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

Sunday, May 31, 2009

To Polish His Speech to Arabs and Muslims Obama Should Watch Al Jazeera

To get into the groove for his major speech this week in Egypt President Obama could do well by switching off the American news channels and turning on to Al Jazeera.

According to the most recent Arab Public Opinion Survey (April-May 2009), Al Jazeera is the international news service that Arabs watch most often and it has become even more popular in this last year. Unlike the Americo-centric news services in the USA, Al Jazeera has a wide international focus. Viewing America and the world through this popular Arab lens will assist Obama as much in tone as in text.

Watching Al Jazeera will also highlight some important points for which the Arab Public Opinion poll has provided statistical support.

Barack Obama has high ratings in the Arab world (44%) but a sizeable proportion of his Thursday audience will be neutral towards him (28%) or are somewhat to very negative (24%) in their attitude.

While the Middle Eastern audience is awaiting his speech with great interest, President Obama will not find the same buzz that he enjoyed on his earlier visit to Europe. The main reason for this is that more than three quarters of the Arab world have an unfavorable attitude towards the country of which Obama is President and their low confidence and cynicism has been shaped largely by the long record of US policy in the region.

The USA and Israel are seen as the biggest threats to the Arab world and while America touts itself as the beacon of freedom and democracy, only a small slice of Arabs (18%) believe this and they look to other countries in hope. Arabs also have a problem with the US occupation of the Arabian Peninsula.

Number One Issue
Of all the issues that play a role among Arabs in assessing the Obama administration policy in the region, the number one issue is Iraq (42%). Obama’s audience overwhelmingly (73%) feels that Iraq will be worse off after the war so for the Commander-in-Chief to restate his commitment to withdraw and to do this with urgency, will need to be a central thrust of his speech.

Arab-Israeli Conflict
The Arab-Israeli conflict is also paramount and hopefully Obama’s conversations with the key players in recent days will have furnished him with a clear, detailed plan and timetable of how the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will be reached. Obama has for a long time recommended a two-state solution, a position to which 60% of Arabs are committed, believing that if this solution collapses there will be an “intense conflict for years to come.”

Years of US involvement in the Middle East have shaped a perception by Arabs that protecting Israel at the expense of everyone else is one of the key drivers of American policy. Of Arabs polled, 39% believe that Israel decides on its own interests and then influences the USA to give it support, while another 25% view Israel as a tool of American foreign policy.

The memory of the recent war in Gaza (as reported only by Al Jazeera from within the city) is still raw, with 66% of Arabs believing that Israel was the biggest winner in this conflict. This week Obama will restate his commitment to protecting Israel but he will need to convey a new spirit of evenhandedness that no longer grants Israel special favors, that admonishes Israel when it is in breach of its agreement, and one which treats the Palestinians with consistency and fairness.

Obama cannot be overconfident about his promises, for 50% of his audience do not believe that a lasting peace will ever come about between Israel and the Palestinians while 40% believe that it is inevitable but it will take more time. How Obama will bolster their confidence is one of the many challenges of his Thursday speech.

Attitudes to Arab/Muslim World
Attitudes towards the Arab-Muslim world is the third most important issue for Arabs according to the recent survey yet, in the country by country breakdown, this was the number one issue for some Middle Eastern countries such as the United Arab Emirates.

Obama will need to clarify who he is addressing as some White House Press releases have suggested that “Egypt represents the heart of the Arab world,” while other announcements portray Obama as speaking to the Muslim world. If the latter is the main audience, some believe that Indonesia would have been a better location for this speech, as it is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, it has faced the challenge of Islamic extremism and it is a practicing democracy that the President could hold up as a model.

Some from the Arab and Muslim sector of the America population are miffed that President Obama has not addressed them first and got his own house in order before trotting off to Egypt to speak about US relations with Arabs and Muslims. His recognition that they are part of his global audience will be diplomatic and will help them to know that their concerns have been warmly received.

Thursday’s speech will be Obama’s greatest test yet, for so much will be hanging on his words, his manner and his concrete proposals.

Yes, tuning in to Al Jazeera might provide the best preparation for Thursday’s speech and for the critical work which is to follow.

Link: Arab Public Opinion Survey 2009, UM and Zogby Int.

Dr Geoff Pound
Geoff Pound can be contacted at geoffpound[@] or Facebook.

Image: “President Obama could do well by switching off the American news channels and turning on to Al Jazeera.”

Swine Flu Sermon Preached Throughout the Emirates

A distinctive of life in the United Arab Emirates is that in an Islamic nation there is no separation between mosque and state.

This was highlighted last Friday when the government authorities gave to imams a ‘unified sermon’ to preach at every mosque in the country on the subject of ‘Swine Flu’.

According to reports (30 May 2009) by Khaleej Times, here were the main points of the sermon:

The General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments (Awqaf) called people to cooperate with the UAE government to prevent the spread of swine flu (H1N1).

Specifically the practical demands of the sermon required hearers to:
* Report suspected cases immediately
* Don’t hide infected people but seek help
* Read Awqaf’s guidebook on preventing swine flu
* Spread awareness to others

Preaching Health
While on the subject of health the Swine Flu sermon called people to stop smoking and warned them against the harmful effects of this habit.

State Control
Mosques receive funding from the government and imams also receive their salary from the state. This means the state has enormous control over religious practices in the Emirates and thus, it is in a good position to rein in dissident religious teachers who are prone to pronounce fatwas on anything that they are unhappy about.

Ground-Breaking Sermon
This was probably the first occasion in which UAE mosque-goers have ever heard a sermon on swine flu.

It is a rare thing anywhere to hear a sermon that is down to earth and which addresses an issue of public importance.

Let’s hope the sermon is printed and made available for all UAE residents to hear, digest and go and do likewise.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Sermons, swine flu and smoking.

Dubai is Tops for Tower Running

With all its high towers Dubai will soon be able to lay claim to being the city in the world for vertical marathon running.

Friday Stats
Here are some of the statistics for a race ran last Friday, 29 May 2009, in the city of towers:
* Jumeirah Emirates Tower was the venue
* 265 metres course straight up.
* 185 competitors (record number).
* 1334 stairs.
* 52 floors.
* Dh136,374 raised for charity.
* 42C or 108F temperature.

And the Winner is
Mattias Jahn, 26, a professional stair-climber from Germany won the race in just under eight minutes and then exclaimed, “I am very keen to do the Burj Dubai next year. It’s 160 storeys which I could do in 25 minutes.”

Get Into Training
Running the Burj Dubai, the highest building in the world! Now, there’s a challenge for vertical runners or tower runners and a marketer’s dream. Mark it down in your 2010 diary.

Read the full report at:
Tim Brooks, Long Way to the Top, The National, 30 May 2009.

