. Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Herb, M. (2009) A nation of bureaucrats: Political participation and economic diversification in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. International Journal of Middle East Studies 41 (3): 375–395.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Holt, D.B. (2004) The power of cultural activism. Advertising Age 75 (50): 9–11.

    Google Scholar 

  • I.M.F. (2003) United Arab Emirates: Selected Issues and Statistical Appendix. Washington DC: International Monetary Fund. IMF Country Report No. 03/67.

  • I.M.F. (2009) United Arab Emirates: Statistical Appendix. Washington DC: International Monetary Fund. IMF Country Report No. 09/120.

  • I.M.F. (2010) United Arab Emirates: 2009 Article IV Consultation – Staff Report. Washington DC: International Monetary Fund. IMF Country Report No. 10/42.

  • Jansen, S.C. (2008) Designer nations: Neo-liberal nation branding – Brand Estonia. Social Identities 14 (1): 121–142.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • K.A.M.C.O Research. (2011) United Arab Emirates Economic Brief and Outlook: April 2011. Kuwait: KAMCO Investment Research.

  • Kaneva, N. (2011) Nation branding: Toward an agenda for critical research. International Journal of Communication 5: 117–141.

    Google Scholar 

  • Khalaf, R. (2008) UAE set to launch nuclear programme. Financial Times 21 January.

  • Kombargi, R., Waterlander, O., Sarraf, G. and Sastry, A. (2010) Gas Shortage in the GCC: How to Bridge the Gap. Abu Dhabi: Booz & Company.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kumar, H.M. (2010) Masdar to deliver world's largest solar plant in 2012. Gulf News 10 June.

  • Lampton, D.M. (1992) A plum for a peach: Bargaining, interest, and bureaucratic politics in China. In: K.G. Lieberthal and D.M. Lampton (eds.) Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision-making in Post-Mao China. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lee, H. and Jain, D. (2009) Dubai's brand assessment success and failure in brand management – Part 1. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 5 (3): 234–246.

  • Lee, H. (2009) Dubai's brand assessment success and failure in brand management – Part 2. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 5 (4): 312–324.

  • Long, B. (n.d.) The impact of Iranian nuclear ambition on nuclear policies of its Arab neighbours. Atlantic,

  • Luomi, M. (2010) Oil or climate politics? Avoiding a destabilising resource splt in the Arab Middle East. Helsinki: The Finnish Institute of International Affairs. Briefing Paper Series No. 58.

  • Macalister, T. (2009) Nuclear industry accused of hijacking clean energy forum. The Guardian 28 June.

  • Marat, E. (2009) Nation branding in Central Asia: A new campaign to present ideas about the state and the nation. Europe-Asia Studies 61 (7): 1123–1136.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Melissen, J. (2005) Wielding Soft Power: The New Public Diplomacy. The Hague, The Netherlands: Netherlands Institute of International Relations (Clingendael).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Mohammad, E. (2008) The debate on UAE national identity. Gulf News 16 May.

  • Molavi, A. (2005) Dubai rising. Brown Journal of World Affairs XII (1): 103–110.

    Google Scholar 

  • Neuhof, F. (2011) Petrochemicals: Conversion industry ripe for growth. Middle East Economic Digest 13–19 May.

  • Nonneman, G. (2001) Governance, Human Rights, and the Case of Political Adaptation in the Gulf: Issues in the EU-GCC Political Dialogue. Florence: European University Institute's Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies. Working Group for European Strategy towards the Gulf No. 01/3.

  • Nonneman, G. (2006) Political reform in the gulf monarchies: From liberalisation to democratisation? A comparative perspective. Sir William Luce Publication Series. Durham, Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies.

  • O.B.A.D. (n.d.) Office of the brand of Abu Dhabi homepage,

  • Ooi, C.-S. (2008) Reimagining Singapore as a creative nation: The politics of place branding. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 4 (4): 287–302.

  • Park, K.-C. and Chevalier, F. (2010) The winning strategy of the late-comer: How Korea was awarded the UAE nuclear power contract. International Review of Business Research Papers 6 (2): 221–238.

