Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New Year.

New decree on rent increases in Dubai

Source: WAM (Emriates Govt News Agency) abridged
H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, in his capacity as the Ruler of Dubai, today issued a decree setting the maximum allowed increase in property rent values in 2010.
For properties rented in 2009 and before, the maximum increase in rent value shall be set as per the previous relevant similar decree for 2009.
The decree approves the Real Estate Regulatory Authority's (RERA) price index which shall be followed as the reference for setting any increase in rent values in 2010.
The new decree prevents any increase in rent values as long as they are less by a maximum of 25 % than the average rents of properties of similar specifications.
The maximum allowed rental increases shall be as follows: - 5% increase if the rent value is 26% to 35% less than the average rent of properties of similar specifications.
-10% increase if the rent value is 36% to 45% less than the average rent of properties of similar specifications.
--15% increase if the rent value is 46% to 55% less than the average rent of properties of similar specifications.
--20% increase if the rent value is less by a percentage that is more than 55% of the average rent of properties of similar specifications.
The decree goes into immediate effect and shall be published in the official gazette.
The decree also defines a new formula for lower rent values which allows a proportional increase in rents for 2009. According to the new formula, the increase in property rent will rise in proportion with the drop in 2008 rent value in the average annual rent for the same property.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Kiwi dairy company doubles investment in Middle East

Source: Arabian Business
Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd, the world’s biggest exporter of dairy products, said its investment in the Middle East and Africa doubled since 2006 as it seeks to tap demand for powdered milk and increase exports to the region.
Fonterra wants to boost production at a newly acquired plant from a Saudi partner as part of the Auckland, New Zealand based company’s five year expansion plan in the Middle East, said Amr Farghal, managing director of Fonterra’s Middle East, Africa and Commonwealth of Independent States businesses.
Speaking in an interview, Farghal said: “The Middle East, Africa, and CIS region accounts for around 20 percent of sales in the Asia Middle East consumer division, and it is one of our key focuses for expansion."
Fonterra reached a final agreement last week to take full ownership of Saudi New Zealand Dairy Products Co after buying a 51 percent stake from partner Saudi Dairy & Foodstuff Co for $33 million (NZ$45 million).
More than half of the production at Saudi New Zealand’s plant, which started in 1996 and processes about 30,000 metric tons of New Zealand milk a year, is exported to the Middle East including Gulf countries, Africa, and former Soviet Union countries, Farghal said.
Demand for New Zealand products will increase if a free trade agreement is reached between the country and Gulf states, Farghal said. He expects an agreement to be signed in April.
Saudi Arabia’s population is growing about 2 percent a year, increasing demand for milk powders and cheese sold by Fonterra and rivals Nestle SA, Kraft Foods Inc and Almarai Co, the kingdom’s biggest food processor.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

A virtual Christmas card

Rather than writing my usual 'what we did this year' letter, I've put together a 'virtual Christmas card'.  Its better than the usual tome tucked inside the Chrimbo cards because there are no typos and it has music too. 
Best wishes to everyone who reads The Caro-Van, thanks for all the comments over the past year and I look forward to doing it all again in 2010.

أجمل التهاني بمناسبة الميلاد و حلول السنة الجديدة

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Facebook is 'down' in the UAE

Facebook is 'down' in the UAE....again.  Nobody seems to know why.  Something to do with Iran maybe?  Anyway if you add an 's' to the url https// you'll get onto the log-in page.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Sydney Harbour plan like 'worst of Dubai'

Source: Sydney Morning Herald 22 Dec 09
THE State Government is poised to waive planning rules so a developer can fill in part of the harbour to build the city's biggest hotel in what critics have dubbed the worst of ''Dubai architecture''.
Under the agreement negotiated by the Government's Barangaroo Delivery Authority, Lend Lease will construct a 150-metre-long peninsula extending into East Darling Harbour as a base on which to erect the 230-metre-tall hotel.
The authority's chief executive, John Tabart, also revealed that Lend Lease had been allowed to increase the floor space in the building by 15 per cent in addition to the 30 per cent rise allowed last year in an effort to make the project financially viable.
By allowing Lend Lease to build out from the existing shoreline, guests will be able to enjoy views to the Opera House.
Although the concept plan for Barangaroo does not allow reclaiming the harbour or building higher than 180 metres, the authority has approved Lend Lease's non-complying design on the grounds that it is so good it is likely to win planning approval when a development application is lodged.
Sydney has previously filled in its waterways for projects including the airport's third runway, but architects warned it was another thing to allow a developer to build a hotel in the harbour.
''There's not really any excuse for intruding on publicly owned water. The precedent that sets is not a very good one,'' said Peter Webber, a former NSW government architect and emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Sydney.
Philip Thalis, who won the original design competition on redeveloping Barangaroo, said it was ''privatising the harbour''.
''It's a catastrophic mistake for Sydney. It's like letting them do that at Circular Quay. It makes the Cahill Expressway look positively benign … It's the worst of Dubai 'look at me' architecture,'' Mr Thalis said.
But the chairman of the authority's design review panel, a former government architect, Chris Johnson, said the building had ''a good pizazz about it'', and while it was not good to fill in the harbour this was ''the exception to the rule''.
He said his approval was on the basis that the building was ''incredibly well designed and incredibly accessible to the public'', and that it should include viewing platforms and a series of other public spaces that could be ''a bit like the Ivy in George Street''.
The proposal was warmly embraced by former prime minister Paul Keating, who has fought successfully for the northern headland to be returned to its pre-settlement shape. ''The scheme is a scheme right outside the paradigm - this is what Sydney needs,'' he said. ''It needs to be grand to do the job.
''What Lord [Richard] Rogers [the architect] has offered is a fan structure that breaks the geometry of the grid and which has at its foot a hotel as an exclamation mark.''
Developer groups were enthusiastic about the plan to fill in part of the harbour.
''We do support the plan for the infill of the harbour,'' said Stephen Albin, NSW chief executive of the Urban Development Institute of Australia.
The acting head of the NSW chapter of the Property Council of Australia, Glenn Byres, said: ''This is the imaginative, iconic design that the site deserved.''

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Australian fined for swearing at Dubai police officer

Source: The National 18 December '09
An Australian private security consultant has been fined AED2,000 ($545) for swearing at a police officer, according to a report on Friday.
The man was on his way from Afghanistan and was arrested at Dubai International Airport on October 11 while en route to London, The National daily reported.
Dubai Court of Misdemeanours ordered the consultant to pay the fine after he denied charges filed against him on December 9. The man had faced a possible six-month jail term and a AED5,000 fine, The National added.
“[He] was in transit on his way to London when he tried to use an ATM machine at the airport,” his lawyer told the court. “He was irate and tired and when the officer came to him he had no intent to offend him or insult him.”
The accused allegedly used foul language when the officer grabbed him from behind. “We explained to the court that the words used were not to offend anyone.
The plaintiff just understood the words out of context and thought it was a direct insult to him,” the lawyer said.
The Australian testified that when he arrived from Afghanistan at about 8pm he headed to the ATM. He said that a man in a blue uniform, who did not identify himself as a police officer, blocked his way and told him he could not use the machines, according to the Abu Dhabi-based daily.
However, the officer, contradicted the Australian’s statement before prosecutors and said that the accused was trying to go into the arrivals hall without giving a reason. Later the Australian asked to speak to the officer’s supervisor and then swore in public. The police official said he was cursed at and was insulted.
The lawyer of the accused clarified that his client had no criminal intent, adding that the Australian consulate in Dubai issued a letter of apology to Dubai Police.
The National added that the consulate expressed its respect and appreciation to Dubai Police and its staff.

2009 Dubai Motor Show

Photos from the 2009 Dubai Motor Show are here.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

"Sheikh Issa was drugged" claims lawyer

Source: The National
A member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family who is accused of torturing an Afghan man was drugged against his will when the incident took place and cannot be held responsible, a government-owned newspaper on Tuesday quoted his lawyer as saying at his trial.
"My client does not remember what happened that night. He did not have the mental capacity. Because he was drugged against his will, he cannot be held responsible," The National quoted Habib al-Mulla, lawyer for Sheikh Issa bin Zayed, as saying.
Allegations against the sheikh, who is the brother of UAE president and Abu Dhabi emir Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, emerged after US network ABC aired a video in April that appears to show him beating a man with whips, electric cattle prods and a wooden plank with protruding nails.
Assisted by police, Sheikh Issa is seen to pour salt in the man's wounds and run over him with a sports utility vehicle.
The victim needed months of hospital care following the incident. He was reportedly an Afghan trader who lost a load of grain worth 5,000 dollars.
In a rare trial of a high-ranking member of the ruling family, Sheikh Issa stands accused of endangering a life, causing bodily harm, and rape for the incident which allegedly took place in 2004, The National said.
Sheikh Issa's lawyer said that one of the sheikh's seven co-defendants was responsible for Sheikh Issa's medications and drugged him, then videotaped the incident and tried to blackmail him, The National reported.
The paper said that Mulla presented a letter that was allegedly from the lawyer of the co-defendant and his brother demanding 68 million dollars for the tape to be destroyed.
Mulla also argued for the charges to be dismissed on the grounds that the UAE's Federal Supreme Court had previously ruled that video evidence of a crime scene was inadmissible, the newspaper reported.
The trial was adjourned until later this month, when a forensic expert is to testify on the potential effects of the drugs Sheikh Issa is said to have been given, The National said.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Iran: Photos of Abyaneh

To see more photos of the picturesque mountain village of Abyaneh, just click here.

