‘Troubled nations can never spend their way to improved global reputation,’ says Good Country Index creator Simon Anholt

Short Url
Updated 28 November 2022

‘Troubled nations can never spend their way to improved global reputation,’ says Good Country Index creator Simon Anholt

  • Stands by comment that money spent on nation-brand advertising campaigns not only goes to waste but rather is a crime
  • Says hosting the football World Cup, despite an estimated cost of $220 billion, will not benefit Qatar beyond a few months

DUBAI: While there is no question that staging a major sporting event will “in a real way raise the profile of the country for a relatively short period,” the data suggests it makes no lasting impact on the image of the host country, according to the man credited with coining the term “nation brands” back in the 1990s.

Simon Anholt, founder of the renowned Nation Brands Index, is currently an independent policy adviser to nearly 60 countries around the world, and publisher of the Good Country Index, which ranks nations based on their contributions to people and planet.

His views on the topic have a special significance as Qatar hosts the Middle East’s first World Cup, prompting many to wonder whether the event, the organization of which has cost the Gulf country an estimated $220 billion, will succeed; and what Arab cities such as Riyadh, Dubai or Doha need to do to become the next London or New York.

“Looking back over the 20-odd years that I’ve been running surveys on this (subject), the evidence is that running or hosting a big sporting event, such as the football World Cup or the summer Olympics, has no impact, generally speaking, on the image of the country, at least not beyond a few months,” Anholt said on “Frankly Speaking,” Arab News’ weekly talkshow.

He added: “Within about six months or so, people would have forgotten about it.

“Occasionally, it can do quite serious damage to the (host) country’s image, if the thing is very controversial or if it shows things about the country that are worse than what people were expecting.”

For Qatar, Anholt said, hosting the World Cup has its upside if “what you are actually looking for is just crude awareness. In other words, you want more people to have heard about the existence of this country, because it’s anonymous.”

He continued: “Then there’s no question that hosting a major sporting event will, just in a real way, raise the profile of your country for a relatively short period.

“And, if you know exactly what you’re going to do to follow on from that immediately afterward, and keep the momentum going and keep the profile high, then that could work as part of a slightly more sophisticated strategy.”

Nevertheless, he cautioned that “believing that just hosting a successful major event will suddenly turn your image from bad into good, or from unknown into super well-known, is just an illusion. It just doesn’t happen.”

Anholt acknowledged that “there can be other valuable effects of hosting a major event” and that “these things are not necessarily a waste of time and money.”

He added: “Particularly the smaller ones can be very useful tactical instruments for countries to engage with the international community.”

In sum, he said: “It’s not a simple, straightforward relationship between hosting an event and the image of the country: It can do you harm. The most common effect is no effect at all.”

Anholt said events such as Saudi Arabia’s thrilling 2-1 victory over Argentina in the World Cup and the UAE’s successful Mars Mission can do more good for their nation brands than PR or advertising campaigns, but “in the longer term.”

He added: “The mistake is always to expect an immediate return. Your brand is not your message; it’s the context in which your message is received.”




Saudi Arabia’s thrilling 2-1 victory over Argentina in the World Cup can do more good for the Kingdom’s brand than PR or advertising campaigns, said Simon Anholt. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)

Anholt, while delivering a talk at the Riyadh Book Fair last September, said that money spent on nation-brand advertising campaigns not only goes to waste, but rather is a crime.

Elaborating on the point, he told “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen: “You’re saying, if you spend enough money on advertising and it’s good enough advertising, it will work. But what I’m saying is that those tools that work so well for selling products and services, they don’t work for changing the images of countries.”

He added: “All the evidence is that it’s just money burned. Countries are judged by what they do and by what they make, not by what they say about themselves.”

It was recently announced that Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh would host the Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council, a big conference full of world experts who would want to sell their country as the next ideal holiday destination. What, according to Anholt, is the difference between destination marketing and the concept of a nation brand?

He said that the two concepts are separable. “Destination marketing is a very honest and very straightforward marketing exercise. You’ve got a product which is called vacations in Saudi Arabia, and you want to market it to potential tourists, to potential purchasers of that product,” Anholt said.

“Advertising, marketing, online, offline etc, all the conventional tools of commercial promotion are very, very useful to do that. If you do lots of it and you do it well, people will come.