Man Jumps off Burj Dubai World’s Tallest Tower, ETE.
Anara Tower, ETE.
Leaning Tower of Abu Dhabi, ETE.
Dubai Tower, ETE.
Top Ten for Architectural excellence, ETE.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: The Jumeirah Emirates Tower and the Burj Dubai.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Most Popular Postings of the Week

Checking the most popular pages on my UAE blogs Experiencing the Emirates and Fujairah in Focus is a salutary experience which underscores that most people want information and answers to the questions they are asking.

Top Pages Often on Functional Topics
The top page this week on Fujairah in Focus (and for many weeks) was the article Directions from Dubai to Fujairah.

Also of a functional nature is the third most popular article on Experiencing the Emirates this week—this golden oldie: What to Wear in the UAE?

Most Popular on ETE
The most popular page on ETE this week was:
Portsmouth Gets Profile of New Football Club Owner Sulaiman Al Fahim.

This was followed in popularity by an old article whose title contains some key words that are frequently searched:
‘Sex on the Beach’ Case is Tarnishing UAE as Holiday Destination.

Most Popular on FIF
After the top post seeking directions were these popular articles on FIF:
Fujairah Forging Ahead Despite Recession.
Fujairah Pictures and Photos.
How Do We Get to Wadi Wurayah?

Got a Story?
If you have a UAE and or Fujairah story about a new product, a new venture, a new service, some new rates etc., do let me know or ask for my guidelines. I charge for writing and or running stories on these sites that promote business ventures or are about selling a new product or service.

Dr Geoff Pound

I can be contacted on email at geoffpound[@] and on Facebook.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Which Countries Pose the Biggest Threat to Arabs?

This question was expressed as ‘Name TWO countries that you think pose the biggest threat to you.'

The Answer
Overwhelming the answer in 2009 is Israel (88%) and the USA (77%) followed by Iran (13%).

In 2008 the answer was in the same order with Israel (95%), the USA (88%) and Iran (7%).

The Survey
The Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey 2009 which was conducted in April and May 2009, sampled the views of 4,087 people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

According to the Zogby polling organisation, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6%.

For more detail on this and other questions and answers in the survey:
Arab Public Opinion Survey, 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Which World Leader Do Arabs Admire the Most?

This question was expressed as ‘Which Two World Leaders (outside your own country) do you admire the most?

The Answer
Overwhelming the answer is Hugo Chavez.

36% of Arabs surveyed in 2009 answered in favor of Hugo Chavez.

In 2008 Chavez won only 8% of the vote with Hassan Nasrallah coming in as the most admired leader at 27%.

Other most admired leaders in 2009 included the following:
Bashar al Assad (18%)
Jacques Chirac (18%)
Osama bin Laden (16%)
Nicolas Sarkozy (14%)

The Survey
The Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey 2009 which was conducted in April and May 2009, sampled the views of 4,087 people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

According to the Zogby polling organisation, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6%.

For more detail on this and other questions and answers in the survey:
Arab Public Opinion Survey, 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Which International News Service Do Arabs Watch Most Often?

The Answer
Overwhelming the answer is Al Jazeera.

55% of Arabs surveyed in 2009 watched Al Jazeera most often, compared with 53% in 2008.

When Egyptian respondents were excluded from the sample, 39% of respondents said they watched Al Jazeera most often.

The Survey
The Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey 2009 which was conducted in April and May 2009, sampled the views of 4,087 people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

According to the Zogby polling organisation, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6%.

For more detail on this and other questions and answers in the survey:
Arab Public Opinion Survey, 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Portsmouth Gets Profile of New Football Club Owner Sulaiman Al Fahim

Today the people of Portsmouth and the fans were reading a copy of The News to learn about their new Football Club owner.

They discovered that Sulaiman Al Fahim is a huge personality, a billionaire to boot, part of the Arab super-rich elite, star of his own reality show, award winner, owner of a private jet, driver of the world's only Versace Lamborghini Murcielago that cost him £400,000 plus £1.6m for the number plate.

There’s much more to read about this charismatic Emirati at:

Matt Jackson, The News, 27 May 2009.

Is the UAE poised to Buy the Portsmouth FC? Yes!, ETE.
Abu Dhabi to Buy Manchester City Football Club, ETE.
Abu Dhabi Purchase of Foreign Football Club Impedes Emirati Identity, ETE.
Video about Manchester City Takeover by Abu Dhabi, ETE.

Dr Geoff Pound

Shop and Pray in the UAE Malls Rules Sheikh Mohammed

WAM reports (26 May 2009) that His Highness, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has issued an order that will require new shopping centres to have mosques and health clinics for the convenience of shoppers.

Mosque in the Mall Architecture
Until now, most shopping centres have had smallish prayer rooms, so this decree suggests something more comprehensive. It will be interesting to see the architecture of the mall mosques and how traditional features such as the minaret and the dome (symbols of mystery and transcendence) are modified to make them part of a shopping centre.

Shopping-The New Religion
The design commentator, Ahmad Humeid, has suggested that shopping is the new religion and shopping malls are its cathedrals. “When one enters the [Ibn Battuta] Persia Hall,” Humeid says, “one cannot but stand in awe, dwarfed by the magnificence of its ornate, tiled dome. And that’s just the beginning of the (religious?) experience.” (See more on shopping as the new religion in Shopping the Emirates)

Act of Convenience
Perhaps the cynics will see Sheikh Mohammed’s decision as a way of keeping the cash registers ringing while increasing numbers in the place of worship.

The Dubai Sheikh has enacted this law for the convenience of the people. Certainly the new-style facilities will have a mutual benefit of keeping everything under the one roof (not a bad idea when it is 45 degrees outside) so people can conveniently keep shopping, praying and seeking health services.

Powerful Symbolism
The separateness of the stand-alone style of mosque highlights its holy quality and the call to live a life that is separate, distinct and other.

The incorporation style with the mosque within the mall is likely to symbolize an equally important idea—the integration of faith with all aspects of life. This might help believers and all shoppers to reflect on the spirituality of all of life, including the connectedness of faith with such mundane and everyday things as saving, spending and doing business.

The New Dubai Mall and the Decline of the Mall in the Emirates, ETE.
Shopping the Emirates, ETE.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, inaugurated on 26 May 2009, at the Al Mizhar district, the Aswaq shopping mall, a first series of malls, which will be constructed within the next five years in different districts and quarters of Dubai. (Photo courtesy of WAM)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is the UAE Poised to Buy the Portsmouth Football Club? Yes!

The BBC Sport is predicting:
The Portsmouth Football Club is close to being taken over by United Arab Emirates businessman Sulaiman Al Fahim.

Al Fahim was the frontman for Abu Dhabi United Group when it took over Manchester City in September 2008.

Pompey, who finished 14th in the Premier League this season, have yet to make any comment on the proposed deal.

Gaydamak, who has been at the club since January 2006, stated late last year that he wanted to sell.

