Tag Archive | "Dubai"

Absolute Power, Absolute Fear


Guilt_FingerThis is a translation of an article written by Saudi human rights activist Ali Al Hattab:

The translation of title is, “The dangers of officials’ immunity and absolute authority on individuals’ freedom of opinion and expression in society.”



We all agree on the importance and the necessity of laws in regulating social interactions on all levels to ensure that these interactions do not clash or conflict. Since the emergence of humankind, man has been on a constant quest for mechanisms to organize his public life, beginning with his formulation of simple social norms and ending with advanced legislative constitutions which are considered the highest canopy for laws and regulations, with the objective of serving society and establishing peace and security within their specific frameworks of time and place.


The Dilemma:

communistsIt is the “holy union” between immunity and absolute authority granted to administrative governors and its obstruction of the right of opinion and speech for all individuals in society, or what is termed “freedom of opinion.” This is the first and foremost civil liberty sought by individuals; unless a person is emboldened to speak with complete freedom, he will never dare to express his ambitions or object to and reject all forms of injustice and tyranny.

The mechanism of immunity and authority on all legal levels has become the “big stick” that does not differentiate between legitimate and non-legitimate demands. Authorities use it to gag mouths and confiscate freedoms and demands regardless of their orientation, under the pretext of royal or princely immunity. This has led to the destabilization of civil peace and the natural social balance between ruler and ruled, especially with regards to transparent expression, accountability and liability.

Officials have striven to make themselves totally immune to criticism, placing dictates in articles of law in order to achieve personal gains and ambitions independent of legitimacy and the popular will. As a result, hope was lost, demands for reform aborted, the initiators of these demands imprisoned.


To follow are some examples of constitutional codes and articles which make clear the danger of immunity to freedom of opinion and expression in each member state of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the resulting legal liabilities and penalties.



Article 54: “The prince is the head of state and his royal person is not to be touched.” Kuwaiti constitution, 1962.

In 2013, Sarah Al-Diress was sentenced to one year and 8 months in prison for tweets she posted on her Twitter account, for which she was accused of insulting the royal person of the prince. Leader and former parliament member Msallam Al-Barrak also received a preliminary sentence of 5 years for insulting the royal person in a speech he gave in October, 2013.



powerQatari Poet Mohammed Al-Ajami sentenced to 15 years for writing  a poem.

Qatari Poet Mohammed Al-Ajami sentenced to 15 years for writing a poem.

Article: 64: “The prince is the head of state. His person is inviolable and respecting him is obligatory.” Qatari constitution, 2004.

Mohamed Rashed Hassan Al-Ajami “Ibn Aldeeb” was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to 15 years for a poem that became popular on YouTube and which was considered incitement to overthrow the regime and an insult to the ruling prince.



“The king is the head of state and its nominal representative, and is inviolable. He is the trustworthy protector of the religion and the homeland and the symbol of national unity.” Constitution of Bahrain, 2002.

Activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to 3 years on the charge of participating in an illegal assembly, insulting officials and questioning their patriotism.


absolute power cartoonOman

Article 41: “The sultan is the head of state and the supreme commander of the armed forces. His person is inviolable and cannot be touched; respecting him is obligatory and his commands are to be obeyed.” The Basic System of Government, 1996.

In December 2012, The Court of Appeals sentenced Basma Al-Kayoumi, Said El-Hashemi and a group of Omani activists to terms ranging from 6 months to a year on the alleged charges of ridiculing the sultan, the violation of the Information Act, illegal assembly and disturbing the peace.


Saudi Arabia

Saudi Mohammed Al Qahtani serving a 10 year sentence for political & human activism

The basic system of government in Saudi Arabia has no articles referring to the criticism of royal personages, yet many demands for rights and political liberties have been rejected, with those demanding them penalized under other punitive regulations – such as the system for combatting IT crimes which states in article six: “Punishment by imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years and a fine not exceeding 3 million Riyals, or either of these punishments for anyone who produces material detrimental to the public good, religious values, public morals or the sanctity of private life, etc…”

The Criminal Court of Riyadh ruled for the dissolution of the ACPRA Society, the confiscation of its money, termination of its activities and the imprisonment of its members Abdullah Al-Hamed (11 years) and Mohamed Fahd Al- Qahtani (10 years) for “cyber crimes” based on the above-mentioned article six, because they were demanding political and constitutional reform.


