Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cancellation of New Years Festivities in Dubai

Apparently, Sheikh Mohammed, the Ruler of Dubai, has cancelled all New Year Fesitivities in Dubai in solidarity with the suffering of the Gaza people who are currently being murdered by the treachourous and racist Zionist.

While I admire this effort, I sincerely hope that the Westerners in Dubai will appreciate this initiative and be understanding of the reasons behind it. After all, they do live in a Middle Eastern country and should have share some of our regional concerns. This will hopefully encourage some of them to realize the justness of the Palestianian cause. In fact, if a simple minority of them are inspired to try and find out more about what is happening regionally and why, then it will be a success. However, I am afraid that the majority in Dubai will whine about this decision.

Will other Arab nations do the same? Unfortunately, I think not.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

No more options for Palestians after Gaza massacre


What do I say? What do I write? Yesterday, the Israelis murdered over 200 people in Gaza via horrific air strikes that randomly targeted security installations for Hamas, a mosque and a TV station. This was in apparent response to the firing of rockets from the Gaza strip into Israeli towns. As per Israeli’s political and arrogant leaders, the response was necessary and they had no other alternative.

Now, I can condemn and criticize this rationale, but I realize the futility of doing so. The US has blamed Hamas for the escalation and we Arabs are powerless to do anything about it while we are run by weak governments who are useless except for issuing condemnations and rhetoric. The Arab people feel the pain of the Gaza people who have been suffering atrocities for so long at the hands of the Israelis. We will express our solidarity with them and pray that the international community rushes to their aid with much needed medical supplies and the lifting of the blockade.

However, the more important thing is to point out the options for the Palestinians. They have been in peace negotiations with the Israelis for over 17 years now (ever since the Madrid Peace Talks of 1991). What has that achieved? I regret to say absolutely nothing. The Palestinian people remain under occupation with Israel restricting their access to freedom more than ever. They are in a collective prison with basic food stuff and medical equipment entering the strip only at the whim of their Israeli warden. Is this the peace of the brave or the will of the international community? What are the civilians supposed to do? The only solution is resistance, and most importantly the military type.

This is the only alternative that Palestinians are faced with. After all, peace was given many chances to flourish. Numerous times the Arab regimes expressed the will to have peace with Israel which has always been neglected. Israel continues to show its aggression via negotiating everything and continuing with its expansion of settlements. This is not acceptable and has placed the Palestinians in a catch 20/20 situation.

Thus, if we are doomed to suffer, then let us do it with dignity. We will continue to resist the Israeli colonial power forever. Just because we do not have the military power to successfully resist does not mean that we have to accept it. The world community can help us in this endeavor or continue to turn a blind eye to Israeli encroachment and aggression. I do not really care!

God bless Palestine, the martyrs, and all people with a conscience! May we have victory or at least die trying to achieve freedom. Nothing is more important.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Camping in the Desert


This post is directed to all of you that currently live in any of the GCC countries. Yesterday, I attended a safari (desert trip) which was organized by a colleague of mine on an individual initiative. It was great fun, except for the fall that I had on the ATV, but that is another story. About 30 colleagues and their friends were there which definitely added to the fun. There are three general categories of desert campers which I will refer to as a) hard-core, b) experienced, and c) rookies (aka tourists).

The rookies are the ones whom I feel are missing out on something beautiful and great that exists right in their backyard which they do not really appreciate. They come out only if others encourgage them to do so. They are apprehensive about the whole adventure and have been "softened" by the luxury of Dubai to enjoy roughing it in the wild. Their initial experience and their attitude to the minor problems that pop up (4x4 getting stuck, minor injuries, missing stuff, ruined food due to sand, and ruined mobiles) determine whether they never try it out again or look forward to graduating to experienced status.

The "experienced" of which I am one, have been on several outdoors adventures in the past and have come to appreciate it. They know the advantages and beauty of going camping and love the chance to tag-along. They have the essentials available in their homes and can get ready in a short period of time. After all, all you need as bare essentials are: a sleeping bag, a small tent, flashlight, change of clothes with a sweater or jacket, a rubbish bin, and the company of at least one hard-core camper.

The hard-core campers are the ones who do this activity regularly over the weekend during the 6 months of the year when the weather is pleasant enough. They have a 4X4 and know how to go dune-bashing. They also know how to solve the minor problems that will always pop up. They have at least one ATV or off-road motorcylce (or dune buggy or similar thing). They have a first aid kit with them. They have the tucking ropes, extra petrol containers, a mini barbque set. They know the spots and have been there so many times. They are the leaders of the expidition and their attitude can make it extremely pleasant for all the people joining the expedition.

The advantages of camping in the desert are:
1) Great de-stressing activity
2) Appreciating the simples luxuries of life
3) Men going back to the rough and wild times.

So, enjoy camping people and be sure to invite me to your next camping outing.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Basic Explanation of the Global Credit Crunch

At the outset, let me point out that I am not a financial expert, but one who has an active hobby in understanding finance and economics. My MBA degree also lends me certain credibility in this sphere. I will attempt to give a basic explanation of what happened during the past week in the financial crises that has wiped out people’s savings and fueled panic selling making markets lose 30% of their capitalization amounting to billions and billions of dollars.

