Saturday, 30 January 2010

Dubai's secret tunnel

As the article tells us, even the RTA is unaware of the tunnel and doesn't know when it was opened, well I can tell them.  The tunnel isn't a secret to people who work in the area.  On the day it opened, at least 3 months ago, the roads in the area were changed without any warning, there was no announcement that there could be something as unexpected as a tunnel and as a result, along with many others, I ended up driving through it wondering (a) where the tunnel had come from (it wasn't there yesterday) and (b) where the *&^ it was going to take me.  Was I going to come round a corner and find a 40 foot trench and then have to back up the way I'd come (this is quite a reasonable concern, its Dubai after all)?  The other drivers must have had the feeling as a group of cars drove carefully through the tunnel on full alert expecting to find a guy in the middle of the road painting the road markings by hand or some other hazard.  On emerging into daylight I found myself well past the Marooj heading away from where I worked.  %&$^#!!  I joined the Queue of the Confused, made an illegal u-turn and headed back through the tunnel for a second attempt. 
Source & graphic: Gulf News Express
You can't help feeling a bit like Batman while driving into an apparently secret, subterranean car tunnel coursing under the Downtown Burj Khalifa area.
There are no street signs or nameplates, just four empty lanes of asphalt divided by a concrete divider and two long ceiling slots to allow in air and sunlight.
Several visits by XPRESS to the completely unknown 1.1-kilometre bypass tunnel revealed an empty thoroughfare save for a couple of straggler cars clipping through the concrete passageway.
A Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) official said they weren't aware of the tunnel which links Downtown Burj Khalifa to Al Mafraq Road and bypasses heavy Dubai Mall traffic congestion on Financial Centre Road (formerly Doha Road).
"We may have announced this already, but I'm not aware of it," said the official. "It sounds like it will save drivers a lot of time."
The official couldn't say when the tunnel had actually opened.
A Dubai Taxi driver said he was overjoyed when he stumbled upon the find by accident.
Using the underground tunnel instead of braving the construction work at Defence Roundabout and Financial Centre Road southerly towards Dubai Mall has saved him many times in recent weeks, he said.
"On busy traffic days, it can take a lot of time to go from Shaikh Zayed Road past Dubai Mall and down the road behind (Al Mafraq Road) to get to Dubai Exhibition Centre," he said. "There is so much traffic at the [Dubai] Mall. This tunnel has made life much easier."
To access the tunnel from a westerly direction on Shaikh Zayed Road, drivers can turn in to the Downtown Burj Khalifa exit before the Defence Roundabout exit. Once inside Downtown Burj Khalifa, motorists proceed to the second small roundabout and then turn left towards Emaar Square. The road directly enters the tunnel at the foot of Emaar Square office towers.
It takes about a minute to pass through the tunnel and exit directly onto Al Mafraq Road with the Al Murooj Rotana hotel on the driver's side.

Hamas death in Dubai: Officials say suspects identified

Source:WAM (the Dubai govt media office), 29 January '10
Photo: Associated Press

Dubai Government media office has announced that Dubai police have identified suspects in the murder crime of Palestinian Hamas member Mahmoud Abdul Raouf Hassan and that they would soon track them down and refer to court in conjunction with International Police (Interpol).
The suspects were reported to have left the country before the murder crime was reported. The deceased's body was later discovered at a hotel in Dubai.
An official security source in Dubai said that the initial investigations suggest that the murder was inflicted by experienced criminal gang, who had been tracking down the movements of the victim before entering the UAE. "Despite quick skill exhibited by murderers, yet they left behind evidence at the scene of crime that would help in tracking them down at earliest. Dubai police no longer believe in ambiguous or unknown crime".
The source further disclosed that the investigations revealed that the suspects hold European passports, adding that Dubai police would embark in arrangements with Interpol to arrest the suspects and bring them to books. "The evidence will speedily help competent authorities to track down the suspects".
Known as Mahmoud Al Mabhouh, the deceased, a Palestinian, entered into the UAE at 3.15PM, on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010, from an Arab country. His body was found the following day at afternoon on Jan. 20, 2010, at a hotel he resided at in Dubai.

Hamas commander killed in Dubai

Source: Reuters by Khaled Yacoub Oweis
The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas accused Israel on Friday of assassinating one of its top military commanders in a Dubai hotel, and the Dubai police chief said he could not rule out the involvement of Mossad.
Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, an Israeli target since engineering the capture of Israeli soldiers in the 1980s during a Palestinian uprising, was killed on January 20, a Hamas official told Reuters in the Syrian capital Damascus.
"I cannot rule out the possibility of Mossad involvement in the assassination of Mabhouh," Dubai police chief Dhahi Khalfan Tamim told Al Jazeera television, referring to the Israeli intelligence agency.
He said he could not announce the nationalities of those involved.
Dubai police had earlier said that a "criminal gang" had been following the victim's movements before his arrival in the United Arab Emirates.
An official statement said most of the suspects had European passports and left the country after the killing.
The United Arab Emirates does not have a peace treaty with Israel but has hosted Israeli officials and does business with Israeli companies.
There was no immediate comment from Israel.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal made an impassioned speech to thousands of mourners at Mabhouh's funeral on Friday at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk outside Damascus. A green Hamas flag covered the body as it was lowered into the grave.
Meshaal described Mabhouh as a "great man" who fought the Israelis for 30 years.
"I say to you Zionists, do not rejoice. You killed him but his sons will fight you," he said. "God already took our leaders and loved ones, but resistance goes on. Palestine is a blessed land. It will not remain patient."
Mabhouh's death lengthens Hamas's list of what it describes as "martyrs," and is a setback for the group in its fight against the Jewish state.
Israel has killed dozens of leaders and military figures in Hamas, founded two decades ago as a religious resistance movement against Israeli occupation.
"I cannot reveal the circumstances (of the killing)," said Izzat al-Rishq, a member of Hamas's politburo.
Rishq said Mabhouh, 50, was an important member of the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam brigades, Hamas's military wing.
He said the brigades "will respond (against Israel) in the appropriate time and place," but added that Hamas would not let the killing derail efforts to arrange a prisoner exchange with Israel, which has run into difficulties.
Mabhouh, who was born in the Gaza Strip but had lived in Syria since 1989, was killed a day after he arrived in Dubai, Rishq said.
A Hamas source in Gaza said Mabhouh was an active commander "until the moment of his assassination." He did not elaborate.
Another Palestinian source said Mabhouh was found dead in his hotel room in Dubai. He had barricaded the door of his room with chairs, a standard precaution by a man who believed Israeli intelligence had been after him for 20 years.
"It seems that an autopsy was ordered and found traces of poison in his body. Mabhouh was also ill. Hamas controls the information on this," the source said. "He was one of their main military guys, although not a crucial figure," the source added.
Mabhouh's brother Fayek told Reuters in Gaza his brother was killed "by strangulation after receiving an electric shock" and that two people were involved in the killing.
Syria and Iran are the main backers of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Rishq, who lives in exile in Damascus along with several of Hamas's main figures, said Mabhouh engineered the capture of two Israeli soldiers during the Palestinian uprising in the 1980s. The soldiers were later killed.
Mabhouh was imprisoned several times by Israeli forces, who also razed his home in Gaza, Rishq added.
The United States, which has started a rapprochement with Damascus, wants Syrian authorities to help neutralize Hamas as an armed force.
Syria, which is seeking peace with Israel, resisted U.S. pressure several years ago to expel the Hamas leadership.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Stop, stop, stop all the dancing

