View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Emirates Suffering from an Energy Problem

“The Emirates have an energy problem. It is not obvious to outsiders, who see in the Gulf a bottomless lake of hydrocarbons. Nevertheless, the tiny kingdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates are struggling with energy.”

“It is not only Dubai, the ambitious city-statelet that is reinventing itself as the Singapore of the region, pumping the wallets of tourists and financiers as its oil wells run dry. The whole region needs more power and, above all, it needs more natural gas to generate the electricity that keeps the lights on, the water desalinated and the air chilled in the hothouse petrodollar economy. Like tigers chasing their tails, the Emirates are in a frantic dash for gas.”

This entire article can be found at:

Carl Mortished, ‘Emirates Get an Early Whiff of a Western Bugbear—Energy shortage’, The Times, October 31, 2007.

Image: Exploring and Producing Gas in Abu Dhabi.

Update on Protesting Construction Workers

There have not been many reports about the detainment of the protesting construction workers.

Here are some links to articles that have surfaced:

AP, ‘Thousands of Striking Workers Released From Jail; about 160 Still in Custody’, International Herald Tribune, 31 October 2007.
Riyasbabu, ‘No Deportation of Protesting Workers’, Khaleej Times, 31 October 2007
AFP, ‘UAE Denies Mass Expulsion of Striking workers’, 30 October 2007.

Image: Asian workers on Dubai construction site

Check out the related site FUJAIRAH IN FOCUS especially

Fujairah Pictures and Photos

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dubai Guide: Top Five Sights, Top Five Hotels, Top Five Restaurants

For international visitors coming to Dubai who ask you for the ‘must-sees’, the article in today’s English Telegraph entitled Dubai Guide, might provide some answers.

Even if your selection might differ, this article helpfully provides snapshots, opening hours, address details and prices.

It also comes with a Google Map and a 360 degree Virtual Tour so you can have a squiz before you decide to hail a taxi and have a real tour.

Jeff Mills gives his choice on:

The Top Five Sights
The Top Five Hotels
The Top Five Restaurants

It concludes with a host of other helpful tips for the Dubai traveler.

The link:

Jeff Mills, ‘Dubai Travel Guide’, Telegraph, 29 October 2007.

Image: Wild Wadi Water Park

The Pressures Between the UAE, Iran and the USA

An informative article in the International Herald Tribune analyses the current pressures that the USA is exerting on the UAE to curb business with Iran.

Link:
AP, ‘Dubai at Center of US Efforts to Pressure Iran’, 29 October 2007.

Image: Middle East Map

Monday, October 29, 2007

Shaikh Mohammed: Number One in the World in Air Transportation

Recently the ruler of Dubai claimed on ABC’s 60 Minutes program that his goal was that Dubai [and the UAE] might be No. 1 in the world in every good thing—health, housing, education…

In Times Online today there is an article on the staggering growth of Emirates Airline, the Emirates logo, the strategic location of Dubai, the ‘Seven Wonders of the Gulf States’, including the causeways to connect Qatar and the UAE.

The UAE is well on the way to becoming first in the world in air transportation.

The link:

David Robertson, ‘Monday Manifesto: Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum’, Times Online, October 29, 2007.

Image: Emirates planes.

UAE Experiment Forging ‘Third Way’ Between Islam and the West

Michael Goodwin, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist tells readers of the New York Times today that he is hopeful after visiting the UAE, as one of the 200 foreigners attending the Festival of Thinkers in Abu Dhabi.

Among other things he says of the UAE:

“But a revolution in this oil-rich Arab nation has begun, one waged with the help of imported soft power from around the globe. If the rest of the Arab world follows, and if America takes yes for an answer, peace might have a chance…”

“But something new and dramatic is happening - a movement to embrace Western educational ideals. Scientific standards, liberal arts and even critical thinking are now openly praised. American-style philanthropy is taking hold. First Lady Laura Bush got a red-carpet welcome on her trip to promote breast cancer awareness. The Louvre and Guggenheim are building museums. New York University is building a campus, and the New York Academy of Sciences signed cooperation deals with the government.”

“That such striking initiatives are coming from a Sunni Muslim theocracy, even a moderate one, is something I didn't believe until I got here.”

“The Arab Emirates is bucking that trend. Sheik Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, head of the fledgling college system and the force behind the conference, concedes that the Emirates must learn from the West. Upgrading educational standards and opportunities, especially for women, tops his goals.”

“So his invitation list included many Jewish Americans and professional women. The sheik, dressed in flowing robes and headdress, posed for photographs for the local media standing with Western women, including my wife, Jennifer Raab, the president of Hunter College. In this authoritarian system, symbols are values, and he was signaling that his country should adopt some of the West's. For his efforts, the sheikh has been called a "mosque burner" by Islamist critics.”

“The experiment has many contradictions. The Iraq war is very unpopular, but the threat from Iran and Muslim terrorists are condemned, too. The country has back-channel contacts with Israel, yet does not recognize it, and some newspaper weather maps do not show Israeli cities, as if they don’t exist. And democracy is not even on the radar, a bitter pill for some in Washington.”

“The complexity of the culture is bewildering, and, after a single visit, I am reluctant to call the Emirati experiment a “third way” between Islam and the West. Then again, I’m not sure what else to call it, for it clearly seeks a course that embodies values from both worlds. Whatever it is, the Emirati way may be the best compromise we can reasonably expect.”

To read the full article, follow this link:
Michael Goodwin, ‘In Arabia, a Glimmer of Hope,’ New York Daily News, October 28, 2007.

Image: “The Arab Emirates is bucking that trend.”

Interview with Laura Bush: Arab Women, Scarves and Stereotypes

In an interview on Fox News Sunday, 28 October 2007, First Lady Laura Bush gave these reflections on her recent trip to the Middle East to promote breast cancer awareness. Here is what she had to say:

On Breast Cancer in the Middle East
“It was also a way for me to talk about something that Arab women traditionally have not been able to talk about. And what I found out when I was there was that they were very glad to talk about it, because it is true that breast cancer presents about 10 years younger in Arab women than it does here in the United States.

“And so because younger women are getting breast cancer, they don't know they have it until they're really into Stage 3 or 4, and so many more die there with breast cancer than do in the United States, because early detection is the only thing we have — the closest thing we have to a cure.”

On Arab Women, Scarves and Stereotypes
“And to be perfectly frank, I got an idea of what Arab women were like that I didn't have. I always, I think, sort of subconsciously thought the cover was a way to — I felt like I couldn't reach Arab women because they were covered.”

“And what I found out when I met them is they're just like us. I mean, they are — especially the ones I met, who were breast cancer survivors and doctors and researchers.”

“I met woman who was covered, totally covered — just her eyes were exposed — at a round table called Breaking the Silence, and she wants to start an Internet support group, which — we have a lot of Internet support groups for breast cancer survivors here, but none in Arabic.”

On Her Ambassadorial Role
“It took me a while to realize what a platform I had, and that I could be the one to go to the Middle East and talk about breast cancer and literally bring up a topic that was a taboo topic to talk about, very much the way it was in the United States 25 years or 30 years ago.”

On Criticism for Putting on a Head Scarf
Laura Bush was criticised for putting on a scarf given to her by a Saudi doctor. The Weekly Standard reported ‘That she would oblige her hosts by wearing a shmata,’ which is Yiddish for a scarf, ‘on her head is a tacit endorsement of Islam's subjugation of women.’”