The main reason (and there are many other reasons that have contributed to it) behind was a strategic planning mistake by the US banks. Instead of assessing the credit worthiness of the applicants and their ability to make the monthly payments when applying for loans, especially home purchases, they assessed the amount of credit based upon the current market valuation of the actual homes. Well, once the economy was healthy and booming with the prices of homes increasing on a regular basis, this was fine. However, it transferred the risk to the banks and this was the strategic mistake once the economy slowed down.

When they attempted to get rid of these home assets (once they reposed them), they could not at the price they had valued them in their balance sheets. Thus, a fire-sale ensued which led to huge write-offs.

The other strategic mistake is that they collateralized these mortgages to be able to take out more credit from other banks and become more aggressive. Thus, the domino effect happened and with one bank going down, the rest had to follow. That is why the bank bail-out was so important and the government having to guarantee people’s deposits. Otherwise, the ramifications would have been unthinkable.

However, I do not understand how this got translated towards the Arab world whereas the stock markets have shed about 20-30% of their market value over the past week. After all, accessing credit in the Middle East is a lot harder and restrictive than the Western world. In addition, there is only a small portion of mortgages as a percentage of banks’ portfolios relative to the Western world. Moreover, the high price of oil (which is our main produced component) shows no sign of easing or disappearing. In other words, our fundamentals are still strong. So, who can explain it to me?

One person who is a director for a reputed financial institution told me that if the market prices of real estate go down (and not maintain their prices within Dubai specifically and the Middle East in general), then we will see the effects over here. However, he also assured me that the sovereign wealth funds would be more than able to compensate by shifting their money from the Western world to the local country. With the stock markets collapsing as they are, let us all hope that we do not see this doomday scenario.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Mosiac of Airports in the UAE

One week ago, at daybreak, I arrived to Amman from Al Ain International Airport. Yes, I am as surprised as you are since about 12 hours prior to that, I was not aware that Al Ain had an international airport. Well, it is interesting how I ended up at this airport which I will relay to yourselves just now.

Doing a bit of pre-planning, I anticipated that there was going to be a rush for airline tickets during the Eid holidays and thus, I searched for a booking over 2 months ago while I was in Jordan for my summer holidays. Emirates airlines’ flight were already closed and Air Arabia’s prices were not that enticing. So, I ended up booking a Royal Jordanian flight via the internet. It was convenient as it would be departing at 3pm on Thursday so that I can end up breaking the fast in Amman with my parents and siblings and gain one extra day of holidays. In addition, I had traveled with Royal Jordanian airlines during the summer and their service was improved from the 90s when I used to travel during my college days.

Anyway, with the web-based electronic ticket booked and paid for, I did not pay much attention to it until it was too late. Apparently, Royal Jordanian had done a rescheduling of their flight from Dubai and changed it to an 1pm departure timing. Since I did not have a phone number listed, there was no one to call me about the change. My parents were able to find out that there was a Royal Jordanian flight with one seat available from Al Ain Airport. I quickly reserved on it and arranged for a ride to there at midnight.

During my ten years living and working in Dubai, I have had the opportunity to travel from 5 international airports within the UAE. They are Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah (which is a story in itself for another post), and Al Ain airports. The busiest and most advanced is Dubai whereas it has become one of the busiest airports in the world with thriving duty free shops and facilities. For example, there is a laundry branch there whereas you can pick up/deliver your laundry for frequent travelers who reside in the city. During the holiday season (especially at Christmas and New Years), the airport becomes extremely busy and overcrowded with many travelers stretched across the vast passenger terminal. Abu Dhabi’s airport is just as advanced especially with the emergence of Etihad Airlines, but it smaller and not as busy. It bodes well for its future with expansion plans in place to cope with the increasing traffic, but still has not reached Dubai’s status.

Sharjah’s airport is simple (its design is similar to Al Ain’s), but has started to become livelier with Air Arabia operating from there. However, it is representative of the status of Sharjah meaning that Sharjah residents tend to be people in lower-paying jobs who seek affordability. Thus, Air Arabia is a budget airline and the bulk of the passengers are budget travelers with the airport’s facilities catering to that category of people. However, this was a smart move as it certainly occupies a niche being extremely close to Dubai’s airport (only half an hour drive away).

Ras Al Khaimah is by far the smallest airport (although Al Ain might be tied with it). In 2001, it only handled 28,000 passengers. There are only 3 passport counters with Al Ain having four.All of these airports reflect the status and character of the cities they serve. Generally, I believe this is true of all airports in the world. To get an impression of the city, one needs only see the airport. Ironically, that is usually a person’s first interaction with the city that they are visiting.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Seperation of Identity and Self

First I must apologize for not posting earlier since I have been on vacation spending the Eid Holidays with my parents in Jordan. On this occasion, I would like to extend Eid greetings to all hoping that the Almighty grants everyone the strength and health to enjoy many more Ramadans and subsequent Eids with their loved ones and family. For my family it was great as all my siblings and I were gathered under our parent’s roof for two consecutive days. This has not happened for an extremely long time.

