‘Troubled nations can never spend their way to improved global reputation,’ says Good Country Index creator Simon Anholt

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Updated 28 November 2022

‘Troubled nations can never spend their way to improved global reputation,’ says Good Country Index creator Simon Anholt

‘Troubled nations can never spend their way to improved global reputation,’ says Good Country Index creator Simon Anholt
  • Stands by comment that money spent on nation-brand advertising campaigns not only goes to waste but rather is a crime
  • Says hosting the football World Cup, despite an estimated cost of $220 billion, will not benefit Qatar beyond a few months

DUBAI: While there is no question that staging a major sporting event will “in a real way raise the profile of the country for a relatively short period,” the data suggests it makes no lasting impact on the image of the host country, according to the man credited with coining the term “nation brands” back in the 1990s.

Simon Anholt, founder of the renowned Nation Brands Index, is currently an independent policy adviser to nearly 60 countries around the world, and publisher of the Good Country Index, which ranks nations based on their contributions to people and planet.

His views on the topic have a special significance as Qatar hosts the Middle East’s first World Cup, prompting many to wonder whether the event, the organization of which has cost the Gulf country an estimated $220 billion, will succeed; and what Arab cities such as Riyadh, Dubai or Doha need to do to become the next London or New York.

“Looking back over the 20-odd years that I’ve been running surveys on this (subject), the evidence is that running or hosting a big sporting event, such as the football World Cup or the summer Olympics, has no impact, generally speaking, on the image of the country, at least not beyond a few months,” Anholt said on “Frankly Speaking,” Arab News’ weekly talkshow.

He added: “Within about six months or so, people would have forgotten about it.

“Occasionally, it can do quite serious damage to the (host) country’s image, if the thing is very controversial or if it shows things about the country that are worse than what people were expecting.”

For Qatar, Anholt said, hosting the World Cup has its upside if “what you are actually looking for is just crude awareness. In other words, you want more people to have heard about the existence of this country, because it’s anonymous.”

He continued: “Then there’s no question that hosting a major sporting event will, just in a real way, raise the profile of your country for a relatively short period.

“And, if you know exactly what you’re going to do to follow on from that immediately afterward, and keep the momentum going and keep the profile high, then that could work as part of a slightly more sophisticated strategy.”

Nevertheless, he cautioned that “believing that just hosting a successful major event will suddenly turn your image from bad into good, or from unknown into super well-known, is just an illusion. It just doesn’t happen.”

Anholt acknowledged that “there can be other valuable effects of hosting a major event” and that “these things are not necessarily a waste of time and money.”

He added: “Particularly the smaller ones can be very useful tactical instruments for countries to engage with the international community.”

In sum, he said: “It’s not a simple, straightforward relationship between hosting an event and the image of the country: It can do you harm. The most common effect is no effect at all.”

Anholt said events such as Saudi Arabia’s thrilling 2-1 victory over Argentina in the World Cup and the UAE’s successful Mars Mission can do more good for their nation brands than PR or advertising campaigns, but “in the longer term.”

He added: “The mistake is always to expect an immediate return. Your brand is not your message; it’s the context in which your message is received.”




Saudi Arabia’s thrilling 2-1 victory over Argentina in the World Cup can do more good for the Kingdom’s brand than PR or advertising campaigns, said Simon Anholt. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)

Anholt, while delivering a talk at the Riyadh Book Fair last September, said that money spent on nation-brand advertising campaigns not only goes to waste, but rather is a crime.

Elaborating on the point, he told “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen: “You’re saying, if you spend enough money on advertising and it’s good enough advertising, it will work. But what I’m saying is that those tools that work so well for selling products and services, they don’t work for changing the images of countries.”

He added: “All the evidence is that it’s just money burned. Countries are judged by what they do and by what they make, not by what they say about themselves.”

It was recently announced that Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh would host the Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council, a big conference full of world experts who would want to sell their country as the next ideal holiday destination. What, according to Anholt, is the difference between destination marketing and the concept of a nation brand?

He said that the two concepts are separable. “Destination marketing is a very honest and very straightforward marketing exercise. You’ve got a product which is called vacations in Saudi Arabia, and you want to market it to potential tourists, to potential purchasers of that product,” Anholt said.

“Advertising, marketing, online, offline etc, all the conventional tools of commercial promotion are very, very useful to do that. If you do lots of it and you do it well, people will come.

“You can deliberately cause more people to visit your country through effective marketing. There’s no question about that.”

Anholt’s presence at the book fair means he is no stranger to some of Riyadh’s ambitious goals: To double its population by 2030, make huge investments in projects aimed at creating jobs for both locals and expatriates, further expand green cover, and win the bid to host the World Expo in 2030.