He revealed he had rejected two offers for the south coast outfit as he wanted to sell to a buyer who would be committed to funding a new stadium and training ground for the club.

According to, Gaydamak held talks with Al Fahim ahead of the Champions League final in Rome.

Source and to read entire article: BBC Football, 27 May 2009.

The Press Association

UPDATE from Portsmouth Press
Portsmouth Football Club have confirmed they have accepted an offer from UAE billionaire Sulaiman Al-Fahim to take over the club.

Executive chairman Peter Storrie held talks with the new owners on behalf of club owner Alexandre Gaydamak.

No figure has been disclosed but the deal is thought to be in the region of £60million. Peter Storrie concluded the deal with Dr Sulaiman Al-Fahim in Rome on Tuesday night. In a statement Pompey said: 'A period of formal legal and financial due diligence will commence next week so that the transaction can be completed as soon as possible. 'The club cannot make any further comment on the future structure of the club until this period has been completed.'

Portsmouth Bets Profile of New Football Club Owner Sulaiman al Fahim, ETE.

Dr Geoff Pound

See How Broadband in UAE Compares With Rest of the World

More than a billion people around the world are connected to the net, but speed of access ranges from dial-up to fibre optic connections.

BBC techno journalists have created a map to explore the state of the Broadband World across eight different countries.

Check out what they say about Broadband in the UAE and compare some of the different Broadband speeds from around the world.

If your Broadband service is fast enough, follow this link:
Broadband World, BBC News.

Dr Geoff Pound

Fujairah Greeting Cards and Pictures are Popular UAE Souvenirs

Simon Niblock has come up with a great idea for Fujairah and UAE souvenirs.

He is a teacher and counselor at the HCT Men’s College in Fujairah but his hobby is sketching.

Having developed a love of drawing in his childhood, Simon now spends the odd evening or day off producing a range of greeting cards and pictures that have a distinct Fujairah flavor.

The cards bear familiar scenes from Fujairah and the Emirates and they are the normal size of a card you would buy to say ‘Thank You’, ‘Loving Sympathy’ or ‘Get Well’.

The pictures are ideal for hanging on the wall at home or in the office.

Some Fujairah hotels, Colleges and businesses are snaffling these up and commissioning Simon to sketch their premises or their property so they can sell them or give them away to their guests and clients as gifts.

Here are the prices for Simon’s cards and pictures:

Box set of 10 blank greeting cards 60 AED
A4 size original commissioned sketches (including all rights to reproduce the artwork) 2500 AED
A4 size original commissioned sketches (no rights to reproduce these) 500 AED
A4 prints framed 150 AED
A4 prints unframed 75 AED
A3 enlarged prints framed 250 AED

To purchase some cards or commission a sketch you can contact Simon Niblock in these ways:
Phone: +971 50 4333173

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Simon and a sample of sketches. (Click to enlarge)

Ramadan Increasingly Captive to Commercialism

In a month, when believers are called to fast from food and drink to realize the things that truly nourish and satisfy, many Muslims testify to putting on weight during Ramadan.

Each year Ramadan is cause for an annual outpouring of generosity but the season is increasingly being hijacked by commercialism.

For many business people Ramadan is one of the greatest times each year when they can cash in and make huge sales. Ramadan very subtly appears to give a religious reason to spend up large.

Look at this recent announcement calling UAE business people to get ready to make their sales:

Ramadan Fair - A retail bonanza
The Ramadan Fair, a supporting event of the Ramadan Festival in Sharjah, is the one-stop shop for a comprehensive range of products needed to spruce up Eid Al Fitr festivities. This year the event will be held from August 28 to September 19 at Expo Centre Sharjah.

The fair offers an unparalleled opportunity to present products and services to the cream of the buyers from the entire region, and drive up sales and profits. It will focus on consumer items such as household products, furniture, electronics, food products, garments, footwear, gift items, jewellery and automobiles, among others.

Holy Month?
Can this season still be called the ‘holy’ month of Ramadan? How ‘different’ or ‘set apart’ in the real sense of these words, is this period from the normal time of the year?

In spite of commercialism and the powerful media pressure that surrounds most religious festivals, each person must decide how different such a period will be for them.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “It will focus on consumer items such as household products, furniture, electronics, food products, garments, footwear, gift items, jewellery and automobiles, among others.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sarkozy in UAE for Naval Gazing but Where’s Carla?

Thanks Barack
Only days after US President Obama agreed to a major nuclear power deal with the UAE, the French President is visiting Abu Dhabi to help launch his new naval base.

Salaam Nicolas
The UAE, in developing this military alliance with France, is indicating to the USA and to the world that it is not putting all its dates in the one basket.

Strategic Military Alliance
A French military presence in this part of the region is a way of garnering the support of a Middle Eastern partner as the world community struggles to relate to Iran over its nuclear arms buildup. One of the factors that threatened to torpedo the US civil nuclear power deal was the perception that the UAE was palling around with Iran.

Où Est Carla?
What a shame that Carla Bruni has not been able to join her husband on this visit to the Emirates. She may have had work commitments but was she dropped from the military delegation because she is getting to be something of a loose canon?

Only last week the outspoken First Lady launched a blistering attack on Pope Benedict, criticizing him for his old-fashioned stance on birth control and calling his church to ‘evolve’.

Only a couple of days ago Nicolas came under fire from the British press for posting on his Facebook page a ‘nauseating’ and ‘embarrassing’ video of him kissing Carla’s lips.

Nicolas will want to avoid further public relations disasters especially in the culturally sensitive country of the United Arab Emirates.

Cultural Alliance
French-Emirati relationships have been growing culturally through the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Louvre, the UAE-based Paris-Sorbonne University and the substantial gift from the Emirates for the restoration of the royal palace in Fontainebleau.

However, a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report concerning labor conditions on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island has implicated the French projects as being party to “severe exploitation” and failing to take adequate steps to prevent the abuse of laborers. The UAE government and other groups have soundly criticized the report but it will be interesting to see what the French President says on this matter when he lays a foundation stone for the Abu Dhabi Louvre on Saadiyat (‘Happiness’) Island. I wonder what Carla thinks about this issue?

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Pictures of Nicolas Sarkozy, Carla Bruni and a scene from that video.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Thousands Skip UAE Without Paying Debts While Honest Ones Pay Dearly

AMEInfo reports (25 May 2009) that some banks in the UAE are seeing up to 2,500 customers leave the country each month without paying off their credit card bills.

Most of those leaving without settling their credit card bills were linked to the construction sector in Dubai.

While the number of ‘skips’ has leveled off in the past two months, banks are bracing themselves for a new wave of ‘skips’—those who have lost their jobs or are deciding to call it quits but are waiting for their children to finish out the school year.

