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

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Saatchi and Saatchi says UAE Advertising “Absolute Cr**’

An interview with Kevin Roberts from Saatchi and Saatchi is posted on Arabian Business.Com.

Roberts is particularly scathing of advertising in the UAE saying it was stuck in the 1990s, is failing to embrace modern technology and is the result of fear.

To read the article: Diana Milner, ‘Saatchi and Saatchi CEO Slams UAE Advertising’, Arabian Business.Com, 24 April 2008.

Image: Kevin Roberts

UAE Nuclear Power 'Progress' A Backward Step

White Paper Fast-Tracked
The UAE government has recently announced its intention to produce nuclear power with assurances that it will meet international standards and conduct all processes with transparency. The distinctive feature of the policy is that the UAE would import the fuel from ‘friendly and responsible’ suppliers rather than enriching uranium locally, in order to be unambiguous about its peaceful intentions.

Already the Evaluation Paper has been endorsed by US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and the UAE government seems to be fast-tracking its journey on the nuclear road, perhaps to attain another first for the Gulf region and provide a template for other Arab nations to follow.

Public Forum
The debates in Ireland, New Zealand and Poland led to the decision not to proceed down the nuclear path and referendums in Austria, Sweden and Italy had a similar effect. Where does the public forum on nuclear power take place in the UAE, being a country where there is an implicit trust in the avuncular benevolence of sheikdom? In this spirit of transparency, questions need to be raised and answered before leaping onto the nuclear bandwagon.

Safety Questions
Questions must be asked about safety. The spectre of nuclear power accidents still looms large from a long list of accidents including Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. The thousands of deaths and injuries highlight the tragedies that have happened as a result of system failure and human error.

In the week that the UAE Cabinet tabled the nuclear programme, two major accidents occurred. The first took place at an army base near the Albanian capital of Tirana where six explosions of massive proportions killed or injured more than 200 people. It appeared that human error was to blame for the blasts, despite the dismantling of the bombs and missiles being done under the supervision of NATO experts. Later in the week a massive blast at a fireworks warehouse in Dubai killed two people and sparked a blaze that put at risk hundreds of businesses and factories in the highly concentrated industrial area of Al-Quoz. A warehouse manager said the explosion looked like a nuclear mushroom, providing a salutary reminder that accidents do happen.

The promise of safety depends largely upon the people who operate the plants but absolute security cannot be guaranteed. What measures will there be to prevent harmful radioactive material from being discharged into the land, sea and atmosphere? How close will the power plants be to cities and what are the health risks for people living near the nuclear power plants? What plans does the UAE have for the storage and transportation of the radioactive waste from the nuclear installations?

A further safety issue is the possibility of nuclear fuel being sabotaged during transportation and power plants being targeted by terrorists. Safeguards might be implemented in the design and location of its plants but the accuracy of modern weapons leaves nuclear plants extremely vulnerable to attack.

Non-Proliferation Questions
The UAE policy paper restates the nation’s commitment to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, once a country develops nuclear power plants, it is difficult to argue that other nations should not possess nuclear technology for the dual purpose of power and weaponry. The trend towards acquiring nuclear energy leads to proliferation, including countries that will neither sign treaties nor commit to transparency. The recent warning by Hillary Clinton, who told Tehran that if she were to become the President, the United States could ‘totally obliterate’ Iran in retaliation for a nuclear strike against Israel, points up the way that nuclear power can be used to threaten and cause devastating harm.

Economic Questions
The main argument given for the nuclear road is economic—that nuclear power will be necessary to meet the extensive electricity demands in 2020 that are being created by the unprecedented economic growth of the nation. However, the recent independent study, ‘The Economics of Nuclear Power’, signals some warnings: The construction costs of nuclear power plants are consistently higher than forecast, this industry involves high capital costs and poor performance, the decommissioning costs when a nuclear plant is retired are unpredictable and the diminishing uranium resources will raise the cost of nuclear fuel resources.