The subject of this post is derived from an earlier conversation with my brother. For background, I had visited my brother, who lives and works in the Cleveland, Ohio within the United States. As this was my first visit to him ever since he had gotten married, my brother was excited and proud to show me the city he works in. Having not been to the United States for over 6 years (my last visit was the summer of 2002), and being indulged/engaged in the modernity and sophistication of Dubai, I was critical. Please allow me to elaborate.
In the 70s and 80s, the Middle East region was 3rd world. Its infrastructure was retarded and had not evolved for a long time. Thus, the standard of excellence was the Western world (mainly the United States). The Arabs viewed the Western world with admiration as its standards of living and the amenities it offered far exceeding those of the Arab world. However, the equation has changed where the Arab world, and especially the Gulf countries, utilized their petro-dollars to develop their cities’ infrastructure and facilities. In addition, a new educated generation emerged who helped develop their countries even further. With urban planners having healthy financial budgets and an almost blank slate to work with, the foundations of development in these cities utilized the most advanced developments and technology to really built up top-notch facilities and buildings. Thus, Arab cities became modern and highly advanced cities. With these modern cities came modern facilities and services. Thus, we Arabs have become lucky to enjoy a high standard of living in our cities and have become used to it, and we caught up to the United States and exceeded it in some aspects. At least this happened in Dubai and was the basis of my critical appraisal of Cleveland.

However, my brother took my critical viewpoint of Cleveland as if he was responsible and that was the source of his irritation. I did not understand that. Now, I get to the subject of this post. It seems that it is part of human nature to identify with the city that you are currently residing in. It becomes a part of your identity and who you are. A person can carry many identifications; his own personality, his religion, his citizenship, his family, and his company. Sometimes, that identification becomes so blurred whereas a person criticizes something that one identifies with and that second person feels as if the criticism is directed towards him. Thus, the person becomes defensive.

I have two thoughts on that and I do not know which one is more appropriate. On the one hand, everyone has a natural tendency to have a sense of belonging. After all, human beings are social animals and need a sense of belonging to have a sense of purpose in their lives. They might try to alleviate the perceived shortcomings of their society via directly or indirectly discussing it and trying to change it for the better. They also proudly attach themselves to the success of their community/society although they might not have contributed any part in it. For example, a city baseball team wins the World Series and you are smiling and proud of it although you do not follow baseball at all. It is an interesting phenomenon.

However, the other side of the coin is that people must learn to detach themselves emotionally from things they identify with. For instance, my brother is not the mayor of Cleveland nor is he working as a city official. Thus, if anyone critiques an aspect of the city, my brother can agree with it or disagree. However in the grand scheme of things, it is about acceptance of others’ opinions without necessarily agreeing with them on the subject.

To be able to separate one emotionally from issues and not take them personally is one way for the whole world to get along. Although it is extremely difficult, it is an ideal that we should all strive to do. It would make the world a happier, more splendid place to live in. Do you not agree?

Friday, September 19, 2008

The 3 Stages of Marriage

A recent post about the number of divorces in Egypt last year (75,000) and bloggers explanations of the reasons behind the rise in divorces inspired me to share a bit of wisdom from a psychologist’s perspective. This psychologist has a pretty exclusive practice in Dubai, is considered an expert, has published books, and charges a hefty price ($300/hour) according to my friend. My friend is receiving marriage counseling from him and I share the information with you about the stages of marriage.

Now, please note that I am not an expert on this subject, as I have still not been married (I just have not found the correct person yet). I just thought that due to the universality of marriage, it would be great to enrich people and see their viewpoints on it.

The first stage is referred to as “the honeymoon stage.” It is when the people first meet and start enjoying each other’s company. Both parties enjoy this stage tremendously as it is composed of laughter, fun and dates. They enjoy spending time together and engaging in activities that they both enjoy. When they are apart, they miss each other and look forward to their next meeting. Time is spent being silly on the phone and daydreaming of the other one. They walk around with a grin and people notice that they are happy. This can last all the way from initial dates until they are married and living together. This is the period whereas everyone hopes can last forever.

The second stage is referred to as “the serious stage.” This is where the couple has been together and has to start making serious decisions about their life. Where will they live? Do they want children and when? How many children do they want? How will they earn a living? Who will they associate with and what are their future plans? It involves serious discussions between both of them as these decisions are life-altering and the outcome will determine how they live their life. All of a sudden, reality strikes and gone are the days of the honeymoon where it was all about fun and games.

The third and final stage is “the commitment stage.” This is whereas the couple and their offspring became so attached to each other that they are one and the same. The number one priority for each is the other as it defines who they are. It takes precedence over all other things (e.g. career, work, vacation, and travel). Hereby, compromise for the good of the whole family is the most important parameter in any decision. Here routine sets in as your direction in life with your partner is defined and you are going via the motions. However, it is not necessarily bad as it is the ultimate and final stage of marriage that leaves it stable and gives it an essence of normalcy.

Apparently, all marriages/relationships go through these stages. Some stages can last a short time while others can last forever. Problems stem when one cannot make the move from one stage to the other. An example, a person who is addicted to the fun of the honeymoon stage runs away and seeks fun elsewhere when his significant other wants to move to the serious stage. The non-ability of both partners to move through the stages together spells the doom of marriages. Please note that there are times when you briefly move to another stage while your essence is in another stage. Also, there is a bit of overlap between the 3 stages and this is quite normal.

