Sunday, 27 June 2010

Bullfighting Omani-style

Omani style bullfighting isn't Man -v- Bull, its Bull -v- Bull.  I filmed this clip in Ghadfan a small town near Sohar in Oman last Thursday evening (24/6/10). The bulls occasionally sustain cuts and bruises in what is a contest of headbutting and brute strength. The biggest danger is to the audience who have to get up and run fast when the bulls get bored or one decides to make a quick exit and heads off into the crowd. 
The only way the bulls could be disentangled from each other or moved out of the audience if they'd 'done a runner' was by attaching a rope to the animal then a line of guys formed holding onto the rope.  The men would then start pulling on the rope, a bit like a tug of war.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Ramadan to fall on 11th August 2010 : UAE Astronomer

Source: WAM 22nd June 2010
The Muslim's fasting month of Ramadan will start on Wednesday, 11th August 2010, and the Eid Ul Fitr will fall on Friday, 10th September 2010, according to a UAE astronomer.
Ibrahim Al Jarwan, Astronomy Researcher and Supervisor of Sharjah Planetarium, said the crescent moon of the holy month of Ramadan will be astronomically born on Tuesday, 10th August 2010, at 7:08 am (UAE time) and will disappear after sun set on the same day and Wednesday will the first day of Ramadan.
''The crescent moon of Shawwal will be born on Wednesday 8th September, at 2:30 am local time and sink down 14 minutes before sun set.
''It's impossible to sight the crescent by naked eye at that day and therefore Friday (10th September) will be the first day of Shawwal,''he said.
Citing astronomical calculations, he added that this year's summer season will begin on 22nd June and end on 23rd September but it will start on 21st June in the UAE at 3:28 pm when the sun is directly overhead on the Tropic of Cancer.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Nescafe coffee in Dubai recalled over safety reasons

"Dubai Municipality says that the situation is not serious as the product [is] not commonly found in UAE."
Not serious? NOT SERIOUS?  They're kidding.  So there's the remotest chance of bits of glass in the coffee, oh for %^* sake, I'll sift it through my teeth if necessary.
  This is a disaster of Titanic proportions. The reason Alta Rica is not commonly found here is because all us rabid 'Alta Ricans' raid the supermarket shelves and buy all the stock as soon as the Coffee Boat comes in to Dubai. After buying 8 jars from the last shipment, and kind friends also buying jars for me when they saw them, I'm now down to the last half a jar. NOT SERIOUS? Aaaaagh! Does anyone know the baggage allowance for bringing jars of coffee into the country? Can we still get it in Oman? Can I swap my alcohol allowance at Customs for a coffee allowance?
Source: Gulf News 20th May 2010
A range of Nestle coffee has been recalled over concerns that the jars may contain fragments of glass, the manufacturer announced in a press statement.
Products that may be affected are in a speciality soluble range in 100g jars, including the Alta Rica, Alta Rica Decaff, Cap Columbie, Suraya and Espresso types, which have a distinctive plastic sleeve.
Some of the jars may be susceptible to breakage during the delivery process to our customers and consequently may contain small pieces of glass, the statement read.
However, Dubai Municipality said that this isn’t serious.
“This is not a serious issue as the product is not commonly found in the UAE,” Khalid Mohammed Sharif, Director of Food Control department at Dubai Municipality said. 
“The product is produced in South East Asia and is only found in limited quantity and in select stores,” Sharif explained.
He added that the recall is only a precautionary measure and that Nestle had already informed the Municipality of its decision to recall.
“We were informed about it two days ago by Nestle as they wanted us to be in the picture. We have since taken all the necessary action is such situations and made sure the product is removed from stores.”
The Nestle statement continued: “The quality and safety of our products is a non-negotiable priority for our Company. Only products in this specific jar format are affected. We will be changing the packaging format before we reintroduce this coffee range to the market,” the statement continued. It also included an apology to consumers and customers for any inconvenience.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Its no laughing matter in Iran: new curbs

