Ringing in the New Year

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

happy_New_Year_s_hat_5The time has come to bid adieu to yet another year. Countries around the world, from Russia to Japan, will ring in 2012 with the pomp and pageantry befitting of a new year. However, for many, bidding farewell to a passing year and welcoming in another one is mere ritual. For others, saying goodbye to 2011 gives reason to pause and reflect on the past twelve months. Nowhere is this truer than the Middle East where the “Arab Spring” was born and continues to take baby steps to freedom and democracy. Albeit through infinite tears and immense bloodshed.

Countries in the region ring in the New Year differently. In Kuwait, the celebration is limited to private parties and the odd buffet meal at a five-start restaurant. In Saudi Arabia, it is largely ignored since following the Islamic calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian one, takes precedent. And in countries like Egypt and Syria, there will be little reason to celebrate given the tumultuous political environment that rages on with little end in sight. There is one country, however, that always has a New Year’s Eve celebration that rivals even the grandest of celebrations in the West. And that’s Dubai.

The tiny United Arab Emirate’s municipality of Dubai holds one of the biggest New Year’s Eve celebrations in the region each year without exception. And this year, event organizers have promised a bash bigger and better than ever. The tallest building in the world, Burj Al-Khalifa will take center stage as a larger than life pyrotechnical display with shake it to its very core and illuminate the skies in a sea of colors. The nearby building Burj Al Arab will also have its own fireworks display at the stroke of midnight.

Resorts, hotels and nightclubs in Dubai have a host of activities that start well before midnight and will last well into the morning hours of New Year’s Day. One of the most unique celebrations will be held at the Fairmont Hotel where an acrobatic performance of “Charlie and the Cirque Factory” will be held. Guests will be treated to dessert and candy at the stroke of midnight. Another notable celebration will be held aboard the QE2 ocean liner, however the black-tie affair is by invite only and is being touted as the most exclusive New Year’s Eve event in the entire world.

A slew of celebrities have descended upon Dubai this past week to ring in the New Year with their entourages. Indian mega-star Shah Rukh Khan and British actress Amy Childs are just two personalities that plan to welcome 2012 in Dubai. American actresses Lindsay Lohan and Pamela Anderson are also confirmed to be participating in the QE2 festivities.

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Amorous Driving Plagues Kuwait

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

rearview-hangerWhen applying for a driver’s license, you have to take a test composed of a variety of road safety and traffic questions. Things like, “How many meters is it safe to follow another vehicle?” or “What is hydroplaning and how is it prevented?” Even handling road distractions such as weather conditions, debris and cell phone usage is covered. What’s not covered is coping with flirtatious drivers while driving on the road. Granted this is not much of a problem in the USA, hence the absence of recommendations in state-issued driving manuals. However, in many parts or the world, amorous drivers are a force to be reckoned with and are responsible for the degradation of road safety.

Nowhere is amorous driving more of a problem than it is in Kuwait. Male drivers are the primary pursuers of female drivers. However, it is not uncommon to find a female driver chasing a male driver. Since dating and open mixing between the sexes is frowned upon in Kuwaiti society, many paramours hit the road in the hopes of finding love on the open highway. Spotting an amorous driver is easy as he often reduces his speed in order to peep into the windows of drivers on either side of him. His next move is to crane his neck in order to peer into a window, all the while he continues driving when his mind is not on the road. Once he finds an object of his affection, he will pursue the female-driven car in a bid to either talk with her or give her his phone number. This often results in a high-speed chase that not only puts both drivers at risk but also everyone else on the roadway.

The vast majority of women driving on the roads of Kuwait consider amorous drivers to be pests and do their best to avoid them. However, many of the misguided males simply will not take no for an answer. That is what happened this past week, in Kuwait, as a male driver became enraged when a female driver refused his advances and would not accept his telephone number. In an act of retaliation, he crashed into her car several times and rendered it useless. And while he did get away, the female driver managed to write down his license plate number. Kuwait authorities have launched a manhunt to reveal his identity.

