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29 April, 2007

On the lash

The good news is that for infidels in the UAE, the lash has now been banned as a means of punishment. Only muslims are now in line for a good whipping should they commit certain crimes "punishable by lashing under Sharia".

The whipping guidelines are quite detailed. The whipper has to hold a qu'ran, but musn't drop it. The whip must be free of metal and splinters. Lashing should not cause "excessive pain" and must be done all over the body to avoid damage or leaving whip marks.

The whippee can't wear armour, but women whippees get to remain fully dressed. They also get to sit down - which sounds like an advantage, but means the most naturally padded part of ones body is presumably out of the firing line.

Pregnant women can't be lashed, they get to wait until two months after the child is born. This still sounds rather quick if a woman is still breastfeeding - after weaning would seem a more appropriate time. What if she gets hit on the nipple?


25 April, 2007

UAE injustice system

Attempt murder - three months
Beat up your wife - six months
Molest a child - one year
Steal from charity - one year
Drink, drive, kill - one year
Slash four women - two years
Torture your maid - three years
Rape a woman - three years

Smoke cannabis outside the UAE - four years

Abu Dhabi: A teenager who smoked a cigarette containing hashish while he was in Egypt will serve four years in jail followed by deportation, the Federal Supreme Court has confirmed.

The boy, 18, an Egyptian identified as E.M., smoked a cigarette containing hashish with his friends in Egypt. He smoked it one day before he flew to the UAE.

What a fucking joke.

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23 April, 2007

The concrete curtain

A few years ago an associate was commissioned to copywrite a brochure for a new real estate development. All the material was sent through, which details such as location, type of building, market segment, main features and so forth. The associate quickly spotted what seemed to be a mistake, and called the agency. "It says forty towers in the information. Did you mean four?"

"No, it's forty towers."

"On that one strip of land? Will they fit?"

"They'll have to fit."

Roll forward to 2007, and the huge lumbering concrete monstrosity that is Jumeirah Beach Residence has indeed been crammed into the strip of land between Dubai Marina and Jebel Ali power station. So little thought was given to proper planning that no room was left to put in adequate roads, let alone parking:

[Head of Roads Planning Section Hashim Mohammed] Al Hashmi revealed that a high quality public transport bus service would be introduced for the residents of Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence. "The corridor in this area is too narrow and since the buildings have come up little can be done about it."

Drive around Jumeirah Beach Residence at any time of the day and it is shocking how dark and shadowy the narrow roads are, in a city usually so brilliantly sunlit as Dubai. The towers cut off the sea, the sky and the sunset like a huge concrete curtain. As National Geographic put it:

"Some critics are questioning the speed of change and a lack of planning: The towering apartment complexes stand like a wall, cutting off the rest of Dubai from its coast."

So who's going to live there? There may be millions more workers pouring into the UAE, but how many of them - even white collars - can afford to rent at JBR, let alone buy? Two years ago, analyst Matein Khalid gave these predictions:

"But in 2007-2008, a phenomenal 200,000 new units will hit the market. This means that we need about 800,000 new expats who are not labourers, housemaids, tailors, minimum wage bachelors or the Sharjah/Ajman commuters to fill this unit. In essence, a doubling of the professional high income salaried population of Dubai in the next two years. Realistic? Not at all."

And now a report from investment bank EFG Hermes is in the spotlight, with analysts noting "overbuilding on a heroic scale":

"The report suggested Dubai has a demand for 40,000 to 50,000 residential units per annum. But it failed to make the point observers have added since that only 30 per cent of this demand is in the luxury sector which comprises the majority of construction projects.

"This could leave the real level of annual demand for new high-end properties in Dubai at 15,000 units per annum, which was also suggested by figures forecast in a recent report on the population growth outlook until 2010 from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry."

Jumeirah Beach Residence: on course to be the world's darkest, emptiest, luxury skyscrapers.

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22 April, 2007

Cannibalism in Al Ain

What makes this story shocking is that happened in lovely, leafy, tranquil Al Ain:

AL AIN: In an horrific act of violence, a Pakistani national hacked his Indian colleague to death with an axe and ate part of his heart at an Al Ain farm, it was reported yesterday. The 35-year old accused is said to have confessed to the murder and claimed he did it because the Indian insulted and abused him. The colleagues who had a previously good relationship got into an argument at work. The accused claims that in a fit of rage he picked up a rock and smashed it over his victim’s head. He then chased the man down the farm with an axe and struck his chest and abdomen. He then lost his senses and went on to eat part of the victim’s heart, it is claimed.

In perma-gridlocked Dubai or repressive Sharjah one could quite understand a person being driven insane (or hungry) enough to the point of eating human organs, but in Al Ain? With all its date palms, camels and a lovely oasis?


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20 April, 2007

Bur Dubai Island

Forget The Palm: the world's biggest artificial island hasn't even been built yet, but is already home to hundred of thousands of people. Introducing Bur Dubai Island, several crowded inner-city suburbs about to be encircled by the world's largest seawater moat. A glamourous residential prospect indeed.