A couple of days ago, a letter to the Editor was published in 7 Days, a free English language paper distributed in Dubai.  The letter was from a mother who was spoken to by the police at Global Village for having danced in public with her young son.  For readers outside Dubai, 'Global Village' is like a State Fair/Easter Show/Expo where different countries have pavilions selling their products and displaying their culture, which includes live dance shows by cultural groups.  These shows are well worth seeing and the music and dance at the Egyptian and Yemeni pavilions are great.   Anyway, it seems the mother made the mistake of having a dance with her young son while watching one of the dance shows.  The crime of dancing with her little boy, and remember that all the while there were dancers performing on stage only metres away, resulted in her being publicly and, by her account aggressively, reprimanded by the police. 
Another letter in '7 Days' followed a few days later telling of a 15 year old who was apprehended by the police at Global Village after being spotted dancing in the crowd during an Indian cultural dance performance.  After being taken by the officers to the head office she was lectured and finally let off with a warning. 
One needs only to refer to Clause 1.5 of the Dubai Code of Conduct: "Dancing and music: Loud music and dancing are forbidden in public places like parks, beaches or residential areas and must be restricted to licensed venues only."  So be warned, when out in public please refrain from any action that could be construed in any way, shape or form, as moving in a dance like manner.  Some head nodding is ok, maybe a bit of subdued handclapping but other than that keep it behind locked doors.

Here's the letter from '7 Days':
Sunday 24 Jan, 2010
A word of warning. I visited Global Village on Thursday evening with my elderly mother, another female friend and our three young children, all under the age of seven.
Having braved the crowds, paid exorbitant prices for our children to ride on the fairground rides (costs range from dhs10 to dhs25 each per ride!), and visited the many country pavilions, we stopped to watch a display of African music and dance outside the Africa pavilion.
It was a fabulous sight, with beautiful music. The children loved it and were dancing, and I danced briefly with my seven-year-old son.
A few minutes later, three - count them - three plain clothes police officers physically surrounded our party and aggressively informed us that dancing was not allowed anywhere.
They were extremely intimidating and forceful, and the children were openly frightened of both them and the situation we were forced into. I felt like a criminal.
We were horrified and our evening was ruined. We left immediately.
There are no signs or information leaflets at GV telling tourists and visitors that dancing is not permitted. I was not dancing suggestively or dressed provocatively, I was having fun with my children. I have lived in the UAE for many years and am well aware of the need to respect local culture and religion.
Perhaps the solution is for Global Village organisers to publicise the rules for visitors outside before they enter the park to avoid any misunderstandings in future.

[Signed] A Resident

Dubai hotel rape case dismissed

Hmmm, why wasn't the hotel's CCTV footage checked immediately?  Hmmm, the couple concerned have consistently been reported as being in Dubai to celebrate their engagement yet now it seems they forgot they were married on 19 November last year, and suddenly they have the marriage certificate to prove it.  Hmmm, how is it that the couple are standing trial for consuming alcohol when they were inside a 'licenced' hotel?  Are tourists in Dubai being made aware that they risk arrest if they have an alcoholic drink in a hotel bars in Dubai?  Is it entrapment for the hotels to provide bars which serve alcohol when surely they must be aware that their customers risk arrest for partaking? 
Source: WAM/Arabian Business
Dubai's public prosecution on Thursday said a case of a British woman who claimed she was raped in the bathroom of a top hotel in the emirate on New Year's Eve had been closed.
The woman alleged that she was sexually attacked by an Indian hotel worker at The Address Hotel in Dubai Marina.
Attorney General Essam Al Humaidan said the investigation into the allegations had been completed and prosecutors had decided to close the charge against the Indian worker "as the incident didn't happen", news agency WAM reported.
He said the public prosecution had also decided to dismiss the count of consensual rape against the British girl and her friend after the duo showed the court a marriage certificate dated November 16 2009.
He said that they would only stand trial for consuming alcohol without a permission.
The Dubai Attorney General attacked the way the case had been reported in some sections of the international press.
"All these untrue reports have not, in any way, affected resolutions the Dubai Public Prosecution has taken in the case as these measures have been taken after thorough investigation in virtue of the criminal procedures law which is being enforced on all without discrimination in regards to nationality, religion or race," he added.
The British woman had claimed that she was attacked by a waiter while semi-conscious in a hotel toilet.
However, the police said closed-circuit television footage has confirmed that the suspect did not enter the bathroom after her

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Easy come, easy go: Abdullahs sell tower to pay back Damas debt

Source: The National 20 January 2010
Photo: Khan Tours website
The Abdullah family has sold one of its twin high-rise towers on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai to raise money to pay back part of the US$165 million (Dh606m) it owes shareholders of the jewellery giant Damas International for "unauthorised" investments.
The sale of the tower, to a private investor, marks the first efforts by family members to meet their debt payment schedule, which requires them to pay Dh200m by April this year. The unauthorised investments were made with company money.
The two 49-storey buildings were known as Angsana Hotel and Suites until late last year, when Damas Hotels cancelled its contract with Banyan Tree Hotel and Resorts. Banyan Tree said in a statement at the time that the building would be "converted to residential use" and sold.
Yesterday, a temporary sign hung outside one of the buildings, proclaiming the new name "Emirates Grand Hotel".
Staff in the building said the tower had been sold to an Emirati investor for an undisclosed sum in October last year and would reopen next month with Iberotel, a German hotel company, as the operator.
The second tower is still for sale.
"We just signed a contract last week," said Alaa Hanna, a sales director at the Iberotel Miramar Al Aqah Beach Resort in Fujairah. "It previously belonged to Damas International but it was sold because of all these problems."
Construction on the two towers started in 2004. The tower that became the suites section of the hotel was opened last year, while the second building, with 364 hotel rooms, did not open despite being scheduled for completion late last year.  A spokesman declined to comment yesterday but a source close to the company said this week that the family had begun liquidating assets to meet its obligations. The brothers have recently been promoting the sale of their largest yacht to raise more cash.
Prices of residential property in Dubai have fallen by more than 50 per cent since their peak in 2008, which could be an obstacle to liquidating the investments the family made with the proceeds from the Damas International
public share offering in 2008. Almost 70 per cent of the transactions were investments in the property sector, with about 90 per cent of those in the UAE.
Blair Hagkull, the head of the regional office for the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle, said yesterday the sale was among the only major transactions in Dubai in recent months.
"We are seeing a situation where cash-rich organisations are finding attractive deals in this market," Mr Hagkull said. "The market has been quiet, but there are many purchasers and potential investors that are waiting in the wings for the prices to get to the right levels."
The Abdullahs face the risk of losing control of their 103-year-old family jewellery business. The brothers signed an agreement on November 4 to pay back the amount of the unauthorised transactions within 18 months.
They have also pledged to return 350 million of their 515 million shares if they fail to pay Dh200m within six months, Dh400m within 12 months and the full amount within 18 months.  If they were to default on these payments back to Damas International  and the shares were taken back by the company, their holding in the firm would fall to 16 per cent, from 51 per cent.