Abu Dhabi bails out Dubai

Source: Sydney Morning Herald
Abu Dhabi has stepped in to help fellow United Arab Emirates member Dubai with a $US10 billion ($10.9 billion) injection, of which $US4.1 billion was allocated to troubled state-owned conglomerate Dubai World to pay immediate obligations.
The move was the least expected of all options Dubai had on the table after requesting a standstill on $US26 billion in Dubai World debt on November 25, alarming markets and shaking the image of the emirate as a regional business hub.
"The government of Abu Dhabi has agreed to fund $10 billion to the Dubai Financial Support Fund that will be used to satisfy a series of upcoming obligations on Dubai World," the chairman od the Dubai Supreme Fiscal Committee said this afternoon in a statement.
"As a first action for the new fund, the government of Dubai has authorised $US4.1 billion to be used to pay the sukuk obligations that are due today."
The local sharemarket jumped on the news, with the benchmark S&P/ASX200 adding 0.4 per cent to close at 4654, after only minutes earlier having hit the day’s low of 4608 points.
S&P futures jumped to be up 0.7 per cent, reversing early losses and pushing Treasury futures to session lows. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index shot up 300 points in the last minutes of morning trade to finish in positive territory, while other markets across Asia also pushed higher.
Abu Dhabi is the largest member of the United Arab Emirates federation and a big oil exporter.
"We are here today to reassure investors, financial and trade creditors, employees, and our citizens that our government will act at all times in accordance with market principles and internationally accepted business practices," Sheikh Ahmed bin Saaed al-Maktoum said in the statement.
"Dubai is, and will continue to be, a strong and vibrant global financial center. Our best days are yet to come."
Excess funds would be used to cater to Dubai World's needs up until the end of April 2010, the statement said.
Dubai has announced a bankruptcy law that it said could be used in case Dubai World and creditors failed to reach an agreement on debt maturing in the future.

"Dubai will announce a comprehensive reorganisation law, a framework that is based upon internationally accepted standards for transparency and creditor protection," Sheikh Ahmed said.
"This law will be available should Dubai World and its subsidiaries be unable to achieve an acceptable restructuring of its remaining obligations."

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sheikh Issa on trial in Abu Dhabi

Source: Financial Times
Abu Dhabi authorities have put on trial Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a member of the ruling family caught on tape apparently torturing an Afghan business associate, the Financial Times can reveal.

Sheikh Issa, one of 19 sons of Sheikh Zayed, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates and Abu Dhabi's late ruler, is charged with causing harm and endangering life.
This unprecedented trial, held away from the public eye, will be seen as a barometer for the rule of law in Abu Dhabi, where the lines between the government and ruling families are blurred.
A former aide, Bassam Nabulsi, leaked a video this year that appeared to show Sheikh Issa brutally torturing an Afghan commodities trader, Mohammed Shah Poor, in 2004.
Mr Nabulsi, a US citizen, is suing for damages in a separate case in Texas, claiming Sheikh Issa had him tortured and imprisoned after he threatened to reveal the tapes' existence.
The graphic scenes - censored in the UAE - appear to show Sheikh Issa beating Mr Poor with nails, suffocating him by shoving sand in his mouth and driving a 4x4 vehicle over his body, helped by security guards.
In April the video was broadcast on US television, prompting politicians to question a nuclear cooperation agreement with the UAE .
In May, Abu Dhabi authorities detained Sheikh Issa , who does not hold a government position, and began a criminal investigation, saying "all persons are equal before the law". Despite concern about airing the ruling family's dirty linen, the government has pressed on with the trial.
A spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment while proceedings are in progress.
The trial of Sheikh Issa and the security guards began two months ago. It has been held discreetly at courts in Abu Dhabi's second city, al-Ain. Sheikh Issa is being detained, according to his lawyer, but his whereabouts are unknown.
Habib al-Mulla, Sheikh Issa's lawyer, says his client does not remember anything about the events captured on video, arguing diminished responsibility.
Mr Mulla claims Mr Nabulsi and his brother manipulated events and used the videos to blackmail the sheikh. "He was drugged with prescriptions provided by the Nabulsis," Mr Mulla said.
Tony Buzbee, Mr Nabulsi's lawyer, rejected those claims as "ridiculous".

Iran: Isfahan photos

Photos of Isfahan are here.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Friday, 4 December 2009

Iran: Out and about in Tehran

After breakfast of bread, fetta cheese, tomatoes and cucumber we headed up into the hills of Tehran to see Niyavaran Palace where the last Shah and his family lived. Snow had fallen during the night and the footpaths were crunchy with ice. There are 4 separate museums on the site and we started by going into the Ahmad Shahi Pavilion which was the home of the Shah's son until the time they left Iran in early 1979. The upstairs area of the house has been closed to visitors for some time apparently. We were able to look round the downstairs area including the living area which is full of his personal possessions and books. There are some weird things on display including an enormous polar bear skin floor rug complete with head that had been a gift from Canada and a piece of rock from the moon which was gift from Richard Nixon.We then scrunched through the snow to Sahebqaranieh which is a Qajar era palace from the late 1700s. The palace served as the Shah's office during his reign and contains many priceless paintings. There is a room directly off the main audience room of the palace which is fully set up as a dental surgery. I guess the Shah must have expected serious dental problems. In the bathrooms there are gold plated taps and towel rings - did I ever tell you about my optician in London who rented his surgery rooms from an Arab family? There were solid gold taps in the 'special client' bathroom. Anyway, back to the Shah's office palace, in the Waiting Room there are photos of some of the notables who've visited including Eisenhower, Nixon, Ataturk, the Queen and Hitler.

Next stop was into the old part of Tehran to visit the Golestan Palace buildings. There are several buildings set around a lovely garden. I was really happy because there was a folkdancing troupe from Mashad performing in the centre of the garden, accompanied by 3 musicians on nai, daf and tar. In one of the buildings is an audience hall where the first Pahlavi shah crowned himself Bonaparte-style. The hall is magnificent, the walls are covered in mirrors and the effect is stunning.

Final stop for the day was the National Museum of Iran where we saw many pieces recovered from the Sailk Hills site in Kashan that we'd visited a few days ago.

In the evening we had dinner at the restaurant in the hotel, listened to live music and enjoyed a performance by a male singer. Female singers do not perform in public here, nor can you buy CDs by female singers as they're banned (Iranians buy them in Dubai and bring them back.......)

Tomorrow we fly back to Dubai and I'll do a summary.

Iran: Kashan-Qom-Tehran

Our day started with a visit to the Fin Gardens in Kashan. It is a wonderfully restful place to visit with many pools and fountains which are fed by an underground spring. There is an open 2 storey pavilion which was built for Shah Abbas I and is 400 years old while behind it is another smaller pavilion which is relatively new being only 200 years old. Also in the grounds is a large bathhouse best known in Iran as the place where a former prime minister and education reformer, Amir Kabir, was murdered in 1848.
From the Fin Gardens we drove to Qom, the most holy city for Shia Muslims as it contains the Nazrat-e Masumeh shrine, the grave of Fatimeh, the sister of the 5th Imam. Times have changed; when I was in Iran in 1978 access to Qom was forbidden to non-Muslims and at that time there were signboards on the highway informing non-Muslims that they could not go within 5 miles of the holy city and there was a special bypass on the highway that skirted the city. Nowadays there is access to Qom but travellers must dress conservatively, act discretely and enjoy whatever level of access may be given to them ie sometimes photography is ok, sometimes its not. Ayatollah Khomeini lectured in Qom before his exile as the city is a theological centre for Shia Islam with numerous colleges and madrassah. On the streets of Qom the women were 100% wearing chador and to get into the Hazrat-e Masumeh shrine I had to borrow one. A chador is like a large piece of bedsheet that's worn over the head and falls loosely to the ground. It's held closed across the front of the body by one hand or in some cases by the teeth. Give me an abaya any day!
Inside the shrine we were able to take some photos and then we were invited in to the majlis to meet Mullah Hosseini. Mullah Hosseini had spent the last 20 years or so living in Dubai and he had been a member of the 'clergy' at the Jumeirah Mosque. The Mullah speaks perfect English and, while his secretary took copious notes, he discussed Islam's relationship with the nations of the west, western perceptions and prejudices against Islam in general, Iran's face to the world and inter-Islamic relations. A fascinating discussion and a memorable experience. After the serious discussion was over we talked about Dubai. The Mullah knew Ravis restaurant well and he confessed that he misses Lal's supermarket in Satwa.
From Qom it was a long drive into Tehran. Not in distance but in time. Everything anyone has ever said about Tehran traffic being wild,demented uncontrolled, gut wrenching and terrifying is true. At one point Jess and I could no longer watch and we were highly mature, shut our eyes and hid under our coats. I cannot begin to describe the sheer terror of being a passenger in a car in Tehran. Jess and I were in the backseat without seatbelts as they're only mandatory for front seat passengers but poor Colin, he may have had the seatbelt but he also had a closer view of the mayhem that was going on around us. Except for when he put his hat over his face because he couldn't handle it any more!
In the evening while Colin went out to buy sharwarmas, Jess and I went for a walk around the area just to window shop. Our walk involved crossing the road several times and I'd figured that the Cairo technique of crossing one lane at a time, checking for injuries and then crossing the next lane as so on until reaching the far shore, seemed to be the best approach. Eeek, it was at this point that I discovered that since being knocked over by the stupid Nissan Sunny on a Dubai pedestrian crossing, I'm not so gung-ho about traffic. I stood cowering on the roadside, Jess was in 'let's do this thing' zone so she was ready to tackle the challenge. A local couple came along to cross the road, we quickly put them between ourselves and the oncoming traffic and following their lead we safely negotiated the first crossing. The subsequent times we crossed on our own with one of us saying "I'm scared Mum, I don't want to do this......" and that was me!
Anyway we made it back safely to the hotel, ate the largest shawarmas in creation and tomorrow we have a full day seeing the sights of Tehran.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Iran: Isfahan-Yazd-Kashan