Half a dozen major roads and myriad smaller roads will be severed by the Dubai Creek extension, not a particularly pleasant prospect for traffic despite promises of bridge building. Safa Park appears safe, going by Gulf News' map, but Jumeirah Beach Park might not be so lucky. The Co-op - so beloved of Emiratis doing their weekly shopping with all the family at 3am on a school night - also seems to be in the clear, despite persistent rumours of its imminent demolition.

The biggest feature of the Creek extension will be Business Bay, which will also hold a Guinness World Record for being the world's least bay-like bay. It is neither a body of water nor even part of the coastline. "Business Moat" would be a more appropriate name. Its aim is to be "similar in nature to Manhattan or Ginza, which are the business centres for cities like New York and Tokyo" and it will also feature "fascinating canals". Fascinating as in what, gondolas towed by giant hammour?

Looming over everything like a huge pointed lighthouse will be the beautiful Deathspire, set to get a Guinness World Record for being the world's tallest tower for the shortest amount of time.

And Dubai it will once again be unrecognisable from how it is today, just as it is currently unrecognisable from five years ago.

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18 April, 2007

Sheikh Mo gets a grip

In a society where criticism is antithetical to local culture, Sheikh Mohammed's recent public censure of several government ministries is unprecedented. It also suggests - like the cancelling of the Jumeirah Beach development project - that public opinion and expert, expat advice is getting through.

The Ministry of Labour has rightly been condemned for its absurdly heavy-handed and misguided approach to Emiratisation, which included the total nationalisation of PROs, secretaries and human resource managers:

"It is very easy to impose Emiratisation. We can do this any time, but what would we gain if we did not provide our youth with the best knowledge, skill and expertise to commensurate with these jobs?" asked His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai.

Something the private sector has been pointing out for ages: what is the benefit to an economy if unfit personnel are hired solely because of their nationality? It means either incompetence and inexperience, or expensive "phantom jobs" - where a lower-paid expat does the real work behind the scenes, with the local taking the credit.

The Ministry of Justice also received a few thunderclaps from the sheikhly hammer:

"I have read the reports of the justice and safety ministerial team and did field trips to the courts and the ministry of justice. I was surprised and expressed my utmost dissatisfaction with what I read and saw. It was living 20 years behind [other ministries]," he said.

Improvements will include the translation of laws into English, a critical step for a country that seeks to operate on a level platform with a English-speaking global business world.

Education also came in for a battering, with standards still appalling low despite huge increases in funding:

"The current status of our education system is compiling huge losses to the UAE and its people."

The criticised ministers are taking the comments on the chin, not that they have much choice. And this is perhaps the deeper import of Sheikh Mohammed's comments. Finally ending the sacrosanct regional culture of "saving face" and the abnegation of personal responsibility that this nearly always entails.

The Vision® is back on track, and UAE society is growing up.

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16 April, 2007

The great Dubai jewel heist

One of the most startling things to first time visitors to Dubai is the apparently lax security when it comes to jewellery shops. In most cities jewellers remove all the gold and gems from their window displays at night, lock it in safes, and pull down thick bars and grilles. In the sandlands, crime is traditionally so much lower (and rubies the size of hens eggs so ubiquitous) that no one really bothers.

Until now.

The other night two armed ram raiders burst into upmarket Wafi shopping mall in stolen cars and made off with an estimated several million dollars worth of jewellery. The heist was even captured on a video phone:

Hussain and Kambiz, two Dubai residents visiting the mall last night, told Gulf News: "We were shocked to see two sedans crashing in at very high speed at around 9.30pm, shattering the glass doors."

"There were four masked men inside. One car smashed the window of the jewellery shop, the men burst out ... They were all carrying guns and hammers. People started panicking, there was chaos everywhere. They took some jewellery and within minutes drove out of the mall."

Investigators at the scene said: "They were professionals ... They drove towards Zabeel where they burnt the cars."

In future, shop windows may have to glitter a little less once night falls.

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15 April, 2007

Behind bars in Bahrain

Worrying events on the Island of Two Seas. where Mahmood Al Yousif, aka the Blogfather, is being sued for libel by a Bahraini government minister. Mahmood criticised Mansour bin Rajab and his department over heavy flooding in December.

Now the minister claims his "feelings are hurt".

While we all shed a thousand tears for the wounded soul of this sensitive government personage, it's a stark reminder of the utter lack of legal freedom of speech in the Gulf, however much newspapers push boundaries on a daily basis. That gem of legal history, the UAE Publications Law, is quite clear on the issue:

Article 70

No criticism shall be made against the Head of State or Rulers of the Emirates

Article 84

It is prohibited to malign a public official, or anybody occupying a post in the public prosecution, or assigned to perform a public job. The writer shall not be held responsible if he proves he did so in good faith.

The divine right of kings: to rule without election; to misrule without question.