United Arab Emirates

orwell_894378341Article 29: “A prison term and fine of up to one million Dirhams for any person using information technology with the intention of satirizing or damaging the reputation and standing of the state or any of its institutions, including the president, vice president, the rulers of its emirates, crown princes or their deputies, the state flag, national security, the state emblem and national anthem or national symbols.” Law for the combat of cyber crimes, 2012.

Activist Waleed Al-Shehhi, arrested in May of 2013, was sentenced to 2 years plus a fine of half a million for tweets posted on his Twitter account about indicted Islamists.

These in addition to hundreds of other cases and examples in the same context, whereas international law is clear in stating that state officials with their wide range of authority must necessarily be liable to a higher degree of criticism than the average citizen.

The UN Commission on Human Rights which issued binding standards for freedom of opinion and expression in article 19 of its Declaration, has made clear that insulting public figures does not justify penalties. It stressed that public figures “including those who exercise the highest political authority such as state presidents and governments” are legitimate targets for criticism.

The aura with which the gulf rulers have surrounded themselves is an exaggerated form of sanctity, and gives them expansive legal grounds to try those who demand political reform and other rights, especially as the position of the ruler is not merely a ceremonial one as is the case in most Western monarchies; It is an administrative position with broad executive powers directly linked to the needs, ambitions and destinies of their peoples.

Hence citizens have a legitimate right to criticize the performance of the ruler and to monitor him, away from personal insults and abuse, in an effort to improve living standards and the quality of life. The constitutions of advanced countries allow for the monitoring of the president and criticism of his performance and even subjecting him to enquiries in certain circumstances, through elected parliaments.



'Power corrupts and absolute power is really fun!'The rewriting of the articles of the constitution and penal regulations to commensurate with freedom of opinion and expression, and to ensure the implementation of international agreements and conventions.

The establishment of precise criteria based on international standards to clarify and define the basic principles of the right to freedom of expression.

The annulment of all laws that obstruct freedom of opinion and expression.

The immediate and unconditional release of all political activists and defenders of human rights who have been imprisoned for practicing their right to freedom of opinion and expression, in addition to dropping all charges related to their practice of freedom of opinion and expression.

The ratification of a new charter that irrefutably endorses the right to freedom of opinion and expression.



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Photo of the Week – Dubai Nights


Photograph Taken by David Anthony Hohol

As little as five years ago, very few people on the other side of the Atlantic had ever heard of Dubai. Now it has become a city known around the world. The reality is no one really knows much about the place even today, but the biggest city in the tiny country of the United Arab Emirates has gained fame for modern architecture and towers that reach the sky.

The most photographed place the UAE is without question the Burj Al Arab. The only known 7 star hotel in the world, the “Tower of the Arabs” is also the tallest building on the planet used exclusively as a hotel. Built on an artificial island, the building is a symbol of excessive wealth and money’s victory over the practical.  Designed in the shape of a sail, the entire buidling is lit up an night and rooms near 10,000 square feet.  Whether it’s helicopters pads or the private butlers for each room, no expense is spared at what the locals call “the Burj.” No one at RELATIVITY could ever afford to stay there, but for 70 dollars you can at least enter and take a look around. Now that’s Dubai – an entry fee for just walking through the doors.  


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The Double Standard of Poverty


dhaka2From Indonesia Corespondent Rezwan…

A man should be judged by his deeds and not on his appearance – Al Quran

Migrant laborers from South Asia have played a great role in the transformation of Middle Eastern Gulf countries like UAE, Qatar and Bahrain.  Most of construction work that takes place there consists of physical labor by people of this region, all of whom are paid only a few dollars a day for their efforts. Further still, they clean up the garbage, build the roads, live in cramped quarters many times hard to imagine, work in every kind of shop there is, and some have even been recruited by the police for community service.

In general, however, these people are looked down upon as miskins (beggars) and the bottom place of society, mainly because they’re poor. Not satisfied, people have found another way to example single out and dishonor them.

Look at the pictures below. Do you see any indecency in the photgraphs? On the left is he lungi, traditional south Asian clothing for men. On the right, a thobe, kandora or dishdash, traditional wear for Arab Gulf men. Most will look at the two pictures and see no indeceny. In fact very few will see little difference at all between the two, but believe it or not, the Sharjah Police are cracking down on men wearing the lungi (on the left) in public.




An Asian man was arrested and interrogated by police patrols in Sharjah, UAE (Dubai’s conservative brother emirate) a few days ago for wearing a lungi. The man later said police told him lungis cannot be worn in public.
Sharjah Police maintain that indecent and revealing clothes are not allowed in public. “The decency law was implemented in Sharjah ten years ago,” an officer said.