Isfahan Day 2

Today started with a visit to the 900 year old Jameh Mosque. Over the centuries additions have been made to the mosque by the various dynasties that have ruled Iran, so we saw both coloured mosaics and in the older parts the beauty was in the simplicity of colour and the geometric designs. In the original parts of the mosque there's very little mosaic work, the designs, calligraphy and geometric patterns are all formed by bricks. Each dome has a different design and the pillars are marked with patterns. The bricks that formed the huge interior walls have been arranged in designs. It amazed me that, back when there were no CAD drawings, no calculators, no electricity even, people designed these intricate patterns, someone worked out how many bricks they'd need, someone else had the skills to translate that into a precise plan and others had the skills to turn that plan into a reality – the Project Managers of the day I guess.

In the middle of the mosque's main courtyard which is surrounded by 4 porches or iwans, is a stone platform which pilgrims used to practice for the haj to Mecca. A mullah would stand on the platform and instruct the pilgrims on what actions to perform and what to say.

From there we went to see a minaret that's now in the middle of the suburbs but used to be part of a caravanserai (a place where travellers could stay overnight). Its surrounded by a small park and Hushang bought bread and we sat in the park enjoying the autumn colours of the trees. Very, very nice. From there we went to see one of the few surviving synagogues in Isfahan.

A short drive took us back to the Zayandeh River and the Khaju Bridge which was built by Shah Abbas in 1650. We were lucky enough to come across an impromptu performance by a local man singing an ancient love song in a strong and well trained voice. A small crowd of men of various ages had gathered round, including a couple of soldiers, and they listened intently as the men sang of his beloved compared the lady's voice to a nightingale etc. We he finished everyone clapped enthusiastically and it was interesting that the young people enjoyed the performance of a old classical song as much as their elders.

From the bridge we went to the “40 Column Palace” Chenel Sotun. There are 20 columns at the front of the palace but its called 40 Column because the columns are reflected in the long pool in front of the building. Inside the palace are vibrant wall paintings showing various battles scenes together with scenes of receptions for important visitors with dancing and music. The Afghans invaded in the 18th century and covered the paintings in whitewash as they did not approve of such displays of frivolity. Fortunately the paintings survived underneath and are now on view again though restoration work continues.

We then headed back to Naqsh-e Jahan Square to see Ali Qapu Palace which was built in the 16th century. Its 6 stories tall and originally served as the gateway to the park palaces, the last surviving palace is Chenel Sotun. We climbed up several flights of stairs to a large terrace which overlooks all of Imam Square, giving a wonderful view. Isfahan is preparing for the visit of Mr Ahmadinejad later in the week so we watched from the terrace as scaffolding was erected in front of the Imam Mosque and huge pictures of Mr A. and various clergymen were attached. We then went up a few more flights of stairs to the music room. The stucco walls and ceiling of the music room have cut-out shapes of kitchen items and musical instruments and its these empty areas give perfect acoustics for live performances.

To end a magical day we walked to the Abassi Hotel Teahouse to have more ashe reshre, the nomad stew.

We travelled a couple of hours by road to Naem where we visited the 10th century mosque. Under the mosque is a complex of underground tunnels used for prayer during the heat of the summer. We then travelled to Meybod where Hushang showed us windtowers and an ancient icehouse where water was frozen during winter (pretty darn easy believe me) and then stored underground for use during summer. We went across the road to visit the old caravanserarai which has been transformed into an arts centre and restaurant.

From there we continued to Yazd which is one of the oldest towns in the world. We first went to the Amir Chakmaq Complex in the central square, the main building is a takieh a building used during Shi'ite ceremonies to mourn the death of Imam Hossein. Outside the takieh is a huge palm shaped frame called a nakheel (same as Arabic) which is carried around the city during the Shi'ite Ashura ceremonies. We climbed up on to the terrace of the takieh to look at the badgirs or windtowers that are on the roofs of most of the houses in the old part of the town. We then went out of town to the Zoroastrian fire temple, where the sacred fire has been burning for 2,000 years. We'd already been out to see the Towers of Silence where up to the 1960s Zoroastrians left their dead to be disposed of by birds of prey.
From there we moved on to the Jamah Mosque which was built in the 15th century and has a gorgeous tiled exterior with mosaic inscriptions from the Quran. While Hushang went off to prayer we took lots of photos which will be on Smugmug as soon as possible when we get back to Dubai.We then went for a walk through the old part of Yazd which is full of narrow alleys, hidden courtyards and motorbikes coming at you from every angle. We visited an old traditional house which has been transformed into a magnificent hotel, then spent a few minutes at Alexander's Prison which isn't a prison and Alexander was never there........We stayed the night at the Dad Hotel, booked for no other reason than the name. Its not actually “Dad” but “Daad” which means justice and is the family name of the hotel's founder. The site was formerly a garage and photos of the restoration process are on the hallway walls. The hotel was beautifully presented, comfortable and worth a return visit.

We left Yazd for a 4 hour drive to the village of Abyaneh which is about 25 miles as the crow flies from one of Iran's nuclear reactors. The military was in evidence in the area, both in the number of checkpoints on the way to the village and also the many artilliary, tanks and anti-aircraft guns clearly visible just off the road. The village is high up in the mountains and we started seeing flurries of snow as we approached, by the time we arrived the snow as falling with a vengence. The houses in the village are all a pale red colour as they're made from local clay bricks. The area was hard to reach for years and its isolation has resulted in the residents speaking an archane version of Persian that died out years ago in the rest of Iran. We wandered around the village meeting several groups of young Iranian tourists on the way. We went to the Zeyaratgah Shrine which is dedicated to the grandson of the 5th Imam, there was a separate porch covered with photos of local boys who has died in the Iran-Iraq war. The mixture of red buildings with white snow covering every available inch of their rooftops had an almost fairytale quality.
It was a long afternoon drive to Kashan a town that's been occupied since 4th century BC. We looked around Khan-e Tabatabei, which is now a museum/craft shops and previously the home of a wealthy merchant. The entrance to the house is through a nondesecript door off an alleyway but once you're through the door it was a different world. The house is magnificent, comprising over 40 rooms and over 4730 sq metres with 5 separate courtyards. Several of the rooms had delicate leadlight windows.
As the light faded we went briefly to Tappeh-ye Seyalk (Sialk) an archaeological site dating from 4th century BC. The site is still being excavated by a German team.
Later in the evening we had dinner at an outdoor traditional Persian restaurant where we sat on a carpet on a raised wooden platform eating kebabs and rice which went down a treat. Colin and I are both now hooked on doogh which is like a mint flavoured laban. The owner was very friendly, like everyone we're met so far. Tomorrow we head for the holy city of Qom and then on to The Big City - Tehran.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Iran: First day in Isfahan

After a slow start to our first day in Isfahan, we visited the Hamman-e Ali Gholi Agha which was a bathhouse and is now a museum, and from there to the shaking minarets at Manar Jomban. The minarets are on top of the tomb of a local holy man who died in the 14th century and when someone pushes hard against one of the minarets it will start to sway. After a short time the movement transfers to the second minaret. Bells are attached to both so people on the ground can hear as well as see the movement. We then headed into the centre of Isfahan to visit Naqsh-e Jahan (Imam) Square to see the Imam Mosque. The mosque dates from the 1600s and is breathtaking, stunning and every other awestruck word I can think of. With its exterior of blue and green tiles inlaid in intricate geometric patterns with sections of mosaic calligraphy easy to see why its considered to be one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. Inside there are 4 porches or iwans with walls and ceilings covered in mosaic tiles. The acoustics inside the main sanctuary give echoes so that a speaker in the main area can be heard all over the mosque. Further through the mosque are two madrasehs with lovely gardened courtyards. From there we ventured into the Bazar-e Bozorg which abutts the Imam Mosque. The oldest parts of the bazaar are believed to be more than 1,000 years old and are formed by covered laneways with domed ceilings. There's no doubt that you are walking with history here and it would be no surprise to see Ali Baba emerge from any of the dark corners of the bazaar.

