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14 March, 2008

The Village Voice

A heated debate is taking place on Dubai Media Observer over Dubai's media freedoms and human rights and so forth, which it seems worthwhile to respond to.

Part of the problem in Dubai is that far too many senior officials have no perspective when it comes to local press versus international coverage. They have a very "village green" attitude, and will obsess over a perceived impertinence in a local rag read predominantly by Jumeirah Janes and Tecom commuters while ignoring serious social and political problems that get picked up by global heavyweights such as the FT and the Economist.

Around the time of the 7Days=Satan era (when the paper quite innocently published an interview from AFP with Sheikh Khalifa, and the Arab papers - clearly acting out of spite or on official instructions - beat it up into some great "insult" to Khalifa when anyone with half a brain could see that 7Days was actually trying to suck up rather than offend) we held a media training session with officials from a supposedly world class international financial institution.

The aim was to coach them for international media, since what the FT and the Times and the WSJ print about Dubai is aeons more critical than what 7Days with its Lime Tree-Jumeirah Jane readership prints.

But these officials were simply obsessed with 7Days. They kept repeating: "but they cannot print these things". It's hard to be certain to this day if they even knew what "these things" were, if they had even (ever) read 7Days, just that it represented some huge nebulous insult to them according to the majilis grapevine.

No matter how much we tried to position 7Days to them as a very minor, "village gazette" style rag and emphasise the importance of having a wider perspective, these important, educated officials just couldn't see past their own garden fence. Dubai has so much self-importance contained in such a small village-style society that too many senior people - people who really matter for the country's future - are missing the bigger picture.

Part of the reason that the US ports decision was so stunning to many people here was because Dubai - like other upcoming cities, perhaps - believes its own hype to a dangerous extent. Dubai is not as much on people's radars as we as sandlanders are led to believe. Sure, people notice The Palm and the Deathspire but they don't think about it every day of their lives as they go about their business in Peterborough or Wisconsin. But the bad stuff: they remember that quite a bit more.

How many glitzy mega projects does it take to blot out a toddler camel jockey? How many World's Biggest Whatevers does it take to erase unpaid, indentured labour? It is impossible to say. But certainly more than Dubai has got at the moment.

So until the dishdashes-that-be understand the difference between 7Days posting an expat whinge about bad traffic in Barsha, and the New York Times printing 1000 words about human rights abuses, it is impossible to foresee any speedy or significant improvement to media standards or media freedoms in the UAE.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reality check. Dubai is not Las Vegas. First rule of Marketing is NOT to believe you own hype. When the bubble will burs on real estate prices, the morning after will very hard.

14 March, 2008 18:27  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apologies for long cut and paste but I thought this is interesting.


ITUC Online

United Arab Emirates: workers sentenced to six months’ imprisonment

Brussels, 14 March 2008 (ITUC OnLine): Forty-five Indian construction workers have been sentenced to six months’ imprisonment under charges of holding illegal gatherings, vandalism, and violating public security following their participation in a strike last year for better working conditions.

The ITUC strongly protests against the verdict of the Dubai Criminal Court, a verdict that constitutes a strong violation of Convention 87 on freedom of association. According to the ITUC, Head Judge Jassem wanted to create a precedent and send a strong message to workers “who resort to illegal methods to get their rights from employers.”

“These workers must be released with no delay,” declared Guy Ryder, ITUC General Secretary. “Workers, and especially migrants workers in this particular case, must be free to exercise their rights to freedom of association and expression,” he added.

In a letter sent to the ILO, International Labour Office, the ITUC requested the Office’s urgent intervention with the authorities of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates in order to secure the immediate release of the workers and to have the ongoing sanctions against them dropped.

The ITUC represents 168 million workers in 155 countries and territories and has 311 national affiliates.

For more information, please contact the ITUC Press Department on +32 2 224 0204 or +32 476 621 018 or +32.477.580.486"

14 March, 2008 21:18  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard talks of slaves being sold in Sharjah souq in 1970. Maybe it was much earlier? Anyways, the mentalities have not evolved since.

14 March, 2008 22:40  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the ITUC addressed, rightfully so, the freedom of association, what about the vandalism charges? why ignore that?Do you agree to people destroying public and private property? If you recall they created havoc when the they demonstrated, and of you go back to the first few demonstrations for laborers in Dubai they were peaceful and they won people over to their cause, then they turned ugly, violence should not be tolerated no matter what the cause is, isn't this what we get preached to us daily when it comes to fighting occupation? Hypocrisy at its best!