Laura Bush’s response:
“Well, I did not see it that way at all. In fact, I'd had the meeting with them totally uncovered. I mean, you saw other photographs, obviously… And they saw this as giving me a gift from their culture. And it was the scarf with the pink ribbons and the pink edging on it, the breast cancer scarf, that I put on.”

“I will say that I told them that I had always felt like they were closed to me, that I wouldn't be able to reach them because of the way they're covered, and one of the women said to me — she said, ‘You know, I may be all dressed in black, but I am transparent.’”

“And what they were saying to me is they want to reach out. They want American women to know what they're like. And these women do not see covering as some sort of subjugation of women, this group of women that I was with.
That's their culture. That's their tradition. That's a religious choice of theirs.”

“Now, I did meet, on the other hand, in Kuwait, where women just got the vote in 2005, with a group of women activists, several of them who had run for office the first parliamentary election after women got the vote — didn't win, any of them, but they made the first step, certainly, by getting in the political process.
And in that meeting, very few women were covered. And they don't feel like they have to be. But you know, I think we all have these stereotypes of each other, Americans and Arabs, and it's a really good thing to be able to break those stereotypes down and get to know each other.”

The full transcript of this interview is at this link:
‘Transcript: Laura Bush on ‘Fox News Sunday’ Chris Wallace, Sunday October 28, 2007.
Video.

Image: Laura Bush

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Facebook Users in the United Arab Emirates

Facebook, the social networking programme that connects people through the Internet, is the 7th most visited site by UAE Internet users, according to the Alexa Traffic Rankings (c.f. In Canada it is the most popular; in Bangladesh, the UK and Lebanon it is No. 2; USA and Australia, No 5; NZ and Bahrain No. 8; Saudi Arabia No. 9; Pakistan No. 10; India No. 14 and China No. 84).

Users can sign up to only one Facebook Network and with the large number of expatriates in the UAE it is likely that a big proportion of them will link with the network in their home country or city (many American cities have their own network but there currently exists only one network in the UAE).

At the last count the number of people on Facebook in the UAE was just over 105,000 and it has been growing fast.

World records are important to the UAE so it’s little wonder that UAE Facebook Networkers are aiming to become the largest group in the world (they need at least 3 million to take the honors) and they have received an official license from Guiness Records. The growth on the network is spurred on not only by a lust to be the biggest but the effort is dedicated to victims of cancer.

So who are the people on the UAE network? No official analysis has been undertaken but judging by a cursory glance of the faces, they appear to be students, young professionals, an international assortment with a mix of languages, as well as homegrown Emiratis.

The new ads that Facebook has added are mainly in English and Arabic or just in the Arabic script. One new, moving ad has an Arab guy in western dress knocking on the door and if your computer has the volume turned up you hear the constant knocking, at an anoying wood-pecker pitch. The logo at the top indicates that he is longing for a bottle of Pepsi.

Some of the 4,000+ Facebook applications have been blocked by the national communications monopoly. These appear to be programs that contain video content, photographic images and phone services (computer to mobile or landline) such as Trikster.

The UAE Network marketplace is in the main like any other international network with cars for sale, apartments wanted and jobs advertised. Some local flavor, however, is apparent with the listing of such things as a second hand (second mouth!) shisha pipe for sale and ‘two young camels for sale’. When I made enquiries about the price of this duo, which happens to be $500,000 for the pair delivered to my door, I discovered that the vendor was in Africa but he had joined the UAE network to sell his livestock. Deduct $20,000 for the transportation, customs clearance and license to get the real price of these thoroughbreds.

What are UAE Facebook users talking about on the Discussion Boards? Many of the postings are mindless, full of deviations and addressing deep scientific questions like, “Are zebras white with black stripes or black with white stripes?” At the moment the discussion topic that has the most postings is about the rights and wrongs of homosexuality. The reality of God or issues to do with creation/big bang theories have received a lot of attention, to the point of evoking one discussion topic entitled, “Who’s sick of all the posts about God?” Topics to do with sex, fidelity, virginity and polygamy are discussed frequently and with feeling.

In a country where unmarried people are not allowed to socialize with people of the opposite sex a digital network provides a welcome meeting ground, a chance to poke a friend or even send them a digital glass of beer (ginger beer of course in these parts).

Geoff Pound

Image: Facebook logo.

Check out some of the news from Fujairah, UAE on the site FUJAIRAH IN FOCUS, including Fujairah’s letter to Facebook creator, Mark Zuckerberg, asking for a Fujairah Facebook network.

UAE Architecture: Not All Visitors are Favorably Impressed

Many first-time tourists and travel writers to Dubai and Abu Dhabi are instantly bowled over when they see the tall, lavish buildings. Some recent articles that capture several first impressions of buildings and photos are linked here, here and there.

But not all tourists and reporters give UAE architecture a high rating. This morning, Washington Post readers will see a scathing article in their newspaper that also needs to be read by UAE residents, leaders and architects.

Washington Post staff writer, Philip Kennicott, makes some valuable points that are contained in the following snatches:

“Listing projects, or marveling at the architectural gigantism, doesn't get at what is unique about the emirates, which are emerging as the world's great post-democratic cities.”

“Architecturally, despite all the dissonance, the strange juxtapositions of the vulgar and the sleek, the blue-chip buildings next to the shabby high-rise clad in garishly colored glass and surmounted by a pagoda folly, the emirates are essentially an advertisement to an increasingly wowed world: Look at what enlightened, corporate, efficient and non-democratic government can do.”

“In Dubai, architecture must be iconic, and the word is a kind of mantra, rising above other adjectives you see (elite, luxury, prestige) that define the endless discussion and selling of real estate. Buildings are deemed successful if their shape is instantly recognizable, different, reproducible and memorable. But the iconmaking business makes each new icon seem a little more meaningless than the last…”

“Buildings are planned, marketed, sold and built as fast as possible. ‘Build it and they will come’ gives way to ‘propose it and they will buy.’”

“The new developments [The Palm and the World] often feel very Southern California, gated communities with planned town squares and lots of water features. They are bland, but they also underscore the degree to which the old skyscraper farms along Sheik Zayed Road have been an aesthetic failure. There is an absence of anything meaningfully local about the style.”

“The poverty of ideas in a city that is building capacity far faster than it can develop an aesthetic.”

“Dubai presents itself as a new crossroads of civilization and an unrepentant borrower and collector of the best. The dissonance is the aesthetic.”

“The striking thing about the hundreds of concrete support pillars that have sprung up in recent months along Sheik Zayed highway -- which will support a new light rail system -- is how quickly they're going up. The delays, the disputes, the litigation, the whole messy business of ‘Not in My Back Yard’ simply doesn't exist in the country.”

“The designs for these new palaces (or pyramids) of culture can be seen in an exhibition set up at the Emirates Palace, an Arabian Nights monstrosity in Abu Dhabi. Some of the ideas are intellectually dazzling, intelligent and graceful and worked out on Pharaonic scale -- and yet it's hard not to be haunted by a sense of emptiness in even the best of these designs.”

“Are they just more advertisement for the Emirates model, empty husks that won't serve culture, but hold it captive for the amusement of world's luckiest and richest citizens?”

“Perhaps because these are designs for cultural institutions, one shouldn't just admire them for their occasional brilliance, their clever programs and sometimes inspiring form. Perhaps one should ask what agenda they will advance, whether they will bring values that help the Emirates advance to the kind of open society that many architects, over the past century, thought they were building in the West. Or are they just more advertisement for the Emirates model, empty husks that won't serve culture, but hold it captive for the amusement of world's luckiest and richest citizens?”

