The UAE’s Foreign Policy Humanitarian Aid Initiatives


The United Arab Emirates is the country with one of the strongest economies in the Gulf Region and with a long history of providing humanitarian aid. Since the 1970s, when the country was created, the UAE showed interest in establishing proper relationships with other countries in diverse zones such as Near East, Asia, Europe, the USA, among others (Al-Mezaini, 2017). Its relations with the countries of Central Asia have become more intense rather recently (Al Zaabi & Awamleh, 2019). The UAE spends over 1% of its GDP on foreign aid, given to different nations and addressing diverse issues (United Arab Emirates’ government portal, 2020b). When analyzing the peculiarities of the provision of humanitarian aid to the Central Asian region by the UAE, it is possible to identify four major aspects, including current global problems, strategic approach, soft power, and religion.

First, it is necessary to note that the Emirati government has assisted other countries in addressing some of the most challenging and burning issues. These days, for instance, the UAE provides humanitarian aid to different zones, including Central Asia, to help people cope with the COVID-19 pandemic (United Arab Emirates’ government portal, 2020a). The country sent an aid of approximately 13 tons of medical supplies to Kazakhstan. This aid was allocated to local healthcare facilities and reached more than 10,000 healthcare practitioners in 2020 (United Arab Emirates’ government portal, 2020a). In the early 2010s, the UAE was one of the key actors in the global effort in the fight for a polio-free world (Al Suwaidi, 2017). In 2011, the country provided approximately $50 million to deliver polio vaccines to Afghanistan. Importantly, the Emirati government provides direct aid to the governments of Central Asian countries and different organizations. Numerous Emirati organizations raise funds to become donors, helping people in other states.

In addition to healthcare-centered issues, the UAE pays specific attention to other problems that are closely or loosely connected to people’s health. In 2014, the UAE Water Aid Foundation raised approximately Dh180 million to help the countries of Central Asian and sub-Saharan regions to cope with the problem of drinking water shortage (Al Suwaidi, 2017). Afghanistan and Tajikistan were among the countries that received that humanitarian aid. Educational incentives are also funded by numerous Emirati charities in the area.

One of the most remarkable specifics of the UAE’s foreign affairs policies, including its humanitarian projects, is the use of the strategic approach. The country has developed a clear strategy regarding its foreign affairs and the provision of foreign aid (Li, 2018). The Emirati government is committed to allocating approximately one percent of its GDP annually to help other countries address global and local issues (United Arab Emirates’ government portal, 2020c). The UAE aims at assisting different states irrespective of any political or economic aspects due to their focus on humanitarian goals. The aid provided by the country during the past decades can be seen as an illustration of this commitment. At that, after the Arab Spring that took place in the early 2010s, the Emirati government had to reconsider its political and humanitarian agenda to a certain extent (Al-Mezaini, 2017). In order to strengthen the stability in the region, the UAE tends to concentrate more on the areas that are in the Gulf, Asia, and Africa.

The peculiarities of the provision of humanitarian aid to the nations of Central Asia are associated with religion. It has been acknowledged that the UAE tends to donate more to countries where the majority of the population is constituted by Muslims (Tittensor, Clarke, & Gümüş, 2018). This trend is typical of the Near East region as the major donors of the Gulf provide foreign aid to other Muslim countries or the countries where Islam is a prevailing religion.

Although the UAE funds diverse humanitarian projects sending aid to over 100 countries across the globe, some focus on Islamic populations can be traced (Tittensor et al., 2018). The Emirati government has had this kind of policy since the 1970s (Al-Mezaini, 2017). In the second part of the twentieth century, the country mainly donated to Arab Third-World countries, gradually expanding the list of humanitarian aid recipients. Central Asia has become a new aid destination in recent decades. A large part of the population of these countries practice Islam, so the development of relationships between the countries on different levels takes place. As mentioned above, foreign aid is provided through governmental institutions and organizations (mainly non-profit entities) (Al-Mezaini, 2017). Numerous charity organizations are involved in the process, including but not confined to Emirates Red Crescent Authority or Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities in Dubai (IACAD) (United Arab Emirates’ government portal, 2020c). Humanitarian aid is often provided in terms of the projects launched by such organizations.

