Brand Trump holding up in Mideast despite domestic challenges

A giant billboard advertising the Trump International Golf Club hangs at the Dubai Trade Center roundabout, in Dubai, pictured in February. (AP Photo)
Updated 20 May 2017

Brand Trump holding up in Mideast despite domestic challenges

DUBAI: Despite challenges in Washington, the Donald Trump brand is still well regarded among businesses and leaders in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia, the destination for the new US president’s first foreign tour.
And Trump’s strong rhetoric against terrorism and Iran has won him even more friends in the region, experts say.
“The president’s visit could provide a reset in relations with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf, after years of increasing distance between them and Obama. What he is saying on terrorism and Iran is very welcome,” said one Washington veteran who preferred to speak anonymously. 
Young Arabs, however, see Trump as anti-Islamic and view his presidency with a mixture of concern, anger and fear, according to a recent survey. Some 83 percent of Arabs between 18 and 24 polled recently had an unfavorable view of the president, according to the Arab Youth Survey.
Trump has taken some steps to distance his business interests — multibillion-dollar activities in hotels, real estate, media and leisure — from the presidency, following criticism of possible conflicts of interest in his dealing with foreign countries. He has appointed family members to roles of executive control, and disposed of some businesses.
For example, last year his organization closed corporate vehicles in Saudi Arabia that looked like the beginnings of a franchise operation in the Kingdom. He also pulled out of controversial operations in Azerbaijan and Brazil. But his organization retains significant operations in the UAE.
Branding experts believe foreign affairs may be a welcome relief to the president given his domestic troubles. John Brash, founder and CEO of global branding consultancy Brash Brands, said: “Gulf governments, always cautious and pragmatic, seem to be giving Trump a second chance.”
The Trump business brand in the Gulf region is most in evidence in the UAE, where he has a partnership with developer Damac Properties, one of Dubai’s best-known property companies. Ties between Trump and Damac boss Hussain Sajwani go back a long way, and have remained strong despite the president’s outburst against Muslims on the campaign trail and his proposed targeted travel bans since the election.
Sajwani congratulated Trump in person at an event in Florida earlier in the year, and welcomed his sons Donald Jr. and Eric at the official opening ceremony of the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai in February.
Advertising for Trump-branded developments is very much in evidence on hoardings on Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road.
Just last week, Donald Jr. spoke at the graduation ceremony of the American University in Dubai, and later lunched with Sajwani, who tweeted: “It was great having my friend and business partner Donald Trump Jr. over for lunch. Discussing new ideas always makes our meetings interesting.”
A Damac spokesman said: “Our relationship with Donald Trump is very strong. We see great value in having brand Trump on our estates and golf courses. It has worked well for us since it started in 2012.”
Other branding gurus said the Trump brand has considerable value to a business like Damac.
Steve Haysom, CEO of the consultancy Omnia, said: “His business empire has clearly reached into the Arab world with developments here in the UAE and Turkey. There were some rocky moments when he called out against all Muslims prior to winning the election. However, it now seems to be business as usual with Damac, with the Trump International Golf Club opening recently. Damac clearly has business objectives and strategies in place to grow their business. Time will tell if having Trump on side will be of benefit.”

US, UK must support Kurds in Syria: British politicians

Updated 8 min 56 sec ago

US, UK must support Kurds in Syria: British politicians

  • Kurds of northern Syria face an “exponential threat” from Turkey while Western allies in the fight against Daesh remain silent — British MP
  • The UN estimates 137,000 people left Afrin leaving only about 150,000 in the district. Only the Turkish Red Crescent and Turkish relief organizations can operate there

LONDON: The Kurds of northern Syria face an “exponential threat” from Turkey while Western allies in the fight against Daesh remain “silent,” Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of Parliament for the UK opposition Labor Party, told Arab News.

Speaking after visiting the Kurdish region of northern Syria this month, he said Kurdish communities in the area “feel abandoned” by the West in a “moment of real need.”

“While we were there, a place we’d been the day before was shelled by Turkey, so these things do go on and they do affect day-to-day lives. People seem genuinely very afraid,” he said.

Traveling via Baghdad and Irbil, before being escorted across the Syrian border by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), his delegation, which undertook the visit independently of the Labor Party, witnessed the devastation wreaked by Daesh and Turkish rockets in Kobani and other cities.

The route opened up a few months ago, Russell-Moyle said, creating a “window of opportunity” to “talk to the Kurds about what they were facing” and to “give hope to people that are struggling and are doing an amazing job.” 

Describing the democratic, secular, feminist state being established in the Kurdish-controlled area of northern Syria as “impressive,” he said this is the “best” and “only” example of the kind in Syria and that Britain should be helping to rebuild it in the aftermath of the conflict. 

During a visit to Qamishli, Lord Glasman, a Labour peer who was part of the delegation, said: “We’re here for a long-term relationship with you, where we can support you against all the people who are trying to destroy your liberty.”

In March, the Turkish military overran the north Syrian city of Afrin following a bloody campaign to oust the YPG from the area. Dozens of Kurdish fighters lost their lives, including 26-year-old British national Anna Campbell, who'd been volunteering with the YPJ, the female arm of the YPG.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish president, has vowed to expand the offensive to other YPG-held areas, citing security concerns in response to US plans to help Kurdish militias create a 30,000-strong “border security force” to defend the Syrian-Turkish border against Daesh. 

Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it defines as a terrorist organization, following a three-decade battle for Kurdish independence on Turkish soil.

The UK and US, wary of upsetting an important NATO ally, remain reluctant to get involved. A statement released by the US State Department in March said it was “committed to our NATO ally Turkey” with its “legitimate security concerns,” sentiments reiterated by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who insisted: “Turkey has the right to want to keep its borders secure.”

Kurdish forces are “infuriated” by the response, feeling that they have been let down by their allies, commentators said. Kurdish fighters make up the majority of the US-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting against Daesh.

Josh Walker, a British YPG fighter who has since returned to the UK, said: “Kurds have been seeing this as another chapter in their long history of betrayal by major powers; they are especially disappointed considering their major contribution to the near-defeat of ISIS, which was only prevented from being total defeat by Turkish intervention.”

Since the assault on Afrin, the YPG has redeployed hundreds of troops from the frontlines against Daesh to defend the city on the other side of Syria. Turkey’s “increasingly belligerent” position toward the Kurds has thrown up “contradictions” for UK and US foreign policy in Syria, said Robert Lowe, deputy director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economic and Political Sciences.

“Their overriding priority is to defeat ISIS (Daesh) and associated groups. That’s been hurt by the Turkish invasion and made their continuing operations to defeat ISIS, or clear out what’s left of them, more difficult because the Kurds have had to move resources.

“The US and the UK are only prepared to go so far in their criticism of Turkey,” he said. “They have urged restraint … but also haven’t been as critical as they might have been.”

Russell-Moyle said the UK needed to be “stepping up, not stepping away.” The recent decision taken by Theresa May, UK prime minister, to engage in US-orchestrated airstrikes targeting the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons facilities without parliamentary approval was a “very risky strategy,” he said. 

To bring an end to this conflict “we should be building up societies,” he said, and “supporting a civil population that will never allow it to happen again.”

In Rojava, and the cantons of Kobani, Cizre and Afrin, Kurdish communities have embarked on a political project to form the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, establishing a system of government based on democratic confederalism, ecology and gender equality. Councils set up by local people, have been established, based on equal representation of minority groups in the area.

Elif Gun, from the Kurdistan Students Union in the UK, described a “system of stateless democracy, working from bottom up, with power handed and divided.

“It is the only form of democracy and state that offers real change to the people and gives the power of decision making to the people.”