By Courtney Trenwith
How The Donald’s US presidential candidacy could affect his Dubai projects
It is pretty difficult to miss the fact US billionaire Donald Trump has finally lived up to his hype and joined the race to become US president. Even if you don’t read the news, you’re likely to have heard about it – or more precisely, one of his absurd speeches.
For those of us who would be little affected, at least directly, by Trump actually winning such an influential job, the spectacle of him beating up on his fellow Republican candidates, Barack Obama, Mexicans, Iran, Saudi Arabia and anyone else he feels like insulting can be amusing or shocking, depending on your standpoint.
But the man with the world’s most famous comb-over could actually soon control one of the most powerful countries on Earth; he is, like it or not, currently the Republican front runner.
It goes without saying that Trump becoming president is by no means a foregone conclusion. He faces a broad field of opposing candidates in his own party, and even if he secures the Republican nomination, Trump will then take on the formidable Hillary Clinton.
But one thing we can speculate on is the impact to Trump’s businesses, particularly those in the UAE.
Trump has put his name and money behind a golf course and 100 private residences within the Akoya by Damac master development in Dubai.
When I interviewed The Donald at the first tee of that golf course (due to be completed later this year) in May 2014, he arrogantly - yet confidently - claimed that his name would bring to the project “the Trump effect”, inflating prices and attracting golfers who would not otherwise travel to Dubai to play.
“I think you’ll have Michael Jordan coming, I think you’ll have President Clinton coming, I think you’ll have the biggest celebrities in the world coming,” Trump said during our interview.
He didn’t stop there. He also claimed “the Trump effect” would impact the value of neighbouring developments. How kind of him.
But if Trump becomes US president, his audacious expectations could be skewed.
Under US law, Trump will have to relinquish control and any management of his businesses, including his position as chairman and president of The Trump Organization. He also would give up control over his investments.
“Any president would be readily criticised for any appearance of conflict of interest related to his business affiliations and investments,” Colombia University political analyst Robert Shapiro told Arabian Business.
That means Trump may also have to forgo any stunts at the opening of the Trump golf course in Dubai. I wonder how Damac Properties feels about that, and whether there were any contractual obligations?
While Trump’s brash and often offensive comments (if you haven’t seen/heard many of them yet, this speech is a good start) will on the whole have little impact in the GCC, he has been revealed he is “not a big fan” of Saudi Arabia – one of the most powerful Arab states.
He claimed Saudi Arabia was fighting in Yemen only to gain that country’s oil – with no mention of the wider geopolitical issues that are facing the region. The UAE also is heavily backing Saudi Arabia in Yemen and is one of the kingdom’s strongest allies. So I doubt those comments went down well in the UAE, or in other Gulf states.
However, he may manage to redeem himself, if slightly, by promising to "police" the Iranian nuclear deal to make it "so tough they don't have a chance".
Multiple high-profile firms have already cancelled their partnerships with Trump or moved to publicly distance themselves from the controversial figure. NBCUniversal has dumped Trump’s prized Miss USA and Miss Universe pageant broadcasts (do you remember the billboard along Sheikh Zayed Rd of him surrounded by models to promote the Dubai golf course?) and said it was looking to end its co-ownership with Trump on the franchises.
Production company Ora TV, co-founded by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and Larry King, also cancelled their planned programme with Trump. Another two big personalities to fall out with.
No doubt some similar decisions will be made by investors considering Trump’s projects in Dubai or golfers who would have paid to play on his Dubai course.
But there is still so much more to come. The presidential vote is not until November 2016 (the farce of spending millions of dollars on a campaign that lasts longer than a year is another rant for another day) and Trump will undoubtedly have much more to say between now and then – and after.
His presidential candidacy may indeed cause a “Trump effect” in Dubai. It just may not be the one he wanted.