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

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Why Bloggers in Iran and the Middle East Are Valuable

While TV reports are given quite a different version of President Ahmadinejar’s speeches to North America audiences last week, Iranian bloggers are giving a different story, says an important New York Times article today.

Here is a sample from one Iranian blogger:

“Most Western news agencies like CNN and Fox News, which are branded by the regime as the agents of a Western cultural war, broadcast the speech of President Ahmadinejad live. It is interesting that none of the channels inside our country did that. What does this mean? Does it mean we don’t trust ourselves? Does it mean that we worry we might let something slip? Does it mean that we fear that our president might let something slip?”

“It means that knowing is not a right our people have! It means that other countries abide by democracy more than we do. It means that even we don’t believe ourselves, even that we fear ourselves. We fear that we might say something by mistake and that our lies would be revealed to the people. Really, why are the state officials against open access to information? Why don’t the people even have the right to hear the speech of their elected president? Why can’t they hear his reasoning for issues like nuclear power, democracy in Iran, and so on?”

“What is interesting is that we claim the Americans want to prevent our voice from being heard, so why do we censor ourselves?”

To read the entire article, that has important implications for bloggers in the Middle East, see:

Op-Ed Contributors, ‘Blogging Ahmadinejar in Tehran’, New York Times, 30 September 2007.

Image: Blog posting.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Fujairah: Site of one of the World’s ‘Floating Gas Stations’

Fujairah was this week termed the site of one of the world’s biggest ‘floating service stations’.

A CNN article was reporting on the diminishing number of vessels moving oil around the world. Following the 1989 tragic spillage of the Exxon Valdez, single-hulled tankers have been phased out and replaced with the very expensive double-hulled ships.

The drop in the number of ships has heightened the importance of the Aegean Marine Petroleum Network which incorporates not only ships but the strategically placed ‘floating gas stations’ of Fujairah, Greece, Gibraltar, Jamaica and Singapore.

The full report can be accessed at:
‘Floating Service Stations Are Pumped About Their Double-Hull Ships’, CNN, 27 September 2007

Image: One of the new double-hulled oil tankers.

Friday, September 28, 2007

What’s Up Doc? In Abu Dhabi?

In July 2006 it was announced that Abu Dhabi was establishing a franchise of the Guggenheim Museum, to be one element of a $27 billion financial district.

In January 2007 another part was revealed with the UAE capital paying between $800 million to $1 billion to open a branch of France’s Louvre.

Now, in September 2007, the Dhabi developers have disclosed another instalment of the dream, declaring that they are joining hands with Warner Bros. to build a theme park, film studio, hotel and cinema complex.

To a region that has traditionally been cautious towards Western influences, it is staggering to see the Abu Dhabi city planners moving stridently towards the Americanization of the Arabian Peninsula.

The international partners will be thrilled to do business with the cash flush capital of the Emirates but what do these developments say about Emirati culture? Is this the best that the UAE can do, to build replicas, to import foreign packages? Where is the imagination and creativity when millions of dollars are being spent on showcasing the American icons such as Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner and Scooby-Doo?

These developments seem largely to do with dollars and euros and little to do with promoting Arabic culture, indigenous entertainment and the historic treasures of this ancient peninsula.

Geoff Pound

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Salaam Jose Mourinho! UAE Kicks another World Record

The highest tower, the richest horse race, the largest shopping mall and now, possibly the biggest coach’s salary, in a bid to have the best football team in the world.

The recently resigned coach of the Chelsea Football Team, Jose Mourinho, is being courted by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, with the hope that Mourinho might coach the UAE football team heading into the next World Cup campaign.

The salary being offered to Mourinho is an amazing £10 million a year which is significantly higher than the £5.5 million pay packet given by Chelsea.

The UAE football team does not yet have an impressive World Cup record and it may take years before the Sheikh realizes his dream of bringing the prized World Cup silverware to the Emirates. It may not guarantee Mourinho quick success but the job would give him the challenge of his life. In a recent interview Mourinho said that he would like to move to another country and learn a new language. Maybe then, Arabic is the new lingo for Jose.

