Wednesday, 30 September 2009

In the Home Neighbourhood: Earthquake and tsunami in Samoa


The flooded main street of Fagatogo in American Samoa
The tsunami reached the East Coast of New Zealand but it had lost most of its power and caused no damage.
Eye witness reports from Samoa are here.
Sources: New Zealand Herald/Photo: AP
===========
Dozens have been killed after a powerful earthquake struck near the Samoa Islands, sparking a tsunami which threatened New Zealand.

The Ministry of Civil Defence said the quake, measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale struck at 06.48am New Zealand time.
At least two New Zealanders are reported to have been injured and one killed in Samoa.

One of the runways at Pago Pago International Airport is being cleared of debris for emergency use, says a US Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.
The FAA is deploying teams to American Samoa for support and damage evaluation.
Japan's Meteorological Agency also issued a tsunami warning all along that country's eastern coast.

There are unconfirmed reports that 40 people from the Samoan village of Lalomanu (the Samoan PM's home village) on the south-eastern end of the island of Upolu have been killed.

A New Zealand man called Radio Samoa in Auckland saying he had been in touch with his family in Lalomanu.
Family members said up to 40 people had died following the magnitude 8.3 earthquake and tsunami which hit the island in the early hours of this morning.
Associated Press reporter Keen Elsa said three or four villages on the popular tourist coast near the southern town of Lalomanu on Samoa's main island of Upolu had been "wiped out" by the waves that roared ashore early today.
Keni said he had visited the town's main hospital where "there are bodies everywhere," including at least one child.
The Samoan government has not yet confirmed fatalities.
Officials in neighbouring American Samoa say at least 14 people have been killed there.
Kisa Kupa - a New Zealand citizen who now lives in Samoa - says sirens are still ringing loudly on the main island of Upolu, warning people to head inland or to higher ground.
"My kids were terrified this morning - the house was shaking like anything and objects dropping and smashing on the floor."
She said there were at least three reported deaths - all children - from the village of Poutasi.
"Children have died and this is very sad because there was no warning when it hit. People were only just getting up."

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Mercedes-Benz fake parts destroyed in Sharjah

Photo: Fotosearch
Article source: DriveArabia
================================
Thousands of counterfeit Mercedes-Benz spare parts worth over Dhs 8 million have been seized and destroyed after a major raid in Sharjah, UAE.
More than 65,000 fake commercial vehicle parts including brake pads, turbochargers, alternators, oil coolers, piston rings, gasket kits and belt tighteners were recovered in a joint operation between law enforcement authorities, a law firm and Mercedes-Benz Middle East & Levant.
Hundreds of boxes of the fake parts were seized in Sharjah industrial estate from a Chinese counterfeiter, who has a record of copying other brands and was earlier this year prevented from exhibiting at the Automechanika exhibition.
“We work very closely with the local authorities to beat the counterfeiters who are actively cheating companies out of millions of dirhams,” said Mr. Ivo Kapitski, Vice President and Director, After Sales, Mercedes-Benz Middle East & Levant. “We believe that this raid sends a strong message to the others dealing in fake auto parts and would like to thank the authorities for their hard work and diligence.”
Besides being illegal, the trade in counterfeit parts has a negative impact on the economy when it comes to national revenues. It could also have a possible fatal impact on drivers and their passengers if counterfeit parts such as brake pads malfunction, as well as reducing the brand-owner’s return-on-investment when it comes to unlawful exploitation for a quick profit by the counterfeiters.
“These parts are manufactured solely to make a quick profit. They use low quality materials and are not subject to the extensive quality tests that we perform at Mercedes-Benz,” added Mr. Kapitski. “Although the customers may think they have a good bargain, we advise them to report any kind of suspected parts to their local Mercedes-Benz distributor.

Meraas to exhibit at Cityscape

Now this I've got to see....will they be in the urban demolition section?
Source: ConstructionWeekOnline
================================
Meraas, the developer behind the US$95.2 billion Jumeira Gardens project, will be exhibiting at Cityscape Dubai in October after remaining out of the public eye for a year.
Jumeira Gardens was unveiled by Meraas at last year’s exhibition and was pitched to be built over 12 years, across an area north of Sheikh Zayed Road between Diyafa Street and Safa Park. There will be several major parks and a number of smaller community parks, while a large canal will run through the heart of the development and will flow, at one end, into the Business Bay Canal and at the other end, out to the sea.
The current status of the project, which also contains three major skyscrapers, has been uncertain since March this year when the project was scaled back.
In a statement, Cityscape said the Meraas had reappeared in order to “demonstrate its confidence in the real estate sector in Dubai.”
“We have been emphasising for some time now that the objectives for many developers exhibiting at Cityscape Dubai is to reassure existing and potential investors,” said Rohan Marwaha, managing director, Cityscape.
“Clearly, no-one is expecting to see multi-billion dollar project launches or major finance deals being brokered. Instead they will be focusing on transparent progress reports on existing projects with realistic completion milestones and handover dates.”
Joining Meraas will be Dubai Properties, and major developers Emaar and Nakheel. Two weeks ago ConstructionWeekOnline.com revealed Nakeel and Emaar were planning to stay away from Cityscape until both companies revised their decision shortly before Eid.

Dubai i-mate 'fraud' will run to $15m


i-mate founder Jim Morrison in happier days

Source: ArabianBusiness.com
===========
An alleged fraud which has been blamed for the collapse of UAE-based smartphone maker i-mate’s Dubai business operation will run to about $15m, CEO Jim Morrison said on Monday.
“This is the first time I have ever wanted to murder someone. Eight years of my life I put into this. Personally I have lost about $6m, cash,” Morrison told Arabian Business in a phone interview.
Morrison, who left Dubai for the UK last Thursday, claimed a board member was to blame for the company's demise but added that no i-mate employee has been formally charged with fraud.
All 40 of i-mate’s employees in Dubai – the company’s headquarters – will now lose their jobs, he said.
Earlier this month they were told to take two months unpaid leave.
Morrison said the alleged fraud was committed after he left Dubai to work in the United States in March to be closer to both Microsoft and the US military, whom he said were interested in a new product being developed by i-mate.
Asked if he had any contact with the former employee he blames for the firm's downfall, Morrison said: “Not except for him greetin (crying) on the phone and pleading that I don’t put him in jail. Apart from that, no.”
i-mate, which had 120 staff around the world, has been hit over recent years by both the global economic downturn and the arrival onto the market of the iPhone and Blackberry devices.
Three years ago, Morrison said, the company sold 200,000 handsets a year in the Middle East.
“This year we would have been lucky if we had done 40,000,” he added.
However, he denied the company’s closure was inevitable irrespective of the alleged fraud.
“You could say the company is worth nothing now. At its height, three years ago, it was worth $750m. I would say the downturn had nothing to do with our failure. It’s quite simple, if you know you’ve got no cash in Dubai, then you’ve got a very limited period in which to get cash. And if you don’t, all of your creditors come knocking on the door and that is it,” Morrison said.
“If I had the cash, or I had another month or two months to get the cash, I would have been ok. So it is not to do with the recession, because we had corrected from the recession,” he added.
As a result of the alleged fraud, Morrison said, i-mate fell behind in its obligation to pay its staff their salaries on time. He added that as a result, many members of staff had their bank accounts frozen and at least two were arrested for non-payment of loans.
He claimed i-mate’s salary commitments could have been met if money paid to the company by electronic goods retailer Sharaf DG had not been taken as “ransom” by disgruntled employees.
“What happened is we sold products to Sharaf DG, and we had AED2.6m coming in, which more than covered the salaries, but it was coming in a week late, and that is what kicked it all off...The sales guys who were responsible for Sharaf DG went and collected the cheques and then held them out to ransom, saying ‘paying me all my money and my gratuities and everything and I will give you your cheques,’ which of course we couldn’t do.
"So now the money is all locked up in court, because we have to do court action to get new cheques issued, and cheques cancelled and whatnot.”
Asked if i-mate would reopen, Morrison said it would not, adding that once the company had been legally wound down he would look to open a new company in Dubai. He said he did not expect to get the money back he alleges i-mate has been defrauded of.
“If Dubai wasn’t set up in such a way that the banks are so aggressive and put people in jail, and your only defence is a court case, the Dubai office would have come through this ok. There’s no protection. I even spoke to the banks, and I asked why they are like this, and they said it is because so many people just leave the country, so as soon as they get an indication of it they have to act or they’ll lose a fortune.
"It is well-publicised that people drive to the airport and just leave,” he said, adding that he was still free to come and go from Dubai as he pleased.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Dubai recruiter caught in Ministry sting op