What, in his view, does Saudi Arabia need to do so that the capital can become more attractive and grow into another London, New York or Tokyo?

“Making the city into an attractive destination, an attractive product for people to buy into, is really only part of the story,” Anholt said.

“Having a beautiful city or having an attractive destination, or a beautiful nature or a great culture, nice people, is all part of the attraction of a country. 

“But, fundamentally, the thing that matters most is that people should feel glad they are there. It’s got something to do with how they perceive you as a player in the international community.”

Anholt also shed light on why Saudi Arabia — which occupies 57th place on the Nation Brands Index — should not expect quick improvements in its international perception purely on the strength of ongoing domestic reforms or the generous sums of money it gives in foreign aid.

He said: “Change is not easy, and it’s not quick. We need to change people’s minds. When you’re talking about the whole world, and you’re talking about a vast cultural construct which is the perceived image of a nation, that really is a slow process.

“It’s very disheartening for the first several years. You’re going to find that almost whatever you do that tries to be good and helpful, it’s going to be interpreted in a negative way. But gradually, if you are persistent and strategic about it and, above all, sincere with those gestures, then, over time, it will begin to shift.

”But this is not something that can be fixed overnight, or in a matter of weeks or years. The images of countries take literally generations to form. They don’t come through the media from one day to the next; they come through the whole of the culture that surrounds us.”

Anholt joked that the Nation Brands Index is “one of the most boring social surveys ever conducted,” simply because the rankings change so little from year to year.




Anholt highlighted UAE’s Mars Mission as being better for the country’s brand than traditional advertising.

He added: “It’s because people really, really don’t change their minds about countries. These are the stable building blocks of their world view.”

As someone who has never seen a country rise by more than two places from one year to the next, he explained that “when a country does rise or fall by more than two or three places in the ranking, then that’s really important and it’s really worth analyzing.”

Case in point is Russia, which has plunged 31 places to the bottom of the index in one year.

Anholt used the example to say that, based on his experience running the Nation Brands Index survey since 2005, “international public opinion will not tolerate conflict. The one thing that people all over the world just cannot forgive a country for is being involved in a war.”

He added: “If you reach out and you harm or threaten or insult another group, whether that’s a religious group or another state, public opinion will punish you as a state for doing so.”

Does that mean Israel, which occupies illegal lands as per the UN but has not suffered a plunge in its Nation Brands ranking, is an exception to the rule?

Anholt said the explanation is more complicated in that “Israel doesn’t suffer quite the same because (the occupation) hasn’t just happened right now. It’s a situation which people have been used to for a number of years.”

He pointed out, however, that while Israel is nowhere near the bottom of the index, it is also nowhere near the top.

He said: “Considering the size of its economy, and considering its successes and the connections that it enjoys with other countries, its position in the international community, especially since the Abraham Accords and all the rest of it, you might expect Israel to rank significantly higher than it does.”

Moving on to the UK, Anholt said that chaotic politics is so much the order of the day in world affairs these days, he does not think “just changing prime ministers every few weeks is going to have any long-term effect on the image of the country.”

Even so, he said the image of Britain is on the slide and has been so, barring a few reversals, ever since the Brexit referendum.

He added: “The data very clearly shows the number one reason why people admire a country is because they think it contributes something to humanity and the planet.

“The point about Brexit, as it was understood by most people around the world, was that the UK was withdrawing from its multilateral behavior and wanted to do it on its own. It wanted to be the British Empire all over again. Very predictably, people don’t like that.”

As for the US, he said: “It had always been the number one country, right up until the second term of George W. Bush, when the Americans invaded Iraq for the second time. America was always the most admired country on Earth; now, it never is. It seems to have settled down at about seventh to 10th position.”

Anholt put the twin examples of the UK and US this way: “Aside from invading another country, the only way that you can gradually damage the image of a country is by behaving in a persistently chaotic, turbulent and unfriendly way in the international community, and both the US and the US are proving that from year to year.

“Year by year, their scores slip in the Nation Brands Index.”

Finally, with divisions opening up in British public opinion after the passing of Queen Elizabeth this year, how much did Anholt think she and the monarchy were worth to “Brand UK?”

He said: “If you look at monarchies in pure economic terms, they tend to give quite good value for money.

“They cost taxpayers several millions a year, sometimes many millions a year, to keep them there. But what they actually return to the country’s image in terms of pure brand value is in the order of billions. People love monarchies, especially people who don’t live in monarchies themselves.

“Without the monarchy, the UK would be significantly less interesting to people than it is. It would be significantly harder to attract people to visit its old buildings in its old cities. So, purely in economic terms, royal families appear to give rather good value, as long as they behave in the right way.”