Honesty the Best Policy
Then there’s Rasheed’s story. He came to the UAE in 2007 and, thinking he was going to be here for a while, he bought a new Honda CRV (pictured). Unfortunately his father got ill necessitating the need for Rasheed to give up his job and return to Brazil.

When he recently returned to the UAE to sell his car, he found the Honda dealers would only give him Dh66,000 and he still had Dh109,000 to pay back on his car loan!

Rasheed encountered all sorts of argy-bargy from the car dealer and the bank. While he was away he had left his car to friends who unbeknown to Rasheed had clocked up over Dh3,000 in fines that Rasheed had to pay before transferring the registration. To cap it off the Honda dealer then asked Rasheed to pay the deregistration fee of Dh360!

It is worth reading his detailed saga at Rasheed’s World entitled, ‘Leaving the UAE is Expensive.’

Disengaging from the Emirates is almost as complicated as getting established and about as expensive. One starts to see why scores of people are leaving their unpaid car and cards at the airport as they exit, yet Rasheed’s consolation was the knowledge that he was leaving the UAE with a clear conscience and a clear record.

Getting Harder to Trust
On a related theme it is worth reading the recent post (10 May 2009) from ‘A Canadian in Abu Dhabi’ entitled, ‘It’s Getting Harder to Trust Living in a Place that Clearly Does Not Trust Me.’

Read this story (by another journo), about the huge deposits she was asked to put on the counter to buy a car and a Blackberry with international roaming.

Read how her flatmate was stung with a huge fee for disconnecting the phone.

Read all the other stories of woe that people are leaving in the Comments section.

Pick up a Free Audi, Porsche, BMW from the Dubai Airport, ETE, 11 February 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Staring in the Emirates

Staring at Emiratis
Expat men staring at Emirati women or maintaining eye contact is usually discouraged by employers as they give their Culture Lesson 101 to their newly arrived staff members.

This is the rationale behind the burka [burqa] that an Emirati woman is for her husband’s eyes alone, thus the veil sends this signal and makes it impossible to see much more than a woman’s eyes. [For more discussion on the burka]

Jeremy Williams in his culture Bible for the Gulf region, Don’t They Know it’s Friday?, suggests that staring at Arabs, especially when they are doing something quite different from your own culture, is improper.

The example Williams gives relates to Muslims when they are praying in public:

“It is best for non-Muslims not to show any special interest in those praying; staring is somewhat rude, although most Muslims will claim that praying is so utterly normal that there can be no possibility of embarrassment whatsoever.” While on this subject he says that “it is polite for non-Muslims not to place themselves directly between those praying and Makkah; Muslims face the direction of Makkak [Mecca] in order to pray.” (p110-111)

Staring at Expats
It is natural for cultural differences to evoke curiosity. Often people in western cultures will be told from childhood not to stare and that such a practice is rude. In some cultures staring is common and the practice is not viewed negatively.

Expat women are encouraged to dress modestly in the UAE (See articles below). When they dress skimpily they will inevitably draw prolonged attention.

Even if a woman’s dress is discrete she will often receives stares which is one of the realities of living in the UAE that women can find ‘disconcerting’.

The Effect of Scarcity
Mohsin Hamid wrote The Reluctant Fundamentalist about the Pakistani context but his thoughts may well relate to the UAE when he addresses the theme of staring:

“It is remarkable, I must say, how being in Pakistan heightens one’s sensitivity to the sight of a woman’s body…. That bearded man—who even now, sir, continues from time to time to attract your wary gaze—is unable to stop glancing over his shoulder at those girls, fifty yards away from him. Yet they are exposing only the flesh of the neck, the face, and the lower three-quarters of the arm! It is the effect of scarcity; one’s rules of propriety make one thirst for the improper. Moreover, once sensitized in this manner, one numbs only slowly, if at all; I had by the summer of my trip to Greece spent four years in America already—and had experienced all the intimacies college students commonly experience—but still I remained acutely aware of visible female skin.” (p26)

What to Wear in the United Arab Emirates, ETE.
What to Wear in the UAE, ETE.
Bodies, Bikinis and Breast Feeding in the UAE, ETE.
Etiquette in the Emirates, ETE.

Dr Geoff Pound

Friday, May 22, 2009

Obama Stands with UAE on Civil Nuclear Power Deal

President Barack Obama has supported a deal (20 May 2009) with the UAE in the face of considerable opposition from members of the US Congress.

Earlier in the month the arrangement had looked shaky. Torture allegations against a member of the United Arab Emirates’ ruling family threatened to torpedo the nuclear deal when a video of the torture was widely circulated to members of Congress and was resoundingly condemned by Democrats and Republicans.

Opposition Arguments in Brief:
* The UAE represents a proliferation risk e.g. Edward Markey, a Democratic Representative from Massachusetts said, "This is a country with a terrible track record on controlling sensitive goods."
* The human rights issue over the torture raised questions about whether the US should be entering into this deal with the UAE.

Affirmative Arguments in Brief:
* The deal was already agreed to in the final month (January 2009) of George W. Bush's administration.
* It diminishes the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
* It allows the US to enter into lucrative industrial deals in which US companies will be in the running for major construction work connected to the US$40 billion (Dh147bn) project. The Danny Sebright, president of the US Chamber of Congress's US-UAE business council said, "By moving this agreement forward, the president is creating the potential for thousands of new jobs for American workers."
* The deal would promote US defence and security.
* The deal would provide an important template for the region at a time when Iran's nuclear ambitions are a concern. It was noted that this would be the first nuclear plant in an Arab nation and that the UAE’s purpose in establishing a nuclear plant (due for completion in 2015) is to provide energy to overcome its electricity shortage. According to the official policy, the UAE will not develop fuel enrichment or reprocessing facilities – which can both be used for nuclear energy and weapons. The fuel for the nuclear reactors will be imported.

Obama takes on Congress with US Deal, FT, 21 May 2009.
Obama Approves Nuclear Energy Deal with UAE, The National, 21 May 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Nuclear power plant in Germany.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What to Wear in the United Arab Emirates

Most Googled Question
‘What do I wear in the United Arab Emirates?’ is one of the most Googled questions that brings searchers to this web site. (The link to this article is given later in this posting.)

Wear Your Own Clothes
Virginia Moncrieff, a Western journalist writing (13 May 2009) about going to work in India, kicked off her Huffington Post article in this way:

“Sometime during my first week of work as a journalist on exchange at the Times of India (Bombay office) I strolled into the newsroom wearing an approximation of Indian dress. A long kameez (tunic) over salwar (loose pants) and a tres chic dupatta (long and wide scarf) draped elegantly, or so I thought around my neck.”

“I am not sure what response I expected (a standing ovation perhaps? sighs of appreciation? warm thanks for making an effort?) but at lunchtime one (or maybe three) of the female journos who had taken me under their wing and made me part of their club told me quite simply that I looked ‘foolish.’ At that moment I felt like an idiot.”

