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

Monday, March 31, 2008

Beneath the Bluetooth Burqa

Can a burqa be sexy? A Berlin-based artist has invented a digitally-enabled robe that will send an image of a woman's face -- or anything else -- via Bluetooth.

A burqa may not be the flirtiest garment ever invented for women. The highly modest head-to-toe robe even shrouds the eyes, so for centuries it's been difficult for women wearing them to send suggestive signals to men.

But now a German designer has debuted a digitally-enabled burqa that can broadcast a photo of the wearer to nearby mobile phones. Markus Kison calls it the "Charming Burka," and says it isn't forbidden by Islamic law.

To read more see: ‘Lifting the Veil Using a ‘Bluetooth Burqa’, Spiegel Online, 25 February 2008.

Image: “Women who would rather not wear a burqa can now slip around it electronically.”

Sunday, March 30, 2008

UAE Angers Iran over Claiming Gulf Islands

The Arab Summit in Syria has wound up (30 March 2008) and will be remembered for its ‘no show’ by high profile leaders and the deep divisions between Arab nations.

One tension that has been fuelled during the Summit has been the decision by Arab leaders to support the UAE in its territorial dispute with Iran.

A Damascus Declaration at the end of the summit of 22 Arab states in the Syrian capital urged the UAE to seek "legal and peaceful ways to regain" three Islands in the Gulf controlled by non-Arab Iran and claimed by the UAE.

The Islamic republic’s immediate response was to say that the UAE's claims were "vain and baseless" and it dismissed the statement as interference in its affairs.

The dispute over the three islands (Abu Musa and the Lesser and Greater Tunb islands) in the Gulf has been going on for years. Although this represents a small land area (the largest of the three, Abu Musa is 12 sq miles), the dispute includes the important issues of potential oil sources, the strategic location whereby control of the islands affects shipping flow (especially of oil tankers), security and the environmental concerns to preserve the beauty of the islands and not create damage especially during oil explorations.

A case study by W. Corbett Dabbs entitled, ‘Abu Musa: Island Dispute Between Iran and the UAE, 1996 is helpful material in understanding the history of these islands and this dispute, although it is always important to discover which side of the Gulf different authors are supporting.

Source: ‘Arab Summit Backs UAE Claim on Islands, Tehran Angry’, Reuters, 30 March 2008.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Strait of Hormuz and the three islands (Thanks to Wikipedia for this image). Click to magnify.

Dubai in the Dark

The lights went off in Dubai on March 29, 2008. It was only 60 minutes in the dark but this was a big move for a city that wants to be seen as the brightest and glitziest on the planet.

The iconic Burj al-Arab, the only seven star hotel in the world, with its sail-like architecture, was leading the way in the worldwide Earth Hour blackout. Many other Dubai businesses, shopping malls and municipalities were flicking the switch or dimming the lights.

Interestingly, the Dubai Racing Club was bang smack in the middle of its biggest carnival of the year and the organizers were not prepared to have their 55,000 race goers and their millions of television viewers watching the ‘richest horse race in the world’ in pitch darkness.

Linking With the World
The Earth Hour each year is taking on greater importance in the United Arab Emirates. It is an opportunity for this vibrant nation to demonstrate leadership and show itself as a key player on the world stage at a time when many Arab nations have given such global events a miss.

Highest Energy Consumer
The UAE has changed from being a desert country with a few fishing villages to a rich nation in only a few decades. During this expansion it has built skyscrapers and business towers in a gung-ho manner and has been blind to the growth of pollution and the environmental cost of its rapid development. The huge Mall of the Emirates where one can ski down the indoor snow slopes while outdoors it feels like a furnace is symbolic of the high energy consumption of Dubai’s development. Because this country is home to some of the richest oil reserves in the world it has tended to be complacent about burning barrels of oil in its own backyard.

World Record in Consumption
Unfortunately, this record-breaking country that is aiming to have the world’s tallest building, the richest marathon and the best in every other field, now has the dubious reputation of having the world’s largest ‘global footprint’.

In a country that has scored a FAIL on its Report Card on ‘Caring for the Environment’, with its high energy consumption and inadequate waste management, turning off the switches during Earth Hour has been an opportunity to help the world notice that the UAE has seen the light.

Witnesses in the Light
News of the ‘switch off’ in Dubai and the UAE has provoked lots of conversation, most of it expressed in a positive light.

People from the Emirates have been overwhelmingly supportive saying Dubai’s participation was a good thing and that the UAE is setting a good example for the other Middle Eastern cities to follow next year.

A Sydney writer has wondered whether Dubai’s involvement was just a publicity stunt. A Malaysian writer has said the genuineness of this UAE commitment will be whether the reduction of energy consumption continues as an ongoing attitude and action. Last’s night ‘switch off’ gives to environmentalists in the Emirates a lever with UAE businesses and municipalities in the future by which they can challenge them asking, “Were you really serious about caring for the environment, that dark night at the end of March 2008?”