So what are your thoughts? Which stage are you in? When can I reach the honeymoon stage? When can you move from one stage to the next?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Common Sense Never Hurt Traffic

I thought that I would never see this day, but apparently, the Road & Transport Authority (RTA) has managed to pull a miracle; traffic jam at 1am. And no, it is not an unusual incident like a horrific traffic accident, but rather, the introduction of Salik Toll Road on Sheikh Zayed Road.

It started out back in July 2007 (i.e. over a year ago) when these electronic tolls were installed on Garhoud bridge and Sheikh Zayed Road by Interchange #4 which is next to Mall of the Emirates. Surprise, surprise; people avoided them by going on the parallel routes.

Well, the second phase started on September 9th (originally slated for September 1st) whereas another two tolls would be positioned; one on Al Maktoom bridge and the second on Sheikh Zayed Road between Interchange #1 (Defense Roundabout) and Interchange #2 (where the Metropolitan hotel is located). Naturally, I along many Dubai commuters decided that passing the toll late at night is not worth it and because traffic is light, we can afford the extra 5 minutes and head from Al Wasel Road.

Not surprisingly, all the commuters and regular drivers of Dubai have the same feeling, thus resulting in the traffic jam. The solution is so simple that I often wonder why the RTA does not implement it immediately. It would go a long way to prove that they are addicted to solving traffic woes in Dubai and not just earning supplemental income for the coffers of the municipality.

The tolls should be operational when they are needed; i.e. during peak traffic hours. After all, anyone who utilizes them should ensure that they really need to drive their cars during that period of time. Now, the talk shows on radio have had experts from the traffic police claim that Dubai suffers from an extended rush hour that almost lasts the whole working day. Thus, I propose that the toll is operational from 8am till 9pm every business day. That is sufficient and easily done.

After all, the toll on Al Maktoum bridge is operational between 6am till 10 pm every day (since the Floating Bridge which does not have a toll on it) is closed during that time. So, why can't it be done for Sheikh Zayed Road instead of having the traffic jam on the parallel road Al Wasel which is not a main highway, but rather made for residential traffic. Who has the common sense to implement it at the RTA? Or is that not a skill not required?!?!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Conspiracy Theories about Susan Tamim’s Death

On July 28th, Suzanne Tamim, a famous Lebanese singer, was found killed in her Jumeirah Beach Residence Apartment. In Dubai, the story became headline news due to many factors (her beauty, her celebrity status, murders being rare over here, and the fact that she was apparently in hiding over here from her estranged husband in Lebanon). As the days unfolded, the plot thickened with links to other parts of the world (Lebanon where her ex-husband and business manager lived, Egypt where she had first fled too from Lebanon, and the UK where there were claims that she married a British-Iraqi before coming to Dubai).

Well, the latest on the case after around 6 weeks expiring, was that an influential Egyptian businessman, Hashim Talaat Mustapha, was arrested for ordering the murder and paying an ex-cop, who was his head of security $2 million to kill her. This is an interesting plot which would be suited for a “cloak and dagger story.” The businessman was a member of parliament and they had to have his immunity from prosecution lifted before they commenced to arrest her. Just today, it has been reported that he offered Suzanne’s father over $20 million as blood money (although it is widely known that accidental death and not premeditated murder qualify for blood money in some Arab countries).

Over the weekend, during a Ramadan tent gathering, one of my friends started mentioning the following conspiracy theories about this murder. Upon investigation with another knowledgeable local friend of mine, it turned out that one theory is being circulated which I thought to share with you. Why is that? I never understood why a multi-billionaire would be so distressed over his mistress leaving him to order her killing instead of satisfying his sexual appetite with a dozen other trophy ladies. Maybe it is because I still have not experienced love, due to my rational and practical nature, but that is another subject.

So there are two conspiracy theories circulating around; with the foremost being a power play between the business community of Egypt and the business team of Dubai. The second one, being a weak theory in my opinion is a simple mafia-style revenge. Hisham Talaat was utilizing Suzanne to launder money and she stole it from him, so she had to be taught a lesson. However, the first theory is more interesting.

Apparently, Emaar wanted to invest in the Egyptian real estate development called Madinaty. Under lobbying by the business community in Egypt, Emaar needed to find an Egyptian partner to have a controlling stake, which they received. However, Hisham Talaat utilized his influence- being closely linked to the Egyptian ruling party especially Gamal Mubarak, the son of the Egyptian president- muscled in and became a partner with the Egyptian partner. Hisham then broke up the partnership and claimed compensation for his share in the dissolved company although he had not invested a single dollar. It was sorted out with Emaar paying some compensation to Hisham. Thus, he had hoodwinked Emaar and its chairman. Hisham had to be taught a lesson.

Hisham was apparently obsessed with Suzanne, having been her protector in Egypt from her ex-husband. He had paid over millions of dollars in her protection and for making unlawful activities by her family disappear. Thus, by getting back at him, it was via Suzanne who had come to Dubai under the protection of an influential person here. Hisham apparently took it up a notch by threatening the influential community here in their own back yard. That is why he had to be imprisoned.