15 March, 2008 07:41  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, obviously the labourers are guilty of hypocrisy! That's kife, guy. If the first protests were peaceful, why are the protesters turning violent years later? Super-secret progress that the labourers don't know about yet?

15 March, 2008 11:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why have you been blocked now?

15 March, 2008 15:23  
Blogger Annabelle said...

Most domestic workers are just shipped off to their country of origin without anyone ever checking if they are guilty of something or not. I asked a government official if he really felt this was the best way to go: "When they arrive back home, they will talk to Human Rights Watch and that's not very good for the press coverage your country gets." His answer was: “Well, it’s not in the Dubai newspapers, so....”

15 March, 2008 15:43  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maabrooook - you got punked...i mean blocked.

I believe this is the second time.

The truth is out there...

15 March, 2008 15:59  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Locals missing the bigger picture? Talk about a truism.. :)

As a local official once told me while I was trying to get a contract hammered down: "Do it now, and sort the problems later, that's how we built Dubai."

Anyway, it's seem that DU/TECOM is catching up on the ban game, blogger and blogspot have been unavailable for a couple of day. Can anyone confirm/infirm?

I still have the company's VPN so I don't care.

15 March, 2008 22:47  
Blogger brai said...

You are famous again...they blocked u...
Way to go!!!

16 March, 2008 05:56  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just on media values, the nightmare scenario is that record oil wealth and infinite credit provides the mechanism to extend the GCC approach to media management beyond borders.

(The heaviest user of the UK’s libel courts, for example, is currently from Saudi Arabia).

Most of the new generation of UAE business leaders are fully aware of The Economist and The FT, and are increasingly expecting the same kind of glowing profiles in them when they travel that they receive at home. Given the advertising pressure on European media, there’s a ready audience for this. (The Times didn’t really cover themselves with investigative glory when they came over here last year, for example).

Finally – is it me, or has Du extended the block to the freezones? I’m having to use backdoor channels to read any blogspots at the moment…

16 March, 2008 09:49  
Blogger LocalExpat said...


well said SD

16 March, 2008 10:41  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is, hands down, one of the best and most succinct pieces I've read on media, not just in Dubai or the UAE, but the region, in a very long time. Brava, SD! I just hope they let us keep reading you in Oman...

16 March, 2008 14:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, you got blocked, congratulations, you must be doing something right!


16 March, 2008 15:54  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeaaayyy... Officially blocked in the freezones as well... Thank god I am a geek! SD - good work!


16 March, 2008 16:23  
Blogger secretdubai said...

Blocked in the freezones? Are you sure? I thought the proxy wasn't implemented there yet.

16 March, 2008 16:27  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do I feel that this blog is a subversive sticking point to the New World Order.Does Human Rights have anything to do with the agenda of the Powerful and the Rich. I think that SD you now have become a freedom fighter,be careful! May the Force be with you!

16 March, 2008 17:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh boy good ole blue screen with the STE BLOCKED message.

Neeways, words out that there was an attack on the ARch Bishop and they have upped the security around churches.

Seems some fanatics are going on a rampage after being incited by some church rep. You need to keep it low SD.

16 March, 2008 20:43  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its really sad. Anne Frank's phenomena, this time in Arabia.


17 March, 2008 02:06  
Blogger secretdubai said...

Oh far from R.I.P.

Unless you mean Let RIP...


17 March, 2008 02:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey! The facebook group Ban Secret Dubai is no longer! U.A.E. Welcome to the 21st Century!

17 March, 2008 05:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just going back to the "they are vandals so lock them up' comment....

One of the weirdest things about Dubai is that it believes it can buy its way out of history.

By this I mean that history on every place on the planet shows that if you ban the right to create peaceful trade unions and the right to demonstrate then the result is always violence. Look at Tibet right now and look at Burma recently.

Building big buildings and installing 1000s of spiv Brits to run the place won't stop those troublesome workers from the sub-continent burning the whole place to the ground (or the UAE army/police staging a massacre) at some point in the future.

The only way to prevent that is by offering proper, legally enforceable rights. After they won't even give the labourers bread and circuses - just gruel and a dorm room....

As for the SD ban - the irony is, once again, with every ban the censors bring their ending ever closer.

It also shows - unlike DMO - that you are doing a proper job.

17 March, 2008 05:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No "sub rosa" then. We know where the root of evil stems from:

17 March, 2008 10:10  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yes ur blog apart from all of blogspot has been blocked over the weekend...

