A Summer of “Sandboarding”

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

extreme-sports-wallpaper-sand-boardingOne of the biggest complaints often heard by residents, and visitors alike, is the lack of sporting activities in the Middle East. The lack of outdoor activities is not surprising given that eight months out of the year are sweltering with temperatures easily reaching well above 100-degrees Fahrenheit. The greatest pastimes for most denizens of the wealthy gulf regions of the Middle East are usually fine dining or shopping in heavily air-conditioned malls. However, a new breed of daredevil is weathering the scalding desert sun and taking advantage of one of the most plentiful resources in the desert. Sand.

Sandboarding is believed to be a sport invented by the Egyptians, however, there is not credible data available today crediting Egypt with developing the sand sport. Over the past year or so, sandboarding has swept across the Middle East and become the most popular desert activity. Sandboarding combines the best moves and techniques from three sporting activities- skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding. And it requires a very large sand dune in order to fulfill all the twists, jumps and tricks that sandboarders dare to perform.

It can take several minutes for a sandboarder to ascend his sand dune of choice and a mere couple of minutes to cruise down it. For this reason, a sandboarder must be aware of the effects of performing a high-intensity sport in the scorching desert sun and must take preventative measures to ensure his safety and the safety of those sandboarding with him. As a rule, most sandboarders choose the early morning hours just after the crack of dawn to ride the dunes. The heat of the sun in the region reaches full capacity in the early afternoon. Sandboarders must carry several liters of water with them in addition to their sandboard.

One of the most popular sandboarding sites is located in Dubai, which is a municipality of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There is an abundance of naturally occurring sand dunes in the UAE, some scraping the sky at over 200 ft. However, the largest one stands at a dizzying 300ft. It is known by sandboarders as “Big Red”, however locals refer to it as “Al Hamar”. Regardless of the name, the sand dune is very steep and it is bright red due to high-levels of iron oxide. Daredevils congregate near “Big Red” on weekends and a crowd gathers at the base to watch the show.

Sandboards can be purchased in local sporting good shops in most Middle Eastern countries and are even available online. Ingenious businessman, in both the UAE and neighboring Arab States, have created special sandboarding excursions which provide sandboard rentals and transportation to and from the dunes.

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Pushing Freedom

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves”. 

~Abraham Lincoln

freedomThe word “freedom” is one that is being heard more and more often in the Middle East whether it is in the media or brought up in simple conversation.  Countries like Egypt and Tunisia have already tasted the sweet tang of freedom in recent months. Other countries, like Bahrain and Libya, are still waiting to savor even a morsel of freedom in their countries. While certain parts of the Middle East have yet to provide full throttle freedom for its denizens there is one country that has been a beacon of light for a primary liberty, freedom of speech, in the Middle East for many years.

The State of Kuwait has topped the annual Freedom House “Freedom of the Press Survey” for several years running and has been heralded as having one of the most free media sectors in the region. However, this year, Kuwait was toppled from first position by Israel and further pushed down a notch by Lebanon to take third position.

It’s not surprising that Kuwait lost the top spot given that the past several months have seen quite an amount of political turmoil in the country with some media outlets not only reporting the news but also becoming part of it. At least one television station was ransacked in the pasts several months and one writer jailed over public statements they made which were deemed to be inflammatory.

Members of the public in Kuwait have also been prone to having their freedom of speech impugned as of late. This past January a Kuwait-based blogger was sued by an international eatery over writing a negative food review. Fortunately, the blogger proved victorious as the case was thrown out of court.  However, this past week a group of Kuwait University students found themselves simmering in a pot of “hot water” over comments made about one of their teachers on the social-networking site Facebook.

According to the teacher, who chose to press charges, the students posted derogatory comments about her teaching methods on a personal page. Other students chimed in about their experiences and it snowballed from there. Authorities investigated the incident and the case was seemingly closed until the teacher demanded punitive measures from the university’s governing panel. All of the students, some of which are set to graduate in the coming month, involved in posting the comments online face expulsion. In a counterclaim, a spokesman for the student union known as ‘The Democratic Circle’ has retorted, “Freedom of speech is a fundamental right granted by the Constitution. The fact that a university instructor does not respect this premise signifies the existence of a larger issue and jeopardizes the university’s reputation as an educational institute.”

Only time will tell if Kuwait can regain its status as the exemplar for free speech in the region. But one thing is for sure, censorship and transgressions against freedom of speech are both meals best served up cold. 

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