Monday, July 31, 2006

Top Picks 7/06

Picks of the Month: July 2006
Laborers 1
For those most unfortunate ones, it is usually on the job that they succumb, becoming permanently disabled, dying or falling terminally ill. There is no system in place to gather any statistics. No one knows how many suffer such a fate. Such is the nature of the disrespect these indivuals experience throughout their time here.
BD, 7-July
I pass a familiar landmark which I've seen for years but still have no idea what it is or what it is for. In such moments I feel rather alienated from the place I've made a home in over the past 6 years. That, I realize, is a reflection of my own failure to participate in the community or society within which I live.
BD, 12-July
On the second front, it meekly assented to the fact that it was far out-gunned. Without a fight and nary even a word of complaint (well-founded though it would have been), DP World simply relenquished its right to partially manage operations at several US ports.
BD, 25-July
Most Interesting Comments
the Superlative
As a native expat, whose parents have lived in the UAE for 40 years, whose brothers were born and raised in the UAE - I cannot understand the country's naturalization policy - which honestly seems "Alien" and a bit "brutal".
Blogrosh, 20-July

Free polls from
Best Pick of the Month (July 06)
Laborers 1 Participation World the Superlative Other (post comment)   


The word is mouthful, but it touches upon an important idea. One dictionary entry offers:
Universality is opposed to relativism in philosophy. Truth may be said to be universal, as well as rights, for example in natural rights.

Wikipedia, online encyclopedia   

The question of universality seems of relevance in a society like the UAE's where much appears to happen on the basis of relative criteria. Positions are offered and salaries are determined on the basis of nationality, sex, age, etc. The same standards often apply in regard to services. Favoritism and discrimination appear to be largely the order of the day in the UAE.

An easy way to see this in action is to browse the Classified section of a local newspaper. A couple of common examples read:
1 B/R available in Madinat Zayed, for a non-cooking, Muslim, executive bachelor. Contact 050-XXXXXXX.
Gulf News, 31 July 2006   

BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, UK/ European/ SAF/ AUS, with good contacts, required. Email CV to

Khaleej Times Online, 31 July 2006   

Such advertisements commonly list nationality, sex, age, language and sometimes the religion required. Of course, the motivation behind such listings can be understood to have relevance to the specific matter at hand. Someone wishing to share a room or apartment will understandably have a preference. Likewise, in a business setting, it may be easier to work with members of a selected community, which could translate into higher productivity and higher profits.

Nevertheless, this way of thinking permeates all aspects of life in the UAE, and is used in clearly negative and discriminatory ways. Employment offers the most extreme examples, a few of which have already been highlighted. Patronage and memberships in clubs, bars and other social establishments, are often screened on the basis of racial or ethnic criteria. According to a recent news article, a popular shopping center now bans entry to shoppers who fit a certain profile--read laborer, usually of South Asian origin.

The underlying premise in the concept of universality suggests that such an excessive degree of relativism, as exists within UAE society, runs counter to the more fundamental notion of respecting an individual's natural or human rights. In plain speak, one should not be hired or paid according to his/her nationality. A landlord should not refuse or offer housing to an applicant on such basis. The government of the UAE should pay attention to not only the question of Emiratisation, but also that of anti-discriminatory practice toward all residents.

No Clear Heading

The UAE is at a bit of a crosswords. While on the one hand it is becoming a more developed society, incorporating more and more international standards in business and industry, it remains socially and culturally entrenched in the ways of the past.

The peril is that many suffer in this society, albeit quietly and often in subtle ways. Many may never achieve the lifestyle objectives they pursue, for simple reason of nationality, sex, age, religion, etc. It is an errant practice which effects both the national and expatriate populations in equal, if not differing, measure.

Without meaning to sound platitudinous, the notion of equality among peoples needs to be more encouraged and promoted within UAE society. At present, it is not. Attention is being given to issues such as Emiratisation and treatment of laborers, for example--which are good things--but there is little in the way of promoting or even discussing the notion of universality across all sectors of society.

577 words
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Sunday, July 30, 2006

the Palm

Eighth wonder of the world...

The Palm Jumeirah is the first of 3 planned, palm-shaped islands being built off the coast of Dubai. The island is being readied for the handover of its first 4000 properties by the end of 2006. It is property pioneer Nakheel's showpiece development and will be their first major project completed (partially completed, that is, with sections due to be rolled out in phases over the next two years).

Question: Where are the palms--as in trees?

Ok, the question is a bit facetious. Of course, thousands of palms and other forms of vegetation can be planted or transplanted onto the island once it gets closer to completion. But photos of the Jumeirah Palm, with nearly complete or partially built-up plots, reveal that there really won't be much space for trees or greenery, of any kind.

The island is supposed to be the crème de la crème of residential properties, with a much touted resort ambience. On the face of it, however, it appears little different from existing inland developments which feature rows of tightly packed villas interspersed or separated from one-another by artificial ponds, lakes and other waterways. Surely the Palm is supposed to be much more than that.

On a less critical note, the island is certainly a masterpiece of engineering. Aerial views reveal a perfect palm-shaped formation with the green waters of the Gulf surrounding its many fronds. It will certainly be beautiful, with attractive landscaping and impressive properties to match, once construction of its thousands of properties is complete. It will feature a 10-lane highway as its main thoroughfare, several bridges, a tunnel and a monorail. Despite, its shortcomings, just the fact that it is soon to become reality is something to laud.

Daring to Dream

I have heard the words of critics, both the ringside spectator type and the informed insider. "Nakheel has grand ideas but knows very little about detail...," they suggest--wherein, famously, lies the devil. But grand visions are what dreams are made of, and " is from he that dreams, that great things spill forth." That is the thought I would rather convey to the naysayer.

To Nakheel's credit they have dared and continue to dare to dream. What they lack in expertise, they seem to make up for in resolve. That, I say, is the key to success, even more so than having technical expertise or other prowess.

As an illustration, take the US space program. In its early days the dreams were grand, but the experience little and so too the expertise. Yet, when the country's leadership resolved to land a man on the moon in as little as 10 years, all obstacles were eventually overcome. From the 1970's onward, however, that resolve disintegrated. Though the experience and the expertise remained, and even grew, the ability to excel seemed to have faded with the dream.

How Good is Big?

Nakheel fares well in other comparisons as well. I would argue, for example, that one may take heart that Nakheel is not Damac*. Nakheel is sometimes regarded as the UAE's largest property developer (it is a semi-governmental entity). In compasion, Damac is the self-acclaimed largest private property developer. While Nakheel has a dozen or so spectacular developments in progress or in the planning stages, all within the UAE, Damac has some four dozen or so projects, largely in the UAE but also spread out across the Middle East and as far a field as China.

Damac's fortunes, however, appear to rest on a house of cards. With over 50 projects proposed, less than a handful are underway, and only one, thusfar, completed (to disappointing results). There is no warranted claim to greatness in this. Nakheel, on the other hand, despite a spectacular stumble or two has the bird in hand with its first Palm project--even if yet to be completed. Such is the grandeur of the Jumeirah Palm Island. It is not only a wonder for Dubai, but also an ace in the hole for its builder.

*As an aside, I refer to Damac. Who am I, I will admit, to predict where their fortunes lie? But every indication is that there are disgruntled customers and a genuine skepticism as to their ability to deliver on such a multitude of projects without any established record.

722 words
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What’s Wrong With These Beautiful Pictures?—a word on failed ambitions, ala Nakheel.
Palm Jumeirah Ready by Year End, Gulf News update on Palm progress.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006


   a month has passed since the concept of A Word A Day (in the UAE) hit the presses, so to speak, and a routine has become established. It might be useful to step back for a moment and comment upon what it is supposed to be all about.

