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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Emirates Entering New Year in Solidarity with Suffering

Celebration Cancellation
According to WAM (Dec.30th, 2008)

“The Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai has ordered the cancellation of all forms of celebrations marking the New Year in Dubai emirate.”

“According to Sheikh Mohammed's order, Dubai emirate will mark the New Year with a sombre tone as a token of solidarity with the Palestinian people in general and the Gaza strip in particular which is currently under the barrage Israeli's military fire.”

Clarifying What is Off and On
Throughout the last day of the year New Year celebration organizers and hotel managers were trying to rearrange their plans amid confusion over the extent of the order.

Many of the outside celebrations were cancelled, many hotel restaurants for whom this traditionally is a big night of the year were toning down celebrations by not providing music, dancing or fireworks.

An up-to-the-minute account of what was on and off in Dubai was being posted on TimeOutDubai.Com.

Around the UAE and Region
Some big name concerts like that with popstar Shakira, were still going ahead in Abu Dhabi.

Some other Arab states were also cancelling the usual New Year celebrations or staging a scaled down version.

Sheikh Mohammed’s Moral Leadership
The order from the Ruler of Dubai will have created problems and loss of revenue for organizers of celebrations and hotel managers yet Sheikh Mohammed has displayed deft timing, moral leadership and he has signalled that Dubai is not always about business and big records but seeking to be on the side of the suffering.

Newspaper advertisements said:
"While the world is celebrating the new year, the people of Gaza are going to welcome it with bombs, fire and blood. Let us affirm our solidarity with them."

“Emergency services inside the battered Palestinian Gaza enclave say that since Israel unleashed its wave of air strikes on Saturday at least 390 Palestinians, including 42 children, have been killed and 1,900 wounded.”

“During the same period, four people in Israel have been killed by rockets fired by militants in Gaza.”

While the Israeli response has again been disproportionate it has been a reaction to rockets being fired from Gaza by Hamas. Innocent people are being killed and wounded on both sides of this war.

The call to cancel celebrations offers a chance to stand in solidarity with all those who suffer and to call both sides to cease firing and work for peace in this new year.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: New Year Celebrations Cancelled in Dubai.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Madrid, Pamplona, Fujairah…

Judging by the number of people at last Friday’s Fujairah bull-butting experience, the crowds are getting bigger or is this just the high-tourist season?

Since my last article on bull-butting there have been some modifications to this Fujairah tradition:

New Barricades
In recent months new fencing has been erected giving better definition to the arena and further protection to the spectators. There are, however, plenty of spaces near the entrances where daredevils can get up close and personal with the bovine contestants.

One of the attractions of bull-butting Fujairah-style is a bull on the loose. It did happen once or twice last Friday, resulting in a small crush but there were no spectacular incidents of spectators being hurled over the fence or a Brahman bull ripping a 4WD apart with its horns.

Instead of the old echoey megaphone, the bull-butting show now has a microphone and public address system with an almost non-stop Arabic commentary. Some of my international visitors were longing for an English translation, an explanation of the rules and an idea of the score but the desert of information adds to the mystery and the mystique of the Fujairah bull experience.

No More Innovations
The arena is still earth and dust with the soil watered a couple of hours before the event. It would be a pity if the Fujairah organizers succumbed to the pressure to conform to international sporting events and put down synthetic matting, erected steel grandstands and introduced electronic scoreboards.

Somehow the humpy Brahmans, the dust, the bovine excrement and the look of anticipation on the faces of the spectators forge a powerful link with the past and encapsulate what is essentially Fujairah.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Two bulls providing a good show.

Slideshow: To see more photos from the last Fujairah bull-butting event in 2008, click on this link.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Utility Bills Can Now Be Paid at Emirates Post Offices

It often takes an hour to pay your electricity and water bills in Fujairah. The queues are long and there is rampant queue jumping.

After standing in line for over an hour this week, the only good news was to pick up from the counter the advertising bill (pictured) from the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA) of the UAE.

The blurb states that FEWA has joined with Emirates Post so that FEWA bills and fines can now be paid at the 95+ Post offices across the UAE.

This is a significant improvement in service.

When will FEWA offer online payment facilities like most banks and communication companies in the UAE?

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Views of FEWA advertising bill.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Internet Slows in UAE

Zawya’s Molouk Y. Ba-Isa reports 21 December 2008:

"The Internet has not been available [in Saudi Arabia] since Friday afternoon for all business and home users," "Saudi Telecom Co. (STC) is currently working to restore service. Furthermore, information technology analysts are working with STC to establish a temporary, limited Internet service."

Anyone who has been online in the past couple of days can confirm that the recent cut in undersea cables in the Mediterranean has once again stymied the digital flow to Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries. And involved companies are saying not to expect any improvement on their part before Thursday, and that connectivity may be hampered for the rest of the month.

According to a statement from France Telecom, undersea cables running between Sicily and Tunisia were cut, possibly due to seismic activity. In January this same line of cables was accidentally severed off the coast near Egypt. It was blamed on a vessel's propellers severing the cables.

In Saudi Arabia….Internet traffic is being diverted east. The loss of the cable connection has meant fewer channels for data to flow, thus noticeably hampering connections. Customers are reporting long load times for Web pages and frequent time outs -- when Web pages try to load for a number of minutes and then either load, partially load or go to an error page.

The entire Middle East and parts of East Africa is being affected. The call center business in Egypt and India is in crisis….

