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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

UAE Ramadan Prayer-Fasting Times 2008

Fasting Times
When asked to clarify fasting times and behavior, IslamonLine makes this statement:

Allah has permitted the fasting person to eat and drink until dawn comes. He, Most High, says: "(and eat and drink until the white thread becometh distinct to you from the black thread of the dawn) (Al-Baqarah 2:187).”

The exact cut-off time for
imsak (abstaining from food, drink, etc.) is the time of fajr (dawn); so if you ate until that time you did not incur any sin. Most of the time people confuse between the preferred time and the permissible one; the preferred time for imsak, according to scholars, is to finish sahur ten minutes before fajr.

Maghrib, Arabic for ‘the setting’ (of the sun) is the prayer that indicates the end of the period of daily fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Click image to enlarge; Source of chart: Gulf News, 31 August 2008.

Related Ramadan Articles
Ramadan Reflection on Simplifying Life
Ramadan Reflection on Banning Music Videos
Ramadan a Time for Cleansing and Giving to the Needy
UAE Ramadan Reports
Ramadan Begins 1 September 2008 in UAE
UAE President Shows Ramadan is about Salaam
Ramadan is Great Financial Cost for How Much Spiritual Gain?
‘Make Sure You Get it done Before Ramadan!’
The Blessings of Ramadan by Javed Ali

Ramadan Begins 1 September 2008 in UAE

Monday (1 September 2008) will be the first day of Ramadan and fasting.

The Gulf News said that this date was declared on Saturday by the chairman of the UAE moonsighting committee even though the Ramadan moon was not sighted after using Sharia methods.

The Abu Dhabi government has issued a comprehensive Working Hours policy for its emirate in which it states that:

* Official working hours will be reduced by two hours daily during the Holy month of Ramadan.

* During the Holy month of Ramadan, office hours shall begin at 9 a.m. and end at 2 p.m.

* Each government entity shall schedule the shift working hours in accordance with its work requirements

It looks like each Emirate and ‘government entity’ has some flexibility in determining their working hours.

Ramadan Mubarak!

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Ramadan greetings

UAE Ramadan Prayer-Fasting Times 2008

Ramadan Reflection on Simplifying Life

Ramadan Reflection on Banning Music Videos

Ramadan a Time for Cleansing and Giving to the Needy

UAE Ramadan Reports

Ramadan Begins 1 September 2008 in UAE

UAE President Shows Ramadan is about Salaam

Ramadan is Great Financial Cost for How Much Spiritual Gain?

Make Sure You Get it done Before Ramadan!

The Blessings of Ramadan by Javed Ali

Experiencing the Emirates on Dubizzle.Com

The Experiencing the Emirates blog has recently been taken as a feed by Dubizzle.Com, the increasingly popular Dubai Community web site.

One of the attractive things about Dubizzle, and a notable part of its popularity, is the free advertisements people can post for property, rental accommodation, cars, jobs and community events.

Several blogs are now contributing to Dubizzle’s Community Blog that highlights issues affecting people in Dubai and throughout the Emirates.

Check out Dubizzle.Com to have a squizz, post an ad or add to the forums.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: The Dubizzle home page.

Ramadan a Time for Cleansing and Giving to the Needy

Judging by the flow of cars coming and going to the Red Crescent in Fujairah this last week it appears that the approach of Ramadan has signaled the time for generous giving.

With zakat (زكاة‎) or giving to charity being one of the five obligatory pillars of Islam, the Red Crescent is an obvious recipient with its international work, especially this year, among earthquake victims in China and those who continue to be ravaged by war and famine in the Sudan.

According to one statement, “It is an obligation on Muslims to pay 2.5% of the wealth which they have had for a full lunar year, 2.5% of goods used for trade, and 5% or 10% of certain type of harvests depending on irrigation. Exempt from Zakat are a person's house and personal transportation.”

With the word 'zakah' deriving from the verb meaning to purify or cleanse, the act of giving is a central part of the preparation process for the holy month of Ramadan.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: The Red Crescent headquarters in Fujairah’s suburb of Faseel.

Dubai’s New AC Bus Shelters are like Giant Microwaves

Last week a press statement said that Dubai’s 350 state of the art air-conditioned bus shelters were now available for public use but this is not the full story.

The statement entitled ‘Dubai opens 350 AC Bus Shelters’ should be reading ‘Dubai opens 350 degree Bus Shelters’.

For instance passengers waiting over the weekend along some unshaded roads would have fried like chicken if they had attempted to enter the new shelters. Instead they were angrily waiting for their buses outside the shelters in the humid 43+degree heat.

Dubai residents were informed by the Chief Executive of the city's Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) in May 2006 that by the following summer they would be living in “the first city in the world to offer the luxury of air-conditioned bus shelters for passengers.”

The shelters are way behind timetable for their completion date. If there are some shelters where the AC is flowing the press statements about the opening of the shelters are quite misleading and do not tell the whole sweaty story.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: One of the new bus shelters on Al Khawaneej Road that is not functioning.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Poor Health Report for UAE and Gulf

The Financial Times has an important article on the way wealth has led to overeating, obesity and dangerously high levels of diabetes, strokes and heart disease.

Link: Robin Wigglesworth, Wealth Weighs Heavily on Gulf Arabs, F.T.Com, 29 August 2008.

Poor Air Quality in Dubai

“The poor air quality in Dubai is so obvious yet few people in the industry and Dubai Municipality want to talk about it. Assistant editor [of Arabian Business.Com] Jamie Stewart discovered that during his two-month investigation into the causes of Dubai's poor air.”