First, a word about how the idea evolved. It started from a rather spontaneous, Internet-style Eureka moment. While browsing the net I happened upon a site called Hong Kong, One Photo A Day. The immediate thought that came to mind was, "What a great idea ...and so simple!" It seemed like something workable and at the same time interesting. "Why not a photo a day from the UAE," I thought.

Unfortunately, spending 4-5 days a week at a desert outpost where I work--where cameras are not permitted--a photo a day was not going to be a workable idea. "So, why not a word a day," I thought, and thus the concept was born.


I took off with the idea right away, but A Word A Day, it turns out, is not always that simple. I can only compose decent commentary if the word or thought is inspired. Ideally, when that moment of inspiration hits, I should be at a computer terminal with an Internet connection, and not preoccupied with anything else. Needless to say, it is more likely the planets and stars will line up before all those conditions are met. Relying on that moment of inspiration is the most challenging aspect of the effort.

Then, there is the fact that I must permit myself to be presumptuous enough to think that I, moi, can actually comment with credibility on whatever it is that comes to mind that day. There are things, for reason of personal experience and interest, that I am clearly more qualified to comment upon than others. But at the end of the day, I am afraid I have to be a bit presumptuous. That is, I suppose, part of what blogging is all about. Anyone can become his own authority and his own editor-in-chief.

So, full of presumption I set out each day to comment on a word. But if I may in all humility add, I endeavor to approach each topic with balance and perspective. What I attempt to convey is not only a personal viewpoint but also a position on the subject arrived at after some amount of thought and reflection.


An additional challenge is to make certain that the inspired thought relates in some way to life in the UAE. That is one of A Word A Day's guiding principles.

On occasion, however, I may feel compelled to stray from that mission. A case in point was when I decided to take on the topic of religion. Not knowing how to publicly present personal thoughts on the subject without risk of offending local sensibilities, I set upon and completed my post with nary a mention of Islam or the UAE. Touché, for it is more than obvious that the two are of immediate relevance to the topic. That, however, must wait for another day, if not another place.


A final consideration has had to be the actual writing, the composition of the commentary. Putting pen to paper is not so much a challenge, figuratively speaking, that is. I am an English teacher with years--more than I care to admit--of telling learners what to say and how to say it. Interestingly, however, there is the occasional stickler, when I have to pause for just the right word. It usually isn't the sort of thing that one would need to look up in a dictionary or thesaurus. It is often that simple, everyday little thingy that the grammarian or linguist calls a preposition. Who would have thought that it could be getting the in's, of's, for's, by's and on's right that would be the most trying of tasks?

Closing Thought

Now, did I really ever answer the question of what A Word A Day (in the UAE) is all about? Not very succinctly, I suppose. In a few words, then, I would summarize:
It’s about taking an inspired thought about life in the UAE, expressing it in a word, and then expanding upon that idea in some detail.
That, in exactly 25 words, is A Word A Day (in the UAE).

732 words
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Friday, July 28, 2006


I have to admit that after six years of living in the UAE, I as a Western, non-Muslim, non-Arabic speaking expatriate do not have an understanding of the Emirati character, lifestyle or culture. I see it, or rather catch glimpses of it from afar, like when zipping past communities along the super-highway that connects Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I know some of the communities' names, like Baniyas, Mafraq, or Al Rabha. But they mean little more to me than a collection of concrete, square-shaped houses, uniformly designed and lined up in rows.

I've had the occasion to visit the home or two, but I must say I really didn't get what I would call the majlis culture. One enters the home, sits on the floor in the majlis or living room (for guests) and well--just sits on the floor. It is for me an awkward feeling that although present in a home, one is not really present in that home, but rather being discreetly kept at the edge of it.

It is a feeling similar to passing by a mosque. There it is, sometimes small, sometimes big but right there at every turn. Not allowed to enter one just peers or glances while passing by--another part of the local culture that is strictly off-limits.

The youth of the culture are perhaps more accessible, but I don't fancy racing dangerously in sports cars or watching those who do, nor bashing the desert sands or whiling the hours away with hubbly-bubbly. Nor do I like cutting through curtains of smoke, glass in hand, pretending that I like the ear-splitting beats of rap or techno in a club. So, the youth of the culture, I'm afraid, do not offer me much of a window.

I've had different experiences on visits to neighboring Oman. Of course, the Emiratis and Omanis share things in common. But in Oman, it seemed hard not to get invited or pulled into a local's home. On such occasions I was still relegated to the majlis, but my appearance at least prompted the rest of the family to come out and visit me. I even had the occasion to wander around the grounds of a mosque or two, right up to the entrance--my camera in hand, taking photos and never feeling that I was intruding on sacred ground.

To me, Emirati culture is represented by walls--the huge walls around the many royal compounds in Abu Dhabi or the stately mansions of the wealthy. One can drive for block after block in the uptown districts of Abu Dhabi, along roads beautifully landscaped in the middle and on either side. But beyond the landscaping all one sees are the walls of compounds. It is the Abu Dhabi I have lived in for six years, yet know nothing of.

As I referenced in an earlier post, White, there is a uniformity and exclusivity within Emirati culture which seems to say, "We are like this and you cannot be part of it. You see, we have our own dress and we live apart from you."

Certainly language and religion are a part of the barrier, and admittedly some of my own proclivities. But my visits to Oman offer such a contrast. Spending just two or three days in Oman I have felt the urge to know the people, their language and their culture. Spending six years in the Emirates, I have yet to feel that urge.

578 words
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Thursday, July 27, 2006

the Rent

Ain't nothin' goin' on but the rent. You gotta to have a J-O-B if you wanna be with me.Gwen Gutharie

Coming from the US, it once seemed inconceivable to me that tenants in apartments and houses could be required to pay a year's rent in advance. It isn't uncommon in the US for tenants to try even to negotiate the required one month advance security deposit, in effect having to put up no more than two-months' rent in advance.

Obviously, circumstances vary from country to country, and the UAE is probably not exceptional in having prospective tenants pay so much up front. It is a combination of market forces and indifference on government's part in looking after the interest of the renter. In a not fully developed economy as the UAE's, consumer protection of any kind is limited, especially in light of the fact that the majority of business and property owners, landlords and the like are UAE passport holders while the vast majority of renters and consumers are holders of foreign passports.

Such being the case, it would be bad enough if it were only the requirement of the lump sum payment. What makes matters all the worse is that over the past two to three years, year-on-year rental rate increases have been in the range of 20% to 50%--with the not too exceptional cases of even 100% increases. Such is the crisis being faced by renters (pre-dominantly expats) in the UAE rental market.

The Lucky Not So Few

A large percentage of the expatriate population are provided housing by their employer. I can only speculate on how many--probably less than 50%. Then again there are hundreds of thousands of laborers in country being provided bed-space, who would also not be among the pool of renters.

The presence, nonetheless, of a large group who need not be concerned with the cost of accommodation means that the outcry over 50% year-on-year increases is muted. The fact, too, that it is often a company paying the rent rather than an individual is one reason why landlords are emboldened to charge so much.

These factors would figure into the market forces side of the equation. Remove either of these variables and prices, or at least price increases, might begin to fall. The bottom line, literally, is that many people in country, native and expat, are not directly impacted by the spiraling cost of renting.

The Not So Silent Majority

This still leaves what is probably a majority of the UAE resident population having to pay rental fees that amount to a form of extortion. This situation has created, or at least exacerbated, the phenomenon of the bed-space bachelor, more commonly and euphemistically called the executive bachelor. This group perhaps out-numbers or at least equals the number of laborers living in company provided bed-space accommodations on the outskirts of the cities. The executive bachelors are usually found in large numbers at city centers, and are often harassed if they try to take up residence in nicer or less crowded neighborhoods.