A question for all the pseudo samaritans and angry neo socialists, including me.. here... Who is actually up for starting something worthwhile to help the labourers..
Have some pretty good ideas, some of them already test run..
Reply n let know if your money is where ur mouth is...



17 March, 2008 11:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's unblocked now, though.

17 March, 2008 11:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the labourers are pretty good at doing their own thing - what they really need is solidarity with sympathetic journalists in the media - not blankets denials or apathy.

Try and interview their leaders or spokespersons; build contacts with them; help get their versions out not just to Dubai media but beyond.

They will mobilise again and could make an awful lot of UAE based media look pretty dumb if you lot miss out.

17 March, 2008 12:43  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone who reads this knows that the UAE is not the USA, Canada, UK, France, Australia or some other so-called first world country.

Why not just accept this place as being different, have a good time while you are here and piss off when you get sick of it?

Imposing your values and perceived virtues on people who are different and who have different values, are bogged down by religion and spoiled by wealth is pointless.

There are great opportunities for all here ... take them and stop whinging.

17 March, 2008 22:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


18 March, 2008 00:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ anonymous re: Your Comment

"Imposing your values and perceived virtues on people who are different and who have different values, are bogged down by religion and spoiled by wealth is pointless."

I read this above statement and it is hollow and shallow and If you think that a Man's heart can't be changed then you don't know Power, Most People who have wealth are also enslaved with their own personal demons or have consciousness.UAE is a battleground....FREEDOM reigns in the Hearts of Men!

It does not matter who you are M/F, even for a rich spoiled Sheikh to a lowly endentured slave.

LOVE CONQUERS ALL amd changes society for the better!

18 March, 2008 02:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't live in the UAE so can't 'piss off' from it.

Gotta say though the place has a massively inflated sense of its own importance.... it's just a place in the desert with bad traffic, lots of exploited workers and a few big buildings.

18 March, 2008 06:50  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI Secret -- in spite of Seven Days' impressive spread on this site being blocked since you're so subversive and evil and soul-destroying to the UAE, the universities can still read you.

Thought you'd like to know.

18 March, 2008 08:15  
Blogger Proud Emirati said...

someone needed to teach 7days a lesson and they got one !! No, am not referring to Sheikh Khalifa issue.

btw, as I said in the UAE community blog, SD blog is not blocked here.

18 March, 2008 09:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problems of censorship I've encountered working on newspapers etc here have very, very rarely come from the top guys. If you can get an interview with a minister, or the head of a division, police chief, company director etc you'll often be surprised at how much they are willing to say on the record. A lot of these guys have gone to university in the US or Europe, have experience dealing with international press, and, while obviously giving the company line to an extent, they will often be quite honest about the issues facing the UAE and what needs to be done.
The problem is getting to these guys. The problem is the middle management tier of flunkies who are terrified that they will be for the chop if something negative appears in the local press - and sadly, I can include several newspaper editors in that category. I'm talking to you, Eudore Chand. The lesser educated, career civil servant Emiratis are also more likely to take offence at perceived slights than their bosses.
The top guys couldn't give a toss what 7 Days says. They read the The Times and the Economist.
That said, I can't believe the TRA has (apparently) blocked this blog again - I can still read it fine where I am, but it hardly makes the country look enlightened. One step forward, two steps back...

18 March, 2008 09:51  
Blogger secretdubai said...

The problems of censorship I've encountered working on newspapers etc here have very, very rarely come from the top guys.

Yes - from my experience I totally agree. The problem is that the top dogs are way too busy to worry about this stuff. It's just points scoring for the lesser educated middlemen - the same ones that harass newspapers because "their" sheikh's photo was positioned slightly lower on the front page than another sheikh.

I could go postal and put loads of stuff that we all know that seriously blackens the name of various "top" guys, but I won't do. Regardless of whether it could be substantiate, I just don't feel it's fair. I don't think Sheikh Mo is personally to blame for my blog getting blocked. I think he has some great vision and some absurdly misguided vision, and I think he would do himself and his emirate a favour enforcing better freedom of speech, but I don't see his personal hand in any of this.

Also I think if he was personally offended, I wouldn't be freely sitting here typing this!

No - let Al Ghanem and the railing rabble have their moment of perceived victory and self-righteousness, while the more enlightened continue to express themselves as they wish through their bypasses and tunnels and VPNs ;)

18 March, 2008 10:59  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog tried to damage Dubai's reputation as one of the best cities in the world.