“Yes said my friends, westerners who come to India and dress local look like try-hards. Leave the saris (the most elegant national costume in the world, no argument entered into) and the salwars, the churidors, and kurtas to the Indians. You've got your own clothes. Please wear them.”

Some readers of her article wondered whether Virginia had not worn the local dress correctly but most said that taking on the local garb seems patronizing.

Virginia Moncrieff’s advice holds good for the UAE. One does not commonly see expats or tourists to the Emirates wearing dishdashas (men) or abayas (women) except on 2 December—UAE National Day Al-Eid al-Watani—when the locals enjoy expats wearing traditional clothes.

How to Wear Your Clothes in the UAE
Interestingly, most of the scrutiny and advice about dress has been written in relation to women.

Jeremy Williams in Don’t They Know It’s Friday?, the definitive guide to culture and etiquette in the Gulf, makes these statements:

Inept Lack of Understanding
“The wearing of very skimpy clothing in public places is widely deprecated. Regional differences in attitude are also important and specific advice should be taken. For example, tight and short clothing in Saudi Arabia, worn by either sex, is unacceptable and can result in arrest (particularly for women), whereas in Oman and the UAE such clothing would be regarded by the nationals as merely an inept lack of understanding of local customs and sensibilities.” (p22)

In a list of cultural blunders entitled ‘Stupidity’, Williams states:

“Wearing revealing clothing (especially for women off-the-shoulder or short dresses, and for men shorts and cut-away vests) in public places such as markets.” (p23)

Williams enlarges:
“As tourism increases in certain parts of the Gulf, such as Dubai, short or inappropriate clothing is increasingly seen on Westerners. The Russians are probably in the lead in this respect although Britons and Germans, especially those on package tours, are not far behind.”

“'Inappropriate' in this context means the wrong clothing (such as tight T-shirts, bathing costumes, bikinis, short dresses, off-the-shoulder dresses with shoulders and arms fully revealed, and cut-away vests and shorts) worn in public places such as shopping areas and supermarkets.”

“Where tourism exists in the Gulf, holidaymakers should wear holiday clothing in holiday places, e.g. within the confines of hotel areas, pools or the beach, not in the souq (market) or other public places in full Muslim view.”

“Whilst there can perhaps, be some margin of forgiveness for transient visitors (such as tourists) who fail the dress code, Westerners who are resident in the Gulf cannot be excused for such behaviour since it indicates a consistently rude, even arrogant, disregard for local norms.” (p24-25)

Special Word for Managers
Don’t They Know It’s Friday? is primarily written for people wanting to do business in the Gulf and in this regard the author has a word for managers:

“Managers who visit their Gulf-resident staff should take heed if their staff are casual in their choice of clothing in public: if staff cannot respond even to this most simple of local sensitivities, what other more sophisticated aspects of local affairs are they failing to grasp on behalf of the company? Respect local traditions; do not place the host nation at risk of condemnation from neighbouring Gulf countries or influential Islamic individuals; understand that the Gulf is a small village in terms of its peoples' ability and wish to observe and maintain close contact with one another. If one part of the Gulf grants too much licence in Westernised behaviour it will quickly be known and commented on elsewhere in the Gulf (and in the wider Arab and Islamic worlds). Foreigners who dress scantily in public in the Gulf are therefore particularly tactless, and obviously so.” (p25-26)

Modesty During Ramadan
Regarding dress codes during the holy month of Ramadan Jeremy Williams warns:
“A Western woman should, as always in the Gulf, dress modestly i.e. she should not wear a short skirt or have bare arms. It is singularly insensitive to wear such clothing during Ramadan.” (p114)

Business Dress
Erring on the side of caution and conservatism Jeremy Williams has a word about dress and demeanour in a business situation in the Gulf:

“As a general rule a business visitor [men] should dress well, in a good suit and tie, be patient, be on time, expect to wait, and not be overly demonstrative in personality or mannerism. Businesswomen should dress accordingly but with slightly lower hemlines than in the West and with the shoulders and arms covered down to the wrist.” (p58)

Earlier Article
Further information about dressing in the United Arab Emirates can be found in my earlier article, What to Wear in the UAE.

Related Articles for Travellers and Newcomers
Bodies, Bikinis and Breast Feeding in the UAE, ETE.
Etiquette in the Emirates, ETE.
‘Sex on the Beach’ Case is Tarnishing UAE as Holiday Destination, ETE.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Different dress codes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Twitter Saves a Life in the UAE and Rania the Greatest Twitterer in the Region?

Real Time Mass Communication
When an Aussie mum gave birth last week by Caesarean section in a Dubai hospital her need for a transfusion not only pointed up the desperate shortage of rare blood stocks in the Emirates (her type O negative) but it also revealed the power of Twitter and other forms of social networking.

Phone calls in vain to other hospitals underscored the shortage but then the new father texted his neighbor with an SOS who forwarded the request. Thanks to the message being relayed to thousands of people via Twitter and Facebook, hundreds of people within hours had pledged a donation of blood. [The mother, father and baby were at the last report all well!]

While various forms of social networking are often criticized as time-wasting dispensers of trivia, the Dubai hospital story illustrates the value of communication that happens in real time to hundreds and thousands of people.

Queen Rania on Twitter and Facebook
Queen Rania of Jordan has only been on Facebook (profile page) for a matter of months but already she has more than 26,000 friends or fans.

Every Facebook user can determine their comfort level in terms of personal disclosure but Facebook offers a way for celebrities to communicate and to speak intimately.

Queen Rania enables her friends to get past the ‘Your Majesty’ exterior not only to learn that she enjoys jogging and reading but to discover that she makes a mean chocolate chip cookie.

Facebook is a means by which celebrities and politicians can offer a controlled audience and appear close and personal to their subjects. The number of comments she receives to her updates is evidence of the way her friends feel close to the Queen.

Queen Rania has for a long time effectively demonstrated how YouTube videos (she has her own channel) can be used to foster values of tolerance and acceptance among a global community but more recently, she, like Oprah, has become a user of Twitter (profile page). In only a matter of weeks she has almost 73,000 ‘followers’ who look for her every word.

Again the Queen is able to drop personal snippets that people love to hear such as how her son refused to wear a suit to meet the Pope or news that her husband, King Abdullah, is flying a helicopter. But Queen Rania is using Twitter to get her message across, to break down prejudice and to foster dialog between people of different cultures and religion.

In a recent interview Queen Rania spoke of using Twitter and Facebook to change the world:

“I want to tell people more about Jordan, about my life and work, but also to campaign for quality, global education…. It’s only when we have a critical mass of supporters behind this issue that we will put every child behind a school desk.”

“Twitter’s one way we can do that. It’s about using social media for social change: creating a community of advocates who can use their voices on behalf of the voiceless, or leverage their talents, skills, knowledge, and resources to put more children into classrooms, or pressure their elected representatives to get global education top of the agenda.”