These renters cope with the rental increases by crowding ever more into rooms and apartments originally designed for single-occupancy or small families. Families also double and triple up in single units or villas. Those with higher salaries rent rooms instead of flats--rooms in multi-room apartments or villas.

As for prices, what may have cost Dhs 20,000 three years ago, could have risen to Dhs 26,000 in the first year, 34,000 in the second and 48,000 in the third. In US dollar terms that would be an increase from about $5,500 in year one to $13,000 by year three. The same scenario plays out for those whose rental properties, like villas, will have increased from say Dhs 60,000 to over 140,000--close to $40,000 for just a year's rent!

Cost of Living

The problem is compounded by the fact that year-on-year salary increases are small in the UAE if they occur at all. The traditional mentality is that people come and work for two or three years then leave. For a company it is cheaper, if not necessarily cost-effective, to hire the next new arrival than pay more to keep the existing worker.

Renters are responding to the escalation in fees in a variety of ways:

  • cutting back on all discretionary spending
  • increasing reliance on credit cards, bank loans and other forms of debt
  • sharing accommodation (usually illegally)--with numbers rising to 20 and more in a 3-bedroom apartment or villa
  • sending dependents back to the country of origin
  • moving further and further away from place of employment
  • finally, just quitting the UAE altogether
For the 50% or more who live in rental accommodation these coping strategies have become the reality of life in the UAE. The lucky ones are those who can, in fact, manage by cutting only discretionary spending. Perhaps the most unlucky are those who go the route of taking on more debt, which could eventually place them into a predicament more worrisome than high rent or inadequate accommodations.

The Bigger Picture

As bad as it is, the rent crisis is just three or so years old. People are muddling their way through it. The government murmurs about action it might take. Meanwhile, thousands of renters are being pushed toward the world of freehold. A construction and property market has taken hold of the UAE in a manner perhaps never before seen in the world. The dynamics, one way or the other, are incredible. The rent crisis appears to be a transitional issue. Rental inflation may turn into deflation when tens of thousands of housing units hit the market within the next couple of years. Salaries may rise as Dubai and the rest of the UAE compete with other countries among the booming Gulf economies for workers.

The good news is that the rental crisis is not an entrenched problem. Those in its grips may need to continue to struggle and cope, but there is something at the end of the tunnel—hopefully a bit of light.

995 words
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Related Discussion and Commentary: Who Pays the Rent?, at the UAE Community Blog.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Chapter I

The world in a word is Dubai. I know the statement is audacious. To clarify and qualify that a bit, the world in question is actually two, Dubai Ports World and Dubai World Central. The former, perhaps better known as DP World, is the nemisis of the famous ports aquisition battle that took place from around September 2005 to March 2006. It was the aquisition battle fought around the world, first in the form of a daring bidding contest for the world's 3rd largest ports operator, P&O, and then an even more spectacular public relations battle between the Congress of the United States and, by comparison, a humble corporate entity of a soon to be denegrated US ally.

DP World won the first contest but lost the second. In the first the company played hardball, pulling all the stops to outbid a larger player. Perhaps it was a battle waged on territory familiar to the rapidly expanding ports operator. On the second front, it meekly assented to the fact that it was far out-gunned. Without a fight and nary even a word of complaint (well-founded though it would have been), DP World simply relinquished its right to partially manage operations at several US ports.

Both battles were rivetting as they played out in the press. The second battle, of course, had such broad international implications that the ordinarily apathetic American public began to weigh in on it. It was a battle won through dirty tricks or skullduggery, which US Congressman are known to resort to on more than the odd occasion. Though retreating, the UAE and Dubai delegation held the high-ground. A battle lost would not be a war surrendered.

DP World has moved on. The Middle East Economic Digest, a leading international news publication reports in its latest issue,
From virtually nowhere, and in the space of just five years, DP World has emerged as the world's third largest port operator through a combination of aggressive acquisitions... With the deep pockets of the Dubai government behind it, there is no reason why its end goal (to be the world's number one port operator) cannot be reached.
From cover story article Taking on the World.
Chapter II

That is the story of the world of Dubai, part one. Part two takes us into the air. It is a story that in interesting ways parallels that of DP World. To appreciate this one must look back on how DP World came to be. The same article quoted above sets the stage:
When Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum announced plans to build the world's largest man-made port at Jebel Ali in 1978, there were many who wondered why. With Dubai already possessing Port Rashid, it would, they claimed be a white elephant. Almost three decades on the move is now held up as a masterstroke.
De ja vu, two and half decades later, son of Sheikh Rashid, Sheikh Mohammed, proclaims that Dubai will construct the largest airport in the world, again at Jebel Ali. This, as the present Dubai International Airport was undergoing a massive expansion yet to be completed. In the true spirit of replicating history, where the Jebel Ali ports operation would come to be known as Dubai Ports World, the aviation venture, originally called the Jebel Ali International Airport, has been rebranded Dubai World Central.

Indeed, in the eyes of some, this would place Dubai at the center of the world. In even more spectacular fashion than the rapid emergence of DP World on the world's shipping stage, Dubai World Central plans to be an operation of incredible proportions. If one statistic alone were not telling enough, the massive complex is being designed to handle 120 million passengers per year, compared to the 67 million passengers now handled by London's Heathrow, considered the world's busiest international airport, and 88 million per year handled by the United States' Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest airport, handling both domestic and international passengers.

Chapter III

The crowning jewel was commissioned by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum in the form a decree dated 2 March 2006. In a 2 July 2006 public announcement, it was reported that a new corporate entity, Dubai World, was being officially launched...
as one of the world's leading holding companies, with over 45,000 employees in over 75 cities around the world.
From AME Info article Focused on the World

This conglomerate would be the umbrella organization for DP World and two of Dubai's massive property developers, Nakheel and Istithmar, along with a host of other interests. The words of Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Chairman of Dubai World, encapsulates the entity's ambitions:
Dubai World never stops working. Around the globe and around the clock, we are committed to achieving tremendous success. Our Holding Company is a pioneering collection of international companies who together will proudly advance Dubai and the world. We know this is just the beginning of what we can accomplish and are excited and optimistic about the future and how Dubai World can help transform it.
Focused on the World

854 words
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Additional Reading:

American Interest in the Dubai Marina
We Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

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Monday, July 24, 2006


Dubai on the World Stage

More so than the UAE, it is Dubai which figures to make a name for itself internationally. This is all well and good when one considers that as little as a decade ago Dubai was for the most part an unknown quantity. It becomes problematic, however, when one considers that today Dubai is susceptible to a host of misconceptions, being in a region that is known for a certain amount of turmoil.

The Gulf

To understand Dubai, the first requirement is to look at it in the context of the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf region in which it is located and to where it is politically and culturally oriented. It is within this context, as opposed to the larger Middle East region, that one can gain a sense of not only the character of Dubai but also the conditions of life there.

The Gulf region has been politically and economically stable since most of the so-called Gulf states established their independence in the early 1970's.* Two exceptions of course are Kuwait, which suffered at the hands of an Iraqi invasion in 1990, and Saudi Arabia, which has for decades been threatened by forces of religious extremism.

These may be considered notable exceptions, but despite such concerns, the Gulf states as a whole have prospered--first and foremost, economically, and also in terms of offering a politically stable and calm climate for business, tourists and residents.

*The Gulf states include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman.

The Larger Region

When compared to the larger Middle East region, conditions in the Gulf could hardly differ more. Though geographically near three zones of conflct--Israel/Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq--the Gulf states (with the exception of Kuwait) have been spared the worse effects of the numerous political, military and economic crises that have plagued the larger region.

It is under these conditions that Dubai prospers today. Associating the problems in Baghdad and Beirut with the UAE is sort of like suggesting that Greece is under threat just for being of similar distance to such trouble spots as the UAE is.