Kolkata Commentator Takes the Cake
A Kolkata resident joined the conversation about the UAE Earth Hour by saying, “A very interesting thing to know is that the light is switched off for longer than one hour a year in India. Sadly, this ‘switch off’ is for hours in the form of power cuts and I beg the Electric Board to do something about it.”

It is good to be living in a country were you can choose to turn the power off. Sadly the vast majority of the world has the power turned off for them and not at the ordained hour. This is an important angle to think about when you are sitting in the dark.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: “The iconic Burj al-Arab… was leading the way.” This picture of the seven star hotel lit up gives an idea as to how many lights needed to be turned off and how much power was saved.

Dubai Hosts World’s Richest Horse Race

The distinctive features of horse racing in the United Arab Emirates were showcased at the running of the Dubai World Cup on Saturday 29 March 2008.

Richest Horse Race
For a country that lusts after world records, it is no surprise that the Dubai Cup (the red ribbon event) is ‘the richest horse race in the world’. The prize of $6 million was part of a total $21 million at stake in prize money.

Not a Good Bet!
There is no betting at horse races as gambling is illegal in the Emirates. But gambling was not entirely non-existent as race goers could buy raffle tickets, at Dh500 a pop, to win the latest Bentley Continental or they could gamble Dh50 to win a Range Rover.

Check out the score card to see the international range of horses, trainers and jockeys for the gold ribbon event, Race 7—the Dubai World Cup Emirates Airline. The hot favorite, ‘Curlin’, the Horse of the Year in the USA, won the race, leaving all others in the dust. Many locals were backing ‘Jalil’ from Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Goldolphin stable but this horse only managed seventh place.

Fashion Extravaganza
Horse racing is merely the sideshow to the more prominent fashion competitions. The contestants were not all wearing black abayas and burqas. There was a range of fashion garments on the catwalk and at a fashion curtain raiser earlier this month several women paraded in trendy, ornate abayas, not the plain ‘body bag’ design. In a culture where most national women are veiled and dressed in black and expats and tourists are expected to be dressed discretely, at the racetrack the legs, shoulders and plunging necklines were proudly displayed.

Emirates Hospitality
While gambling is banned at a Dubai Race meet, alcohol flows freely around the track. Even last year when the Dubai Derby coincided with the Prophet’s birthday, a special dispensation was given to allow the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. While race events in the Emirates can proceed without betting they cannot proceed well without race goers being able to imbibe from the magnums of fine champagne.

The Weather and the Track
The weather is always hot in the Emirates and the track is hard. The harsh conditions led several horses to break down in the lead up to the carnival this year. Top South African trainer, Mike de Kock, took to putting his horses on treadmills instead of exercising them on the track. Perhaps this was the reason why so many of the South African horses did so well.

Changing Face of UAE
This racing carnival reaches back to the traditional Arab horsemen but it also illustrates yet another way that the UAE is being changed by globalization. The more liberal approach to alcohol consumption and dress recognizes the way that conservative Islamic customs are not being strictly applied, especially to those who do not adhere to the faith. It may, however, be only a matter of time until betting is allowed on race courses in the UAE so that race goers can have a flutter.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Curlin takes the biggest prize.

Sheikh Mohammed Hailed as Most Powerful in Horse Racing Industry

In today’s Melbourne Age (30 March 2008), following his recent half-billion-dollar purchase of an Australian horse racing business, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is being hailed as “arguably the most powerful person in the horse racing business.”

The article sees the investment of the Ruler of Dubai down under as a ‘huge compliment’ and a ‘shot in the arm’ to the Australian racing industry.

The entire article can be read at this link:
Tom Reilly, ‘Top of the World’, The Age, 30 March 2008.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Thursday, March 27, 2008

UAE Appointing Women to Top Positions

This week President HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has issued, in his capacity as Ruler of Abu Dhabi an emiri decree appointing Kholoud Ahmed Juwan Al Dhahiri as a primary judge on at the Abu Dhabi Judiciary Department.

Al Dhahiri will be the first woman judge in the United Arab Emirates.

This welcome appointment underlines the government's significant commitment in engaging women in the overall development of the emirate and the country.

The UAE already has two women ministers and nine women in the advisory Federal National Council.

Source and further details: ‘Khalifa Names First Female Judge in UAE’, WAM 26 March 2008.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: President HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan makes “a welcome appointment.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dubai from the Sky

One of the most popular slideshows online at the moment is posted at the Marketplace web site.

It is worth a look at these 13 aerial shots.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: The Palm resort, Dubai.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Skiing in Dubai!

