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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)

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.”

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