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Branding the Arab Gulf City-State Discussed at AUK

The Center for Gulf Studies (CGS) at the American University of Kuwait (AUK) hosted a panel discussion entitled "Behind the Spectacle: Branding in the Arab Gulf City-State". The event, which took place at the AUK auditorium, hosted Mr. Oliver Auroy, Managing Director of Fitch Middle East; Ms. Caterina Sabbatini, PhD candidate at science Po, Paris and visiting researcher at AUK; along with the moderator Mr. Mohammed Al-Ghanim , researcher for the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The opening speech was given by Dr. Farah Al-Nakib, Director for CGS.

The panel discussed the rapid development and construction frenzy the Arab Gulf has experienced over the past decade. It examined how the Gulf city-states brand and market themselves as centers of cultural capitalism. The topic generated much discussion among the audience on the positive and negative aspects of state branding efforts, their sustainability in the long term, and what it means for local residents.

During his talk, Auroy outlined what he perceived as the benefits of national branding. In his opinion, the marketing of specific projects such as museums, stadiums, or tall towers creates a certain world image of a particular place that makes it unique from everywhere else. He argued that it should be a priority of state governments to manage their state image in order to prevent the rise of negative perceptions, or worse still, no perception at all. In the case of Kuwait, Auroy described how entrepreneurial successes such as Slider Station or the success of internationally recognized locals such as Chef Adla Al Sharhan can be used by the state to foster a positive and unique image of the country abroad.

Investigating the case of Qatar, Sabbatini discussed the effectiveness of sports as a branding tool. Initiatives such as Aspire, the hosting of the 2022 World Cup, and the bid to host the 2020 Olympics represent a comprehensive effort to create a positive image and perception of the country internationally. Sabbatini pointed to the importance of fostering a positive image in Qatar as a way to increase its soft power among its much larger neighboring countries. It is also seen as a means for economic diversification and decreasing the reliance on gas exports in the long term. Lastly, sports initiatives and projects can be seen, according to Sabbatini, as motivated by power politics and feuds within Qatar's royal family.

However, according to Al-Nakib, city-states such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar today (as Kuwait in the 1970s) put more focus on building a city geared towards satisfying a global audience and attracting "temporary" residents (tourists, transient businessmen, and so on). This will eventually compromise the needs and priorities of the city's permanent residents. Al Nakib argued that this approach to city-building is unsustainable over the long-term. Evidence has shown that more than $100 billion worth of urban mega-projects have been either canceled or delayed in the UAE due to the global financial crisis, according to AL-Nakib.

The Center for Gulf Studies (CGS) at the American University of Kuwait aims to promote greater cultural understanding of and increased intellectual interest in the Gulf, by facilitating free and open academic discourse on a range of issues that both shape and challenge this critical region of the world. The goal of CGS is to enable scholars as well as political and civil society actors both within and outside the region to contribute and add value to the burgeoning field of Gulf Studies, while at the same time informing and engaging the general public. To this end, the CGS encourages, supports, and cultivates interesting and original research on the Gulf, while regularly organizing a variety of public academic events such as lectures, roundtable discussions, and conferences. For more information about CGS and its activities, please visit http://www.auk.edu.kw/cgs/index.jsp

Images from the Event

Released by the Office of Public Affairs on the 15th May 2012

Photography by the Office of Public Affairs (C) 2012

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