Read this article about the dust levels in Dubai which do damage to the respiratory system and the absence of clear, blue skies that contribute to a psychological malaise.

Source: Rob Wagner, Don’t Waste Your Breath, Arabian Business.Com, 30 August 2008

Image: Dust impeding visibility on Sheikh Zayed Rd.

UAE Ramadan Reports

Ramadan in the UAE hasn’t started but it is a time for releasing prisoners, arresting beggars, sanctioning shisha smoking, reinventing Ramadan and establishing a central fatwa centre.

Setting Captives Free
His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has ordered the release of 777 prisoners to mark Ramadan.

The timing is a Ramadan gesture, similar (or possibly it relates to the same people) to the example of the UAE President a few days ago but the Gulf News report said it also was “enabling them to join their families in the month of fasting….[and it] gives the prisoners the opportunity to return to their families and integrate with society again to start a new life.”

Rounding Up Beggars in RAK
A plan will be put in place in Ras Al Khaimah to arrest beggars during Ramadan to add to the 27 beggars that have already been arrested in Ras Al Khaimah since the beginning of the year.

The word is, according to the Gulf News report is that “beggars take advantage of religious and spiritual feelings which spread among the public during Ramadan.”

Would they not be better seen as people needing food and recipients of Ramadan generosity?

Shisha Smoking Not Extinguished in Ramadan
Even though new rules have been regulating shisha smoking in public places in Dubai this practice has not been outlawed in the holy month despite it being a time to give up bad habits.

Reinventing Ramadan
Hard work, fast-paced students in Dubai are transforming the traditions of Ramadan to suit their modern style.

New Fatwa Office
The UAE’s Islamic Affairs Authority opened its official fatwa center, which provides religious rulings in English, Urdu and Arabic. UAE residents can obtain fatwas over the toll-free phone line or via SMS (text message). The centre is the first of its kind; it is now the only place in the UAE authorized to issue fatwas thus regularising what is and isn’t a fatwa.

Ramadan is a time for implementing many changes.

Related to Ramadan:
Ramadan is Great Financial Cost but for how much Spiritual Gain? Experiencing the Emirates (ETE)
Make Sure You Get it Done Before Ramadan, ETE
Don’t Visit Dubai in Ramadan, ETE
Are you ready to come to the UAE? ETE
What’s the time in the UAE? ETE
Young People Model Process to Bridge Inter-Faith Divide, ETE
The Blessings of Ramadan, ETE

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Ramadan rituals—special food as well as special fasting.

Friday, August 29, 2008

President Shows Ramadan is about Salaam

Newspapers are reporting the order of President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan to release 700 Emirati and expatriate prisoners near the commencement of Ramadan.

Furthermore Shaikh Khalifa has ordered an amnesty on the debts of pardoned prisoners. The impact of this prisoner release and cancellation of debts will be felt not only by the inmates but also by their families.

This gesture, however, has a vital modelling effect for the entire country.

Pardons are usually granted by Shaikh Khalifa on national and religious occasions but they have special significance at the commencement of Ramadan.

Ramadan is a period in which people are encouraged to take the initiative to settle grievances, right wrongs and restore relationships. It is a time to wish peace to one another in the deepest sense of the word and work for the richest experience of salaam (السلام) throughout the world.

A wonderful example has been set by the President of the United Arab Emirates.

As-Salāmu `Alaykum السلام عليكم

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Shaikh Mohammed Calls for Sound Environmental Culture

His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, instructed Dubai Municipality on Wednesday to launch an environmental awareness campaign, particularly in Dubai schools, to create a sound environmental culture and introduce the green building system.

More details: 'Mohammed Stresses Sound Environmental Culture', Khaleej Times, 26 August 2008.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Ramadan is Great Financial Cost for How Much Spiritual Gain?

Muslims in the UAE are presently gearing up for Ramadan, which according to astronomers looks likely to commence on Monday 1 September 2008.

Have you noticed the large number of emails and notices being put out like this one from the Fujairah Port, announcing the reduced Ramadan working hours?

Huge Cost
It makes you think of the unbelievable cost that Ramadan is to a nation like the United Arab Emirates. Most businesses and educational institutions will be open this month for less hours and, as discussed earlier, most people who participate in the fasting and feasting get so tired that they only function on two cylinders if they show up for work or school at all.

Many of the books advising international companies about the UAE tell business people to forget trying to do deals during Ramadan. Furthermore, when tourist advisory services inform potential tourists of the difficulty of getting a meal or a beer in the Emirates during this holy month, then the financial cost for the country adds up significantly.

Huge Gains?
The faithful festival keeper would say that for these costs there is enormous gain, so what might be expected on the other side of the ledger?

The abstinence can bring physical benefits through detoxing from food, caffeine and nicotine.

The giving up of many of life’s necessities is supposed to increase willpower and patience. Going without food can increase one’s solidarity with the poor especially when this is accompanied by gift giving to special causes at this time.

The giving up of material things is designed to increase spiritual dependence and create more time for worship and prayer.

The giving up of grudges which characterizes this month is a terrific concept, especially if it moves from personal restoration to the international level of reconciliation with other countries and a greater understanding between peoples of different races and religions.

So will these anticipated benefits translate into personal, social and national wealth by the end of Ramadan or will all the fasting, sleeplessness and going without sex just make people grumpy?

