Trump's talk tarring his booming Mid-East business

Trump Towers Istanbul is an example of how the Trump Organisation has been promoting its brand in the Middle East.
Trump Towers Istanbul is an example of how the Trump Organisation has been promoting its brand in the Middle East.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

His call to ban entry of Muslims into US has angered some business partners

DUBAI • At Lifestyle, a home furnishings store inside the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, shoppers were examining lamps and picture frames on Wednesday. But they did not see any Trump Home mirrors or lotion dispensers.

Just hours after US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a ban on the entry of Muslims into the US, one of his Middle Eastern business partners, the Dubai-based Landmark Group, responded by removing all Trump-branded products from the shelves of its Lifestyle stores.

In the Middle East, as in other parts of the world, the foundation of Mr Trump's business is his name, a brand that for many is synonymous with American success and luxury.

Regarding the Middle East as a critical avenue for growth, the Trump Organisation has signed numerous deals to put the Trump brand on upscale golf courses and residences in Dubai, hotels in Turkey and home furnishings, accessories and decor sold in stores across the region.

But the value of the Trump name in the world's vast Muslim population has been thrown into question since he made his comments.

"I now feel ashamed to live in a building associated with such a vile man," said Ms Melek Toprak, 38, who lives with her sister in Trump Towers Istanbul, a commercial and residential complex developed by Turkish billionaire Aydin Dogan that soars over the city's central business district.

"He insulted 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide, and he has business in the Arab world," said Mr Khalaf Al Habtoor, a Middle Eastern billionaire. "He will lose because respectable Muslims will refuse to work with him."

Mr Khalaf, the head of a conglomerate based in the United Arab Emirates, said he now regretted writing an article this year in which he supported Mr Trump.

Unbowed, Mr Trump said he was not worried about the impact that his comments may have in terms of lost business. He insisted he had been told by his Muslim friends and business partners that they were grateful he had addressed a difficult subject.

"I have so many friends who are Muslim; they are thankful that I've been able to bring it up," he said, adding that he intended the ban only as a temporary measure. "We're really talking about a limited period of time."

Still, he said that if he lost business because of his statements, he was prepared to live with that. "This is far more important than anything I'm doing."

It is not the first time his incendiary remarks have cost him business. His anti-immigration stance has cost him millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars in lost licensing and other deals.

One Middle Eastern business leader said that he did not think Mr Trump even believed what he said. "Donald is my friend, and we have been friends for a long time," said Mr Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways. "I think it is an exercise only to gain political mileage. Nothing more."

Just how far Mr Trump's comments will reverberate among Muslims in the Middle East and beyond is not yet clear.

On Wednesday, Mr Guray Guraz, a teacher sitting at a restaurant in Trump Towers Istanbul, said of Mr Trump: "I think he is an idiot, but it does not prevent me from coming here... I was expecting a protest in front of this building, but either people are not aware of the situation or they do not care."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'Trump's talk tarring his booming Mid-East business'. Print Edition | Subscribe