“Saadiyat Island is the big "if" of the Emirates, where the fundamental question is whether anything will develop that isn't an extension of the most crass, exploitative, fast-paced and globalized capitalism the world has ever known. Will freedom grow, or is freedom irrelevant? Will culture peek out from the interstices of concrete and glass and asphalt, or is culture being reinvented as thematized, branded, mass entertainment?”

“The United Arab Emirates has been a dreamland for architects, providing them steady work, big fees, bold possibilities and in many cases, a canvas that is larger and blanker than any they might find on their home turf. As architecture, three of these projects are visionary. But they are visions of a purely architectural sophistication, beautiful gems destined for delivery to the super rich, with little of humanity stirring in their bold and beautiful spaces.”

The ideas above need to be read and understood in the context of the entire article but they give a taste and a sampling of some reflections about what is ascending in the UAE city skylines.

Icons, whether placed in galleries or on our computer desktops, must point to something more, hopefully to something of value and wonder. Philip Kennicott is asking the important question, “The new UAE buildings are being called ‘icons’—but icons of what?”

Kennicott is also asking us to think about the extent to which UAE architecture is reflecting the best of Emirati culture. If Emirati culture is not being captured in the emerging architecture, where is it being contained? If the architecture testifies to cultural plagiarism, where does one go to see authentic Emirati culture?

It is good to read an article that causes us to slow down, put aside our defences and take a deeper look. This report should be discussed and debated in the architectural and public forums but it is difficult to know if and where these are happening. The Festival of Thinkers has just concluded in the UAE capital. I wonder if these issues of architectural aesthetics and cultural authenticity were strenuously debated in that gathering.

To read the full article, view the pictures, respond to the writer and see what comments the American readers and bloggers make about UAE architecture, follow this link:

Philip Kennicott, ‘Arabian Heights: Oil-Rich Dubai Raises Its International Profile With Towers Meant to Be Icons -- but Icons of What?’ Washington Post, Sunday, October 28, 2007.

First time readers of the WP will have to do a free registration.

Image: Some of the ‘icons’ [Burj Dubai and Burj al-Arab] that American readers will see today in the WP gallery that accompanies this article.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

UAE: Further First Impressions of a New Yorker

During the Festival of Thinkers hosted in Abu Dhabi last week I posted some first impressions of Abu Dhabi by a journo accompanying the American tour group.

There is a story by another writer for the New York Social Diary Site entitled: ‘Half Way Across the World’.

It is worth a quick look for two reasons:
To read some of their first impressions and to see some of the photos they have posted for their New York social crowd.

Some of their first impressions of the UAE and Abu Dhabi included:
* The heat
* The habit of many in the UAE to leave their car AC on while parked so they will be cool when they return to drive
* The business boom and challenging employment opportunities
* The pictures of Emirati leaders in many hotels and other buildings
* The vision of Emirati leaders
* The Emirates Palace as “a milestone of [UAE] achievement.”

Link:
‘Half Way Across the World’, New York Social Diary, 26 October 2007.

Image: Interior of Emirates Palace

Young People Model Process to Bridge Inter-Faith Divide

Reference was made in an earlier posting, The UAE: No. One for Inter-Faith Relationships, about a letter from distinguished Muslim leaders to Christian leaders around the world, requesting much more conversation.

In that article I concluded with a reference to the UAE, saying that this international process needs to be earthed nationally and locally:

“It would be a constructive thing if UAE Islamic and Christian leaders instituted a process and encouraged conversation in all cities and towns of the United Arab Emirates. These groups could be called ‘Common Ground’ whereby ordinary representatives of different faiths met together initially over a period of several weeks to share food, to get to know one another, to listen and to find common ground…”

“Muslims and Christians are different but they can agree on some fundamental principles, such as the commandment to love God and to love one’s neighbour. And surely participants might find common ground in a commitment to peacemaking and doing justice. And this is only a beginning. What leadership and what a signal this would give to people to know that such conversations were going on in the United Arab Emirates.”

Since that posting a story has been reported about young people in Boston, from different religious backgrounds, participating in an eight-year experiment to bridge the religious divide.

The process brings them together to:
* Getting to know each other and establish friendships
* Find commonalities in their religions
* Discover different things about the various religions
* Understand what the faith means to different people
* Share inter-faith hospitality over meals that meet the dietary requirements of all faiths

They have shared in a Hindi dance in a Jewish synagogue and they have broken the Ramadan fast with a Sukkot meal. They have heard what the Ramadan journey and fasting means to Muslim participants.

The process is being evaluated and people from different parts of the world are eyeing this experience and wondering if it could be applied and adapted to their situation.

It could be a model worthy of being evaluated and adapted to the UAE.

For more on this story:

Jane Lampman, ‘American Youths Bridge Religious Divides’, CSM, 24 October 2007.

Image: Bridge in the Making.

Check out new site: FUJAIRAH IN FOCUS

The Gulf: The Arabian or Persian Gulf?

The story in today’s Gulf News about ‘Dead Whale most likely Struck by a Ship’, reported that it was found in the ‘Arabian Gulf’.

Is the stretch of water between the UAE and Iran, the ‘Arabian Gulf’ or the ‘Persian Gulf’? It depends which side of the ditch you are living! But recently these waters have been muddied by a certain amount of name calling.

Try out a Google Search with the phrase ‘Arabian Gulf’. This is what will surface. At the moment the top ranking has this heading, Arabian Gulf, and if you click this is what you will read:

“The Gulf You Are Looking For Does Not Exist. Try Persian Gulf”

“The gulf you are looking for is unavailable. No body of water by that name has ever existed. The correct name is Persian Gulf, which always has been, and will always remain, Persian.”

This message appears to have a web site all of its own: Arabian Gulf.

At the bottom of the page there is a question, What is this page? If you click it, you will discover more about the controversy, that even relates to the National Geographic.

People in Iran must be clicking this site non stop to get this site and story at the top of the Google rankings when people search ‘The Arabian Gulf’.

One of the next listings in the Google search is the increasingly popular Wikipedia. In a short post it says:

“The controversial term Arabian Gulf, the subject of the Persian Gulf naming dispute.”

Wikipedia has a larger entry for the Persian Gulf. Under an Etymology section Wiki says:

“There has never been consensus on the name for the past 25 centuries.”


“In the time of the Greek Empire it became known as the Persian Gulf.”

It also mentions the naming dispute saying this:

“Since the 1960s with the rise of Arab nationalism (Pan-Arabism), starting with Gamal Abdel Nasser's Arab Republic of Egypt, some Arab countries, including the ones bordering the Persian Gulf, have adopted the term "Arabian Gulf" (in Arabic: الخلیج العربي al-khalīj al-ʿarabī) to refer to the waterway.[6] This is controversial and not commonly used outside of the Arab world, nor is it recognized by the United Nations[7][8][9] and other international organizations. The United Nations on many occasions has requested that only "Persian Gulf" be used as the official and standard geographical designation for the body of water.[10]”.

“Most recently, at the Twenty-third session of United Nation in March-April 2006, the name 'Persian Gulf' was confirmed again as the legitimate and the official term to be used by members of United Nation.”

One might think the subject might be closed after the UN confirmation but look further down on the Google search listings and you will find this page from Shaikh Mohammed’s [the ruler of Dubai] site:

The Arabian Gulf. This includes his description of the history of these waters and the name he gives to the gulf is the ‘Arabian Gulf’.

A pro-Iranian article by K Darbandi in the Asian Times (27 October 2007) is entitled, ‘Gulf renamed in aversion to 'Persian'.