Environmental Questions
Despite the flurry of interest among the GCC countries to join the nuclear club, the 50-year old nuclear industry has been in decline since the Chernobyl accident in 1986. The UAE is committing to an old energy model that lacks innovation.

The nuclear option is being promoted as ‘clean energy’ because nuclear power produces less carbon dioxide emissions than a plant fueled by crude oil. But nuclear production still contributes significant greenhouse gas emissions and cannot be classed as ‘green’ power such as energy which is generated by wind and solar technology. Is the UAE proposal of opting for ‘clean energy’ a smokescreen as in its projections there are no plans to reduce dependency on fossil fuel and imported natural gas?

Green Power Questions
Pitched as a panacea for its energy ills, the White Paper argues that other forms of energy, including wind and solar power, will be insufficient to meet the UAE energy demands. This approach too quickly dismisses clean energy solutions and diverts attention and resources away from renewable technologies and steps to improve energy efficiency.

Model Questions
In February, it was announced that Masdar, a model city in Abu Dhabi, would become the ‘greenest city’ in the world by being waste and carbon free, devoid of cars and powered by solar energy. CEO of the project, Dr Sultan Ali Jaber predicted, “Masdar City will become the world’s hub for future energy. By taking sustainable development and living to a new level, it will lead the world in understanding how all future cities should be built.”

Now with long term energy plans being tied to nuclear and oil sources, the UAE is ignoring its own model, leading Masdar to become a $22 billion white elephant. In a world confronted by climate change, the nation with the largest ecological footprint must take a giant step toward sustainable and renewable energy production.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Nuclear Power Plant at Cattenom, France.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Women of the United Arab Emirates

A comprehensive article on influential women in the UAE, along with personal profiles, appears in one of the early editions of The National newspaper.

It is well worth tagging for the filing cabinet.

Link: Hamida Ghafour, ‘Women of Influence’, The National, 20 April 2008.

Image: Sheikha Lubna Khalid Sultan al Qasimi is one of the significant leaders in the UAE. Lubna was the first woman to hold a ministerial post in the United Arab Emirates.

Post Script
Melisende on her blog, Women of History, has a story posted 5 April 2008, on Beatrice De Cardi who has been working as an archaeologist in the UAE for decades.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

UAE Increasing Investment in Education

A report today (19 April 2008) in the Khaleej Times notes the ongoing commitment of the UAE government in improving the quality of childhood education through the piloting of the ‘Future Schools’ project.

This is heartening, bearing in mind some of the earlier reports about the low standard of primary school education.

While the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has made an enormous financial investment in making the UAE a centre of knowledge, in plans to translate hundreds of the great classics into Arabic and lifting the educational standard generally, this will be wasted without the solid foundations of learning being laid in early childhood and during primary school education.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Primary School children, Abu Dhabi.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Launch of 'The National' is Good News for UAE

The launch today of The National newspaper promises good news, especially for Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates and the Arab world. It will give to the capital city a special voice but how different will this newspaper be from the other national newspapers?

Writer as Witness
The recently highlighted censorship in Myanmar and China has underscored the downside of a heavy government control of the media which prevents its citizens and the world from being aware of protests and the issues about which citizens are taking a stand.

An important role of the media is to inform—to tell people what is going on, to be a witness ‘telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. This doesn’t mean open slather as governments must provide clear safeguards from the harm of violent and hateful barbs.

However, there is a vital role for the media in revealing injustice, poverty, discrimination and duplicity even when this may not reflect well on the government, its people and its culture. This involves being a conscience to society and a prophetic voice that explodes the myths and strips back the veneer.

Newspaper as Majlis
At the heart of Arab culture is the majlis where people sit at the same level to entertain, to ask questions and to tell stories. The word ‘majlis’ comes from the verb ‘to sit’ and sitting is one of the favorite pastimes of Emiratis.