Source: Bloomberg 10th June 2010
“Producing and distributing inappropriate clothes, those not complying with Islamic and Iranian culture, should be avoided,” Abbas Miraei, who heads the Office of Supervision of the Public Sphere for the Iranian police, was cited as saying today by Iranian Labour News Agency. Further details weren’t immediately available.
Iran has set aside $1.5 billion to promote “moral conduct,” including enforcement of its dress code for women, “to solve the cultural and social ills” in society, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said on May 10. His comments followed the introduction of a code of conduct at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences that bans loud laughter, nail polish, high heels and immodest clothing for women and men.
Since the revolution that brought Shiite Muslim religious leaders to power three decades ago, women in Iran have been required to cover their hair with scarves and obscure the shape of the body with loose-fitting coats. The government, which sees the U.S. and its influence on culture as a threat to Iranian society, also seeks to prevent young women and men from following the West’s pop culture and fashion trends.
The police will “deal firmly” with violators of Iran’s laws on moral conduct, Mohammad-Najjar said last month. A cleric at Tehran’s main Friday prayers, Iran’s largest, said in April that women who dress immodestly cause earthquakes.
Iranian authorities increase their enforcement of the women’s dress code annually to prevent them from abandoning Islamic dress amid summer temperatures that can reach 42 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit) in Tehran.
Under Shiraz University’s code, in effect since Feb. 20, women must wear loose, long coats in subdued colors that go below the knee. Men aren’t permitted to wear jewelry, except for a wedding ring, nor short-sleeve shirts, and their trousers should be loose. Shoes shouldn’t have pointed toes, make noise or have heels higher than 3 centimeters (1.2 inches).

Friday, 11 June 2010

Dubai connection to sacked Oz politican exposed

The Sydney Morning Herald has revealed that Sheikh Mohammed and his horsebreeding company in Australia are linked to a disgraced former NSW politician (honestly, sometimes I wonder if there's any other sort).  The Premier of NSW refuses access to key documents on the matter.  The current Premier is some American woman who seemed to appear from nowhere. I guess either there was nobody else left to do the job or The Boys know they are going to get a hammering in the next election and they want a 'fall-girl'.  In an interesting development, the press is now asking whether Sheikh Mohammed's horsebreeding organisation was allowed to move horses during the equine flu outbreak in Australia despite a total ban on horse transportation being in place at the time.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald
Photo: Sydney Morning Herald (Sheikh Mohammed/Ian MacDonald

Ian MacDonald's controversial trip to Dubai was organised by a company owned by the country's ruler, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, shortly after the disgraced former NSW minister made decisions benefiting the sheikh, who breeds racehorses in the Hunter Valley.
However, key details of the trip - including emails between Mr Macdonald's staff and the sheikh's company - are being kept secret by the NSW government.
The Premier, Kristina Keneally, refused to make key documents public and the head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Brendan O'Reilly, referred the report of his investigation to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.The report, released yesterday, finds Mr Macdonald and his deputy chief of staff, Jamie Gibson, spent almost $20,000 of taxpayer funds on airfares, meals and accommodation at the Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa in Dubai, also owned by the sheikh, against the orders of the then premier, Morris Iemma.
It highlights a mysterious expense of $1594.67 charged to the hotel by Mr Gibson, for which he cannot account, and raises questions about an extra room booked by Mr Macdonald ''for no specific purpose''.
The report was ordered by Ms Keneally after the Herald revealed Mr Macdonald, his wife and two friends were given upgrades on Emirates Airlines, also owned by the sheikh, shortly after Mr Macdonald made a decision to allow racehorse breeding to continue in NSW during the 2007 equine influenza outbreak. The Herald also revealed that the upgrades were requested by members of the Hunter Valley thoroughbred community.
Among emails provided to investigators by Mr Gibson are some ''which appear to indicate'' Mr Macdonald's itinerary was organised through an employee of the Darley organisation, Emma Ridley.
''Darley is a global racehorse-breeding operation belonging to [the sheikh],'' the report notes. ''It operates horse-stud interests in the Hunter Valley.''
Ms Ridley also organised hotel bookings for the visit, using details of Mr Gibson's personal Visa card. When she was asked to provide the card's expiry date, Ms Ridley opted to confirm the reservations against Darley's ''credit facility''. However, the facility was never charged.
The report concluded that Mr Macdonald - who quit Parliament this week over the affair - charged the taxpayer $2815.50 for his flight to Dubai without the authorisation of Mr Iemma. He also improperly spent thousands of dollars on meals for his wife, Anita Gylseth, a colleague, Nick Papallo, and his unnamed wife, and Mr Macdonald's daughter, Sacha.
However, Mr Macdonald told investigators he did not know the flight had been booked through the government travel company. This was backed up by his secretary, Selina Rainger, who said he had not asked her to charge the flight to the government.
Mr Gibson told investigators he believed he was given permission by Mr Iemma to travel to Dubai at taxpayers' expense. The report finds Mr Gibson ''had some grounds for his belief'' - information provided to him by Adam Badenoch, Mr Macdonald's then chief of staff who recalled a letter authorising the flight.
However, Mr Iemma told investigators he had no recollection of the letter and it could not be found.
Tabling the report in Parliament yesterday, Ms Keneally said Mr Macdonald's resignation had been appropriate. ''Given the findings of the … report it was the proper course of action. Ian Macdonald would have had no option but to resign.''
She said the Department of Premier and Cabinet would review Mr Gibson's actions and would take disciplinary action if required.
Ms Keneally said attachments to the report would not be released publicly. ''They are being reviewed by the ICAC and contain personal and private information of both public officials and private citizens.
Last night, Mr Macdonald told Channel Nine that he was a victim of ''self-destructive'' leaks within the Labor Party.
He told the Herald: ''I have a clear conscience.''
He said the trip was ''worthwhile'' and any expenses outside of ministerial guidelines were taken mistakenly.
He has repaid the cost of the flight and a portion of the cost of the meals.
Darley said in a statement today: "Darley rejects all suggestions in the Australian media of impropriety regarding its actions relating to former Minister Ian Macdonald’s travel to Dubai in January 2008. Darley acts with the highest integrity at all times. Darley will cooperate with any official inquiry in relation to this matter."