Employment agencies in Dubai that charge candidates to apply for jobs are being spotlighted by the Ministry of Labour.  There are several well known culprits who advertise extensively on the internet, the crowd from Mississauga being one of the best known. 
Source:ArabianBusiness.com
================================
 The Ministry of Labour is set to shut down a Dubai-based recruitment agent following a sting operation exposed illegal payments.
UAE authorities are set to shut down a Dubai-based recruitment agency and press charges against its owners on allegations that the firm charged candidates for applying for jobs.
A sting operation by the Ministry of Labour (MoL) found that the company was charging job seekers for applying for jobs, a source close to the situation told Arabian Business.
The operation was one in a series of crackdowns on rogue recruiters in the country, the source said.
Execuland, a white-collar recruitment consultancy with offices on the 41st floor of Emirates Towers, was also found to be advertising jobs despite not being registered as a recruitment agency.
Nobody from the company showed up for work on Sunday, according to a receptionist outside the firm’s office, and telephone calls were directed to voice mail.
UAE recruiters are only allowed to charge employers for their services.
Previously only a problem for blue-collar workers in sectors like construction, the economic slowdown has seen illegal recruitment fees spread to all parts of the market as a wave of redundancies in Gulf states created a surplus of job candidates.
Article 18 of the UAE Labour Law states that: “no licensed employment agent or labour supplier shall demand or accept from any worker...any commission or material reward in return for employment”.
In a statement sent earlier to Arabian Business, Humaid bin Deemas, the acting director general of MoL, said that jobseekers asked for fees should submit a complaint supported by evidence to any of the ministry’s customer offices.
The managing director of Execuland did not immediately respond to e-mails.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

i-mate closes in Dubai due to "major fraud"


Source: ArabianBusiness.com
================
The CEO of smart phone maker i-mate on Wednesday spoke out over the company's troubles in Dubai and insisted that the business and brand will continue to live on.
Employees at i-mate's Dubai operation were made aware of the company's financial plight earlier this month.
They were initially told to take compulsory unpaid leave, but last week i-mate's office in Dubai Internet City was closed and phones went unanswered.
Jim Morrison, who founded the device maker eight years ago, said the company had run into difficulties after uncovering a "major fraud" committed by a senior employee within the organisation.
Morrison said the fraud was discovered at the end of August and the case is now with the police.
"This all happened just before we were launching [a new device range]. We produced all the paperwork, we have the devices and so we have to sort this problem first," added Morrison.
He said the company was still committed to launching its new range of smart phone products and would offer new contracts to retailers if required.
Morrison said the situation had made it difficult for i-mate to pay staff on time and led to around 30 of its 40-strong workforce being laid off.
It is understood that some former employees are considering raising their dispute with local authorities, which Morrison admits would make it difficult for the company to do anything with its Dubai operation for now.
However, he insists that "everything about i-mate will continue".
He said: "We are keeping the brand, we are putting out products, and we will be looking for more funding of course. There is a lot of good stuff happening."
Morrison, who is currently in the UAE but is normally based in the US, said that it was still too early to say if the office in Dubai would eventually re-open.
However, he said the company still continues to operate in other markets around the world and would seek to maintain customer relationships in the region even if it meant serving the market from elsewhere.
i-mate is preparing to release a statement with further details this afternoon.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Dust storm turns Sydney skies red


The skyline of Sydney's CBD today. 
Picture: Jeremy Kerwin


Even by Dubai's sandstorm standards, the dust storm in Sydney is big. The colours in the photos in the  Sydney Morning Herald photo gallery are spectacular.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

New tunnel opens in Dubai


Picture: A worker attempting to reach Emaar Square this morning 
(BrandXPictures)

The new tunnel under Emaar Square is open and this morning I went through it twice, neither time intentionally.  The direction sign at the roundabout that leads to Sheikh Zayed Rd has an arrow and the words "Emaar Square" on it but the sign tells lies. Instead of taking the unsuspecting driver to Emaar Square, the road veers away, dips underground through the new tunnel, emerging on the road to DIFC, well past the Marooj Rotana. As a result, I joined The Queue of The Confused to do a u-turn by DIFC, went back through the tunnel again this time appreciating the nice road surface, smooth walls, pristine beige paintwork and reasonable acoustics for the Audi. Once I was above ground again, I took a chance on an unmarked exit that looked like it led to the road that winds past the Tabreed substation. Thank goodness it was the right road. Other co-workers were also surprised to find themselves going through the tunnel. Unfortunately for one, on her return trip after doing a u-turn at DIFC, she took the wrong exit and ended up in the Dubai Mall carpark in her words "trapped like a mouse in a maze". When she finally found her way out of the carpark 20 minutes later, she somehow ended up on the overpass heading towards Al Khail and having to start the whole thing again.
No doubt everything will be completely different again tomorrow.

Great thinkers of New Zealand rugby

WELL AT LEAST THESE BLOKES ARE GOOD AT RUGBY....

  •  Nobody in Rugby should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein." - Jono Gibbs - Chiefs 
  • "I'm going to graduate on time, no matter how long it takes." - Rodney So'ialo (Hurricanes) on University
  •  "You guys line up alphabetically by height." and "You guys pair up in groups of three, then line up in a circle." - Colin Cooper (Hurricanes head coach)
  • Chris Masoe (Hurricanes) on whether he had visited the Pyramids during his visit to Egypt: "I can't really remember the names of the clubs that we went to."
  • "He's a guy who gets up at six o'clock in the morning regardless of what time it is." - Colin Cooper on Paul Tito
  • Kevin Senio (Auckland), on Night Rugby vs Day Games "It's basically the same, just darker."
  • David Nucifora (Auckland) talking about Troy Flavell "I told him, 'Son, what is it with you. Is it ignorance or apathy?' He said, 'David, I don't know and I don't care.'"
  • David Holwell (Hurricanes) when asked about the upcoming season: "I want to reach for 150 or 200 points this season, whichever comes first."
  • "Andy Ellis - the 21 year old, who turned 22 a few weeks ago" (Murray Mexted)
  • "Colin has done a bit of mental arithmetic with a calculator." (Ma'a Nonu)
  • "He scored that try after only 22 seconds - totally against the run of play." (Murray Mexted)
  • "We actually got the winning try three minutes from the end but then they scored." (Phil Waugh-Waratahs)
  • "I've never had major knee surgery on any other part of my body." (Jerry Collins)
  • "That kick was absolutely unique, except for the one before it which was identical." (Tony Brown)
  • "I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father." (Tana Umaga)
  • "Sure there have been injuries and deaths in rugby - but none of them serious." (Doc Mayhew)
  • "If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same thing again." (Anton Oliver)
  • "I would not say he (Rico Gear) is the best left winger in the Super 14, but there are none better." (Murray Mexted)
  • "I never comment on referees and I'm not going to break the habit of a lifetime for that prat." (Ewan McKenzie)
  • Murray Deaker: "Have you ever thought of writing your autobiography?" Tana Umaga: "On what?"
  • "Well, either side could win it, or it could be a draw." (Murray Mexted)
  • "Strangely, in slow motion replay, the ball seemed to hang in the air for even longer." (Murray Mexted)

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Emaar & Nakheel do a u-turn on Cityscape.

Another one for the "Dubai, Capital of The U-turn" file.  After announcing at the end of last week that they wouldn't be taking part in the Cityscape exhibitions, Nakheel and Emaar have had a joint change of minds and have now announced that they will.  Limitless have announced that they will not take part this year, probably because there's nobody left.
Source: ArabianBusiness.com
==================================
State-owned master developer Nakheel on Saturday said it would participate in Cityscape Dubai after all, a decision taken following tals with the event organisers.
The company, the developer of iconic projects, like the Palm Jumeirah and The World, said in a statement sent to Arabian Business that the decision was made "following discussions with various industry stakeholders, including partners and the leading event’s organisers".
Its announcement was followed by a similar change of mind from Emaar Properties which said its decision "follows discussions with the various agencies involved in organising the event", it was reported by Zawya Dow Jones newswire.
Both Nakheel and Emaar had said on Thursday that they would not be taking part in Dubai's premier property show.
But Nakheel's statement on Saturday added that it would focus on "exhibiting communal properties on several of its developments that are close to completion".
Nakheel said it had recently completed the handover of 33 islands on The World and is scheduled to complete property handovers on a number of other developments in its portfolio.
The company is also gearing up for the inaugural Dubai World Championship golf tournament at Jumeirah Golf Estates in November.
A Nakheel spokesperson added the company was expecting "a very active last quarter 2009" and was focusing on delivering units and services to existing investors and residents, without giving further details.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Emaar, Nakheel both no shows at 2009 Cityscape