Among other things, he claims the following:

“Various branches of the United States armed forces have issued directives to their members to use the "Arabian Gulf" when operating in the area. This is claimed to be due to increased cooperation with Arab states of the Persian Gulf, but also to follow local laws that ban the use of "Persian Gulf".


“American universities in the region have also dropped references to "Persian Gulf" in their teaching materials.” e.g. American University of Sharjah,

“By law, teachers in UAE public schools are prohibited from uttering the phrase "Persian Gulf" in classrooms.”

No sources are given for these claims so they come without authentication. (Can anybody provide it?)

Other articles circulating recently are stating that the French government, which has been working closely with the UAE, has taken to calling the gulf, ‘The Arabian Gulf’.

So the controversy is raging.

What do you think the Gulf should be called and why? No propaganda. Just reasoned comments please.

Geoff Pound

Images: The Gulf.

Check out the blog that is addressing news, views and issues in Fujairah at:

FUJAIRAH IN FOCUS

In particular you might like to contribute by suggesting what you would like to see in Fujairah, through the new series: Fujairah: I’d like to See That!




Thursday, October 25, 2007

UAE Business: Biggest Problem Attracting and Retaining Good Managers

Leaders assembled in a Dubai discussion hosted last night by the British Business Group (BBG), unanimously decreed that the biggest problem facing employers in the UAE is finding and retaining good senior managers.

This is a finding that may well relate to other sectors, especially education, where the UAE is still highly dependent upon expatriate teachers and lecturers.

Much more on the forum and this ‘revolving door’ syndrome can be found at:

‘The Corporate Conundrum’, Middle East News, Zawya, 24 October 2007.

Image: Doing Business in the Middle East.

Shaikh Mohammed: Dubai Must Go Green

A very important announcement was made by the ruler of Dubai about how all buildings in Dubai will have to be constructed as per environment-friendly ‘green building’ standards, from January 2008.

This new direction seems to be part of the Ecological Footprint programme launched last week for the whole of the UAE.

For more on this landmark statement and other environmental measures outlined, see this article:

Emmanuelle Landais, ‘Dubai to Turn Green in 2008, Gulf News, 24 October 2007.

Image: Example of a green building with starred features.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

UAE Aiming to be Number One in Ecology

A study entitled, Ecological Footprints of Nations, commissioned in 1997 by the Earth Council, began comparing the ecological footprints of the populations of 52 countries with the amount of productive land available per person in each nation (or per capita ecological capacity.)

In the most recent figures the average UAE citizen had the largest ecological footprint at 11.9 global hectares each; compared to USA at 9.6 (2nd); Canada at 7.6 (5th), Australia at 6.4 (6th); UK at 5.6 (14th); China at 1.6 (69th) and India at 0.8 (125th). The world mean was 2.2.

While the ecological footprint is seen as a controversial tool it is pleasing to see UAE leaders taking this news seriously by the historic launch this week of Al Basma Al Beeiya (Ecological Footprint), a national initiative to understand and deal with the country's ecological challenges. According to Majid Al Mansouri, the Secretary General of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) and AGEDI, the Al Basama Al Beeiya would now take the centre-stage of the UAE's environmental agenda.

This gathering has drawn together leaders of key sectors across the nation (energy, trade, fisheries, agriculture, water and urban planning) to draw up guidelines for a better stewardship of environmental resources, to check the excessive human consumption and reduce high waste.

Dr Mathis Wackernagel Executive Director of GFN, the international partner of the Initiative, made his statement in a pre-recorded video message. A proud and thrilled Wakernagel noted that the UAE is only the third country in the world to embark on such an in-depth research collaboration of this nature after Switzerland and Japan. Comparing the footprint calculation to financial accounting, Wakernagel stated that the Ecological Footprint is about securing people's quality of life, while recognising the ecological budget constraints. The Ecological Footprint helps us to understand the significance of our natural assets for our economy and the natural capital constraints.

Already one significant measure has been proposed. According to a Gulf News report, water consumption will be cut in half:

“Majid Al Mansouri, Secretary General of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, said Abu Dhabi Government will reduce water consumption rate from 550 gallons per head per day to 250 gallons per head over the next five years. Al Kindi said the water consumption rate across the UAE is almost the same as Abu Dhabi and "measures will be taken to reduce it by half." Al Mansouri explained that real estate companies, businesses and individuals will have to meet criteria of optimisation of water consumption and wastewater.

Sources:
‘UAE Launches Ecological Footprint’, UAE Interact, 20 October 2007
‘Water Consumption to be Cut By Half’, Gulf News, 18 October 2007.

Image: Desalination plant at Fujairah.

Check out the new UAE blog FUJAIRAH IN FOCUS

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Laura Bush Video Interview Highlights UAE Breast Cancer Crisis

Shaikh Mohammed’s vision of Dubai and the UAE being ‘No 1 in the world for health’ received support when Laura Bush visited the UAE yesterday.

It was part of the US first lady’s tour through the Middle East to highlight some of the diseases afflicting people in the region, especially breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the number one killer in the UAE and many succumb because of the stigma associated with the disease, resulting in a high rate of late detection.

The Good Morning America article and video interview with Laura Bush is at this link, ‘First Lady’s Middle East Trip Focuses on Breast Cancer’, ABC News, GMA, 22 October 2007.

The two videos (found at the above link) with Laura Bush are entitled:

Laura Bush Tackles Breast Cancer and
Laura Bush in the Middle East

Take a look (also at above link) at the GMA video interview with Emirati women who are breast cancer survivors entitled:

Confronting Taboo in Mideast

Image: Laura Bush and two Emirati breast cancer survivors.

Abu Dhabi: Good Morning America (GMA) Video on Richest City in World

Earlier this month Shaikh Mohammed gave an extensive interview about Dubai on America’s 60 Minutes.

It seems that Americans can’t get enough of the United Arab Emirates. See the recent posting and fantastic photos on Abu Dhabi by the New York Socialite.

Good Morning America has sent a reporter to accompany Laura Bush on her Middle Eastern tour and the video not only has footage on Dubai. It focuses on the plans of the richest city in the world to also be the cultural ‘mecca’ of the Arab world with Guggenheim museum, Louvre galleries, a movie producing centre and the biggest Persian prayer mat in the world.

Some viewers have posted comments complaining that the video did not also highlight the fact that the building development in the capital and throughout the UAE has been accomplished by the hiring of cheap labour, who have worked long hours in blazing conditions for low wages.

Here is the link for the article and the video ‘Glitz on the Gulf: The Richest Place in the World’ (it is one of three):

‘Richest City Aims to be Cultural Mecca’, ABC News, 22 October 2007.

Image: A shot of Abu Dhabi.

Check out the new UAE Blog—Fujairah in Focus

Monday, October 22, 2007

UAE Icon: The Burj al-Arab

I have many times looked from the outside of the hotel that has become an icon of the United Arab Emirates. With my visiting tourists, I have often wondered what it is like in this hotel but I haven’t as yet, spent a night in this establishment. This 7 star hotel comes at a 7 star price!

One Sydney travel writer who has visited the Burj al-Arab (thanks to Emirates Airline) and stayed in this sail hotel (thanks to Jumeirah hotels) has written of her experience to tantalize Aussie tourists.

The story, information, reflections, prices and photo gallery can be found at this link:

Christine Pfeiffer, ‘Sail of the Century’ Sydney Morning Herald, 21 October 2007.

Image: Burj al-Arab

Abu Dhabi: First Impressions by Attendees at Festival of Thinkers

There is an interesting description of the flight from JFK to Abu Dhabi, the arrival, the hotel and all the first impressions of the UAE capital by a ‘New York Socialite’ and colleagues who are attending the ‘Festival of Thinkers’.