Is it worth it when most people stack on piles of weight from feasting and does this only make them more frustrated than full of faith? Will all the shopping and gift giving only leave people more dejected by October when they read their bank statements?

Ramadan will be what people make it to be.

It is interesting and generous to see Islamic Advisers in the UAE encouraging people who are not believers to participate in a way that is honest and genuine for them—by sharing in Iftar meals, being open to hospitality that is extended and by eating and living more simply.

Why not give it a go? Devise your own special month. We've got nothing to lose except some weight, a caffeine addiction, some fractured relationships and some dirhams that might make a difference to someone’s quality of life.

What Do You Think?
Do you think these religious festivals have personal, social and national benefits or are they good in theory, not worth the cost and of little lasting consequence?

Ramadan Kareem!

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: This Ramadan publicity that was put under my gate issues a call for hearty celebration and crass commercialism.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Olympics, Sports and UAE Citizenship

Along with most countries the United Arab Emirates is currently engaging in a postmortem of its performance at the Beijing Olympics and such an evaluation is coloured by the hope that Dubai is planning a successful bid to host a forthcoming Games, perhaps for 2020 or 2024.

Even prior to the recent Olympic Games, Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Hasher Al Maktoum, who had been tipped as the country’s most promising medal prospect in Beijing, was critical of UAE government and sporting leaders for their over investment in the country’s football future to the detriment of encouraging an interest and expertise in other sports.

Before pouring millions of dirhams into sporting development it would be good to learn lessons from other countries. Much criticism has been heaped on China for cherry-picking the sports that would reap it the greatest number of medals and give it the chance to gain the top place on the medal tally.

Jamie Cunningham has suggested to The National, that the UAE should aim to develop in sports where there is a tradition and an excellence.

Many Australians are depressed at dropping down the medal tally ladder and, taking out their calculators to discover that they as taxpayers have forked out $16.7 million to win the country 13 gold medals, they are wondering whether this is money well spent.

Even though the UAE may have millions of oil dirhams to throw at developing their sports and attaining medals it is a question of stewardship to ask whether this is the best use of national resources.

The related issue under discussion is the perceived need for the UAE to send a bigger team and thus show to the IOC its broad sporting base and therefore its capability in hosting a future Games. This raises an important question of citizenship. Will the UAE continue to rely on encouraging population growth of its nationals and investing only in Emiratis under the existing citizenship laws or will it transform its citizenship laws?

At the establishment of the UAE people from Africa (especially from the Sudan and Somalia) who were living in these parts had to choose whether they would become Emiratis. The proportion of the total UAE population is currently less than 20% with the rest being here on temporary work visas or sponsored by their spouse or parent. When one looks at the medal winners in the US team one recognizes quickly that most are citizens whose families migrated to America and became citizens. A smaller country such as New Zealand also owes much of its Olympic medals and rugby success to the many Pacific Islanders who have chosen to live there and become fully-fledged citizens.

Many times the fear has been expressed that a move to incorporate other cultures into full UAE citizenship will lead to the dilution of the Emirati culture. However, if it is done well, it will lead to a healthy multiculturalism in which the Emirati culture within it will be prized and valued by all.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Beijing Medals

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

UAE Nation of Poets

The National newspaper is running a great series of articles on Poets of the UAE.

So much water, desert and mountains to inspire the ancient art of poetry.

Link: Youssef Rakha, A Nation of Words, The National, 26 August 2008. This will take you to the earlier articles and interactive map that displays where poets are from. Where are the poets from Fujairah?

Check out the poems by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai at his web site.

Image: One of the many poems written by Mohamed Almubarak and posted on this web site.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Only 200 Memberships for the Tiger Woods Dubai Golf Course

The UAE may not have scooped the medals in Beijing but Dubai has hitched up with Tiger Woods, arguably the best golfer in the world.

Tiger Woods today (25 August 2008), officially unveiled the new master plan for The Tiger Woods Dubai, the exclusive residential golf community development and a member of Tatweer.

The entire complex is scheduled for completion in 2009. It will encompass a deluxe golf course, a golfing academy to fine tune your handicap and a top class clubhouse (with spa to soak your sorrows).

Luxury residences at The Tiger Woods Dubai will include 22 palaces, 75 mansions, and 100 signature villas.

Check out the detailed description in this press release:

Champion Golfer Tiger Woods Unveils Master Plan for the Tiger Woods Dubai Project, Market Watch, WSJ, 25 August 2008.

Have a look at the Golf Course and palaces at the official web site:
Tiger Woods Dubai

Be in quick to get your membership. They are limited to only 200. If you have to ask how much the subscription costs it is probably not for you.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Tiger Woods after winning the Dubai Desert Classic in 2008 with the distinctive UAE trophy in hand.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Emirates Airline Dumps Inflight Mag to Lighten Load

According to Emirates president Tim Clark, the decision to ban onboard paper will lighten the plane by a tonne.

"It's two kilograms per seat and 500 seats, a worthwhile saving," he says. "We are doing it because of fuel prices and the environment. The printed matter will be replaced by content shown on the aircraft's seatback TVs."

Check out the reactions from passengers and the response from other competitors in:
Paperchase Grounds Magazine, Melbourne Age, 23 August 2008.

UAE Oil to Last 100 Years and Net $1.6 Trillion

The UAE oil reserves could last at least 100 years at present output levels and fetch the country a net wealth of $1.6 trillion (Dh5.8trn), data released by the IMF yesterday.