As mentioned above, for the UAE, religion plays an important role in the development of foreign relations with other countries. At the same time, Al Zaabi and Awamleh (2019) note that the Emirati government is trying to enhance its influence on the states of Central Asia through soft power. One of the reasons for the increasing attention to this region and the provision of massive foreign aid is related to geopolitical aspects. The country is located in an area where military conflicts are rather common and associated with considerable political and economic instability (Karasik, 2019). The UAE has to develop relations with other states based on this location, seeking reliable allies and ensuring proper relations with all stakeholders.

Humanitarian aid can be seen as one of the methods to achieve such goals and gain a certain influence. According to Karasik (2019), the UAE is willing to maintain stability in that part of the world and ensure its security by countering Iran and Turkey. These two states have historically had quite close ties with Central Asian countries, especially after the fall of the USSR. In order to avoid imbalances in the region, the UAE attempts to develop effective relations with the countries of Central Asia.

All in all, it is possible to state that the Emirati government is committed to the provision of foreign aid, which is characterized by the focus on current problems, strategic approach, soft power, and religion. The UAE aims at enhancing the stability in this part of the globe through the participation of diverse humanitarian projects that improve people’s lives. The focus is mainly on the Gulf, Asia, and Africa, although other countries also receive support. Central Asia has become a zone of the Emirati government’s interest rather recently, but the UAE has already contributed to addressing serious issues in that area through its foreign aid.

Two Authors’ Views on Emirati’s Humanitarian Aid in Central Asia

The UAE has been one of the generous donors globally and the second-largest donor in the Gulf region, providing aid to numerous countries (Al-Mezaini, 2017). Emirati humanitarian activities have been discussed in academia, and different aspects of this foreign relations sphere have been analyzed. Some recent scholarly works on the matter are “From identities to politics: UAE foreign aid” by Al-Mezaini (2017) and “Determinants of soft power: The case of United Arab Emirates by Al Zaabi and Awamleh (2018). These two sources address quite different aspects of Emirati humanitarian policies.

Al-Mezaini (2017) traces the development of the UAE’s foreign aid during the past decade with a focus on the period between 2010 and 2017. The author provides some insights into the history of the country and its humanitarian activities since the 1970s. Al-Mezaini (2017) emphasizes that the Emirati policy changed after the Arab Spring that took place in the early 2010s and led to considerable instability in the Gulf and sub-Saharan region. Before that period, the UAE had provided aid to various countries in diverse zones, but the turmoil in African and Middle Eastern states made the country concentrate on this part of the world. Al-Mezaini (2017) notes that prior to the Arab Spring, Emirati humanitarian policies were based on certain cultural and moral principles exclusively.

Since the early 2010s, the UAE’s foreign aid has acquired political attributes. The country has to concentrate on its security and regaining stability in the region. Hence, the Emirati government provides a substantial part (over half) of its humanitarian aid to the countries of the Near East and North Africa. The country helps in addressing issues related to public health, migration, education, and human rights because these serious challenges became prevalent as a result of political instability. At that, more attention is now paid to Central Asia as the UAE is willing to develop proper relations with the countries in the area. In addition to some cultural aspects, this foreign aid is instrumental in reducing the influence of Turkey and Iran in Asia, which is critical for balance in that area.

Al Zaabi and Awamleh (2018) examine the use of soft power and the peculiarities of the Emirati humanitarian agenda as an element of this type of political influence. The authors briefly analyze the history of the UAE and the political landscape of Middle East. This analysis is further utilized to explore the specifics of the country’s attempts to establish soft power in certain parts of the globe. Al Zaabi and Awamleh (2018) note that the country has always positioned itself as a gateway to the region, developing the corresponding policies related to the political, economic, and cultural aspects of foreign affairs. In 2017, the Emirati government launched a soft power strategy with the focus on “humanitarian and cultural aspects to promote the country’s reputation and showcase its identity, heritage and culture” (Al Zaabi & Awamleh, 2018, p. 58). The authors also describe the major elements of soft power and illustrate the cases of the use of this kind of influence in the twentieth century.

