The UAE’s Mars mission (Hope Probe) has enhanced the UAE’s soft power and its efforts to revive the knowledge hub status of the Islamic world as it used to be in the past, according to academic experts.
The Hope Probe, launched in July 2020 was successfully inserted into the orbit around Mars on February 9, marking the Arab world’s entry to the global space race and placing the UAE as the first Arab nation, and the fifth in the world, to reach the Red Planet.
"It has bolstered the UAE’s scientific and economic aspirations as a transitioning smart power and reinforced its regional power status," said Dr. Narayanappa Janardhan, a Senior Research Fellow at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy (EDA) in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE’s policy of moderation, tolerance and women’s empowerment have already served it well abroad, acting as soft power tools, he added.
In February, Brand Finance’s global soft power index 2020 had ranked the UAE first in the Middle East and 18th globally.
About the importance of soft power, Dr. Janardhan cited that American pop music and university culture have made an influence across the globe.
China has started Confucius Institutes around the world, inviting students from everywhere to China and launched TV channels to promote their country.
The value of Bollywood, yoga, biryani and chicken tikka masala have acted as soft power tools for India, he explained, adding that space is a 21st century diplomatic tool and the UAE is utilising it well.
"While the United States and Russia are key partners, the UAE has expanded its ‘Look East’ policy beyond oil, trade and expatriates to include Asian allies in space collaboration. DubaiSat-1 in 2009 and DubaiSat-2 in 2013 with South Korea; India launched the UAE’s first nanosatellite, Nayif-1, in 2017; Japan aided KhalifaSat launch in 2018 and Hope Probe in 2020; and China is offering satellite-enabled 5G technology," Dr. Janardhan explained.
Another expert said the success of the UAE's Hope Probe demonstrates the country's ability to marshal its resources to put itself at the cutting edge of space innovation.
"The Hope Probe testifies not only to the abilities of the country's scientists, but also to its ability to work towards realising an ambitious vision for future space exploration for the benefit of humanity," said Dr. Stephen Blackwell, Director of Research and Strategic Studies at the think-tank TRENDS Research & Advisory in Abu Dhabi.
He pointed out that the UAE is already known worldwide for its use of new generation technologies in government, business and science.
Dr. Blackwell explained that the concept of soft power relates to the general attractiveness of a country's lifestyle, culture and achievements across all sectors.
Achievements, economic strength, social stability and prosperity, and technological capabilities are other important factors in enhancing a country’s soft power and reputation. Through highlighting progress and demonstrating a positive influence, soft power can give countries a significant global profile, he noted.
Dr. Janardhan pointed out that the UAE’s space programmes, especially the Hope Probe, have a pan-Arab appeal, too. "It invokes past Arab and Islamic achievements in mathematics and astronomy."
Saudi Arabia (2018) and Egypt (2019) have also established their own space agencies.
Saudi Arabia had established pan-Arab satellite operator Arabsat in 1976 and sent the first Arab astronaut to space in 1985 with American help.
The UAE established the first pan-Arab Space Coordination Group in 2019 by encouraging 11 Arab countries to develop "813," an earth monitoring satellite "named after the year in which the famed Arab House of Knowledge reached its peak," Dr. Janardhan noted.
Among others in West Asia, Israel now has launch capabilities after establishing its space agency in the 1980s; Iran launched satellites with Russian help in the 1990s, then launched its own after 2003 and graduated to space reconnaissance capabilities and testing military rockets; and Turkey entered the race in 2018.