Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The end of another Dubai tradition?

A tradition we can actually do without is the one where motorists who have minor prangs and no injuries have to stand around in the sun and the dust waiting for a police patrol to arrive.

Without a written police report the insurance company won't pay up and workshops, officially, won't repair the damage.

According to Brigadier Mohammad Saif Al Zafein, Director of the Dubai Police Traffic Department, there is at least one minor traffic accident every three minutes in Dubai, and he says that each takes 10 to 15 minutes to resolve.

I think he's just quoting the time at the scene doing the paperwork and not including the time the police patrol takes to get to and from the incident.

One every three minutes is 480 a day and that's a huge amount of police time wasted when they could instead be patrolling to clamp down on inconsiderate and dangerous driving.

Now the Traffic Department has met with the Emirates Insurance Association to discuss the possibility of referring minor car accidents, which are not subject to dispute, directly to the insurance companies.

That happens in many other countries. The drivers involved exchange contact and insurance details, get a witness name and contact details if necessary and then go on their way. Later they complete an insurance claim form.

Brig. Al Zafein said that "99 per cent of minor accidents do not involve disputes" and the police really shouldn't have to waste time on them.

He says that if the proposal is approved, the Traffic Department will train insurance companies on how to deal with, examine and assess minor accidents.

I think there'll also need to be education of motorists because there are bound to be some, maybe many, who have no experience of the system from their home countries.

The story is in Gulf News, here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Another stroll down Memory Lane

My postings on Old Dubai are always popular and I've been fossicking around to see what I have with me from my time here in the seventies & eighties.

I've found some more photographs which I'm sorting out and I'll try to post them in the near future.

Meanwhile, I came across a couple of books from the early eighties, which some of you may remember. Both were published by what is now Motivate but then was called What's On Publishing.

This was published in June 1984, written and photographed by another friend, Bob Milne Home, who was then Marketing & Tours Manager at DNATA.

Friendships made in Dubai have lasted I'm pleased to say. Bob's been back in the UK for a long time now but we keep in regular contact. We've visited him in his very nice old cottage in the UK and we also had dinner with him when he visited Dubai a couple of months ago on a short business trip.

He used to write a column in the early 'What's On' magazine and then put together this excellent book.

The other book I found was this one, published in February 1983 and compiled by Bryn Jones, a stalwart of Dubai Radio's Morning Show.
A regular feature of the show was the 'Dubai Diners Delight' segment, which featured recipes sent in by listeners. It was so popular that it was decided to put a selection of the recipes into a book.

In addition to the huge variety of recipes the book carries advertisements which are fascinating to look at. Here's what the Dubai Metropolitan on Sheikh Zayed Road, then simply called Abu Dhabi Road, looked like back then...

Hotels featured strongly in the advertising and here are two familiar landmarks:

Leisure facilities were fewer back then, but a foretaste of what was to come twenty years later...

Dubai's first mall, then known as the largest building in the Middle East, had a favourite children's area...

Other ads give some indication of the lack of sophistication in the advertising industry, because it was still very much pioneering days in the early eighties...

The DNATA book has some excellent photographs, Bob being a very gifted photographer as well as writer.
One of my favourites amongst his thousands of shots is this one of the Trade Centre, then our tallest building and the best known landmark.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Metro affecting property prices

There's another hint that Dubai's property market is edging towards some sanity, in a report in 'The National' this morning.

It seems that one of the factors taken into consideration in mature markets, proximity to transport links, is coming into play here.

If you look at property ads in other countries you'll see that if there's a nearby rail station, bus stop or freeway/motorway exit it will be included as a selling point.

In the same way, Dubai Metro stations are now beginning to have an effect on prices according to Landmark Properties.

They point to Jumeirah Lake Towers where they say that property very close to a Metro station attracts higher demand and about Dh50 per square foot more than comparable property further from the station. It doesn't sound a lot but on a 1,500 sq ft apartment it means a premium of Dh75,000.

There's also, incidentally, support for sceptics about the Metro who've been saying that even a short walk to a station won't be acceptable for Dubai residents. Landmark says that the higher demand is only for properties almost directly outside a station.

I think there are three problems the Metro will face; our unwillingness to walk any distance to a station, our unwillingness to stand around waiting for a bus to get to the station, and the slowness of the journey.

That's maybe something for another posting though, so back to the property issue.

There's also a general feeling expressed in 'The National' report that rents will be higher for properties near Metro stations, again reflecting what happens in mature markets.

That applies not only in New Dubai but also in the older areas such as Bur Dubai and Deira.

There's another interesting point in the report. Landmark Advisory say that in the first quarter of the year the average sale price for completed and nearly completed apartments and villas fell 34 per cent. Unfortunately it doesn't say which period that compares with.

The interesting part to me relates to the values. They say average residential sales prices are now at the level they were at the end of 2007.

I've expressed the opinion several times before about buyers losing money - it depends when they bought, what they paid and whether they sell at the bottom of the trough. There've been endless claims that everyone who's bought property has lost a packet, much of it gleeful, gloating that buyers were stupid and deserved their losses.

In fact the Landmark figures show that only people buying in the last year and a half may have property worth less than they paid. And they won't actually lose unless they sell for less than they paid. If they don't sell they lose nothing.

But back to the question of the market maturing, and the Metro station effect does add another hint that it probably is.

The National report is here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Property sanity?

There's a hint in a report in 'Gulf News' that Dubai's property market may be edging towards some sanity.

Better Homes and Landmark, two major real estate agents, are talking about some price increases over the past two months.

Ignoring the price rise claims, because they're average prices in a one month period, the encouraging part is that they talk about property in specific locations rather than generalising about the whole of Dubai.

And at long last we're hearing terms which are normal in sensible property markets. Phrases such as: "Developments in certain locations, with high build quality and facilities are experiencing price increases." "Prices are increasing, dependent on the location of the property and the quality of the building." "Location, views, amenities and infrastructure determine prices."

Those things have largely been ignored in Dubai's property market in the past.

It's long overdue after the absolute chaos of the free-for-all since freehold property for foreigners was announced in early 2002.

Until very recently there were no laws in place, nothing governing real estate agents or brokers, no escrow accounts, no protection for buyers and often no contracts were issued until after the money had been paid.

Although an awful lot of people have lost money, especially since the world-wide economic crisis hit, I'm amazed the numbers are as low as they are.

Developers, completely unknown to investors, sold off-the-plan apartments and villas before any work whatsoever had begun. Many buyers, more than a few never having visited Dubai, bought on faith alone, and perhaps greed, from plans and an artist's impression of the finished building and neighbourhood. It wasn't unusual for the plans, specs and renderings to be somewhat economical with the truth.

Many developers had no capital but relied on payments from investors to fund the projects. It would have been easy for the developers to pocket the money and run, but surprisingly few did.

Prices bore little relationship to reality. Master developers initially sold at way below what the market was prepared to pay. That encouraged speculators to leap in and on-sell almost immediately at a huge profit. It wasn't unusual for speculators to have no finance, they simply on-sold before the payment was due.

Stories appeared about the huge profits to be made and the market took on a life of its own with speculators and investors pouring in and pushing prices to ludicrous and unsustainable levels.

The end result, a finished building, didn't matter, didn't come into the picture. What was being bought and sold wasn't a building but simply a way to make a quick buck, and that worked for a while.

But each trade was nearer to the end product and that's where the rules of buying real estate began to loom.

In the feeding frenzy the rules governing real estate buying were ignored. Location, quality, price weren't considered. People who bought at the peak and the year or two leading up to it now have negative equity. Many will lose their property and their money, just as they do all over the world.