Jail and fine for Dubai Lagoons' former CEO

Jail and fine for "A.M." the former CEO of Lagoons.  The Lagoon site languishes on the outskirts of Dubai surrounded by huge hordings that were once covered with colourful pictures of the proposed site and the lifestyle it offered.  Most of the large posters have now gone, removed by wind, sand and sun, while the tattered remains of others cling to the boards.
Source: Gulf News
Picture: Sama website

The former CEO of Lagoons, a Sama Dubai project, faces three years in jail after the Dubai Appeals Court scrapped his acquittal of committing financial irregularities yesterday.
Presiding Judge Mustafa Al Shennawi on Tuesday convicted the 43-year-old Emirati former CEO, A.M., of abusing his duty as a public servant and accepting bribe. He will be jailed for three years and has been fined Dh2.89 million and ordered to repay the same amount (the bribe amount) to Lagoons.
The Appeals Court overturned A.M.'s primary judgment, who had been pronounced innocent by the Dubai Court of First Instance in July last year.
Al Shennawi also sentenced Lagoon's former executives, 42-year-old Emirati M.M., his 23-year-old compatriot N.Q. and 28-year-old M.S. (who doesn't carry documents), to three years in jail each. They were also slapped a joint fine of Dh4.8 million and ordered to repay the amount to Lagoons.
M.M., Lagoon's former sales manager, M.S., the ex-sales executive, and Damac's former property development director, 32-year-old Syrian, A.H., will each spend a year in jail after the court convicted them of exchanging bribe worth Dh650,000. The Appeals Court ordered slapped them a joint fine of Dh650,000. Al Shennawi acquitted A.H. of aiding and abetting M.A. and M.S. collect a bribe worth Dh2.3 million over a three-land deal.
Moreover, the appeals court confirmed the acquittal of M.A. and N.Q. of revealing the company's secrets by providing an investment house with details about their clients, as well as information and prices of properties owned by Sama Dubai.
Defence lawyers are expected to appeal yesterday's judgment before the Cassation Court within 30 days.
At an earlier hearing, a prosecutor submitted an official letter stating that the funds of Sama Dubai are public and informed the Dubai Appeals Court that five executives of the company charged with financial irregularities are in fact public servants.
"We received an official letter from the Financial Control Department [FCD] at the Rulers Court confirming that the funds of Sama Dubai and Lagoons are public and that their employees are public servants," said the Public Prosecution's representative when he handed FCD's letter to Al Shennawi.
The five executives had earlier pleaded not guilty and refuted their charges.
According to the charges sheet, prosecutors had charged M.A., N.Q. and M.S. with taking Dh4.8 million in bribe against unlawfully selling/reselling lands belonging to Sama Dubai.
Lagoons' former CEO was charged with breaching his duties by requesting from one of his company's clients, five apartments worth Dh2.7 million and a cash sum of Dh200,000 in bribe against failing to preserve the rights of Sama Dubai and causing it to incur a loss of Dh137 million.
The Public Prosecution charged A.M. with preventing Sama Dubai from gaining a Dh4.6 million in ownership transfer fees.
A.H. was accused of accepting Dh650,000 in bribes from M.A. and M.S. and aiding and abetting them. M.A. and M.S. were charged with aiding and abetting A.H. in committing the bribe crime.
An Egyptian financial controller, from Dubai Government's Financial Control Department, testified that A.M., when he was Lagoons' former chief executive, should have preserved the company's rights and increased its earnings. "He caused Sama Dubai to incur a purported loss of Dh137 million," claimed the Egyptian.
An Emirati senior executive from Sama Dubai testified that A.M. failed to take the proper action against the company which was late in paying the instalments of certain properties.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Dubai: Not a melting pot, more of a tossed salad

A very interesting article on the friction that results from cultural differences and expectations in Dubai.  The article is from the Gulf News and written by Mishaal Al Gergawi who's an Emirati commentator on socio-economic and cultural affairs in the UAE.
Picture: Art Parts Clip Art

Everyone has heard about the case of the British woman who was celebrating her engagement with her fiancé in a Dubai hotel on New Year's Eve. The next day the woman claims she was raped by a staff member of the hotel while lying semiconscious in the toilet.
The couple reports the case to the police and, upon questioning, admit to having consumed alcohol and having sex out of wedlock. Since this is illegal in the UAE, the police charge them both with illegal drinking and adultery.
Things become further complicated once it becomes clear that the woman is Muslim because her actions contravene Sharia law. Of course, the original rape accusation is also recognised as a separate case, but this charge was proven to be false after reviewing CCTV footage.
Are the police wrong to file two separate cases? No, not technically at least. The official statement has made it clear that such admissions to breaking the law cannot be ignored. But is that really what we're talking about here? No. There is a larger issue at stake here. I have heard that unmarried couples who had vacations to Dubai planned have been reconsidering.
Are they overreacting? No. The rape factor is insignificant here. The message that comes to any tourist's mind while planning a vacation when considering Dubai is this: There are hotels that are licensed to sell me alcohol but I can be arrested for consuming it. There are hotel rooms that I can check into but I can be arrested for having sexual relations with my partner in them. Is this really the Dubai we know? Is this the city that prides itself on tolerance and harmonious coexistence?
It is one thing, though still controversial in my view, to prosecute unmarried couples who cohabit or have extra-marital relations. After all, they are residents in your city and by choosing to live here they must observe its values. But it is a completely different thing to prosecute tourists, people who are coming to your city for a short vacation, for consuming alcohol in licensed bars and restaurants and having sex privately in their hotel room.
What is the big idea here? Are we telling the world only come if you're married? Why do we expect people to come to our country and completely abandon their personal values? Yes, these are personal values.
The ability and choice to have a relationship with someone in a private space is an extremely personal value. This is completely different from the now infamous public beach sex case of 2008. This was sex that occurred in the privacy of a legally occupied hotel room.
How did this private action offend anyone? And to demonstrate the inherent contradiction, I wonder why the hotel allowed them to check into the same room in the first place. The same applies to the alcohol situation. That's akin to Switzerland's ban of the minarets because it offends the Swiss Christian population and France's proposed legislation to ban the burqa because it is un-European to cover one's face.
The issue at hand is much more than the unfortunate application of the UAE's law. The bedrock of Dubai is an unwritten social contract between the government, its locals and residents where the latter two groups are free to conduct their lives in as liberal or conservative a fashion as they please as long as it doesn't upset Dubai's delicate identity; this balancing act is the essence of Dubai's appeal.
This is why this incident and the message Dubai is sending by prosecuting this couple is more dangerous than the ill-timed and ill-managed debt standstill request by Dubai World just before the holidays.
Dubai is not unique because of its world-class infrastructure or business-friendly climate; these things can be replicated. It is unique because of its ability to accept people from around the world with different, and often contradictory values, provided they adhere to the lifestyle range that Dubai is willing to accept in the public sphere.
It was always understood that this would not be exercised in private spaces and spaces designated for specific activities. If this case is actually the beginning of a campaign to end this understanding then we will be living in a very different city very soon.
Dubai is not a melting pot, it is a tossed salad. No one changes when they come here; they simply apply Dubai's dressing which makes it work. Now if someone starts changing this salad, removing the tomatoes, citing that cucumber and lettuce are enough, then I'm not sure the salad would taste the same. I like my salad just fine, please don't reinvent it for me.
As for the police, who remind us that they cannot ignore such offences, I in turn remind them that they, and we, are better off focusing on clamping down on what seems to be an untouchable reality. Yes, I am referring to prostitution. I would like to see the police focus on this before arresting foreigners who do not even live here for simply having different values than their own. Dubai doesn't need such misguided vigilance. I have no doubt that the couple will receive a pardon because if they don't then much of what we've heard would've been rhetoric all along.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Sharks amongst the chocolate fish