The majlis is a cultural contribution to a world that has lost the art of conversation and has become adept at hurling explosive statements at each other. Nowhere has this been more pronounced than in the sphere of religion where the language of blame and confrontation reigns.

The best journalists are storytellers and a newspaper is vibrant when it serves as a majlis through which its readers can also tell their stories, ask questions and debate in a climate of tolerance and understanding.

Journalist as Jester
In some countries down through the centuries, the rulers have had jesters whose task is to amuse but sometimes to say to the King, ‘You may be wrong.’ Some effective CEOs have appointed a person to be the corporate jester’ who will ask the hard and necessary questions of the board and its management.

An effective and robust government will see journalists as jesters, who with wit and sometimes absurdity will raise questions and point up policies and practices for reform. In a country where there is no voting by the people, no party system and no fully elected politicians, it is important to remember that leaders do not have a monopoly on wisdom and journalists should be encouraged to be their jesters—not defaming those in public office but serving as the respectful opposition.

The UAE was established with publishing laws that prohibit the media from saying anything critical about its ‘President, rulers of the emirates and leaders of Arab states and other friendly nations’ (the law allows for criticism of unfriendly nations but doesn’t specify who they are!)

There are indications that the media climate is changing with the recent formulation of a UAE Code of Journalistic Ethics and the welcome decision to abandon the imprisonment penalty for writers in the Emirates. However, recent (February 2008) threats by the Arab League to collectively curtail press freedom are disappointing and this illustrates why the UAE and other Arab nations have a long way to go before they are ranked highly in press freedom (the UAE has improved but it is still 65th in the world). Unfortunately, the bonds and boundaries between the UAE government and journalists in the Emirates are as clear and as safe as an Abu Dhabi fog.

Mirror and Goad
It will be fascinating to see how much freedom The National takes and how much it is given. In one of his first statements as the editor of The National, Martin Newland is quoted as pondering, “Will I have problems with censorship? To be honest, I don’t know and I suppose I’ll be finding out.” Such murkiness points up the need for an ongoing clarification about the role of a UAE newspaper and the responsibilities of its journalists.

In the same speech at the newspaper’s launch, Newland adopted a cautious approach when he said that The National would strive “to promote the local culture rather than challenge it.” When he added that, “The role of The National is to reflect society,” it seemed that the new paper would be seeking to be more of a mirror than a goad.

If Newland’s 200 journalists can sensitively draw back the veil from Emirati society and allow its citizens and the interested world to see what is truly happening behind the walls and tinted windows then The National will be a newspaper worth reading.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: The National hot off the press and so is The National web site.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

UAE and Arab World Have Unfavorable View of US

According to a Reuters article:

“Eight out of 10 Arabs have an unfavorable view of the United States and only six percent believe the U.S. troop build-up in Iraq in the last year has worked, said a poll of six Arab countries released on Monday.”

“The poll by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, also found most Arabs did not see U.S. foe Iran as a threat and they sympathized more with Hamas in the Palestinian Territories than U.S.-backed Fatah.”

“The survey canvassed the opinions of about 4,000 people over the past month in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. It has a margin of error of about 1.6 percent.”

It is important that US Presidential hopefuls look beyond the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians and the war in Iraq and work on regaining the confidence of the Arab peoples and relating humbly to the rest of the world.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Source and entire article: Sue Pleming, ‘Arab World sees US in Poor Light, Poll Shows’, Reuters, 14 April 2008.

Image: Arabs love American fast food but not much else that is American.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Unemployment in the UAE

A recent article calls unemployment a ‘thorny problem’ in the oil-rich Emirates and the Gulf states.

Link: ‘Unemployment a Thorny Problem despite Oil Boom’, AFP, 8 April 2008.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

UAE at the Environmental Crossroads

Heat in the Cabinet
On 8 April 2008 the Federal National Council (FNC) tabled their report to Cabinet and sparked a heated debate.