He said people were expected to wear decent clothes in public, but did not explain if there was a ban on wearing the lungi in public.

Here is what an Arab male quoted in the Gulf News has to say about the Lungi:

“The Lungi is not indecent dress. when anybody lift the lungi above the thigh then it is indecent. Even kandoora can be lifted. if police found any one lifting lungi then they can take actions, but generally when anybody wear lungi in decent manner then it is wrong to object that.”

You will see a lot of illogical comments in this particular Gulf News article about the lungi being indecent and how it should be banned. It may be a poor man’s attire and be considered informal, but who decides fashion? Is Sharjah paying these laborers decent enough salaries so they can afford to the fancy thobes locals wear? What would these people say when Sharjah bans tight jeans because one can see the curves?  It may be interpreted as indecent, although it’s not revealing. There is already a crackdown on jeans in Iran.

There are certain rules about attire in every society. In Bangladesh, there are places where you need formal dress and cannot enter with a lungi. With that said, nobody should have the audacity to say that the lungi should be banned from all public places.

Illogical moral policing will not establish a good example of advancement of society. It is pure racism, this time in a new bottle.


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Sex, Cars, and Stamping


car_tuning_wallpaperFrom Dubai Correspondent James O’Hearn…

Just in the Gulf News, out of that den of tolerance and wisdom known as Ras Al Khamiah, a couple has been arrested for having sex in their car. A Bangladeshi man and an Indian woman have been sentenced to a year in jail followed by deportation.

So far, so normal for the UAE, but there are a few niggling details that should give pause.

The first is that the car was covered, as in, you could not see into it at all.

The “witness” never actually saw the offense, but claims to have “heard some noises” coming from the car. At first blush that sounds plausible, except that unless the windows were open, how could anything be heard at all? Once I close the door to my car, I can’t hear a peep from anyone inside, so unless this “concerned citizen” had their ear pressed right up the glass, I can’t see how they would have heard anything at all.

So our concerned citizen did what “anyone” would do, they ran to the nearest police officer, flagged him down, and led him to the scene of the crime, where the illicit pair was caught “red-handed.”

So far, so normal. It is the UAE, and illicit affairs are a no, no… Except that this was not an illicit affair.

The man and woman were married. They even produced a marriage certificate for the courts.

So to recap, a married man and woman have sex in a covered car, completely hidden from public view (Something I very much doubt is unheard of, if only going by the number of Landcruisers and Patrols with midnight-black tinted windows I see parked in the unlit sections of various beaches at night). Then they are arrested, go to court, prove the relationship was not illicit, only to have the judge notice that the couple hadn’t paid the 150 AED to have their marriage certificate attested. So the judge ruled them unmarried, and sentenced them.

That’s it. They didn’t have the right stamp.

In the UAE no birth, no marriage, no education is officially recognized unless you fork over a handful of cash and get a wee little stamp recognizing the validity of the certificate.

The problem this case poses is for potential tourists.

It is doubtful that any tourist couple would line up to get a stamp on their marriage certificates after coming to the UAE, if they even brought them. And while it is RAK we are talking about here, and not Dubai, it is a distinction without a difference for most of the world.

After the spate of recent, tourist unfriendly incidents in the past little while, you have to wonder if we are seeing the beginnings of a real trend.


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The Art of Assassination


hitman2uk6It was like something out of a spy novel. On January 19th of this year, in an exotic setting, an assassination of a high level political player was made to look like a heart attack. The victim was a 50-year-old Hamas commander, Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, a man Israel claimed killed two Israeli soldiers. The place – Dubai.

Al-Mabhouh was found slumped over dead in his hotel room. His door was both locked and chained from the inside. Authorities quickly assumed death by natural causes.

One doctor however, noticed something odd with the victim’s blood. Soon puncture marks, one on his left leg and another behind an ear, were discovered. When Palestinians informed Dubai police the victim was Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, some began to quietly wonder. Blood samples were sent overseas and when toxicology reports revealed he’d been given a fatal dose of anesthetic, police knew it was a homicide.

Lacking any witnesses, Dubai authorities and outside investigators went through hundreds of hours of video tape. Dubai videotapes everything, from the moment people get off a plane. The airport tarmac, the immigration counters, baggage-claims areas, and taxi stands are all monitored. From there, cameras can see who gets into what car and then through the highway toll system, cameras can track to what locations these cars were sent. In nearly every hotel cameras are placed in the lobby, hallways, bars, sports clubs, and restaurants.