This is the end of civilisation as we know it.  No jaffas? What will young Kiwis throw at each other at the movies?
And no chocolate fish?  That's treason.  There will be rioting in the streets of Enzed with the crowds chanting "Free the Fish".   Maybe this is pay-back for the nuclear ships ban???
Source: NZ Herald
The axe is hanging over jaffas, chocolate fish and even pineapple lumps.
Experts believe the Kraft takeover of Cadbury in Britain could mean the end of local delicacies in favour of worldwide brands.
The Cadbury board yesterday accepted a US$19.6 billion (NZ$26.6 billion) takeover bid from American company Kraft Foods, creating the world's largest confectionary group.
"There is a very real danger that some of the brands will disappear," Tim Richardson, author of Sweets: a History of Temptation, told the Guardian newspaper in London.
"Whenever there is a big takeover, a company will look to improve productivity and profitability.
"Within five years, we could be looking at a Cadbury with far fewer brands."
For New Zealanders, that could put Cadbury's uniquely Kiwi products - including Moro Bars, Pebbles, Perky Nanas, Snowballs, Eskimos, Jet Planes, Marshmallow Eggs and Fruit Bursts - under threat.
Otago University senior marketing lecturer Dr Ben Wooliscroft said ditching local products would be a risky move as it would leave room for other manufacturers to fill the gaps.
He said people had developed a relationship with the Cadbury brand, and if local products were performing well it did not make sense to get rid of them.
"These products are a part of us, part of our culture. They belong to us as much as the company."
There were also fears for the future of the Cadbury factory in Dunedin.
Otago Service and Food Workers' Union spokesman Neville Donaldson said Kraft did not have Cadbury's good reputation as an employer.
A spokesman for Cadbury New Zealand said it was business as usual, but no one could say for sure what would happen when Kraft took over.
Kraft's chairwoman and chief executive, Irene Rosenfeld, said the company had great respect for Cadbury's brands, heritage and people.
The takeover has not been completed, and other multi-national confectioners, such as Hershey, have until next week to outbid Kraft.
- additional reporting Otago Daily Times

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

First bank repossession on Palm Jumeirah

Photo: Fotosearch Stock Photography

The Palm Jumeirah has witnessed its first property repossession, resulting in a bank selling an apartment for just AED745 per square foot – nearly 35 percent below the current market rate.
Arabian Business understands that a three bedroom apartment in Al Shala, on the prestigious development, was “taken back” by the owner’s bank last week after he failed to resolve Dhs1.7 million of outstanding debt.
“He left the country and gave power of attorney to someone else. The bank moved in quickly and asked for Dhs1.7 million, which they got within a few hours,” said a source close to agent involved in selling it.
The property was advertised by Networth Real Estate on the website of UAE daily Gulf News, at an asking price of AED1.7 million for a 2,280 square foot three bedroom apartment. When contacted, the agent said it had “gone immediately for cash".
It is thought to be the first time any bank has taken back a property on the Palm.
Just last week, according to Bloomberg, Barclays, Britain's second largest bank, has won the first foreclosure orders in Dubai, clearing the way for lenders holding about $16bn of Dubai home loans to take action when borrowers don’t pay.
Barclays said in an e-mailed reply to questions from newswire Bloomberg that it won the foreclosure orders, without providing details of the cases.
Similar properties on the Palm are currently being advertised close to AED1140 per square foot, nearly 35 percent higher than the bank’s selling price.
Provisions for bad loans in the UAE surged 68 percent by to 32 billion dirhams ($8.7 billion) as of November, compared with a year earlier, according to Bloomberg.
It said that Islamic lender Tamweel, the emirate’s biggest mortgage bank, has several of its own foreclosure claims pending and estimates about 3 percent of its mortgages are in default.
“Banks will be more aggressive in pursuing legal action if they see the process is efficient,” said Antoine Yacoub, a banking analyst at Moody’s Investors Service.
“They were trying to avoid the courts and restructure most of their loans, but once they see a precedent has been set, they will be encouraged to push more cases through.”

Stereotypes won't save lives on the UAE's road

If you listen in to 'small talk' at any gathering in Dubai, the first topic won't be the #1 icebreaker in the rest of the world, the weather.  In Dubai, the hot topic will be the roads and the poor standard of driving which is usually illustrated by someone's most recent near-death experience.  Its lethal not only out on the roads themselves, you're not even safe walking on controlled pedestrian crossings either as I know from experience. 
In answer to a recognised problem of dangerous driving, the UAE government has released a 'study' which purports to show that women drivers are causing accidents and traffic jams by driving too slowly thereby causing, nay, compelling, irate drivers to speed, flash their lights, tailgate or rip down the hardshoulder of the highway at high speed. To push the analogy, I suppose some of these impatient drivers then die in high speed pile-ups that are of course, no fault of their own but are caused by the 'soft driving' of female motorists (A familiar ring? You know, 'its not my fault, he threw himself on my cattle prod etc').
Rather than resorting to 'studies' of useless stereotypes why not tackle at least one real problem head-on, do something about parents who allow unrestrained children in their cars, how about huge fines for parents who care so little about their children that they will, for example, drive on SZR at high speed with a child on the driver's lap.
Consider the road toll in Saudi Arabia, its the highest in the world, in 2009 it was 44 deaths per 100,000 people, the number of female drivers

Source: Arabian Business
Photo: Uppercut Images
We get all sent all sorts of suspect publications here at Arabian Business, but this week’s clear winner is a report entitled ‘Soft Driving: Confusing for Others, or a Model?’
‘Soft driving’ is a moniker that has been attributed to the “more deliberate” approach of female drivers, who are “by nature less rushed”, according to the report from the UAE’s Ministry of the Interior. So really, it should say ‘Women Drivers: Confusing for Others, or a Model?’
It seems like an odd question to ask in the first place, as anyone in the UAE who claims ‘confusion’ at the sight of a woman behind the wheel probably shouldn’t be driving themselves. I wouldn’t like to be on the same stretch of road as a driver who flips out that easily: do they lose hand-eye coordination completely, or just forget where they live? Either way, they sound like a genuine danger, so take away their keys.
For the record, the study finds that of the 3,172 road traffic accidents that were recorded in Abu Dhabi last year, just 256 accidents were caused by women drivers. Men caused a shocking 92 percent of all accidents, fender-bending their way into the record books and contributing manfully to the 963 sorry corpses scraped off UAE roads in 2009.
So if they can’t blame the carnage on women, then what’s going on? In another report issued at the beginning of the month, not leaving enough distance between vehicles was identified as the cause of 547 accidents last year.
That was followed by lack of concern for other drivers (542), not ensuring the road is clear before entering (531), and lack of lane discipline (324). 267 accidents were caused due to jumping the red signal, 148 due to reckless driving and 122 due to speeding.
Of the above categories, ‘lack of concern for other drivers’ is the only one that could possibly encompass that deadly sin of soft driving (aka driving like a girl). That leaves an awful lot of death and destruction squarely on the shoulders of those whose primary concern is to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible, regardless of how safely they do it.
The Abu Dhabi police handed out 135 fines to motorists driving below the minimum speed limit on highways and inner-city roads last year. Fair play, those drivers broke the rules, and were punished. But let’s not miss the point: slow drivers are more of a nuisance than a menace, and should be the least of the Ministry’s worries.
Let’s spend less time asking odd questions based on baseless stereotypes, and more time targeting those who race down our roads as though they are playing some videogame in which no-one is really killed, maimed, widowed or orphaned.
It’s the impatient, inconsiderate idiots that overtake recklessly and without a care for other road users, who deserve to be the focus of our opprobrium. Someone should remind them that it’s better to get to their destination a few minutes late, than never at all.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Visa rules change in the UAE....again