In the evening we walked down to Si-o-Seh Bridge which is known as the 33 arch bridge over the Zayandeh River in Isfahan. The bridge was built in 1599 and is both a bridge and a dam. It gives beautiful views of the city and is beautifully lit to showcase its arches and brickwork. Its also a great place to watch the people passing by.

Here I have to say that driving in Iran, from what I've seen so far, is terrifying. Its makes Dubai driving seem orderly and safe in comparison. Iranian roads are full of ancient 'Paykan's, an Iranian manufactured car which looks like a Hillman Hunter from the 1960s.
Also, the chador is very apparent on the streets of Shiraz and Isfahan, in Isfahan it seemed like probably 50% of women were wearing the flowing black cloak over their street clothes. All women must wear hijab to cover their hair. Many Iranian women wear brightly coloured scarves pushed well back on their heads to show off their hairstyles. For us as foreign visitors we've followed the local ladies, none of the complex pinning, tucking and folding that we're used to in the Gulf, in Iran you just put a scarf over your head, throw the right half over the left shoulder, then the left half over the right shoulder and its done.

Photos are here

Monday, 30 November 2009

Iran: Shiraz to Isfahan with an unexpected detour

Saturday Part 2
We went out in the pouring rain to visit the castle called Arg-e Karim Khan which was built in the mid-1700s. The castle has high walls and 4x14m high watch towers. One of these towers has a “Pisa” style lean to it as its started subsiding into the area that was once the castle bathhouse. The castle was used as a prison during the reign of the Shah. Inside the castle walls is a large courtyard now planted with orange trees. In one of the buildings is a very interesting display of photos of Shiraz over the past 100 years. We went back to the hotel to collect our bags and have a final coffee with Mr Abbas before we went to the airport for our flight to Isfahan. The tv in the foyer was showing local soccer being played in a heavy snowfall and the receptionist told us that the game was being played in Isfahan. Mr Abbas rang the airport, was told that flights to Isfahan were unaffected so we headed out.

Shiraz airport is modern, clean. We checked in our bags for our flight which was bound for Tehran with a stop in Isfahan where we'd be getting off. We farewelled Mr Abbas who had by this stage adopted Jess as his 'daughter'. Once on the plane our departure was delayed as a big pow-wow took place between the pilots, the cabin crew, a couple of guys in vizi vests and another mystery guy in his late 20s who was trying to look normal while eyeballing all the passengers – even the children. Mystery Man wore the same style of jacket (lab coat meets safari suit) favoured by Mr Ahmadinejad. We eventually took off and Mystery Man sat in one of the crew jump seats at the front of the plane like a teacher watching errant students. As soon as we were at altitude Mystery Man stood up and continued to watch the passengers like a hawk. After 30 minutes we were served a meal of a bread roll containing what appeared to be a cold chicken McNugget together 1.5 slices of pickle per roll, a faux Bounty Bar called a Nori and a box of juice. Together with the meal came the captain's announcement that cabin crew should take their seats for landing in Isfahan, the announcement was made in English.

Nothing happened.

We didn't descend we just kept on going....and going. Eventually there was a long announcement in Farsi, but none of the other passengers seemed overly concerned by its contents. The cabin crew got out of their seats and wandered round collecting rubbish. Colin asked one of the crew whether we were overflying Isfahan and she happily answered “Oh yes, that's what the announcement was saying. Isfahan airport's closed and the plane's landing in Tehran.” She said we'd probably wait there 5 or 6 hours and then fly back to Isfahan. On landing, all the Tehran passengers left the plane while the Isfahan-bound crowd, which was nearly ½ the plane, stayed on board. Mystery Man had disappeared by this time. After a while an announcment was made in Farsi and all the Iranian passengers got up from their seats, hauled their luggage out of the overhead lockers and stood in the aisle waiting. After 5 minutes or so, another announcement was made in Farsi which resulted in the Iranian passengers putting their luggage back into the overhead lockers and sitting down again. After a further 45 minutes we were ushered off the plane. Thankfully Colin met a helpful Tehrani who from that point translated all the announcements. We got into an airport bus and were deposited at the terminal where we were hustled into a huge room with dozens of 2 and 3 seater sofas lined up in rows. This was to be our home for however long it took until Isfahan airport reopened, we knew by this stage that the runway there was frozen. The crowd of irate passengers gathered round the only Iran Air employee who ventured into view and the volume rose steadily. Long story short, many of the passengers, us included, decided to go to the bus station to catch a scheduled long haul coach from Tehran to Isfahan. The last coach left at 2am and that's the one we wanted to get. We got into a taxi with another friendly Irani who had been on the same flight. Our 3 suitcases had been put on the taxi roof and were held by a single bungy cord (occi strap for Aussies). There were no seatbelts and unfortunately we had Death's Personal Driver at the back when I was young and stupid I've been in cars where the drivers have been drunk as a skunk but every one of them has driven better than this guy...he was all over the road, cut off cars and trucks with impunity, missed motorbikes by inches, he hit the kerb while cutting across 4 lanes on the freeway, he didn't know where the gears were, almost into the side of a huge truck, I could go on and on without mentioning how he cut off a police car and then tooting his horn at the them. We arrived safely at the bus station which was a miracle....I was so tempted to fall on my knees and kiss the ground, but we had no time. The bus station is high volume chaos; there are bus company touts yelling at potential passengers, passengers yelling at taxi drivers, which is what our friendly Irani taxi mate was doing, cars unloading people, suitcases everywhere. Our Iranian friend found the bus to Isfahan and we all threw our bags into the luggage compartment. The compartment was also open on the other side so we just hoped that our bags didn't disappear as soon as we put them in. Jess and I were given the front two seats, as we were ladies travelling together, Colin was behind us. All the while the bus tout for our bus was on the bus-off the bus -yelling-pointing-yelling some more, whew this boy was wired! Eventually the bus left at about 2:30am fully loaded including some Army guys who seemed to be having a low level stoush with some of the other passengers in the back of the bus but it was all very refined up in the ladies department. The girls in the seat opposite us asked for a Persian soap opera dvd to be played and then promptly went to sleep for the rest of the trip. The trip went smoothly, the driver knew what he was doing and was a real pro, bless his little Turkish cotton socks. There were lots of stops for toll roads and it as we got further away from Tehran the outside temperature started dropping. At one point we were driving through areas covered with thick snow. How the guys who were travelling in the compartment with the luggage managed I don't know......oh, didn't I mention them?

We arrived in Isfahan at 7am, retrieved our suitcases from the guys in the luggage compartment and were met by our guide Mr Zanadi. He took us to our hotel and we all hit the sack for a couple of hours.

One day late, but hello Isfahan....the city a French poet said is “...half the world.”