This is not to say, with naivete, that the current crises in the Middle East are not linked in significant ways to the Gulf states. There are substantial cultural, economic and social ties amongst the various states across the larger region. One also would not expect that it were inconceivable for problems in one region to spillover into another. But if the past is any predictor of the future, then the Gulf states are likely to stay clear of direct involvement in the current tumultuos events.

It is a difficult balancing act that the Gulf states must maintain, but they have been successful in the past and it is in their interest to make every effort to continue to walk the fine line. Furthermore, in the face of any regional crisis it has been the tendency of Dubai to not only remain aloof, but to even find ways to prosper.

Fundamental Questions

The layperson is not, however, very much interested in geo-politics. His concerns are often more simple and direct.
  • Is Dubai safe?
  • Are personal freedoms respected?
  • Does it operate by the rule of law, or is one at the mercy of corrupt officialdom?
  • What is it like for the visitor?
  • What are the risks investors face?
Whether from a personal or business perspective, those from outside the region may not be able to differentiate Dubai and Damascus. But those in the know, who have either lived or travelled or are well-versed in the affairs of the region, will be all too aware of the differences. Dubai fares well in regard to nearly all of the concerns one may have about safety, security, stability and the rule of law.

Living in Dubai

It is a city where residents enjoy a standard and quality of life not unlike that in other international cities. That is, business and personal freedoms flourish. The city enjoys a low-crime rate, liberal social attitudes and a government which values above all else the notion of economic prosperity.

The city houses a relatively transient population of workers--professional, skilled and unskilled. They represent not only a wide range of classes in terms of lifestyle, but they hail from an innumerable list of countries. Despite this, the city, and the UAE as a whole, function in a civil, orderly fashion. The authorities are adept at maintaining control while at the same time respecting individual freedoms.

The point is, Dubai is a safe and prosperous city with the same comfort, conveniences and problems as any other large, modern, cosmopolitan city. It is in many ways Singapore, Hong Kong or New York City. It is not Baghdad, while it is perhaps what Beirut had recently aspired to become.

The Arabian Gulf is not the Levant. It has its own interests, concerns and dynamics, which over the past three decades have led to the creation of stable, prosperous societies.

818 words

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Sunday, July 23, 2006


What is it like to get sick in the UAE, especially if you are an expat, and especially when it is a serious illness? This question is not so much one of whether there are adequate treatment options--one will probably have a variety of options to choose from with health services improving all the time. The question concerns government policy and whether or not the individual (namely the expat) will be allowed to 1) keep his job and 2) remain in country--which is often dependent on being employed.

The common assumption is that, if you test positive for HIV, for example, you're out of the country--no questions asked. Of course, this is in no small part due to the worldwide stigma associated with AIDS and HIV--a problem not limited to the UAE. What is less clear is what happens to a working expat resident who is diagnosed, say, with cancer or a serious heart condition?

Diabetes is quite common among both the Indian community and local Arab communities. It would not appear that one being diagnosed with this ailment would be at risk of losing one's job or residency. The bottom-line, however, is that there remain a lot of unanswered questions with regard to how people, primarily expats, are treated when serious health issues arise. I believe it safe to say that for minor to moderately severe conditions the right to residency is not in question. For more serious health matters, the illness may not be the only crisis the expat resident faces.

Healthcare City

How does Dubai's construction of what is to be the region's, if not one of the world's, most comprehensive centers for medical services mesh with the UAE's current policy toward sufferers of serious conditions? Ambitiously named Healthcare City, the development will consist of a collection of hospitals and medical centers specializing in a wide variety of treatments.

On the one hand, it sounds like just one more fanciful mega-project to join the likes of Internet City, Media City, International Aid City, Festival City, Academic City, Culture City, and the like. It will follow what Dubai has recently established as its model for success in any industry. That is, to make a city out of it. These cities are, in fact, designated areas housing the likes of a variety of international brands and corporations which excel in the named industry.

The names of some of these cities may seem hokey, but the concept seems to work, with many of the zones attracting substantial international attention and investment. Healthcare City, it seems, will be no exception and at present the site, within the environs of central Dubai, is already well built-up and quite impressive in terms of structures and infrastructure.

The question which arises for the future is how the UAE will maintain its de facto policy of expelling the non-national, seriously ill individual, while at the same time hosting operators who would be expected to provide medical services to the region and beyond. If it becomes simply a matter of offering care to anyone who can pay, then there is no reason why the insurance held by resident expats could not make such payments--as long as one's employment is not terminated.

I won't at this point try to answer, myself, the questions I raise, except to say that it appears hopeful that the odious policy of expelling those with serious conditions may have to be abandoned, in order to harmonize with the country's, and particularly Dubai's, ambition and growing reputation as a place of global appeal and character.

521 words
See Dubai Healthcare City.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

a Day

A Day in the Life... is a popular series of books which attempt to depict the life of a country in photos taken by numerous photographers all on a single day. Such is the inspiration for today's post. If a picture speaks a thousand words, perhaps a collection of descriptive accounts can help to paint a rough image. What follows is a portrait of a day across the UAE.

  >>12:00 a.m.

In Abu Dhabi, the night time streets are speckled with light traffic--many on the road are taxis scouting late night shoppers and those visiting clubs, hotels and restaurants. The last shoppers are straggling into check-out counters at the Abu Dhabi Co-op, the last outlet to close at the popular Abu Dhabi Mall.

  >>1:00 a.m.

On a quiet back street lined with dark, ghostly apartment blocks a lone cafe is alight with bright lights and strong whiffs of sheesha, as young local lads chat loudly and play with their mobile phones.

  >>4:00 a.m.

The city streets are finally quiet and safe enough for newspaper carriers to cycle about and drop off bundles of the morning news at the small neighborhood grocery shops. A few of the drivers still on the road hail them to get their early copy.

  >>5:00 a.m.

It is time to rise on the farms--yes, farms in the middle of the desert. Hidden only a few hundred meters beyond the brightly lit highways, huge tracks of irrigated farmland await the morning sun. Farm and livestock keepers from India and Bangladesh, dressed in their wrap-around lungi and tattered shirts, start their morning routines. They drowsily make their way along the dusty roads that circumvent the farms.

  >>6:00 a.m.

Closer to the cities, the giant labour camps at Sonapur, Al Quoz and Musaffah are a buzz. Workers are already piling into busses after the frantic morning rush. Rising between 4 and 5 a.m., taking turns at steaming showers and toilets, they begin another day which often seems like an exercise in futility. Though towering structures rise up at construction sites, they have little to add up at the end of a day's work.

  >>7:00 a.m.

Sharjah to Dubai: Roads are crawling with traffic--three, four and five lanes wide. A 3 to 5 km stretch can take 30 to 45 minutes and even up to an hour. When there is an accident all bets are off. Drivers futilely listen to their radios for clues as to why the morning's traffic is so bad.

  >>8:00 a.m.

Government offices, already into their first hour remain two-thirds empty due to leave-taking and late-arriving staff. Once the latecomers show up it is usually just a short stretch before one of many tea or prayer breaks roll around.

  >>11:00 a.m.

Workers on construction sites begin their last hour of work under the scorching sun, before a government-mandated mid-day break kicks in. Never having dried off from their morning showers, the workers coveralls are by now drenched in sweat.

  >>12:00 p.m.

American soldiers at an un-demarcated (read secret) military base relax in barracks listening to their iPods or writing email at their laptops. The mid-day summer heat is unbearable, in or out of fatigues.

  >>2:00 p.m.

An apartment full of bachelors is alive with activity as the men returning from nearby shops and offices settle down for their communal lunch. Hot spicy curry over white steamed rice plants a delicious odor around the cramped apartment. Newspaper spread over the floor converts a sleeping room into a dining room. They quickly finish their meal with little conversation.

  >>5:00 p.m.