The photos are magnificent.

‘Arrival in Abu Dhabi’ New York Social Diary, 22 October 2007.

Image: “The first impression did not diminish on entering. I’ve never seen a hotel like it.” (Courtesy of the site).

Check out the new UAE Blog FUJAIRAH IN FOCUS

The UAE: No. One for Inter-Faith Relationships

There has been much interest in Shaikh Mohammed’s recent interview both here in the Middle East and in the US. Here is the link to watch the two 12 minute video clips that aired in America on 14 October 2007: 60 Minutes.

When CBS journalist, Steve Kroft asked Shaikh Mohammed about his goal for Dubai the ruler said, “I want Dubai to be No. 1!” When asked to elaborate the Shaikh said, “I want to be number one in everything, higher education, health, housing…”

‘Number one in everything’ includes being number one in inter-faith relationships.

An historic letter this week from world Muslim leaders to leader of the world’s Christian churches pointed up the urgency of aspiring to this world record here in the UAE.

The 138 Muslims are prominent leaders from different parts of the world and the group included UAE representatives, H.E. Shaykh Dr. Al-Habib Ahmad bin Abd Al-Aziz Al-Haddad, the Chief Mufti of Dubai, UAE and H.E. Shaykh Dr. Izz Al-Din Ibrahim, the Advisor for Cultural Affairs, Prime Ministry, UAE.

The 29 page document, ‘A Common Word between Us and You’ calls for Muslim-Christian dialogue immediately. The reason for the urgency is expressed in this excerpt:

“Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders. Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively. Together they make up more than 55% of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.”

“And to those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say that our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony.”

“So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works.”

At the height of the British Empire there was a man who talked, wrote, slept and drank all matters to do with the Empire. One night his wife was frustrated with her husband’s Imperial passion which had led him to neglect some of his basic duties about the home. It boiled over just before dinner one evening when the woman dropped their screaming baby into her husband’s lap and said, “Here’s your bit of the British Empire! Feed it and take care of it!”

Lofty letters at the global level are good and they might result in high powered conferences but they also need to be earthed at the national, regional and local levels.

It would be a constructive thing if UAE Islamic and Christian leaders instituted a process and encouraged conversation in all cities and towns of the United Arab Emirates. These groups could be called ‘Common Ground’ whereby ordinary representatives of different faiths met together initially over a period of several weeks to share food, to get to know one another, to listen and to find common ground. As the letter put it, Muslims and Christians are different but they can agree on some fundamental principles, such as the commandment to love God and to love one’s neighbour. And surely participants might find common ground in a commitment to peacemaking and doing justice. And this is only a beginning. What leadership and what a signal this would give to people to know that such conversations were going on in the United Arab Emirates.

The full text of ‘A Common Word between Us and You’ is found at these links in Arabic and in English.

The list of signatories, responses from Christians, Jews and Muslims can be found on this specially designated site: The Officially Website of A Common Word-Arabic and English.

Geoff Pound

Image: Dr Anas Sheikh-Ali officially delivering A Common Word to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev. Dr Rowan Williams, in Lambeth Palace on October 11th, 2007.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Facebook Rising in Popularity in the UAE

According to the October report from Alexa, Facebook is now the 7th most visited site on the Internet by people from the UAE.

The current UAE ranking is Google UAE (1st), Yahoo (2nd), Windows Live (3rd), YouTube (4th), Microsoft Network-MSN (5th), Google.com (6th).

The largest Arab Online community, Maktoob comes in at 8th place.

GulfTalent.com, the Middle East’s leading online recruitment form announced the launch of its online job search application on Facebook according to a statement today from Al Bawaba (check out this extensive report).

Geoff Pound

Image: Facebook logo

New UAE Blog: FUJAIRAH IN FOCUS

I have created a new blog, FUJAIRAH IN FOCUS.

In the UAE Blogging Community there are many blogs that specifically address different issues in Dubai, some that relate to Abu Dhabi and even one on Al Ain. While there are numerous bloggers writing from Fujairah there don’t appear to be any that put Fujairah in Focus. Hence this blog.

As stated in the blog blurb this site will write or offer a link to ‘news, views, people, issues and dreams from Fujairah, UAE’.

The Fujairah Observer is a valuable monthly magazine which keeps Fujairah readers informed of happenings and people. FUJAIRAH IN FOCUS is intended to add to this resource and, with its digital reach through the Internet, be one of the means of informing people of the UAE and in other countries what is going on in this eastern city and emirate.

Fujairah was in the international spotlight earlier this year when Cyclone Gonu struck. The national and international readers of Experiencing the Emirates skyrocketed over that time from 5 June 2007, especially with the many Americans who had been caught up in Hurricane Katrina. Since then Fujairah has been part of a story in the LA Times, it is frequently mentioned as one of the world’s largest bunkering sites or in connection with rising oil prices and this emirate is increasingly recognized by travel writers as a popular tourist destination that provides mountains for exploration and beaches for diving, rest and recreation.

Do drop me a line if you have articles and news for posting that have a Fujairah flavor.

The link to the new site is:

FUJAIRAH IN FOCUS

Geoff Pound

Image: A shot of the new blog site.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The UAE: ‘No. 1 in the World’ for Air Quality

When CBS journalist, Steve Kroft interviewed Shaikh Mohammed on 60 Minutes this week [it aired on 14 October 2007] about his goal for Dubai the ruler said, “I want Dubai to be No. 1!” When asked to elaborate the Shaikh said, “I want to be number one in everything, higher education, health, housing…”

Kroft asked why he was in a hurry to achieve for Dubai in five years what most would try to achieve in a lifetime, to which the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai indicated that the emirate could not afford to wait. “I want my people to live better now ... not after 20 years.”

One of the urgent priorities for Dubai and the UAE is to be No. 1 in the world for air quality.

A paper entitled Air Quality and Atmospheric Pollution in the Arab Region rightly recognizes that enhancing air quality is a task that must be tackled on a regional basis, not just country by country. The close proximity of Gulf and Middle Eastern countries makes this necessary and the common challenges of excessive heat, dust storms and low rainfall mean that it makes good sense to collaborate.

Much work has already been done by the Environmental Department of the UAE Government through limiting the excessive use of harmful gases, restricting the use of leaded fuel and banning the importation of many chemical insecticides. The move to establish a thorough public transport system is one way to limit the emissions from motor vehicles but this is a challenge for a country that has a high car registration rate and a nation that already holds the record for the number of cars per capita (see the blog posting, ‘UAE Holds World Record for Number of Cars’).

A recent report from the World Health Organization (5 October 2006) said that “air pollution is estimated to cause approximately 2 million premature deaths worldwide per year.” To increase the economy at the expense of human health is reminiscent of the folly in the old Middle Eastern story in which the older brother trades in his birthright (family ranking, inheritance etc.) to his younger twin, in return for some fast food—lentil soup.

Much more needs to be done for the UAE to be No. 1 in the world for air purity and UAE leaders should be encouraged to make this issue a priority. Shaikh Mohammed is right: “I want my people to live better now ... not after 20 years.” It is not a matter of accumulating records but protecting the health and enhancing the life of this nation’s residents.

Geoff Pound

Image: Dust storm near Liwa and Al Ain, UAE.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dubai and Shaikh Mohammed on 60 Minutes

Here are the links for the CBS Video Clips that screened on the recent 60 Minutes CBS, programme.

Shaikh Mohammed rarely gives interviews but in these videos he offers a glimpse into his life, work and dreams for Dubai and his Emirati people.