“You can deliberately cause more people to visit your country through effective marketing. There’s no question about that.”

Anholt’s presence at the book fair means he is no stranger to some of Riyadh’s ambitious goals: To double its population by 2030, make huge investments in projects aimed at creating jobs for both locals and expatriates, further expand green cover, and win the bid to host the World Expo in 2030.

What, in his view, does Saudi Arabia need to do so that the capital can become more attractive and grow into another London, New York or Tokyo?

“Making the city into an attractive destination, an attractive product for people to buy into, is really only part of the story,” Anholt said.

“Having a beautiful city or having an attractive destination, or a beautiful nature or a great culture, nice people, is all part of the attraction of a country. 

“But, fundamentally, the thing that matters most is that people should feel glad they are there. It’s got something to do with how they perceive you as a player in the international community.”

Anholt also shed light on why Saudi Arabia — which occupies 57th place on the Nation Brands Index — should not expect quick improvements in its international perception purely on the strength of ongoing domestic reforms or the generous sums of money it gives in foreign aid.

He said: “Change is not easy, and it’s not quick. We need to change people’s minds. When you’re talking about the whole world, and you’re talking about a vast cultural construct which is the perceived image of a nation, that really is a slow process.

“It’s very disheartening for the first several years. You’re going to find that almost whatever you do that tries to be good and helpful, it’s going to be interpreted in a negative way. But gradually, if you are persistent and strategic about it and, above all, sincere with those gestures, then, over time, it will begin to shift.

”But this is not something that can be fixed overnight, or in a matter of weeks or years. The images of countries take literally generations to form. They don’t come through the media from one day to the next; they come through the whole of the culture that surrounds us.”

Anholt joked that the Nation Brands Index is “one of the most boring social surveys ever conducted,” simply because the rankings change so little from year to year.




Anholt highlighted UAE’s Mars Mission as being better for the country’s brand than traditional advertising.

He added: “It’s because people really, really don’t change their minds about countries. These are the stable building blocks of their world view.”

As someone who has never seen a country rise by more than two places from one year to the next, he explained that “when a country does rise or fall by more than two or three places in the ranking, then that’s really important and it’s really worth analyzing.”

Case in point is Russia, which has plunged 31 places to the bottom of the index in one year.

Anholt used the example to say that, based on his experience running the Nation Brands Index survey since 2005, “international public opinion will not tolerate conflict. The one thing that people all over the world just cannot forgive a country for is being involved in a war.”

He added: “If you reach out and you harm or threaten or insult another group, whether that’s a religious group or another state, public opinion will punish you as a state for doing so.”

Does that mean Israel, which occupies illegal lands as per the UN but has not suffered a plunge in its Nation Brands ranking, is an exception to the rule?

Anholt said the explanation is more complicated in that “Israel doesn’t suffer quite the same because (the occupation) hasn’t just happened right now. It’s a situation which people have been used to for a number of years.”

He pointed out, however, that while Israel is nowhere near the bottom of the index, it is also nowhere near the top.

He said: “Considering the size of its economy, and considering its successes and the connections that it enjoys with other countries, its position in the international community, especially since the Abraham Accords and all the rest of it, you might expect Israel to rank significantly higher than it does.”

Moving on to the UK, Anholt said that chaotic politics is so much the order of the day in world affairs these days, he does not think “just changing prime ministers every few weeks is going to have any long-term effect on the image of the country.”

Even so, he said the image of Britain is on the slide and has been so, barring a few reversals, ever since the Brexit referendum.

He added: “The data very clearly shows the number one reason why people admire a country is because they think it contributes something to humanity and the planet.

“The point about Brexit, as it was understood by most people around the world, was that the UK was withdrawing from its multilateral behavior and wanted to do it on its own. It wanted to be the British Empire all over again. Very predictably, people don’t like that.”

As for the US, he said: “It had always been the number one country, right up until the second term of George W. Bush, when the Americans invaded Iraq for the second time. America was always the most admired country on Earth; now, it never is. It seems to have settled down at about seventh to 10th position.”

Anholt put the twin examples of the UK and US this way: “Aside from invading another country, the only way that you can gradually damage the image of a country is by behaving in a persistently chaotic, turbulent and unfriendly way in the international community, and both the US and the US are proving that from year to year.