The roadways are not the only places in Kuwait where women have to endure unwanted advances from male admirers. Malls and shopping complexes are veritable playgrounds for paramours on the prowl. They openly track girls from store to store whispering words of affection in order to get the attention they are after. If rejected, an imprudent male may launch into a bitter diatribe of obscenities in order to publicly embarrass her.

In a bid to reel in the reckless “Romeos” Kuwaiti authorities have begun shaving the heads of any male accused of harassing a female, whether on the road or in a public place. This year alone, at least a dozen males have been hauled off to the police station and had their heads shaved.

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A Little Birdie Told Me

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

birdIt’s no secret that social-networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, have changed the political landscape of the Middle East forever. However, it’s the latter that has really been a welcome surprise to the global social activist movement. Who would have ever considered that a mere 140 characters would be enough space to give someone a voice? It took only 110 characters for Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim to unite his fellow Egytpians under the same rallying cry this past January when he tweeted, “I said one year ago that the Internet will change the political scene in Egypt and some friends made fun of me.”

With one single sentence, propelled into the great abyss of the Internet, Ghonim changed the course of his country’s history. The morning after the tweet he was arrested and his unlawful detention was the catalyst that drove hundreds of thousands of Egyptian protesters to overtake Tahrir Square, which eventually led to the toppling of Hosni Mubarak and his cabinet. The event was so significant that Twitter included it in its recently revealed top ten tweets list for 2011.

Egyptians were not the only people in the Middle East to benefit from the micro-blogging platform. The people of Libya, Tunisia and Bahrain have all benefited from tweets that served various purposes during the tumultuous “Arab Spring” that continues to grip the region. Twitter was painstakingly and exhaustively used to organize rallies, report abuses from the police or military and attract a global audience to witness it all. As Ghonim rightfully said upon his release from prison, “If you want to liberate a government, give them the Internet.”

The tiny Gulf state of Kuwait has recently found itself a hot topic in the “Twittersphere” as recently as this week.  Last week Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah resigned in a bid to quell protests in the oil-rich country and restore stability. Kuwait has remained primarily unscathed in the Arab Spring protests, however there is a credible sense of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” as a spattering of protests in the country have become frequent and the most recent resulted in the parliamentary building being broken into.

The anonymity of Twitter is giving those, who might otherwise be fearful of engaging in political dialogue in public, a voice. However, it remains to be seen just how ambiguous Twitter will prove to be. A handful of tweeting activists in Kuwait have been successfully soused out by authorities, following their tweets, in the past. These days, politicians in Kuwait are capitalizing on the power of Twitter to announce campaign events, issues they support and to lure voters to the polls well ahead of the impending parliamentary elections. However, only time will tell how Twitter will influence politics in Kuwait.

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Just Fake It

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

abibas-counterfeit-adidasDesigner clothing brands like Gucci, Prada, Chanel and DKNY are high-end brands that most women would love to have in their closet. However, the huge price tag that most designer items carry is a huge deterrent for “fashionistas” on a budget. Ever since the global economic downturn gripped most nations around the world, many designer labels have suffered a hit to their bottom line. The demand for luxury products has severely dropped around the world as people struggle to feed their families. Having a designer dress or handbag does not seem that important when trying to pay bills on time.

In the Middle East, however, business is booming for knock-offs of famous designer brands. Although most governments pay lip service to enforcing international copyright laws, little is done to police shop owners who import designer knock-offs from China. Countries like Dubai, Bahrain and Kuwait are a feeding ground for the knock-off designer goods market. Just about everywhere you turn someone is wearing a knock off, whether it is a Dolce & Gabbana t-shirt or a Louis Vuitton purse.

Depending on where you shop, designer knock-offs look almost identical to the real thing give or take the misplacement of the odd button. A fake Chanel watch costs less than $100 compared to the thousand-dollar price tag that the original carries. Some shops offer even lower priced knock-offs but the poor craftsmanship makes them easy to spot as a counterfeit a mile away. Most have misspelled logos, cheap zippers or smell like chemicals. Despite the faults, eager shoppers in the region scoop them up as fast as they can get them.

The downside of knock-offs is that not only is it a crime, but also that someone else’s work is pilfered for profit. What is worse than that is that copyright crimes are being committed in Islamic nations right under the noses of authorities and all for the sake of something as inane as fashion.

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