To read the entire interview, follow this link:
Roi Carthy, An Interview with Queen Rania of Jordan on How Twitter Can Help Change the World, TechCrunch, 19 May 2009.

Does Queen Rania have the largest followings on Facebook and Twitter than anyone else in the Middle East?

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Queen Rania sending a tweet. (Photo courtesy of TechCrunch)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Good News for UAE to Host 11th World Renewable Energy Congress 2010

Congratulations Abu Dhabi
There are many good reasons why Abu Dhabi has been granted the privilege of hosting the 11th World Renewable Energy Congress (WREC) 25-30 September 2010.

Location is determined by the World Renewable Energy Council (WREC) according to the availability of local funding and sponsorship, the ease of travel to the location, the extent of host government and institutional support and perceived benefits to the local country.

With all local organisation and services needing to be provided by the host, the UAE can easily comply but there are some more important reasons why Abu Dhabi was selected and why this Congress will be good for the UAE.

Middle Eastern Venue
The Abu Dhabi meeting will be the first time in its 20 year history that the biennial Congress will be held in the Middle East (former locations include England, USA, Italy and Germany).

As with all good conferences this location will point up the distinctive challenges of sustainability and coping with global warming in one of the hottest and driest countries of the world.

Islamic Country
For the first time the World Renewable Energy Congress will be held in a country where Islam is the state religion. Although religiously the country is diverse the call to prayer five times a day is symbolic of the way Islam pervades all aspects of the nation’s life. It will be of interest to see at the Congress the ways that the UAE and other Muslim nations represented draw from their scriptures to give a foundation and rationale for their environmental programs. With sharia law, sharia finance, sharia investments and sharia hotels becoming popular, will there be a strong drive at the Congress for sharia sustainability and other environmental measures?

Richest Venue
This 11th Congress will take place in the richest city in the world. Participants will no doubt tour the emerging Masdar Development which is due to become by 2016 “the greenest city in the world.”

Congress delegates will observe the makings of an experimental city for 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses that is hoped to provide a model of an existence that is waste and carbon free, powered by solar energy and free from cars.

Seeing Masdar will give the 120 speakers and 650 participants from many countries of the world the opportunity to see the full extent of what can be done with $20 billion and some desert sands.

Oil Venue
Delegates sitting in the Abu Dhabi Congress near one of the world’s richest oil fields and with the September sun raising the temperature each day to 40-45C (104-113F) will have ample time to consider the UAE conundrum: The country has potentially some of the richest sources of solar power in the world and one of the richest supplies of oil for the next 120 years but to promote solar energy too quickly and too vigorously is to put at risk the income upon which the nation is being built.

Youngest Nation
Take another look and ponder the age of the nations that have hosted former Congresses and consider that the UAE is by far the youngest host. While the land and civilization is ancient the United Arab Emirates only became a nation in 1971, less than 40 years ago.

It would be valuable for delegates to venture away from the Emirates Palace and the capital city and tour the other six emirates. The challenges of sustainability and turning existing buildings into green buildings will soon become evident. Like many emerging nations the UAE over the last four decades has had far more pressing problems to deal with than complying with international environmental benchmarks.

Lifting the veil, one learns that despite its wealth the UAE has the unenviable reputation for having one of the largest ecological footprints in the world. While extracting rocks from the mountains for its skyscrapers the country is struggling to deal with air pollution caused by a hazardous cocktail of desert sand, quarry dust, industrial smoke and auto exhausts.

While catering to the insatiable growth for oil bunkering and exports at its ports, the UAE has not succeeded in preventing the regular dumping of oil slops by rogue tanker captains into the sea which vandalize the marine environment and create havoc for hoteliers and diving companies.

While recycling plants are frequently appearing, in many of the Emirates there is still no recycling service available to householders whereby they can sort and put out their waste knowing that it will be recycled.

Towards Sustainable Environment
The theme of the Abu Dhabi Congress is ‘Towards Sustainable Environment’ which is an apt description of the state of things environmental in the host country. At this stage the country cannot claim to be a world environmental leader but it is making great strides in the right direction.

UAE leaders like His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum are recognizing the enormity of the environmental challenge and responding through the implementation of law (especially in the building industry) and by general encouragement.

The UAE is giving significant amounts of money to international environmental agencies. In November 2008 the UAE joined with three other Gulf OPEC members (Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) to pledge a total of 750 million dollars to a new fund to tackle global warming through financing research for a clean environment.

A recently distributed independent report entitled Arab Environment Future Challenges was critical of the UAE for its high consumption of water and excessive misuse of fertilizers and pesticides but it was commendatory in marking the steps that the UAE has taken according to several environmental indicators.

Benefits to Local Country
The hosting of the Congress is good news for the UAE especially because of the “perceived benefits to the local country.” Leading up to September 2010 the staging of the Congress will give every motivation for the UAE to accelerate its environmental laws and education and do all it can to get its own house in order.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Masdar in the making.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama at ASU and Notre Dame Foreshadows His Remedy for Middle East Conflict

Commencements and Conflicts
President Obama has attended two Commencements in less than a week. Both occasions (Arizona State University and Notre Dame University) were charged with controversy and protest.

Without mentioning the Middle East conflict, his current discussions with the key players and his forthcoming speech from Egypt to the Arab world, Obama revealed some important attitudes that are crucial to solving conflict and offered insights that are pertinent for making international peace.

Be Magnanimous
When a storm brewed over the decision by the Arizona State University not to grant President Obama an honorary degree, because ‘his most significant work was in the future’, he defused the issue. In his Commencement Speech (13 May 2009) he not only called this a ‘storm in a tea cup’, but his agreement with the ASU statement became the major theme of his address. He said:

“In all seriousness, I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven't yet achieved enough in my life. I come to embrace it; to heartily concur; to affirm that one's title, even a title like President, says very little about how well one's life has been led - and that no matter how much you've done, or how successful you've been, there's always more to do, more to learn, more to achieve.”

“And I want to say to you today, graduates, that despite having achieved a remarkable milestone, one that you and your families are rightfully proud of, you too cannot rest on your laurels. Your body of work is yet to come….”

This big-hearted, bridge-building spirit is essential for people seeking peace across deep divides.

Be Fair-Minded
In his Commencement Speech at Notre Dame University (17 May 2009) President Obama tackled head-on the abortion controversy that surrounded his visit and told a story about the need for fair-mindedness:

“The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?”

“Nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion.”

“As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called The Audacity of Hope. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an email from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life, but that's not what was preventing him from voting for me.”

“What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website - an entry that said I would fight ‘right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose.’ The doctor said that he had assumed I was a reasonable person, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, ‘I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words.’”

“Fair-minded words.”

“After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him and thanked him. I didn't change my position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that - when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think, like what we do or believe what we do - that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.”