S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
Updated 26 January 2023

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
  • Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan

JUBA: After spending nearly a decade in a camp for the displaced in South Sudan’s Juba, Mayen Galuak hopes that Pope Francis’ visit to the capital city next week will inspire political leaders to finally restore peace, allowing him to go home.

The 44-year-old entered the UN camp, just a few kilometers from his residence, in search of safety three days after conflict broke out in 2013.

In the ensuing years, he has watched as South Sudan’s leaders forged peace deals and broke them; as militias carried out and denied ethnic massacres; and as relentless conflict pushed parts of the country into famine.

Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan. 

The pope has wanted to visit South Sudan for years but plans were postponed due to the instability there and a scheduled trip last June was canceled due to the pope’s knee ailment.

The Vatican’s envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo has said the trip will remind the world not to ignore decades-long conflicts.

“We are in a bad situation ... since 2013, we have not seen any good peace,” said Galuak, who says he can’t travel to his birth home in the country’s north because of the risk of attack. Sporadic clashes continue to kill civilians throughout the country.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011.


Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan
Updated 26 January 2023

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan
  • The Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — parliament’s third-largest — faces the threat of being banned ahead of polls in which Erdogan will seek to extend his rule into a third decade

ISTANBUL: Turkiye’s pro-Kurdish party should back the main opposition candidate instead of fielding its own against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May elections, its elder statesman told AFP from jail.

“I am in favor of backing a joint candidate” Selahattin Demirtas, who ran against Erdogan twice, told AFP through a lawyer from his jail in the western city of Edirne.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — parliament’s third-largest — faces the threat of being banned ahead of polls in which Erdogan will seek to extend his rule into a third decade.

Erdogan portrays the HDP as the political wing of outlawed Kurdish militants who have been waging a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

The party says it is being singled out for standing up for Kurdish rights and resisting Erdogan’s crackdown on civil liberties.

Turkiye’s top court is expected to rule on a prosecutor’s request to shut it down in the coming months.

The party’s legal problems add a new layer of uncertainty to the parliamentary and presidential polls — widely viewed as Turkiye’s most important in generations.

The HDP has been excluded from a six-party opposition alliance now trying to agree on a single candidate to run against Erdogan.

But after securing 12 percent of the vote in 2018 elections, the HDP’s future could prove decisive in what promises to be a tight race.

Demirtas’s second presidential challenge came from behind bars, where he has languished since 2016 on a myriad of charges, some of them terror-related.

The 49-year-old denies them all and the European Court of Human Rights agrees, repeatedly calling for his release.

Demirtas has been convicted on some counts since the last election, making him ineligible to run again.

But the party’s co-chairwoman, Pervin Buldan, suggested this month that the party should still field its own candidate, even without its brightest star.

Demirtas conceded that Buldan might ultimately get her way.

“At this stage, it seems more likely that the HDP will nominate its own candidate,” he said.

But a “compromise with the HDP through negotiations” could still produce a joint candidate representing Turkiye’s entire opposition — including the Kurds, he said.


Syrian Kurdish forces arrest Daesh commander in eastern region

Syrian Kurdish forces arrest Daesh commander in eastern region
Updated 26 January 2023

Syrian Kurdish forces arrest Daesh commander in eastern region

Syrian Kurdish forces arrest Daesh commander in eastern region
  • The commander served as the chief of the extremist group’s faction for Raqqa and was among the 68 militants detained in the operation

RAQQA: Syrian Kurdish-led forces captured a local commander of Daesh in eastern Syria as part of an ongoing operation targeting sleeper cells in the city of Raqqa, the US-backed forces announced on Thursday.

The commander served as the chief of the extremist group’s faction for Raqqa and was among the 68 militants detained in the operation, the Syrian Democratic Forces said.

The operation started earlier this week, in response to a December attack by Daesh that targeted military and security buildings in Raqqa and killed at least six Syrian Kurdish fighters. 

A Kurdish commander, Mazloum Abdi, said they had indications of “serious preparations” by Daesh for attacks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition war monitor, said Daesh also targeted a military intelligence prison holding some 200 militants in the December attack.

Daesh lost all territorial control in Iraq and Syria in 2019, following a yearslong US-backed campaign that defeated the so-called caliphate, where Raqqa was once the Daesh de facto capital. 

However, militant sleeper cells persist and have since killed scores of Iraqis and Syrians. 

Syrian Kurdish and US forces frequently conduct raids targeting Daesh sleeper cells in northern and eastern Syria.

The captured Daesh commander was identified as Atallah Al-Maythan. 

Syrian Kurdish forces said he headed the militant group’s operations across Raqqa province, and allegedly “confessed to his involvement in planning and leading terrorist acts,” extorted money from residents in the area and kept Daesh sleeper cells in contact.

Some 5,000 Syrian Kurdish-led fighters are involved in the operation, and have already raided some 80 locations, said their spokesperson, Farhad Shami.