It will be interesting to see how the Portuguese star responds to this and other bids and whether it will be money, success potential, language, quality of life or a rare combination of these that will be the confirming factors.

Geoff Pound

Image: Jose Mourinho

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Al Ain: Dates, Camels, History, Fountains, Flowers…

To many people outside of the UAE, this country appears to be dominated by Dubai images of tall towers.

That’s why it is heartening to read about the beautiful city of al-Ain in an article posted on an Indian news service.

Link: ‘Dates,camels and sand: Al-Ain is the Epitome of an Oasis’, India eNews, 26 September 2007.

Image: Welcome to Al-Ain

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fujairah Restaurant: Where Cricket is Served with the Curry!

Went to a Pakistani restaurant last night—Al Zaman—which is across the road from the Women’s and Children’s Park in Fujairah.

Was welcomed warmly and taken to the portable addition in front of the restaurant which was clean and the air con was blowing vigorously.

The main restaurant was crowded with Pakistanis watching a television and cheering on their side against India in the final of the Cricket 20:20 World Cup. This annex has the regular partitioned rooms, which are common in the Emirates, for families who wish to dine behind the veil.

There was no menu or did they have them there in Urdu?

It was in the style of ‘we will give you the food we think you will like’—touches of those modern French restaurants where they first sit you down, ask you about your life, your interests, passions, your current mood and then they prepare a meal accordingly. Al Zaman was therefore modern and trendy.

Out the food came with amazing speed and little fuss.

For starters there was a big plate of pakora and this came with a dip which we soon discovered was tomato sauce. Is this a Pakistani, epicurean custom or the regular fare for ex-pats?

The main course came with a giant piece of hot bread each that had been cooked in the Tandoori oven.

There was a huge mound of light, feathery and nutritious mixed rice.

A plate of curried chicken served in a hot container.

A plate of mutton kadai.

A good-sized plate of fresh salad.

A bottle of iced pani—water.

It was delicious, spicy, ample (we couldn’t eat it all) and the ambience superb—they kept on coming in at regular intervals to give us the cricket score!

And the bill?

21 dirhams for two people.

10.5 dirhams each or at today’s currency:
US $2.80
AUS $3.31
NZ $3.89
UK £1.42

Makes you wonder why we ever bother to fire the oven up at home and cook, especially when there’s no one to give us cricket updates while we dine.

Geoff Pound

Image: As the food was coming.

Youth Unhappy in the UAE Neighborhood

Some Saudi young people are unhappy according to a recent Washington Post article.

They are:

* bored in the conservative kingdom
* wanting to dress the way they want to
* annoyed with shop closures during the prayer times (five times a day)
* concerned about the law that prohibits unrelated men and women from meeting in public
* opposed to the ban on cinemas and theaters
* seeking the prohibition on woman driving cars to be lifted
* feeling discriminated against when single young men cannot enter shopping malls unless accompanied by family members

The article does not state what proportion of the Saudi young people are concerned about these matters.

With Saudi Arabia having one of the world’s youngest populations, in which more than 50% of its 22 million population are younger than twenty-one, if there is widespread unhappiness with these restrictions, the next few decades should see some significant social changes.

This entire article can be read at:
Faiza Saleh Ambah, ‘Frustrations Drive Saudi Youth to the Graffiti Wall’, September 23, 2007 Washington Post.

Image: Map of Saudi Arabia.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fujairah In and Out of the News

One of the challenges of living in remote parts of the country, away from the centre of power, is that there is little news reported and often what gets publicized is the bizarre. This contributes to the ‘Can anything good come out of _________ [fill in the gap]’ attitude.

The news to have come out of Al Fujairah this week does not amount to a lot in terms of volume or variety.

These are some of the main stories:

‘Bunker Oil Prices Hit New High,’ Bunkerworld 21 September 2007.
(This article is only for subscribers but it concerns the ongoing saga of rising oil prices and the low stocks in Fujairah, one of the major bunkering ports in the Middle East).