To read the entire article:
Emirate Business 24/7, 24 August 2008

UAE Lifestyle Packs on the Weight

A revealing article in the Gulf News gives some reasons why most people usually increase in weight when they come and live in the UAE.

Link: UAE Lifestyle Makes it Hard to Diet, Gulf News, 23 August 2008

Image: Here is another reason.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

UAE One of Best Places in World for Expats

The United Arab Emirates has been given the silver medal in the contest to be the best place to live for expatriates, according to a study conducted by HSBC Bank International, a Jersey-based subsidiary of the world's biggest company.

The rankings are based on a study by HSBC Bank International, which surveyed 2,155 expats around the world. The responses were used to determine each country's ranking according to several criteria, including the duration the respondents stayed; their ability to command high earnings and save; having a more luxurious life than back home; and, of course, decent accommodation that didn't eat up all their earnings.

Specific rankings on the following criteria and summary statement:

Longevity: No. 7
Earn And Save: No. 4
Luxurious: No. 1
Accommodation: No. 4

With no income tax to pay, the largely young expat population is left with plenty to spend on the opulent lifestyle available.

The report in the International Herald Tribune says:
“The UAE, with no income tax, perhaps unsurprisingly does very well when it comes to saving and freeing you up to enjoy its swanky hotels and shopping centers - all reasons why it's the best place for luxurious living, according to the survey.”

The article also indicates reasons why the UAE, along with other countries, does not keep its expats for a long term.

To see which country won the gold medal and how other countries ranked, check out the article by Vidya Ram, ‘World’s Best Places to be an Expat’, IHT, 22 August 2008.

For perspective, this article needs to be read along with statements such as the following:
Dubai Loses Attractiveness for Skilled Workers, ETE
UAE Cities and Quality of Living, ETE
High Costs Driving Expats Away, ETE
Expats in the Emirates, ETE

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: The sea views you can experience on the UAE’s east coast and up towards the Musandam Peninsula (where this photo was taken) can prove to be far more attractive than ‘swanky hotels and shopping centers’.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Emirates Palace Seeks World Record in Opulence

The Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi has posted this advertisement on their web site:

Emirates Palace launches a lavish Million Dollar Package

The stunning grandeur of one of the most expensive hotels ever built demands ultra-luxury offerings for its guests, including unrivalled facilities and incredible tailor made designer packages. The Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, exceeds all expectations with its latest…a fantastic once in a lifetime all-out package with a hefty value of 1,000,000 US Dollars!

This package incarnates pure opulence and includes the following for 2 guests:

$ First class return trip from any international destination serviced by Etihad Airlines to Abu Dhabi
$ Seven night stay in a 680 sqm Palace Suite at Emirates Palace on an all-inclusive basis.
$ Chauffeur driven Maybach at your disposal daily during your stay in Abu Dhabi
$ Daily spa treatment in the Anantara Spa
$ Day trip in private jet to Iran to create your own Persian carpet from the most exclusive and well-renowned hand-maker
$ Day trip in private jet to the Dead Sea Jordan to experience the famous sea and an afternoon Anantara spa treatment in the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar
$ Day trip to Bahrain in private jet for a pearl deep sea experience. Your pearl will then be hand designed with jewellery settings
$ Royal Golf experience at Abu Dhabi Golf Club
$ Make your own perfume with experts from YAS Perfume
$ Deep sea fishing trip
$ Gifts including champagne sunset and desert island tour.
$ Gifts including the rarest pearls in the world from Robert Wang and a selection from Holland & Holland Sporting Guns

So there’s the answer to that million dollar question…

For reservations call 00 971 6908888

Source: Emirates Palace

For other expensive holiday packages that are fighting for the record check out:

The Wealth Report-Wall Street Journal, 8 August 2008.

Image: Emirates Palace

Thursday, August 21, 2008

UAE Self-Service Petrol Station Experiment

One of the positives that expats discover when arriving in the UAE is that petrol stations are service stations, with attendants on hand to fill the tank, check the oil and clean the windows.

Not for much longer. ENOC has launched (12 August 2008) a three month ‘experiment’ with 10 of its 165 stations in Dubai and the northern emirates being self-service.

It is a tried and tested technique to bill something as an ‘experiment’ so you don’t get egg on your face if the thing turns out to be a dismal failure and it does help angry customers to consider that the change is not necessarily here to stay.

Progress Reports?
It would be good if ENOC gave some fair and honest progress reports not the promotional gloss.

Driving to Dubai from Fujairah one day this week I kept an eye on the petrol stations and it was evident that the traditional Service Stations were buzzing with cars and customers and the experimental Self-Service Stations (Al Rafia on the Dhaid-Sharjah Rd and Thouban on the Sharjah-Fujairah Highway) looked empty. Motorists were obviously voting with their cars.

From my cursory survey it would appear that the ENOC experiment is going to prove costly, not only for petrol sales but for the many food items that customers buy at the attached convenience stores.

Cost on Employees
What about the loss of income for Petrol Station attendants during this experiment? One manager at an ENOC Station said today that all the attendants were being redeployed at other sites. Does that mean that other stations are overstaffed temporarily or are all ENOC attendants getting fewer shifts over the next few months? Attendants on site are not inclined to be too vocal with their thoughts and criticisms.

ENOC appears to have been intentional about wanting to commence the experiment in the middle of summer but one would question the wisdom of this especially if they want to get customers on board with the new self-service way. One of the things that makes the UAE different from the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (home of many expats) is that this country has such high temperatures. Filling up the car and cleaning the windscreen on your way to work when you are dressed in a suit, or on the way to a night out when you are dressed in your glad rags, is bound to get you in a sweaty lather.