This article is from the 'Gulf News' dated 17 Jan '10 stating that visitors will be refused re-entry to the UAE if they take even a short trip outside the country (to Oman for example).  The article makes no mention of the 33 countries whose citizens are automatically issued with a 30 days visa on entry into the UAE with one renewal.  Has that changed now?
Or are these 'new' visa rules the same as were published in the 'Gulf News' on 10 July 2008 and 11 Nov 2009?
Visas for visit, transit and tourism are valid only for a single entry into the UAE, said a senior official at the Ministry of Interior, adding that visitors cannot return using the same permit even after a trip to a neighbouring country.
Major General Mohammad Ahmad Al Merri, Director-General of the Dubai General Department for Residency and Foreigners Affairs, told Gulf News: "A visitor needs to get a new entry permit to re-enter the country once he or she leaves the country for any destination. The new entry permit will be issued only after one month from the date the visitor leaves the UAE."
Major General Al Merri was responding to a question about visitors who face difficulties in returning to the UAE after a short sightseeing trip to Oman or after leaving in a hurry for a meeting in Bahrain.
They cannot re-enter the UAE immediately since a new visa will be issued only after a gap of at least one month.
The rule applies even if the visitors leave the country before the expiry of their entry permits, he said. "They have to wait for one month before applying for another entry permit."
Major General Al Merri said this happens to some people who arrive on tourist or visit visas to see family or friends or visit the country as tourists.
"They stay here for few days and then decide to go to Oman, Bahrain or any nearby country. These people believe they can return to the UAE using the same entry permit as they stayed here only for a few days.
"They think the entry permit is still valid since they did not use it till the expiry date," he said.
Major General Al Merri said the department, however, could take into consideration any exceptional circumstances pertaining to a particular visitor. But such a decision is taken on case-by-case basis.
"We want to make it easy and enjoyable for people who want to visit our country. But they should adhere to the rules," he said.
Multiple entry
Multiple entry visas are an option for businessmen who are frequent visitors to the UAE and who have a relationship with a reputable company here.
This visa is valid for six months from the date of issue and costs Dh1,000. However, each visit must not exceed 30 days.
Visit, tourist and transit visas are only for single entry.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Little response from US on UAE torture verdict

This is from The Majlis discussing US reaction to the recent aquital of Sheikh Issa in Abu Dhabi. 
The victim of the attack, Mr Shahpoor, is now suing the Nabulsi brothers for defamation.  Mr Shahpoor is seeking Dh100,000 in compensation for the emotional and moral damages he claims to have suffered since the video was broadcast on television and the internet without his consent.
There are unconfirmed stories that Mr Shahpoor was in court on the day of the verdict and greeted Sheikh Issa with kisses on both cheeks.. 
Source: Gregg Carlstrom, The Majlis 11 Jan '10
Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nayhan, the brother of the president of the United Arab Emirates, was acquitted yesterday of torture charges by an Emirati court -- despite a videotape that shows him assaulting an Afghan man.

The brutal assault was filmed in 2004, and originally broadcast last year on the American television network ABC. The tape shows Sheikh Issa assaulting the man with whips and wooden planks, shocking him with cattle prods, and driving over his foot with an SUV. Sheikh Issa was assisted by several men, at least one of them wearing a UAE police uniform.

The victim, Mohammed Shah Poor, allegedly shortchanged Nayhan on a grain delivery to his ranch.

Al-Jazeera posted excerpts of the video, which runs nearly 45 minutes in its entirety.

Yesterday's verdict was undeniably a miscarriage of justice. The UAE's interior ministry acknowledged last year that Sheikh Issa was the man in the tape; there was no doubt, in other words, that he tortured Poor. Issa's defense attorney claimed he was drugged at the time.

"The court acquitted Sheikh Issa after establishing he was not responsible," for the torture, lawyer Habib al-Mulla said on Sunday.

"The court accepted our defence that the Sheikh was under the influence of drugs [medicine] that left him unaware of his actions," al-Mulla said.

When the tape first aired, in April, there was some concern that it would spike a proposed civilian nuclear framework agreement between the United States and the UAE. That's why the UAE government detained Sheikh Issa and held him in confinement for the last seven months.

Now the deal is finished -- and the farcical verdict earned only modest condemnations from the United States. (I know, I know: It's hypocritical for the U.S. government, which officially condoned torture for years and has yet to punish the torturers, to criticize another government for sweeping torture under the rug. We'll ignore that; hypocrisy rarely stops the U.S. government.)

Here's State Department press flack PJ Crowley:  We recognize that all members of Emirati society must stand equal before the law, and we remain concerned for the victim of this horrible crime. We would welcome a careful review of the judge's decision and an assessment of all available legal options to ensure that the demands of justice are fully met in this case, and we will continue to closely monitor it.

Hardly a strong condemnation of the verdict. The administration's decision to largely ignore the verdict speaks volumes about the perceived importance of the UAE -- a strategic ally in the region, America's largest military customer -- and also about the administration's hopes for the nuclear framework agreement (which was actually designed by the Bush administration).

The White House wants to construct a "right way" for countries to pursue nuclear power -- as opposed to the "wrong way" pursued by Iran -- and it believes this nuclear agreement will set that example. So it's not going to call attention to yesterday's verdict; if it does, it might face pressure to reconsider nuclear cooperation with the UAE.

If you didn't laugh, you'd cry

The Eggplant's take on the acquital.
An Afghan grain dealer, Mohammed Shahpoor, has been convicted in a United Arab Emirates court of repeatedly running into the fist and torture instruments of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the half brother of Abu Dhabi’s president. The decision was handed down after Sheikh Issa was cleared of all counts of torture stemming from the same altercation between the two individuals in 2004. The incident became internationally known when a videotape of the event was broadcast on ABC News. “I was standing in the desert with my cattle prod, my rusted-nail board and my clenched fist minding my own business” explained Sheikh Issa to reporters outside the courthouse, “and this Afghan man came out of nowhere and repeatedly bludgeoned himself on my fist and various accessories. When I tried to drive away, he ran right under the tires. What really shocked me was when he tried to sodomize himself on my cattle prod. I mean really, what has the world come to?”