“Year by year, their scores slip in the Nation Brands Index.”

Finally, with divisions opening up in British public opinion after the passing of Queen Elizabeth this year, how much did Anholt think she and the monarchy were worth to “Brand UK?”

He said: “If you look at monarchies in pure economic terms, they tend to give quite good value for money.

“They cost taxpayers several millions a year, sometimes many millions a year, to keep them there. But what they actually return to the country’s image in terms of pure brand value is in the order of billions. People love monarchies, especially people who don’t live in monarchies themselves.

“Without the monarchy, the UK would be significantly less interesting to people than it is. It would be significantly harder to attract people to visit its old buildings in its old cities. So, purely in economic terms, royal families appear to give rather good value, as long as they behave in the right way.”


Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism

Updated 56 min 29 sec ago

Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism

  • The German Embassy cited the risk of possible retaliatory attacks following Quran-burning incidents in some European countries
  • The US and other countries issued travel warnings urging citizens to exercise vigilance

ANKARA: Turkiye on Thursday slammed a group of Western countries that temporarily closed down their consulates in Istanbul over security concerns, accusing them of waging “psychological warfare” and attempting to wreck Turkiye’s tourism industry.
Germany, the Netherlands and Britain were among countries that shut down their consulates in the city of around 16 million people this week. The German Embassy cited the risk of possible retaliatory attacks following Qur’an-burning incidents in some European countries. The United States and other countries issued travel warnings urging citizens to exercise vigilance.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the consulate closures and travel warnings were part of a Western plot to prevent a rebound in Turkiye’s tourism sector following the coronavirus pandemic.
“On a day when we declared our aim of (attracting) 60 million tourists, at a time when 51.5 million tourists arrived and we obtained $46 billion in tourism revenue, they were on the verge of starting a new psychological warfare (against) Turkiye,” said Soylu, who is known for his anti-Western rhetoric.
The minister said Turkiye had conducted as many as 60 operations against the Daesh group so far this year and detained 95 people. Last year, close to 2,000 Daesh suspects were detained in more than 1,000 operations against the group, he said.
Earlier this week, the Interior Ministry said Turkish authorities had detained a number of suspects following a warning from a “friendly country,” but hadn’t found any weapons, ammunition or sign of a planned act of violence.
In November, a bombing on Istanbul’s bustling Istiklal Avenue, located in the heart of the city and near a number of foreign consulates, killed six people and wounded several others. Turkish authorities blamed the attack on Kurdish militants.
Last weekend, Turkiye’s foreign ministry issued a travel warning for European countries due to anti-Turkish demonstrations and what it described as Islamophobia. The warning followed demonstrations the week before outside the Turkish Embassy in Sweden, where an anti-Islam activist burned the Qur’an and pro-Kurdish groups protested against Turkiye.
In a related development, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Norway’s ambassador to ask for a protest planned for Friday in the Scandinavian country to be prevented because there would be an “attack” on the Qur’an during the event, Turkiye’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported Thursday.
Norwegian newspaper VG said a group called Stop Islamization of Norway planned to burn the Qur’an outside the Turkish Embassy in Oslo on Friday.
The group’s leader, Lars Thorsen, told VG that he planned to carry out his protest “in the context of Turkiye’s intolerance of Western values of freedom.”
Recent demonstrations in Europe where activists desecrated Islam’s holy book have infuriated Muslims in Turkiye and elsewhere.
Anadolu said the Norwegian ambassador was told that the planned action would constitute a “hate crime” that should not be allowed.


Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group

Updated 57 min 30 sec ago

Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group

  • Panahi was detained in July and told he would serve a six-year prison sentence originally issued by a Tehran court in 2010
  • Panahi has won several international awards

DUBAI: Iranian film director Jafar Panahi has started a hunger strike in prison to protest against authorities’ refusal to release him temporarily on bail pending retrial, the activist HRANA news agency reported on Thursday.
Panahi was detained in July and told he would serve a six-year prison sentence originally issued by a Tehran court in 2010, amid a stepped-up crackdown on dissent in the Islamic Republic.
“According to the law, I should have been released on bail after my request for retrial was accepted but my case has been delayed for more than 100 days,” the 62-year-old film director wrote in a letter, according to HRANA.
“This is in stark contrast with the speedy trials of innocent youth which are brought to the gallows 30 days after their arrest,” added the director, who won the Cannes Film Festival’s Camera d’Or prize for his 1995 movie “White Balloon.”
There was no immediate reaction to the HRANA report from Iranian authorities on state media.
Iran’s judiciary said in July Panahi would serve a six-year sentence over charges of “propaganda against the system” and inciting opposition protests after the 2009 election that led to months of political turmoil.
Since then, nationwide protests sparked by the death in police custody of Kurdish Iranian young woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 2022 have represented one of the toughest challenges to the Islamic Republic.
At least four people have been hanged since the demonstrations started, according to the judiciary. Iran has accused foreign enemies of fomenting the unrest.
Panahi has won several international awards, including the 2015 Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear for his film “Taxi.”


Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran

Updated 02 February 2023

Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran

  • The pair would discuss “the international effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program”
  • Israel is considering sending military aid to Ukraine

PARIS: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron Thursday, hoping to gain support against Iran’s nuclear program but shadowed by an upsurge of violence in the region.
Israel’s Paris embassy said the pair would discuss “the international effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program.”
Netanyahu hopes that Iran’s role supplying drones to Russian invaders in Ukraine as well as the crackdown on protests at home will prompt Western allies to drop any pursuit of a revival of the 2015 deal over its atomic drive.
The prime minister has also said Israel is considering sending military aid to Ukraine, apparently dropping its previously more neutral stance over the conflict.
France agrees that “firmness” is needed in dealings with Iran, a diplomatic source told AFP, calling its nuclear program “dangerous” and highlighting its role in the Ukraine war.
Tehran also holds several foreign nationals who Western governments see as political hostages.
But Macron’s office said the French leader would “reiterate (to Netanyahu) the need for all sides to avoid measures likely to feed the cycle of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians — while offering “France’s solidarity with Israel in the face of terrorism.”
Netanyahu visits as Israelis and Palestinians exchanged rockets and missiles over Gaza, the latest violent episode as the conflict intensifies.
A week ago, seven were killed in a mass shooting by a Palestinian at a synagogue in annexed east Jerusalem — one day after an Israeli raid in the West Bank killed 10 Palestinians.
In France until Saturday, Netanyahu is also set to meet French business chiefs and leaders of the country’s Jewish community, the Israeli embassy said.


Israel steps up demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem, West Bank

Updated 02 February 2023

Israel steps up demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem, West Bank

  • Properties were razed in city’s Sur Baher, Wadi Al-Hummus and Silwan neighborhoods on Wednesday
  • Al-Khan Al-Ahmar residents stage sit-in amid fears of displacement as deadline to leave village expired

RAMALLAH: Israeli authorities have stepped up the demolition of Palestinian homes in parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, following a policy formulated by extreme right-wing ministers in the country’s new government, local leaders say.

On Wednesday, Israeli bulldozers knocked down buildings in the Sur Baher, Wadi Al-Hummus and Silwan neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Rights activists urged people to publicly denounce the demolitions by posting messages on social media sites such as Twitter.

They also called on the Palestinian Authority, the international community and global institutions to intervene immediately to force Israel to halt the demolitions and displacements that threaten the Palestinian community in Jerusalem.

Since the beginning of this January, occupation forces have razed 30 homes in a number of the historic city’s neighborhoods. Last year, 211 Palestinian homes were demolished in Jerusalem.

In the village of Al-Khan Al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, a sit-in protest by villagers and activists from the Palestinian Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission continued for a second day on Wednesday.

Residents of the village and surrounding Bedouin communities fear Israeli authorities will demolish their homes, after a final six-month deadline for them to leave expired on Wednesday.

Eid Khamis Jahalin, a Bedouin leader from Al-Khan Al-Ahmar, told Arab News that people are scared that Israeli bulldozers will destroy the village and displace its 250 residents.

“The electoral program of both Itamar Bin-Gvir (the new Israeli national security minister) and Bezalel Yoel Smotrich (the minister of finance) is based on the demolition of Al-Khan Al-Hamar and the displacement of its inhabitants,” he said.