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12 April, 2007

The litigious palm tree

A palm tree is suing a drunk driver who crashed into it:

Ras Al Khaimah - A palm tree could have its day in court after a drunk-driver crashed into it. Due to the damage sustained to the tree in the collision, the case could now go to the civil court for a damages claim. The Ras Al Khaimah Traffic Court ruled earlier this week that a civil case could be launched by the victim - the palm tree.

How the hell does this work?

Does the tree uproot itself and lumber into court, trailing soil and sand all over the carpets? How does it speak? Does it rustle its leaves in a suggestive way, or does it creak its branches in some arboreal form of Morse code? Or perhaps it summons up a friendly dryad to plead on its behalf?

And what exactly is it going to do with the money it gets? Buy "tree bling" - solid gold tinsel and Swarovski Christmas decorations? Build itself a marble wall to keep out the other trees in its orchard? Hire forty servants to french polish its leaves and push its saplings around the shopping mall?

Or has the RAK calendar only just reached 1st April?

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11 April, 2007

A $45 million Tiger

Forty-five million dollars - that's how much Dubai is rumoured to have spent to beat China for the world's first Tiger Woods Golf Course:

While specifics aren't known, Sports Illustrated cites rumors that Woods' end of the deal will be as much as $45 million (Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai outbid the interests of the world's other enlightened despots in China for the honor of building Woods' first course).

It's a solid bet that whatever the amount Woods pockets will be exponentially higher than the amount given to the hands who will provide the labor in sweltering heat to construct the course.

And another nice description of Dubai: "...a mixed steroid cocktail of Las Vegas, Singapore, and Bangkok."

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08 April, 2007

Farewell to the Sunnymen

No longer will motorists be forced to sit behind white Nissan Sunnies doing 40kmph in the fast lane of Sheikh Zayed road, beads swinging from their rear view mirrors. A minimum speed limit of 60kmph is being imposed:

RTA officials said yesterday that the decision was taken to increase road safety after a study revealed that disparity between the speed of vehicles on certain roads is one of the main factors that causes accidents. The maximum speed limit on the emirate’s highways is 120kph.

Less flashing, more dashing.

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Single in the City

Spinsterhood or second-wifedom? An easy decision for educated Emirati women in Sharjah. Faced with being eternal bachelorettes or having to share a husband, it's single all the way:

Sharjah: The majority of Emirati women would prefer spinsterhood to being a second wife, according to statistics revealed at a workshop held at one of the leading universities in Sharjah.

"The findings reflect the microcosm of Emirati society, and this survey is relevant to the development of society," said Jihad Fahreddine, Media Research Manager of the Pan Arab Research Centre.

Also encouraging: only 1% of women said they planned to stay at home after graduating, with 65% planning to find work immediately. Vive la revolution.

03 April, 2007

Tropical Storm Ahmed

When the ceiling of Spinneys Umm Seqeim suddenly began rattling violently, customers throughout the aisles stopped dead in their shopping tracks. Was Iran invading? Was the apocalypse nigh?

Happily or sadly it turned out to be just rain, but huge, heavy tropical rain hammering onto the roof in great fat drops. It sounded more like hail.

Sheikh Zayed Road was a dark mirror of golden headlight streaks shining through the rain mist thrown up behind vehicles, even more filthy than the rain itself. Rain in the sandlands requires gallons of windscreen wiper water to wash it off continually, as the heat of the day instantly dries it to a dusty film after each sweep. As it is pushed to the side of the window, it appears almost milky with dirt.

But the lovely thing about rain is a slight reduction in tailgating: drivers extend their "safe stopping distance" from two inches to about two foot.

Storms in other parts of the world get names, so given Dubai has so few it is time to start naming them alphabetically, making this one Tropical Storm Ahmed. The next one, in tribute to Dubai's multicultural society, will be Cyclone Babu.

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01 April, 2007

Ancient costume drama

DUBAI, 1 April (Reuters) - A team of British and French archaeologists working in Dubai, United Arab Emirates have unearthed ruins believed to date back to Shakespearean times.

Foundations uncovered so far include several Tudor-style cottages and a theatre believed to be a replica of the Globe.

Research leader Professor Pierre de Foutre of the University of Marseilles said several clues helped the team locate the Tudor settlement in the beachside suburb of Umm Seqeim.

"The modern name for the area is Al Wasl Road; this comes directly from its original name, Wassail Road, and there are even several well preserved Tudor houses," he said.

Dubai's minister for arts and culture, Sheikh Jamal Al Majnoon, said he was not surprised by the discovery.

"Dubai has a rich tradition of theatre and drama, far greater than Broadway or the West End," he said.

"We already have as many as two theatres and plan to increase theatre capacity 10% by 2050."

Volunteers at local historical society Jumeirah Archaeological Foundation have supplied the archaeologists with several valuable photographs dating from the early sixteenth century.

They provide a rare glimpse into the lives of Gulf Arabs in Tudor times, before the advent of oil and prostitutes.

Sheikh Jamal says the Globe theatre will be rebuilt once excavations are complete.

"We will open the new theatre with a gala night of stick dancing followed by a performance of Hair by the Sharjah Royal Players."

© Reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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next issue is no. 12

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