Al Qaid Sets Records at Wheelchair Games

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

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United Arab Emirates world champion Mohammad Al Qaid set two new world records and another Asian record on his way to three gold medals on the fourth day of the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation Games yesterday.

Al Qaid set new world marks in the 400 meter wheelchair (T34) and 1,500 meters, plus a continent’s best effort in the 800 meters to take his tally at the Games to four. The UAE team added nine medals yesterday — three gold, three silver and three bronze — to take the host nation’s medal tally to 37 — 7 gold, 14 silver and 16 bronze.

Al Qaid’s finished the 800 meters with a time of 1min 51.41 seconds, beating Australian Rheed McCracken and Thai Pichaya Kurattanasiri. In the club throw, UAE champion Souhaib Al Qasim came second with a throw of 22.40 meters, behind Poland’s Maciej Sochal, who took the gold with a throw of 27.61 meters.

The UAE’s Aisha Salem Bin Khalid won a silver medal in the discus wheel chair event with a throw of 10.65 meters, behind China’s Feixia Dong. This is the second medal for Aisha in the championship. Her teammate Thuraya Al Za’abi won the bronze medal in the shot put wheelchair event with a throw of 6.04 metres, behind South Africa’s Emily Zandile Nhlapo, who took gold with a throw of 6.81 meters, and Germany’s Marie Bramer, who got the silver medal with a throw of 6.30 meters.

In the 400-meter wheelchair event, Ayed Al Hababi clinched the bronze medal in a time of 53.79 seconds, behind China’s Huzhao Li, who finished first in 52 seconds, and Thai Pichet Krungget, who was first runner-up in 52.84 seconds.

In the shooting competition, Abdullah Al Aryani of the UAE finished second in the 10-metre air rifle (R3) event, scoring 700.3 points, behind Lorraine Lambert of Britain who came first with a total of 700.7 points. In the 10m air rifle (R5) event, the UAE’s Abdullah Al Hababi won the bronze medal with 700.3 points, while Iranian Akbar Alipour took gold with 702.4 points, and Great Britain’s Amy Hursthouse took silver with 700.8 points.

Tarek Bin Khadim, Deputy Chairman of the Organizing Committee and Chairman of the Executive Committee, commended the outstanding efforts of our athletes, particularly the great achievements of Mohammad Al Qaid, who broke world and Asian records in the 200- and 800-metre wheelchair event and another Asian record in the 800-metre wheelchair event, to prove that the double gold medal in New Zealand was not a once-off.

Bin Khadim said the achievements of the “Knights of Will” are the fruit of our leadership’s support of disabled sports, which provided them with all necessary elements to achieve success and excellence. He added that such achievements “will be positively reflected in the progress of our national teams as our champions prepare for new challenges, with a particular focus on the Paralympic Games in London 2012.” The IWAS World Games 2011 is the most important event for preparation and qualification before the team’s appearance in London next summer.

Bin Khadim urged the athletes to continue their efforts and win more medals in the remaining days of the IWAS World Games 2011, which saw historic success for the UAE in terms of both organizing and the many unforgettable moments and victories.

13-50

Safe-Haven Status Puts UAE Luxury Car Sales in High Gear

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Martin Dokoupil and Martina Fuchs

2011-11-16T141125Z_2016428751_GM1E7BG1OL701_RTRMADP_3_GULF-AUTOS

Emirati men check technical specifications of a Porsche Cayenne at the Dubai International Motor Show November 10, 2011. Mother-of pearl dashboards and diamond-encrusted hood ornaments at the Dubai International Motor Show this week underlined how the safe-haven status of the United Arab Emirates is fuelling dramatic growth in sales of luxury cars. Picture taken November 10, 2011.

REUTERS/Martin Dokoupil 

DUBAI, Nov 16 (Reuters) – Mother-of pearl dashboards and diamond-encrusted hood ornaments at the Dubai International Motor Show this week underlined how the safe-haven status of the United Arab Emirates is fuelling dramatic growth in sales of luxury cars.