Neither Emaar nor Nakheel will be attending Cityscape this year.  A spokesperson for Emaar said the companies wish to "concentrate on the completion and handover of projects."  However, back in the real world there's speculation that both companies wish to avoid the prospect of crowds of irate investors arriving to question company reps.  Without Emaar or Nakheel why bother even having Cityscape at all?  Last year's Cityscape in Abu Dhabi which was held after the redundancies had begun in Dubai, was poorly attended except by company salespeople talking to each other.
Source: ArabianBusiness 17 September 09
Photo of one of the Cityscape models Dubai 2008

=======================
Dubai real estate giants Emaar and Nakheel revealed on Thursday they would not be taking part in Cityscape this year.
The developers said they would forego the massive business-to-business real estate investment event, which attracts thousands of visitors every year, to concentrate on the completion and handover of projects amid a sharp downturn.
“Emaar's focus continues to be on completion of the projects in Dubai and internationally. With the opening of The Dubai Mall and The Dubai Fountain and Burj Dubai scheduled to open this year, Emaar's concentrated efforts are towards making the Downtown Burj Dubai community one of the best developments,” a spokesman for Emaar said in a statement sent to Arabian Business.
“As such we have taken a strategic decision not to participate in Cityscape 2009, but will evaluate our participation in Cityscape 2010 based on our objectives, strategy and announcements next year,” the company added.
A spokesman for Nakheel, the state controlled private developer, said: "After careful consideration, Nakheel has decided it will not participate in Cityscape Dubai 2009. The developer of iconic projects, like the Palm Jumeirah and The World in Dubai, determined it was more prudent to focus on property handovers on several of its developments that are close to completion."
Cityscape in Dubai attracts the biggest developers in the region and is seen is a key event in which to launch and sell projects and close multi-million dollar deals.
Last month Arabian Business reported that visitor and exhibitor numbers would be 30 per cent down on last year, when the event drew record crowds.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

UAE announces Eid holidays

The UAE’s Eid Al Fitr holiday will be from Sunday September 20 until Tuesday September 22 for the public sector.
Federal ministries and departments will observe the three-day holiday starting on September 20, state news agency WAM reported.
Private sector companies will resume regular hours on the third day of Eid, which is likely to be Tuesday September 22.

Don't believe anyone who tells you that it never rains in the desert

This was filmed on a little Canon pocket camera so all-in-all it came out ok considering....
video

Aussies refused bail in Dubai Court hearing

The 'Gulf News' uses initials for defendants' names in their reports.
Source: Gulf News 15 Sept 09
==============
Waterfront's former executive director and ex-operations manager were refused bail by a court yesterday after they denied the charge of unlawfully gaining Dh44.1 million.
With his arms folded, the 43-year-old Australian former executive director, M.J., repeatedly said: "No!" four straight times when he pleaded not guilty before the Dubai Court of First Instance.
His 40-year-old compatriot ex-operations manager, M.R., said: "No!" four times in the same manner when he denied his charges at courtroom nine in front of Presiding Judge Al Saeed Mohammad Barghout.
Lawyers Salem Al Sha'ali and Ali Abdullah Al Shamsi, who are defending M.J. and M.R., respectively, told the judge that there are no more reasons to keep their clients in provisional detention.
The advocates said their clients' passports have been confiscated and asked the judge to bail the defendants.
The Public Prosecution charged M.J., M.R. and Waterfront's former legal adviser, 44-year-old Australian A.J. (who is at large), with abusing their jobs as public servants and intentionally damaging the interest of Nakheel's Waterfront project by unlawfully earning Dh44.1 million, out of which Dh22.1 million went to M.J.
According to the bill of impeachment, a fourth Australian escapee, identified as A.R., collaborated with the former Waterfront executives.
Prosecutors charged M.J., M.R. and A.J. with abusing their jobs when they managed and promoted Dubai Waterfront lands for sale and gained an illegitimate profit.
Public Prosecution records claim the Australians swindled and misappropriated Dh44.1 million from a Dubai-based property developer.
The defendants allegedly claimed to the developer's Australian manager, D.B., that one of the lands at the Waterfront project belonged to an Australia-based company, which is owned by A.R. The defendants claimed that the land had been reserved for A.R.'s company. Prosecutors claimed that the defendants deceived D.B. and lured him into paying Dh44.1 million and obtain a waiver over the ownership of the land to be able to buy it.
During yesterday's hearing, advocate Eisa Bin Haidar represented the property developer and D.B., who is claiming Dh20,000 in temporary compensation.
Al Sha'ali argued in court: "Since this case surfaced nine months ago, we submitted a document that confirms that the defendants reserved the land for the Australia-based company. Prosecutors failed to face prosecution witnesses with that document because eventually it corroborates that the suspects didn't have any criminal intention&"
Presiding Judge Barghout rejected the bail requests and adjourned the case until October 22.

Beware of the Bunny

Its what I've always suspected! The Rabbit Nation has been fooling everyone with their "cute little cottontail" routine. Don't be taken in, its just a cover....deep down those seemingly harmless wascly wabbits are stone cold killers. This story has all the proof.
I have to wonder about Cairns though. The subject of the story reports that he was bitten by a python while getting a midnight snack in the kitchen....well I guess both man and snake had a snack.
Once you've read the story, head over to the Cairns Post website where there's a video filmed in Texas of a rabbit taking to a snake.
Source: The Cairns Post, Australia
============================
A pair of rabid rabbits has been caught killing a series of snakes near Cairns.
For three weeks Armando Del Manso believed his dog was responsible for the dead snakes showing up with teeth marks all over them on his East Barron property’s lawn each morning.
But it turns out it was a pair of rampaging rabbits killing the snakes.
The 42-year-old boilermaker first made the discovery Tuesday night when he spotted the two wild rabbits attacking a king brown snake.





Photo: A deceased snake, apparently the victim of an attack by one of the Rambo Rabbits.




“The snake was raised up in the air in the striking position and the two rabbits worked their way around him and killed him in two minutes,” Mr Del Manso said. “I’m gobsmacked, it’s absolutely incredible.
“We were watching from the veranda with a spotlight, and I thought, who is going to believe this, they’ll think I’m crazy.”
He said the rabbits lived under a pile of wood in the backyard and were around the same size as a household cat.
“These are killer rabbits man,” he said. “I’ve never ever seen or heard anything like this happening, it could be a breakthrough.”
A day after discovering the killer rabbits, Mr Del Manso noticed the rabbits had two baby bunnies which he said might explain their attitude towards the snakes.
Two days after first spotting the killer rabbits Mr Del Manso was bitten by a python on the foot while going for a midnight snack in his kitchen at around 2am.
“My partner joked that we should train rabbits to come inside the house to clean out the snakes,” Mr Del Manso said.
“We are absolutely inundated with snakes.”
Senior wildlife manager at the Cairns Wildlife Safari Paul O’Callaghan said he’d never heard of rabbits attacking snakes before but that didn’t mean it wasn’t possible.
“Animals are capable of learning, and it’s not impossible that these animals have learnt to deal with snakes in this way,” Mr O’Callaghan said.
“They’re certainly taking a risk doing it though.”
Mr De Manso also farms exotic bantams and said with more than 50 chooks he had neveronce lost a fowl to a snake due to the guard rabbits.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Turning Japanese: An Emirati entrepreneur gives Japan’s most popular art form an Arabic twist