Authorities eventually surmised there were 8 people who had no business being at the Rotanna Hotel the night in question and tracked them down. Interpol eventually issued an alert for 16 people involved in the Dubai assassination. That number later increased to 27.

It was soon discovered those involved were all using perfectly forged passports, some even using the names of real people. The plot thickened and as it did, evidence strongly supported the accusation made by the Palestinians and later the Dubai Police. This was a hit set up by the Israeli secret service. When it was discovered that many of those involved were Israel citizens using fake European and Australian passports, the shoe fit.

David Miliband, the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, has since expelled an Israeli diplomat after strong evidence suggested Israel cloned British passports. Although the diplomat is not the Israeli ambassador to Britain, the expulsion sends a very clear signal to Israel. The individual in question heads the Israel secret intelligence office in London known as Mossad. Although there is no proof these men were acting on orders from the Israel government, The UK still felt there was enough evidence to expel the diplomat in question.

If the Israeli government is ever linked to the murder of Al-Mabhouh, it won’t be the first time. In 1997, during his first go as Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the poisoning of Khaled Meshaal, a Hamas official residing in Jordan. The attempt became an embarrassment however, when Meshaal’s bodyguards captured the Mossad assassination squad. An angered King Hussein forced Netanyahu to send the antidote to Jordan and ordered the release Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin. Yassin was sent to Jordan to mollify the King, wh’d recently signed a much maligned peace treaty with Israel.

Over the past eighteen months, international sentiment has been turning against Israel. The Israelis are now under all-round diplomatic pressure from its allies worldwide.

Israel resents Britain’s support for greater restraint in terms of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. In December of 2009 last year Tzipi Livni, Israel’s opposition leader, had to cancel a trip to the United Kingdom when a warrant was issued for her arrest on war crimes charges.  Just this past week, the UK even warned its citizens of possible passport abuse when entering Israel.

The United States, along with the support of Britain and many others in the international community, are pushing Israel to stop building for Jews only on occupied land, as it makes negotiations for the two state solution next to impossible. Barack Obama and his administration are no longer simply accepting what they see happening in Palestine.

But will Israel listen to calls for change from around the world, including its greatest allies?  History tells us no.

From David Anthony Hohol…


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Brown Eye for the White Guy: The White Man’s Burden


RacismFrom Dubai Correspondent James O’Hearn…

In 2005 I married a wonderful young woman named Nerissa D’Souza. Her family is Goan, and though she is Indian by nationality, she spent her entire life in Dubai. When I moved to Dubai in 2006, I moved in with her family, and by 2007 I had become a “traditional” Indian son-in-law, that is, I became the sole earner supporting a multi-generational family.

Embracing my “Indian” identity, I learned to eat spicy curries every day, I fell in love with cricket, I learned to name the major political parities in India and speak at some length about their policies, I became able to hold forth on the differences between the many different religious, cultural and lingual groups in India, and I learned to love Bollywood movies. But even though I am now far more “Indian” than my in-laws will ever be “Canadian,” I have only ever been merely tolerated, not accepted by them.

So what does this have to do with race or racism?

Before I moved to Dubai, my wife and I were in desperate straits. Prevented from finding work on account of a visa mix up, my wife had to stay at home while I worked three to four jobs at a go, dropping jobs and getting new ones wherever I could eke out a few more dollars. After our first child was born, and freshly out of university with a mountain of debt, we hit the wall, so to speak. We had no money left, not enough coming in, and could see no way of rectifying our situation but for one – we had to leave Canada.

When I arrived in Dubai, a few months after I had sent my wife and child ahead of me, I was a nervous wreck. With only a couple hundred dollars to my name, living at my in-laws, and upon their kindness, I felt lower than I had at any point in my life. Yet my wife was entirely unconcerned. Why? Because, as she told me, soon after I arrived, I was “white,” and we were in Dubai.

Three years earlier, when I had lived in Japan, I had my first taste of what it was like to be a “minority.” Words like “minority” and “mainstream” get tossed about so much in Canada, with such specific associations, that it took me a while to see myself as the minority. In Japan I encountered racism every day, from mild examples to extreme xenophobia. But Japan is very homogeneous, and Japan has a long history of fearing and avoiding outsiders, so I didn’t think much of what I saw. The racism was never specific, just a matter of those who exhibited nihonjinron (Japaneseness) and those who did not. You were wither nihonjin or gaijin – Japanese, or Foreign.