Weburbanist has a great post about 5 Places You’ve Probably Never Thought to Go Skiing.

Amongst the far out places are Lebanon, Bolivia (the highest ski slope in the world) and this one pictured, Dubai. The comments on Dubai include these notes:

The Ski Dubai indoor slope has over 20,000 square meters of interior space and accommodates snowboarding and sledding in addition to skiing. Since it is, of course, not weather-dependent it is open all year round with five runs of varying difficulty and a freestyle zone. The building is highly energy-efficient but of course no indoor ski area in the desert can be considered environmentally friendly.

Thanks to Neatorama for drawing my attention to this neat post and the Weburbanist Link which has lots more pictures and a film clip.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Ski Dubai

Monday, March 24, 2008

Americans Besotted by Abu Dhabi

Hyperbole abounds in an ABC (America) article that describes Abu Dhabi as:

“The most talked about winter sun holiday this year.”

“The ultimate symbiosis of modernity and traditional Arabian customs.”

“A desert island turned paradise.”

“Ex-pats flocking to tax-free wealth and piece of the ‘black gold’ pie.”

To read about America’s love affair with the richest city in the world amid scores of superlatives see:

Laura Westmacott, ‘Abu Dhabi: Rags to Riches Transformation’, ABC News, 24 March 2008.

Image: Inside the luxurious Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Mohammed Pays Record Price for Aussie Horse Racing Deal

Just ahead of the Dubai Cup, The Australian newspaper reports “that Australia’s biggest thoroughbred breeding and racing operation has passed into foreign hands, with Bob Ingham selling his entire bloodstock business to Dubai's billionaire ruler for a reported $500 million.”

Reporters said that “the Australian horseracing industry was yesterday stunned by the move, thought to be one of the biggest deals in thoroughbred racing and breeding history.”

“Pending Foreign Investment Review Board approval, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum Rashid Al Maktoum's Darley Stud will pay an estimated $500 million for Ingham's two thoroughbred studs, training operations at Flemington in Melbourne and Warwick Farm in Sydney and a total of about 1000 horses.”

The entire article can be read at this link: Tony Arnold and Georgina Safe, ‘Sheik Punts $500m to Win Ingham Stud’, The Australian, 25 March 2008.

Image: Sheikh Mohammed at the Nad Al Sheba racecourse.

Some Imams Don’t Believe ‘Prayer is Better than Sleep’

The early morning call to prayer (fajr) contains the line, ‘Prayer is Better than Sleep’, however, some UAE Muslims are expressing dismay that their imams don’t believe this statement because they are staying in bed rather than leading their believers in prayer.

The Gulf News article (24 March 2008) continues the tirade against some imams whose ‘crime’ is accentuated by the fact that UAE imams are paid by the state and are provided with accommodation nearby their mosque so they can give their liturgical leadership with punctuality.

Some people are demanding that imams should be required to clock in and clock out so their hours can be closely monitored. Others report that many mosques have low attendances and are thinking that the lack of devotion displayed by the imams is having an unfortunate influence on their followers.

One wonders whether the recent switch to replacing all local muezzins who give the call to prayer with one person, whose call is delivered to all mosques by satellite, is making UAE imams feel redundant. The next logical and cheaper step is for local imams to be replaced by one punctual imam whose leading of the prayers is also done via satellite.

For more detail: Samir Salama, ‘Worshippers Replace Sleepy Imams to Lead Morning Prayers’, Gulf News, 24 March 2008.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: A good attendance at prayer.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The New Zealand UAE Connection

Mike Moore, a former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, writes in today’s NZ Herald about the Arab states, the United Arab Emirates and some of the pressing issues for New Zealand as it strengthens its relationship with the Emirates.

Mike Moore, ‘Arab States on the Frontline of Progress’, NZ Herald, 24 March 2008.

Image: New Zealand’s Mike Moore.

New Zealanders Attracted to the UAE, NZ Herald, 25 May 2008

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Emirates Passengers up in the Air over Mobile Phones

The Emirates Airline web site claims that its passengers can “enjoy one of the highest standards of comfort, service and facilities” but the news that Emirates now allows the use of personal cell phones is threatening this core commitment.

The news about Emirates Airline securing this ‘first’ on its flight this week en route to Casablanca has been greeted with a mixed response.

Those who prefer using the phone to email sound like they will be in cell phone heaven.

Others are anticipating being imprisoned next to an obsessive and loud telephone caller on the route from Auckland to Heathrow and are considering a switch to a Personal Phone Free airline.

Emirates Airline has provided some details on the use of its new service and is asking passengers to switch their phone to silent and vibrator mode. How will they ever police this so that other passengers won’t be plagued by loud and showy ring tones?

Will Emirates Airline provide some inflight telephone booths to absorb the noise of one-sided conversations?