‘Praying at the Mosque Top Priority During Ramadan,’ Gulf News, 22 September 2007
Not a Fujairah-specific story but the Gulf News staff got out into the streets (even the streets of Fujairah) to ask people what they thought of the experience of Ramadan. It was a pity that no comments from Fujairah residents were quoted. In an online poll in which people were asked to nominate their favorite Ramadan pastime, praying at the mosque scored the highest.

‘Reckless Youth Blamed for Rising Accidents,’ Khaleej Times, 22 September 2007.
This article highlights the road rage and reckless driving by young people in accounting for the high number of accidents on Fujairah roads.

Geoff Pound

Image: Scenes of Fujairah

Eye Witness Report on Dubai

“While Dubai reaches for a glittering, globalised future, its cheap foreign workers live in squalid labour camps and work behind barbed wire.”

You can read more of this article, that appears in today’s edition of Scotland’s Sunday Herald, at this link:

Nick Meo, ‘Suffering Beneath the Skyscrapers’, Sunday Herald, 23 September, 2007.

Image: Dubai skyscrapers.

P.S. You can add your comments to the online article if you agree or disagree with the writer.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Religion in the United Arab Emirates

The recently published ‘International Religious Freedom Report (2007)’ has been welcomed by UAE commentators (See Gulf News) and referred to as a source of praise for the country’s record in religious freedom.

This report is issued each year and it documents the changes in countries in relation to their government’s repression of religious expression, the persecution of innocent believers, the toleration of violence towards religious minorities as recording the positive moves of respect, protection and the promotion of religious freedom. The 2007 report recognizes that in this last year there have been no significant changes or cases of religious discrimination in the UAE.

The report is valuable in the way it offers a window on the various religious groups that make up religion in the UAE.

Some general observations about religious groups in the UAE include the following:
* The government controls virtually all Sunni mosques.
* The government funds or subsidizes almost 95% of Sunni mosques (5% are private) and employs all Sunni imams.
* The Shi’a minority (concentrated in the northern emirates) is free to worship and maintain its own mosques.
* The government restricts the freedom of assembly and association, thereby limiting the ability of religious groups without dedicated religious buildings to worship and conduct business.
* There are neither authority, licensing, nor registration requirements for the recognition and regulation of non-Muslim groups.
* The government follows a policy of tolerance toward non-Muslim religious groups and in practice, interfers very little in their religious activities.

Some restrictions to the generally free practice of religion in the UAE include the following:
* The government distributes religious guidance on religious sermons to mosques and clergy and it ensures that clergy do not deviate frequently or significantly from approved topics in their sermons.
* Hardships were cited regarding the Buddhist community which does not have its own temple.
* There were hardships mentioned in regard to the Hindu communities who had to share temples with Sikhs and there were insufficient cremation facilities and associated cemeteries.
* The government prohibits non-Muslims from distributing religious literature, under penalty of criminal prosecution, imprisonment and deportation.
* The government’s Internet service Provider blocks many web sites containing information about religions other than Islam.
* Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women ‘of the book’, that is, Christian or Jewish women, however Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men, unless the men convert to Islam.
* The UAE publicly lists and welcomes the people who are converting to Islam but it does not guarantee the same privilege and freedom to Emiratis to choose to become a member of another faith.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the UAE and no reports of forced religious conversion.

The report lists some specific cases of concern whilst also listing many advances and instances of tolerance and inter-faith cooperation.

Staff Report, ‘Religious Freedom in UAE Comes in for Praise’, Gulf News, 17 September 2007.
2007 Report of International Religious Freedom, US Department of State.

Geoff Pound

Image: Collage of religious buildings.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Burj Dubai: A Modern Tower of Babel

The declaration has been made. Dubai now has the tallest building in the world.