But in Dubai, when I again found myself in a minority situation, where the locals only account for up to 10% of the population, the dichotomous nature of racism I found in Japan morphed into something more along the lines of a shattered mirror, with innumerable facets reflecting each other, but each being separate and unique. Here it seemed that race or racism as not something widely spoken about or acknowledged as a social ill, but was actually a functioning aspect of the societal fabric, ubiquitous and universal.

My wife’s faith proved justified, when, inside of a month, I landed the best paying job I had ever had, a job where in only three years I found my salary rising to a level beyond what I could ever hope to earn in Canada. I chalk it up to luck, and serendipity, but sometimes there is a part of me that wonders if I was the recipient of this bounty not because of extensive credentials or experience, but because of how I looked, and how I spoke. Then again, I had experience in the field, and my employer-to-be was facing a sudden manpower shortage. But still, from some of the comments and attitudes I later encountered from other colleagues, I had to wonder, because regardless of the truth of the matter, it is the perception of that truth that carries weight day to day.

As a Canadian, and a product of that education system, it bothers me sometimes, even though I have proven myself at work over and again since being hired, that others might think I am where I am now not so much because of who I am, but because of what I am. But whatever my feelings are in the matter, the fact is, my situation is accepted as the norm here.

A Keralite colleague of mine was shocked, not too long ago, to find out that not only did I not have any “lands” or “houses” in Canada, but that I had debt. As she told me, she had assumed that because I was white, that meant I was wealthy. She had never questioned why I was hired or my qualifications for the job, and simply assumed that I “should” have that job.

Though she worked the same job as I (but in a different department), and earned the same income, and even though what she earns is ten times what I earn in terms of relative purchasing power parity, she did not even really need the money because her family was very wealthy in Kerala. I, on the other hand, desperately needed that job to support my family, to start to make some headway so that we could build a better life for ourselves. From my perspective, I saw my colleague as being privileged, and felt more than a little envy. Yet even with that in mind, my colleague still felt there was some sort of hierarchy at play, that regardless of wealth or upbringing, race really and truly mattered – that everything aside, perhaps I was the one to be envied.

In Canada, my colleague would be considered the “minority,” and I would be seen as a privileged member of the mainstream. Here I am seen as a privileged member of the “minority,” and she was seen as just an “Indian.” And in there lay the irony.

Few in Canada would know this, but there are about as many Keralites as there are Canadians in this world, even though Kerala is about half the size of New Brunswick. And when you take into account the diasporic nature of Keralite society, there are probably more Karalites than there are Canadians by a good margin. With this fact in mind, in the context of globalization, words like “minority” and “majority” really begin to lose meaning, but what about concepts like “race” or “racism?”

Racism, in the North American conception, is a matter of the privileged actively thinking or acting against the less privileged. In terms of academia, racism relates to the white male patriarchy, and pretty much the rest of society. While anyone can have a racist thought, only a member of the majority can be a racist. That is, only a member of the privileged majority can discriminate or alter their actions towards others due to race (meaning also culture/creed, etc) and have those actions be considered racist. That’s because the discourse on race and racism has, over time, devolved to being an issue of black and white (figuratively speaking).

But is that correct? Is that true? If not, then who, really, is a racist? What, then, is racism? What sort of behaviour would qualify as being racist in nature?

When I go shopping with my wife, when we go to a jewelry store, I am often asked to stay hidden, outside, and around the corner. The reason being that if the salesman does not see me, and does not see that my wife has a “white” husband, we will pay half as much as we would otherwise. And when we walk in public, and get into an argument, when my wife yells at me or castigates me in public, I have to restrain myself from replying in kind because to my wife it would appear as if I was talking to her like she were a maid. Why? Because to others, the sight of a white man talking harshly to a brown woman would be seen as such.

Regardless of my being her husband, and the love, children, and experiences we share, the colorblind nature of our relationship falls away the moment we step into public view. We both have to play roles, roles which change and evolve depending on who we talk to or interact with.

By conforming to these unspoken dictates, does that make my actions racist, or examples of common sense? By avoiding being seen by a South Asian salesman in the knowledge that my wife’s colour and nationality will help us get a better bargain, I can hardly claim to be “colourblind,” because I acknowledge differences in race, and I alter my actions towards other based on those differences, which is what racism is.

Which makes me what?


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Is Dubai to Big to Fail?


Burj-Dubai-3As little as five years ago, most outside the Middle East had never heard of Dubai. A 7-year boom turned sand dunes into a glittering metropolis of night clubs and man-made marinas, creating islands in the ocean, the world’s tallest building, its biggest shopping mall, over the top luxury services and innovative architecture.  Dubai is a temple of capitalism in a region never known for financial opportunity.  The boom, however, is grinding to a halt.  In many of the new towers, vacancies are the rule, buildings remain half finished, and cranes have been frozen in time.  Will Dubai fall into an ocean of crisis? RELATIVTY OnLine’s United Arab Emirates Correspondent James O’Hearn doesn’t think so.   