Of course, one blog wouldnt cause much harm, but it projected a wrong and untrue image of Dubai, one contrary to reality, which is that Dubai is probably the most happening place on the planet. Why else would there be a multitude of celebrities who have rushed to buy property in Dubai and have praised this amazing city ?

18 March, 2008 11:30  
Blogger secretdubai said...

Why else would there be a multitude of celebrities who have rushed to buy property in Dubai and have praised this amazing city ?

Help me out - spoof comment? My spoofometer is apparently malfunctioning so I don't want to accuse you of being a complete cretin in case you're just joking (which I really hope you are!)

18 March, 2008 11:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I see one more OK / Ahlan / Time Out front page with Celine Dion / Pink / some random Bollywood star known only by a nickname saying "It's great to be in Dubai, it's an amazing city" as the goddamn FRONT PAGE quote I'm going to cry. But I know that won't stop them...

I'm not sure that comment was a spoof, by the way...

18 March, 2008 14:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there are millions of celebrities who have done paid work to advertise alcohol in various countries, as also they do for coke, pepsi, calorie high fast food etc. Now the stupid cretin anon @ 18 March, 2008 11:30 believes that all celebs who said good things about dubai when paid in cash and kind( read free sinking island homes) proves its worth unquestionably.And none of them every visit, forget staying for more than one week. How many idiots does it take to make one world? or is it maybe the fact that everything needs to be dictated to these people, with unquestioning acceptance means Gulf News and Khaleej Times have also been raised to similar stature?

18 March, 2008 16:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ‘Best City” waves a red hand at the unsuspecting” middle aged” guy, with the red fingers pointing into the direction of the unfamiliar classroom full of Proxies, VPNs, Tunnels, and all this only to read a “radical blog”, while the “proletariat” of non entities” packed into buses dream of “non-moral” relationships, during their long morning and evening migration hours.
The colour of the credit card translates opinions of the city

18 March, 2008 16:43  
Blogger Bakerette said...

I don't see why you people are STILL here if you don't like living here. You seem to have a cynical attitude towards almost anything from Dubai police to a poor ignorant women left abandoned in a mall. Sorry but not everyone is as savvy as you are. You think that non-conformity is noble?? You're dubbing secret Dubai as a freedom fighter?? where do you people live? Since when was being flat-out RUDE turn into fighting for freedom?? This countries' primary goal is to preserve it's values and traditions that's why they don't hand out citizenships like the US and Canada. You were brainwashed by capitalism and diversity ideals. But if someone in the US dares to even talk about a group of people in a slightly negative light you dub them "anti-semitic"or "racist". But what do you call this?? An attack on the politics, justice system, religion and anything that you find "unappealing" to your PERSONAL SUBJECTIVE opinion. Emiratis should not be pro inclusion, diversification if they don't want to. If they accepted what you want them to accept then they'll end up like the native indians, living in a country that was once their own and hardly is anymore because of FREEDOM, they have NO FREEDOM. There is no WRONG and RIGHT way and sometimes FREE speech can do more harm than good. I lived in the US for 4 yrs and seen more racism there than anywhere else. I've never been treated with more respect by locals of a country than here. It's simple, you don't like it stop whining and GO HOME!!

19 March, 2008 10:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for all the so called celebs who buy property here; that's simply because this is one of the few countries in the world where nobody asks where your money comes from. So soccer players can easily cash money for loosing a game and Iraqi's can cash in on arms deals and then you just fly to good old Dubai to find an apartment and a pretty Russian prostitute.
If you don't like it then go home? How are workers supposed to do that if heaps of employers hold on to their passports, refusing to let them go? Exacly why do you think the international press is talking of 'modern slavery'?

19 March, 2008 11:43  
Blogger Bakerette said...

I'm sorry but if you think workers here have it bad then maybe you should visit India and see the conditions and poverty there!!

19 March, 2008 15:01  
Blogger secretdubai said...

That doesn't make it right. Even regardless of the fact that the UAE is a small, exceedingly rich country that could certainly afford to ensure better conditions for labourers.

Just because my neighbour kills two men doesn't make it ok for me to kill one.

19 March, 2008 15:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Translation of Basma's post:

Hello, I made my money in Dubai in the construction business, I feel its ok not to pay laborers, after all they have it worse in India dont they?

USA is bad, they treat everyone equally there, I mean how dare they told me that I had to wait behind an Indian !

