Lord Mandelson helped British contractors get some of their money back after the property bust.Andrew Henderson / The National
Lord Mandelson helped British contractors get some of their money back after the property bust.Andrew Henderson / The National

From the desk of Frank Kane: Spin doctors, firepower and Blair

It has been a while since I dipped into the wacky world of Middle East public relations, but some momentous events have taken place in the past six months, and at last the spin doctors are responding.

I don't mean the on-off relationship between the UK's Bell Pottinger and the government of Bahrain. At about the time forces moved into Bahrain, the firm said its activities in the troubled kingdom were being scaled back for the time being.

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Recently, I notice an increase in the number of Bell Pottinger e-mailed statements on behalf of one Bahraini government department or another, so you would have to assume it's all back on for the company, based in London.

What I mean is the exciting news - so far only whispered about in PR circles and the specialist press - that a new force is on the scene in the Middle East. And quite a pedigree it has, too.


The financial crisis didn't seem to put off too many of the big international firms from the region. In fact, I can recall offhand at least three launches that have taken place since the summer of 2008.

But this is the first I know of to have been prompted directly by the historic events of the Arab Spring. Hillingdon Cresswell already has offices in London and Amman, and is looking out for the right premises (and clients, of course) in the UAE.

The duo behind the new company consists of Chris McShane, long-time press adviser to the former British prime minister Tony Blair, and Ghalia Alul, who ran strategic communications for the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation and Queen Rania of Jordan.

They have pulled together a team of experienced consultants from the UK and Middle East as the core of the new operation.

A couple of members of the line-up are former Blair advisers, while there is also a gaggle of experienced hands from PR, marketing and communications.


Apart from Mr Blair (whose role as Middle East peace envoy must rule him out of any direct executive role at the firm), there is another eminence grise: Lord [Peter] Mandelson, who as former British business secretary saw quite a lot of action in the Gulf region, mainly in helping British contractors get some of their money back after the property bust.

"Peter has a working relationship with Chris, from his days in government," Ms Alul says. "We value his [Peter's] advice, but it's not official."

That all adds up to quite a lot of political firepower, so it's no surprise that Hillingdon Cresswell's potential clients are governments and government-related enterprises. And not just for a bit of one-off spin doctoring.

"Our motto is 'building capacity, not dependency', so we really want to help governments and others set up their own communications structures," Ms Alul says.

Mr McShane elaborates: "We see ourselves almost as management consultants specialising in communications.

We don't think the best way is to hire an expensive foreign firm and then wait to be told what to do. It's far better if they [the clients] do it themselves, with good advice."

Have they got any clients yet? "We're at the relationship-building stage," Mr McShane says, which I suppose is a new way of saying "no". But he adds: "We've enough funding to see us through," without elaborating on the source of the funding.


I guess the biggest question today for Hillingdon Cresswell is whether the connection with the former British government (the one that took the UK to war with Iraq), and with Mr Blair in particular, will be a help or hindrance in opening doors with governments in the region.

Despite, or maybe because of, his role in the Israel-Palestine peace process, you do not hear Mr Blair's praises being sung widely in the region as elder statesman turned peacemaker.

His old friendship with George W Bush is a big factor in this ambivalence.

It's good to have a new voice on the PR scene.

It will be interesting to see how Hillingdon Cresswell's novel approach goes.


Edinburgh: November 4 (unchanged)

Bahrain: November 15 (from September 15); second daily service from January 1

Kuwait: November 15 (from September 16)

Mumbai: January 1 (from October 27)

Ahmedabad: January 1 (from October 27)

Colombo: January 2 (from January 1)

Muscat: March 1 (from December 1)

Lyon: March 1 (from December 1)

Bologna: March 1 (from December 1)

Source: Emirates


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1. Send EU border guards to Balkans

2. €40 million for training and surveillance

3. Review EU border protection

4. Reward countries that fund Balkans 

5. Help Balkans improve asylum system

6. Improve migrant reception facilities 

7. Close gaps in EU registration system

8. Run pilots of faster asylum system

9. Improve relocation of migrants within EU

10. Bolster migration unit in Greece

11. Tackle smuggling at Serbia/Hungary border

12. Implement €30 million anti-smuggling plan

13. Sanctions on transport linked to smuggling

14. Expand pilot deportation scheme in Bosnia 

15. Training for Balkans to deport migrants

16. Joint task forces with Balkans and countries of origin

17. Close loopholes in Balkan visa policy 

18. Monitor migration laws passed in Balkans 

19. Use visa-free travel as leverage over Balkans 

20. Joint EU messages to Balkans and countries of origin

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Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kriti Sanon, Dharmendra, Dimple Kapadia, Rakesh Bedi

Rating: 4/5

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Friday: Giggs, Sho Madjozi and Masego  

Saturday: Nas, Lion Bbae, Roxanne Shante and DaniLeigh  

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Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

The specs

Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat-six

Power: 480hp at 6,500rpm

Torque: 570Nm from 2,300-5,000rpm

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch auto

Fuel consumption: 10.4L/100km

Price: from Dh547,600

On sale: now

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Tiger:independent, successful, volatile
Rat:witty, creative, charming
Ox:diligent, perseverent, conservative
Rabbit:gracious, considerate, sensitive
Dragon:prosperous, brave, rash
Snake:calm, thoughtful, stubborn
Horse:faithful, energetic, carefree
Sheep:easy-going, peacemaker, curious
Monkey:family-orientated, clever, playful
Rooster:honest, confident, pompous
Dog:loyal, kind, perfectionist
Boar:loving, tolerant, indulgent  

The specs: 2019 Haval H6

Price, base: Dh69,900

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Power: 197hp @ 5,500rpm

Torque: 315Nm @ 2,000rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 7.0L / 100km


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Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

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Engine: Single front-axle electric motor
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Transmission: Single-speed automatic
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Torque: 760Nm from 3,000-5,750rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
On sale: Now
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Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
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Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000

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“My clients are mostly Filipinos, and they [all want to know] about good conduct certificates,” says the 34-year-old Filipina, who has lived in the UAE for five years.

Ms Gado contacted the Philippines Embassy to get more information on the certificate so she can share it with her clients. She says many are worried about the process and associated costs – which could be as high as Dh500 to obtain and attest a good conduct certificate from the Philippines for jobseekers already living in the UAE. 

“They are worried about this because when they arrive here without the NBI [National Bureau of Investigation] clearance, it is a hassle because it takes time,” she says.

“They need to go first to the embassy to apply for the application of the NBI clearance. After that they have go to the police station [in the UAE] for the fingerprints. And then they will apply for the special power of attorney so that someone can finish the process in the Philippines. So it is a long process and more expensive if you are doing it from here.”

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Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)


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Started: 2023
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Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

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