The afternoon commute in full-steam, major roads into Dubai are more clogged than those heading out. These are workers leaving new Dubai heading back into old Dubai or Sharjah, where rents are--well less unaffordable. Thousands of villas and, soon to be, tens of thousands of apartment units beckon residents to new Dubai, however extravagant rent and sale prices keep most residents at bay. Home means Bur Dubai or Deira where 8-20 to a flat can just make ends meet.

  >>6:00 p.m.

Jumeirah mosque in Dubai is full of worshipers, many of them Asian workers--taxi drivers, salesmen, shopkeepers, delivery men, etc. They spill out onto the attractive grounds surrounding the large mosque, resplendent in the golden rays of the evening sun.

  >>9:00 p.m.

A group of adolescent boys play football on a vacant section of a concrete parking lot surrounded by apartment blocks. Annoyed, nearby car owners peer from their flat windows hoping the kids stay away from their cars.

  >>11:00 p.m.

Another day is nearly finished, as the busiest time of day sets in at an international airport terminal. Friends see off workmates, departing passengers line up with overweight and oversized baggage, weary travelers file in from arriving flights... for some it will be their first, for others the last glimpse they will have of this thriving desert sheikhdom.

817 words


The above is just one person's collection of images. Readers, add your own to create a more colorful portrait.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

the Superlative

These days the superlative reigns supreme in the UAE, especially in Dubai. Some of the popular references include the tallest building, biggest shopping mall, most luxurious hotel, largest-manmade island, first underwater hotel, most number of cranes, fastest growing population, and so on.

Some may find it excessive and annoying, but it is certainly one of the things that makes the UAE experience a unique one. It is a country that is trying to chart a new and distinct identity and, thanks to Dubai's sense of adventure and ambition, it has found a way to do that.

Not everyone agrees with the course the country is taking. Although spearheaded by the country's leaders, some among the local population feel disillusioned. They see change all around them and a massive influx of foreigners. To them it is nothing short of an invasion and they are the dispossessed.

Nevertheless, it is a transformation from within. Change has not been imposed by outsiders, but rather sought and indeed chased after by the country's rulers. A cynic might say that it is just a way for them to further enrich themselves. But there are easier and far less innovative ways to do that.

From Ports to Freezones

No, there has been a sincere determination to transform the country by the most important among its rulers--the late Sheikh Zayed, founding ruler of Abu Dhabi and the federation, the late Sheikh Rashid, prime instigator of Dubai's initial forays into trade and commerce, and the present ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed, the guiding force behind that emirate's breakaway development. (See rulers of the UAE.)

These leaders have had visions that they have pursued and have invested in with the nation's oil wealth. They have avoided squandering that wealth, and it is especially to the credit of Dubai's rulers that they could effectively plan for the day when those resources would begin to diminish.

Part of Dubai's success in charting new economic territory has to be attributed to a bit of luck. It naturally sought to build upon its historic position as a small regional trading hub--a runner of sorts of sometimes illicit merchandise between regional ports. Focussing on trade and commerce the iconic Dubai Trade Center was constructed as early as 1979. It at once became an early symbol of Dubai's ambitions.

The 1980's saw the commisioning of a second large shipping port in Dubai and the region's first freezone--essentially a zone within the country which allowed foreign investors and traders to function outside of local tax and other regulatory regimes. Dubai had stumbled upon a new business strategy that it would eventually expand to include a wide variety of industrial, commericial and intellectual fields.

A New Century

The ascendency of the superlative emerged from this. Jebel Ali port, in time, became part of a huge and highly profitable shipping and trade zone. Likewise the rapid success of Emirates Airlines suggested that the same could happen within the aviation sector. This led on to a realization of the potential of the tourism sector, while at the same time the retail sector had begun to experiment with concepts like the "shopping festival" and the "global village."

Success in one area led to a determination to repeat the process in other areas, with a continual ramping up of the product each step along the way. By the late 1990's the stage was set in Dubai for an era of superlatives.

Emirates Towers, one of which would be the tallest tower outside of Asia and North America, and the Burj Al Arab hotel, the tallest and arguably most luxurious hotel in the world, heralded the start of a new century. The runaway success of the concept of freehold that has emerged since, has added to the frenzy of development that is beginning to characterize the whole of the Arab Gulf region.

(The excessive use of ) the superlative, which got its start in Dubai, symbolizes the daring and self-confidence of the government, the builders, the disigners and all of those involved in these projects and ventures. It is a symbol to revel in not only for Dubai and the UAE, but for all of the oil rich Gulf states.

701 words
Open a printable copy, in a new window.
Links (Postscript)

A View from New York, In Dazzling Dubai, a Superlative Struggle for Rights

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For English Study:
the Superlative (Advanced Level)
the Superlative (Intermediate Level)
the Superlative (Pre-Intermediate Level)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I'm old enough to remember the early days of computers--that is, the 1970's when computers began to get small enough to be considered personal. Computer folklore talks about the days when a couple of Steves--Wozniak and Jobs--built the first personal computer in a garage. They called it the Apple I, and as they say, the rest is history.

There was a precursor to the personal computer that took Japan by storm in the mid-1980's. It was the word processor, which the Japanese affectionately termed the wa-pro. These transportable devices rendered the 100 odd Japanese syllabic characters together with the several thousand combinations of Chinese characters they used, as easy to input as A-B-C. Such was the popularity of these convenient devices that they delayed the ascendance of the personal computer in Japan, thus putting the highly tech-saavy Japanese behind the curve in computer soft and hardware development with repercussions seen upto today.

Back in the USA, computers became all the rage in business during the 1980's which led to the ascendancy of Bill Gate's Microsoft operating system over the more user-friendly Apple system. Hundreds of companies emerged to join these tech-pioneers to supply computer hardware and software creating an American juggernaut of an industry that continues to dominate the world stage to this day.

Consistent with its wonderful success stories, the computer has combined with the Internet to become one of the most useful and ubiquitous tools ever crafted. The range of its possible uses crosses lines from industrial to business to personal, to serve the requirements of scientists, artists, politicians, and nearly every practioner of every art or craft.

...and so the story goes.

In the UAE

The UAE, particularly Dubai, presents a bustling market for PC commerce. It offers a strip of outlets, most selling items similar to one another, waging their battle along price lines. This benefits both the local consumer and visiting shoppers.

Therein, however, lies the problem. The effect of price being paramount, depresses merchant interest in offering variety or innovativation. For those who need the most common equipment at the lowest prices, this is a good market. For those who want anything new or cutting edge, niche or recently trendy, Dubai and even more so the rest of the UAE have little to offer.

Thus, despite its modern, trendy reputation, Dubai and the UAE are largely Apple-free zones--in contrast to Dubai's accumen at creating successful freezones.

Though Apple clearly offers a niche market product, it carries with it just the sort of brand image that modern Dubai, Inc. is being built on. It is, therefore, all the more perplexing that there is little on offer for those UAE residents and visitors who want it. It is a problem of both price and availability, as far as Apple products go.

Beyond the commercial front, the UAE is a thoroughly modern, tech-saavy society. Computers are to be found in schools and offices everywhere. It may not be the most ubiquitous modern consumer device--that honor goes to the mobile phone. But computers are clearly an important and increasingly common tool for everyday affairs in the UAE.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006


This topic arises in light of events in nearby Lebanon. It is clearly a disaster in the making, one made even more tragic by the fact that it is all reminiscent of the nightmare Lebanon suffered through, in the 1980's.

It also comes at a time when conditions in Lebanon were finally starting to normalize: much of the infrastructure was repaired, tourists were returning, and foreign investment was coming in again. The Lebanese, in spite of or perhaps because of the Hariri assanation in late 2004, had begun to assert a kind of people power, leading to the establishment of more representative governance.