Many more are going to lose their money because since the economic crisis hit developers are being found out. If they didn't have finance for the project, or if they diverted income to other projects, the project is in trouble and may never be finished - or started in some cases.

When the dust settles there'll be the early speculators gleefully counting their huge profits but plenty of others counting their losses.

In future there'll be fewer developers, fewer developments, more care taken in design and build quality, more realistic prices. We should also see the rules of property buying being applied and maybe, just maybe, this report indicates that's started to happen.

You can read the report here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Behind the Blue Banana story

The local media has given extensive coverage to the bluebanana.com story, although surprisingly I haven't seen anything in the British press, yet.

Briefly, Simon Ford the founder of the internet 'events and alternative gifts company' fled the country because his company was on the verge of bankruptcy, owing large amounts of money.

He's not the first to do that of course - but he hit the news because he wrote a letter to 'the Dubai public' trying to explain his actions and promising to pay all debts in due course.

In the letter he says that personal threats were made and that "certain individuals arrived at my place of residence in Dubai at the start of Sunday, confirming that the follow through on many of the threats was very real".

That's not unique to Dubai. In peaceful, law-abiding Singapore I briefly worked for a company which was not paying suppliers and several of them sent heavies to the office to seriously threaten the management.

But the real issue the story raises in my opinion is that the laws on bankruptcy and in particular on bounced cheques needs urgent attention.

As residents will presumably know, writing post dated cheques is, bizarrely in the 21st century, still a normal way to do business in the UAE.

Two things make that dangerous. One, the cheques cannot be cancelled. Two, if they bounce it is a criminal offence.

Even the Dubai Police Chief, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, has been calling for it to be de-criminalised and made a civil matter, as it is in most other countries.

We do have bankruptcy laws but business people and lawyers have been calling for them to be updated.

There's another problem which I've mentioned in previous posts. Spending time in jail before charge or trial while investigations are carried out. This happens in all kinds of instances when allegations are made against someone.

Whether someone would be sent to Al Slammer in reality is perhaps less the issue than the widespread perception that it may happen. Not willing to take the risk, people understandably skip the country.

Many of our laws need updating which means a heavy workload for the lawmakers and the advisors who are called in. In fairness, laws are being changed but these areas need particularly urgent attention from three viewpoints. One, it means too many people are in jail when they really shouldn't be. Two, the police and courts are spending too much time on cases which really should't be classed as criminal. Three, the present laws don't gel with Dubai's reliance on business and with its future so dependent on business thriving and growing.

'Arabian Business' has Simon Ford's story here and comments from lawyers here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The egg genie

I always enjoy reading the reports about black magic and genies and my thanks to Jess for sending me the link to 7Days' latest update on the magic world.

It seems to be a more common phenomenon than I'd realised, magicians casting their spells about one a week on average. Well many more than that I'm sure because that's the number dealt with by the police.

It's such a problem that Dubai Police have a special department within Dubai CID with a team of officers dedicated to the subject.

7Days have an interview with Brigadier Khaleel Al-Mansouri, the head of CID, who gives some intereresting examples.

I particularly liked the genies and the eggs story.

It was actually a sting operation, the client being an undercover cop.

He was told to bring a tray of eggs to the magician's house where genies would put $100 into each egg.

The magician did some acting and abracadabra-ing, then sent the client/cop out of the room to fetch some water.

You'll never guess...

He switched a real egg for one which already had $100 in it and told the client/cop to stamp on it to get the money.

The cops arrested him - and thought it was particularly funny that the real egg he'd hidden smashed in his pocket

Here's the story.

PS to dangerous driving post

Yesterday I posted about the standard of driving on our roads, tailgating being one of the dangerous stunts all-too-many drivers insist on inflicting on the rest of us.

Here's an example from this morning, on Al Sufouh Road where traffic from Dubai Marina and Palm Jumeirah merges.

The right lane in the photograph is about to end and traffic in it has to merge left.

In about 100metres, a few seconds, the road becomes three lanes so there's ample room to overtake.

The small white sedan is doing the right thing travelling at the speed limit of 80kph and there's nowhere for him to go, but a 4X4 driver isn't prepared to travel at the speed limit and can't wait for an overtaking opportunity. He got much closer than this too.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Our dangerous roads

Over the past few months I came to the conclusion that the standard of driving in Dubai has improved.

Wrong. It was a false conclusion.

The last two days I've encountered a couple of the things which I haven't come across for a while but used to see on a daily basis, pushing into queues and using the hard shoulder to get to the front.

That made me realise that what's happened to give a false impression of the driving standards is that there are more roads with fewer vehicles on them.

It's not that people have learnt that it's wrong to drive to the front of a queue in the wrong lane and then force their way in. The reality is that there are fewer tailbacks so there isn't the opportunity for them to do it.

The other thing that hasn't changed is speeding, or overspeeding as I'm amused to see it referred to in the media.

On Sheikh Zayed Road when the speed limit was reduced to 100kph I was, and still am, amazed at the large number of drivers who observe the limit.

But inevitably there's a percentage who still weave in and out at high speed, tailgating and light flashing. Fewer than previously according to my observation but still enough to make life dangerous.

I don't see much change in the speed at which buses, trucks and minivans are hurled about the streets either.

There's a problem with speed, too, in residential areas. A major factor is that we have too many divided multi-lane roads (dual carriageways) in residential areas, which the morons take full advantage of. About three weeks ago Chris Saul complained that it was a fact of life in Old Town and we also have it in Dubai Marina. Speed limit is clearly signed as 60kph but between 80 and 100 is the norm.

I don't know whether the crash, death and injury figures are coming down but I'm guessing that I see fewer crashes simply because we have more roads and less congestion.

That brings me on to the World Health Organisation's Global Status Report on Road Safety.

With things changing so rapidly in Dubai the figures are not all that meaningful because they're from 2007. However they do tell us what the situation was then and how we compared with other countries.

A couple of things to add about the report. Countries submitted their own data and they self-rated themselves on law enforcement and that needs to be kept in mind when reading the country profiles.

The report shows that in 2007 our roads were amongst the most dangerous in the world. For deaths on the roads we had 37.1 deaths per 100,000 poulation against a global average of 18.8.

I have to question the UAE's percentage claims on law enforcement because, as I've said many times, that's where we have a problem. Too few traffic police out on the streets and too many people getting away with dangerous driving.

Yet on enforcement of speed laws our police claim 7 out of 10, on enforcing seat belt laws they claim 7 out of 10. I think that sounds very optimistic.

Another interesting point was pedestrian deaths. That's received a lot of coverage with calls for more pedestrian bridges, something that we certainly do need. But is that the answer? If you compare our pedestrian deaths figure with other countries it seems to be a simplistic view of the problem.

I looked at countries which I know or which are relevant to many people living here. Pedestrians account for 28% of our road deaths. Compare that with Singapore, where they drive very much more slowly and have plenty of pedestrian crossings, but their figure is 27%. The UK has 21%, Australia 13%, South Africa 39%, while in the Philippines Metro Manila has a staggering 51%.

(I looked at India too of course, given the big Indian community here, but the figures they gave are too vague, with 'other' and 'unspecified' making up 40% of the the breakdown).

Another section of the UAE country report shows two things which need urgent attention:

While we have a seat belt law it's shown as not applying to all occupants of a vehicle. It should.

We have no child restraints law. We should have.

WHO report is here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dubai in the news again

The British press is like a dog with a bone over Dubai.

For several years there were the gushing 'miracle of Dubai' stories, recently replaced by the 'built on sand' stories.