While many expats are used to petrol filling equipment, there are many people in the Emirates for whom this is a new experience. There seems to be little information offered to motorists when one arrives at a Petrol Station, about how to use the equipment.

Cumbersome System
The current method of ‘pay first-fill up later’ is extremely cumbersome and frustrating. It involves guesstimating how many dirhams worth of gas you will need, going inside and paying, telling the attendant the type of petrol and pump number you will be using and then filling up with the pump that automatically cuts off when you reach your amount. This method leads to motorists erring on the conservative side and putting in a lesser amount of petrol to avoid having to go back inside and asking for a refund if you over-estimated the thirst of your vehicle.

If this is a security issue with motorists driving off without paying then the attendants on hand can be trained to be alert and take down the license plate numbers of the offending vehicles. If this is a chronic problem, stations can install security cameras (CCTV), as happens in many countries.

‘Cash Transactions Only’
Again, this seems to be a money-saving ploy and is a backward step in this electronic age. Not being able to pay by Credit Card is unhelpful for tourists who prefer to pay by their bank card.

Unclear Feedback Channels
The issue of feedback is not clear to customers. When I asked an ENOC manager about giving feedback he said he would pass on my comments to the authorities but hearsay is not adequate or reliable. It seems ENOC is only monitoring the financial trends and if this experiment increases their profits, the customers and unemployed attendants will just have to accept the changes.

It this is the way all petrol stations go in the UAE it would be helpful to provide options within the one station—Self-Service that is cheaper for the customers and Service-Provided which costs more.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: The news that greets the ‘ENOC experiment’ stations—no service, no credit card transactions, not enough information, no clear feedback process and not enough options.

Check out the new series and photos entitled ‘Fujairah Building Boom’.
The first post is at this link:
Fujairah in Focus

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sport More Powerful than Politics says Princess Haya

Princess Haya of Jordan, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has revealed that she still considers herself an ‘athlete’ and would like to compete in the 2012 London Olympics, twelve years after she participated in the show jumping event at the Sydney 2000 Games.

In an interview with CNN she said of sport:

“It’s absolutely fantastic, and I think it’s a lot more powerful than politics, than talking, than rhetoric. I think sports really delivers.”

Source: John Vause, ‘Saddling up for the Olympics’, CNN Video, 4 August 2008

Check out this short interview to hear Princess Haya speak about the Beijing Games, the welcome from the Chinese, her father who ‘opened the door’ for her to become an athlete and the challenges that Muslim women face in participating in sports.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Princess Haya.

New Photos of Burj Dubai

The Burj Dubai tower, the tallest skyscraper in the world, is still in the process of construction.

The photographer, David Hobcote, has taken some high resolution pictures from the air.

Here is the link.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: One of the Burj Dubai photo series.
Click on the photo to magnify.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

“Make Sure You Get it Done Before Ramadan!”

We’ll be hearing this statement many times in the next few weeks because if it is hard getting a tradesperson to the home throughout the year, watch how things slow down during the month of Ramadan.

Because of religious observances in this special month the working hours are shorter and, as after sunset the eating, drinking and meeting get into top gear and go on well into the night, those who front up to work the next day are notoriously inefficient.

With a full month of daytime fasting and nighttime festivity the tiredness inevitably builds the longer the period continues.

There are plenty of statements available that describe and explain the Ramadan customs but a good summary, entitled ‘Ramadan is Coming’, is posted on American Bedu, which is a fascinating site that records the “experiences and observations of a former American diplomat now married to a Saudi and living in the KSA.”

Fasting can sound austere and painful to the uninitiated but when one hears the response of people going through this month, it is usually expressed with positive appreciation, joy and a sense of solidarity in making this journey with other sisters and brothers of the faith.

Sexual activity during the daylight hours is part of the abstinence ritual but those who track the birth patterns in the UAE testify to the large numbers of babies that burst into the world nine months after Ramadan. This is further testament to Ramadan being a month of love, encounter, joy and relaxation.

For people who are not members of Islam there are special Ramadan greetings to use, cards that can be sent and invitations of hospitality to accept.

While modesty in dress is the usual practice throughout the year, this necessity is underscored with greater importance during this month of focusing on matters of faith.

Most restaurants and cafes in shopping strips and malls are closed during the days of Ramadan and people not fasting are asked to be considerate (in some countries this is forbidden by law) by not eating and drinking in front of those who are abstaining.

It is difficult to purchase alcohol in the UAE in the month of Ramadan. The usual outlet in Fujairah often informs its customers in advance that it will be closed for the entire month. This Ramadan reminder also serves as an encouragement to ‘stock up’! Large international hotels shut down many of their bars and they need to get a permit to have one or two still open for their thirsty international guests.

Just as people with no real Christian interest, renegotiate Christmas festivals by entering into the spirit of giving it is possible for those who do not embrace Islam to reframe Ramadan as a month that is authentic and meaningful. The voluntary fasting from food, meat and alcohol is bound to bring many benefits. Fasting from shopping and burning up petrol is a change that would do wonders for the environment.

Often the emphasis is put on Ramadan prohibitions and what one is not allowed to do when fasting should reveal all the positive things that one can do because so much time is not consumed in eating and cooking. To be freed up from all our usual activities can present us with superb gifts—good quality time for thinking, enjoying silence, pondering the significance, reviewing the past year and formulating commitments for the future. If life is about discovery, it is a good idea to use the extra time in Ramadan to be more open to ourselves, to others people and to all the many dimensions of life.