Hussein Al-Sheikh, from the Palestine Liberation Organization, called on the international community to intervene immediately to halt the demolition carried out by Israeli occupation forces in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which he described as a continuation of a policy of displacement and “apartheid.” He said the Palestinian leadership would meet on Friday to discuss ways to respond.

Elsewhere, Israeli army forces continued to besiege Jericho, in the eastern West Bank, for a fifth day on Wednesday as they searched for two young men responsible for an attempted gun attack on a settlers’ restaurant at the entrance to the city five days ago.

Critics accused Israeli authorities of imposing a collective punishment policy in the city by obstructing the free movement of residents, searching their cars and checking their identities, resulting in long queues and people being stuck in their vehicles for hours.

Journalist Adel Abu Nima from Jericho told Arab News that the Israeli army on Saturday set up military checkpoints at all main entrances to Jericho city and its camps, Aqbat Jabr and Ein Al-Sultan, and blocked secondary entrances with mounds of earth, causing great disruption to the lives of city residents and visitors.

“Some citizens and workers wait at the Israeli military checkpoints for four hours, and some are prevented from leaving Jericho,” Abu Nima said.

Jericho is the only place from which 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank can travel to other countries, so the checkpoints have affected people traveling abroad and those who are returning.

“As a journalist covering the events in West Bank, including Jenin and Nablus, I have not seen such Israeli military measures against entire cities as is happening now against Jericho,” Abu Nima said.

Meanwhile, an Israeli human rights organization has accused Israeli authorities of tolerating settler violence against Palestinians for more than 17 years.

Yesh Din said in a report published on Feb. 1 that only 3 percent of cases of ideological crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians in the West Bank during that time resulted in convictions and 93 percent of cases were closed with no indictment filed.

Data contained in the report showed that between 2005 and 2022, Israeli police failed to investigate 81.5 percent of alleged crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians and their property.

The researchers said: “The state of Israel is evading its duty to protect Palestinians from Israelis who seek to harm them in the West Bank, as international law requires.

“Yesh Din’s long-term monitoring of the results of police investigations into incidents of ideological crime committed by Israelis demonstrates the enduring systemic failures of the Israeli authorities to enforce the law on Israeli civilians who harm Palestinians and their property in occupied territory.

“The fact that this systemic failure has persisted for at least two decades indicates that this is a deliberate policy of the state of Israel, which normalizes ideological settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, supports it and then reaps the rewards resulting from it.”

In another development, the Israeli Cabinet is due to discuss a decision to stop recognizing degrees awarded by Palestinian universities.

Avi Dichter, the Israeli agriculture minister, who previously was chief of the Israeli spy agency Shin Bet, said: “During the studies of Palestinian students from Israel in Palestinian universities, they are exposed to anti-Israel materials and messages, with which they return to the country and pass on to their students.”

Sheeran Haskel, a member of the Likud Party, claimed that more than 20 percent of teachers in Arab schools in Israel had graduated from Palestinian universities “after they absorbed the implications of portraying Israel as an enemy.”

Thousand of Palestinians who live in Israel study at universities in the West Bank.


Iran says IAEA stance on nuclear work “incorrect” — Mizan

Updated 02 February 2023

Iran says IAEA stance on nuclear work “incorrect” — Mizan

  • Fordow is so sensitive that the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers banned enrichment there

DUBAI: Iran’s said on Thursday that the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) latest position on Tehran’s nuclear work was not correct, according to Mizan news agency.
The UN nuclear watchdog criticized Iran on Wednesday for making an undeclared change to the interconnection between the two clusters of advanced machines enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity, close to weapons grade, at its Fordow plant.
“The IAEA inspector’s interpretation was incorrect but he reported it to the agency ... We immediately provided the explanation to the IAEA on the same day,” Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami said.
In a confidential report to member states seen by Reuters, the IAEA did not say how the interconnection between the two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges had been changed except that “they were interconnected in a way that was substantially different from the mode of operation declared by Iran (to the IAEA).”
Fordow is so sensitive that the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers banned enrichment there. Since the United States pulled out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Iran, the Islamic Republic has breached many of the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities.
Talks between Tehran and world powers to revive the pact have stalled since September.