Ramadan: Light Up My Life

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

ramadan2The celebration of Ramadan, in the Middle East region, is a spectacular affair full of worship, fasting and just being kind to your fellow neighbor. Restaurants, cafes and local businesses pull out all of the stops by offering special late night menus and a special dessert menu to tempt just about any palate. While food is a big part of the Ramadan tradition, since the breaking of the fast is one of the great joy’s bestowed upon Muslims by God Almighty, there is also another tradition that continues to grow bigger with each passing year.

The holy season of Ramadan heralds in a whole month full of blessings that fill the Muslim’s heart with joy, from the crack of dawn until the sun makes its serene descent towards the gilded horizon. However, once the sun sets, there is nothing dim about the auspicious nights of Ramadan.  From Cairo to Palestine, tiny lanterns and strands of brightly colored bulbs ensure that the Ramadan nights sparkle. The skies are set aglow with brightly colored lights that either hang effortlessly midair or are manipulated into grandiose shapes in all sizes.

While most Islamic nations in the region do trim city streets with Ramadan fare, there is one tiny municipality that just does it better. In Abu Dhabi, which is a municipality of the United Arab Emirates, the streets are decked out in thousands upon thousands of tiny bulbs. Each year, teams of workers hang and dangle countless numbers of lights, lanterns and decorations all around the municipality. This year is no different, as the Abu Dhabi government shelled out a massive $136,000 to light up parts of the municipality’s infrastructure.

In just over two weeks, workers completed the gargantuan task in record time. Bridges and tunnels around the Corniche serve as the foundation for the elaborate decorations which includes giant stars, golden crescents and “Ramadan Kareem” signs. Heavy-duty cables, that have been inspected and approved by Abu Dhabi authorities, were enlisted to guarantee that the decorations and lanterns hang safely above. The whole undertaking is environmentally friendly as well. Light-Emitting Diodes, or LED lights, have been used to conserve energy. LED lights use an estimated 90% less energy than traditional bulbs and produce less heat which is a vital safety measure in the arid regions of the Middle East. The decorations will remain in place until after the Eid holidays have been celebrated.

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Cracking Down on Balconies

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

balcony-colorIn the United States, most home owner’s associations have stringent rules for how members must maintain the outer appearance of their houses and even lawns. Members often incur fines and sometimes the wrath of their fellow neighbors for having unkempt lawns or yards full of discarded junk.  For this reason, the typical homeowner in America spends a great deal of time manicuring his lawn to perfection.

Just a stone’s throw away, in the Middle East, the majority of homeowners participate in a similar ritual.   Houses in the region feature immaculately groomed and grassy front yards. In addition, most homes also have an ornate garden filled with desert shrubs and fruit-bearing date palm trees. Neighbors often compete with one another over whose dates are the sweetest and plumpest.
For members of the expatriate community, life is drastically different. The majority of the foreign populace in the Middle East cannot afford to buy luxury homes while others, such as ones residing in Kuwait, are legally barred from buying real estate. Expatriates have little recourse but to rent apartments which are often small despite the hefty monthly rental fee. Due to the lack of space, many expatriates utilize the extra space that terraces and balconies provide.

It is not unusual to find a balcony completely covered in plywood. The space is then transformed into a spare room or even a home office. For others, the balcony serves as a private home garden with large soil filled pots serving as the “land”. Thanks to the consistent amount of sunlight in the Middle East, it is very easy to grow tomatoes and herbs right on the balcony. A balcony is also very functional in that it provides space to store unused items and most are fitted with a clothes line perfect for hanging out the wash.

Freedom of balcony usage is typically left in the hands of the tenant and is not mandated by the government. However, in one tiny Gulf municipality, balcony usage has come under fire. In Sharjah, which is a municipality of the United Arab Emirates, authorities are cracking down on tenants with messy balconies. According to the recent balcony laws, tenants are no longer allowed to hang laundry from the balcony, attach a television satellite anywhere on it and storing junk is strictly forbidden. Anyone touting the balcony laws will be fined $68 and paying the initial fine late results in an increased fine of $136.

Sharjah authorities have also launched an all-encompassing media campaign to inform the public about proper balcony maintenance. Leaflets in various languages, including Arabic, are regularly left on the doorsteps of tenants all over the region. The laws are currently being enforced by a special balcony task force that visits neighborhoods and hands out fines for offensive balconies. There is also a special hotline that residents can call to ask questions and report violators. 