I have a friend who does not follow the way of Islam but he often abstains from eating during the daylight hours of Ramadan in order to express solidarity with the poor and hungry. He uses the extra time that this creates to pray and to work for peace.

Preparing for Ramadan
The ‘most read’ article in today’s (17 August 2008) Khaleej Times reports consumers flocking to UAE supermarkets to buy up cooking ingredients for fear that some items might not be available or they might be too highly priced for Ramadan meals and festivities. Such shopping fever illustrates the way that Ramadan is just as much about feasting as it is about fasting.

Instead of stockpiling in the pantry or replenishing the cellar this pre-Ramadan period requires some careful planning. Yes, by all means, plague the electrician to fix the wiring and call the plumber to get that leaky pipe repaired but let’s ponder how we might free ourselves up to take hold of those things in life that are of greatest importance.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Design on a Ramadan greeting card.

Check out some of the latest posts on the sister site, Fujairah in Focus:
Fujairah Observer Now Online
Oil Slicks AGAIN on UAE East Coast

Saturday, August 16, 2008

UAE and Gulf Women in Workplace

Almost half of Gulf women – 49 per cent – feel they are at a disadvantage to men when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder, more than in any other region in the Middle East, a new survey has revealed.

The Women in the Workplace survey, released 12 August, by and YouGovSiraj, measured the perceptions, attitudes, experiences and satisfaction of women living in the Middle East – including citizens and expatriates – with regard to their workplace.

This important survey is reported and discussed by Vivian Salama in an article at this link:

Vivian Salama, Gulf women feel disadvantaged at work, The National, 13 August 2008.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Some UAE women.

Related Reports Show Other Angles:
Women Rise up the ranks in Middle Eastern Workplace, AMEInfo, 13 August 2008.
Most Women Dismiss Gender Bias at Office, Business 24-7, 14 August 2008.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Experiencing Difference in the Emirates

You know you’re in the Emirates when your glasses fog up as you emerge from your villa to the steamy heat.

You know you’re in the Emirates when you have to sleep with the air conditioners on.

You know you’re in the Emirates when it takes more than three calls to get a tradesperson to tackle that problem in your apartment.

Many of the customs and cultural ways in the UAE are different for the expatriate. That is a big part of the challenge, the frustration, the joy and the education of living in another country.

Saying No
Trades people will often tell you that they will come ‘tomorrow’ because they want to please you. ‘Tomorrow’ in the UAE doesn’t always mean twenty-four hours but sometime in the future.

If you ask a taxi driver if he knows how to get to XYZ he almost always say ‘Yes’ even if he does not know. He responds in the affirmative because he wants to please you, he has face to save and he wants the job. Then he’ll make some phone calls to one of his colleagues or wind down the window and get some instructions from someone who might know.

Jeremy Williams in his book, ‘Don’t they Know it’s Friday?’ makes these points (76-77) about ‘saying no’ in the Arab culture and the effect on business dealings:

Saying `no' is rude
The natural instinct of most Arabs is to be hospitable and welcoming. For many Arabs it is impolite to refuse a guest anything. The guest is king. The guest honours the host by his presence in the host's home and, less so, in the office. The Arab will expect to act as host.

The effect in business is that the guest (i.e. the salesperson) must reach the conclusion himself that the goods or services being offered are of no interest whatsoever to the Arab side. This may have been true during the very first sales visit to the Arab country. From the company’s point of view, it would have been far more helpful (and cheaper) to have known such a fact earlier so that effort could have been transferred to other markets. For the Westerner that would have been polite. But a typically polite remark from an Arab official during any follow-up visit may well be limited to: "We are still considering the matter. You are always welcome in my country. Do have some coffee. Is your hotel comfortable?" In time the salesperson will no longer visit. The Arab has not had to reach a decision. There has been no refusal. The matter has resolved itself.

‘Don’t they Know it’s Friday’ is full of interesting information and tips for those who are new to the Emirates and those who have been living here for some time. Jeremy Williams writes about language, drinking coffee, how one must dress, Emirati time customs and why that business contract or employment contract that you’ve signed means very little.

A review of ‘Don’t they know it’s Friday’, is posted at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Related Articles:
Sounds of Silence in the Emirates, ETE, 19 June 2008.
Are You Ready to Come to the Emirates? ETE, 6 June 2008.
Beware Bouncing Cheques in the Emirates, ETE, 5 June 2008.
What’s the Time in the Emirates? ETE, 29 May 2008.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Time-keeping in the Emirates (Credit-‘Don’t they know it’s Friday?’, p38.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympics Transform UAE Television Standards and National Values

The UAE sports channels (Dubai Sports and Abu Dhabi TV) are giving a good coverage of the Beijing Olympics, especially by featuring minor sports (hand ball, table tennis, shooting etc) and focusing on the feats of many small nations (for more on how the UAE coverage differs from the US or Australia see this article on ETE).

In a country that suffers from extreme media censorship—“We apologize the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the United Arab Emirates”—it is revolutionary to see the UAE screening Olympic sports revealing women in tightly fitting bathing suits and scantily clad women playing beach volley ball.