Will Emirates Airline allow passengers to manage their bookings to such an extent that in addition to opting for an aisle seat and a low fat meal they will be able to choose a location at least 10 rows away from someone who will choose to use their mobile phone?

More information please, Emirates Airline. We want to keep discovering.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: New information for new service.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Emerging Architecture in the UAE

Dubai has gained world-wide attention in the past few years because of its booming economy and ambitious architectural projects.

The web site posting, ‘Dubai’s 18 Projects Destined to Change the Face of Global Architecture’ is worth a look.

The link is Impact Lab 15 March 2008.

Image: #1 of 18, the Zaha Hadid Dancing Towers.

World’s Tallest Skyscraper Delayed

The world's tallest skyscraper under construction in the city of Dubai will take longer than planned to finish, its builders said, putting off the opening planned for the end of this year.

The Burj Dubai tower currently stands over 1,700 feet tall. The state-owned developer Emaar Properties said completion would be postponed until sometime in 2009. It did not give specifics, but the newspaper Gulf News and the online news site said the delay would be four months.

"The company would rather opt for a nominal delay in total quality execution of the Burj Dubai ... than compromise on any aspect of quality," Emaar, one of the main builders in this Gulf boomtown, said in a press release without elaborating.

Emaar did not give the reason for the delay.

Further details: ‘Burj Dubai Opening Delayed by Four Months’, Gulf News, 4 March 2008.

Image: Burj Dubai.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

UAE Authorities Explain Internet Censorship

A spokesperson explains how and why many Internet sites are blocked for UAE users, at this link:

Martin Youssef, ‘Keeping Internet Access Safe from Terror and Danger’, Gulf News, 11 March 2008.

Painting the Emirates

Anyone interested in the landscape of the UAE and the scenes which are quintessentially Emirati, needs to get a copy of Trevor Waugh’s book, ‘The Emirates through the Eyes of an Artist’.

A review of this book is posted at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of The Emirates through the Eyes of an Artist.

‘Oil Draining’ in Fujairah Waters not ‘Oil Spills’

With the second covering of oil on Fujairah beaches in three weeks it is high time that we stop calling these crimes ‘oil spillages’ and recognize them as the willful and intentional draining of oil slops into the water in the dead of night to save time and money.

Read about the further oil on Fujairah waters and the call for urgent and decisive action at Fujairah in Focus.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Oil on Fujairah shore (courtesy of Deeper Blue)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Australians Eye Abu Dhabi’s New Mosque

A feature article in the Travel section of today’s Melbourne Age has an article on Abu Dhabi’s new mosque with a series of photos.

The writer states that many westerners are flocking to see the mosque which, unusually, is open to women and those who are not members of the Islamic faith.

To read more about the architecture, specifications and the cost of this new building, follow this link:
‘Non-Muslims Flock to Sumptuous Mosque', Melbourne Age, 5 March 2008.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: The Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the biggest in the UAE and the third largest in the world.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Drug Laws in the UAE: Travelers Beware!

There has been a flurry of articles lately issuing warnings to travelers to the UAE and supplying examples of the special drug laws in the Emirates.

The popular web site Boing Boing posted an article in 29 January 2008 about a young man who had been arrested in Dubai for carrying melatonin, supposedly for alleviating jet-lag.

In February Boing Boing’s Mark Frauenfelder had a more extensive article entitled UAE's very scary drug laws, which drew on the 8 February 2008 BBC article entitled Tourists Warned of UAE Drug Laws’.


The British story explored the episode and came up with its own warnings.

Some examples of recent breaches of the drug laws in the UAE that were cited included the following:

• A Swiss man "is serving a four-year jail term after three poppy seeds from a bread roll he ate at Heathrow airport were found on his clothes."

• A 43-year-old Englishman who had a cigarette stuck to his shoe was sentenced was sentenced to four years in prison for possession of 0.003g of cannabis.

• Customs officers held a woman for eight weeks before she was able to convince authorities that her codeine pills were prescribed by her doctor for back pain.

The BBC article issued these warnings:
"If they find any amount - no matter how minute - it will be enough to attract a mandatory four-year prison sentence.

"What many travellers may not realise is that they can be deemed to be in possession of such banned substances if they can be detected in their urine or bloodstream, or even in tiny, trace amounts on their person."

Since these articles have been posted the Gulf News has reported at least two instances (25 February 2008, 2 March 2008) of people having charges of drug possession dismissed and they being released from jail. Not all cases, however, have been overturned.

The Fair Trials International has published a full list of UAE banned substances on its website.

The British Foreign Office is advising all travellers carrying any prescription drugs to take a doctor's letter detailing exactly why they need the medicine and the exact dose.

Up to the minute stories on drug themes are posted on the UAE-The Official Web Site, UAEInteract.

Dr. Geoff Pound.