Although I know that the conspiracy theory has some loose and weak strings, it is interesting nonetheless. After all, one of the main problems of the Arab world is that there are people with influence who are above the law. Just last week, a person married to the royal family of Morocco shot a police officer just because he asked him for his car papers. These stories do exist within the Arab world. So was it a clash of titans which led to the murder of Susan Tamim? Time might tell us and it might not with rumors circulating around.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Religious Outrage at a Video Game

I am conflicted about writing this post. The reason is that it would give credence to something that I absolutely do not want to promote or allude too. It is a video game that is insulting to all people of religious backgrounds. Although the direct attack is on Muslims, its content is blasphemous to anybody who believes in a higher deity; the All Powerful God.

It is a simple video game available for downloading whereas you blast away at so-called Muslim turbaned terrorists. As you reach higher levels, you get to kill Osama Bin Laden, and then, (may Allah forgive the insane amongst humanity), The All Powerful.

The creator is a simpleton who is a hate-monger and imbecile. They attempt to antagonize everyone who believes in God at an insane attempt at black, heartless comedy. They should be charged by the international community as a criminal within the ranks of Hitler, Stalin, and every other dictator. His actions are inexcusable. He attempts to gain his 15 minutes of fame, by being even more procatitive than the Danish cartoonist.

You would have noticed than I did not mention the title of this video game. No doubt that with a little bit of internet searches, the entripising amongst you would be able to find out about it. However, I do not want to give it credibility by mentioning it, thus making more aware of this obscure person and his ridiculous message.

May this person come back to their senses and repent. There is no value-added from this attempt. His skills and imagination can be utilized without antagonizing all religious people. After all, Allah is just the Arabic word for God. Muslims believe in the same God as Christians and Jews.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Need to Tone Down my Outspokeness

For those that know me, I am a person who is outspoken and speaks his mind. It is a part of my personality and people in time come to appreciate my ethics and integrity. However, I should be careful with my outspokenness as it also has gotten me in trouble several times.

One example happened yesterday. A colleague came to enquire about a previous member of my team. She wanted to know my perception of her. Well, this team member was the weakest link in our department. She was a person who was argumentative, would not admit any mistakes, and thought the whole world was out to get her. She had left the company over 5 months ago and nobody misses her as she singlehandedly managed to alienate everybody.

From the above, her biggest downfall is her negative attitude. That is something that destroys people and their careers. It haunts them and will continue to do so. The single best advice to people is to enhance their attitude. It can go a long way to furthering their careers and making them achieve success. But that is a long topic which I will tackle in another post.

Anyway, she (as we all do) spiced up her CV apparently taking credit for a lot of projects done within the company. Based upon that, she was hired by another company and has just started with them. However, it seems that her line manager is surprised by her inability to handle simple assignments based upon her claims. Thus, her management at the company are worried about her (and since she is still on probation) have started to closely examine the details of her CV. Thus, her line manager contacted her friend at our company and that person came to ask me about her.

Well, I told the truth and did not attempt to blemish it. Although I did state that I would not want to cut a person's livelihood, but that this lady is a hopeless case. This was not my personal opinion, although I did suffer tremendously with her under my tutelage, but a consensus of all those that interacted with her. After all, she received a dismal performance rating from me after the year under my supervision. After that, she was transfered to be managed by another person who also had trouble with her where it reached an ultimatimum; either the manager stays or this lady but not both.

The morale of this story is the following:
1) Try and leave a company on good terms no matter what the circumstances are. After all, you never know when you will need the support of people.
2) Utilize the mistakes to learn from them and never repeat them.
3) When people request information from you, better to stay neutral and let them handle it themselves. After all, they are the ones who hired her and thus, they need to make the final decision of whether to retain her or not.
4) I will need to tone down my outspokeness. After all, who am I to judge others?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Can I get a Word In?

Yesterday, I was invited to a friend’s house to break Iftar. I have known this friend for over 10 years now ever since he interviewed me and subsequently, I was hired with an American multinational in Beirut. As he was the main sales person within the Consumer Division and I was the marketing person, we have had our fair share of conflicts within the scope of work. Our boss suffered greatly as he tried to facilitate our differences. Subsequently, I came to Dubai and he followed one year later and we have stayed in touch.

Mohamed is one of those guys whom I get annoyed with especially when we are debating a certain topic. I would always try to reason with him, as well as some of his other friends, but to no avail. He would get easily peeved, his tone of voice rising and rising, until it reaches the point whereby you either keep your silence or risk alienating your friendship altogether.

What is his red line? Well, it is whenever Arab politics are debated, especially the PLO and his beloved leader, Yasser Arafat. You see, Mohamed is a Palestinian refugee whose family are vehemently pro-Fatah supporters whom witnessed the Fedayeen movement within Lebanon during the 80s and 90s. Although he is the only one of his nuclear family to speak with a Lebanese (even Beiruti accent) due to him growing up amongst Lebanese friends in his formative years, he places himself as the voice/soul of the Palestinian people and their consciousness. To him, and this is my main criticism, there are only two viewpoints; the correct one (which is his) and the incorrect one (which is any other countervailing argument). Similar to George W. Bush’s mantra: You are with us or against us, it leaves no room for compromise or a basis for reaching a mutual solution.