Both types generally have the same basic problems, lack of context, lack of history, doubtful claims, incorrect information, and usually a complete lack of balance.

The latest was in The Times yesterday, headlined with the old cliche "Dubai's dream is built on sand".

Oh dear.

Over the years there seems to be only three headlines they can come up with 'The Miracle of Dubai', 'Built On Sand', 'Dubai's Dark Dream'.

Where did creativity go?

Anyway, this one starts with the same old problems, there's no history, as though Dubai suddenly appeared out of the desert in 2000. There's no context either and it talks about the place as though it's the only one hit by the economic crisis, the only one with a property slump and high debts.

All of this is something that requires the attention of the new Media Office for Brand Dubai by the way. Giving information, placing stories, about Dubai's history as a trading, commercial and retail centre from it's very beginnings.

An example of lack of context in this latest article is 'house prices are down by as much as 50%' without saying that relates to September's peak. As one of the comments points out, 'although property is down 50%, it is 100% more than in 2004'.

It also cherrypicks one prediction, that property prices will fall a further 20%. It chooses to ignore other predictions that prices have reached bottom.

But there's also good stuff too, such as the poor decision on the new property-related visa, about the apparent slowness to react to the crisis and in particular about the lack of transparency and communication. That's something government and business here is struggling to come to terms with, although I think there's evidence that things are improving.

It's really culture and tradition. Those in charge, whether of companies or government, have traditionally just made decisions and got on with it. No communication, no transparency because it wasn't needed, people just accepted that was the way things were done here.

When you think about it there've been huge changes in these areas in a very short period and although there's a long way to go we're generally moving in the right direction.

Unlike almost all the previous pieces on Dubai this latest one does bring in some balance in the second part and it includes a range of opinions.

As always I like to read the comments, and again there's some balance from the 26 currently on the website as I write this, including as usual comments from the extremes.

The article is here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Checking the checker.

I was going through the stats on today's visitors to this blog and came upon a new and interesting one.

Here's a copy & paste of it:

Referrer http://dubai.dubizzle.com/blog/community-blog/pr-office-for-brand-dubai/

IP Address [Label IP Address]
Country United Arab Emirates
Region Dubai
City Dubai
ISP The Executive Council - Government Of Dubai

So someone at Dubai's Executive Council is reading the UAE Community Blog at Dubizzle and coming from there to individual posts which obviously interest them.

Here's where they went on this blog:

Navigation Path

21st June 2009
Page View
21st June 2009
Page View
21st June 2009
Page View
21st June 2009
Exit Link
21st June 2009
Page View
21st June 2009
Exit Link
21st June 2009
Exit Link
21st June 2009
Page View
21st June 2009
Page View
21st June 2009
Page View

To summarise, they spent nearly nine minutes reading the posts about the new Brand Dubai Media Affairs Office, the Sally Antia story (that's the British mother jailed after her husband dobbed her in to the police for having an affair, including going to the links I gave to UK newspaper stories), the Ebony & Ivory Towers story, in which investors claimed they were mislead by phony photos.

And then they clicked on my label 'Dubai expensive?'

I don't know about you but I think that's encouraging.

It doesn't seem to be someone idling away time at the office by surfing the net because they selected particular posts. From their choice of reading matter it seems to be someone looking for information, for feedback, in areas they're involved with.

Since blogging started, surprisingly not all that long ago, I've thought that blogs which are mainly about news, and are of the op-ed type, give a good idea of the view from the street. An indication of what people are thinking about and what their thoughts are. That includes not only the posts themselves but also the comments left on them.

The UAE Community Blog has quite a few in that category with a range of views on most subjects, so reading them isn't a bad way for an organisation to do some simple desk research.

One of the many advantages of the internet is that it's made it much easier to check on public opinion.

There was an interesting article in the 'Financial Times' the other day on the subject. It was mainly about commercial organisations and how they can use the internet, and especially social networking sites, to their advantage - although most don't.

But the same applies to government departments, particularly as we hear more and more about governments being out of touch with the people. They can, and should, use the net to find out what people are talking about, what concerns we have, what our opinions are.

I think that's what this person from the Dubai Executive Council was doing and I'm all for it.

I'd be interested to know from other UAE bloggers who've had visits from them which stories they were reading. In the to-and-fro flow of information it gives us an indication of what they're particularly concerned about.

The 'Financial Times' article is well worth reading and you can find it here.

Memory Lane, Dubai

I was having an e-mail conversation yesterday with Len Chapman of the great nostalgic and informative website 'Dubai As It Used To Be'. I have a link to it over there on the right.

He told me that he's uploaded to the site a great Dubai anthem from the seventies and eighties, 'Back in Dubai' by Sal Davies.

Going back to my earlier post about our mobile disco, we had a copy of the original seven inch 45rpm vynil record in our collection and played it at every gig. When we sold the disco the record went with it and I've been looking for another copy for years.

The one available on the net is slightly later, from an album made in '83 or '84 by Sal with The Establishment.

A couple of bloggers have given links over the past few months so I now have it in my Favourites folder. A great bouncy song and one that always went down well at the discos.

It was a long time ago but I remember that Sal had a regular gig at the Safari Club. I can't now remember the hotel that was part of - either the Carlton Tower or the Riviera I think. Certainly on Baniyas Road along the Creek in Deira. Sal was from Africa, Kenya I think, or maybe Tanzania.

Len was also asking about another, later, song and I was able to remind him that it was 'Life in the Emirates' - that's online too so we can listen to it again, thankfully.

First, I'll give you the link to the 'Dubai As It Used To Be' page with the record. Have a listen but do spend some time on the site, it's fascinating, nostalgic for those of us who were here back then and is probably a real eye opener to those of you who weren't.

It's also a historical document because it talks about the people and some of the events which helped to build Dubai, from before the UAE was formed in 1971 and through the seventies and eighties. It has fantastic photographs too.

'Back in Dubai' is here.

If you'd like to hear the other track I mentioned you can find that here: 'Life in the Emirates'.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Another school bus story

My friend Amir regularly sends me e-mails about all sorts of things, many of them amusing films, stories or photographs.

I thought I'd share this one with you as it's topical, given the stories about school buses we've had in the media over recent weeks.

It must have been taken in New Delhi but as there's no information I can't give a credit to the photographer.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Reality check

I'm not the only one who complains about the standard of customer service we have to put up with in Dubai, it's a fairly common complaint.

But I also point out every so often that many of the things we suffer from in Dubai really aren't any different to those people around the world come up against.

An example of that is the current economic crisis.

Plenty of people talk about how Dubai is suffering from the downturn. Much of that is with undisguised glee which, incidentally, surprises and annoys me. To gloat about other people's misfortune isn't acceptable.

But we're not suffering any more than the rest of the world, in fact we're weathering the storm somewhat better than many places. Property price slump, unemployment, money hard to get, cancelled projects are all happening worldwide.

A couple of examples which confirm that Dubai really isn't very different have just popped up, both from a blogger I enjoy reading. First, have a look at Keith's comment on my last posting about the lack of safety.

Then read Keith's post on the customer service he experiences in the UK. It's an infuriating example which had me giggling as I read it.

I won't copy it here, just click on this link to read about his attempt to spend money in his local garden centre: At Home with Keith.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Safety, what safety?

The National reports a near tragedy in Dubai Mall yesterday, when a four year old boy fell 5.5 metres down an open and unfenced manhole.

He was extremely lucky that a ladder in the hole broke his fall and he sustained only minor injuries with some facial bruising and a cut finger.

The worker was inside the hole getting safety barriers to place around it when the accident happened.