In the video of the altercation between Sheikh Issa and the Afghan grain dealer, the Afghan is seen capturing sand in his mouth and spitting it onto Sheikh Issa.
Sheikh Issa became visibly upset when a reporter asked him whether Shahpoor’s human rights had been violated. “What about my rights?” Issa yelled back “what about my right to carry around my cattle prod in the desert without being molested?” When asked what he will do now that he was exonerated of all charges, Sheikh Issa responded by saying “I’ll probably beat the hell out of some immigrants.”
Shahpoor, who was fined 10,000 dirhams for inconveniencing Sheikh Issa, will be sentenced for the more serious crime of “Damaging Royal Property” in the next six weeks. The cattle prod remains inoperable. Several legal experts say that the Afghan will likely receive the death penalty. “Actually, a state-administered death is probably the best Mr. Shahpoor can hope for at this point, because if he is released back into the public Shekh Issa will probably kill him in his own way” said Jamal Said, a professor of Law at the University of Dubai. Shahpoor was unavailable for comment after the trial as he was bussed to a nearby construction site. “The UAE needs to squeeze as much manual labor out of him as they can before he is dead” said a court official who was responsible for prisoner transfers.
Some outside observers are hailing the trial as a landmark event and a sign of increasing judicial independence on the part of the court system. “Many criticize legal institutions inside the UAE because laws are formulated by the royal family on an ad-hoc basis and then promulgated by judges who are appointed by the same royal family” explained Cedric Johnson, a legal expert who has written a book on UAE judicial system , “but what we see here is a royal family member who was actually accused of a crime, stood trial and abided by the verdict. It clearly demonstrates the increasing robustness of institutions in the UAE.”

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Dubai: the victim of fear and loathing?

Is Dubai the victim of an 'unreasonable and biased campaign' by the world's media?  The writer of this piece, the Editor of the UAE newspaper the 'Gulf News', certainly thinks so.
Source: Gulf News (no surprises there)
The spiteful campaign unleashed by the western media, especially in the UK, regarding the issue of Dubai's debt restructuring can only be described as purely rabid. And were it not for a few exceptions, such as the balanced and professional coverage in the serious business daily the Financial Times, one would assume that the British media is suffering from a credibility and ethics crisis.
We are not talking about newspapers that conveyed the news as received from their sources in line with professional standards. What is in question here is the vicious attack on Dubai launched by newspapers and magazines that allowed their writers to distort the image of the emirate and the UAE, defaming the very people who worked hard to make this country an international success story and a business and tourism hub.
This was carried out for unknown reasons through inaccurate analysis and commentaries that can only be described as rabid.
This campaign continued despite statements by international officials from financial institutions, including their very own British bankers, confirming that the debt restructuring issue was not something that Dubai and the UAE economy could not tackle.
Nevertheless, western newspapers ignored these views and went ahead with unreasonable and biased campaigns.
This makes it look as if these media outlets have a political agenda against the UAE, which reminded some of us of the colonial past that some western writers (and those behind them) are still dreaming of.
These people cannot believe that a small country has rapidly emerged as an international player and succeeded in taking its seat among the world's top players.
The same scenario was witnessed in the 1980s and 1990s with the so-called Asian Tigers, which surprised and are still surprising the world with their vast development, growth rates and economic progress. The economies of countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea have become stronger than those of many western countries.
Out of context
A recent incident stands as evidence of the attempts by the western media to twist the facts. An inter-office memo was issued by the style editor in Gulf News regarding the use of specific economic terms related to the debt issue. This is a professional guideline that all credible international newspapers follow in order to unify terms according to their styles.
A foreign press agency operating in the UAE picked up the memo and turned it into an international news story by twisting facts to make it appear as if the government was interfering with the press.
The Wall Street Journal, in turn, further blew the story up by claiming that the Dubai Government instructed its official newspapers to stop using certain terms while reporting about the issue.
This example clearly shows not only the rabid nature of some media outlets, but their low level of professionalism and complete disregard for credibility. They have failed to carry out their professional duties of investigating news and verifying information before publishing stories related to Dubai's debt restructuring.
Any junior reporter in the UAE knows that Gulf News is an independent newspaper, not a government newspaper. It is also known that regulation of terminology in any newspaper is an internal matter related to standards and style, nothing else.
What is becoming increasingly obvious is that (apparently, by sidelining professionalism), some media outlets are resorting to tabloid-type sensationalism, which does not see the full picture, but instead focuses on small details.
Otherwise, they would have noticed that Dubai's debts are not big compared to those of other countries.
The entire world knows that Luxembourg's foreign debts amount to $2 trillion. Spain and Italy each have $2.4 trillion in debt. Ireland and Holland's debts total $2.4 trillion and $2.5 trillion respectively.
The debts of Germany and France are $4.94 trillion and $5.2 trillion respectively, while those of the UK and US, whose newspapers have attacked the UAE, have reached $9 trillion and $13.75 trillion respectively.
On the other hand, the UAE ranks 33rd on the list of indebted countries with $135 billion (billion, not trillion), according to economic and intelligence sources, including the CIA.
The same sources reported that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the UAE was $100 billion in 2008, which clearly means that the UAE's debts, including Dubai's, are not big compared to the debts of other countries.
It also means that its GDP allows the UAE to fulfill its financial obligations much more than other countries.
Furthermore, the debts of many of these countries are sovereign. Many of them, such as the US and the UK, are powerless to pay back their debts.
There are other countries that have stopped paying back their debts. They only pay debt service charges because their economies are too weak.
The newspapers in question have ignored all these facts and figures, as well as the UAE economy's points of strength, such as being an oil-exporting country with huge oil revenues that allow it to fulfill its obligations while carrying on the development process.
Also, the UAE's many assets, investments, infrastructure and strong economic fundamentals place it in a much better position than other countries.
Therefore, the vicious attack on Dubai and its economy, and the UAE in general, is not supported by facts and figures.
It is simply politically motivated slander to which the western media added a demagogic aspect through writers and commentators who failed to take another look at their articles after writing them. They did not search for the proper facts and figures before writing. These writers can be described as demagogic, so as to avoid saying that they lack the standards of professional journalism, which looks for the truth, not twists it.
To avoid being misunderstood, we do not claim that the economic conditions in the UAE in general and Dubai in particular are perfect, and that there is no problem. We are part of the global economy.
The UAE's economy in the past few years has become intertwined with the global economy. Hence, we are bound to feel the repercussions of any downturn that affects the global economy, such as recession, debts, lack of liquidity, depression, bankruptcy, unemployment and other symptoms that may affect open, free-market economies.
What we are against is the exaggeration practised by western newspapers. We are against doubting the UAE's ability to overcome the financial crisis, which these rabid media campaigns continue to do.
We cannot even imagine what these newspapers would say if Dubai and the UAE behaved like other countries and announced that they will stop paying back their debts, or if their indebted companies announced bankruptcy and asked their creditors, whether companies, banks or individuals, to bear the loss after reaping huge profits during the economic boom.
Many US and UK banks and companies took this course of action in line with the mechanisms, rules and nature of a capitalist economy.
Are these western and specifically British newspapers, or those behind them, fair-weather friends who want to share the benefits and profits with us during the good times, as they did earlier during the boom preceding the downturn, and then pull back to avoid sharing in the loss? We wonder.