In a country whose laws require modest dress (the Decency Law of Sharjah demands greater strictness) and where the “religious, cultural, political and moral values” promote extensive covering of women, it is evident that the UAE is undergoing a revolution of its values. This transformation is being fuelled by the UAE’s eagerness to stand tall on the international stage, including its current bid to host a forthcoming Olympics.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Beach volley ball in Beijing.

Related Articles:
Saudi Arabia and the 2008 Olympics, American Bedu, 9 August 2008.
Islamic Dress and the Olympics, Crossroads Arabia, 11 August 2008.
Veiled Athletes Challenge stereotypes in Beijing, New York Times, 11 August 2008.
The Bikini Olympics, Caledoniyya, 13 August 2008.

Taxis in Dubai Fujairah and Other Emirates

Taking a Taxi in and from Fujairah
Anna Whitehouse from TimeOut Dubai has written a damning article about taxis in Dubai.

The taxi service is an area for vast improvement if Dubai is to bid to host the Olympic Games.

The article includes several stories of hailing a cab and then this distillation of how to speed up your journey:

While the RTA widens roads, builds bridges and generally tackles the ‘traffic issue’, here’s a few things you can do to speed up the hailing process:

1. If you need a cab in rush hour (8am-10am or 5pm-7pm) book an hour in advance. Taxis won’t come immediately at these times.

2. If it’s an urgent journey to the airport or a business meeting, book the night before.

3. If you’ve booked a cab and then pick one off the street, cancel the booking so that someone else can have your cab directed to them. If everyone does this, the whole system will speed up.

4. Make sure you’re registered with the RTA so they know exactly who you are and where you’re based. Confusing directions add to the time lag.

Fujairah Taxis
In Fujairah there has been a vast transformation in the last year but this has come with some cost to passengers. Formerly (in the white taxi era) the taxis were generally small, old, dirty, smelly and few had seat belts. Most drivers had seat belts but did not use them! The good thing was that it only cost Dh5 to get anywhere across the city and rates could be negotiated for having one’s regular driver or travelling further afield. Drivers would generally exceed speed limits on trips out of the city, getting up to dangerous speeds of 160kms+. Speed cameras are now curbing this problem.

Now, a new company (Fujairah Transport corporation) has dumped the white fleet and commissioned a yellowy-lime fleet of larger Nissans, with bigger boots (trunks) and safety belts all around. Drivers are now wearing smart uniforms with ties. These cars come with meters, which is more expensive but fairer to both passengers and the drivers. With a small population (130,000+) Fujairah taxis appear to have a quick response time and, because of the number of taxis cruising around looking for a job, it is still possible to walk out on any main street and hail a taxi within 10-15 minutes. The experience of others might be different here! Why do taxis never seem to drive pass without passengers when you need them?

The non-existent train service between Fujairah and other main centres and the patchy bus service means that many without their own car and those who detest driving in Dubai (there are many) will pay for a taxi (about Dh230-250 to Dubai International airport) or negotiate a price in a shared taxi from the taxi stand next to the Hindi Movie House on Fujairah’s main street. The latter option is often a squeeze but cheaper. There are some transport companies (e.g. Safari) that also offer an inter-city service at a fixed rate.

Taxis in Other Emirates?
It would be interesting to hear about the taxi experience (including tips) of others who live in Fujairah and the other emirates.

Check out the full article at:
Anna Whitehouse, ‘Driving us Mad’, TimeOut Dubai, 11 August 2008.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: One of the new canary yellow Fujairah taxis.

Related Articles:
Geoff Pound, 'Faith and Work Colliding in a Taxi,' ETE, 27 March 2007.
Binsal Abdul Kader, ‘Finding Taxi ‘is a nightmare on Abu Dhabi Streets’, Gulf News, 10 April 2008.
Fuad Ali, 'Fujairah to get New Taxi Fleet', Gulf News, 27 April 2007.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Will Emiratis Jump the Queue in Quest for Hosting Olympics?

One of the things the Chinese have been eradicating in their preparation for the Beijing Olympics has been the tradition of queue jumping.

Chinese authorities initiated a Queuing Day on the 11th of every month where they got everyone into line with slogans and the reward of roses. It will be interesting to see if this tradition continues after the Games or whether they will get back to pushing and shoving.

The Emirates also has a reputation for queue jumping although modern supermarkets are making this ancient practice more difficult to negotiate.

In the UAE quest to bid to host a future Olympic Games will the Emirati leaders instigate a sheikh-up to put an end to queuing jumping in the country? Or will this be one of the many cultural differences to which Olympic athletes and tourists will have to get used to?

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Minding Ps and Qs.

Related articles:
UAE on Queue, Experiencing the Emirates (ETE).
UAE Must Improve Environmental record to Win Olympic Games, ETE.
Hatta UAE the Ideal Place to Stage the Olympic Marathon, ETE.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hatta UAE the Ideal Place to Stage the Olympic Marathon

Alice Johnson from Gulf News has taken some fabulous photos (see sample attached) of mountain climbing at Hatta.

Visiting Hatta is one of the delights of living in the UAE and if this country gets to host a forthcoming Olympic Games (see article below), this would be a good place through which the marathon might be run (but not in mid-summer).

Thanks to Alice for this photo. Check out her other 15 photos on the Gulf News Gallery that is posted at this link:

Hatta Mountains: Journey to the Top of the World, Gulf News, 10 August 2008.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Mountain climbing.

Related Article:
UAE must Improve Environmental Record to Win Olympic Games, Experiencing the Emirates, 11 August 2008.