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Ras al-Khaimah "coup": The Georgian connection

The 2003 coup in the Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah concluded when the UAE military took to the streets and restored order.  The UAE military would only have been involved if approval had come from the highest level ie the President with the approval, implicit or otherwise, of the rulers of the other Emirates.  Staging any sort of 'takeover' in RAK now would be to take a stand against, not just the current rulers of RAK, but the authority of federal law in the UAE. 
This piece from the Georgia Media Centre makes for interesting reading.
Source: Georgia Media Centre
Events in a small Gulf emirate could be about to turn Georgian politics upside down, with the ruler of Ras al-Khaimah, part of the United Arab Emirates, facing the prospect of being dethroned by the country's former ruler, Sheikh Khalid bin Saqr al-Qasimi.
Khalid was overthrown by his brother and father in 2003 - allegedly because he sought to improve women's rights in the absolutist statelet, whose name means "top of the tent" in Arabic.
Now, reports London's Guardian, Khalid is in the UAE negotiating to return to power - the culmination of a multi-million dollar campaign to return to the throne which, rather incongruously, seems to have been run out of a family solictor's office in the London suburb of Uxbridge.
The significance for Georgia is, following the Rose Revolution of late 2003, the new rulers of Ras al-Khaimah became the biggest single foreign investors in Georgia, through the state-owed Ras al-Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA).
The standard drill has been for RAKIA to get given an asset at a knock-down price (often because it was seized from the owners) and then, at least in theory, invest money. The signs for Rakeen - RAKIA's property arm - are a common sight around Tbilisi (such as Mtatsminda Park - pictured), but often the investment seems to be slower to follow.
RAKIA were also said to have financed the purchase of Imedi TV from Joseph Kay - the controversal US-based businessman who claimed that station founder Badri Patarkatsishvili had willed the station to him (a claim fiercely disputed by the widow and family of Patarkatsishvili, who died in England in 2008 after being forced into exile by the Saakashvili regime).
Joesph Kay, while protected in Georgia by the country's notoriously pliant courts, began to lose case after case to Patarkatsishvili's family and earlier this year the Ras al-Khaimah aithorities, in a less than fully convincing fashion, denied having ever been involved with Imedi.
If the current rulers of the emirate fall there could be profound implications for the Georgian government's finances and propaganda machine.

The RAK "coup": Sheikh Khalid replies

Sheikh Khalid's response to the Guardian article about a possible coup in the Emirate of Ras al Khaimah can be found here.