The 'Gold Ring' Arabic manga comics are available at the Kinokuniya book shop in the Dubai Mall.
Sources: ArabianBusiness.com, EyeOfDubai and Bayt.com
===============
If Superman and Sultan got into a fight, who would win? One is a US superhero from the DC stable, the other a teenage Emirati manga character whose sidekick is a falcon named Majd. Granted, it’s not yet a conundrum set to divide the comic-book masses, but if 33-year-old Qais Sedki has his way, superhero junkies will at least be asking the question in a few years time.
Sedki, a slight, softly-spoken man with a background in IT, is the author of what is being billed as the first original, Arabic-language manga comic. Gold Ring, which tells of Sultan’s adventures and challenges as he competes in an epic falconry contest, is his stab at putting an Emirati slant on a uniquely Japanese genre.
With it, Sedki hopes to encourage more children to read in classical Arabic, and to create a window into Emirati culture. More broadly, the book’s launch is a sign that manga mania is at last starting to bite in the Middle East.
Manga, an edgy art form born in the wake of World War II, is hard to miss. The comics resemble cinematic storyboards, where action-packed narratives are carried along by exquisitely drawn saucer-eyed characters with spiky hair and — bizarrely — pointed ears.
Far from being a niche market, however, these novels have sales figures that most conventional publishers would kill for. Despite sliding a little in popularity in recent years, the manga market is still deliriously large and comprises nearly a third of all printed materials in Japan. (Ride the Tokyo subway and you’ll see the full gamut of greying corporates, schoolchildren and twenty-somethings pawing through their daily fix.)
Little surprise then, that the former Japanese prime minister Taro Aso — a self-confessed comic addict — earlier this year suggested ramping up the export of Japan’s manga heroes as part of a 15 trillion yen ($162.48bn) economic stimulus package.
Still, manga hasn’t waited for an invitation to spread its wings. By setting up Pageflip, the Dubai publishing house producing Gold Ring, Sedki is now serving for a slice of a competitive $5bn global market. In Britain alone, graphic novels last year generated the best part of $16m in bookstores. In the US, sales have tripled in the past four years; astonishing in a country where home-grown comics rarely seen a print run of more than 150,000.
From its start as a cult, manga is now a fully-fledged publishing phenomenon and top literary houses including HarperCollins, Random House and Simon &Schuster all have fingers in the pie.
For Sedki, his interest traces back to the first wave of crossover anime cartoons in the 1980s, which were dubbed into Arabic and aired on local television networks. Nearly all began life as weekly manga comics.
“Some Emiratis grew out of it, but a good chunk, like me, held on to that interest,” he says. “It fuelled an interest in all things Japanese — I am fascinated by their ways, their work ethic, their culture and history.”
Most Middle Eastern kids today are familiar with Pokémon-style graphics and anime (Japanese animation) but Sedki’s is the first made-in-the-UAE manga. His aim is to create a tempting comic format to bridge the gap between kids’ books and heavy novels for 10 to 12-year-olds, in a bid to show young Emiratis that Arabic isn’t just a language for academia.
“Kids don’t think of classical Arabic as an entertaining form,” he says, shrugging. “I want to show that it can be just as fun as any other language, and not all associated with work or study.”
Just as Emiratis are outnumbered a dizzying five-to-one by expats, Sedki frets that Arabic is being sidelined in schools in favour of the more widely-spoken English — so much so that the next generation is in danger of losing touch with its roots.
“I don’t think [English] should come at the expense of the mother tongue, and I’m trying to play a role in bolstering the importance of Arabic,” he says. “I want them to be proud of their heritage.”
For this reason, Gold Ring has an unmistakably Emirati flavour. Its pages are lit up with desert dunes, dishdashas and falcons, and a slew of other local symbols, putting an Arabic stamp on a distinctly foreign art form. Its central theme is one of perseverance and Sedki hopes Sultan, its button-nosed protagonist, will hit a nerve with its audience.
“Manga stories, they tend to be very inspirational. They always involve things like challenges to put you through your paces,” he enthuses. “It’s that kind of ‘stop at nothing’ approach, you know — when you dream, dream big. Don’t sell yourself short on ambition. I want kids to absorb that.”
Sedki is a case in point. Gold Ring was five years in the making, from concept to first print run, and saw the father-of-two throw in his day job and bankroll Pageflip entirely by himself — a fact that is all the more startling, when you consider how much state-backed financial help is available to Emirati entrepreneurs.Even if the initial 14,000 print run sells out at AED60 ($16) per book, the firm won’t turn a profit, so Sedki is banking on a second run to eventually cover the loss. With no regular income, he’s under no illusions that there is a lot at stake — and that, as a one-man publishing house, he’s going to struggle to make waves in a global manga market. Talk about taking the high road.“It’s not something I would recommend to be honest,” he says shortly, “but I want to see if it stands commercially by itself. If I’d taken the risk-free easy route from day one, the story behind the [Gold Ring] story wouldn’t really match.He has opted for a scattergun approach to marketing, with plans to try everything from pitching Gold Ring as an Arabic-language educational aid to schools, to commissioning a six-foot sand replica of the front cover to generate some coverage.“I’m trying to approach non-conventional sales channels. Schools are next because I see this as an educational book,” he explains.“I am kind of hinging on that happening because I need to pursue different sorts of revenue from this. Even selling the book at full margins I’m not breaking even.“And negotiating within the [book selling] system as a start-up publishing house with a non-established product, I’m not coming from a strong standpoint.”Lucky then, that Pageflip has a lot going for it, not least of which is the talent of two of Japan’s foremost manga artists. Sedki recruited the female duo Akira Himekawa, who have worked on bestselling titles Legend Of Zelda and the remake of Astro Boy, to morph the Gold Ring concept into a fully-fledged comic book.“It was a good fit because their preference is to illustrate animals, and the falcon-theme of Gold Ring means it really revolves around them,” he explains.
There are manga versions of the Bible, Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, and Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’.
Both the Arabic and Japanese reading styles turn pages right to left, which helped to preserve the traditional style.“The calibre of their work really added to the authenticity,” he adds.The book’s timing is good. Kinokuniya, the famed Japanese bookstore chain, opened its doors in Dubai last November, complete with an entire section devoted to graphic novels. The store has sold some 50,000 manga books to date, and has already added Gold Ring to its stock.
There’s little doubt that the market will make room for its first Arabic comic — the genre is nothing if not eclectic. In the UK alone, for example, you can now delve into manga versions of the Bible, Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’ and Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’.
But that’s not to say that some cultural hurdles haven’t cropped up. In Japan, most manga has gained a name for being both graphically violent and X-rated explicit. Sedki winces slightly when I mention this.
“I know the nature of manga and how it can be inappropriate,” he admits, before adding hastily, “but I made it clear I didn’t want any excessive violence, no suggestive content whatsoever. It’s clean manga.”
Other rough patches included trying to explain to the Japanese team why bicycles aren’t a common sight in the desert, or why Emiratis would find cat-eared characters bizarre.
“I had to say; ‘it would be very strange and I’d have to explain it to everyone,” he says, smiling. “It’s a learning curve, but they were pretty good about it.”
Translating staple manga onomatopoeias such as ZA!, DON! and KIIIIN (the sound of a superhero leaping through the air, were it not obvious) which carry the narrative, proved an unusual challenge. Long hours were spent with a typographer trying to imitate the sound of fluttering wings, and then finding a matching Arabic phrase.
“We’d be trying out the sound in a coffee shop somewhere, just sounding like total madmen making up the sound, the booms, the crash,” says Sedki, shaking his head. “We’d sometimes have to remind ourselves we were in public.
”Despite the difficulties, he’s not short on ambition for Gold Ring and Pageflip. There are plans for an English-language version of the comic, of another five or six volumes — some leaning more towards a female readership — and of franchising the brand out across the Middle East. The launch of the book has already spawned a response from local manga writers and artists that Sedki hopes to utilise on future editions.
In fact, fast-forward five years, he suggests enthusiastically, and there could be “initial discussions with animation studios to have a series, movies merchandising, clothing; the whole nine yards.
“There is really no end to the ambition.”

Monday, 14 September 2009

Dubai wealth fund under stress

Source:Al Jazeera and agencies
=====================
Istithmar World, the sovereign wealth fund of Dubai, is reported to be considering a halt to investments as it undertakes an overhaul of its operations.
Istithmar is one of the flagship companies of state-owned Dubai World, whose real-estate unit Nakheel is seeking to refinance $3.52bn Islamic bonds maturing in December.
The overhaul could lead to the sale of the fund or its assets, the news agency Bloomberg said.
Istithmar, run by David Jackson, said recently that John Amato and Felix Herlihy, its co-chief investment officers, were leaving the firm to explore other opportunities.
Jackson's job is also under review, the Bloomberg news agency said quoting people.
However, Dubai World said on Friday that Jackson would continue to lead the company.
"Reports that ... David Jackson had left the company were incorrect," a company spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement.
Reversal of fortune
A restructuring by Istithmar and its parent Dubai World may mark the most public reversal of fortune for a state-controlled investment firm since global credit markets seized up in 2007.
Dubai World has $59bn of liabilities, a large proportion of the Gulf emirate's total debt.
The company, which owns Barneys New York, hired an advisory firm in August to help it explore options to shore up the US luxury chain's financial position.
Dubai World is also trying to persuade bank creditors to restructure up to $12bn of its loans, an indication that the emirate is starting to grapple with the challenge posed by its $80bn-plus debt pile.
Bankers close to the talks say Dubai World is gauging interest from about 10 banks for a restructuring of outstanding syndicated debt and bilateral loans for the holding company as well as Nakheel and Istithmar.
Recovery signs
Hit hard by the credit crisis, Dubai, one of the UAE's seven emirates, is showing signs of recovery on the back of global economic optimism.
However, restructuring Dubai's government-linked debts remains a top priority as the government seeks to assure a rebound for its trade, tourism and services-focused economy and recover from the precipitous property crash.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Sunday, Robin Amlot, managing editor of CPI Financial, based in the emirate, said: "Dubai is not oil-rich. It's a service economy. And as all service economies it has suffered in the global retrenchment that we have seen in the last two years.
"And what has happened with Istithmar World is an extension of that.
"They invested in banks, yacht marinas, Las Vegas property, Barneys high-end fashion in New York - all of which have been vulnerable areas.
"We are not staring into the abyss anymore. Business is still carrying on, companies are starting to hire again. The thought that we were going to fall into a black hole is falling away."

