Dubai ‘used as a football by American politicians'

Dubai was used as a “political football’ by US politicians during the Dubai Ports World saga, according to the man whose firm carried out public relations for the company.

Speaking exclusively to Campaign, Lord Tim Bell, chairman of Chime Communications, said that Dubai had been the victim of a complex political system that saw both Democrat and Republican politicians using the DP World deal for political gain.

Chime Communications is the holding company of Bell-Pottinger, the PR firm that advised DP World during the political storm over the deal that erupted in the US earlier this year.

Lord Bell, who helped to found Saatchi & Saatchi in 1970, said that the UAE had to learn from the experience and do more to enhance its understanding of geo-politics.

"It shows you how domestic politics can influence international relations," said Bell.

"It wasn't actually a deep-rooted concern about Dubai controlling the ports in America. It was used for electoral gain. Dubai had no reason to realise the level of hostility because they did not realise that they were going to be used as a political football -- or to the extent to which they would be used."

Lord Bell said that although DP World was not prepared for the amount of opposition it faced from Capitol Hill, he was impressed by the way that negotiations were handled.
"In the end they [DP World] acquitted themselves extremely well. They did not get down into deep and hostile discussions. The spokespeople were very careful and realised that the final decision to sell the assets was a perfectly proper diplomatic solution -- but it was a very difficult environment."

Lord Bell said that Dubai's understanding of politics and international relations would come to have greater importance in the future development of the emirate.

"What is at stake is the ease with which Dubai expands and develops," he added.

Speaking on the development of the Middle East's PR industry, Lord Bell said that, while it was still young, he expected it to develop quickly in the next few years.

"The Middle East is a fantastically important market," he said. "In terms of the practice of PR I think that almost inevitably countries start by thinking that it's about media relations and then slowly start to learn that it's actually about reputation management. It will take a while, but the industry will grow very quickly."

Lord Bell is a well-known figure in the UK communications industry. He has advised several world leaders including Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

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