I liked Daniel Gross’s Lehman analogy, only I find it a bit off, by a few orders of magnitude. Dubai is not Lehman Brothers, Nakheel is Lehman Brothers (And only metaphorically… Nakheel’s debts amount to a high single digit percentage of what Lehman’s were at the time of their collapse).

Yes, Dubai World and Nakheel are large companies, but in comparison to the size, not just of Dubai’s economy, but of the large merchant families in Dubai (Futtaim, Galadari, Gargash, etc), they’d be like a sub-section of a department of a division were Dubai seen as a single corporate entity.

Yes, Dubai has seemed a bit flashy in recent years, but deceptively so, the way a sumo wrestler seems fat. There actually is a lot of substance underneath. As someone on the ground out here, I can tell you that the malls are jam packed (even the brand new mega malls), the roads are still clogged, the new metro is seeing increasing ridership every month, and major Dubai corporations like Dubal (7th largest aluminum producer in the world), Ducab (largest cable manufacturer in the middle east), DP World (Which, while a subsidiary of Dubai World, was excluded from DW’s debt restructuring), and Emirates Airlines are all making money hand over fist.

The National’s Wayne Arnold notes a few things the international media seems to have missed in their rubbernecking rush: Dubai has never defaulted on or missed a debt (loan or bond) paymentDubai’s traditional economic backbone has, and always will be trade facilitating infrastructure. This includes the Dubai Creek dredging, the Jebel Ali port development, the airport expansions, and now the Dubai Metro.

Dubai is not a sovereign entity

Nakheel is a private company. (Nakheel’s sukuk was never backed by the Dubai government and never even had a credit rating)

The money is there, but there are politics involved. Abu Dhabi’s SWF alone has aver a trillion US$ in assets. The whole of Dubai’s debts are a rounding error in the Abu Dhabi portfolio. The issue with Dubai World and Nakheel is not a lack of funds, on the part of either the Dubai government or the Abu Dhabi government. The issue is… something else.


From James O’Hearn… 


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Gangs of Dubai


OhearnFrom James O’Hearn…

This news story is old new by now, but for some reason I just couldn’t bring myself to close the tab on my browser holding this story..
“A police officer was moderately injured on Saturday evening during police raids on flats that were operating as brothels in International City.

A little over two weeks ago, there was a bit of an incident in International City. International City is Dubai’s attempt to create a multicultural gated(ish) community where professionals would go to love and commute into the city for work. For some time now International City has attracted more than a few expats of my acquaintance, mostly because the rents were dirt cheap (by Dubai standards) and the location seemed safely remote and out of the hustle of the city proper. Unfortunately, what most of these penny-pinching expats did not realize was that the entire development was created with a sewage system that could only handle, at best, 30% to 40% of the full population of the development. This led to a situation where, for a good period of time last year, large swathes of International City, especially the English area, were literally bathing in exposed sewage that had spilled out of the overtaxed pipes.

As if the constant stink and threat of cholera were not enough, the residents awoke recently to discover that their area had been flooded by another form of sewage – organized crime

It seems the ethnic gangs gave taken up root here in Dubai, which somewhat reminds me of Vancouver and Toronto back in Canada. There you can find Chinese gangs, Vietnamese gangs, you name it. Now you can find the same in Dubai. As the Gulf News told it –

Dubai Police managed to arrest members of Asian gangs, mainly Vietnamese, who were involved in running brothels in the development. They were also involved in inciting violent incidents among their competitors including, murdering an Indian man and seriously injuring another at the China cluster on Friday. Both men were among the competitors involved in the same illegal operations.”

The police action, as the article states, was prompted by an escalation of violence where 20 gang members broke into an apartment, most likely stash house, for a shakedown. In the process they killed an Indian man, and subsequently attracted the attention of the police who, in their raid, discovered that at least 52 units in the International City Chinese sector were being used as brothels.

52. Not 5 or 2. 52.

It’s not a sign that a problem is starting, it’s a sign that a problem is well established and growing. Thankfully the police seem to be on top of the problem and dealing with it with alacrity.



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Mall Culture


j0438998From James O’Hearn…

One thing for sure about this wacky little emirate is that there is an incredibly high number of malls per capita. The wife and I recently decided to hit a new mall each week, and counting off just the ones we know, that list is going to take quite a long time to get through.