That relative peace was shattered less than a fortnight ago when Israel decided to retaliate against a Hezbollah provocation by attacking Lebanon's infrastructure and poplualtion centers. It was a sudden, unexpected outbreak of all-out war in a country that was just beginning to enjoy the fruits of peace. (See also, The Real Cost to Lebanon.)

The question of peace, of course, goes beyond the present conflict. It is an absolute requirement if a society is to develop and prosper. Even when there is conflict within the society, an atmosphere of peace and security is necessary to permit solutions to be worked out.

In Sri Lanka a war between seperatists and the government rages on--for more than two decades now. A lull in the fighting persisted for a few years, only now to be reversed by an escalation of violence on both sides. Whatever the desires of the separtist fighters, they defeat their own cause in creating havoc in the country. Any government whether in a rightful or wrongful position has no choice but to battle against such a rebellion.

Peace at Some Cost

The cry for peace can sometimes be deafening, as began to happen in cities around the world in response to the build-up leading to the current conflict in Iraq. But the notion of peace at any cost is a notion doomed to fail. It surrenders the right of the righteous to protect themselves when their rights are being trampled upon. It invites abuse by those in power. In the history of the civil rights movement in the United States, there was a point when lynchings--a humiliating form of persecution through public flogging and execution by hanging--and other insidious acts against the African-American minority had to be challenged and, if need be, by force. The threat of revolt inspired some to change laws and change their ways. But the ultimate force which won civil protections for this minority arose from the footsteps of peaceful protesters.

In this instance there was more power in the force of peaceful and passive resistance. And, indeed, this was not an unprecedented form of protest. It was modeled after an even grander protest against British rule in India, and it has been followed by peaceful protests in places like the Philippines, Burma and recently Nepal. Not all of these efforts have succeeded, but such tactics appear to offer far more hope than Tamil Tiger, Sikh separtist, or Hamas style rebellion.

There are, however, legitimate reasons for people to choose to shatter the peace, in protest. When one's rights are being trampled upon and vociferous yet peaceful protest repeatedly fails, it may be time to resort to acts of aggression--particularly by way of self-defense. Perhaps the Jewish minority in Hitler's Germany failed themselves by opting out of a violent protest--that is, if they ever had a chance.

What is worse and indefensible is when a powerful state launches acts of violence against those already struggling for their rights--not as an act of self-defense, but as an act of further subjucation. The Sri Lankan Army is waging a battle of self-defense; the army of Israel a battle of subjucation.

In either case, the continuation of war precludes the emergence of peace. When the offending parties cannot work out an arrangement among themselves, they owe it to their poplulations, which suffer through the strife, to seek the help of outsiders. Both parties, ought to find proxies who can negotiate objectively on their behalf. And those among the population who have it in them to advance a movement of peace, should rise up--in defiance of those who would only offer revolt.

In Sri Lanka, in Palestine, in Punjab and everywhere that there is civil strife, men and women for peace need to assert themselves.


The Attack by Israel on Lebanon, is clearly unjustified.

A thoughtful, clearly worded petition is being circulated online, to be forwarded to decision makers in a number of Western countries, who may be able to positively influence the course of events in the Lebanon crisis. I invite readers of my blog to read the petition and decide for themselves whether or not to sign.


The two links were selected randomly and then reviewed to see whether they provided either balanced views or at least sincere points of view. They are just two of many listed from the two countries at The Truth Laid Bare.

I would add that the Lebanon blog is presented in a journalistic format, whereas the Israeli blog is written in a personal manner. I must say that I am struck by the sentiment expressed in the Israeli blog represented in the following statement, know we've gone through all this so many times before. We overcame Pharoah--we'll overcome this time, too.
It is as if to say that from enslavement by the Pharoahs to the Holocaust, and now to being bombarded by Hezbollah rockets, the Jews have had to suffer through so much. There is a lot of emotion tied up in such a statement.

But the lament being expressed with regard to the present crisis could not be more misplaced. Hateful as Hezbollah may be with regard to the state of Israel, their little Katusha rockets are simply retaliatoin for Israel's massive attack on the whole state of Lebanon with its sophisticated modern weaponry. I'm afraid it is more a picture of the Pharoahs lamenting the bricks being thrown at them by the slaves.

Still More...

In a comment to an ongoing discussion at the UAE Community Blog post I Take Sides, blogger Bandicoot presents a well-stated synopsis of some of the reasons behind the current crisis unfolding in Lebanon:
I doubt that this war is a simple outcome of the chain of events you (BD) described. Granted, they’re relevant, but it’s clear the plans and objectives have been in place for a while. There are of course the official reasons given by Hizbollah, namely the Lebanese prisoners who were expected to be released after the last prisoner exchange but Israel continued to hold on to them; and the Shebaa Farms issue. But it’s clear now the war is much more than a reaction to the cross border attack by Hizbollah 3 weeks ago.

The scale, ferocity, and duration of the Israeli “response” point to an international / regional dimension. The statements coming out of the G-8 summit and some Arab countries (who criticized Hizbollah) are evidence for this agenda. I think this is seen as another episode in the creation of the “Greater Middle East”, and idea that still dominates the thinking of Bush and some of his allies (despite it’s apparent failure so far.

It is interesting to note that throughout the Gulf Wars including the US and Coalition Forces succeeded in keeping Israel out of the fight, even when Israel was hit by Saddam’s scuds. Such sensitivities have gradually disappeared and the US (and others) don’t seem to have any qualms now about appearing in full cohort with Israel.

Just like Israel was given a free hand in Palestine since 2000, it has now been given another free hand in Lebanon, presumable to help enforce Security Council Resolution 1559. I don’t want to get into the specifics of this issue, but I’d like to observe here that 1559 is not the only Security Council resolution that hasn’t been implemented in the region. Israel happens to be the worst violator of UNSC resolutions. Israel has been in perpetual violation of resolutions 242, 446, and 1397, and none of the countries that have made 1559 their political obsession recently have shown a fraction of that concern about Israel’s violation of these UNSC resolutions; let alone to ask for them to be implemented by force.

I personally would like to see 1559 implemented, and to some extent Lebanon was moving into that direction. But this war cannot be justified as a war to enforce 1559 (or for any other reason). You cannot help a country by destroying it, killing its people, and creating a humanitarian catastrophe. This is a war against Lebanese its civilians, their institutions, infrastructure and private property. Most of the casualties are civilians; in case after case, civilians are targeted on purpose, or with criminal disregard to their lives; families buried under the rubble of their bombed houses, refugee caravans incinerated by Israeli shells, massive destruction of private property and public facilities, etc. And why?

The pattern that emerges here is one of a state that is intent on terrorizing the whole population of a country into submission, and the picture is one of unspeakable atrocities. Israel seems to be feeding on its own madness to kill and destroy with no regard to any human or principles. Its prime target is the defenseless people of the civilization that gave us the alphabet and, more recently, a society that is brilliantly energetic, modern, democratic, and diverse more than any other in the region, including Israel itself. This is a vicious, cruel, immoral and murderous war; and those responsible for it, Olmert and his Generals and a majority of Israelis who seem to be (at least temporarily) riding the wave of national superiority and vengeance are only making a mockery of the suffering they always claim as justification for the existence of their state in the first place.
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Monday, July 17, 2006


Beginnings can be fun, or at least interesting, especially when considered from the perspective of nostalgia. Most of us who call ourselves residents of the UAE have a beginning that we can refer to, which represents the start of our lives here.

For some I’m sure, there are things to laugh or smile about, for others perhaps there are things better forgotten. For everyone, there must be at least one thing that can be recalled and looked upon fondly--even if it were 10 or 20 years in the past.

Today’s post is about my beginning in the UAE. There are a few frist impressions that I still recall, which linger in my conscious as pleasant thoughts.