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Iran: Shiraz Day 2 and 3

We started the day by visiting Bagh-e Eram (Eram Gardens) which are several hundred years old and best known for the stand of cypress trees growing there. The gardens are now operated by Shiraz University and are very pretty even in November which is the beginning of winter. The garden is famous for its extensive rose gardens which bloom in March. In the centre of the gardens is a 1700s palace called Kakh-e Eram which has richly tiled frescos on the exterior walls. On the way out of the garden we saw a group of uni students from Shiraz University pharmacy department, having their graduation photo taken. In no time, the three of us were in the graduation photo too.
Next stop was the Afif Abad garden which is run by the military and there seemed to be more soldiers than gardeners around. There's something odd about restful walkways of greenery that lead to displays of tanks and artillery. The palace in the garden now houses an extensive display of military hardware from ancient times. There is a smaller building whose interior walls are tiled with depictions of heroic deeds from Persian mythology, Rostum killing various devils and monsters. Our guide started reciting a poem by Fedosi which tells one of the stories and straight away another visitor joined in. The poetry is regarded as a national treasure and this bore out what Abbas had said, that everyone knows the poems.
From the gardens we moved to Khan-e Zinat ol-Molk an 18th century house named after its female owner. The house now contains a wax museum depicting ancient kings and ceremonies, famous poets from the region and a section of models of famous local mullahs. One model was of a famous local pilot who was killed in the Iran-Iraq war and who had been a close boyhood friend of Abbas our guide.
Just a couple of minutes drive away, a couple of terrifying, gasp inducing minutes, is the 19th century mosque of Nair ol Molk. On the large wooden doors at the entrance to the mosque there are two different shaped door knockers, one for each sex. As the knockers each give a different sound, the people inside the mosque knew whether to send a woman or a man to open the door. The coloured tiled interior is stunning with many shades of blue used. Some show pictures of European buildings including churches and there were many showing flowers including roses with several shades of pink in the tiles. Wooden inserts the size of bricks were inserted during the construction of the walls, these inserts give flexibility during earthquakes. To one side of the courtyard is the winter prayer hall with beautiful stained glass windows and further inside is the Gav Cha (cow well) named because cows were used to pull water up from the well there. On the other side of the courtyard is the summer prayer hall which had more beautiful tile work and was interesting because it has no minbar (pulpit). The curator said that in the 20 years he'd been at the mosque there had never been a minbar and the mullah sits on a chair to deliver his sermon.
In the afternoon we left Jessica at the hotel to catch up on some sleep while we went with Abbas to the Iran Travel Industry Trade Show at an exhibition centre on the outskirts of Shiraz. The show was held in 3 huge exhibition halls filled with displays by travel companies, some countries, companies touting medical tourism and others that specialised in religious travel to the many shrines in Iran. We watched a performance by nomadic musicians from the Fars region of Iran while eating ashe reshte, a thick soup with lentils and meat which was the perfect warm up as the rain was pelting down again and it was getting cold.
At the exhibition like everywhere else we've been, people were very friendly, people asked to have their photos taken with us, asked where we were from. Occasionally a group of teenage girls would come up to us and the bravest would nervously say 'hi' to me. When I said 'hi' back, they'd all burst into fits of giggles.

Today has been declared as Eid-e Ghorban (Eid al Adha), despite it being expected yesterday. As a result the bazaar is shut today. We started the day with a trip to Hafez' tomb. Hafez is a famous Iranian poet born in Shiraz in 1324. His collection of poems known as 'Divan-e Hafez' and is considered to be a must have in Iranian homes. Iranians say that all homes should have two things; the Quran and Hafez. His poems are almost mystical in content, and its a ritual when deciding on a future action to open Hafez's poem at a random place and study the verse revealed. The tomb is set under a rotunda in the middle of a rose garden and is a popular visiting place for families. Recitations of Hafez' poems are broadcast over the garden's PA system. On the street outside the grounds, several men stand carrying boxesof extracts from Hafez' poems in one hand and a budgie in the other. Upon payment of 5,000 riyals ($5) the budgie will select a random verse from the box with its beak and this verse will deal with your future.
The next stop was the tomb of Sa'di another famous Shirazi poet whose verses are still quoted in conversation today. His tomb is in a pavilion surrounded by gardens. The pavilion walls are inlaid with tiles showing his most famous verses. The tomb itself is made from a single piece of alabaster. Next to the pavilion is an underground fishpond full of trout which is surrounded by au underground tea house with an attractive domed ceiling covered in tilework. We stopped there for a quick cuppa and several families came up to us to ask where we were from, what we thought of Iran and what we'd seen.
This afternoon we're visiting the citadel and then making our way to Shiraz airport for a quick 30 minute flight to Esfahan.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Iran: I said I'd be back took 31 years but here I am back in Iran. Its wonderful to be here with my husband and my beautiful daughter.
We left Sharjah at 5pm for the flight to Shiraz in Iran which takes a bit over an hour. The first thing we saw in Shiraz airport was a sign depicting a pair of non-sex specific cartoon characters hugging with a big “banned” symbol across it. Our driver/guide, Abbas, met us once we cleared customs and took us to our hotel. The trip took about 40 minutes and it quickly became apparent why Iran has the highest rate of road deaths in the world, in 2006 nearly 28,000!
Today we visited Pasargardae the ruins of a city started by Cyrus the Great in 546BC. The main sight to see is the tomb of Cyrus himself, a relatively stark stone mausoleum on 6 raised stone steps, the tomb was once surrounded by gardens but these are long gone.
From Pasargardae we went on to the rock tombs at Naqsh-e Rostum. There are 4 tombs (Darius I and II, Xerxes and Artaxerxes) cut out of the cliff way above the ground, each tomb has impressive stone reliefs engraved below it. As the kings at that time were Zoroastrian, their bodies were initially put on Towers of Silence to be picked clean by birds of prey, after that the bones were moved into the rock tombs. Opposite the tombs is a small building called the Kaba Zartosht, its purpose is still being debated, maybe it was a fire temple or a treasury.
Next stop was Persepolis. The complex at Persepolis covers 12 hectares and at its peak contained 14 separate palaces. Its built on a huge stone platform at the foot of what's known as Mt Mercy. Construction started in about 518BC under the direction of Darius I. Visitors enter up the majestic Grand Staircase. Despite there being 111 steps it seems an easy climb as the height of the steps is less than their width. Its thought the stairs were designed this way so that 4 footed animals could be brought up the stairs to be presented to the king and also so important visitors could glide up the stairs in their flowing long gowns (that's blokes I'm talking about here) without the risk of tripping over.
At the top of the stairs is the Gate of All Lands, two huge stone blocks with bull shaped statues. The bulls have wings and human heads. All visitors passed through this gate before entering the palace complex. There's a lot of graffiti on the stone bases of the statues including that of Stanley of the NY Herald-Tribune, who later became famous for saying: “Dr Livingstone I presume.” Inside the complex the Apadana audience hall is the largest of all the buildings. The building was constructed in around 515BC and continued in use for nearly 200 years. All the walls in the complex were covered with bas relief figures, many showing the numerous nations that made up the Persian empire at that time. Persepolis was destroyed by Alexander the Great's troops one December night in 330BC. Unfortunately it poured with rain the whole time we were there, but rain is a novelty after Dubai, so it didn't detract from the magnificence of the ruins.
I took lots of photos and I'll upload them to Smugmug when I get back to Dubai.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Abu Dhabi court orders freeze on Saad assets

Source: Arabian
Abu Dhabi Summary Court has issued an order for the provisional attachment of the bank deposits of Saad Trading, Contracting and Financial Services Company and Saad Holding Company as well as the partners in these two Saudi firms, according to a report.
Giving its decision on a writ filed by a large national bank in the UAE, the court also ordered the provisional seizure of any movable properties in any emirate as well as the major amount of shares they own in a number of companies listed in the stock markets in the UAE, the newswire WAM reported on Thursday.
The attachment order on deposits with the banks operating in the UAE has been enforced with immediate effect through the UAE central bank, which in turn will send circulars to the banks for the attachment of deposits within the limit of $151m, WAM added.
The defendants had signed loan agreements with the bank for credit facilities, the total value of which had reached $151m, it said.
The two firms then had defaulted on repayment of the loans and were being sued by creditors at the local, regional and global levels leading to the deterioration of credit ratings of the subsidiaries of these two companies by international rating agencies, WAM said.
Moreover, a number of creditors had resorted to the seizure and freezing of funds and assets of one of their affiliates, the newswire added.

Bouncing a cheque in Dubai

Adding to the story below is the very cautionary tale of an aquaintance who lived and worked in Dubai in the early 2000s.  This person returned to their home country and remained there for 6+years.  They've just returned to the UAE and started a new job.  During the visa check process the authorities have discovered that the person bounced a cheque during their first stint here.  The person was arrested on the spot and it turns out that a case had been brought against them in Dubai Court years ago and they'd been found guilty in absentia.  The sentence handed down at the time was a 6 month jail term and the person started serving that sentence this week, starting the day after their arrest.  Be warned, don't bounce a cheque in the UAE..all the rumours are true.

New job in Dubai ends in jail time

This story seems to back up something I heard recently about a New Zealander, here in the UAE on a week's holiday.  He went to visit a friend at their Dubai office.  The friend had to leave the office briefly and told the Kiwi to sit at the friend's desk and surf the internet to fill in time while he waited.  During the friend's absence, the immigration guys arrived for a spot check, something which happens in Dubai fairly regularly.  They saw the Kiwi "working", checked his passport which showed a tourist visa and arrested him for working illegally.  No explanations were accepted and the Kiwi ended up in jail for several weeks until his release could be arranged.
Source: 7 Days 17 Nov 09
Two British real estate agents have been jailed for working without visas just days after starting new jobs in Dubai.
Nick Awalski and David Wynn have now been in Al Aweer jail for three weeks after they were found working on tourist visas.
Awalski had been at his new company just two days when he was nabbed in a visa raid.
A close friend said she was shocked by the arrests and said she hoped it wasn’t the start of a clampdown on foreigners.
“I don’t understand it. Everyone works on a tourist visa while their papers are being sorted out.
Nick and David never intended to break the law,” she said.
Both were arrested in the reception area of the company after labour officials posed as clients wanting to buy an apartment.
Awalski’s heartbroken mother has flown in from the UK to visit him in jail.
“His family aren’t taking it well, they are heartbroken and very worried about his future,” the friend said.
Awalski had previously worked for a major Dubai property company, while Wynn had just arrived from the UK for the new job.
“They had left it to the company to sort out their paperwork, like everyone does,” the friend said.
Wynn, 27, from Reading and Awalski, 30, from London, are due to appeal their conviction and deportation at a hearing scheduled for November 24.
Their lawyer, Abdullah Al Nassar, confirmed that the two men had only just begun working when they were jailed and said it should never have happened.
“It’s just really bad luck,” he said, adding there was no set time limit for companies to obtain work visas and that many employees go for weeks or months without the correct work visas.
An official from the Dubai General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs confirmed that there is no set time limit for companies to obtain work visas but said that they should file early to avoid legal problems.
He said he could not comment on individual cases.