Dubai Inc., Part 1

Dubai Inc., Part 2

An accompanying article appeared in the Gulf News at this link:
Abbas Al Lawati, ‘Mohammed: I Want Dubai to be No 1’, Gulf News, 17 October 2007.

Image: 60 Minutes.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Freedom of the Press: Commendation for the UAE and Gulf Nations

In the recently released Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007, the UAE and Gulf Nations came in for special praise.

The overall commentary stated, “There has been progress by some Gulf countries.”

In the world rankings, Kuwait had moved 11 places from 74th in 2006 to 63rd in 2007. The United Arab Emirates had moved a significant 14 places from 79th in 2006 to 65th, and Qatar had moved 2 places from 81st in 2006 to 79th.

Of press freedom in the Gulf region the report said:

“The authorities have displayed a tendency to be more open-minded and, in some cases, initiatives have been taken with a view to liberalising press laws. But self-censorship continues to be widespread in the press in these countries.”

“For the first time, Saudi Arabia (148th) has climbed out of the bottom 20. Saudi journalists enjoyed something of a respite in the past year. But the controlled exercised by the information ministry’s media surveillance committee prevents the Wahhabi-led kingdom from rising higher in the ranking.”

Probably for the first time the Worldwide Press Freedom Index had much to say about blog writers (bloggers) globally:

“The Internet is occupying more and more space in the breakdown of press freedom violations. Several countries fell in the ranking this year because of serious, repeated violations of the free flow of online news and information.”

“In Malaysia (124th), Thailand (135th), Vietnam (162nd) and Egypt (146th), for example, bloggers were arrested and news websites were closed or made inaccessible.”

“We are concerned about the increase in cases of online censorship,” Reporters Without Borders said. “More and more governments have realised that the Internet can play a key role in the fight for democracy and they are establishing new methods of censoring it. The governments of repressive countries are now targeting bloggers and online journalists as forcefully as journalists in the traditional media.”

“At least 64 persons are currently imprisoned worldwide because of what they posted on the Internet. China maintains its leadership in this form of repression, with a total of 50 cyber-dissidents in prison. Eight are being held in Vietnam. A young man known as Kareem Amer was sentenced to four years in prison in Egypt for blog posts criticising the president and Islamist control of the country’s universities.”

Geoff Pound

Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2006 Figures

Image: Mapping World Press Freedom

The UAE and Journalistic Ethics

The timing was almost perfect. Soon after Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, decreed that UAE journalists would no longer be imprisoned, the board members of the UAE Journalists Association and editors in chief of newspapers released the full text of the UAE Journalism Code of Ethics.

If the UAE government leaders were granting a greater freedom of the press, the editors and journalists were saying that they did not see this announcement as a licence to write and publish anything they wished, as they were bound by some well established principles of good journalistic practice. In a Khaleej Times report Shaikh Mohammed was quoted as welcoming the new move and describing it as “a leverage of confidence between the media and the local community.”

The twenty-six point code of ethics is based on these principles:
* Respect for the truth
* Freedom and integrity
* Fairness to all
* Transparency
* Rightful acquisition of information
* Accuracy in reporting
* Elimination or minimizing harm, especially in relation to children
* Credibility
* Respecting personal privacy
* Confidentiality
* Avoiding the fanning of public feeling
* Refusing to accept bribes and advantage
* Avoiding discrimination
* Innocence until proven guilty
* Impartiality
* Respect for public feeling (especially in regard to reporting and illustrating brutality, use of language and respect for religion)
* Upholding human rights
* Professionalism, especially in relation to plagiarism
* Appropriate acknowledgement of sources
* Avoiding sensationalism

A code of ethics gives safety to journalists and to their readers just as a banister on a flight of stairs or a railing on an apartment balcony determines the safe boundaries. A code does not prevent a writer from breaching ethical standards but it defines the areas of danger and, if signed beforehand, it expresses an agreement to keep within the prescribed limits.

In the new UAE Code of Journalistic Ethics, which pledges to give appropriate acknowledgement of sources, it is surprising to see it published without any declaration as to how it was formulated. Did the drafters of the code start with some of the many journalism codes that exist around the world (see Journalism Ethics and Standards) and adapt these for the UAE or did they start with a blank piece of paper? It would be interesting to know how this document emerged, for like vision and mission statements, codes of ethics have their greatest impact when their signatories have discussed, debated, contributed, understood and owned the document. The less input the signatories have into the development of the code, the more it is likely to sit limply in some filing cabinet or hang on an office wall and have little influence on UAE journalism. The cynics might say that this new code is mere window dressing for its readership and a jumping on the bandwagon to portray to the world that the UAE is serious about the freedom of the press.

It would reassure readers of UAE publications if editors and journalists indicated how such a code will become a living document. Will the code be regularly workshopped for signatories to promote a thorough understanding? How will the code be applied when a journalist writes an article that comes close to the dangerous zone? Who will arbitrate on what is ethical and unethical? The Gulf News, which on 10 October 2007 published its Gulf News Ethics Policy is helpful in its detail but it appears to leave the ethical verdicts completely to its editors. Some publishing companies have also opted for an in-house ombudsman with legal training who is also an arm’s distance from the management. The establishment of an ethics committee comprising editors, journalists and members of the public is another valuable practice.

Having produced a code of ethics for journalists, one of the future tasks will be to evaluate how the code is working. What difference is this code making? Does it help in the tricky and practical matters such as those that led to the recent imprisonment of journalists in the UAE? Will it help discern whether an article is libelous or whether the journalist is writing the truth?

One of the groups that is not mentioned in the new code is the government and it’s UAE Print and Publishing Law that prohibits criticism of government leaders. Does this law involve a restriction of freedom? What does a journalist do when caught in the dilemma between showing respect towards leaders and being ethical in reporting the truth?

The recent adoption of the new UAE Journalism Code of Ethics is a positive step forward particularly if it shapes journalistic writing on a day to day basis. According to the recently released World Press Index 2007, the UAE has made significant improvements and has moved from 77th in 2006 to 65th in the world in 2007. This advance must be recognized and applauded. The questionnaire for constructing this index offers valuable discussion and decision material which must be addressed if the UAE is going to fulfill Shaikh Mohammed’s recently announced goal of being first in the world in all spheres, including freedom of the press and journalistic ethics.

Geoff Pound

Image: A sample of UAE newspapers.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

UAE: The Tailgating Capital of the World

I give UAE drivers the dubious record for being the greatest tailgaters in the world. This statement is not based on statistical evidence but research done driving on the roads of different countries. For those unacquainted with the term, ‘tailgating’ is following too closely behind another car.

One doesn’t have to drive on UAE roads for too long before one has this experience: You are on the highway traveling at the required 100 kph or 120kph when those in the right lane are slowing. You check to see the way is clear, indicate and pull out to the left to overtake. As you are passing you see through your rear view mirror a car steaming up behind you with their lights flashing demanding you hurry up or get back into the slow lane where you belong. You then realize that the line of cars and trucks you are passing is much longer than you imagined and it is taking more time to get back on the right. The tailgater maintains a high speed and follows you within a few inches of your rear bumper. Some cars, especially sports cars and 4 Wheel Drives (SUVs) are the greatest culprits.

Tailgating is a concoction of speed, disrespect and arrogance. Tailgaters are often exceeding the speed limit. The excessive flashing of lights and tooting of the horn is a form of road rage and their proximity to the rear of your car combines to make this act one of gross intimidation.