Contracts with the government of Duba

Source: Hadeef & Partners, Dubai, Author: Valeriya Lysenko
Image: Image Zoo Illustrations
===========
When dealing with the Government of Dubai, its establishments, authorities and agencies, and corporations affiliated to or owned by the government and departments (Dubai governmental entities), the negotiating ability of a contractual counterparty (and the enforceability of the counterparty’s preferred contractual provisions) is affected by special legislative acts passed at the Dubai local level, in particular, two 1988 Instructions by HH the Ruler of Dubai and Dubai Law No. 6 of 1997 as amended.
In brief:
- In Dubai, the ability to negotiate a contract with Dubai governmental departments may be limited.
- Procurement and other Dubai local legislation affect the choice of law, jurisdiction, dispute resolution and other contractual provisions.
- It is possible to reduce the impact of the special Dubai local legislation in certain circumstances.
Pursuant to the 1988 Instructions:
A contract to which a Dubai governmental entity is a party may not provide for arbitration proceedings outside Dubai, may only provide for the laws and customs prevailing in Dubai as the governing law and dispute process concerning arbitration and procedures relating thereto, and any provision to the contrary will be null and void and will not bind the Dubai governmental entity.
Local (we consider these to be Dubai local) laws apply to contracts to which a Dubai governmental entity is a party. Such contracts may not contain a term providing for the application of any foreign law with respect to the subject matter thereof. Nor may it contain any term imposing a FIDIC condition, whether incorporated by reference or forming part of the contract as an attachment thereto (other than in exceptional circumstances and subject to HH the Ruler of Dubai’s prior written approval). Any conflicting contractual provision will be deemed null and void and will not bind the relevant Dubai governmental entity.
Dubai Law No. 6 of 1997 as amended has been issued pursuant to, among other legislative acts, the 1988 Instructions and governs the terms of procurement contracts to which Dubai governmental entities are party. Due consideration of this law is required, particularly in the context of the proposed contractual provisions required or requested by contractual counterparties of the Dubai governmental entities, including as may be relevant to the limitation of liability, warranty period, termination of contract, jurisdiction, contractual referral of disputes to arbitration outside of Dubai and application of the laws other than the laws prevailing in the Emirate of Dubai.
Application of certain provisions of the Law No. 6 of 1997 as amended to contracts with a governmental entity can be and has in certain instances been exempted by HH the Ruler of Dubai. The most recent amendment to the Law No. 6 of 1997 allows contracts to be concluded with foreign companies operating within or outside the UAE, and companies established in the free zones, where the relevant governmental department is in need of certain supplies or services for which no suitable alternative exists with the "local national" companies.
Recently, the Higher Committee for Financial Policies in the Emirate of Dubai has been given the power, among other things, "when necessary," to exempt such governmental entities from, among other local legislative acts, the 1988 Instructions and certain articles of the Law No. 6 of 1997 as amended.
Author: Valeriya Lysenko
v.lysenko@hadefpartners.com
All recommendations are provided without consideration of any specific reader's objectives, situation or particular needs. Those acting upon such recommendations do so entirely at their own risk.

Yemeni child bride dies after three days in labour

A 12-year-old Yemeni girl, who was forced into marriage, has died during a difficult delivery in which her baby also died, a children's rights organisation said on Sunday, demanding action to stop Yemeni men from taking child brides.
"The child, Fawziya Abdullah Youssef, died on Friday in western Yemen at the age of 12 due to a complicated delivery," the Yemeni Organisation for Childhood Protection (Seyaj) said.
The organisation said its volunteers had confirmed that doctors had been unable to save Fawziya's life after she suffered complications from the delivery. The Daily Mail reported the labour lasted three days.
Raised in an impoverished family with a father suffering from kidney failure, Fawziya was forced to drop out of school and married off at the age of 11. She fell pregnant a year later, the group said.
"The lack of a statutory minimum age for marriage makes it impossible for local officials to ban child marriages, especially among girls, or to punish their parents or spouses for the disastrous consequences of such marriages," Seyaj said, adding that such marriages were widespread on Yemen's Red Sea coast.
"The case of Fawziya illustrates the tragedy of those whom we call 'the brides of death', who are little girls, less than 15 years old, forced into marriage, mostly due to financial reasons," Seyaj director Ahmed al-Qorashi said.
He said the proportion of little girls and teenage females married before 15 was nearly 50 per cent in rural parts of Yemen, one of the world's poorest countries despite its proximity to oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
"These marriages are the result of poverty, ignorance and illiteracy, and lead to the destruction of the lives of these young girls, whose opinion is not taken in consideration," Qorashi added.
Last year, a Yemeni court granted a divorce to an eight-year-old girl whose unemployed father forced her into an arranged marriage with a man 20 years her senior, saying he feared she might otherwise be kidnapped by the would-be spouse.
The case of Nojud Mohammed Ali shed light on the suffering of the many adolescent girls forced into marriage.
"This is a real tragedy in which the Government is the top responsible party, because the President [Ali Abdullah Saleh] has until now not promulgated the law [on a minimum age for marriage] adopted by Parliament in February," said the lawyer who obtained Nojud's divorce, Shaza Nasser.
She said the Government "should launch awareness campaigns in rural areas and prevent clerics from concluding marriage contracts" for girls under the age of 17.
She said authorities also had the duty to make sure girls received schooling in a country where illiteracy rates are estimated at 33.4 per cent among men and reach 76 per cent among women.
Since she won Nojud's case, Nasser has been contacted by many girls in similar situations who were encouraged to speak out by her success in the courts. She has already helped a 10-year-old girl, Arwa, to get a divorce.
She said she was working on the case of a teenager who had been married by her father at the age of two because he needed the money. The marriage contract allowed her to remain with her parents until the age of 13 when she was expected to consummate the union.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Cosmetics companies could benefit from targeting Muslim market

Source: www.cosmeticsdesign-europe.com 6 March 09
Picture: Design Pics Images
=============================
The Muslim market presents significant opportunities for cosmetics and fashion brands, according to management consultancy firm A T Kearney.
Despite the worldwide Muslim population standing at 1.56 billion, few companies are taking advantage of the significant opportunities presented by this consumer segment, stated the company.
Targeting this market and providing consumers with halal product alternatives could bring significant benefits to the cosmetics and fashion industries as well as food and beverage manufacturers.
Muslim market important for future growth
The management consultancy firm note that Muslim consumers represent a positive outlet for future growth over other consumer segments.
"At a time when may other large consumer segments are reaching a saturation point, Muslims are a new outlet from which to build a box for future growth," reads the company's report entitled Addressing the Muslim Market: Can You Afford Not To?
In addition, Muslims make up an estimated 20 per cent of the world's population and increasing consumer affluence and Western influence means this consumer base is growing increasingly strong.
"Since Muslims are the fastest growing consumer segment in the world, any company that is not considering how to serve them is missing a significant opportunity to affect both its top- and bottom-line growth," the report reads.
Muslim market for cosmetics and personal care
The company highlights the cosmetics and fashion markets as untapped industries that present excellent opportunity for companies to incorporate Muslim values.
Although they note that in theory wearing cosmetics is hamam, a significant proportion of Muslim women do wear cosmetics and those that do may well prefer halal version.
Developing halal products and specifically marketing to Muslim populations is likely to bring rewards to companies.
"Extra care in aligning strategies of global fashion apparel and cosmetics companies present enormous opportunities as the market is sizeable" said Dirk Buchta managing director of AT Kearney Middle East as quoted by online news provider MENAFN (Middle East North Africa Financial Network).
Halal certified products
A number of cosmetics companies are beginning to tap into this significant market, releasing halal certified ranges that contain no animal ingredients and are not tested on animals.
Colgate-Palmolive has a number of toothpaste products that are certified halal and Australian firm Almaas produce halal colour cosmetics such as mascaras and eye shadows.
In addition, The Body Shop although not certified halal, is an example of a successful retailer in the Middle East having taken a strong stance against animal testing and using a number of natural ingredients in their products.
Earlier this week the company's franchise in Pakistan announced the opening of its fourth store in Lahore stating there was a significant demand for the products in Pakistan which would be tapped into during the coming year.
The success of the UK-based retailer in this market illustrates that clever marketing strategies may be as important as offering certified halal ranges.