Oprah apologises over Dubai programme

Source: The National
Harpo, the production company behind The Oprah Winfrey Show, has apologised for misrepresenting Dubai in a segment of the programme featuring women around the world.

Dr Lamees Hamdan of Dubai, an Emirati mother of five and the founder of the Shiffa cosmetics brand, sparked controversy when she appeared via Skype as one of six women featured on the hugely popular US-based show.
The segment began with a voice-over by Ms Winfrey that said: “Thanks to this country’s rich oil supplies, the government provides its citizens with free water, electricity and health care. The best part? No income tax!”
Dr Hamdan said, incorrectly, that water, electricity and health services were free in the UAE. And she referred to the shela and abaya as “cultural” and not religious. She said she does not wear them, although her sisters do.
On Monday, a spokeswoman for Oprah’s production company told PageSix of the New York Post that “it was never the intention of the Oprah show to misrepresent the people of Dubai”.
Many local viewers of the show have reacted. Haif Zamzam from Abu Dhabi wrote on The National website that she was “highly disappointed that people got this worked up about what [Dr Hamdan] said. I feel she said nothing (of substance) that was wrong, except for the fact we don’t pay utility bills. Other than that, it was all spot-on.”

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The day the Brits burnt down RAK.

Two hundred years ago, Ras al Khaimah was burnt to the ground. Today, experts say, that sacking by a British fleet has directly affected the shape of the UAE.
Thirteen lithographs on a wall of the Sharjah Art Museum show each grisly scene of the British attack on Ras al Khaimah on November 13 1809. Black smoke rises about a town engulfed in flames as soldiers fight door-to-door through the streets of 19th-century RAK.
The battle was the beginning of a new era in the Gulf: that of British control. It led to the General Treaty of 1820 that brought 150 years of peace and trade to the Gulf under the British and ensured a maritime truce between independent emirates that later formed the UAE.
But so brutal was the massacre of 1809 that its violence is still remembered in song and story two centuries later. Mention of the battle still brings pain to those from the area.
Yet if it had not been for the battle of 1809 and the resulting treaty in 1820, most historians agree, the UAE of 2009 would be a very different place.
“Because of that treaty, we have independent emirates,” said Dr Hasan al Naboodha, a history professor at UAE University. “It was divide and rule. Just imagine if the British didn’t come and attack the Qawasim, would you hear today about the emirate of Ajman or Umm al Qaiwain?”
The cause of the battle between the British and the Qawasim, the seafaring tribe that ruled coastal areas on the Eastern, Persian and Arabian coasts, is still hotly disputed among historians today. “The British accused the Qawasim of being pirates and attacking ships but we don’t know exactly what went on because we don’t have local sources from this time,” said Dr al Naboodha.
Contemporary British accounts depicted the Qawasim tribe as an unruly and ruthless group of plunderers and pirates.
Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, Ruler of Sharjah, challenged this in his 1986 book The Myth of Arab Piracy, which argued that the British were foreign intruders who sought to expand their power in the Gulf for the East India Company.
Until late in the 18th century, skirmishes between the Qawasim and British were rare. In 1797, however, the Viper, a British ship, was attacked by Qawasim dhows while anchored in Bushire an attack for which Sheikh Saqr bin Rashid, then of Ras al Khaimah, apologised and offered settlement.
In 1804 the British ships Trimmer and Shannon were attacked by Sheikh Qadhib al Qasimi of Lingeh.
In 1806, a treaty was agreed upon by the Qawasim, the British and the British-backed Omanis, long-standing rivals of the Qawasim. Within a few months, relations became strained between the Omanis and the Qawasim over territorial disputes at Qishm and the treaty fell apart.
In October 1808 the Qawasim were held responsible for an attack on the Sylph, an eight-gun British schooner, that killed 30.
The next May, the Qawasim seized the Minerva and took it to Ras al Khaimah with an officer’s wife on board. She was held for ransom. One survivor claimed that the Minerva was attacked by more than 50 dhows in a two-day battle that ended in the deaths of 45 of the 77 on board.
The event fuelled British anger against the Qawasim and a larger confrontation loomed.
Such events were popular in the British media, which, according to Dr Sheikh Sultan, exaggerated the numbers of those killed and vilified the Qawasim.
“It was the power of this saga to stir the imagination, as piracy still does, which ensured it would not be forgotten,” wrote Charles Davies in his 1997 book The Red Arab Flag: An Investigation into Qasimi Piracy, 1797-1820. “Contemporary newspapers, travellers, officers and others all felt moved to write about the Qawasim and British measures taken against them.”
But even before the Minerva incident, the Supreme Government in Calcutta had already made a decision to attack Ras al Khaimah.
A British fleet of 16 ships and more than 1,300 troops sailed from Bombay, now known as Mumbai, on September 14 1809, headed by HMS Chiffone and commanded by Capt Wainwright. The fleet reached Muscat, a British outpost, on the evening of November 11 and reached RAK within a day.
The Qawasim had no way of knowing which of their ports the British would attack. By the time they realised that the target was Ras al Khaimah, it was too late to call for assistance from their ships in Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Qaiwain or Hamriyah.
Dawn on November 12 brought the first assault from the British in the form of a naval bombardment that pummelled the town’s defences and homes.
The bombardment lasted until dusk. At nightfall, Ras al Khaimah’s leaders held a majlis and decided that they could not abandon their town. A thousand civilians, mostly women and children, were evacuated during the night and the men who remained prepared for battle.
In the early morning of November 13, 600 men from the British fleet landed near the town’s main defences. Forced to leave their boats several metres from the shore, the British struggled through chest-high water to reach the beach where they were greeted with musket fire by the Qawasim.
But numbers were on the side of the British. By midmorning, they had breached Ras al Khaimah’s defences and advanced on the town.
“There was no comparison between the two [forces],” said Dr al Naboodha. “The Qawasim had very, very old weapons that they used to take from other ships they had attacked.”
Although heavily outnumbered, the Qawasim fought the British in the narrow streets, house to house. The battle lasted for hours before the British decided to set the town’s houses alight. At 10am, the Qawasim began a retreat; men swam across the creek to safety, under the cover of smoke from their burning homes.
The next day, the British fleet left to attack remaining Qawasim ports across the Gulf. Over a month and a half, more than 100 Qawasim ships were destroyed.
The British campaign lasted until 1810 but for years afterwards the Royal Navy hunted vessels from the Qawasim ports, fearing that they would rebuild and challenge British naval power again. They also placed an embargo against the export of Indian teak to the Qawasim in an effort to stop them from rebuilding their fleets.
But by 1812, the Qawasim had rebuilt their ships with wood imported from Africa and, before long, were in maritime disputes with the British once more.
In December 1819, Britain resolved to stop the Qawasim expansion once and for all. More than 200 ships were destroyed and towns along the coast, from Rams to Abu Hail, were demolished. The town of Ras al Khaimah was razed to the ground.
These events led to the General Treaty of 1820, putting the Gulf firmly under British control and bringing maritime peace, trade and economic growth.
From then on, Ras al Khaimah, no longer focused on naval expansion, became a trade centre between Persia, India and the bedu-controlled interior.
The treaty of 1820 secured the autonomy of small emirates by splintering Qawasim control and led to 150 years of British governance in the Gulf.
And yet, local historians say that it came at a heavy cost.
“It’s a very sad history, everybody would say that,” said Dr Hamad bin Seray, an associate professor at the department of history and archaeology at UAE University. “People lost their independence.
“It made peace in the Gulf itself but not on the land; there was still a lot of killing and kidnapping inland. The British government wanted peace so its connection with south Iraq and India would be safe. We have a lot of documents from that period and I think a lot was British propaganda that said they came here to develop the area.”
Dr bin Seray, like many from Ras al Khaimah, believes the British response to alleged piracy was disproportionate, considering the suffering visited on the people of RAK.
“Even the excuse of the British government for the attack on RAK was that the Qawasim and people of RAK were pirates, but what did they do? They attacked a couple of British ships, nothing else,” he said. “And they [the British] attacked and killed a lot of people in RAK. The British destroyed all the forts, all the ruins, even the ships, everything was destroyed. They didn’t leave anything.”
Brig Saeed Laha, who runs his own museum in RAK and has spent years collecting the correspondence between the British and the Emirati rulers of the time, said 1809 was a tragedy that must be remembered.
“The people are defending themselves and their country,” said Brig Laha. “By sword, by old rifles, they fought one by one.”
Of course, he added, we may never know which version of history to trust.
“There are many stories and many songs about 1809 but you can’t believe everything,” he said. “The history is different from man to man.”
Source: The National
Photo: National Maritiem Museum