One thing I’ve read in blogs and in the news is speculation that this massive overdevelopment of retail space in Dubai was going to have negative repercussions during the economic crunch. But so far, I can’t say that I’ve seen any evidence that this is happening at all.

Today we went to Times Square, one of the newest shopping centers built on Sheikh Zayed Rd. Times Square has only open been for a year or so, but already it draws in a good number of affluent larger families on account of the disproportionate number of kids stores, and places for children. One spot in particular, Fun Square, is an absolutely brilliantly executed kids zone. Birthday parties there need to be booked weeks in advance, and for those who just drop by, it is worth every single dirham to chuck the kids into the multilevel padded play palace. You can literally see a line of mums, slumped thankfully against the wall in chairs, finally getting a moment of rest while their little devils burn up enough excess energy to ensure early bedtimes later on. And with a Caribou Coffee downstairs, a massive Sharaf DG electronics store, and a large after-market car parts store, it’s like Mom and Dad crack city.

On the way out of Times Square, we decided to stop at the new Oasis Centre, just one interchange down the road. We needed to pop into the nice Carrefour Express they have, but when we came in close to the place, found that they had no parking whatsoever. There were over 800 spots underground, and maybe 100 above ground, the place was jam packed. This centre, which had burned down years ago, and only just reopened a few months ago, was already teeming with customers, enough so that we had to head on down the road. And in doing so, I noticed something I hadn;t really thought about before.

As it stands right now in Dubai, you can find a large mall, almost literally at every interchange along a stretch starting at Ittihad Rd. in Sharjah, heading on through to the other border of Dubai. Start with the Sahara Centre in Sharjah, and after crossing the border into Dubai you have Century Mall. Go up Ittihad a few minutes and you pass the Deira City Centre. The next major interchange, Garhoud Bridge, is next to Festival City. After that, at the Al Wasl interchange, is Wafi City. Then, passing by the interchange near Karama, is Lamcy Plaza. At the World Trade Centre roundabout, where Ittihad Rd. becomes Sheikh Zayed Rd., you won’t find a mall, per se, but you will find one of the longest, and by far the tallest, strip malls in the world. On Sheikh Zayed Rd., at that point, is an unbroken line of skyscrapers that stretches for a full mile on both sides. At the next interchange, you can hit the Dubai Mall or the Mazaya Centre. After the next interchange is the Oasis Centre. The next interchange brings Times Square, and the next interchange after that is where you will find the Mall of the Emirates. Past there, is the Dubai Marina Mall, and then further down the road, near the border between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is Ibn Battuta Mall.

Each mall is no more than a five minute drive, as the crow flies, from the next one down the road. Back in Canada, I can remember driving quite a ways to get to any mall of note. In Ottawa you start with Bayshore Shopping Centre in Nepean, go on to the Rideau Center downtown, and then the Place D’Orleans on the other side of the city. Over roughly the same distance, in both cities, cities with comparable populations*, you go from three malls along a stretch in Ottawa, to fourteen in Dubai. That’s about a mall every kilometer and a half. And those fourteen? They aren’t doing too badly.

Almost anywhere else I can imagine, in Canada, and even in the United States, that many major retail centers, strung along over such a short distance, would be a disaster for the developers and owners of those malls. You just can’t support that much retail space concentrated in such a small area. Yet for some reason those same economic realities don’t seem to function here.

Could it be population density? Maybe, but I don’t think so. The population density of Dubai is 25% higher than that of Ottawa, but in Ottawa, on the whole, the standard of living and per capita income is leagues beyond what Dubai can boast. For all the extravagant development in Dubai, the city itself just isn’t that built up. There are few sidewalks, the metro system is yet to open, and outside of the few major arteries like Sheikh Zayed Rd., there are really not very many major roads. And as for wealth, the extravagant wealth that Dubai is known for really is concentrated in small percentage of the population. Which nixes the next question – are people richer? Not on the average, no.

Which leaves the question as yet unanswered. How can Dubai have so many malls, yet not face a massive retail sector meltdown? Is it because, outside of going to the mall, there isn’t much to do in Dubai? Is it because Dubai lacks the massive power centers that litter than landscape in North America – the massive expanses of parking lot filled in with a few big box stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Best Buy? Is it because Dubai is pretty much the shopping center of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman?

Any ideas?

*Dubai’s population figures also include hundreds of thousands of laborers who live, for all intents and purposes, outside of the city. Those same laborers also do not figure into the plans of retailers, as their salaries are a) exceedingly modest, and b) are usually tied up by monthly remittance commitments.


