The uneasy relationship between Trump’s Muslim Ban and his business empire

Seven countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen – were singled out by Donald Trump’s Executive Order 1379. The order forbids entry into the United States by residents of those countries, with the exception of Green Card holders. The number of refugees allowed into the US has been limited to 50,000, with priority being given to Christian refugees seeking to leave predominantly Muslim countries. Of course, Trump should not seek to expressly ban citizens of Saudi Arabia, or Turkey, or anywhere else he has deigned not to discriminate against. Nor should he not ban the poorer nations in order to ban the wealthier ones.

The purpose of the ban is reputedly to prevent Islamic terrorists from entering the country by preventing all people from the nations listed from entering the USA. When executing a presidential order that affects the lives of thousands of people, deliberately selecting seven countries should surely not be an arbitrary decision. Indeed, they ought to have been chosen on account of high quantities of terrorist activity, or a flow of funding coming out of those countries and into the coffers of militant extremists. One would think; one would even expect.

Who to ban?

“His selection of banned states is not as interesting as his selection of states not to ban.”

But The Donald, as per the norm, defies all expectation. His selection of banned states is not as interesting as his selection of states not to ban. For example, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Indonesia and Turkey have not come under the umbrella of the ban. They share a number of common factors, both with each other and with the seven banned countries. With the latter group, they share predominantly Muslim populations and a measure of Islamic extremism. But what they have that the banned nations do not are licensed properties owned by the Trump Organisation. If Trump’s express goal in executing Order 1379 is reducing the chance of Islamic extremism entering the United States, then why does the ban not cover all countries with high Muslim populations? A total ban would obviously still raise questions of ethics, but a ban that is selective seems that much worse, especially when the reasons for selectivism seem so divorced from pure law. Why would this take place?

It can be boiled down to a difference of interests. The American electorate voted Trump into office on the basis of a series of promises. Chief amongst these – the driving force of his campaign at home and abroad – was the desire for foreign nationals to be kept out of the United States, for reasons of safety and so Americans would not lose their jobs to foreigners. This is what people are expecting.

But Trump, more so than any president before him, doesn’t stand on the same playing field as the people he represents. In a way, this is partly through no fault of his own; it’s not even a situation unique to him. A great number of wealthy men and women are removed from the struggles of the average person and completely divorced from a standard lifestyle. Many of them find themselves in high positions in government (both in the USA and elsewhere) and even in the Oval Office, leading to a lengthy history of politics frequently operating in a completely different reality to that of the majority. Yet Trump’s lifetime of enormous wealth and notable self interest is unique. The US cannot afford to have its interests represented by a man who has never had cause to share the electorate’s fears of migrants taking their jobs and of the day-to-day threat of terrorism. His interests are far removed from the desires of the population. Opportunities to profit seem to outweigh his presidential duties.

Saudi Arabia

“Trump’s best interests should not be to safeguard financial connections with the Saudis; it should be to fulfil the expectations of his electorate, the nature of said expectations aside.”

Saudi Arabia’s government is known for the exportation of Wahhabism, a strict form of Islam responsible for fuelling extremism all over the world. Saudi money routinely winds up in the coffers of militant groups, paying for their weapons, televisions, and the training of Imams. Saudi Arabia provides more fighters to ISIS per year than any other country in the world. Trump invoked the 9/11 attacks multiple times during his enactment of the ban, yet seems oblivious to the fact that fifteen of the nineteen bombers in those same attacks came from Saudi Arabia. Trump himself called Saudi Arabia “the world’s biggest funder of terrorism” in 2011. And yet the ban does not affect Saudis.

One could argue that the desire of Trump and his administration to safeguard American people does not outweigh their financial interests in Saudi Arabia.  Trump himself registered no fewer than eight companies in Saudi Arabia during his presidential campaign, according to a report published in The Washington Post. Four of these companies, such as THC Jeddah Hotel, operate with Trump himself acting as president or director of the company. Saudi Arabia’s vast reserves of oil make the country a beneficial financial partner to the USA. Trump’s best interests should not be to safeguard financial connections with the Saudis; it should be to fulfil the expectations of his electorate, the nature of said expectations aside.

The Trump administration is following a long-established governmental policy of prioritising working with economic allies over the implementation of effective policy. The results of his ban do not line up with what it is meant to accomplish. What the Trump administration has succeeded in doing is making a dramatic gesture that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do because he, the president, can’t afford to follow through with his proclamations. It’s effectively for show, something which isn’t acceptable when the gesture’s side effects involve upending the lives of thousands of people.

Wider concern

“The UAE has little history of terrorist activity, but the same can be said for other countries which are not home to Trump businesses and find themselves affected by the ban.”

The situation extends beyond Saudi Arabia. The new president considers the Gulf States to be “crucial allies for the United States government”, according to Adam Baron, a Yemen specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Trump has notably left Turkey out of his ban, despite the state department recently putting out a warning in relation to anti-American rhetoric within Turkey potentially inspiring independent entities to carry out acts of violence within the US. At the same time, Trump reportedly earns the equivalent of £6 million from his multiple business interests in Turkey, including two luxury towers and a line of home furnishings, as stated in the financial disclosure he made during his election campaign.

In the United Arab Emirates, Trump’s organisation owns a series of luxury home developments, a large golf course and a number of spa facilitates in Dubai. The UAE has little history of terrorist activity, but the same can be said for other countries which are not home to Trump businesses and find themselves affected by the ban.

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim-majority population at approximately 222 million people. Only six days before Trump’s inauguration, a suicide bomber destroyed a Starbucks in Jakarta in the name of ISIS, yet Indonesia has remained untouched by the ban; there are two Trump resorts under construction within its borders.

Trump’s ventures in Egypt are relatively opaque, but his latest Federal Election Commission filed listings which included two companies there. These were Trump Marks Egypt and Trump Marks Egypt LLC. Though less clear than his previously mentioned ventures, these are most likely associated with a development project. Egypt has not been included on the ban seeking to keep Islamic extremism out of the USA. And yet, Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is currently waging war against the Islamic State on Egypt’s Libyan border and in northern Sinai. This makes Egypt a potential gateway into the west for extremist groups, and yet Egyptians have not been included in the ban.

Trump notably has no business relations with the countries included in the ban. Five of them are states that the United States is in the process of bombing. Ironically, the majority of refugees that the new president is seeking to repel are products of wars that the US is itself waging.  Furthermore, not a single national from the banned nations has conducted an act of deadly terrorism in the USA since 1975, according to Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the Cato Institute. Foreigners conducting acts of terrorism is precisely what the US administration is seeking to avoid, and yet the USA is not targeting the sort of countries that it says it wants to target, instead targeting citizens of countries that are only producing refugees because the USA itself is destroying their homes. The banned countries are relatively poor on the spectrum of Muslim-majority nations, generally ill-equipped to finance acts of militant aggression.

What Trump’s lack of condemnation of these other countries does, however, is reduce a law which affects the lives of millions of people to a seemingly arbitrary gesture, one which seeks to hollowly display the power of a new administration whilst placing fiscal benefits on a pedestal at the expense of human rights.