My sister, during one of her visits to Dubai, at last made me understand where he is coming from which I never understood. It was a personal belief and nobody could make him see it differently. Blind faith in Yasser Arafat was Mohamed’s prerogative and his reason for being. My sister stated: If someone was to try and convince you that your religion, Islam, is incorrect, then how would your reaction be? At last, it dawned upon me.

Thus, these days, I stopped attempting to try and convince Mohamed of the wrong in his arguments. Rather, I just sit back and enjoy the show. Why get worked up and annoyed about something that I cannot influence. In addition, I see that my little sister (she is younger than me by 9 years) has matured from the little kid into a young adult woman and our relationship should be based upon mutual respect and not my imposition of right and wrong on her.

Are my actions correct? What do you think?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Practising Rather Than Preaching

I am ashamed by a simple email at work that was sent by "The admin. dept." Firstly, never trust emails that refer to a department rather than a person. Secondly, it did more harm than good. The email was informing all the employees of the company that in RESPECT for Ramadan no one is allowed to eat or drink on company premises, not even in the pantry area of our offices. Imagine the irony!

This simple email memo does Muslims a lot more harm than good and goes directly against the spirit of Ramadan. We expect non-Muslims to respect our religion by observing it!!! That is horrific and unacceptable. And we wonder why other nationals criticize Muslims as being fanatics and having spread the message via the sword.

As long as non-Muslims are discreet and considerate during Ramadan (e.g. closing the pantry door and quitely eating during lunch over there), then it shows that they respect the Muslim practice of fasting during Ramadan. Obviously someone who violates these rules should be given a private stern warning by The Admin Dept. However, to impose this stupid rule upon all employees makes non-Muslims frown upon the Muslim practice of Ramadan.

We have been led by demagouges for way too long. We should concentrate on practicing our religion in a private manner rather than paint our religions on our sleeves. That is more consistent with the spirit of our religion.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Arab TV Series During Ramadan

Today while fasting on the first day of this year’s Ramadan, I noticed a female colleague of mine who was enquiring about the timing of the TV Arab serials, Bab il Hara 3 and Freej. This is what Ramadan is about for a lot of people. Most of the time, it takes me a couple of days before I settle on my own TV series to regularly watch and sometimes it is vastly different than the most common one.

For my non-Arab audience, I need to give a little bit of background. Besides the spiritual element of Ramadan, it is a time for the Arab TV channels and producers to showcase themselves. The family gathering around the TV after breaking their fast and staying up late in the night is a common phenomenon. Thus, many channels and media houses salivate over the opportunity to target all Arabs from the ages of 15 to 60 male and female at the same time.

During the initial beginning, it was Noor El Shareef’s Al Haj Mutwali that grabbed the spotlight. In it, he married 4 times with each different wife having a different personality and they lived in the same building, thus making their interaction lively and interesting. Other social themes were expressed within it and its ramifications were tremendous (talk shows, family discussions, etc…).

Last year, it was the Syrian series Bab Il Hara which received the kudos. It glamorized the traditional conservative theme of masculinity and honor. I wonder which TV series will emerge as the champion of Ramadan 2008 especially as Bab Il Hara will have the 3rd edition while there will be a historical series about the tribe of the Prophet Mohamed (Peace Be Upon Him); Bani Hashim.

I can understand why a lot of TV channels try and purchase the top Ramadan series and have exclusive rights to it. However, I do believe that it has been taken a little bit too far. There are so many choices for people now that it would take a person staying up 18 hours per day just to stay on top of all of the series. It has been taken a step too far. Each Arab TV channel tries to compete in all the segments including cartoon animation (after the success of Freej in the UAE), general entertainment (similar to Bab il Hara), historical serials, and Bedouin series.

Two problems emerge; 1) there are way too many choices for a person to choose so they either have to spend Ramadan watching TV and forgetting about the spiritual meaning of getting closer to God via worship, and 2) when a format works, then it get blindly replicated by TV channels. For example, The first Freej was excellent, but Freej 2 was OK. Will Freej 3 boom or bust? Bab il Hara won hands down last year, but there are other competitors now who have just changed the setting from middle-class shop owners in a Damascus neighborhood to fishermen on a coastal city. Is this really innovation or imitation? Will it work or not?

Time will only tell. Have a good time viewing!

A Perspective on Fasting

Well, Ramadan has come around again whereby Muslims across the world refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset for a whole lunar month. It is projected to start on 1st of September this year, but could be on the 2nd according to the sighting of the new moon. Ramadan is a special occasion for Muslims as the holy month replenishes their spiritual side, makes them more reflective, and is a time for meeting of friends and families, especially as they break their fast together. More importantly, it is a distinguishing mark of a devout Muslim who is performing the 4th pillar of his religion.

However, I would like to point out that fasting is not about refraining from food and drink, but rather, it is much deeper and symbolic than that. Fasting is about discipline, it is about resisting temptation, and it is about “turning the other cheek.” After all, the hardest part of fasting is not the sustenance/nourishment aspect although that is the aspect most widely discussed, especially with non-Muslims. The hardest part of fasting, and one that I am especially attracted too, is the ability to forgive and not answer back those that have attacked you.