The US-led coalition was providing air support, reconnaissance, and gathering intelligence, Shami added.

This is the second recent operation by the US-backed forces in Syria. In late December, the Syrian Kurdish-led fighters targeted Daesh cells in Al-Hol and Tal Hamis, following a surge in militant attacks.

The US Central Command said that 215 militants from Daesh were arrested last year and 466 were killed in Syria. There are roughly 900 US troops in Syria.


First Arab long-duration astronaut mission to launch next month

First Arab long-duration astronaut mission to launch next month
Updated 26 January 2023

First Arab long-duration astronaut mission to launch next month

First Arab long-duration astronaut mission to launch next month
  • UAE mission specialist Sultan Al-Neyadi to make first trip to space
  • Country sent its first astronaut to ISS in 2019

DUBAI: The first Arab long-duration astronaut mission is scheduled to launch on Feb. 26, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center has announced.
A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket will carry UAE astronaut and mission specialist Sultan Al-Neyadi, along with two NASA astronauts — mission commander Stephen Bowen and pilot Warren Hoburg — and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.
Key mission information, such as the launch time and launch opportunities, was announced during the NASA Crew-6 mission overview media briefing, Emirates News Agency reported on Thursday.
MBRSC Director-General Salem Humaid Al-Marri said: “We are proud to talk about our second mission under the UAE Astronaut Program and Sultan’s first mission to space.
“Our human space program kicked off in 2017 where we selected our first two astronauts, Hazzaa Al-Mansoori and Sultan Al-Neyadi. We had our first mission to the ISS in 2019, which had an impact on hundreds of thousands of people.”
He added: “Today, Al-Neyadi is a very capable astronaut and he, along with his colleague Al-Mansoori have a total of five years of training, including training on EVAs and operations aboard the ISS.
“We have over 20 science experiments from UAE universities in the upcoming mission and a lot of outreach activities being done across the region.”
Al-Neyadi said: “The idea of waking up every morning and having access to a window like the Cupola, where one can scan the entire world in 90 minutes, is amazing, and I believe it is literally out of this world.
“The trip to space by Al-Mansoori marked the UAE’s consistent presence in space. Our prime minister promised to continue these flights, and now we’re talking about the second mission to the International Space Station.
“This time we raised the bar to six months, and we now have two additional astronauts training with the class of ‘23.
He added: “I would also love to see a UAE flag on the lunar surface, carried on the shoulder of a UAE astronaut.
“The UAE is doing an excellent job, and I believe that in the next 10 years, we will be following international efforts to go to space and push the boundaries of exploration.”


Ancient Egyptian tombs, artifacts discovered near pyramids of Giza

Ancient Egyptian tombs, artifacts discovered near pyramids of Giza
Updated 26 January 2023

Ancient Egyptian tombs, artifacts discovered near pyramids of Giza

Ancient Egyptian tombs, artifacts discovered near pyramids of Giza
  • One coffin untouched for 4,300 years, lead archaeologist Zahi Hawass says
  • Statues, amulets, tools also among treasures unearthed in Saqqara region

CAIRO: Egypt’s most renowned archaeologist has announced the discovery of dozens of new finds, including two ancient tombs, at a Pharaonic necropolis just outside Cairo.

Zahi Hawass, a former government minister and director of the excavation, said the finds in Saqqara, close to the pyramids of Giza, dated back to the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties of the Old Kingdom, which ran from about 2500-2100 B.C.

“The excavation work of the joint mission with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities discovered tombs dating back to the era of the Old Kingdom, which indicates the presence of a huge cemetery with many important tombs,” he said.

“The first of these is the tomb of Khnumdjedef, a supervisor of the nobles and priest in the pyramid complex of Unas, the last king of the Fifth Dynasty. The tomb is colorful and contains scenes of daily life.

“The second is for Messi, known as the Keeper of Secrets and assistant commander of the great palace,” Hawass said.

The team also discovered a number of colored limestone statues representing servants believed to have been owned by Messi.

They also found a limestone coffin belonging to a man called Haka Shabis in a hidden room at the bottom of a 15-meter well, he added.

“It became clear that this coffin had not been touched for about 4,300 years. When we opened the lid we found a mummy of a man covered in gold foil. This is considered the most complete and oldest non-royal mummy found so far.”

There were also several statues representing the judge and writer Fatak, located next to an offering table and a coffin containing his mummified remains.

Dr. Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that while many statues had been unearthed in the Saqqara region over the past century, very few were of the size of the latest finds.

“The current discovery also includes many amulets, cosmetic tools, statues of the idol Ptah Soker, statues in the form of deities, as well as pottery and votive vessels.”

Hawass said the Saqqara archaeological region still held many secrets waiting to be discovered.