Dubai retailer bans Trump products as backlash intensifies
Middle East-based retailers and businesses have lashed out at US presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s remarks that he would bar Muslims from entering the US.
Damac, a Dubai real estate firm, building a $6bn golf complex, with Donald Trump on Thursday removed both his image and the gold letters spelling out "Trump International Gold Club" from the Dubai site, a Reuters photographer said.
The move came a day after, Dubai-based retailer Landmark Group suspended the sale of Trump-branded home decor products in its Lifestyle range, which appear in the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
“As one of the most popular home decor brands in the Middle East, Lifestyle values and respects the sentiments of all its customers. In light of the recent statements made by the presidential candidate in the US media, we have suspended sale of all products from the Trump Home decor range,” said Sachin Mundhwa, CEO of Lifestyle, in an emailed statement.
Alex Malouf, the vice-Chair of the Middle East Public Relations Association told Middle East Eye that Trump had quickly become a "very toxic" brand.
“I can’t see Trump apologising which would hopefully defuse the situation and I see it getting worse. Seeing how he digs himself getting into a hole I don’t see how he will be able to maintain business contacts in the region in the medium to long term," Dubai-based Malouf said.
“I don’t think it will get to the point of a boycott as brands are very conscious of things like this and Trump is everywhere, he dominates the press and social media so I think that many organisations will think to themselves we’ve worked with this guy but he has offended my customers and this is not good for business. He has become a very, very toxic brand for businesses in the Middle East and indeed businesses that have large numbers of Muslim customers.”
Trump has also come under fire from Emirati business magnate Khalaf al-Habtoor who told the Associated Press that “if he comes to my office, I will not let him in. I reject him".
Habtoor had come out in support of Trump a few months ago, but suggested that the latest anti-Muslim statement – in which Trump said that Muslim students, tourists, businessmen and even US citizens who were abroad at the time should be prevented from entering the US on security grounds - were a step too far.
"Maybe we can meet somewhere where I can debate with him in a very civilised way, not in the way he approaches people,” Habtoor said.
Trump's comments were made on Monday and issued in response to the San Bernardino shooting in the US, which was carried out by a husband and wife who appear to have been radicalised and may have been linked to the Islamic State group.
His comments have sparked widespread outrage abroad, with more than 200,000 people signing a petition to ban the controversial mogul from entering the UK.
Trump has also caused ire at home with the White House saying that his proposal “disqualifies him” from the presidential campaign and House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Republican, saying that “freedom of religion is a fundamental constitutional principle" and that Trump's words put him at odds with both the party and the country."
Despite repeated assaults on Muslims during his campaign, Trump has been doing business in the Middle East for years.
Trump also has a partnership with Dubai’s al-Tayer Group, which opened two Trump Home by Dorya galleries in the UAE this summer. While the firm has called the billionaire's remarks “unfortunate” they did not suggest that they would be pulling their business.
“The statement Mr Trump made on the campaign trail is unfortunate. Given his diverse business interests in the region, we hope that he will reconsider his stand,” the firm said, in a statement sent to Arabian Business.
According to Malouf, the real estate businesses will be hardest hit.
“They will have to be re-branded, I don’t see any way around it,” he said. “It is not a cheap process [there is the re-branding itself but also large PR and marketing costs] but it is easier to do this than and going through this with brand toxicity.”
Damac, which probably had the biggest link with Trump, initially tried to distance itself from the situation.
“We would like to stress that our agreement is with the Trump Organisation as one of the premium golf course operators in the world and as such we would not comment further on Mr Trump’s personal or political agenda, nor comment on the internal American political debate scene," Damac senior vice president Niall McLoughlin said.
The firm has not made any further comments on the issue and has as yet not publically explained why the images of Trump playing golf, as well as those of his daughter Ivanka, have been pulled.
According to Trump's latest personal financial disclosure, which is required by all presidential candidates, Trump lists a string other property interests in Muslim-majority countries including in Azerbaijan, Turkey and two new ventures in Indonesia.
In November 2014, Trump signed a partnership to open a luxury hotel by the Caspian Sea, called the Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku for which he states that he received $2.5mn for "management fees".
He also licenced his name to a 40-story residential tower in Istanbul for which he says he collects about $1mn to $5mn worth of royalties, and earlier this year announced plans to build an ultra-luxury resort in Bali and a golf course in West Java, Indonesia.
But the 2008 global recession put a dampener on many of Trump's regional ambitions. Ahead of the financial crash, Trump had grand plans to launch Trump International Hotel and Tower Dubai, a $790mn project to build a 62-story skyscraper that would have towered over the man-made Palm Jumeirah island, although the plan appears to have been permanently shelved in 2011.
In 2013, Trump's hotel group also announced that it would hire a Dubai-based executive to help build the brand in the Middle East, with the company saying it wanted to build 30 hotels regionally by 2020, though so far no business deals have been announced.
“Trump has actually been relatively lucky and the fallout could have been much worse,” Malouf said. “Pre-2008 He was planning to invest a lot in the region and there were a lot of hotels and other projects but most of these have been pulled. Instead, what he has now is a lot of brand association deals [which require a much smaller investment] and perhaps Trump has not put his own money in.”
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