What does that mean? It means refraining from cursing, shouting or showing belligerence towards others. It means not waving your hands when someone cuts you off on the road. It means not responding to a verbal assault, but stating: “God be my witness, but I am fasting!” It means having the discipline and the self-consciousness to elevate yourself and self-worth to a higher moral ground than others. And you do that as further evidence of your devotion to God. It means holding your temper in check, and not justifying those around you that are not sure of themselves. That is the essence of fasting, but how many people actually think of it in this way?!?!

May the Almighty grant you the health and prosperity to enjoy many more Ramadans!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sports development should be for everybody

Obviously many blog posts during August would relate to the Olympics recently conducted in Beijing. While reading one posted by American Bedu, who is a regular blogger in Saudi Arabia, I remembered growing up there and the shattered dreams of a young child. But in order not to confuse you, let me give a little bit of background.

Growing up in Dhahran, Aramco whilst attending a Saudi private school (D.A.S- for those that will recognize it) had many benefits. It allowed me to learn Arabic and understand Islamic religion whilst at the same time advancing my Western education. Naturally, as a young child, I was full of energy (maybe my mother adding tons of sugar to our corn flakes had something to do with it) and would love to play all matter of organized sport outdoors. The main sports were soccer, basketball, volleyball, and tennis. I was actually pretty darn good at them and could have continued had the encouragement been there.

Well, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education in coordination with the Ministry of Youth and Sports were in the planning stages of developing their male youth and providing them with the coaching and guidance to progress further in their favorite past-times. Thus, many sports clubs (Itifaq, Al Nahda, and Al Qadiysia in the Eastern province) would send out their coaches to find young Saudi talent and develop their game further. My issue with that is that I was approached by several of these coaches, but then they backed out when they found out my passport which was not Saudi. So, what happened? My Saudi friends and classmates signed up with these clubs. As a result of them getting exposure to various tournaments throughout Saudi Arabia in addition to regular coaching, they were able to develop further. I could not as I was limited to the tournaments held for the Aramco community which usually consisted of the same 5 people whom were at your level (mainly tennis here).

For instance, I won an 800-meter run and a track and field coach approached me stating my time was great. Remember that I was a young adolescent who had a low heart beat and could beat many others his age in running middle distances (for short sprints, there were faster people than I). I had a natural inclination on how to pace myself and this was without any formal training or development. It was raw talent that sadly wilted away and was not allowed to develop further.

That is not fair and shows a level of short-sighted thought on behalf of the authorities. Whilst it is understandable that they would like to develop their Saudi youth, they have to accept that the other youth living in the country should be treated the same. If we contrast that with the United States (my experience during college), it is the difference between day and night. Over there, all students have the ability to participate in collegiate level sports and it does not matter where they come from. The better they are, the more chances they have. Talent is the only criterion. In fact, my siblings had experiences whereas talented sports stars are given a chance to attend exclusive boarding schools during their high school years in order to utilize their talents in the desired sport.

Why cannot we Arabs be as open to this idea as the Americans? After all, their results and success speaks volumes, while the Arab track record leaves something to be desired.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mountain out of a Mole-Hill

I headed to Al Reef Lebanese Bakery on Wasl Road to have two manakeesh at about 10pm during a weekday. As I sat down on one of the 4 tables in the place awaiting my meal to arrive, I happened to observe the following; a couple came in and ordered. They were getting ready to sit at the table next to me when the man went to wash his hands while the woman went to the refrigerator to get a bottle of water. At the same time, another person placed his jacket on the back rest of the chair and sat down with his friend. Thus, the table got taken and the woman (whose back was to the table) was surprised when she turned around and found her chosen place taken.

Well, she took another table, and when her husband came back, she started complaining about the indecency of the pair of men that took their table. She was upset and I overheard her stating the injustice in an irritable manner. Her husband tried to calm her down and told her not to create a scene while she stated that she did not care (although their heated discussion did not turn into a scene, but was kept at the respectable level).

So what does this mean? This small incident got me thinking about how understanding is crucial for all of humankind to get along and appreciate different perspectives. The lady ASSUMED that the two knew that she and her husband wanted to sit there, but they stole it from her. I saw what happened and did not tell the gentlemen that the lady was sitting there. The gentlemen were oblivious to what had happened and would probably have given up their seats if they were made aware of the situation.

As a result of our silence what happened? Well, from the lady’s perspective, these Iranian gentlemen were rude and as a result of their actions, all Iranians became guilty by association of having ill manners. I was guilty with myself because I could have prevented this situation from happening by pointing out to the first man who placed the jacket that the woman was planning to sit there, but alas, I did not. Why is that? Is it that I have become a city-slicker who is insensitive to the injustices, although simple, committed by others? Is it my natural shyness coming out quietly to reassert itself? Or is it antipathy that drove me? I had witnessed the whole thing and could have added a valid perspective to everything by either a) telling the men that the lady was planning to sit there, or b) by pointing out to the woman and her husband later on that the men were oblivious to what had happened (i.e. the table was empty and free for them). I did not!