Canadian Muslima designs halal cosmetics

Source: The National
==============
As a freelance make-up artist, Layla Mandi was shocked to discover three years ago that many cosmetics contain animal residues, including pig products. Since then, she has spent her time developing her own halal skin care range.
Now a self-employed businesswoman, Miss Mandi, 32, hopes to fill what she sees as a gap in the cosmetics industry for Muslim women in the region.
“I am providing a service to women who want an alternative,” she said. “Some people don’t care what is in their skin products or how they are produced, but for those who do I think there should be options.”
Miss Mandi, a Muslim convert, started her make-up career in her native Canada when she was 17. At the time she was surrounded by Muslim families and she started exploring the Islamic faith. As the years passed and she became more adept in her field, she began to look beyond the labels of the products she was using every day, and realised that the ingredients of many creams, lotions and make-up items did not fit with her idea of Islam.
In many brands she found animal by-products such as blood, urine, fats, gelatine from horns and hooves, swine placenta and stearic acid, a fatty substance derived from the stomach lining, often of pigs.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), the international animal rights organisation, confirmed the use of these substances in its consumer’s guide to living, which says: “Slaughterhouses must dispose of the by-products of billions of animals every year. The solution is selling them to food and cosmetics manufacturers.”
Also, unless specified otherwise the fats in glycerine, keratin and collagen, all commonly found in cosmetics, are from tallow, which is produced at animal rendering plants where carcases are ground down and melted to extract the residual fat.
“When I read all of this I found it disgusting,” said Miss Mandi. “I certainly did not want to put it on my skin where it would get absorbed into my body. I wanted to find an alternative.”In 2006, she moved to Morocco to find out more about Islam and the lifestyle of Muslims.
“I assumed, just as in the food sector, there would be plenty of halal cosmetics for Muslim women. But I suddenly realised there were none,” she said. “In fact, people either didn’t know or didn’t care that the cream they were putting on their face had pig and other animal derivatives in it. I decided to try to make my own.”
The following year Miss Mandi moved to Dubai to research the shopping habits of Arab and Muslim women, and to develop her products she hired a chemist and a dermatologist in Canada.
“It felt natural for me to pursue this,” she said. “Skin products are my passion. I love moisturiser; it makes my skin feel better, look better I love the packaging and the way things feel and smell.
“My way of life as a Muslim was also really important to me, so to find something which combined the two was great.”
Halal cosmetics are not a new idea. According to The Halal Journal, approximately US$150 million (Dh551m) worth of halal products pass through the UAE every year, a large proportion being cosmetics and personal care items. But they are not readily available to consumers. At the Halal Expo 2008, Raees Ahmed, the director of the event’s organising company, said there was “an excellent opportunity for halal cosmetics players to take advantage of the booming demand.” A recent survey by KasehDia Research Consulting, the company that organises the World Halal Forum in Malaysia, said 57.6 per cent of Muslims in Singapore and 37.7 per cent in Indonesia, both emerging markets, were aware of halal cosmetics and would buy them if they were available. Ahmad Azudin, senior manager for halal standards and systems at the International Halal Integrity Alliance (IHI) in Malaysia, said: “There is a growing demand for these products and an increasing awareness with consumers about animal contamination.“It is not just the porcine products that cause a problem for Muslims. There are a lot of lipsticks that contain blood, which is considered also impure.”
In response, Mr Azudin and his team are working on implementing an international halal standard for cosmetics by the end of next year. “It is one of 10 areas we are focusing on,” he said. “We are developing production standards for skin care, hair care, oral products and fragrance in compliance with the Sharia board at the IHI.
“There will be strict guidelines to follow and this will give confidence to all consumers.”
Mr Ahmad added that halal products were also becoming popular with non-Muslim buyers. “They are clean, wholesome and there are no impurities that go into the manufacturing process. Everyone, not just Muslims, likes the idea of that,” he said.
Consumer opinion in the UAE was mixed as to whether using products with animal derivatives was haram.
“I’m of the opinion that if you are not eating it, it is OK,” said Anisa Alkos, a full-time mother living in Abu Dhabi. Obviously I’d rather not put anything on my body that contained pig fat, but there is nothing to make it clear.”
In the May issue of last year’s Halal Journal, Kamarul Kamaruzaman, its managing editor, wrote that “due to its biological similarities to human placenta and its excellent skin healing properties, swine placenta is considered to be the darling of the cosmetics industry”. Some Islamic scholars, he wrote, cited the change of state of the product, or istihala in Arabic, as the central argument for accepting the use of gelatine and cosmetics.
However, according to the mufti at the official fatwa call centre of the UAE, pork products in any state are “absolutely haram”.
“Everything from the pig is rejected,” he said. “We can’t eat it, buy it, sell it, wear the leather or even touch the animal. “It is nejes [dirty or impure] and we can’t use it on our body, a person will then not be in a state of purity fit to pray.”
Hanna Jaffer, 25, is one consumer who said she would be changing her habits for good. “I was shocked when I heard how they make skin creams. I don’t think it will be OK to use, however much it is sanitised or changes form,” she said. “Our religion disallows it and from now on I will only be using halal products.”
Miss Mandi’s One Pure Skin Care range will go on sale at the 50 Degrees boutique in the Souk Al Bahar in Dubai, on Saudi Arabian Airlines and online at the start of Ramadan.
Although her products, which include eye cream, moisturiser, cleanser and toner, were initially certified by the Malaysian authorities, they are now being produced and given halal certification in Italy.

Dubai Metro users urge authorities to review timings rules

I haven't used the Metro yet as the station nearest my work hasn't been completed. Operating hours are 6am to 11pm, except Fridays, when it will operate from 2pm. Its also worth noting that, despite the fact that the metro stops at two of the terminals at Dubai airport, people are forbidden to take suitcases on the train.
Source: ArabianBusiness.com 13 Sept 09
===============
While thousands of people in Dubai who took to the Metro trains for the first time on Thursday have warmly welcomed it, some users have urged the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to revisit certain rules for the network.
In comments posted on Arabian Business, Metro users said that while they understood that the two-day old metro would witness initial teething problems, the rules pertaining to the metro’s timings, food and drink consumption and baggage allowance should be reconsidered.Currently, the normal operating hours for the Dubai Metro will be 6am to 11pm, except Fridays, when it will operate from 2pm.
Shailesh, an Arabian Business reader wrote: “I feel the authorities must rethink about the Metro’s timings –the metro should be on all days including Friday, as this will give people more flexibility to travel even on a holiday. Hope the authorities will do the needful.”
Another reader said: “The metro stopping at 11pm - so if we go to see a movie at 9pm (which is probably the busiest time) when we come out of the cinema and want to go home; we have to take a taxi since the metro will be down for the night.”
He added that the rules pertaining to consumption of drink should also be revisited “especially for kids since a ride can take up to 69 minutes”.Eating and drinking in prohibited areas, specifically inside the train could land a Metro commuter fine of AED100 ($27) to AED500 ($136), the RTA has said.
Commuters are also not allowed to carry large items on board. They would be able take on board only smaller items, such as hand luggage.
In their posts on Arabian Business, some readers argued that this rule would be inconvenient, particularly since most of the Metro stations are linked to the best shopping malls in Dubai and also the international airport. This would mean that the travellers or shoppers would have to resort to cabs or their own private vehicles to carry their heavy baggages.
The rail system opened to the general public on Thursday, but saw some minor hiccups. One Metro train broke down at midday due to some ‘technical difficulties’, while some ticketing machines at certain stations posed a few problems.Yet, most of the users expressed pleasure and delight at the Metro’s performance.
Paul Welsh, who travelled on the Metro wrote in his comment on Arabian Business: “I travelled from Terminal 3 to Rashidiya and onwards from there to Mirdif West and my house on the feeder bus (F3). It was very good. It took more time than a taxi but cost only AED2.30 versus AED40 in the cab.”
Dubai-based Roger Hopkins is confident that people will gradually get habituated to use the new transport system.
“Habits will take a long time to change, particularly the love affair with the a car. But slowly people will get used to walking or catching a bus to their nearest station. And more and more frustrated with the limited parking options around the city and the cost of parking,” he wrote.
“But the habits will change. In five or six years time, it will be hard to imagine what the city was like without the Metro. The only thing that I would like the RTA to address is the opening hours. Staying open later and opening earlier on a Friday would make it far more useful.”
The Metro project has taken four years to complete but it has risen in costs by an estimated 75 percent.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Counting