Whoa! Hold it right there.

The 'accident' didn't happen, it was caused.

Caused by the fact that the barriers were inside the hole, meaning that it had to be left unsecured while they were brought out. They should be stored outside the hole so that they could be erected around it before the cover was taken off.

Basic, basic stuff. Stupidity. Would the safety manager care to comment I wonder?

But that's not the worst information in the story.

Look at this:

In the 30 minutes...it took for the ambulance to arrive at the scene – apparently it had difficulty reaching the accident spot because of height restrictions...

They built it too low for an ambulance to get in! What about the fire brigade? Must be too low for them too I imagine.

I know construction people read this blog and I'd appreciate your input.

I can't believe there are no building regulations about access for emergency services. If there are then the mall must contravene them.

If that's the case it must be closed until modifications which protect public safety are completed.

Here's The National report.

Those were the days

The publicity surrounding 'What's On' magazine's thirtieth birthday prompts me to indulge myself and wallow in memories about the good ol' days in Dubai.

'Wallowing' because I was there at the conception and birth of the magazine, I even wrote a story for the first edition. The founder of the magazine, and what is now the publishing empire of Motivate Publishing, Ian Fairservice is a good friend from way back then.

I'm still embarrassed about the story, it was so bad. I was horrendously busy at the office, people were constantly coming in with their problems and in the middle of it all I dashed it off in a couple of minutes...

That brings to mind a change in Dubai, working hours. We worked, officially, 8 to 1 and 4 to 7 Sunday through Wednesday, 8 to 2 on Thursday. Weekend was what was left of Thursday plus Friday. I say 'officially' because in reality we worked through much of the siesta time and never left at the official finishing time, so a sixty hour or more week was quite normal.

In fact I met Ian before he moved here. I was, as wasn't unusual, sitting in the Banjo Bar at the Excelsior Hotel one evening. Ian was here for his interview as Assistant General Manager and we got chatting as he wanted to know about living and working in Dubai.

A few weeks later I was sitting in the Banjo Bar, again, when Ian came in and told me he'd accepted the job and had just moved to Dubai.

The Excelsior was my 'local' because it was near my apartment, and there really wasn't a lot of choice back then. I lived on the top floor of a brand new building in Deira - Al Ghurair Centre was subsequently built not far from it. In 1977 it looked like this...

The Excelsior was one of not many hotels back then and like most buildings in Dubai was surrounded by sand.

The original hotel brochure had a somewhat misleading photograph on the cover. We'd had some rain and the big puddle which appeared outside the hotel gave the photographer an idea, the sort of shot he'd seen waterfront hotels overseas use...

The old Excelsior eventually became Sheraton Deira. If you know it now you'll realise just how much the city has changed.

Ian and I became firm friends and a little later we bought a mobile disco. That's another hint at Dubai back then. There was a disco at the Inter.Continental hotel on the Creek, I seem to remember another at, I think, the Riviera hotel, there was a mobile disco sponsored by Marlboro cigarettes and us. That was it.

We really started it as a bit of fun but there was a big demand and we did pretty well out of it, getting Dh750 for each gig. We had the latest disco records (yes, vinyl discs folks) sent from the UK by friends, shared the deejaying, the setting up and dismantling, lugged the heavy equipment around in the heat and humidity.

Power cuts weren't unusual in those days which meant lifts weren't operating and on more than one occasion, in the early hours of the morning, we had to stagger up the stairs to my sixth floor apartment several times with speakers, lights, boxes of records, the disco console. We consoled ourselves by telling each other the fee made it worthwhile.

We did one-offs in private houses and various places like Dubai Country Club and the Indian Club and we had regular gigs at places like the RAK Hotel and Al Ain Hilton.

Ian had an old Range Rover which we used to transport the gear on roads which were a bit different from those we drive on today. Here's the disco on the Dubai-Ras Al Khaimah Road...

And here's the Dubai-Al Ain road...

I was managing an advertising agency and when Ian decided to leave the hotel and start 'What's On' we had many a long chat about the viability, how it could be succesful, the kind of content, whether to have a cover price. I didn't even dream that it would still be going strong thirty years later, much less that it would have morphed into a publishing empire and all credit to Ian for what he's achieved.

Putting it in context you have to realise that back then there was no English media and Dubai was a very different place. He was going into, to use a cliche, uncharted waters.

Population was maybe 250,000 to 300,000. Emiratis made up a much larger percentage of the population than they do now but there was still a large and varied expat population. Entertainment was very limited, there were very few hotels, no tourist industry. Was there enough happening to provide content for a 'What's On' magazine? Were there enough advertisers to support it? Were there enough people who'd read it?

Actually there was one English-language thing to read, called Recorder. It had changed from its earlier name of Reuters because it was actually nothing to do with Reuters, it was a local invention. It was simply copies of Reuters wire stories on A4 paper stapled together. To advertise to the English-speaking audience we printed our own A4 leaflets, one or both sides, and they were stapled, for a fee of course, into Recorder.

Photographers were thin on the ground as was all the infrastructure the ad industry needed, models for example. We had to use friends and colleages - this photo from the Excelsior brochure is an example. Amateur it looks and amateur indeed it is. Those are real waiters serving Ian and a staff member pretending to be guests.

The usual thing to do was to clip photographs from overseas magazines and use them as artwork. Copyright wasn't something to bother with. Those were the days? Maybe not after all.

Most of my photographs from the old days are back in Australia but I have a few with me and I came across this one of Ian, which I'm sure he won't mind me going public with, and it gives another glimpse of a very different Dubai.

This is Jumeirah beach, what's now Jumeirah Beach Park next to the Dubai Marine Resort.

Ian in the lounger, lead guitarist and singer from the band then playing at the Excelsior's Eve Super Club (which we assumed should have been Supper Club), big George Haddad the security man and a couple of hotel guests.

Actually, yes those were the good ol' days.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sally's out

Here's an update on my post of a couple of weeks ago about Sally, dobbed in to the police in Dubai by her husband for being in a hotel with another man.

It resulted in two months in Al Slammer for Sally and her paramour Mark.

According to The Times she's been released two weeks early (no mention of whether Mark was also released) and has flown to Australia with her husband.

None of it makes any sense to me, these are not unworldly fouteen year olds. She'd lived here for twelve years so was fully aware of the law on sex outside marriage; she presumably knew her husband well enough to realise he might turn her in; having done that he claims to have said he didn't want to press charges; he regularly visited her in Al Slammer and she said she was trying to be 'not bitter'.

The article also says that 'it was suggested that the trip to Australia might be a permanent move in an attempt to start afresh', another for the 'I Don't Understand' file.

Anyone who's tried to emigrate to Australia will know how very difficult it is. Just hop on a plane to Brisbane for a permanent move? In your dreams.

The Times story is here. As I often suggest, do enjoy the comments left by readers.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Manipulating the market

The story of Emaar and the huge Saudi contract is going to be with us for a while because the UAE's stock market regulator has told the DFM to demand a full explanation.

On Saturday it was announced by Kingdom Holdings that they had selected Emaar to be in charge of developing and supervising construction of Kingdom City, to include the world's tallest tower at over one kilometre, a project worth a total of $26.7 billion.

Not surprisingly, Emaar's shares jumped over 7% on the news.

Emaar subsequently denied the reports and naturally their shares tumbled, by 5.74%

Let me digress. It's one of the absurdities of stock markets, that share prices can be, and are, manipulated by interested parties. They rise and fall on any or no news.

Most often there's no news, no change in anything whatsoever as far as the company and its operation is concerned, yet the shares go up and down all day. The shares are simply bought and sold as a commodity in their own right.