It is noted that the UAE employs diverse methods to establish soft power, including participation in diverse global and regional projects through membership in international institutions. Direct humanitarian aid provided to countries in different zones is another strategy. Al Zaabi and Awamleh (2018) state that the UAE pays attention to such spheres as economic development, infrastructure, cultural aspects, and human rights. Central Asian countries receive humanitarian aid in terms of these major spheres. The authors also stress that one of the key components of soft power is education and note that the UAE has done a lot to create the necessary background for becoming one of the intellectual centers in the region. The authors conclude that the country is heading in the correct direction, but it should remain focused and determined to continue its effort.

To sum up, both sources deal with the peculiarities of Emirati foreign aid. The researchers pay specific attention to the political and social environment that shapes the UAE’s humanitarian projects and strategies. It is concluded that the country attempts to regain stability in this part of the globe through different means, including the provision of external aid to different countries and regions such as Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.

Areas to Explore in the Future

The brief analysis of the current literature on the UAE’s humanitarian aid provided to Central Asia suggests that in addition to certain moral and humanistic stimuli, some pragmatic motifs also exist. The UAE is committed to creating a favorable environment for sustainable economic, political, and cultural development of the region and becoming the gate to the highly-developed Near East. The development of humanitarian projects for Central Asian countries is an important step to be undertaken to achieve this goal.

In order to create effective projects and strategies, it is important to explore various aspects of the issue. As mentioned above, Central Asian countries are now a target of the political and economic influence of such countries as China, Turkey, and Iran (Karasik, 2019). It is necessary to research the ways Emirati foreign aid can become the ground for the establishment of closer ties with Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. It can be important to analyze humanitarian projects offered by Turkey, China, and Iran, as well as the degree of their political and economic control.

Clearly, helping countries to respond to such serious and urgent issues as health-related crises (such as COVID pandemic) or natural and anthropomorphic disasters will remain a priority. However, it is also essential to pay more attention to cultural domains. The development and implementation of educational projects can be another area to explore in detail. Al Zaabi and Awamleh (2018) state that education is one of the most influential factors contributing to the establishment of close links between individuals, groups, and nations. The UAE already has a strong educational system based on the best techniques and approaches utilized globally. This can be an appropriate platform for the creation of humanitarian incentives for the countries of Central Asia. The economic constraints associated with the COVID pandemic made Central Asian countries face numerous issues, including labor force problems (Karasik, 2019). The UAE could offer educational initiatives aimed at improving the situation in the area.

On balance, the UAE has contributed considerably to the development of the Gulf region. At present, the country aims at establishing links with Central Asian countries, and one of the ways to address this objective is to develop humanitarian projects that would be beneficial for the progress of the area. Humanitarian aid may include conventional elements (the delivery of healthcare items or food and other products) and more advanced components (educational programs). The Emirati government should implement thorough research of potential areas to focus on when creating humanitarian aid projects for Central Asia.


Al-Mezaini, K. S. (2017). From identities to politics: UAE foreign aid. In I. Bergamaschi, P. Moore, & A. B. Tickner (Eds.), South-south cooperation beyond the myths (pp. 225-244). London, England: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Al Suwaidi, J. (2017). One of the key pillars of this country’s foreign policy is humanitarian relief. The National News. Web.

Al Zaabi, F., & Awamleh, R. (2019). Determinants of soft power: The case of United Arab Emirates. Future Governments, 7, 57-74.

Karasik, T. (2019). The United Arab Emirates in Central Asia. Center for Global Policy. Web.

Li, Y. (2018). Arab foreign aid in the view of Islamic faith. International Relations and Diplomacy, 6(10), 567-574.

Tittensor, D., Clarke, M., & Gümüş, T. (2018). Understanding Islamic aid flows to enhance global humanitarian assistance. Contemporary Islam, 12(2), 193-210.

United Arab Emirates’ government portal. (2020a). Sending aid to affected countries. Web.

United Arab Emirates’ government portal. (2020b). The UAE’s aid to foreign countries. Web.

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