Deira--the Rougher Side of Dubai

I had prepared for my first visit to the UAE as best I could, with the latest edition of the Lonely Planet. It pointed me to a cheap hotel that I could afford for two weeks: the Mirage Hotel, not to be confused with the Royal Mirage.

I had already travelled to quite a few other places. Dubai would be one more exotic location to tick off my list.

The first and most lasting impressions I would have were of Deira--that was in March 2000.

The great thing about Deira was the Creek. Taking the abra made it seem like something out of the past. It was romantic, kind of Venice-like, even for a guy travelling alone. There were also the crowds along Sabkha and Naif Roads. I had never seen so many people in different constumes on the streets. In other places I had lived or travelled some of the women could be seen in exotic dress like the kimono, ao dai or sari, but only in the UAE had I seen men wearing all manner of outfit and head piece.

The Hinterland

Beyond Deira the rest of Dubai seemed distant and sparse. I wondered why the famous City Center shopping mall was so far from the center of the city. As for Jumierah Beach and the Burj Al Arab hotel--are you kidding--these weren't even in Dubai anymore. I remember passing the Hard Rock Cafe on my way to Abu Dhabi. How crazy it was to build a popular restaurant, I thought, way out in the middle of the desert!

I visited Abu Dhabi a few days after my arrival in the UAE. It was with some trepidation as I was trying to line up a job there. The roads were certainly nice and wide, tree-lined, with wide median strips. But all there was, were boulevards. My particular destination didn't take me into the center of the city, so I didn't see much more than that. Abu Dhabi didn't make a very strong impression on me, nor did Al Ain, which I also visited.

Home Away From Dubai

By the time my first trip to the UAE had ended, I was fascinated with Dubai. I would always head for the Creek whenever I visited thereafter and I always stayed at the same cheap hotel. My job search in Abu Dhabi, however, was successful. So home for me in the UAE would be there, not in Dubai.

Six years later I am still enamored of the city by the Creek. But it has changed so much that it is no longer Deira that comes to mind when I think of Dubai. Deira now is neglected and decrepit. For me the new place of intrigue is the Dubai Marina and the zone that surrounds the Hard Rock Cafe. It is now much more city center than hinterland. What a difference six years can make!

I must remind myself, now and again, that the Creek is still there in aging Deira. Even if out of the way, I must go there sometimes to recall the romantic, Venice-like experience I once had.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006


Although an educator I have to admit that I am not privy to a lot of detail about education in the UAE. I will, however, share what I do know which includes a few generalities and an anecdote or two. Hopefully, this will interest others involved in education locally, enough that they might provide a few details from their own unique perpsectives.

Significantly, schools are set-up as either Arabic or English-medium, with the minority local population and other Arabic speakers attending the Arabic, and children of all other nationalities attending the English schools. This fact alone tends to establish two unique and separate communities within the country. Furthermore, government schools are entirely Arabic, whereas private institutions serve both the English-speaking and expatriate Arabic-speaking communities.


This arrangement changes at the higher levels of education. Local colleges and universities are English-medium based. In practice, however, as long as Arabic-speaking instructors are present in the classroom, the use of Arabic continues.

Most post-secondary institutes, in fact, cater towards the local and expatriate Arabic-speaking communities, as oppossed to the expatriate English-speaking communities. This has been based upon the assumption that most expatriates send their college-aged youths home or out-of-country for higher studies.

Only now is this pattern beginning to change, with Dubai's efforts to set up higher-education zones aimed at attracting international institutions which cater to students both locally and abroad. Knowledge Village and Academic City are two such zones, the former established a few years ago and the latter presently under construction.

The idea is that Dubai will flourish as an international destination for learning, of course, matching international standards where Eglish-medium predominates.

The Students

That is, more or less, how the educational system within the UAE is structured. It might be more informative to look at the atmosphere within the various institutes of learning and attitudes among learners.

Here the picture is one of greater variety, among the various communities. Generally, Indians attend Indian schools, Westerners attend British, American, Canadian schools and the like, and so on.

Whatever attitudes toward education exist within the native countries, these are transplanted in the respective community's schools within the UAE. Moreover, morale within some of these communities is particularly high as many international students are attuned to the importance of excelling in a foreign language (English) and within the foreign setting (the UAE) in which they live and hope to succeed.

Local students, on the other hand, are notorious for having a lackadaisical attitude, not perceiving the need to establish themselves in a society where much is simply provided to them. This creates a significant challenge to both educators and the school systems.

It is expected and required that local Emiratis will attain positions of leadership within their communities and the society-at-large, and therefore essential that education play a more effective role in their formation. This, however, is an objective which until now is being pursued with much difficulty.

Of Personal Note

This is the situation that I face constantly in teaching English to local learners, where it has been my role to support the development of future leaders in this country, whether they serve in government, military or industry. Yet, there is not sufficient motivation among these learners to avail of the numerous educational opportunities afforded them.

A not uncommon experience for me as an educator is to enter into a class of 15-20. Within the instructional period I might engage two or three among this number while the rest sleep, chatter or otherwise remain out of the picture. The lack of interest and motivation among many local, young adult learners feature in a range of disciplinary problems including poor attendance, tardiness and disruptive behavior within the classroom.

These anecdotal observations, however, are based upon my perhaps limited experience. Others may be able to support or refute this with their own experiences in the classroom and while serving in a variety of institutions. The overall picture, however, is one of segmentation within society where education is generally split along Arabic and English-speaking lines, and between the local and expat communities.

Education in the UAE (news articles offering differing views):

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Saturday, July 15, 2006


The UAE is, on balance, a free society including in its policies toward free speech. There are, however, a few well-known boundaries. One does not criticize Islam or the country’s rulers, and overly abusive or sexually explicit forms of expression can also result in prosecution. If one is content to stay clear of or at least tiptoe around topics such as these, the reach of the censor need not be of great concern.

It is this moderate level of censorship which one has to live with in the UAE. It isn’t particularly excessive or intrusive. But the Internet poses its own challenges to those who value free speech. Thanks to overly aggressive and imprecise filtering, web surfing can be a rather hit and miss affair.

Websites may be blocked or banned for being judged to contain overly critical, permissive or unpopular political or religious views. Sexual content and innuendos of the same are also routinely blocked. Although it is mainly these few issues that concern the Internet censors, the imprecise nature of the tools they use results in much more being nixed. A well-known victim of the censor’s broad swipe is photo-sharing service

It is almost a wonder that Dubai is able to promote itself as a regional Internet hub, except for the fact that it allows its Internet City and a few other areas to operate outside of the nationwide proxy.

On balance, bloggers can blog without much trepidation. Editors can publish and pundits can expound—again, provided they take care not to cross those few well-known boundaries.

But the risk of unwarranted prosecution is there. The UAE has a rather detailed law outlining restrictions on the press. It is often a question of how frequently and severely the law is applied. The answer it seems is infrequently and lightly enough to allow the press and freedom of speech to flourish mostly unhindered. Nonetheless, there are efforts being made by journalists to further the cause of free speech. A Gulf News article dated 23-Jan-2006 reports:

Media activists will submit a proposal for amendments to the UAE's press law, which will demand freedom of speech as a fundamental right, and reporting restrictions curtailed to a few "exceptional cases".
What an event such as this illustrates is that, if nothing else, the UAE is in practice a society ever moving in the direction of more liberalization, not less. This applies to business, industry, law and society in general, including the cherished notion of free speech.

So, while censorship will likely always be a stealthy factor to contend with on key topics, the risks associated with freedom of expression will continue to diminish in the UAE.


SecretDubai is a bit miffed at Etisalat's Internet controls.

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Friday, July 14, 2006


Before 2002 there was no such thing as ownership of private property in the UAE. I would venture to say that this was so even with regard to most of the local population. My understanding is that land was provided to locals as grants by the ruling families, who presumably owned everything. So, the buying and selling of private property seems to be a new thing for just about everyone here.