I really like it here because I get preferential treatment (because of my money/gender etc.), and I can get away with a lot of s*** that the USA wouldnt tolerate. And when people point out that I am wrong, I try to deflect attention by pointing out the USA or by saying "if you dont like it, leave"

19 March, 2008 15:07  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

basma the upholder of local virtues and culture and tradition ( actually none of these exist, in case u didnt know, they are still trying to create all this through a virtue village, culture city, and tradition town)forgets a few things of no importance to her when she talks about a labourer starving in india :
he starves because often he chooses not to take the effort to travel and find jobs. there are enough there, believe me.
he also gets to choose a president, he can read free media, he can criticize anything that is wrong in the country, and he can bring his children up in hope they will do better than him because it is based on merit, and not on waste and inherited wealth. but then why am i telling u all this, probably would go right over your head. as for being nice to all of you, rather the other way round. thank me for staying in this shit to build your country for some piddly dollars.

19 March, 2008 15:36  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Basma - so what have all the prostitutes on the streets and in the bars of Dubai got to do with your Islamic values and national identity????? I mean I am a Londoner and it can be a really fucked up place but even we don't have that. And no, I don't live in Dubai - after visiting it would never consider it. Really, it's a bit of a dump and once the economic bubble bursts you're kind of fucked. By that point the Indians will be employing Arabs as cheap labour (they've got nukes remember) and telling to fuck off back to the desert every time you bitch and whine about it.

19 March, 2008 16:34  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone seen this?

This blog seems to be the documenting some strange sightings in dubai:

Sightings in Dubai


22 March, 2008 10:55  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an UAE expat I kept reading this blog. I was not really surprised but was disappointed when I could not access it when I visited UAE last week.

For all its problems, good that my place dosen't have some stupid censorship.

- Milind
Land of people driving Nissan Sunny

22 March, 2008 19:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dubai unfortunately is not going bust anytime soon. As long as there is "black money" and folks who want a tax free life, Dubai will be on a roll.

It will leach money from the UK, while providing employment to those Brits who are absolutely leaving the sinking ship, like the Philipinos or Pakis or whatever...especially those that the class system in the UK is still oppressing, know what i mean!

So I love you SD, but Emiratis and fellow expats all know what the brits are all about. Most brits love it here, the whinging is part of the national character plus colonial hangover, a need to feel superior to the natives and other "fellow guest workers".

25 March, 2008 17:06  
Blogger al-republican said...

Yes, the bubble will burst. But, not because of economic reasons and natural forces.

The bubble will burst when the western boys decide to play with their toys in this part of the world.

26 March, 2008 10:21  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize this is a late posting but, Basma, face the truth. The reason UAE is disallowing citizenship is to keep the money tap open for the current Emaratis when it comes to sponsorship money, and to secure the tribal system of keeping the dishdashas-that-be in power. Under all humanitarian rules and laws in all of the land this is the only region where even if you're BORN in this land you don't get citizenship. Now by what right do they or anyone else decide that someone like that does not belong? And that at some point one native person decides to ship the other native person to where his grandparents used to live, calling it their "home country"?

Yes it is bad here, and it got bad VERY quickly, I have seen it rise for twenty years and now deteriorate in five, and no I don't leave when someone like you tells me to, I stick around and fight. Those labourers deserve fighting for, those enchanted investors deserve journalists and bloggers opening their eyes and saving them from false realestate reports the government keeps releasing, and the expats inside and out need to know what's going on around here to make their own decision about moving here, or leaving here.

BTW, the reason you're treated well as a lady here is out of patriarchal thought that you belong to a man who deserves that "his woman" not to be harrassed, not out of respect for YOU as a lady. Otherwise it wouldn't be that many local men beat their wives and they're prevented from ever reporting it (actually many times get turned away even if they show up bruised when the "man turns up and says she "insulted" him and he taught her a lesson). So it's a good byproduct, of a bad backward philosphy.

13 April, 2008 23:28  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lived and worked in the UAE (Abu Dhabi) in 2006/7. Hypocracy is alive and well. I have lived all over the world, and never seen prostitution and alcohol so freely available if you have any money. I also was amazed at the poverty behind the glitter. The poor labourers not getting paid, being deported when they protested, the hassling of non moslem women, and this in a country that brags about its values.

Despite the money, weather etc. Unless you have no morales and no values. It is all spin and press control. I wouldnt recommend this place. I especially would not recommend it to women or families. It is truly screwed up in its ethics, which is bad enough, but it is the hypocracy of the UAE peoples, particularly the ones at the top that is so awful.

02 December, 2008 18:06  

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