Abdullah Brothers: Poachers turned gamekeepers

The Abdullah Brothers ran Damas International, a jewellery company, and over time they 'used for unauthorised transactions' ie knicked, $165 million in cash and gold from the company.   They were found out, dismissed and ordered to repay the amount.  They then missed the first repayment but that's not considered a default (it would be for anyone else..) and now, lo and behold, the company they took the money from, gives them jobs as 'advisors'. 
 Source: ArabianBusiness 8 June 2010
Jewellery retailer Damas International said on Tuesday that it had appointed the company founders as senior advisors, just months after they were ordered to be dismissed for $165m of financial irregularities.
The company said Tawfique Abdullah, Tawhid Abdullah and Tamjid Abdullah had been appointed with immediate effect.
In March, Dubai's financial regulator said the Abdullah brothers owed the company $99.4 million cash plus the value of 1,940 kilograms of gold.
They were ordered to repay $165 million in "unauthorised transactions".
The brothers missed the first scheduled repayment of $55 million due in April but Damas said in May that the skipped payment, part of a settlement agreement, was not considered a default.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Damas said the appointments were "in line with the terms of the Enforceable Undertaking signed with the Dubai Financial Services Authority".
A spokesperson said: "Damas International Limited is pleased to announce the appointment of the Abdullah brothers as senior advisors to the company.
"At a time when Damas is going through a period of transition and pursuing a renewed strategy for its sustainable growth, the involvement of the Abdullah brothers in an advisory capacity provides us significant depth of knowledge and insight.
"In their roles, even though the involvement is strictly non executive, the company will benefit from their valuable advice on the unique aspects of the jewellery trade."
Last week, Damas said it expected to reach a debt restructuring deal with lenders by the end of June.
Damas is in talks with banks to restructure $872 million and is operating under a standstill agreement. The lenders, some 20 banks, include foreign names like Barclays and BNP Paribas.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A coup plot in RAK

Source: The Guardian 6 June
A bloodless coup to take control of an Arab Gulf state is being plotted by an unlikely alliance that includes a powerful firm of US lobbyists and a provincial English high-street solicitor.
Peter Cathcart, a 59-year-old lawyer from Farnham, has been hired by the ousted crown prince of Ras al-Khaimah (RAK) in the United Arab Emirates to co-ordinate the plot aimed at returning him to power after seven years in exile.
Documents seen by the Guardian show that Cathcart has acted as a paid agent for Sheikh Khalid bin Saqr al-Qasimi in a multimillion-pound campaign to "undermine the current regime's standing" and to force the leadership of the UAE in Abu Dhabi, which has powerful influence over the emirate, to "make a change".
RAK is a strategically important part of the UAE, 50 miles from Iran across the Strait of Hormuz, through which 17 million barrels of oil are shipped each day. Sheikh Khalid, 66, was ousted by his father and brother as de facto leader in 2003.
The campaign alleges the regime presents an international security threat because the kingdom has become "a rogue state and gateway for Iran", allowing the shipment of weapons, including nuclear weapons parts, drugs and blood diamonds as well as military personnel and terrorists from al-Qaida and other networks.
Cathcart, a miniature steam train enthusiast and chairman of his local parish council who operates from modest offices in the outer London suburbs, cuts an unlikely figure in the plot, which involves highly paid US PR consultants, Washington lobbyists and former US-special forces strategists hired at a cost of at least $3.7m (£2.6m). They include BSKH, the lobbying firm which helped Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi politician who opposed Saddam Hussein and was widely blamed for providing unsubstantiated evidence about weapons of mass destruction used as justification for an invasion of Iraq.
It is not suggested that Cathcart's involvement is unlawful.
The plotters have claimed the RAK regime is implicated in an alleged terror plot to blow up the world's tallest building in Dubai, and a possible Iranian attack on US participants in the America's Cup yachting race, due to take place in the emirate but later cancelled.
The campaign to return Sheikh Khalid to power comes amid international concern about Iran's nuclear programme, and the deposed sheikh's focus on links between RAK and Iran appears calculated to turn international opinion, particularly in Washington, against the family who rejected him.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, is among the US politicians including more than a dozen congressmen from whom Sheikh Khalid has sought support. In February, he made a speech in Washington in which he stated: "I am troubled that the current regime has allowed RAK to devolve into a rogue state and strategic gateway for Iran. Published reports in the Gulf region have repeatedly indicated that Iran has taken advantage of our free trade zones, using them as a transfer point to smuggle cargo, including arms, electronics, weapons parts, drugs and even humans to Africa, Europe and Asia."
His US communications team insists the claims are "well sourced", but they were rejected by the UAE embassy in London. The UAE also denied the Sheikh's claim that RAK has links to Iran's nuclear programme and that a port in RAK has in effect become an Iranian base, allowing Tehran to avoid international sanctions.
"These appear to be old, scurrilous rumours which Sheik Khalid has made on numerous occasions," a spokesman for the UAE said in a statement. "His claims are baseless and without foundation and should be seen in the context of his long-standing dispute with his family. We are surprised that these old allegations are now being rehashed once again."
Sources close to the plot believe it is now entering its endgame. Sheikh Khalid is understood to have returned to the UAE from exile in London last month and has been in Abu Dhabi meeting officials from the UAE federal government, they said.
The ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, is the UAE president and ratifies changes to the leadership of the emirates.
The plot has been under way since at least 2008, according to the documents seen by the Guardian. They show that Cathcart has overseen the disbursement of several million dollars to fund the plot and acted as an intermediary between PR consultants, lobbyists and Sheikh Khalid. Cathcart has also met congressmen in Washington DC on behalf of the sheikh and oversaw requests for new appointments to the team. On one occasion he was asked to approve win-bonuses for would-be US advisers of $250,000 per person if the sheikh returns to power.
Cathcart declined repeated requests by the Guardian to comment on his role.
Asked by the Guardian if "regime change" was a legitimate goal, the sheikh's communications team replied: "If you believe in the peace, prosperity and security of the region and in protecting US national security interests, of course. If you are pro-Iranian or believe that the questionable activities in RAK should be allowed to move forward without any concern, then you would probably not approve of our activities."