"Worst of the downturn over in Dubai": Sheikh Mohammed

Dubai has passed through the worst of the economic downturn, says Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the UAE.
Dubai’s aim to become a global economic player is undiminished by the financial crisis and the emirate is well placed to pay its debts, says Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
The speech to foreign investors at an event organised by Bank of America Merrill Lynch came less than two weeks after Dubai raised US$1.93 billion (Dh6.97bn), the first new loan from international markets since the crisis hit last year.
“The worst is over and Dubai is now well placed,” Sheikh Mohammed said in his speech in Dubai. “The global economic crisis, despite its impact, will not deter Dubai’s ambitions of implementing its development plans.”
The ruler’s comments helped pushed Dubai shares to their highest level in a week.
Sheikh Mohammed also expressed confidence that investors would subscribe to a second $10bn bond expected within weeks, after the Central Bank bought the first $10bn in February.
The $20bn bond programme was designed to ease repayments on $85bn in debt built up during the building boom of the past decade. There has been speculation on whether private investors will be interested in the second half of the bond.
“Those who know me trust me when I say that the second part of the bond programme initiated by Dubai recently will be well received by subscribers, and will contribute to settling Dubai’s financial obligations in the coming years,” said Sheikh Mohammed.
He reiterated the strength of Dubai’s links with Abu Dhabi, and told critics of their relationship to “shut up”.
“I assure you that we will be there for each other when we need it,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
Abu Dhabi’s oil and sovereign wealth savings are considered an important support to Dubai’s ability to service its debt, especially since credit markets tightened with the global banking crisis.
Dubai launched the $20bn support fund in response to the financial crisis, which caused property prices to fall, drained liquidity from banks and led to thousands of job cuts.
Defending Dubai’s response to the crisis, Sheikh Mohammed said: “We preferred to wait rather than rush into action, because we are keen to ensure that our major enterprises are restructured to allow them to have the momentum and strength they require to cope with the realities of the new economy.”
In the biggest sale of Islamic bonds in the Gulf so far this year, Dubai raised $1.93bn last month. Economists estimated that Dubai would need to either repay or refinance $10.1bn in debts coming due next year. It will need $12.1bn in 2011, $15.2bn in 2012 and $4.8bn in 2013.
The Government said on Sunday it repaid a $1bn Dubai Civil Aviation Authority sukuk due on November 4. Nakheel, the Dubai Government-controlled developer, is expected to repay a $3.5bn Islamic bond next month with bondholders due to receive more than $4bn in principal and profit.
“The speech delivers important reassurances,” said Eckart Woertz, the programme manager of economics at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai.
“However, markets don’t operate on political statements but on economic realities on the ground. In that sense, the repayment of developer Nakheel’s bond in December will be an important indication. Narrowing spreads show that the markets have regained confidence in Dubai’s ability to meet its obligations.”
Mr Woertz said a lack of information on Dubai’s debt situation had contributed to market scepticism in the past.
Source: The National 9 Nov 09

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Japanese builders owed billions for Dubai work

Source: 8 Nov 09
Japanese companies are owed billions for work done in Dubai, including the metro system, the Japanese consul general in Dubai has said. Japanese construction companies are facing "serious debt problems" amid issues with being paid for work done in Dubai, a top ranking official has said.
Seiichi Otsuka, the Japanese consul general in Dubai, claimed firms are still owed billions of dollars on projects that include the Dubai Metro and Palm Island, UAE daily The National reported on Sunday.
Japanese builders have played a major role in Dubai’s construction boom, spearheading work on the metro and other key projects in the emirate.
“Some Japanese construction companies are facing very serious debt problems,” Otsuka told the paper. “Some companies engaged with the construction of the Metro are facing some payment issues.”
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), the lead company for the metro contract, are among those firms affected by non-payment on contracts, the paper added.
“MHI executed the construction of the Dubai Metro and some other contracts and we are still awaiting payment,” said Koji Okamoto, the general manager of the Middle East office of MHI in Dubai. The company has contracts in the Middle East valued at $150bn.
The Japanese government has not discussed the payment issues with the Dubai Government, nor has it intervened with financial assistance to those companies affected, Otsuka said.
“We are in a position to push both sides to make an amicable solution,” he said.
Otsuka told the paper it was difficult to put a figure on the outstanding debt as some payment was due shortly.
Last month, it was reported that some UK contractors were turning down invitations to chase work in Dubai because of continuing doubts over whether they will be paid on time.
According to Nelson Ogunshakin, the chief executive of the UK Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), a large number of UK firms significant number of UK firms are still owed money by struggling developers in the emirate.
In July, the UK government reiterated its call for contractors to be paid by Dubai developers – and said it was "continuing to monitor the situation".

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Prosecutors vow to hunt Istithmar World fraudster

UAE prosecutors have said steps will be taken to find and arrest a former senior executive of Istithmar Capital convicted on embezzlement charges.
An Interpol Red Notice could be issued for the arrest and possible extradition of Chris Turner, who was sentenced in absentia to five years in jail for embezzling AED4.9 million ($1.3m), UAE daily The National reported on Thursday.
The former risk assessment manager for the investment arm of Dubai World was also ordered by Dubai Criminal Court to pay $2.7m in fines and restitution.
Turner, speaking to newswire Zawya Dow Jones from a location outside the UAE, said: "I'm innocent of the charges and I'm not in the country. I'm reviewing my legal options.
"This is a matter for the appropriate authorities," said a spokesman at Istithmar World in an emailed statement to the newswire.
But prosecutors in the UAE said they would hunt for him.
“If the person is believed to be outside of the country, his location will be investigated and steps will be taken to return him in order to face his prosecution or serve his sentence,” said Shoaib Ahly, a Dubai public prosecutor in comments published by The National.
Dubai Police said once they received the case file, they could issue an Interpol Red Notice, which is not an international arrest warrant but a local warrant circulated worldwide with the request that the wanted person be arrested with a view to extradition.
On Tuesday, Turner was found guilty of purchasing stocks for Istithmar from a British horse brokerage company that he owned, then pocketing a portion of the funds.
Turner, 45, came to the UAE in 2003 and headed a company at the Dubai internet City before joining Dubai World.

Damas: Abdulla brothers to repay $165m over 18 months

Source: 4 Nov 09
Former Damas CEO Tawhid Abdulla.UAE jewellery retailer Damas International on Wednesday announced that the three Abdulla brothers have given a formal commitment to repay $165m they owe the company over the next 18 months.
The payment schedule is part of the formal settlement agreement between the Abdulla family and Damas, in respect of the repayment of unauthorised transactions that led to the resignation of Tawhid Abdulla as CEO last month.
The Abdulla brothers have undertaken to pay $55m within 6 months; an aggregate of $110m within 12 months; and the total within 18 months.
The company added that should auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) discover further unauthorised payments as part of their investigations, repayments would need to be paid within two years.
The Abdullah brothers produced a list of assets that are potentially available for liquidation to be converted by them into cash to meet their obligations.
These included real estate investments in the Middle East and North Africa (including a number of residential and commercial buildings and units in the UAE) and an investment in a shopping mall in Turkey.
As part of the settlement agreement, the Abdulla brothers have also pledged 350 million of their shares in the company that would be transferred in whole or in part back to the company in the event of the terms of the settlement Agreement are breached.
Last month, PWC was appointed by the board of the company as an independent auditor to examine unauthorised transactions conducted by former CEO and MD Tawhid Abdulla.
The appointment of PWC follows the formation of a separate committee to examine the transactions in detail.

Istithmar manager on the run

More on yesterday's story: "CT", Chris Turner, has contacted the National newspaper in Abu Dhabi and confirmed that he is now in the UK. He declares his innocence and is considering further legal action in a UK court.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Istithmar expat manager jailed for five years in Dubai

A British senior manager at the overseas investment arm of Dubai World has been jailed for embezzlement. A former senior manager at Istithmar World, the overseas investment arm of Dubai World, has been handed the longest prison sentence yet as part of a major crackdown on corruption.
The British manager, referred in court as CT, jailed for five years and ordered to pay almost AED10m ($2.7m) in fines after being found guilty of embezzling $1.34m, it was reported on Wednesday.
CT was accused of purchasing stocks for Istithmar from a British horse brokerage company that he owned, then pocketing a portion of the funds, UAE daily The National reported.
Judge El Saeed Bargouth ordered CT to repay the $1.3m and fined him the same amount. He further ordered that CT be dismissed from his position, the paper said
CT has two weeks to lodge an appeal. In the meantime he will be in custody at Al Awir Central Jail.
Meanwhile, appeals judges in the Sama Dubai fraud case were considering whether employees of state-funded companies could be tried as public officials.
If they rule that they can, it would leave the defendants in a number of corruption cases open to markedly heavier sentences if found guilty, the paper added.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Foreign home buyers to get residency in Oman.