How many times does something similar happen in real life were a simple misunderstanding escalates into deeper feelings of “I am right and you are wrong?” How many times do people bottle up their feelings and not try and seek reassurance or understanding? So next time, listen to others and do not make assumptions. Otherwise, it might manifest into something bigger than it really is.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Arabs Unite for the 2012 Olympics; a Solution

Well, the last week has been a week of many hours of watching TV and following the internet to see the results of the Olympics. This fortnight turns me into an armchair sports fanatic and it is quite amazing that I want to find out more about what the different competitions are and their rules and whether I should give it a go. It is also a time to catch the commentary and become a little more updated about sports that I do not follow.I flip the remote control between the 7 TV channels that are showing the Olympics. Whenever there is an Arab athlete competing, my attention is focused as I would like them to succeed and make us proud. Well, what is the outcome so far; after 8 days of competition, the Arabs can boast of a total of 3 medals (1 silver by Algeria, and 2 bronze by Algeria and Egypt). Hooray, we should all be proud! I hope that with the athletics, the Arab drought will finally end and we will have an Arab athlete win the gold medal.Many Arab sports commentators have been as frustrated with the draught as I am. They are blaming it on the National Olympic Committees and the lack of planning. Their main argument is that we (as Arabs) need to provide the full support for our athletes in order for them to fulfill their role and bring us the medals with the bragging rights that go with it. We should not be there just to participate for our national flags to fly within the Olympic Village and in the Parade of Nations. This got me thinking and I want to share a solution with you; have ALL of the 22 Arab countries contribute half of their budgets to a collective consolidated budget that will be used as a Regional Trial to choose the BEST ARAB ATHLETES and train them to bring us gold.There are several reasons for this; 1) the Arab common person is united in their support of Arabs in the Olympics as it reflects on all of us (where we are really united), 2) it allows the countries to still have their symbolic participation in the Olympics (with half their budget), and 3) it will derive the athletes of the poor excuse that I did not perform because I did not have the support, especially financial from my National Olympic Committee.After all, the Arab countries combined have the same population of the United States. And we never hear complaints from them that on there are too many Californians with their Olympic athletes and not a single Alaskan!So, will this be an ideal or can the League of Arab States seriously work on achieving it from 2009? As a corporate person, I would place 12 gold medals as our target for 2012 London Olympics!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Olympic Jihad being Led by Arab Women

Yesterday, I, along with about 25% of the world’s population, watched the Opening Ceremony of the Bejing Olympics. There was nothing unusual during the ceremony except for the irony that the Chinese alphabet allowed the Syrian contingent be followed by the United States delegation. From the athletes’ perspective, George W. Bush seemed to be cheering the Syrian athletes which probably astonished and amused them.

The other unusual thing from my perspective was the number of women who were selected and honored to be their own countries’ flag bearers. An interesting thing, which led me to have pen and paper and re-watch the Parade of National Athletes till late in the morning, was the number of women who were given the honor to carry their countries’ flags. It was 29% which is not bad at all. Well how did the Arab countries fare?!? We had 4 female flag-bearers (3 of them were veiled) and two of those were from the conservative Gulf Cooperation Council.

That is correct! Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the Comoros Islands had a woman representative honored by her carrying her country’s flag. As the Arab countries number 22, that is 18% of Arab countries. Although this is symbolic, I cannot but help wonder whether why this story is not being told. Most of the European countries had male flag carriers (their female participation was exactly 20%). The best continent according to me was Africa which had 22 female flag bearers to 29 male bearers. The only thing I have heard about the Olympics by the Western press is the criticism that Saudi Arabia refuses to have any female athlete in its Olympic delegation. That is fair, but it also fair to point out the positives from the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Isn’t it ironic that ultra-conservative Iran also had a woman carry their ISLAMIC flag? Add to that list, the Muslim nation of Eriteria and we have an “Islamic Jihad” at the Olympics led by women. How will the Western mainstream media and liberal feminists handle it!
It has gotten me thinking about the Arab Olympic movement and the positive effect women have had upon it. I still remember Nawal Al Mutawkel’s (from Morocco) gold medal in Los Angeles ’84 Olympics in addition to Ghada Shuaa’s giving Syria its first ever Olympic medal. In fact, I was heartened to learn that the former has been recently elected to the International Olympic Committee’s Board recently. In fact (and I will have to check on that) but I would be willing to wager that the number of Arab medals between females and males is 40-60 and not something skewed like 10-90. Can the Western countries boast of a similarly based proportion within their Olympic records?

So, why do is this not a story to tell? We, Arabs and Muslims, have provided women with opportunities to shine and these women have done us proud. However, we have not utilized this information to counter other’s whose motives are more sinister and aim to paint us out as “woman-haters.” Please note that I am not stating that all of woman issues have been handled correctly in the Arab world. That is still an ideal and we need to improve our record on other woman’s issues, but we need to have an acknowledgment of our Olympic efforts in promoting Arab women first.

I wish all the Arab countries great success in the Olympics and may we get more medals than in previous Olympics. These wishes are specially placed to our female athletes. Make us proud and let the world take notice of your ethnicity and gender.