Mrs Seabee spent a while day trading on the Sydney Stock Exchange. Very often she would buy and sell shares in the same company several times in a day and bank considerable profits at the end of the day. None of the rises and falls were based on news from or about the company, simply on the sale or purchase of the shares.

Just imagine you're in charge of one of the pension funds with billions of dollars at your disposal. You sell a very large block of shares in a company, other investors see the trade, think something's up and sell too. The share price drops...at which point the pension fund buys back its big block of shares at the new lower price. It still has its original share holding plus a profit on the trade.

I'm not saying that's what happened with the Kingdom/Emaar events but it would be interesting for DFM to check into share trading between the announcements.

Kingdom Holdings says...
Emaar says...

Heavy handed policing

Gulf News carries a story today about a construction worker being detained by police and facing deportation.

He was apparently in a restaurant when a plainclothes police officer accused him of begging.

Here's what Kumar said he did:

"We had Dh1 for a Pepsi and wanted to buy another worker a drink. My friend asked me to get him Dh1 to buy a Pepsi. I asked one of our colleagues if he could lend us the money."

If that's true and the full story then arresting him, detaining him for days and putting him on trial really is way over the top.

Here's the story.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Suspected food poisoning kills two more children.

A little girl died from food poisoning in Sharjah a couple of weeks ago and now there's another similar tragedy, this time in Dubai.

Two young children have died, food poisoning being the probable cause.

Five year old Nathan and his seven year old sister Chelsea were rushed to hospital by their mother, who was suffering from the same symptoms, after eating a take-away Chinese meal.

Nathan was pronounced dead on arrival, Chelsea was treated in intensive care but couldn't be saved and their mother recovered.

The health authorities are investigating and they know which restaurant the food came from, so I assume we'll soon know what, where, how.

Worldwide, thousands of people die each year from food poisoning, even in the most advanced countries, so it's probably inevitable that we'll have some deaths here. But what a waste of three young lives. Particularly as basic hygiene and correct food handling could prevent it.

Gulf News has the story.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

PR office for Brand Dubai

A Dubai Media Affairs Office has been established by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid. An excellent move, although I think it's unfortunate that it wasn't set up six or seven years ago.

Had it been it may have been able to head off, or at least temper, some of the more outrageous articles written about Dubai over that period. It might also have meant that some of the inaccuracies we've seen could have been avoided.

We had years of fawning stories from 'journalists' flown in by Emirates for two or three days, lodged at Emirates Towers or Madinat Jumeirah and given a whistle-stop tour of New Dubai. Their excited, breathless reports were often way over-the-top and all too often carried rumours as fact and too many inaccuracies. Enthusing about the city's traditional souks having seen only Madinat Jumeirah for example.

I suspect it was all simply accepted here because it was positive publicity, but if so that was naive. The western media delights in setting up then chopping down and all that hyperbole was setting Dubai up.

Inevitably, more recently we've seen the other extreme from them, moving from everything's wonderful and perfect to everything's bad and evil.

Had DMAO been in place maybe a more reasonable, accurate course could have been steered than the two extremes we've seen.

With so many negative stories having appeared recently the DMAO starts on the back foot but by being honest, transparent, easily accessible and providing hard facts the situation can be turned around.

The appointment of Mona Al Merri as CEO is good on two counts. One, she has the background and experience the position needs. Two, the simple fact that a female is in the position in itself answers one of the criticisms often directed at the area.

I like some of her comments:

"Dubai Brand will furnish media organisations with solid figures about business activities in the emirate and will make sure to reflect the true picture about what is happening in the country," she said.Dubai Brand is committed to making the access to information easier and elminating speculation about activities in the country.

"The establishment of Dubai Brand is part of a general policy to ensure transparency in all aspects in Dubai."

Solid figures, true picture, transparency, information - I like words like that.

I also agreed with what Gulf News had to say in an editorial today:

Brand Dubai must at all times be careful to ensure that its dealings with the media and others are honest and credible and that its efforts to protect and promote the image of the emirate do not descend into unhelpful propaganda. The success of Brand Dubai will depend on it promoting the emirate's achievements and being honest about its challenges.

She'll have her work cut out though and I'm sure she'll meet some resistance from businesses and officials, but Sheikh Mohammed's backing will help enormously.

Articles from which I've quoted:

Dubai Media Affairs Office created.

GN Editorial.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Al Khor

I was in my favourite part of Dubai yesterday and had my little pocket digital camera with me.

Coming in from New Dubai I find it easiest to park in Shindagah, where I can always find a space.

If I'm visiting Bur Dubai it's an easy stroll through interesting streets and if I'm going across to Deira I stroll through the textile souk and take the abra across the Creek, which is what I did yesterday.

There's been an upgrade of the abra fleet - now they have safety features for the twenty passengers...

Two lifebelts on each abra plus a sign about safety. I've never read the sign, I really must do that one day to see what they say.

The upgrade goes beyond safety though, or at least on the one I caught back to Bur Dubai - onboard cleaning solutions...

It was the middle of the day when I was on the Creek and half the fleet wasn't in action but those that were only took a couple of minutes to fill up with the full twenty passengers. We passed a few air-conditioned floating garden sheds, officially known as water buses, and each had only a handful of passengers.

RTA, there's a lesson to be learnt there.

I love the abras as they are. I know they're dirty, pollute with their diesel engines and all that but I'll miss it when they're converted to gas or solar, or whatever it was that was announced a while ago.

I love the dhows too. It's living history really, not very much about them has changed for a hundred years or more. They're built the same, from the same materials, they carry general cargo, much of it the same as they carried back in history, to the same destinations.

You'll see the cargo being carried on the backs of men as they struggle up wooden gangplanks too, as they would have done way back in time.

With the weather warming up - yesterday was 41C with humidity getting towards uncomfortable levels - quite a few of the dhows have canvas covers stretched over the cabin to give the crew some relief.

That's a bit modern though and it's good to see that others still use the traditional barasti palm fronds to give shade.

The dhow wharf, right in the heart of Deira, is always a reminder to me of how relatively crime-free Dubai is.

There are more than a few cities around the world where valuable items left lying around for days would soon disappear...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Escalation of racial tensions in Oz

Racial tensions involving Indian students are on the rise in Australia.

It was inevitable, given the hysteria whipped up by the media and politicians. I said in a post last week the climate is going to get worse in both countries, the extremists are jumping on the bandwagon, the real danger is an escalation of violence..

Now there are reports of exactly that in Sydney and Melbourne:

A protest involving hundreds of Indian students on Monday night turned into a "vigilante" attack, with a group wielding sticks and baseball bats attacking men of "Middle Eastern appearance" in apparent retaliation for an earlier alleged assault on an Indian student.

'Middle eastern appearance' is PC-speak for Lebanese by the way.

So it's escalated from protest marches in Melbourne and Sydney to protests in Indian cities, then to extremist groups jumping on the bandwagon with effigy burning in the streets of Indian cities, and now to ethnic groups, in this instance Indians and Lebanese, attacking each other.

The police and politicians, in Victoria, NSW and federal government, have handled it badly, which hasn't helped.

They've consistently said in the past that the attacks are not racial but opportunistic, which is only partly true and gives the students the impression that any racist element is being denied, is being swept under the carpet, their safety concerns are being dismissed. That's bound to raise tensions.

Undoubtedly some of the attacks are not racially motivated, they're part of the unfortunately normal mugging of vulnerable people. Students living in poorer areas, as their finances force them to do, working late and going home alone - often carrying a valuable laptop - are vulnerable.