A cable repair ship has been directed to the sites to fix the cables.

Spokespersons for both France Telecom and Reliance GlobalCom advised that the connectivity situation may not improve before Thursday and may not return to normal until the end of the month.

Source and to read the entire article:
Internet Woes May Last Through December, Zawya, 21 December 2008

If you live in the UAE what is your current experience of Internet connectivity and speed?

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “It was blamed on a vessel's propellers severing the cables.”

Nurturing Patriotism in the Emirates

In addition to the invitation to deck out every building with a UAE flag, a number of large billboards with photos of the rulers and ruling families have been placed in prominent places.

This is connected with the National Day celebrations, which with festive lights adorning towers and villas, have been signaling a season of patriotism and national identity.

In the approach to Fujairah between Thoban and the Friday Market there are many large billboards on both sides of the road extending a welcome and a farewell from the ruling family of Fujairah and distinguished leaders of the Emirates.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “Many large billboards on both sides of the road.”

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Change to Travel Instructions from Dubai to Fujairah

There is a significant change in the road system for people travelling from Dubai to Fujairah and it hasn’t been clearly explained by the road signs.

I have made changes to my ‘Directions from Dubai to Fujairah’ posted at this link.

Flick through to the heading 20.00kms (which marks the 20 kms point from the Dubai International Airport Terminal 1) as this is where the change occurs.

To continue with just the new instructions go to this link at Fujairah in Focus.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Coming out of this roundabout you will find you are on the Sharjah-Al Dhaid Road with ugly pylons on the right side of the road. This is the stage on the journey that you realize you are in the desert.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fujairah a Meeting Place of Cultures

December is a wonderful month for visiting Fujairah.

The skies are generally clear, the water is warm while still being refreshing and the temperatures are consistently in the mid twenties.

Judging by the tour buses and the visitors pounding the streets there seem to be many people who are taking advantage of what Fujairah has to offer—no-fuss hospitality, scenic mountain and water views and authentic Emirati tradition.

Down at the Fujairah corniche recently there was a rich mix of cultures enjoying the sea views and breathing in the clear air. In the space of 10 minutes I spoke with people from India, Bangladesh, Philippines, Pakistan and these well-dressed men from Baluchistan (pictured) who were happy to pose with my granddaughter.

Come and see Fujairah for yourself. It is a total experience.

Dr Geoff Pound

P.S Just back from a holiday in Syria. What a delightful country to visit.

Links to some of my Syrian photos:

In the Steps of St Paul-Damascus Pilgrimage

Sixth Century Monastery in Syrian Desert

Pottering Around Palmyra, Syria

Monday, December 1, 2008

UAE Draped in Flags

Several weeks ago an encouragement went out to residents and businesses of the UAE asking them to hoist a flag above their homes and buildings on National Day.

It is amazing to see people taking up the challenge in the lead up to UAE National Day on the 2nd December.

Power and lamp poles are adorned with flags, as are taxis and private cars. Travelling around a city like Fujairah at night the CBD is aglow with festive lights all over the face of skyscrapers and contributing an air of celebration.

It all adds up to a wholesome pride in the country expressed by both Emiratis and expatriates.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Power and lamp poles are adorned with flags.

World Record Breaking UAE Fireworks Celebration is Over the Top

Fireworks Frenzy
The UAE news this weekend features the forthcoming fireworks display to celebrate the 37th National Day of the nation.

On 2nd December, the world's largest and record breaking Fireworks Display will light up Abu Dhabi's night sky, beginning at 08.30pm and lasting for 45 minutes,

Over the Top
One would have thought organizers might have pulled the fuse on the fireworks festival this year in the light of recent and current events.

Atlantis Extravagance
Organizers of the Atlantis Hotel launch came in for stinging criticism because of headlines like this: ‘$3million firework display 7 times the size of Beijing's Olympic Games opening ceremony.’ What irked the international community was that this extravagance came at a time when millions around the world were experiencing the pain of housing foreclosures, unemployment and financial loss.

Since the opening of the Atlantis the world financial situation has become worse and many UAE businesses and residents, especially in Dubai are reeling.

Mumbai Terror
The news in the last few days has been dominated by terrorism in the heart of India’s business district, burning hotels in Mumbai, scores of innocent victims killed, hundreds wounded and thousands of families traumatized. Such an event tears at the wounds that people carry from other terrorist incidents.

With this context of financial pain and global terror, the UAE is on the brink of spending millions of dollars to stage the world’s largest and record breaking fireworks. The timing couldn’t be worse for a display of heartlessness and insensitivity, especially when this record is being seen by many as Abu Dhabi asserting its superiority over Dubai.

The UAE’s heart has been most evident in its generosity, most recently displayed in sizeable gifts to Pakistan and in the contribution of Dubai Cares.

According to the Mood
The singing, dancing, festivities and some scaled down fireworks should go on but the symbolism of burning so much money in order to feed the national obsession with world records is highly inappropriate and will seem like pouring salt in the global wounds.

Even President-Elect Obama is said to be judging the mood of his nation in order to stage an inauguration that is appropriate to the times.

One can imagine the headlines around the world: ‘UAE’s Heartless Fireworks Record While the World Burns.’

How much better to see the headline: ‘UAE Shelves Fireworks World Record to Make World Record Gift for Fighting Terrorism’?

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Atlantis Hotel world record fireworks display.