UAE Must Improve Environmental Record to Win Olympic Games

It is a new experience watching the television coverage of the Olympic Games from the UAE and so far it has been a positive one. The Dubai Sports channels and the Abu Dhabi Sports channel have been telecasting the Beijing Games with some of the commentary in English (with Australasian accents), some in Arabic and the rest a mixture of the two.

When watching the Los Angeles (1984) Games coverage from the USA it seemed that there were no other countries competing. Patriotism and razzle-dazzle was similarly served when viewing various Games (1992, 1996 and 2000) from Australia. Coverage was overwhelmingly focused on the events in which the Aussies were strong and where the precious metals were likely to be won.

The coverage of the Beijing Games has a bias towards the events that UAE spectators are likely to enjoy but to a much lesser degree. This young country has a short Olympic history with only one gold medal in the display cabinet (won by Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Hasher Al Maktoum at the 2004 Athens Olympics).

The Emirates has sent eight athletes to China so only a few events must be covered. As these athletes will compete in shooting, taekwondo, equestrian, judo, sailing, swimming and athletics, the local broadcasters are likely to ensure that there is ample coverage of lesser-known sports.

Some have wondered about the extent to which Islamic dress codes preclude the participation of female athletes, especially in sports where competitors traditionally wear skimpy, closely fitting attire. UAE athletes that have appeared on television for interviews have been decked out in western-styled clothing and female head coverings have been non-existent.

Going for Gold
Taekwondo competitor, Shaikha Maitha Bint Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who carried the UAE flag during the opening ceremony, was interviewed on Saturday and the words on her shirt expressed her winning intention—‘GOING FOR GOLD’. But what sort of gold do these competitors have in their sights? UAE leaders have promised Dh1 million for any UAE athlete bringing home a gold medal, Dh750,000 for silver and Dh500,000 for bronze.

Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Hasher Al Maktoum, who has been tipped as the country’s most promising medal prospect in Beijing, has been critical of UAE government and sporting leaders for their over investment in the country’s football future to the detriment of encouraging an interest and expertise in other sports.

UAE Staging Future Olympics?
In April of this year rumours were confirmed that Dubai is drawing up plans to bid for the Olympic Games. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE, revealed his intention that he was developing an Olympic bid. He declined to give further details and did not name a target year to host the games.

Dubai Sport City, which is currently being constructed, would provide a potential venue for the games. The custom-built complex, which will be one of the largest sports complexes in the world, will feature a 25,000-seater cricket stadium, a 60,000-seater outdoor arena that could hold track and field events, and a 10,000-seater multi-purpose indoor arena.

Proving to the Olympic Committee that this oil-rich nation can erect sensational sporting facilities within agreed timetables will not be a problem. However, the Chinese Games experience with the chequered course of its torch relay has highlighted how much work has got to be achieved by a bidding country in the realm of human rights. The UAE has been making big strides in this area but there are significant steps still to be taken, especially in the country’s treatment of migrant workers, the granting of full religious freedom, the progress towards press freedom, the relaxation of censorship laws (including the unblocking of Internet sites that appeal for human rights) and the removal of laws that discriminate against Israelis and homosexuals.

When in 1993 Sydney lodged its winning bid to host the 2000 Games, it included a crucial document that contained 100 environmental commitments. Sydney vowed to develop a waste management system that was efficient and environmentally friendly. In particular the environmental policy was based on principles that stated that everyone is to be 100 percent responsible for the environment and waste is a secondary resource that can be reprocessed.

The dozen oil slicks already this year on the UAE’s east coast has become an environmental catastrophe that UAE leaders must address with urgency.

If the UAE is astute in its Olympic bid, it will learn from Sydney, shuffle off its reputation as the nation with the biggest ecological footprint and make giant strides to achieve gold in caring for the environment.

Dr Geoff Pound

Related Articles:
East Coast Oil Slicks Require National Solution, Experiencing the Emirates.
Oil Slicks AGAIN on UAE East Coast, Fujairah in Focus.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

East Coast Oil Slicks Require National Solution

An article just posted on sister site, Fujairah in Focus, is linked with this site because the report on yet another oil slick on the UAE’s east coast, indicates an environmental catastrophe that requires a united emirate solution.

The Fujairah in Focus article draws attention to the report posted (7 August) by Xpress News along with a graphic series of photographs that illustrate the damage to the UAE environment, commercial sector, hotel industry and tourism.

After more than twelve oil slicks on the UAE’s east coast already this year it is time to recognize the inadequacy of local laws, local surveillance systems and local policing that have resulted in no apprehensions of offending oil tanker captains. Oil has been dumped into waters that flow into the Sharjah and Fujairah emirates. Constructive responses from local municipalities have not been evident apart from a mantra expressing impotence because of the view that the oil has been dumped in international waters outside their domain.

Systems are unclear with murkiness surrounding the clean up responsibility of municipalities, federal authorities, hoteliers, diving companies and any other party upon whose patch the oil slicks ooze.

The lack of clarity about responsibility bluntens the urgency of the response and leads to uneven and inadequate clean up procedures.

The article, ‘Oil Slicks AGAIN on UAE East Coast’, is an urgent call for UAE federal action.

Follow the link from the Fujairah in Focus posting to the Xpress News article and photographs.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: One of the seven photos taken by Xpress News photographer, Karen Dias (posted here with credit and thanks). This photo highlights the way more than a dozen oil slicks are closing beaches, turning away tourists, costing loss of hotel and resort revenue and damaging the UAE’s superb marine environment.