A first for the Arab world, the UAE has cultivated two parallel government departments -- "Brand Dubai" and "Brand Abu Dhabi" -- to promote each city-state in the global arena. The tarnish of a negative news story cuts into what those agencies are trying to accomplish.
The shame factor is culturally potent, embedded in Bedouin values of saving face and keeping quiet about one's dirty laundry. Both states are allies of the United States eager to emerge as good global citizens, rebranding the Arab oil billionaire as the benevolent sheikh. Gulf states, concerned with their reputation abroad, are especially susceptible to negative publicity -– in this case, reconsidering state policy in the wake of global news coverage and public response.
But analyst Karasik emphasized that pressure from the global media has its limits (there was little reporting on the Sheikh Issa case from the local UAE media, for instance). Change can come quickly, but only when leaders want it to.
"They won't have anything imposed from outside," he said. "They'll do these investigations and reviews, on their own time scales, with their own procedures.
"Political and social reform will happen at their own pace and no one else's."