Monday, 7 June 2010

Laing O’Rourke to close its Middle East division

Source:, 6 June 2010
Laing O’Rourke will shut its Middle East division in the latest sign of the toll the global downturn has taken on the company.
The move follows deep cuts to the firm’s global workforce that have almost halved staff levels over the past year.
According to a Laing O’Rourke source that returned to the UK business from the Gulf this year, the worldwide workforce has been cut from 35,753 to about 20,000, largely as a result of the downturn in the UAE.
The closure of the division marks a significant change in strategy for the UK’s third-largest contractor, which relaunched the business with a three-region structure in 2006. The remaining hubs are Europe and Australasia, but the Middle East was the largest in terms of headcount.
The source said: “It’s been a nightmare for my family and hundreds of former colleagues who are out of work. The firm can’t employ more than 4,500 workers and 900 professional staff in the Middle East now, which is down from about 16,000 and 5,000 during the boom - a fall of about three-quarters.”
The closure follows the return of Norman Haste, formerly chief operating officer of the Middle East hub, to the UK late last year to spearhead the company’s push into the energy market. He was not replaced as head of the regional business, whose remaining operations will be overseen by the firm’s head office in Dartford, Kent.
The move to cut the division, which included south Asia, also follows the winding down of a joint venture with Indian firm DLF, which is understood to have little work on its books.
Despite the closure, the £4bn-turnover firm is expected to maintain a presence in the Middle East and will continue to have a relationship with Abu Dhabi developer Aldar, with whom it is working on the 54bn dirham (£10bn) Al Raha beach project. Previous jobs in the region included the 5.5bn dirham Atlantis hotel in Dubai.
The source added: “They will keep good relations with the ruling families, but will never be in a situation again where there is such a dependency on a market where it is hard to get your money back if things go wrong.”
The extent of the company’s debt in the Middle East is unknown, but according to its 2009 accounts its turnover in the region doubled to £829m, which compares with £300m at Balfour Beatty and £600m at Carillion, the two largest UK contractors.
A Laing O’Rourke spokesperson declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Laing O’Rourke is using its Australasia business as a springboard into Hong Kong. It is is pushing to win rail infrastructure work in the Chinese territory

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Standards must be maintained.

"I'm off to the Co-op Darling"

As you probably know, Dubai's malls and many individual shops in the suburbs display posters at the entrances warning customers to wear 'respectful clothing'. Most of these posters show a sketch of a female dress that covers both shoulders and knees. Now, in an interesting possible development, the Union Co-Op in Satwa has a 'respectful clothing' poster at the entrance which shows a female figure wearing a floor length dress not unlike an abaya. This is the first time I've seen a 'full length dress' poster. I have one floor length dress, its a ball gown and I'm sure as hell not wearing it to the Co-op in Satwa. (The Co-op was full of Phillipinas in shorts and spaghetti straps, not one of them was wearing a full length ball gown so it seems the clothing message has been lost in translation along the way somewhere.)

There's a s*x shop in the Gulf somewhere?

Not many details in this article, no location given, though that might be deliberate, and the photos in the article show the sort of stuff you can buy in any of the fancy shops in the malls.  Still, the publicity is sure to cause a stir and I imagine the owner will be receiving a visit in the near future from the Ministry of Labour or somesuch. 
Source: NineMSN (Australia)
Wearing a veil and modest, flowing abaya, Khadija Ahmed looks an unlikely owner of the conservative Gulf's first sex shop.
She sees nothing wrong, however, with selling "joy jelly," edible undies or the vibrating accoutrements offered by such niche boutiques around the world, insisting that nothing in Islam forbids the pleasures of the bedroom.
"It's not a sex shop in the Western sense," she explained, "but a place to help married couples, and only married couples, enjoy sex to the full."