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Smoke-Free by Force

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

no-smoking-signSmokers around the world are somewhat used to having certain smoking privileges revoked for the sake of their health and the health of those around them. One of the most recent anti-smoking laws to go into effect, in the US State of New York, is a statewide ban on cigarette smoking on public beaches and parks. The fine for anyone stubbing out the law is a $50 fine. However, the NYPD will not be held responsible for enforcing the ban. According to Mayor Bloomberg, it will be up to park rangers and regular “New Yorkers” to keep smokers from lighting up on any number of New York’s 1,700 parks and 14 miles of beaches. Back in 2003, Mayor Bloomberg also banned cigarette smoking in bars and restaurants.

Just across the Atlantic Ocean the miniscule sheikhdom of Dubai, municipality of the United Arab Emirates, spearheaded a grandiose 24-hour ban this past Tuesday on the sale of cigarettes. Smokers in the oil-rich Gulf state could not buy a pack of cigarettes if their lives depended upon it as grocery stores and gas stations were emblazoned with placards announcing the daylong ban of cigarette sales. The majority of Dubai’s restaurants and cafes also supported the ban by refusing customers the “shisha” pipe, which is a water-filled pipe that releases steamed tobacco smoke into the smoker’s mouth.

The reason for the ban is to highlight the problem of smoking in the region. Smoking and second-hand smoke are known carcinogens that have been proven to cause certain forms of cancer. Smoking is rampant in Dubai with people from all ages and walks of life “lighting up”. Dubai takes great pride in its anti-smoking initiative and offers free smoking cessation courses at various centers across the municipality. According to Dubai’s Minister of Health, Dr Hanif Hassan, more than 800 smokers have kicked their cigarette habit since 2009 thanks to the cessation centers. Hassan also revealed, in a recent interview, that Dubai plans to build even more cessation centers to help Dubai residents stop smoking once and for all.

In addition, Dubai authorities are mulling over a new law that would double the price of all tobacco products right across the board. The hope is to deter cigarette smoking by making it more expensive. There is also a new initiative to raise public awareness over the harmful effects of cigarette smoking, special attention will be given to children and teens that may face peer pressure that encourages smoking.

Dubai passed a Federal Anti-Smoking Law back in 2009, however only recently have the bylaws been approved and it has yet to be enforced by the appropriate governmental departments.

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The Scourge of Piracy

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

cdsBy definition, the term piracy means, “the unauthorized use or appropriation of patented or copyrighted material and ideas.” In America, piracy laws carry stiff fines and penalties for the person infringing on another’s copyright. Who could forget the story of Minnesota mother Jamie Thomas-Rasset, who was successfully sued by the Recording Industry Association of America and ordered to pay $1.9 million for illegally downloading 24 songs from the Internet? But, while artists and corporations are protected by copyright laws in America, all bets are off when the brand or label is promulgated abroad. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East.

Want to see the new kid’s movie “Rio”? Or listen to Katy Perry’s latest single? If you’re living anywhere in the Middle East then chances are you can get your hands on just about any pirated movie or song, within a few days of its official release in America or Europe. And it will cost a whole lot less than getting the real thing as it trickles out from suppliers. Most pirated CD’s cost around $1.50 a piece or less. The downside is that not all are in the most pristine viewing or even listening condition. However, given the low cost, most shoppers don’t mind a bit of degraded format so long as they get their fill of the latest Hollywood flick or singing sensation.

And it’s not only pirated CD’s that are all the rage in the Middle East, giving customers a cheap means of entertainment and the “pirates” pockets full of cold hard cash. Everything from designer handbags to knockoff fashions are blatantly hawked in small shops and even large department stores. Some of the most popular labels to be pirated include Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, and Chanel. What is most interesting is that a quick inspection of the majority of the goods reveals that they were produced in China.

China has long since been deemed the worst global piracy offender, providing cheap knockoffs of copyrighted goods at a mere fraction of the original products retail value.  According to a recent study, China causes around $2 billion in losses as a direct result of its pirating activities. And China is the biggest supplier of commercial goods to the Middle East region as a whole.

Most Mideast countries pay lip service to the pirating epidemic within the region and have anti-piracy laws on the books, however enforcing copyright laws is another matter. It just is not something that is enforced. However, one rich Gulf nation is finally taking copyright violations seriously. The municipality of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, launched an initiative at the beginning of this year to crackdown on vendors selling pirated goods. As of this month, the municipality has seized more than 21,000 pirated CD’s and has issued fines to 250 retailers for selling pirated goods.

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