Beyond all the emotion and the signal to “get out of my way”, tailgating is extremely dangerous, especially in wet weather. It limits the ability of the tailgater to be able to react swiftly to unforeseen events further along the road and it increases the chance of a pile up. About 40% of all collisions are of the rear end variety which might have been avoided by keeping the appropriate distance.

What is the safe distance and how is this determined? The Smart Motorist recommends this rule of thumb:

“During daylight with good, dry roads and low traffic volume, you can ensure you're a safe distance from the car ahead of you by following the "three-second rule." The distance changes at different speeds.”

“To determine the right following distance, first select a fixed object on the road ahead such as a sign, tree or overpass. When the vehicle ahead of you passes the object, slowly count "one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand." If you reach the object before completing the count, you're following too closely. Making sure there are three seconds between you and the car ahead gives you time and distance to respond to problems in the lane ahead of you.”

“In heavy traffic, at night, or when weather conditions are not ideal (e.g. light rain, light fog, light snow), double the three second rule to six seconds [or more], for added safety.”

Do write your disagreements, agreements and suggestions as a ‘comment’.

Geoff Pound

Image: One car [not in the UAE] that followed too closely for its driver’s good.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

UAE Tourists are Heading out East but More Amenities are Needed

A Gulf News article reports on the huge numbers of UAE tourists who are choosing to enjoy the Eid holiday on the country’s east coast. Among the attractive features mentioned about the east coast cities and towns include:

* Natural and rugged beauty of the mountains
* Wonderful picnic spots
* Clean beaches (?)
* Cooler weather than in Abu Dhabi and Dubai
* Safe family destination
* Ample places for camping overnight
* Opportunities to light a camp fire
* Historic places to visit like the Al Bidya mosque

The writer picks up on the disappointment expressed by many Eid holidaymakers over the lack of basic amenities at some of the popular east coast beaches in the UAE.

These deficiencies are not itemized but they might include the following:

* More seats and park benches
* Better signage
* Bigger and more rubbish bins
* The need for a better campaign to get people to pick up their rubbish—the almost universal UAE practice of employing maids and cleaners in their homes leads to the widespread habit of leaving trash on the corniche and the beaches for others to pick up
* More public toilets
* More gas-fired BBQs
* More well-equipped children’s playgrounds
* More trees and shade
* Repairing holes and uneven brickwork on paths to eliminate accidents

It would be good to survey people (locals and tourists) to find out exactly what they would like to see to enhance their beach experiences and visits to the UAE’s eastern cities.

To read this timely article in full, check this link:

Fuad Ali, ‘Heading East to Celebrate Eid’, Gulf News, 13 October 2007.

Image: The UAE’s east coast has beaches like this that go for miles.


Add any of your suggestions for improving the east coast beaches and cities in the Comments.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The UAE through the Eyes and Cocktail Glasses of a Travel Writer

The travel section of today’s New York Times features an article on the not so well known emirates and is entitled, ‘Sheikdoms with Less Glitter can still Sparkle’.

The writer seeks to inform American readers that the UAE is more than Abu Dhabi and Dubai as he features holiday possibilities in the other emirates of Ras al Khaimah, Umm al Qaywayn, Ajman, Sharjah and Fujairah. This necessary emphasis is timely and to be commended.

The first paragraph on Sharjah is bound to get the average American tourist looking elsewhere—“the most conservative emirate… completely dry…no liquor… no smoking of sheeshas and strict dress codes for women.” (It does go on to mention some of Sharjah’s very good attractions but most readers will have skipped to the next emirate).

Ajman, with some qualifications, is likened to “a 1950s California beach town and has the reputation for being “the wildest emirate with its nickname being ‘Arabian boozer.’” I wonder how many Americans will be attracted by this tourist hook?

Fujairah is presented as “a relaxed, idyllic alternative to the hustle and bustle” of the western coast, with “rich, natural splendor.” Highlighted in the article are the Hajar Mountains and the hotels on the al-Aqah beach with their excursions to the Musandam Peninsula.

You will need to read the whole article to be the judge but I think it is disappointing to read the descriptions of this country by travel writers who seem to have hopped from one international hotel to another, jotting down notes by the side of the pool.

The challenge for those in the travel business in the UAE is to be able to highlight the Emirati cultural attractions (even in the smaller states) that people cannot experience in other places, whether they be things that educate the mind, relax the body or challenge one’s cultural convictions.

To read the whole story, check out this link:
Austin Considine, ‘Sheikdoms with less glitter can still Sparkle’, New York Times, 14 October 2007.

Image: Some glimpses of UAE’s east coast.

Friday, October 12, 2007

‘Would You Like to Live in Fujairah?’ The UAE and Refugee Resettlement

It’s not often that Fujairah is mentioned in the major American newspapers but recently the eastern city in the UAE appeared in a poignant story about an Iraqi family.

The story, reported in the LA Times, concerns a man and his wife who are both pharmacists and their ten year old daughter. They thought they could make a go of life in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein but it has proved to be miserable and unsafe.

They came to the UAE on a tourist visa, undertook the tests and when they returned they heard that they had passed with flying colours. The man applied for another tourist visa and returned to check out some jobs. ‘Would you like to live in Fujairah?’ said a doctor in relation to a job opening. He’d never heard of Fujairah but when he came he loved the size of the city, the freedom and the beaches. The dream unfortunately came to a sad end when their work visa was not granted.

It is difficult to make an assessment without the full facts of this particular case. However, it makes one ask about whether the UAE can do more in the area of refugee resettlement.

The UAE has stated recently in international spheres that human rights are a national priority (see Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash’ speech, 29 September 2007). Furthermore the UAE has pledged Dh 100 million to the reconstruction of the Jenin Refugee Camp for Palestinian refugees (6 October 2007), has generously assisted refugees in the Ambara Refugee Camp in Mauritania (6 October 2007), given Dh 5 million to refugee relief in Afghanistan and has contributed huge amounts for digging water wells for Darfur refugees.

The UAE has been extremely generous in donating money for refugee projects in different parts of the world. However, one of the real challenges is to look at what more the UAE might do in throwing open its doors and in offering a welcome to the stranger and citizenship to the stateless and exiles.

Such a response is in line with the Islamic concept of zakat—the giving to the poor and the destitute. Granting hospitality is legendary in the Bedouin and Arabic tradition and must be revived if the UAE takes a significant role not only in refugee relief but in refugee resettlement.

The full story of the Iraqi family can be read (after a free sign in) at:
Staff Reporter (anonymous for security reasons), ‘After Leaving Iraq, a Bitter Return Home’, LA Times, 7 October, 2007.

Image: Two worlds—Abu Dhabi and Baghdad (image courtesy of LA Times article)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Religious Freedom in UAE: Commendable Advances, Significant Challenges


This week at the two day ‘High Level Dialogue on Inter-religious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace’ in New York, the UAE representative summarised his country’s initiatives in religious freedom and joined the call for promoting inter-religious and intercultural dialogue.

In his presentation to the conference, Anwar Othman Barout Saleem Al Barout, who serves as Charge d’Affaires of the Permanent Mission of the UAE to the UN, indicated that the UAE has supported all efforts by the UN Secretary-General aimed at encouraging dialogue among cultures and respect for different religions. In particular he cited these initiatives:

* Providing education for many poor regions of the world
* Safeguarding cultural and religious heritage (Zayed Award)
* Instituting culture weeks and establishing cultural villages
* Inaugurating the Zayed Book Award to motivate writers to contribute towards cultural and religious understanding
* Attracting international museums and galleries to promote knowledge and cultural and religious understanding
* Establishing the Emirates Foundation for raising educational, technological and intellectual standards
* Hosting meetings and conferences to promote the intercultural exchange of conversation and knowledge
* Participating in regional and international programmes aimed at bringing peoples together and fostering tolerance, respect and dialogue (e.g. Sultan Al Owais Foundation)

Al Barout is right to identify the strides that the UAE has taken in religious freedom and intercultural understanding and his leadership in calling other nations to further dialogue is most welcome.