The beach at Barr al Jissah, one of the areas foreigners will be permitted to purchase properties.
Text source: Reuters 2 Nov 09
Foreign home owners in Oman will be issued residency visas on completion. Oman will issue residency visas to foreign home owners after the completion of the properties and not on registration, a government official said on Monday.
Mohammed al-Sinani, the Tourism Ministry's director general of planning and follow-up, told Reuters that foreign property buyers would get a residence visa after the title deed has been changed to their names.
His comment camed after property buyers said that developers had promised they would receive residence visas while the homes are under construction.
"Home buyers get a multiple 3-week visiting visa each time they come when their property is under construction. Then they can apply to get two-year residency after the completion," Sinani said.
Buyers are also entitled to get residency for their family and parents. The residency will be cancelled and is transferable to the new owner when the property is sold, Sinani added.
Foreigners can only buy in areas called integrated tourism complex (ITC) - the Wave, Salalah Beach Resort, Barr Al-Jissah, Yiti Resort, Muscat Hills, Blue City and Jebel Sifah.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Saad chief accused of Ponzi scheme

Source: The National
Maan al Sanea, the head of the embattled Saad Group of Saudi Arabia, “operated one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history”, according to documents filed in a New York court.
“He fraudulently arranged for the borrowing of billions of dollars from dozens of banks, steadily increasing the loan levels year-by-year,” the filings allege. It is the latest legal broadside from the al Gosaibi family, which is locked in a bitter dispute with Mr al Sanea over what it claims is a US$10 billion (Dh36.73bn) fraud.
A Ponzi scheme is a type of fraud in which investors are paid out of illusory profits which are actually fresh money injected into the business by new investors. The most famous example is the $68bn fraud by the disgraced US financier Bernard Madoff.
The claim, which Mr al Sanea has denied, came amid a flurry of legal action in New York late last week. The al Gosaibis made fresh allegations against Mashreqbank of Dubai in the ongoing battle between them over $400 million in disputed foreign exchange transactions.
The al Gosaibis filed documents that they said supported their claim that Mashreq was aware of the fraud they said was perpetrated on them by Mr al Sanea and that the bank aided and abetted Mr al Sanea’s conduct. Mashreq has rejected these claims.
Lawyers for Ahman Hamad Al Gosaibi and Brothers claimed to have unearthed fresh evidence of long-term collusion between Mr al Sanea and Mashreq. According to documents submitted by Al Gosaibi, in June 1999, Adel al Mannai, an officer of Mashreq in Bahrain, wrote to Mr al Sanea advising him that Mashreq “would like to start a relationship with the group and will contact you on my next visit to Al Khobar the Saudi city which is HQ that is home to both the Saad Group and Al Gosaibi to discuss in more detail areas of co-operation”.
The filings cast doubt on the nature of foreign exchange transactions between Mashreq and Al Gosaibi. These were, in fact, “short-term loans”, Al Gosaibi alleges, rather than genuine foreign exchange transactions, and were not based on genuine remittance business.
“The volume of forex transactions $4.97bn exceeded the volume of the remittance business $66.75bn by 75 times. The remittance business had nothing to do with the scheme, nor could Mashreq have thought that remitting money to foreign workers could remotely have approached the scale of these transactions,” said Al Gosaibi’s lawyers, the US firm of Baach Robinson and Lewis.
The filings also contain further allegations that Mr al Sanea committed forgery with Mashreq’s knowledge: “When Al Sanea directed employees to refuse to provide a notarised signature on loan documents, because the chairman of the Al Gosaibi company was comatose and could not sign, Mashreq agreed to waive the rules.”
In a statement, Mashreq responded: “The central facts in this case remain that the defendant, the Al Gosaibis, by failing to complete foreign exchange transactions totalling approximately $150 million, is in default of agreements with Mashreq, and we look forward to presenting our case to the court.
“As for Al Gosaibi’s allegations that its own organisation was riven with massive fraud and forgery, Mashreq saw no evidence of this, and at all times acted in good faith in dealing as a counterparty with Al Gosaibi. In making these claims, Al Gosaibi is trying to avoid its lawful obligations to Mashreq and the more than 100 other international financial institutions to which Al Gosaibi is now in default.”
In separate legal moves in New York, Mr al Sanea’s lawyers filed documents accusing Al Gosaibi of “forum shopping” – bringing actions in multiple jurisdictions around the world. They also disputed the jurisdiction of the New York courts as the appropriate arenas for the legal actions and argued that Saudi Arabia would be the best place to litigate the dispute.
Ian Edge, the director of the Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law at the University of London’s School of African and Oriental Studies, said: “In my opinion, Saudi Arabia is the most appropriate forum – probably the only appropriate forum – for the settlement of this dispute. It maintains an effective judicial system that is fully capable of adjudicating commercial disputes.”

Dubai wants to host the Olympics in 2020

Source: 2 November 09
The first meeting of Dubai 2020 team, which aims to bring the Olympic Games to the emirate, is set to take place on Monday.  The talks will be chaired by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince, news agency WAM reported.
The meeting aims to start the preparation for the Dubai 2020 initiative, which also aims to bring the World Expo to Dubai in 2020.
The 2020 team will also work to bring other big international events to Dubai.
The committee includes Dubai's most senior officials such the Mohammed Al Shaibani, head of the ruler's court and Dhahi Khalfan Al Tamim, Dubai's chief of police and Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of Emirates.
Japan's Hiroshima and Nagasaki are also launching a joint bid for the 2020 Olympics. Delhi, Istanbul and Budapest have already expressed interest in bidding.
If successful Dubai would become the first city in the Middle East to host the Olympics.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Dubai Properties chairman arrested.

Source: Bloomberg
Photo: Dubai Properties website

Hashim Al Dabal, chairman of Dubai Properties LLC has been arrested on suspicion of embezzlement at the state-owned company that’s in merger talks with Emaar Properties PJSC, the emirate’s attorney general said.
“Mr. Al Dabal is accused of abusing his position and earning millions in illegal profit,” Attorney General Essam Essa al-Humaidan said in a phone interview today. “We are questioning him almost daily and Mr. Al Dabal indicated he is ready to answer questions without having a lawyer present.”
Emaar, the United Arab Emirates’ biggest real-estate developer, said last week that talks are progressing on a merger with Dubai Properties and state-controlled Sama Dubai LLC and Tatweer LLC. Authorities in Dubai have arrested officials at property companies since beginning an investigation into corruption last year. They include Deyaar Development PJSC’s former CEO, Zack Shahin, and Adel al-Shirawi, former chief of mortgage lender Tamweel PJSC.
“This clearly creates a distraction for the planned merger,” Saud Masud, a Dubai-based analyst at UBS, said by telephone. “It also raises questions on the need for more due diligence beyond the financials for Emaar and it may end up becoming a catalyst for a management reshuffle.”
Bloomberg calls to Dubai Properties seeking comment weren’t answered today, a weekend day in the United Arab Emirates. Al Dabal hasn’t appointed a lawyer and only family and legal representatives are allowed to talk with him, al-Humaidan said.
Investigation Continues
Al Dabal was arrested about 10 days ago, the attorney general said. No arraignment date has been set and the investigation is continuing, he said. Under Dubai law, he can be held for 21 days, after which he must appear before a judge.
Dubai Properties is a unit of Dubai Holding LLC, a group owned by the emirate’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed Bin RashidAl Maktoum. In August, Al Dabal was appointed as executive chairman at Dubai Holding’s newly created Property Vertical unit.
The proposed merger with Emaar is aimed at controlling the supply of new buildings amid a glut of homes that drove property prices in Dubai 50 percent lower. The combined entity will have 13.4 billion dirhams of debt and 194 billion dirhams of assets, Emaar said on Oct. 22.
Dubai Properties built Jumeirah Beach Residence, a 1.7- kilometer (1.05-mile) waterfront development that includes 36 residential towers, four hotels and retail space.
In Custody
Al Dabal is being held at a detention center in Dubai police headquarter, al-Humaidan said.
“We’re still trying to determine the extent of Al Dabal’s misconduct,” he said. “When the investigation is complete, all details will be announced.”
The investigation is being “conducted swiftly and, God willing, it will be concluded soon,” he said, adding that Al Dabal will be allowed to meet with a lawyer as soon as he appoints one and his family is allowed to visit him.
Emarat Al youm reported earlier today that Al Dabl had been referred for prosecution on suspicion of financial misconduct. It cited Yasir Amerey, the head of the financial supervision department at the Ruler’s Court.
Dubai Holding appointed Ahmad bin Byat as acting chairman, Zawya Dow Jones reported yesterday, citing the company.
“Dubai Holding and all of its business entities are committed to the highest levels of corporate governance. As such we fully support the Dubai government’s initiatives to uphold these standards,” Zawya Dow Jones cited the company as saying in a statement.