UAE court clears Sheikh Issa of torture

Source: The Times (UK)
An Emirati court today cleared the President’s brother of charges of torturing an Afghan despite video footage of the incident.
The court in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) acquitted Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahayan "after establishing he was not responsible" for the torture of the Afghan merchant in 2004, lawyer Habib al-Mulla said.
Five co-defendants, including two Americans, were found guilty, his lawyer said.
“The court accepted our defence that the sheikh was under the influence of drugs [medicine] that left him unaware of his actions,” he said.
Allegations against the sheikh emerged after US network ABC aired the 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 others, 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 consignment of grain worth $5,000.
The lawyer told the court that one of the sheikh’s co-defendants was responsible for Sheikh Issa’s medications and had drugged him, then videotaped the incident and tried to blackmail him.
The court in the oasis city of Al-Ain ordered two co-defendants to pay a interim compensation of 10,000 dirhams ($2,724) to the victim, who can file a new lawsuit to claim full compensation.
The two US defendants of Lebanese origin, brothers Ghassan and Bassam Nabulsi, were sentenced to five years in jail each in absentia for having drugged the sheikh.
The lawyer said the victim had demanded compensation from the brothers rather than from Sheikh Issa.
The court also sentenced three other workers at the farm where the torture took place to between one and three years in jail for drugging the sheikh, likewise in absentia, according to Mulla. A guard at the farm was acquitted.
Mulla said that Sheikh Issa, 40, who has been in detention for the past seven months, would be released.
The verdict, however, is not final as it will have to be reviewed by a higher court if the public prosecution decides to challenge the ruling.
Sheikh Issa, who is the brother of UAE president and oil-rich Abu Dhabi’s ruler Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, pleaded not guilty at a hearing last month.
The lawyer told the hearing in December that the sheikh had been drugged against his will during the incident and had no recollection of what had happened.
“We submitted medical reports showing that the drugs that the two co-defendants administered to him left him unaware of his actions,” the lawyer said previously.
In a rare trial of a high-ranking member of the ruling family, Sheikh Issa was charged at an opening hearing last October with endangering life, causing bodily harm and with rape for the incident.

Woman arrested after filing rape report in Dubai

From the Sydney Morning Herald 10 Jan '10
The original article is from Britain's Sun newspaper
A BRITISH woman who made a rape complaint in Dubai has been arrested for having illegal sex with her fiance, according to reports.
The 23-year-old from London said she had been raped by a waiter in a luxury hotel after celebrating her engagement to her 44-year-old boyfriend, also from London.
But when she reported the alleged rape to police in the Middle Eastern state, she and her boyfriend were arrested for having sex outside marriage and illegally drinking outside a licensed premises.
The British Foreign Office said two Britons had been arrested on New Year's Day and bailed but would give no further details. A spokeswoman said: ''Our embassy in Dubai is providing consular assistance.''
After her boyfriend proposed on their three-day break to the city, she allegedly became inebriated while celebrating and lost consciousness in the women's toilets at the Address hotel, where they were staying, The Sun reported.
The waiter is said to have followed her into the toilets and raped her while she was semi-conscious. Her fiance, unaware of the attack, took her to her room. 
The following day, after realising what had happened, the couple went to the Jebel Ali police station to report the alleged attack.
Police began to question the couple about breaking the emirate's strict decency laws.
Usual rape procedures were ignored and the woman was given a full medical check and a morning-after pill only after the intervention of British embassy staff, the British paper reported.
Her attacker is believed to have denied rape - saying the woman, a Muslim of Pakistani descent, had consented - but he has also been charged with ''illegal sex''.  It is understood that the couple are still in Dubai. They could face up to six years in jail if found guilty of having sex outside marriage.
Dubai's strict laws have previously caused problems for British tourists. In February 2008 BBC radio presenter DJ Grooverider, whose real name is Raymond Bingham, was jailed for four years after he was caught with a small amount of marijuana but he was pardoned after serving 10 months.
In July 2008 businessman Vince Acors and publishing executive Michelle Palmer received three-month jail terms after being convicted of having sex on a beach. On his return to Britain, Mr Acors said: ''Dubai is a massive contradiction - everything is available yet everything is illegal.''
Amnesty International condemned the way the Dubai authorities had handled the rape allegation.
Kate Allen, the organisation's British director, said: ''[They] should be investigating claims that a real offence … may have taken place.
''Where are the police's priorities in all of this?''

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Petrol stations in the UAE to be self service

Just like in the 'old days' in NZ and Australia, in the UAE there are attendants at the petrol stations who put in the petrol for you, wash the windscreen, take the money and give you the change, you don't have to leave your car.  The petrol distributors are introducing self service, some stations already have it and more are to follow.  The concept of getting out of the car and doing the fill myself is no problem in winter here but in 50 degree heat during summer I really don't fancy standing in the sun pumping gas so I'll pay the extra and tip the guy who does it for me.  They say it will speed the process up, but how many times have you put petrol in the car, gone inside to pay for it and been stuck behind someone who's doing what seems to be their weekly grocery shopping or someone who's child can't decide between peppermint and strawberry.
PS for readers outside the UAE, credit cards cannot be used to pay for petrol in the UAE either, its got to be cash.
Source and photo:
Fuel station attendants will be available for an extra charge to motorists once Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) introduces its self service option later this year.
Customers using the new self service offering will pay a flat rate for their fuel but those still wanting to use an attendant will have to pay extra, the company said on Thursday without saying what the cost would be.
ENOC said the self-serve concept for motorists would "bring about time and cost efficiencies and also reduce the waiting time at the service stations" in a statement.
The company added that it was considering the implementation of the self-serve concept as an option across its network of 170 service stations in Dubai and the Northern Emirates by the end of the first half of 2010.
Some of its employees currently involved in attending to customers at service stations may be transferred to other service stations in line with the company’s expansion across the UAE while other may also be trained for other careers within the company.
"The group is looking at providing motorists the choice to fill up petrol on their own and pay at normal retail prices, or use the full-serve option by attendants at an additional fee," the statement added.
According to ENOC, the move "is in keeping with international trends and offering customers greater convenience" and follows the results of a pilot scheme held in 2008.
"By learning from global best practices and integrating these into its local petroleum retailing business, EPPCO/ENOC hopes to benefit customers and the UAE community at large," it added.
The company said it has recently invested AED50 million to "modernise and automate all its service stations, and enhance customer service, operational efficiency and environmental performance".
Services at the revamped stations will be managed from a remote facility, saving time and introducing new ‘interactive’ features for customers at the fuel pump. The new systems will be fully operational within the first half of 2010, the company said.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Dubai Metro firm confirms work slowdown