These positive steps should not lead the UAE to rest on its laurels for there are still some important advances for the country to make in the journey towards full religious freedom. Here are two main areas:

Human Rights
While the Amnesty International 2007 Report has recognised the progress the UAE has made in human rights (see the AI 2007 Report on the UAE for details), there are international concerns about the following matters:


* The lack of women elected to the newly formed Federal National Council (sixty-three women candidates stood for election but only one was voted onto the FNC).
* The continuation of the death penalty (in June a Fujairah court imposed a sentence of death by stoning, upon a Bangladeshi national. This decision was later appealed and the accused was given a lesser penalty).
* Cruel judicial punishments (these include flogging by an excessive number of lashes).
* The risk of forcible return (deporting people to countries where their lives will probably be at risk).
* Subjection to harassment of some human rights defenders.

Religious Assembly
The recently released International Religious Freedom Report 2007 noted that the UAE Constitution provides for freedom of religion… and that the government generally respected this right in practice. The report did note that there were some restrictions on religious practice which represent challenges for the UAE government, the enforcers of the law and its citizens. These include the following:


* The UAE government restricts the freedom of religious assembly and association, thereby limiting the ability of some religious groups without dedicated religious buildings to worship and conduct their business.
* The UAE government recognises a small number of Christian denominations and religious groups through the issuance of land-use permits for the construction and operation of churches, including those who use rented facilities.

In practice many religious groups with permits rent out their facilities to other groups but with the growth of the population, religious groups and worshippers, in some areas of the UAE there is insufficient officially recognised accommodation for religious worship. It is also noted that some groups who have assembled without a permit have received substantial fines.

While the UAE Constitution states that “the freedom to exercise religious worship shall be guaranteed… provided it does not disturb public peace or violate public morals” (Article 32 UAE Constitution), in the approval process there are sometimes restrictions placed on the number of people that can assemble, sound levels and the fixing of religious signs (e.g. crosses) to the outside of the building.

While high decibel worship by any religious group that disturbs the peace should be restricted, a country that promotes religious freedom and whose official religion broadcasts its call to prayer over public address speakers five times a day, should be willing to tolerate once or twice a week the sound of Buddhist chants, Hindu incantations or Christian singing with musical accompaniment.

There is a murky area in the use of private homes for religious worship in the UAE. For the first 200 years of its history Christian churches met not in temples but in homes. Many Christian groups around the world, including the UAE, still prefer to have all their meetings in homes while others prefer a combination, whereby larger (often weekly) gatherings are held in a church building and small groups are hosted in private homes. One would not think that a private home would need to be officially registered for religious observance, especially when used for irregular meetings. However, some house owners that have hosted meetings have been harassed by neighbours who also have submitted reports to UAE government officials and police, insisting that these meetings be stopped.

The UAE has made significant progress in human rights and religious freedom but certain regulations, restrictions and discrimination shown towards people of other faiths represent some of the challenges in moving towards the goal of full religious and cultural tolerance.

Geoff Pound

Image: Religious buildings.

Note: A related posting on Religion in the UAE can be found at this link.

Friday, October 5, 2007

“Emiratis Too Dependent on Government Patronage”

In an article that itemizes the many benefits Emiratis receive, including free education, free health care, subsidized land, no interest housing loans and benefits to pay wedding costs, Matthew Brown contends that the perpetuation of this Bedouin tradition of royal patronage is breeding dependence, stifling creativity and undermining Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s goal of the UAE being a world class country run by Emiratis.

Link to this article:
Matthew Brown, ‘Emirates Prime Minister tries to alter culture of dependence’, International Herald Tribune, 5 October 2007.

Image: Some of the 650 grooms at a mass Emirati wedding in 1999. Article on Emirati wedding customs.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

UAE’s Record on Corruption and the Quest for Transparency

There have been two important reports and statements issued in recent days and they are inextricably interconnected—the 2007 Corruptions Perception Index and the decree not to imprison UAE journalists.

Transparency International released on 26 September 2007 its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for countries around the world and it makes for grim reading.

First released in 1995 as part of the global coalition against corruption, CPI ranks more than 150 countries in terms of perceived levels of corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys.

The scores range between 10 (highly clean) and 0 (highly corrupt). Top of the list this year are New Zealand, Denmark and Finland (all 9.4) and bottom are Iraq (1.5), Somalia and Myanmar (both 1.4).

Duraid Al Baik in his Gulf News article (30 September 2007) entitled, ‘Fighting Corruption in the Region’, related the report to the Middle East saying:

“[It] paints a bleak picture of the level of corruption in the Arab world. Corruption levels increased in almost all Arab countries according to the index.”

Eight Arab countries out of twenty-one were listed among the top 60 failed states in the world in terms of corruption levels—Sudan (which ranked 172nd), Iraq (178), Somalia (179), Yemen (131), Lebanon (101), Egypt (110), Syria (142) and Mauritania (128).

As for the UAE and its neighbors, Qatar led the way (32nd position), followed by the UAE (36), Bahrain (48), Oman (53), Kuwait (60) and Saudi Arabia (83).

There are many implications that can be drawn from this report but here are two of the most important:

There is a strong correlation between corruption and poverty. The movements to make poverty history are essentially fights against corruption.

The ‘deeply troubled’ nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Somalia and the Sudan remain at the bottom of the index. When countries and their services are crippled by war, government officials and other leaders quickly resort to corruption.

The ruler of Dubai, who is also UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, declared on 25 September that UAE journalists will not be jailed days after two Dubai journalists were sentenced to prison for libel.

This decision to decriminalize the UAE media law has been greeted warmly by journalists and is a move in the right direction. Subsequent reports noted that there were other disciplinary measures available, which were comments that reminded writers that the spirit of freedom had limits. While some commentators were swift to say that journalists should not now view themselves as being above the law, others like the ruler of Fujairah, Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed al Sharqi, urged a gathering of journalists to report with “objectivity and transparency” for the benefit of society.

Notice has already been given amid these decrees that there is great urgency in updating and transforming the publication law of the UAE.

Currently the UAE publishing law does not allow the public criticism of officials and leaders. It is at this point that the new move towards freedom of expression and transparency hits a road block. Leaders in all spheres of society should not be above the law. Until journalists and writers are free from threat and punishment to probe corruption and challenge unjust practices there will never be genuine freedom of expression. This does not mean that journalists must be given a license to slander character but it means writing with respect for people and their character.

As part of the strategy for removing corruption and making significant progress up the international transparency ladder, decisions must be made to foster a climate of trust and actively encourage journalists and writers to tackle and confront corrupt practices and leadership, even at the highest level.

A related difficulty exists when mainstream publishing is owned and controlled by the government. In this circumstance it is extremely hard to be constructively critical of those who ultimately appoint you.

The move towards greater freedom of expression has a long history on the Arabian Peninsula. For hundreds of years this land has spawned a rich prophetic tradition of teachers, poets and sages, whose courageous voices have frequently said to nations and to their leaders, “With all respect, what you are doing is wrong.” Such voices that speak the truth to power must be nurtured and welcomed.

Geoff Pound

Image: Transparency International logo.