    Google Scholar 

  • Peterson, J.E. (2006) Qatar and the world: Branding for a micro-state. The Middle East Journal 60 (4): 732–748.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reed, S. (2009) Abu Dhabi probes nuclear power. Bloomberg Businessweek 14 January.

  • Reiche, D. (2009) Renewable energy policies in the gulf countries: A case study of the carbon-neutral ‘Masdar City’ in Abu Dhabi. Energy Policy 38 (1): 378–382.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rickman, G. (2010) Iran's Nukes: UAE's Ambassador endorses preemptive bombing of Iran. The Cutting Edge,, accessed 16 June 2010.

  • Rockower, P. (2008) Qatar's public diplomacy, Unpublished manuscript,

  • Russell, J.A. (2009) Environmental security and regional stability in the gulf. Middle East Policy XVI (4): 90–100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Saif, I. (2009) The Oil Boom in the GCC Countries, 2002–2008: Oil Challenges, Changing Dynamics. Washington DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    Google Scholar 

  • Salama, S. (2011a) FNC aims for Emirati majority in demographic make-up by 2021. Gulf News 26 January.

  • Salama, S. (2011b) Influx of foreigners spikes UAE population to 8.3 m. Gulf News 5 April.

  • Scott, D. (2011) Executive director, executive affairs authority of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Interview with the author on 7 June, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

  • Scott, D.A. (2010) South Korea's global nuclear ambitions. Japan Focus 22 March.

  • Sharpley, R. (2002) The challenges of economic diversification through tourism: The case of Abu Dhabi. International Journal of Tourism Research 4 (3): 221–235.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shushan, D. (2011) Bold moves for a small state: An analysis of Qatar's foreign policy. International Studies Association Annual Conference; 16–19 March, Montreal, Canada.

  • Sim, L.-C. (2008) The Rise and Fall of Privatization in the Russian Oil Industry. Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Szondi, G. (2008) Public diplomacy and nation branding: Conceptual similarities and differences. The Hague: Netherlands Institute of International Relations (Clingendael). Discussion Papers in Diplomacy.

  • Twine, I. (2011) Managing Director of Edelman Group. Interview with author on 27 May, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

  • U.A.E. (2008) Policy of the United Arab Emirates on the evaluation and potential development of peaceful nuclear energy. White Paper Policy Document. Abu Dhabi: United Arab Emirates.

  • U.A.E. (2010) UAE Government Report 2006–2009. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

  • U.A.E. (n.d.) UAE statistics. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Census Higher Authority,

  • Ulrichsen, K.C. (2010) The GCC states and the shifting balance of global power. Qatar, Center for International and Regional Studies, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

  • Ulrichsen, K.C. (2011) Rebalancing global governance: Gulf states’ perspectives on the governance of globalisation. Global Policy 2 (1): 65–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van Ham, P. (2001) The rise of the brand state. Foreign Affairs 80 (5): 2–6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van Ham, P. (2005) Branding European Power. Place Branding 1 (2): 122–126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van Ham, P. (2008) Place branding: The state of the art. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 616 (1): 126–149.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vasudevan, S. (2008) The role of internal stakeholders in destination branding: Observations from Kerala Tourism. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 4 (4): 331–335.

  • Vidal, J. (2011) Masdar city – A glimpse of the future in the desert. The Guardian 26 April.

  • W.B. (n.d) CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita). The World Bank Data,

  • W.B. (n.d) Energy Use (kilogram of equivalent per capita. The World Bank Data,

  • W.N.A. (2011) Nuclear power in the United Arab Emirates. World Nuclear Association,

  • Winkler, O. (1997) The immigration policy of the gulf cooperation council (GCC) states. Middle Eastern Studies 33 (3): 480–493.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Li-Chen Sim.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Sim, LC. Re-branding Abu Dhabi: From oil giant to energy titan. Place Brand Public Dipl 8, 83–98 (2012).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Abu Dhabi
  • nuclear energy
  • renewable energy
  • diversification
  • branding