Find Common Ground
At Notre Dame Obama elaborated on the need to find common ground rather than point up the differences:

“I was not raised in a particularly religious household, but my mother instilled in me a sense of service and empathy that eventually led me to become a community organizer after I graduated college. A group of Catholic churches in Chicago helped fund an organization known as the Developing Communities Project, and we worked to lift up South Side neighborhoods that had been devastated when the local steel plant closed.”

“It was quite an eclectic crew. Catholic and Protestant churches. Jewish and African-American organizers. Working-class black and white and Hispanic residents. All of us with different experiences. All of us with different beliefs. But all of us learned to work side by side because all of us saw in these neighborhoods other human beings who needed our help - to find jobs and improve schools. We were bound together in the service of others.”

“And something else happened during the time I spent in those neighborhoods. Perhaps because the church folks I worked with were so welcoming and understanding; perhaps because they invited me to their services and sang with me from their hymnals; perhaps because I witnessed all of the good works their faith inspired them to perform, I found myself drawn - not just to work with the church, but to be in the church. It was through this service that I was brought to Christ.”

“At the time, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was the Archbishop of Chicago. For those of you too young to have known him, he was a kind and good and wise man. A saintly man. I can still remember him speaking at one of the first organizing meetings I attended on the South Side. He stood as both a lighthouse and a crossroads - unafraid to speak his mind on moral issues ranging from poverty, AIDS, and abortion to the death penalty and nuclear war. And yet, he was congenial and gentle in his persuasion, always trying to bring people together; always trying to find common ground. Just before he died, a reporter asked Cardinal Bernardin about this approach to his ministry. And he said, ‘You can't really get on with preaching the Gospel until you've touched minds and hearts.’”

“My heart and mind were touched by the words and deeds of the men and women I worked alongside with in Chicago. And I'd like to think that we touched the hearts and minds of the neighborhood families whose lives we helped change. For this, I believe, is our highest calling.”

Remember our Common Humanity
Toward the end of his Commencement Address at Notre Dame University President Obama acknowledged that peacemaking between people who are vastly different takes time and the space in which they can recognize their common aspirations and essential humanity:

“After all, I stand here today, as President and as an African-American, on the 55th anniversary of the day that the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Brown v. the Board of Education. Brown was of course the first major step in dismantling the "separate but equal" doctrine, but it would take a number of years and a nationwide movement to fully realize the dream of civil rights for all of God's children. There were freedom rides and lunch counters and Billy clubs, and there was also a Civil Rights Commission appointed by President Eisenhower. It was the twelve resolutions recommended by this commission that would ultimately become law in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

“There were six members of the commission. It included five whites and one African-American; Democrats and Republicans; two Southern governors, the dean of a Southern law school, a Midwestern university president, and your own Father Ted Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame. They worked for two years, and at times, President Eisenhower had to intervene personally since no hotel or restaurant in the South would serve the black and white members of the commission together. Finally, when they reached an impasse in Louisiana, Father Ted flew them all to Notre Dame's retreat in Land O'Lakes, Wisconsin, where they eventually overcame their differences and hammered out a final deal.”

“Years later, President Eisenhower asked Father Ted how on earth he was able to broker an agreement between men of such different backgrounds and beliefs. And Father Ted simply said that during their first dinner in Wisconsin, they discovered that they were all fishermen. And so he quickly readied a boat for a twilight trip out on the lake. They fished, and they talked, and they changed the course of history.”

“I will not pretend that the challenges we face will be easy, or that the answers will come quickly, or that all our differences and divisions will fade happily away. Life is not that simple. It never has been.”

“But as you leave here today, remember the lessons of Cardinal Bernardin, of Father Hesburgh, of movements for change both large and small. Remember that each of us, endowed with the dignity possessed by all children of God, has the grace to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we all seek the same love of family and the same fulfillment of a life well-lived. Remember that in the end, we are all fishermen.”

Links for the Commencement scripts:
Obama at ASU, Full Script, Huffington Post, 13 May 2009.

Obama at Notre Dame, Full Script, Huffington Post, 17 May 2009.

Why We in the UAE and Arab World Like President Obama, ETE, 14 May 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: President Obama at the ASU and Notre Dame Commencements. "Remember the lessons...of movements for change both large and small."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Expensive Number Plates Demand the Most Expensive Cars in the UAE

Spending record amounts on number plates only makes sense if you are putting them on cars with a record price tag.

Cars, the modern day camel in the Middle East, are treated with great love and respect by their owners.

Most Expensive
Take your pick from this list of the world’s most expensive cars production-cars that are available today in quantities of 20 or more.

In ascending order they are:

10. Maybach 62 Sedan: $390,000

9. Porsche Carrera GT: $420,000

8. Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren: $450,000

7. Koenigsegg CCX: $520,000

6. Saleen S7 Twin Turbo: $585,000

5. SSC Ultimate Aero: $620,000

4. Enzo Ferrari: $640,000

3. Lamborghini Reventon: $1,300,000

2. Bugatti Veyron: $1,400,000

1. Aston Martin One 77: $1,500,000

Got a favorite?

To see pictures and comments on each of these cars, follow this link:

Mike Payne, The 10 Most Expensive Cars in the World, Style Crave.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: The top ten-click to magnify.

Buying Expensive Number Plates Still Popular in UAE

Buying Number Plates
One of the pastimes of the rich in the United Arab Emirates is bidding and buying car number plates.

The auctions are held each month with a margin of the proceeds going to a good cause.

A total of Dh23 million ($6.25 million) was paid out this month for the 105 number plates offered at Dubai’s 62nd auction.

Top Prices This Month
The top price paid this month was Dh1.39 million ($378,600) for number plate ‘G60’ (the less and lower the digits the more expensive the plate).

The second price was Dh1.3 million ($354,000) for ‘G27’.

The third price was Dh1.25 million ($340,500) for ‘H90’.

The fourth price was Dh1.18 million ($321,400) for ‘G45’.

Record Price
Dh1.39 million is not quite as high as the Dh52.2 million ($14.2 million) which was paid in February 2008 for ‘1’ and entered into the Guinness book of World Records as “the most expensive number plate.”

Expensive Hobby
Despite talk of a financial recession the rich still seem to have pots of cash to spend on their number plate fetish.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Some of the most expensive car number plates in the world.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Why We in the UAE and Arab World like President Obama

We Like Obama
A recent (10 May 2009) Ipsos Poll told us that the people of the UAE and the Arab world like President Obama and that our appreciation for him outstrips that which is expressed by his people of the nation in which he was elected.

Why We Like Obama
He looks like us
. He is black like most people in the Arab world.

He understands us. He has African roots through his father. He is internationally travelled and is aware of our cultures and our part of the world.

He has humble beginnings and has experienced adversity. He does not owe his power and position to family connections or fortune.