I remember the initial stirrings in 2002. To my recollection, Emaar's Springs and the Greens were among the first properties to go on sale. Prices starting around Dhs 180,000 (US $50,000) were being advertised. It seemed like a tempting proposition, but was it perhaps just a sales gimmick. I remember thinking, "Is it really possible for foreigners to buy a home here?"

Before I could give any particular ad much consideration, it would soon be replaced by a Sold Out announcement. That pattern of advertisement or press release would repeat itself time and time again. Only toward the the middle of 2005 would the pattern of New Launch followed by Sold Out begin to be supplanted--by the likes of only 90% Sold.

The Scene Today

By mid-2006 the freehold market appears to have taken hold in a big way, even spreading across the borders to include most of the Gulf states. Dubai, of course, is the place where it all began, and the extent to which its economy has been transformed as a result is incredible.

Dubai's post-federation economy was once sustained primarily by oil and trade and a growing tourism sector. Its economy now is dominated, more than anything else, by construction and real estate. At the same time the more traditional industries, apart from oil, continue to expand while new industries like commerce and retailing begin to flourish as well. The economy of Dubai is at once becoming enormously diversified, while at the same time being propelled by a massive property and construction industry--all the result of the 2002 edit by its rulers to introduce freehold.

Initial Stirrings

To some extent, Dubai Marina is the ultimate symbol of Dubai's adoption of freehold. It is the place where the decision to reform the property sector seems to have originated, preceding the actual announcement of freehold by several years. Indications are that planning for Dubai Marina began as early as 1996, with blueprints drawn up by 1998 and actual construction of the Marina waterway beginning in 2001--all of which predates the 2002 announcement of freehold. Today, in terms of the scale of projects completed, near-completed, underway and soon to break ground, Dubai Marina is the largest single construction zone not only in Dubai but around the Gulf. It is both the place where it all began and the place where the sheer scale of the transformation taking place can be best appreciated. One cannot help but be astonished while driving past the Marina's endless rows of towers along Sheikh Zayed Road.

Pending Outcomes

Such is the phenomenon of freehold in the UAE today. The model of development in Dubai is being adopted hook, line and sinker by Abu Dhabi--not to be outdone. It has its own massive schemes beginning to move from drawing board to construction site, while other emirates follow with their own, humbler versions. What one must expect is that this whole process will transform the UAE not only economically and visually, but socially as well. Expats, along with locals, and even non-resident investors from abroad will all have a vested interest in what goes on in the UAE.

Continue with Freehold 2, the concept defined.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006


This is clearly both a good and a bad thing. The United States is probably the credit capital of the world, as in the place with the the largest number of people having the greatest amount of debt owed to creditors. The statistics for that country indicate the average credit card debt per person is over US $10,000--probably nearing Dhs 40,000. (Of course I am always confused with statistics such as these about who is being counted. Does the figure include babies?) Whatever the case, there's a lot of debt in the USA.

It's credit card debt that is the most worrisome because the interest rates and fees are so high. As the UAE quickly becomes a society of convenience and with a country like the US providing an economic model, problems like credit card debt increase. You love 'em and you hate 'em. In the end the convenience of credit cards is irresistable. On the other hand there is no doubt that you spend more because of them--much more.

The good thing about credit is that it funds things that are important or necessary which might otherwise not be attainable. For renters in the UAE for example, it enables one to pay a year's rent or several months in advance. How could one manage if he or she were without the cash and and had no access to credit? The same goes for property and car buyers. After, these essentials, however, reliance on credit becomes debatable.

It is probably up to each individual to prioritize what is a justifiable expense to meet through credit. If one makes the effort to do that, then he is well on the way to managing credit and debt responsibly.

What about education--when is it OK to borrow money for learning? Will the outcome of such study place one in a position to better meet one's future expenses?

Health care is another example. Of course it may be unavoidable to pay for accute care through credit when funds are short, but what about so called elective treatments, say an unscheduled physical exam, dental work, exercise or other physical therapy? When is it OK to pay for these with credit?

What about insurance? Some insurances may be more essential than others. Most can be easily deferred when one does not have sufficient cash, but when might it be more prudent to use credit?

The choices are many. It isn't easy to make the most responsible ones. However, with things like daily shopping and non-essentials, discretion needs to be the order of the day. One should simply not pay the restaurant or hotel bill with credit card if one's debts are mounting. Hotel bills particularly, if paid in cash will make it all the more apparent how extravagent such an expense is, unless one really can afford it. Instead of paying one's bill at the end of the stay, why not settle it on a daily basis to gain more control?

The Final Analysis

A lot of people in the UAE hate the banks, I'm sure. I hear and read of a lot of complaints. But that doesn't stop most of us from taking advantage of the various offers of credit. It is becoming all too easy in the UAE to fall into the debt trap, in the same way that Americans have. The advant of mortgages recently have just created one more opportunity for UAE residents to chain themselves to debt.

The point is to simply behave responsibly. Credit, I suppose, might be compared to a powerful driving machine. Placed in the hands of the immature and irresponsible it is a potential death trap. To the mature and responsible, however, it can provide a great amount of convenience and pleasure.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Participation in activities within the community, being pro-active on issues of importance, staying abreast of events... these are keys to establishing a foothold in the society in which one lives.

Often in the UAE one hears the comment, "I'm here for the money." That blunt statement is supposed to represent one's raison d'être for being in the UAE. It is intended as an honest appraisal of why one is here. Is this not, however, an over-simplification of what are often a complex set of circumstances? We, expatriates, are in the UAE for a variety of reasons. Not only are the reasons different and many from person to person, but for each individual there are a variety of circumstances which has led to one's coming and, further, that contribute to one's remaining.

I came to the UAE for a job opportunity, for a higher salary, for the experience of living in another country, for a chance to travel within the wider geographical area, for a change in life in general... These are my reasons. I remain yet, for some of these and a variety of new reasons.

Such being the case, no one should short-change the experience of living in the UAE by limiting it to concerns about money. There is a lot more to life as an expatriate. There are ways to satisfy the requirements one may have to earn and save money, while at the same time experiencing life on a more holistic level.

Participation is one key to achieving a more successful and rewarding life as an expat. As stated in the opening, this may involve taking part in a variety of community activities, in becoming active in an issue of public or civic importance, and even by just keeping oneself informed of local news and events. The specific type of involvement and the amount of time spent will need to suit one's interests and availability. For the busy among us, why not spare 15-30 minutes a day skimming the local newspaper? For those with more time and resources, why not join a club that is active in some form within the community?

I sometimes drive or walk around Abu Dhabi where I live and come upon a building, a street, or neighborhood that I never saw or at least never noticed before. Or even worse, I pass a familiar landmark which I've seen for years but still have no idea what it is or what it is for. In such moments I feel rather alienated from the place I've made a home in over the past 6 years. That, I realize, is a reflection of my own failure to participate in the community or society within which I live.

As a future owner of freehold property in Dubai I have decided not to repeat that mistake. There is no reason not to become more active within society, whether by blogging, attending events, taking a stance on issues of social or political relevance, etc. The key to a successful and rewarding life for the expatriate in the UAE is to participate, to become involved.


If I may add, the points raised here are not only with regard to those expat residents who earn comfortable livings. I would argue that even the struggling laborer is here for more than money, though such is seldom heard. They have no lesser curiosity about the world and interest in seeing and experiencing new things than anyone else. Though their personal circumstances are often characterized by hardship and struggle, they too have multi-dimensional lives.

Some prefer to be in a place like the UAE, for example, for the greater freedom it gives them compared to their traditional village communities or the larger society from which they come with its many social, religious and other contstraints. Being abroad, even in a setting as difficult as what they may find in the UAE, is still a chance to experience something new and interesting.

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