But other attacks obviously are racially motivated and denying it was ridiculous and unhelpful.

At least now the Victorian police chief has acknowledged the fact:

Victoria's police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland has admitted that some of the attacks on Indian students were "clearly racist in motivation''.

"Some of the attacks were clearly racist in motivation and that violence is unacceptable and racism is unacceptable in any form.''

There are examples of the escalation in the rough Sydney suburb of Harris Park, where crime is high, and in Melbourne.

A demonstration was called in Harris Park after an Indian student was allegedly assaulted by a group of men of 'Middle Eastern appearance'. Around 200 Indian students, some of them armed with baseball bats and hockey sticks, gathered and attacked men of 'Middle Eastern appearance'.

I don't think there's much doubt that the violence was planned - you're not expecting to demonstrate peacefully if you go armed with a baseball bat or hockey stick.

The Times of India also reports a group of Indians retaliated against racial verbal abuse by stabbing a 20-year-old youth. The stabbing was in St Albans in Melbourne on Sunday when the youth was stabbed once in the neck and twice in the arm.

Police said they were looking for two Indian attackers aged 23 and 29. They added that a car believed to be that of a man involved in attacks on Indian students had also been torched.

In Melbourne Indian students have formed 'security patrols' to protect their own people around St Albans and Thomastown railway stations. That is a very stupid thing to do in countries such as Australia where it simply isn't done. It will do nothing but raise tensions and turn even mainstream Australians against them.

Amongst a lot of coverage in the Indian and Australian newspapers about the escalation there is one article which took a broader look at what's happening. It's by a well respected journalist, Paul Sheehan, who points out that "each incident is another brick in the wall of misconception that Indians in Australia have become the frequent victims of violent white racism.

This misconception has hardened into belief in India, where widespread media coverage of the attacks has played on old sensitivities about the treatment of Indians by whites and white Australia.

He goes on to point out that "the attacks on Indians (were) committed by a polyglot mix reflecting the streets - white, Asian, Middle Eastern, Aboriginal, Pacific Islander."

Detailing recent attacks:

"The most recent attacks, in Harris Park this week, allegedly involved assailants of the proverbial 'Middle Eastern appearance'.

In Melbourne, an assault on an Indian student on a train was recorded on video (which) shows a swarm of young men robbing and repeatedly attacking the student. Most of them do not appear to be white.

A recent assault on an Indian student in Glebe was committed by a young offender described as Aboriginal.

Another recent assault on an Indian student...in Port Melbourne, involved three attackers identified as Caucasian.

As he says, the ethnicity of the attackers varies from crime to crime.

All in all it's a sad and sorry saga which isn't finished yet.

Here's another prediction. With non-white gangs fighting each other on the streets and Indian 'security patrols', the next stage will be white bigots, such as I posted about in September, jumping in with their 'white Christians only' rantings about immigration.

If you're following the story here are some links to references in the posting:

Indians stab racial abuser.

Harris Park violence.

Some attacks are racist: police chief.

Street patrols.

Paul Sheehan: Brutal truth about attacks.

And I'll throw this one in, which I came across in The Times of India, just to get the Anons steaming. We're even more racist than Aussies: Jug Suraiya.
As always, the comments make interesting reading too.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Five years to improve workers' accommodation

WAM Abu Dhabi, Jun. 8, 2009 (WAM) -- As part of its commitment to protect workers' rights and improve the standards of workers' accommodation in line with international standards, the Cabinet, in a latest initiative, has issued Decision No. 13 of 2009, approving the manual of the General Criteria for the Workers' Accommodations.

The new manual sets out minimum standards, which I'm sure most of us would have expected to already be provided but which in many cases aren't.

It's a good step forward in an area that's long needed improvement and it's comprehensive in covering many subjects that needed set minimum standards.

It specifies building materials, covers water systems, sewerage, air-conditioning, lighting systems, elevators, emergency exits, fire extinguisher systems and indoor air quality. At least thirty-five percent of the total space must be allocated for entertainment, parking, yards, walkways and green spaces. Each accommodation complex should have its own mini market and playgrounds.

While the minimum standards are an improvement on what's often been provided in the past they're way below what many of us would consider acceptable. But, they are acceptable to many others and that's where the old argument crops up again. Where you're from, what you're used to, whether it's an improvement on that comes into it.

No space is a point that jumps out at me, because plenty of space, whether indoors or outside, is a thing with me.

Here's what the manual says about space:

Respecting the need for personal space, "it is essential for the facility owner to assign a minimum of three square metres in each room to accommodate a bed, side table and wardrobe for each worker living in the complex. The number of workers allowed in each room, should not exceed eight to ten, with a commitment to provide individual space for each one of them."

Three square metres. About eight feet by four feet. Pace it out and see how little that is.

In it, fit a person, a bed, a side table and a wardrobe.

I can't.

It needs a larger minimum space, but I can't see many companies volunteering to increase their costs by providing it if they don't have to.

(An interesting side note is that Dubai's minimum standards which are already in place say that each worker should have 3.7 square metres, or 40 square feet, of space).

Health & safety comes in, including that each accommodation must include its own medical clinic equipped with full services and medical practitioners available 24x7. It also gets into details of cleaning, laundry facilities, bathrooms & toilets, supply of bathroom toiletries, towels and so on.

Apart from the tiny space most of it makes sense to me. The time frame for improving existing conditions doesn't though.

This presumably refers to new accommodation:

With effect from the beginning of September 2009, Municipality departments will not issue any permit for workers' housing across the country, including free zones, unless those facilities fall in accordance with this cabinet decision and any related provisions issued by the Minister of Labour.

For existing accommodation the manual says:

The decision stresses the employers' responsibility to provide workers' accommodation commensurate with the international labour standards. Each facility operating in the country should upgrade its current workers' accommodation conditions to comply with these standards. Employers are given a maximum period of five years, commencing on the day the decision comes into force.

Five years?

That's over generous, surely.

In five years we see massive new shopping malls built. We see whole new residential neighbourhoods completed. We see mini-cities built and operating.

Worker accommodation is not a profit centre, it's a cost. You can understand why employers are reluctant to invest any more than the absolute minimum in it. That's where legislation needs to push it along, not only in setting minimum standards but also in the timeframe.

As The National points out in its report, Dubai's existing minimum standards had a time limit of three years. Now there are new rules with an even longer grace period.

If a company has five years to build a new labour camp and it takes (let's be generous) a year to build, do you think they'll start now? Or do you think they'd defer the cost for four years and start then, opening the smart new camp just before the deadline?

All the news outlets seem to be carrying the story. The two I've mentioned are here: WAM and The National.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Ebony & ivory

Gulf News today ran a press release from Al Fajer Properties saying that all its projects are on schedule.

They say they voluntarily asked for a construction audit to be carried out by a RERA-approved independent party.

Sounds boring I know, but stay with me.

The press release includes the information:

The results confirm that work on Phase 1 has neared 80 per cent completion and 15 per cent of construction has been completed on Phase 2 (including the Ebony and Ivory Towers) with work continuing.

That reference to Phase 2 is the important bit.

A week ago the UK newspaper The Independent ran an article headlined "Dubai property scandal claim emerges amid media blackout"

It's full of sensational accusations.

It claims that customers were misled into paying millions of dollars by the use of fake photographs, which showed construction of three buildings, purported to be Ebony 1, Ivory 1 and Ivory 2, up to the sixth storey. It says that the photographs were in fact of buildings on neighbouring plots and the three towers are actually empty holes in the ground.