While not finished or open, the claims to fame are being made and the record books are being rewritten because the Burj Dubai:

* Is the tallest free-standing structure at 555.3 meters (don’t forget the 0.3!)
* Has the largest number of storeys for any building in the world

The developer is quoted as saying that reaching the 555 meters that surpasses the previous record holder, the Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan, is a “defining moment in making this iconic structure a symbol of human achievement.” Attaining the required elevation also led the developer to say, “This architectural and construction masterpiece is truly an inspirational human achievement that celebrates the ‘can do’ mindset of Dubai." This talk is starting to sound like the Tower of Babel all over again.

These statements are not necessarily the only conclusion to draw. In some cities (like Melbourne, Australia) where developers promoted plans to build the tallest building in the world, the public said, “No!” They were not expressing a ‘can’t do’ attitude but saying that our esteem as a city does not depend on whether we have a building that towers over every other. They were also concerned about architectural aesthetics with a building that would wreck the symmetry of the skyline as well as creating shading problems.

Beauty or the masterpiece award is in the eye of the beholder. Being the first city in the world for air purity (so you can breathe freely and see out of your tower), labour conditions and awards for construction workers, environmental standards, effective transport systems (including the high use of public transport), cultural and artistic treasures, parks, gardens and meeting places that create a real heart would get my vote for demonstrating the ‘can do’ ability of Dubai and be enduring achievements that are truly inspirational.

Geoff Pound

Source: Robert Ditcham, ‘At 150 Storeys Burj Dubai Towers above all other’, 13 September 2007, Gulf News.
Burj Dubai Official Web site.

Image: “Burj Dubai towers above all others.”

Monday, September 10, 2007

‘The Blessings of Ramadan’

This beautifully presented book by Javed Ali is written primarily for children and young people of the Islamic faith but it serves as a simple and clear resource book for anyone wanting to learn about Ramadan.

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

Image: Front cover of ‘The Blessings of Ramadan’.

UAE: “The Russian Emirates.”

Russia Today has posted an article about how Russians are feeling so much at home in the UAE that they have commenced the construction of the first Russian Orthodox Church on the Arabian Peninsula.

Writer, Svetlana Kurakina claims that:
* 500,000 Russian tourists visit the UAE every year
* 10,000 Russians have made the UAE their home
* Some are amazed at Dubai’s blue sky and bright sun [Wow, it must be dark and polluted in St Petersburg!]

Check out why Russians are attracted to Dubai like moths to the light.

Svetlana Kurakina, ‘Russians Feeling at Home in the UAE’, Russia Today, September 9, 2007.

Image: Dubai skyline.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Born in the UAE?

It is always interesting to hear people’s first impressions when they travel.

First time visitor to the UAE (or was it only Dubai?), Charlie Vincent, writes a very positive account of his sojourn in the Emirates.

The main feature of his essay is that he never met a single person on his visit who was born in the UAE. This for him makes the UAE unique.

There is no indication of how long the visit of Vincent was in the UAE. Further time might have led to the discovery of some home-grown Emiratis. The small indigenous population and their inaccessibility is a distinctive feature of this nation.

To read the whole article, here is the link: Charlie Vincent, Little country, big ideas, open arms, Detroit Free Press, September 9, 2007.

Image: One of the Dubai icons in a haze of smog this week.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Gardening the Emirates

You’ve got to be joking! Planting a garden when we’ve got in the UAE, searing heat that reaches 50 degrees Celsius, dehydrating winds, 90% humidity, a maximum of 4 inches of rain per year, which evaporates by the morning and you haven’t seen our soil—if you can call it that!

Author and gardener Eric Moore, has written a practical and informative book entitled Gardening in the Middle East, which has specific guidelines for gardening the Emirates. It is written as a Dummies Guide to Gardening but it has shovel loads of information and pictures you can use to select your plants and trees when you are at the nursery or plant shop.

A more extensive review of this book, which is yet another volume rooted in this region, can be found at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front Cover of Gardening in the Middle East.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Visiting the Emirates

The Gulf News posted on 1 September 2007 a Traveller Checklist for people thinking of visiting the UAE.

This article by Bassma Al Jandaly, can be viewed at ‘Making a Trip to sunny UAE’.

Geoff Pound

Image: Bound for Dubai.