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President Trump’s travel ban will leave his business partners untouched

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

At his New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago, President Trump made a point of singling out a friend in the crowd: Hussain Sajwani. “Hussain and the whole family, the most beautiful people,” Trump said.

Sajwani is a billionaire who’s partnered with Trump to build two golf courses in Dubai. He’s also a Muslim. And if Sajwani had been born 100 miles further east — in Iran rather than Dubai — Trump would have just banned his friend and business partner from the United States.

Trump, who promised a total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering the United States on the campaign trail, followed through Saturday with a ban on all refugees and on citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.

Trump justified the ban as a national security move. But the giant loophole for “religious minorities” — which, in the Middle East, is likely to be persecuted Christians, as Trump said in an interview Saturday — makes his real motivation clear.

Meanwhile, Trump’s unprecedented decision to continue owning the businesses and buildings bearing his name around the world means that he maintains plenty of beneficial ties to the Muslim world. Beneficial to him, that is.

Javier Zarracina/Vox

A golf course bearing Trump’s name is set to open in Dubai in the near future, with a second to follow next year. His hotel company hopes to build in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The governments of Bahrain and Kuwait have spent money to celebrate events at his DC hotel.

There’s no evidence that Trump’s decision was driven by business concerns. The seven nations the executive order applies to — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — were already flagged by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department as either official sponsors of terrorism or “countries of concern,” and singled out in a law Congress passed in 2015 meant to make it more difficult for people who’d passed through those countries to enter the United States.

Javier Zarracina/Vox

But the result is still that the president of the United States just closed the country to people from poor and war-torn countries seeking a better life, while continuing to profit off his investments in wealthier parts of the Middle East.

Trump’s business dealings enrich the citizens of the wealthiest parts of the region. His policies shut the door on the neediest.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Trump rents space in Trump Tower to Qatar Airways. According to the airline, that’s no longer the case.