I'm not sure why but the counter on this site has dropped overnight from 60,000 to 12,000.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Arabic television lauds a Jewish Egyptian diva

Source: Written by Sami Moubayed the editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria this article first appeared in the Asia Times 4 September 09
===========
For the first time on Arabic television, a dramatic production airing this Ramadan, the holy Muslim month, depicts the life of Egyptian Jews during the 1920s and 1930s, showing them in favorable light as ordinary citizens, no different from Egyptian Muslims and Christians.
The series is as controversial as the life of its heroine, Egyptian diva Layla Murad - a Jewish singer and actress who rocketed to fame in the inter-war years before her life was marred with controversy after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
Currently showing on 14 Arabic channels, Ana Alb Dalili (My Heart is my Guide), is among the most widely watched works among 60 productions made by Egyptian and Syrian artists in 2009. Apart from covering the life of Layla, the work goes to great lengths to promote tolerance and co-existence, shattering long-held stereotypes against Arab Jews, showing how integrated and proactive they were within Egyptian society.
The film is directed by Syrian Mohammad Zuhair and stars Syrian actress Safa Sultan. Layla Murad, with a powerful legacy of 27 black and white classics in Egyptian cinema and 1,200 songs, was one of the most popular, talented and beautiful Arab artists of the 20th century. She compared in fame only to the Egyptian Um Kalthoum and the Syrian diva Asmahan - together, they were the three women who competed for supremacy on Arab charts in the 1930s.
Born to a Moroccan Jewish father named Ibrahim Zaki Murad in February 1918, Layla's mother was a Polish Jew named Gamila. Her father was a respected singer in the 1920s and with her brother, Munir, a composer and celebrity in his own right, encouraged her to sing at the age of 15.
Her first recorded song was in 1932, composed by the veteran Dawoud Hosni, the same year that talkies first came to Egyptian cinema. Murad was handpicked by Mohammad Abdul Wahab, the giant of 20th-century Arabic music, to co-star with him in the 1938 classic, Yahya al-Hobb (Long Live Love). She received a staggering 250 Egyptian pounds, making her one of the best-paid artists in Cairo. In addition to Abdul Wahab, she worked with famous composer Mohammad Fawzi, who was the romantic lead man in many of her future works, and with other giants like Mohammad Qassabji, Riyad al-Sunbati and Sheikh Zakariya Ahmad - three names who graced the songs of Um Kalthoum, placing the two ladies in direct competition. The radio and cinema boom of the 1940s aided her career.
Matters took an unpleasant turn in 1948, when Israel was created, prompting many of her audience to become suspicious of her Jewish origins. Vicious rumors spread throughout Egypt and the Arab world - probably started by her competitors - saying that Murad had visited Tel Aviv and donated 50,000 Egyptian pounds to the newly created Israeli Defense Forces. The Damascus bureau of the popular Egyptian daily al-Ahram originally reported that rumor. Murad categorically challenged the rumors, but with little luck. The damage had already been done. Syrian Radio, previously one of the most powerful promoters of her works, boycotted her songs and she was banned from entering Syria in the early 1950s.
Murad converted to Islam after marrying Egyptian director Anwar Wajdi, and often told reporters, "I am now an Egyptian Muslim!" President Gamal Abdul Nasser intervened on her behalf when Syria and Egypt merged into the United Arab Republic in 1958, lifting the ban on Syrian Radio. An official communique was released by Egyptian authorities clearing her name from all charges, including that which accused her of having visited Israel in 1948.
Rumors, however, rocked her life in the 10 years after 1948. Some said she died in a car accident in Paris. Others said she was married in secret to King Farouk I.
Nothing, however, compared with the stories of her connections to Zionism, resulting in Murad's retirement from music and descent into complete obscurity until her death at the age of 77 in 1995. The Zionist connection badly affected her health, both physically and psychologically, sending her into spells of severe depression. At one point, she was humiliatingly requested to show all her financial records to the authorities to prove that she had never made any illegal donations to Israel.
She did not give a single press interview after leaving show business, refusing to comment on any of the upheavals in the Arab-Israeli conflict, ranging from the war of 1967, when Egypt's Sinai Peninsula was occupied by Israel, to the October War of 1973, and finally, the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement of 1978.
Her own explanation for seclusion was that she was aging and wanted her fans to remember her only as they saw her on the silver screen - young, bold and beautiful. The one-time "Lady of Egyptian Cinema" - out of business and fame for more than 40 years - faced a severe financial crisis towards the end of her life before dying in complete bankruptcy.
Her last appearance on screen was in the 1953 movie, Sayidet al-Kitar (Lady of the Train). The new series, which carries the name of one of her most memorable songs Ana Albi Dalili, has raised more than a stir in Arab media since it began airing in late August. One scene shows Layla's father Zaki Murad (played by the Egyptian star Izzat Abu al-Ouf) at a cafe with friends who clearly, from their names, are all Muslims. Collectively they decide, both Muslims and Jew, to take part in an anti-British demonstration, in 1919. Majdi Saber, the scriptwriter, clearly tries to demonstrate that Egyptian Jews suffered no discrimination in the Arab world prior to the creation of Israel in 1948. Another scene shows a Jew raising funds for Jewish immigrants fleeing from Europe during World War II and lobbying with Egyptian Jews to emigrate to Palestine to increase its Jewish population. Layla's father Zaki naturally refuses, patriotically holding on to his Arab origins. The Jew then tries convincing him to "purchase" a different nationality, in case tension arises between Egyptian Jews and Muslims. Once again, Zaki refuses. Zaki's home in the film is free from any Jewish symbols or Hebrew script. The film also revives a colorful assortment of Jewish figures whose names were deliberately tarnished after the Egyptian revolution of 1952 because of their Jewish background. Justice is done, for example, to Yusuf Qattawi Pasha (played by Abdul Rahman Abu Zahra), head of the Sephardi Jewish community in Egypt in 1924-1942. After studying engineering in France, he returned to Egypt to work for the Ministry of Public Works, then became director of the Egyptian Sugar Company, which cultivated and developed sugar on 40,000 acres of desert land in the Aswan province. He is shown as a fine Egyptian patriot who helps build the Egyptian economy. Layla's 1945 conversion to Islam is set to appear in the 17th episode of the series.
The series shows that she converted out of conviction, after marrying Anwar Wejdi, and not out of political intimidation due to rising tension between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. We are yet to see how her life is portrayed once it is scarred by rumors after 1948.
Works like these are important in the Arab world because they shed light on the life of leading figures who, for political reasons, were grossly maltreated during the second half of the 20th century and have been forgotten by a young generation of Arab audiences. Those young people are, however, avid TV watchers during the annual feast of special programs every Ramadan. Earlier, a similar work had been made about King Farouk of Egypt, who for 40 years after the revolution of 1952 was depicted as a British agent, a drunk and sex-driven reckless man who cared only for his personal indulgences rather than the welfare of Egypt.
The series showed a very different image of the man; a true patriot, a shy youth who did not drink, and who was obsessed in wanting to rid his country of the British.
Another work aired last year about the diva Asmahan, who died early in 1944 amid rumors that she had been a double agent - a spy for both the Nazis and British during World War II. Her record was also cleared when the series showed that she had collaborated with the British - without receiving any money from them - with the sole purpose of ridding her country of the French.
For years, touching on these sensitive topics was taboo, frowned on by censors and the families of those characters involved. Now that the die has been cast with Farouk, Asmahan and Layla Murad, other works are in the making covering the life of equally powerful figures such as the Syrian crooner Farid al-Atrash, ex-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Sultan Qaboos extends the garden.

A photo I took of the Royal Palace in Muscat.
While you can't see them in this photo, there are anti-aircraft guns mounted on the walls.

A tender is out for an extension to the wall that surrounds the royal palace in Muscat, Oman. The extension will be 6 kms long, 8 metres tall (6 metres above ground, 2 metres below), 600mm thick concrete and must not have any horizontal joints that could be used to scale it. Oh yes, and it must include an anti-tank ditch.