He sounds like one of us. Barack comes from baraka meaning blessed in Arabic, a word that is chanted daily in the Koranic readings. Hussein is a Muslim name and Obama sounds like an Arab name much more than Bush, Clinton or Reagan.

He is a brother of the faith? Despite Barack Obama identifying as a Christian who is currently looking around Washington DC for a church where his family can worship, there is a widespread belief in the UAE and the rest of the Arab world that he is a Muslim. The logic is simple: In Arab culture and according to Islamic law, if Barack’s father is a Muslim, Barack is a Muslim and once a Muslim, always a Muslim.

He exudes optimism. Obama is creating optimism among people in the Arab world who for a long time have held negative attitudes toward the country of which he is President.

He is positive. Arabs think the new US President will have a positive effect on their country (the survey was conducted in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan).

He listens. The visit of Barack and Michelle Obama to Europe to visit the Queen of England and the leaders of the European nations was a high point in Obama’s first 100 days. The refreshingly new tone from the US President was summed up in his statement: “I’ve come to listen, not to lecture.” Middle Eastern countries are looking to more of this listening leader when Obama visits Egypt in June 2009.

He is magnanimous. His much documented decision to grant one of his major leadership positions to his rival, Hilary Clinton, is testimony to his big-heartedness. But ponder this smaller and more recent expression of this rare quality: When a storm brewed over the decision by the Arizona State University not to grant President Obama an honorary degree, because ‘his most significant work was in the future’, he defused the issue. In his Commencement Speech (13 May 2009) he not only called this a ‘storm in a tea cup’, but his agreement with the ASU statement became the major theme of his address. He said:

“In all seriousness, I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven't yet achieved enough in my life. I come to embrace it; to heartily concur; to affirm that one's title, even a title like President, says very little about how well one's life has been led - and that no matter how much you've done, or how successful you've been, there's always more to do, more to learn, more to achieve.”

“And I want to say to you today, graduates, that despite having achieved a remarkable milestone, one that you and your families are rightfully proud of, you too cannot rest on your laurels. Your body of work is yet to come….”

Arabs will be hoping that Obama’s bridge-building spirit will flow across their world, especially in the Israeli/Palestinian divide.

He is a worker for peace. Arab and Muslim nations are heartened by Obama’s decisions to withdraw from Iraq, to close Guantanamo Bay and to put an end to harsh interrogation methods and torture that have been deployed towards detainees in the GB detention facility and some prisoners in Iraq. These are all important decisions that make for peace.

Oscar Romero, the San Salvadorian leader who lifted the veil on human rights abuses, recognized peace as a much richer and deeper work than winning a war, when he made this statement (I have substituted the Arabic word for ‘peace’ سلام to make Romero’s statement speak more directly into our scene here in the Emirates and the Arab world):

Salaam is not the product of terror or fear.
Salaam is not the silence of cemeteries.
Salaam is not the silent result of violent repression.
Salaam is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.
Salaam is dynamism.
Salaam is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.
In it each one has a place in this beautiful family…
Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love, E-Book, 8 January 1978, 42.

More on Barack Obama
Obama’s Commencement Address at ASU, SFS.
Story for the US President about Gatekeepers, SFS.
Barack Obama and the Empathetic Person, SFS.
Ben Okri on Obama the Speechmaker, SFS.
Obama Tells Story of Anne Nixon Cooper, SFS.
Obama’s Speech on Election Night, SFS.
Obama’s Tribute to His Grandmother, SFS.
Obama on the Cost and Struggle of Change, SFS.
Obama’s Tribute to His Grandmother (from book), SFS.
Obama Expresses Debt to Mother and His Humble Beginnings, SFS.
Al Gore on Obama’s Youthfulness, SFS.

Obama Books
Reviewing The Audacity of Hope, RBM.
Reviewing Dreams of My Father, RBM.

Leave a Comment if you wish to state other reasons for Arab affection towards President Obama or if you have differing views.

Dr Geoff Pound
Contact by email at geoffpound[@] or on Facebook

Image: President Barack Obama.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

An ABC of the UAE or the Top Things to Do in the Emirates

The Question
If you have lived in the UAE for a few months or more you’ll have been asked this question many times.

The question came in a letter this morning from a couple soon to tour the UAE:

“What are the best things to see and do in the United Arab Emirates?”

The Response
Everyone has their own way of answering this question.

What would you put on your list?

Top Things to Do in UAE According to:
Gulf News- The UAE from A to Z
Timeout Dubai – Fantastic 50 Things
World Travel Guide
Virtual Tourist
Professional Travel Guide-Dubai
10 Best-Dubai
UAE Embassy
Trip Advisor
Real Travel
World Reviewer
Destination 360

Got another list to add?

Dr Geoff Pound

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

UAE Holds World Record in Use of Pesticides and Fertilizers

Another world record for the UAE but this achievement may pose serious health risks to consumers in the Emirates. So says a recently released 2008 Report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development entitled, Arab Environment Future Challenges.

Here is the relevant statement (p15) from the Executive Summary of the report:

Highest Use of Pesticides and Fertilizers in the World
“Pesticides and fertilizers are widely used in the Arab region, and in many cases, misused.”

“The use of NPK fertilizers in Arab countries quadrupled between 1970 and 2002, with the UAE and Egypt (more than 900 kg fertilisers per hectare)… using some of the highest quantities of fertilizers per hectare in the world.”

Serious Health Issue
“The heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers brings about concerns regarding food safety as a public health issue.”

Lack of Regulation, Analysis, Awareness
“What is lacking in most of the Arab region is regulation and control over the sale, handling, and use of pesticides. In addition, accredited pesticide residue analysis laboratories are not available in most Arab countries. As such, new legislation and institutional commitments are necessary in this regard. These issues need to be tackled at the regional level. Many countries in the region have the resources and capacities for a better performance; what is missing is clear awareness of the subject.”

Demand Dwindling
“With several parts of the world moving towards organic farming, the demand for chemical fertilizers is expected to dwindle. This will pose a serious challenge to the big producers of fertilizers in the Arab petro-chemical industries, who will have to be ready for diversification into new products.”

This independent report makes some serious claims that require an urgent response by government regulators and local growers. It is interesting to see that a major concern about the dwindling of the use of chemical fertilizers due to the move towards organic farming relates to how the chemical industry might be ready to diversify.

The greatest concern in this report is the overuse and misuse of fertilizers and pesticides and the health risk to those who eat the produce farmed in the UAE.

Going Organic
If ever there is a stimulus to organic farming in the UAE it is contained in this report. If consumers demand organic fruit and vegetables it might be one way of protesting against the misuse of chemicals and be a boost to organic farming and gardening in the Emirates.

ed. Mostafa K Tolba and Najib W Saab, Arab Environment Future Challenges, AFED, 2008.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Cover of the AFED Report.