A Gulf News article (‘Limit Use of Plastic Bags, FNC Urges Cabinet’, 8 April 2008) reported that “the FNC demanded that the [UAE Federal] government adopt more restrictive rules to strengthen environmental protection and contribute to sustainable development.”

The World is Watching
With the meeting taking place near to the site of the proposed Masdar, the ‘greenest city in the world’, it will be revealing to all concerned citizens of the world if UAE government officials really mean they are committed to be leaders in environmental concern. Is Masdar going to be a model that the UAE will project to the world but then turn their back on the very values that it conveys?

Recommendations for Environment
The UAE government needs to give a strong, unwavering lead to businesses, industries and municipalities on these vital recommendations from the FNC report:
* Limiting or banning the use of plastic bags.
* Reducing the life span of cars across the UAE
* Closing quarries and crushers adjacent to housing communities
* Treating by-products of desalination such as mineral salts and brine safely and efficiently.
* Ordering that all trucks be fitted with exhaust filters.
* Controlling the discharge of wastes from vessels and ordering these vessels to declare their shipments, especially those from nuclear powered ships.
* Approving and enforcing the National Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment at the earliest time.
* Addressing all types of pollutants, not only dust and noise pollution from quarries and crushers.
* Requiring environmental assessment reports by all projects every five years not just upon their launch.
* Demanding that the government stops burning wastes and adopts strict measures for the safe disposal of medical wastes.
* Issuing a federal law to regulate the use of underground water and water resources. (The use of underground water is currently under the jurisdiction of local authorities).
* Banning the import of scrap metals, especially spare parts of cars.
* Demanding that special roads be built for trucks and a railway system for passenger and cargo to ease road congestion in the country.
* Demanding that the government act diligently to enforce the federal law banning smoking in closed public areas.

Reducing Global Warming
The United Arab Emirates is at a crossroads. This far-reaching report is raising the heat in the government cabinet meeting. The leaders of the country with the dubious record of having the biggest ‘global footprint’ in the world must act decisively to reduce the global warming and protect the precious UAE environment.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “That all trucks be fitted with exhaust filters.”

US Colleges have Interest in UAE and Possibly Conflict of Interest

Earlier postings have spoken about the US rush establish Middle Eastern campuses as well as highlighting some human rights, discrimination issues and Emirati laws that universities like the University of New York are ignoring in setting up centers in the UAE.

Freelance paralegal, Pamela Case writes for the Tracy Press, CA and discusses whether US Colleges are simply following the money that is being thrown at them for setting up bases in the Middle East.

Article: Pamela Case, ‘Colleges Interested in Middle East: Here’s Why’, Tracy Press, 8 April 2008.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: A view of the University of California which is considering a venture into the Middle East.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bookshops and Reading Thriving in the UAE

A Gulf News article today says that bookshops are thriving in the UAE:

“Despite the advent of the internet, high-tech video and computers, which were thought to have dealt a blow to the public's enthusiasm for books, bookstore operators claim that they have been able to recover lost ground, thanks to the region's retail boom.

After all, the Arab world is home to more than 300 million potential readers according to recent statistics, while the UAE publishing industry itself has been growing at 15-20 per cent annually, and is estimated to be worth Dh8 to Dh10 billion.

Magrudy's, a locally-owned Dubai-based bookstore, recently accentuated the robust growth forecast of the industry when it opened its largest branch in Dubai Festival City.”

Read the entire article: Irish Eden Belleza, ‘Bookshops Thrive on Retail Boom’, Gulf News, 5 April 2008.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: A photograph of the interior of the recently opened Magrudys Book Store at Festival City.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Beauty of Camels Runs Deep in Arab Heritage

The recent ‘Camel Beauty Contest’ in Abu Dhabi has been reported widely around the world and written about as something bizarre and quirky. Unfortunately, the idea of a ‘beauty contest’ has overshadowed the importance of the camel to the Emirati and Arab heritage.