It goes on to say that angry investors were in the city, they had alerted local and regional media and a press conference had been arranged. But it says the press conference was cancelled on a pretext, that there was a media blackout ordered by the authorities, that government officials ordered news agencies to 'pull' stories which were appearing on websites.

To add even more spice they include 'links to the ruling family of the UAE city-state' a couple of times in the article. The President of Al Fajer Properties is Sheikh Maktoum Bin Hasher Al Maktoum.

Now the PR battle is on.

Without, of course, any reference to the accusations, the company says the independent and approved auditors confirm that 15 per cent of this project's construction has been completed and work is continuing.

They say that The audit affirms that Al Fajer Properties have attained the highest level of transparency and is in full compliance with all Rera rules and regulations.

They also say that progress on the project will be available on the Rera website shortly.

I think this is a pretty good example of how a company should react in the face of such accusations.

Compare it with the usual principle used here of ignore it and it'll go away. Atlantis and the whale shark are a classic of the usual method.

Accusations have been made which the company faces head on. They enlist offical help in the shape of RERA, use independent and approved auditors, link in with the official RERA website.

Then they issue a well constructed press release covering all the points and including lots of positive comments. They also use it to not only align themselves with RERA but to remind us of the professional standing of RERA.

The ball is now firmly back in the court of the investors and The Independent.

It'll be an interesting story to follow.

What this PR doesn't do is answer the accusations of government interference, of media blackouts, of pulled stories. Nor should they, it's not a company's responsibility to answer those accusations, but I'd like that side of it to see the light of day.

If you'd like to start at the beginning, The Independent has the story by 'Heerkani Chohan', "the pseudonym of a journalist living and working in Dubai". That story is here.

Al Fajer's answer to the accusations is here in Gulf News.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sharjah's dangerous food

There's an alarming report in The National this morning about the safety of eating out in Sharjah.

It follows the death of little Marwa Faisal, the four year old who tragically died from food poisoning in the emirate a week ago. The rest of her family were seriously affected too, although no source of the problem has yet been announced.

Now Sharjah Municipality reports that of the 1,588 restaurants and cafeterias its inspectors checked last year only 223 met the minimum requirements.

Only 223 out of 1,588. That's astonishing.

Of the 1,365 not meeting minimum requirements, 891 were issued with warnings and 474 were closed temporarily until they improved.

Those really are frightening figures.

The municiplity reports that outlets were guilty of poor maintenance, serving food that had passed its use-by date, black mould on kitchen surfaces, flaking paint falling on to food and staff not observing correct food safety procedures.

At least as bad as those is the practice of turning off refrigerators at night to save power, a common cause of food poisoning, particularly in summer of course. The municipality said they're working to eradicate this practice too.

All of this is total and disgraceful disregard for the health of the public from an incredible 86 percent of the industry.

It goes right down the chain too. In Al Ain last month police and inspectors carried out spot checks on trucks. They found 143 carrying produce to markets and restaurants without proper permits. Over three days they caught 11 trucks that were unfit for the safe transport of food.

The food wasn't being transported at the correct, safe temperature and 437kg had been spoilt, damaged or was below standard for service and sale to the public. But if they hadn't been intercepted it would have been sold to the public I'm sure. And how many more trucks are there ferrying food around unrefrigerated?

The municipalities and the health authorities around the emirates say they're cracking down and various programmes are being put in place to get on top, and stay on top, of the practices.

There's regular talk about draconian jail sentences here for various law breaking activities. I'd like to see them for these practices, which to me are very serious crimes, threatening the health and even the lives of people.

The full story is in The National.

The real Dubai

I'm going through my big file of recent photographs, trying to get them sorted out and filed into the appropriate folders.

A couple were worth posting I thought, because they're of the real Dubai, the original city around the Creek.

There's a lot of development around there too I'm afraid, and huge redevelopment planned, especially in Bur Dubai. The promenade along the Creek has already been dug up ready for it all.

Enjoy it while we can...

The gold souk is a shadow of its former glory, sad to say. It now caters largely for tourists and more than half the shops sell the usual, standard western jewellery they can buy at home, but at cheaper prices.

The glittering windows full of the local and Indian style jewellery are fast disappearing - they're setting up as mini gold souks in places such as Satwa.

But there are still a few traditional shops clinging on in the gold souk, like this one...

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Telling it (not) like it is

Boredom Warning: This post is me having a whinge.

Tracing back a few 'Came From' arrivals at 'Life in Dubai' I went to a blog I haven't seen before, which had linked to one of my posts.

The post is by Isaac K, who lived in Dubai for nineteen years, became disenchanted and has moved on.

That's not unusual, it's a transient society with people coming in and moving out every day.

After nineteen years of enjoying a good life in Dubai, I say that because the post begins: "I get this feeling every time the plane touches down at Dubai Intl. Airport. A sort of “I’m home” thought that just involuntarily runs through my mind", it's actually an example of the current fad of jumping on the Bash Dubai bandwagon.

Stop right there.

That isn't the point of this post. I'm not complaining because someone is doing a hatchet job on Dubai. I'm not leaping to Dubai's defence, the subject matter is irrelevant, it could be any one of countless topics.

What I'm complaining about is something right at the top of my 'Things I Hate' list.

I hate it when people state untruths as facts. When something is misrepresented. When the facts are twisted to fit an agenda.

That's what I found when I followed the link back to this post on the SubMedia blog.

It's full of emotive phrases, with untrue statements presented as facts, misleading captions to photographs.

The post is headlined 'The real cost of slave labour', which gives an indication of what's to follow.

That old emotive 'slave labour' once again. We all came voluntarily and we're paid for our work, so where does 'slave labour' come into it?

It's not a reasoned criticism it's a blatant hatchet job and it does a disservice to those who are highlighting things which need changing, whose constructive criticism is based on facts.

It says for example:

My parents, nearing retirement age, are planning to move to India where they have rights and a far more relaxed life free of the constant threat of deportation.

Constant threat of deportation?

Why would that be?

I'm sure they're perfectly normal, peaceful, hard-working, law-abiding people. So why does their son say they live in constant fear of deportation?

It surely can't be true, it's certainly not true of the vast majority of residents. We're all constantly looking nervously over our shoulders, it says, living in perpetual fear of deportation.

Not true, but the phrase is deliberately used to create the wrong impression.

The post goes on:

UAE bloggers have been debating the issue hotly (here it links to me) that the expatriate population in the country is deflating.

They, along with the government-monitored-if-not-owned newspapers are the only ones defending the city as the whole world cackles at a dirty dream that has been exposed for what it really was.

'The whole world', another of my top hates, like statements beginning 'we all' and 'everybody'. A personal opinion given some fake authority by adding the untrue claim that it's the universal view.

It goes on with the old myth of thousands of cars: abandoned at the airport as the immigrant middle class fled the sinking ship, a story long since proven to be untrue.

The facts are that there are annually about 1400 cars abandoned across the city. Last year it's said the figure rose to 3000, of which a few were left at the airport.

But that original untrue story conjoured up, as it was intended to, pictures of thousands of expats fleeing in desperation, jumping from their cars at the airport and stampeding refugee-like to freedom.

Then there are photos with deliberately misleading captions.

For example: There are more visual cues as well. You can walk along the promenade and see workers sleeping on the ground in the open.

Good heavens! Workers on their break taking a nap! How is that more evidence of a sinking ship I wonder?

I see the same in Australia, council workers, in particular it seems, at midday sleeping in their trucks parked at the roadside or on park benches. Strangely, no-one there relates it to an exposed dirty dream.

Then there's a photo of an open road through a desert section, with the mystifying caption: You can also note the miles and miles of highway left unadvertised.