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Dining in Dubai vs. Dining in Toronto


ohearnFrom James O’Hearn…


I came home today an interesting comment left on my post in blandness.

The commenter, Ah pois, seemed taken aback by my apparent preference for food in Canada over food in the Middle East. The issue is a little more complicated than that, but overall, I do prefer a great deal of food in Canada to what’s available in the Middle East.
Why that is, is simple – variety.
You could be reductive, and hold that Canadian food consists of pemmican, maple syrup, beavertails, and maybe moose meat. But in truth, Canada has a much more varied cuisine than most people know.

In Dubai, I can get Arabic food, great Arabic food, incredible Arabic food. I love it to death, and I will miss it terribly when I am gone. But Arabic food really is not very varied, consisting of a combination of meat (kebabs, chicken legs), hummus, bread (pita bread), yogurt, and salad (fattoush, or tabouleh).

Like I said, the food is good, but you can tire of it quickly. So then what do you eat? Good Italian is hard to find in Dubai for a decent price. Greek food? Sorry, no gyros, since few restaurants use pork. Chinese? Nope, all you can find is either Indian-Chinese or Asian-Fusion. If hakka noodles and chicken lollipops suit your fancy, then power to you, but good luck finding any hot pot, or congee. Caribbean? Forget it. Mexican? Second rate Tex-Mex is all there is. Thai? To date I have found only one or two restaurants that can make a passable pad Thai, and forget about masaman beef. Korean? Sorry, but you are not going to find good bibimbap or kimchee around these parts. Japanese? Perhaps. There are a few good sushi joints, but forget about finding decent ramen or gyoza. Vietnamese? Nowhere to be found around here.

Better yet, how about a place that serves roast beef with gravy, roast potatoes, with freshly picked steamed carrots, broccoli, and green beans, with a pile of cobs of peaches and cream corn on the side? Sorry, but you are totally out of luck. How about mashed turnip, butternut squash, or mashed potatoes? What passes for those here is not usually edible.

Dubai is great if you love Arabic food, South Asian food, or fast food, but for anything else, you are generally out of luck. And of those three, Arabic food usually sits in your stomach like a brick, most Indian (and pretty much ALL South Indian) food leaves you looking for the Pepto-Bismol, and fast food? No explanation needed.

Wait, I forgot. You can also get good Filipino food in Dubai, but other than pancit, I don’t know many non-Filipinos who got out of their way for that cuisine.

But in Toronto…

Want Bún bò Huế or Banh Mi? Head on down Spadina, and while you are there, pick up some awesome Baozi, or the best freshly made pan fried dumplings you will find anywhere. Feel like a legendary gyro? Pop on over to the Danforth and head to Alexandros. Want Thai? There are countless places with excellent pad thai, and fresh spring rolls. Go over to Bloor and Christie, and take in some honest to god real Korean food. Head on up to Jane and Finch where you find some of the best curry goat and roti or jerk chicken you have ever tasted. In North York and Woodbridge there are numerous excellent Italian restaurants, and if you feel like hot pot or congee, then hurry on over to Markham or Vaughan.

But it doesn’t end there. You also have every European cuisine available, in addition to French-Canadian cuisine (Poutine, anyone?, and even a few decent Mexican joints.

And as always, the ubiquitous selection of Canadian blandness – corn, carrots, peas, beans, cauliflower, potatoes, squash, turnip, beets, roast beef, baked ham, roast turkey, cod fillets, salmon steaks, gravy, yorkshire pudding, butter biscuits, buns, and numrous breads. On the side, you will fine any number of clear broth soups with different fresh ingredients, a plethora of different types of salads. And then there is dessert.

What I wouldn’t give to have a freshly baked apple pie made with fresh apples, or peach cobbler, strawberry shortcake, or…you get the idea.

All of it wholesome, savory, sweet, and satisfying.

Sure there are fewer excellent Indian restaurants in Toronto than Dubai, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Oh, and before I forget, there is the subject of sanitation. Do you know how many people have gotten seriously ill or died here from food poisoning this year? More than a few. In fact, government inspections have found that a surprising number of joints here, especially in Sharjah, have not only been found to be unsanitary, but engage in unsanitary practices, turn the freezers and fridges off at night to save on electricity, change expiration dates, and knowingly sell expired food.

So in all, yes, I do definitely prefer the food situation back in Canada over what I can find here.










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Picturing RELATIVITY- see all photos


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