In a world characterized by geopolitical complexities, small nations often find ingenious ways to assert their influence on the global stage. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), despite its modest size, stands as the eighth-largest oil and gas producer worldwide, leveraging its resources to extend its reach, both regionally and globally. Part of this strategy involves significant investments in lobbying consultancies and think tanks in Brussels, with the aim of promoting its interests. A central figure in these efforts is Rob Worthington, whose work for the UAE has drawn attention and scrutiny.
In 2017, the UAE initiated a “soft power strategy,” intending to amplify its impact on the international arena. This endeavor included contracts with PR firms, such as Project Associates, headquartered in London with an office in Brussels. Notably, one such contract revealed Project Associates’ partnership with the contentious data mining and online disinformation firm, SCL Social—a sister company to the infamous Cambridge Analytica. Their collaboration was directed toward launching attacks against the UAE’s regional rival, Qatar, through social and traditional media channels.
The link to Brussels becomes evident in the 2017 contract, which is accessible through the US Department of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) database. FARA mandates that all entities lobbying on behalf of foreign governments while operating in the US must register and disclose their contracts. In this contract, Robert Worthington, the Director of Project Associates’ Brussels office, is identified as one of the individuals “rendering services directly in furtherance of the interests of any of the foreign principals,” with the other being the founder, David Rigg, from the London office.
Worthington, as detailed on the company’s website, is the Director of Project Associates and heads the government and political practice. His role includes overseeing Project Associates’ activities in both Brussels and New York while managing the firm’s footprint in the US. His areas of expertise encompass governmental affairs and international political trends, with a specific focus on the European Union and the Middle East. His impressive professional background includes roles at the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office, advisory positions for a European commissioner, and a “senior member of Tony Blair’s Government.”
The SCL Social contract further designates Rob Worthington as the liaison between Project Associates and the UAE’s National Media Council. This role involves maintaining communication on the day-to-day performance of the services provided. An additional document from 2019 indicates that the contract extended beyond the US, with an employee based in London tasked with raising awareness about state-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East and highlighting the Arab world’s regional dynamics, policy achievements, and global alliances. Rob Worthington’s signature in the Brussels office confirmed the document’s authenticity, and it’s worth noting that the former employee is now employed at the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Remarkably, Rob Worthington’s online presence paints a picture of a well-traveled individual. His bio on ‘GetNed’ suggests a vast professional journey, living and working across seven countries, with responsibilities encompassing the launch of subsidiaries in the US, Belgium, France, and Germany. Additionally, his entrepreneurial spirit led him to establish Labyrinth Advisory, a startup serving an international clientele.
Rob Worthington’s role in shaping the UAE’s global influence and expanding its reach through lobbying and PR is an intricate and multifaceted story. It reflects the UAE’s commitment to projecting its interests on a global scale, using a strategic combination of resources and expertise.