A clear open road through a desert landscape, now there's proof that the ship's sinking! There are clear open roads through unbuilt areas all over the world, exactly like the one shown in the photo.

There's the blatantly untrue stuff:

Since we have nothing to fear (despite the number of construction projects that have been canceled, such as the $5 billion Jebel Ali Airport)

The airport has not been cancelled. Work is proceeding on schedule.

It accuses the business community and government of being being in denial that there's a slowdown, when what they're actually doing is talking it up to try to restore confidence, just as they do all over the world.

I won't go on, you can read it for yourself if you care to, the link's at the bottom.

Reminder, I'm not talking about this because it's a criticism of Dubai but because it's a classic example of all those things I detest.

It has misinformation.

I has untrue statements presented as fact.

It has innocent, normal photographs misrepresented.

It makes no difference to me whether it's a well-known columnist in a major newspaper or an anonymous blogger, or someone I talk to over a coffee come to that.

Criticism is justified, necessary even, if something needs be improved. It won't be if we don't highlight it, if we don't make constructive criticism.

But the criticism must be based on the truth. Comments which misrepresent, which distort, which lie, do a disservice to genuine criticism.

This deplorable level of comment has so much dubious, incorrect, disproveable content that any accurate criticism is swamped by it.

It invites the comment 'it's all lies' and dismissal of the criticism.

If you're interested, here's the link: SubMedia.

I need your help with this

The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence.

I didn't dare investigate, so can anyone enlighten me about the third retailer on the list?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Public Prosecution loses child abuse appeal

An interesting verdict yesterday from the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeal I thought.

It related to a high profile case, deliberately high profile because the authorities wanted to raise awareness of child abuse.

The original hearing was the first case in which journalists were invited by the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department to attend court proceedings.

In that original hearing the father and step-mother were sentenced to ten years each for severely abusing their daughter, causing her permanent disability.

The sentences were appealed by Public Prosecution who asked for the maximum penalty of fifteen years.

The parents also appealed, obviously asking for the sentences to be reduced.

Yesterday the court decided in favour of the parents and cut the sentences to seven years.

Given the injuries suffered by the little girl my sympathies are with Public Prosecution.

The subject has support at the highest level. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, visited the victim in hospital. Both he and Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Minister of Interior, have spoken out strongly against child abuse.

This sentence from the report in The National is disturbing, especially in light of the high level and official involvement:

Despite the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department’s renewed call for transparency, the judge declined to give any reason for reducing the sentence.

Independence of the judiciary is vital to a good legal system, but secrecy helps no-one.

The full report is in The National.

Two months for Sally & Mark

Just an update on my posts last week about the British couple on trial for sex outside marriage.

They pleaded guilty in the Dubai Court of Misdemeanour and have been sentenced to two months in Al Slammer followed by deportation.

The UK papers I quoted in the earlier post have been reasonably restrained, but the stories differ somewhat.

According to The Sun husband Vincent is sorry he dobbed her in to the cops: Sally and I were not estranged and we were not involved in divorce proceedings. Sally was having an affair with Mark Hawkins.

The Daily Mail says differently: Friends of Mr and Mrs Antia said their marriage had been in trouble for years, but that they had agreed to stay together for the sake of their children.

One friend said: 'They were open about the fact that their relationship was over. Vincent was happy for Sally to go out with other people. He knew about it and it wasn't a problem. So everyone was astonished when they heard that he had informed the police on her'.

At the court hearing, Mr Hawkins's lawyer told the court that Mr Antia had given his wife permission to go out with him.

It's in the papers so it must be true folks.

And they criticise bloggers as unreliable sources of information!

Read the stories and take your pick which one you want to believe:
The Sun.
Daily Mail.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A question of wasta

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid has extended his recent online Q&A session with journalists by now doing the same with the public at large.

One question caught my eye because of recent conversations about the subject, wasta.

Yaser Abdulla Ahmed Al Tunaiji of Ras Al Khaimah asked:

The phenomenon of wasta [use of connections] has spread noticeably in our country. We see it in action every day. Why is it that we don't see anyone fighting this phenomenon? I have personally suffered from the effects of wasta, and that's the reason I decided to bring the issue up for your kind consideration.

The word crops up regularly in conversation and what amuses me is that the complaints are usually made as though it's a phenomenon unique to the UAE.

I've heard the phrase 'it's not what you know but who you know' in many places around the world, and that's wasta.

The British 'old school tie' is wasta - the disproportionate number of Old Etonians in powerful positions confirms its effectivesess.

It's far from being something unique to this country.

The other thing that amuses me is that the people complaining about it wouldn't hesitate to use it if they had it.

Who wouldn't use wasta to give themselves an advantage for a job, or to get an upgrade on a flight, or tickets to a big sold-out show?

Overall it was an interesting exercise in dialogue between ruler and people, something which isn't the norm around the world by any stretch of the imagination.

They talk to us, or at us, but it's not often a two-way conversation.

The dialogue covered everything from personal questions to foreign affairs, questioning the PM's decisions in recent cabinet reshuffle to the position of stateless citizens.

If you listen to the criticism of the UAE you wouldn't believe that a ruler here would talk with the people, would answer sensitive questions such as those last two.

A long way to go it's true, but it isn't as bad as many claim and great strides are being made in a short time.

You'll find all the questions and answers in the Emirates Business 247 supplement.

Crystal Ball working well

A couple of days ago I located the Life in Dubai Crystal Ball at the back of a drawer, gave it a polish and the picture it showed me led me to write:

The temperature's rising and I expect to soon see photographs of effigies being burnt in the streets of Indian cities.

The old Crystal Ball is working well because today Reuters gives us this:

All major Aussie newspapers are running the photos so the climate is going to get worse in both countries, the extremists are jumping on the bandwagon, the real danger is an escalation of violence.

I tend to agree with the comments of Dr. Yadu Singh in Australia, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Indian media's coverage of the plight of Indian students in Australia has been "irresponsible" and could backfire on Indians who have lived here for years, a local community leader fears.

Yadu Singh, a Sydney cardiologist, has viewed with growing anger the pronouncements about Australia by the Indian press, after violence against Indian students in Sydney and Melbourne came under the spotlight last week.

Headlines such as "Australia, land of racists" have led to loud street protests in Australia and India, with an effigy of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd set alight in India.

Dr Singh, who heads a committee at the Indian consulate looking at Indian student issues, labelled the reporting "irresponsible".

"There is a problem with Indian media and Indian leadership - they can't assess a situation in a rational way," he said.

"It's the high competition in that industry. They all get on the bandwagon and say 'Oh racism', but it's not like that.

"Something like this happens and they think: 'The whole world is against us.' I mean, burning effigies of Kevin Rudd ... come on.

"This is not a racist country. Every country has one or two racists.

"When Australian [missionary] Graham Staines was burnt to death [by Hindu extremists in January 1999], did everyone call India racist? No."

Dr Singh believed Australians were "outraged with the way Indian media" was smearing the country.

He feared the outrage could mask the genuine issues faced by Indian students, who Dr Singh said were over-represented in robbery statistics in Melbourne and also faced exploitation by employers.

He also feared there could be a backlash against other Australians of Indian heritage, many of whom had lived here for years.

"I was at a function last night with other Indians [well-established in Australia] - other doctors and lawyers - we were all saying this game has to stop," Dr Singh said.

"We are not suffering. We are doing well in Australia."

Street muggings are deplorable, more so in my opinion when they're racially motivated. But so is whipping up hysteria just to increase newspaper sales or to further a political agenda.

Sydney Morning Herald report is here.