Nowhere has the love between Arabs and camels been better expressed than by William Thesiger in his book, Arabian Sands. Here are some excerpts from his incredible journey through the Arabian Desert in the late 1940s:

Camel Beauty
“To Arabs, camels are beautiful, and they derive as great a pleasure from looking at a good camel as some Englishmen get from looking at a good horse.” (p77)

Camel Tracks
Writing of the tracking skills of the Bedu [Bedouin] Thesiger says:

“Here every man knew the individual tracks of his own camels and some of them could remember the tracks of nearly every camel they had seen. They could tell at a glance from the depths of the footprints whether a camel was ridden or free, and whether it was in calf. By studying strange tracks they could tell the area from which the camel came. Camels from The Sands [The Empty Quarter], for instance, have soft soles to their feet, marked with tattered strips of loose skin, whereas if they come from the gravel plains their feet are polished smooth. Bedu could tell the tribe to which a camel belonged, for the different tribes have different breeds of camels, all of which can be distinguished by their tracks.

Camel Droppings
From looking at their droppings they [the Bedu] could deduce where a camel had been grazing, and they could certainly tell when it had last been watered, and from their knowledge of the country they could probably tell where.” (p61-62)

Camel Milk
“Camel’s milk is their food and drink. As long as there is plenty of milk the Bedu want nothing more.” (p115)

Camel Milk Hospitality
“Our hosts brought us [camel] milk. We blew the froth aside and drank deep; they urged us to drink more, saying, ‘You will find no milk in the sands ahead of you. Drink—drink. You are our guests. God brought you here—drink.’ I drank again, knowing even as I did so that they would go hungry and thirsty that night, for they had nothing else, no other food and no water.” (p122)

Source: Wilfred Thesiger, Arabian Sands (First published London: Longmans, Green and Co Ltd., 1959. The edition from which these excerpts have been quoted is published in Dubai: Motivate Publishing, 1994, 2006).

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

A superb web gallery of photographs taken by Wilfred Thesiger can be found at:
Thesiger Galleries

Another story on ‘the Camel Contest’ has been posted on the Experiencing the Emirates web site.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: ‘Bedu at Raudha Tinha, Saudi Arabia, 1945’ by Wilfred Thesiger. This is a sample of the photographs at the Thesiger Galleries.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Celebrating Camels in the Emirates

A celebration of camels is taking place in the UAE capital. Ten thousand specimens (making it ‘the biggest contest in the Arabian Gulf’) will be in attendance from Wednesday (2 April 2008), which in itself is part of the Mazayin Dhafra festival.

Billed as an ‘international beauty contest’, there is more than $9m (£4.5m; 5.8m euros) and 100 cars in prizes up for grabs. It is a pity when so much criticism has been justifiably targeted at human beauty contests that this event shares the same tag.

The event, which has been held each year since 2002, is much better pitched as a celebration of camels that also recognizes the camel’s importance in Emirati culture, transport, adventure, literature, proverbs, sport, and increasingly, in milk and other food products, that are said to possess high medicinal value.

A BBC article (2 April 2008) reports that sponsorship has been given for this event by the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed.

The report also says that, “Camel racing is a popular sport, with money from the region's oil riches often placed in huge bets.”

One wonders about the logic and legalities of this when betting is banned at UAE horse races such as last Saturday’s running of the Dubai World Cup. Why not allow betting for any sport or ban it for all sports, instead of having rules that apply to horses but not to camels?

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: “It is a pity when so much criticism has been justifiably targeted at human beauty contests that this event shares the same tag.”

Effective Policing of Fujairah Oil Tankers Needed

It keeps on happening…

Both the Khaleej Times (2 April 2008) and the Gulf News (1 April 2008) have reported two further oil slicks this week in the Fujairah waters.

Read more about the marine vandalism and further policing measures suggested in this article:

‘UAE Negligent in Policing Fujairah Waters’, Fujairah in Focus

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Policing of Fujairah waters must be stepped up.