One of the Japanese firms working on the Dubai Metro said on Thursday that the pace of construction has been slowed down while they negotiate with the Dubai government over delayed payments.
An official from Obayashi Corp - part of a consortium working on the Red and Green Lines - told Arabian Business that earlier reports that work had been suspended were “untrue”.
The Dow Jones newswire reported, citing Japan's business daily Nikkei, that a consortium, including Obayashi Corp, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd, Mitsubishi Corp and Kajima Corp, had decided to halt work for the time being, placing priority on talks with the Dubai government.
However, an official from Obayashi Corp said: "What we told [Nikkei] is that we are in negotiations with the client, the RTA of the Dubai government and we just slowed down the pace of the construction.
“We have been in negotiations for a long time. The slowdown is part of the strategy," the official added.
The consortium received roughly Y490 billion ($5.3bn) worth of orders to build the metro from Dubai's Roads & Transport Authority, with the work starting in 2005. But the actual construction expenses are expected to total almost twice as much, the newswire reported.
A statement from the RTA said: "The RTA confirms that the work of the DURL (Dubai Rail Link) consortium is continuing on the Dubai Metro project in keeping with the planned timeframe.
"The authority confirms its contractual commitment to the financial payments in accordance with the progress of the work on the project," the statement said. Mitsubishi Corp also declined to comment when approached by Arabian Business on Thursday.
The rail system was partially opened in September with its full completion now expected in the second half of the year when the Green Line starts operations.
Obayashi Corp is working on both the Red and Green Lines and the remaining Red Line stations were due to open next month.
When asked if the slowdown would lead to the February deadline been delayed, the Obayashi official said “it depends on how the Dubai government reacts to our slowdown.”
In December, it was reported that Japan's non-financial firms had some $7.5 billion in uncollected bills from work done in Dubai as of the end of October.
The data, excluding bank loans, was derived from a total of 18 projects worth about $15 billion and involving Japanese general contractors, trading houses and electric machinery manufacturers, the Nikkei said.
The figures included public works projects commissioned by the Dubai government, such as subway and road construction, it added.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

They call me Khalifa.

The Burj Dubai Khalifa opened last night with a light and firework display that was spectacular even by Dubai's standards.  While that was expected, what was unexpected, except to insiders, was the surprise announcement of a change of name for the tower.  No longer Burj Dubai, its now 'Burj Khalifa' after Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi.  The implications of the rename would not be lost on UAE residents.  Here's another view of the rename from the Chicago Tribune:
The Burj Dubai-Burj Khalifa name change: Better change those T-shirts and caps in the gift shop--and a whole lot more.
The stunning name change of the world's tallest building from Burj Dubai to Burj Khalifa, announced last night at the tower's opening, is going to upset a lot of applecarts--and is likely to wind up costing a lot of people a lot of money.
--T-shirts and caps for sale in the skyscraper's observatory, called "At The Top," and in its gift shop in the adjoining Dubai Mall are emblazoned with the words "At The Top/Burj Dubai." They're now outmoded--on the first day that the observatory is opening to the public.
--The district in which the skyscraper is located is called "Downtown Burj Dubai." It is identified as such on road signs and maps. "Downtown Burj Dubai" presumably will now become "Downtown Burj Khalifa."
--The tower's backers reportedly just spent $2 million on Burj Dubai uniforms for security and hotel personnel. How much will it cost to change the uniforms? Or might it be easier to put patches on the uniforms that cover up "Burj Dubai" and say "Burj Khalifa" instead?
Dubai's leaders must have known that problems like this were coming when they agreed to the name change, which recognizes the Abu Dhabi leader who bailed them out of their debt crisis. It appears that they were so desperate that they had no choice.
Source: Chicago Tribune
Photo: Maureen Davies

Monday, 4 January 2010

The world's tallest building opens tonight

The ceremony at the Burj Dubai tonight isn't an 'opening' rather it is, in the words of  the invitation, a "Celebration of belief and illumination of vision".  Early this morning there were security guys in dark suits (not quite MIB but you get the idea) checking the concrete supports of the highway bridge opposite Dubai Mall. 
The roads in the area will close at around 5pm, there's been no warning given to road users, so expect more weirdness than usual on SZR tonight.

Banks of floodlights will light up the Burj, these are on the road between the Burj and Emaar Square.
Here's a piece on the Burj from the UK newspaper The Telegraph.
Life in Dubai is not for the faint-hearted. But for those who fear neither heights nor the financial crisis, the Gulf city-state is to offer an entirely new experience: the chance to spend the rest of your days hundreds of metres in the air.
The long-awaited Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building, is to open today. At 818 metres and 160 floors, it is the height of the current highest skyscraper, Taipei 101 in Taiwan, with the Eiffel Tower perched on top.
A firm of Chicago architects have designed it so that those who so wish will never have to leave, or even descend below the 108th floor.
That level is the top floor of residential apartments. For work, you can go to the offices upstairs - anywhere up to the 160th floor. To eat, you can visit the restaurant on the 122nd and to exercise, you can use the gym on the 123rd, about 440 metres up. The gym has both an indoor and, unnervingly, an outdoor swimming pool.
To prevent the high-flying yet enclosed life from becoming dull, the tower's developers have a solution - at least for the young. The Burj intends to host the world's highest nightclub, 20 floors higher still than the gym.
Since ground was broken on the project in January 2004 the tower has led to debate in Dubai that has mirrored the fortunes of the emirate.
For the company behind it, Emaar, and the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, it is a ''shining accomplishment … an icon of the new Middle East: prosperous, dynamic and successful''.
The purple prose of tourist guidebooks has already had difficulty keeping up with Dubai's transformation from an oriental souk, with picturesque dishdasha-clad residents bobbing on the creek in wooden dhows to the world capital of bling. For them the Burj Dubai has proved a challenge. ''Just damn tall,'' was the pithy conclusion of Lonely Planet.
Burj in Arabic means tower, so that the building - which is set next to the Dubai Mall and the world's tallest fountain, called the Dubai Fountain - is named less than imaginatively ''Dubai Tower''.
As the global property boom came to an end, Dubai's vision has turned to nightmare. With the emirate's fall from grace in November after admitting a multibillion-dollar hole in its finances, the Burj took on a deeper symbolism.
Its sharp spire appeared to ''pierce the bubble in the sky'', said one commentator who compared it with Ozymandias, the poem in which Shelley describes the arrogant wreckage of a long-disappeared empire.
''Outrageous, wasteful, egotistical, ridiculous,'' a journalist wrote of it after Dubai asked for a standstill on debt repayments.
The Burj's height remains officially a secret, although developers have told newspapers that it is 818 metres.
Just who will occupy the tower is a mystery due to client confidentiality. However, developers say it is sold out.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Restaurants in UAE told to stop charging service fee

Source: Gulf News
Photo: Food Collection

The Director General of the Ministry of Economy, Mohammad Ahmad Bin Abdul Aziz Al Shehi, confirmed that it was illegal for non-tourist restaurants to add service charges.
Many restaurant-goers are under the impression that the service charge levied goes to workers, but employees and managers said this was not the case.  Restaurants and cafes must immediately stop adding any service charges to their consumer bills in compliance with the decision of the Higher Committee for Consumer Protection, said the Director General of the Ministry of Economy, Mohammad Ahmad Bin Abdul Aziz Al Shehi.
At a meeting with representatives of economic development departments, Al Shehi confirmed that it was illegal for non-tourist restaurants to add service charges, WAM reported.
Restaurants and cafes operating inside hotels and those paying fees to the local governments are the only exception, he explained adding that field inspection teams will ensure an end to any violations of Consumer Protection Law Number 24 for 2006.
The Ministry of Economy had earlier declared that imposing a service fee is illegal, and that it will soon come up with a bylaw to prevent outlets from charging customers the extra fee.
According to a Gulf News investigation, restaurants dishing out service charges to customers were aware that it was illegal to inflate food bills in this manner but insisted they will stick with the practice until there is an official notification.
Al Shehi stressed that all relevant departments are fully prepared to put an end to the adding of illegal service charges to bills by restaurants in the UAE.

Saturday, 2 January 2010