Dubai’s social tolerance tested


Source: The Financial Times 7 September 09

==================

At an exhibition of rare Korans in Dubai’s financial district, an expatriate who should have known better flutters around the gallery, far too much of her bosom on display alongside the holy books.
Unwise in any situation in Dubai, her deeply cut dress was even more inappropriate given the subject matter of the exhibition and its timing during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.
It is typical of Dubai that none of the guests chided her for the fleshy faux-pas, instead concentrating on averting their gaze during the Islamic year’s most spiritual month.
This religious time of togetherness brings into focus the way Dubai’s tolerant allure sits uneasily with an increasing sense among the native locals that their culture is vanishing into the multinational mélange of this entrepôt.
As the liberal Gulf city-state’s economy worsens, analysts say this tension may push the authorities to enforce even more laws grounded in the mores of the conservative Islam to which most locals adhere.
But whether it is separated women found guilty of adultery or transit passengers imprisoned for possession of a tiny speck of marijuana, the zero tolerance approach taken by the authorities sits at odds with advertisements portraying the city as a playground for tourists.
“Our laws need to be made clear to those who come here, but we are still quite liberal compared to the rest of the region, and maybe a lack of awareness of our cultural norms pushes people to abuse the level of tolerance they find here,” says Najla al-Awadhi, a member of the UAE’s advisory parliament. “But individual cases shouldn’t overshadow the UAE’s tolerance.”
Some analysts believe this tolerance is waning and forecast that the recession will prompt further social tightening as the economic crisis damages the government’s legitimacy.
“They are now struggling to keep portraying themselves as successful CEOs, so have had to ramp up their perceived commitments to religion, culture and Arab identity,” says Christopher Davidson, a senior lecturer at the school of government and international affairs at Durham University.
“As for the Emirati population, I think more pressure will be placed on the government to deliberalise. [There is] no longer a no-questions-asked mandate for a liberalising autocracy that kept bringing in cash.”
Laws and directives have explicitly dealt with social behaviour, including jail for profanity, public drunkenness and even fines for spreading rumours.
The government has re-affirmed the use of Arabic as the official language as English has become the lingua franca and Emirati families fret that younger generations are losing a grip on their mother tongue.
Jail terms or fines for “indecent acts”, such as married couples kissing or unmarried couples holding hands, reached its apogee in the infamous sex-on-the-beach scandal this year when a drunken British couple was jailed after being caught on a popular beach in flagrante delicto.
In the past foreigners would advise their fellow expatriates about appropriate do’s and don’t’s, said Wael al-Sayegh, director of Alghaf, a cultural consulting group.
But the entry of hundreds of thousands of foreigners over the past decade, as skyrocketing oil prices sparked a speculative bubble of business activity, has ended such notions of community. “Therefore a more formal channel to communicate these societal intricacies is appropriate – without imposing one’s culture on someone else,” he said.
New arrivals in the city can be taken aback by signs in shopping malls advising female customers to cover their knees and shoulders. A local bank this summer said all female staff, including non-Muslims, would have to wear the traditional Gulf all-encompassing black cloak and headscarf.
Some get confused about the mixed messages behind warnings against the consumption of alcohol, even though the hotel attached to a shopping centre will be serving beer and may also host prostitutes.
But what cynical expatriates define as rank hypocrisy is defended by locals, who say their society is walking a fine line between fostering tolerance to attract foreigners while trying to protect the identity of an indigenous population that is now outnumbered 10 to one by outsiders. Nowhere is this balance more on display than at the city’s surprisingly busy hotels, packed with tourists lured by special summer recession deals, who have to eat and drink behind closed doors during daylight hours to comply with Ramadan regulations.
While decency laws are most often applied against skimpy dress, the opposite is the case at the Wild Wadi aquapark, which provides thrill-seekers with a photographic demonstration of unsuitable bathing clothes.
But the management are not worried about thongs; they are warding off the legions of Gulf visitors who bathe in full-length burkas. Instead, the park encourages the so-called Burkini, modest swimwear that conceals flesh from male eyes.

The V8s are coming to Abu Dhabi

Source: Car Middle East online 10 September 09
=======================
Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management (ADMM) has announced an agreement with V8 Supercars Australia Pty Limited to host the season opening round of Australia’s V8 Supercars Championship at Abu Dhabi’s new Yas Marina Circuit on 18-20 February 2010. It’s part of a three-year deal which will see Abu Dhabi centre-stage for the first race of each season of Australia’s premier motor racing series.
Richard Cregan, CEO of Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management, the operators of Yas Marina Circuit, said that bringing Australia’s V8 Supercars to the Emirate was part of a comprehensive programme to offer the general public a broad range of the world’s top racing series.
‘Our mandate at ADMM is to develop Yas Marina Circuit into a regional and international centre of motorsport excellence.’
‘These are cars that we all see on the streets of Abu Dhabi, everyday. On the track, spectators and viewers will witness some of the most sensational wheel- towheel racing imaginable.’
‘Year round, Yas Marina Circuit will be the venue for many of the world’s top motor racing series as well as offering opportunities for the general public to experience the thrill of motorsport within a safe environment,’ he said.Tony Cochrane, V8 Supercars Australia Executive Chairman, said, ’By adding Abu Dhabi to the 2010 calendar, the agreement further promotes the United Arab Emirates as a fantastic motorsport destination.
In Yas Marina Circuit, the United Arab Emirates has one of the world’s top motor racing venues and we are certain that race car fans across the region will revel in the great show that the V8 Supercars will put on.’
The race in Abu Dhabi will be followed by the Desert 400 at Bahrain International Circuit on February 25-27.

Does working abroad help or hurt?


Source: NEWS.com.au 10 September 09
===========
Working abroad clearly worked for Jacques Nasser, heading home after a stint overseas to Australia’s most prestigious business role as BHP Billiton chairman.
But overseas experience working abroad may not always put you ahead of your stay-at-home rivals in today’s tough market.
Even if you spent those years diligently behind a desk in London rather than as an au pair or dog-walker in Cannes, you’re likely to find that some potential employers back home aren’t impressed unless you have local experience and connections.
It’s a two-way street. You might also have to adjust your salary and role expectations to Australia’s much smaller job market.
That international perspective would have ticked all the right boxes a few years ago when companies were in a more expansive mode.
But that’s a little less certain now, particularly given an influx of returned expats, mostly in finance, from London and the US.
"They’ve walked back into what is a competitive market, given we’ve had the same sort of downsizing in banking and finance," says Paul Burley at recruiter Drake International.
The skills gained abroad are still held in high regard, but candidates need to be "flexible and negotiable" on local packages, he says.
That hasn’t helped David Laird yet.
After returning from a two-year secondment in London, he was let go by ANZ eight months ago and is lecturing part-time at Deakin University while looking for a job that will put his complex sales solutions skills to good use.
"The overseas experience has done me no known harm - it certainly opens the door – but in terms of securing a job it’s not been that helpful," says Melbourne-based Mr Laird.
"I believe if not for the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) the overseas experience would have enhanced my ability to secure another role, however it’s not evident in today’s job market."
Today, experience outside your home market isn’t so important in revenue-generating roles such as sales, says Neil Dyball, director of banking and finance at recruitment firm Robert Walters.
For finance, accounting and legal professionals, overseas experience is usually a plus.
But for 'rainmaker' roles where you have to bring in new business and clients, access to local contacts that generate sales leads may count for more.
Although he’s applied for positions slightly more junior than what he’s used to, feedback from employers suggests they are a little anxious about his time abroad making him too experienced, says Mr Laird.
Others say they prefer someone with a network of current local contacts.
He’s missed out on some roles that have simply gone to candidates introduced through trusted contacts or from internal appointments.
In investment and banking, experience in London or New York is still usually a major benefit, says Phil Jostsons, a director at Vantage Recruitment.
"People with that experience are always in demand," he says.
"They’ve seen it bigger, more complex faster."
But don’t expect to secure as generous a package as you did overseas, Mr Burley says.
And for CPAs and mid-level bankers, some transferring of skills may be required to back-office roles or other areas of business.
"Good people, in booms or busts, will always find work,” Burley says. ”But it may not be in their first-choice role."
Top Tips for Returnees:
1. Make sure your international experience is relatively long-term and career-oriented. Short-term contract stints on a 12-month working visa don’t add much value.
2. Ex-pat candidates need to commit to a few years at least in Australia to eliminate “flight risk” concerns. An 18-month local commitment isn’t enough to employ a good candidate on in today’s market.
3. Don’t head off abroad straight after graduating. Put in some hard yards in the local market first if you intend to return.
4. Be flexible. Consider how your skills would transfer to other roles and industries and be willing to negotiate on the package.
5. Adjust expectations. Being a hotshot on a premium salary overseas doesn’t mean you’ll be able to find an equivalent pay packet and title in Australia.