The market was hit hard by the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and recovered only partially last year. But this year’s political unrest in the Arab world boosted sales in the UAE, which was spared such turmoil. Companies and individuals from around the region looked for a safe haven in Dubai, a key Gulf business hub.

“The uprisings…have provided confidence that Dubai is important from a security point of view,” said Michel Ayat, chief executive of AW Rostamani Automotive, which sells Nissan’s luxury Infiniti models.

With Brent oil prices above $100 a barrel, promising continued economic growth for the UAE, a debt crisis in Europe and financial stormclouds in the United States have also largely failed to deter wealthy consumers. The UAE economy is expected by analysts to grow about 3.8 percent this year.

“The crisis is everywhere. (But) even if the local has nothing to eat, that’s no problem if he has a luxury car,” joked Emirati businessman Salem Seif, 28, eyeing a new Porsche Cayenne sport utility vehicle at the motor show.

Porsche in Dubai sold 211 new cars in August, the best-ever performance for any Porsche showroom globally, with the Cayenne remaining the brand’s top seller. Sales for the first eight months of this year are up 46 percent from a year earlier, said Vijay Rao, the showroom’s general manager.

In the UAE, the Gulf’s largest market for luxury cars, total sales are expected to jump 32 percent to 25,010 this year after a 16 percent rise in 2010, consultants IHS Automotive forecast.

That would be the fastest growth in the Gulf and exceed volumes seen in the oil-boom years before 2008, when access to credit was easier. Luxury cars account for 9 percent of the country’s car sales.

And many of them are being bought by young customers just getting a taste for such vehicles; some 66 percent of all new car purchases in the UAE, which has the world’s sixth highest per capita income at over $47,000, are made by customers between the ages of 18 and 29, according to Business Monitor International.

EUROPEAN IMPACT

A moderate economic slowdown looks likely in the UAE next year if the global outlook worsens, and this could cool the luxury car market. Dubai’s safe-haven effect may also fade as partial political stability returns to other Arab countries; in the last few months, rapid growth in deposits at UAE banks has slowed, central bank data shows, suggesting there are no longer big inflows of foreign money seeking a refuge from political turmoil.

Ayat estimated the luxury segment of the UAE car market would grow around 15 percent next year, but that is more optimistic than the 8 percent growth forecast by IHS. Gulf car sales data are not available on an aggregate basis, posing a challenge to industry forecasters.

Overall UAE passenger car sales of all types are expected to rise 15 percent to 273,924 this year and climb a further 13 percent in 2012, after a 6 percent increase last year, IHS said.

Even if growth in the luxury market does slow, the top-end brands such as Rolls-Royce, which sells cars priced above $270,000 mainly to royalty and expatriate entrepreneurs, may see little impact.

“In the third quarter this year, with the problems in the euro zone, the market slowed down a little, but let’s emphasise that we will still continue to see growth in the market compared to 2010,” said James Crichton, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ regional director for the Middle East and Africa.

“In the UAE, we are up 78 percent this year, and in Saudi Arabia we are up almost 60 percent,” he said at the motor show, where the automaker displayed its blue and white “Riviera Phantom” with the iconic flying lady figurine, covered in 2,300 diamonds, perched on its brushed stainless steel bonnet.

Home to some 5.4 million people, the UAE is the world’s fourth-largest market for Rolls-Royce.

“There is a crisis and tension around the globe but people who are luxury spenders by nature, they will continue to spend,” said Adham Charanoglu, chief executive of Aston Martin Middle East and North Africa.

“This is completely separate from the retail market,” he said at the launch of the $530,000 Aston Martin Zagato in Dubai.

DIVERGING SPEEDS

Car sales trends diverged in the Gulf in 2011. In Bahrain, hit by the worst political unrest since the 1990s, luxury car sales are projected to fall 19 percent this year before rebounding 20 percent next year, IHS said.

Oil giant Saudi Arabia, which saw only minor political protests, is forecast to see a 4 percent drop in high-end sales this year before growth takes off strongly — at a 24 percent clip — in 2012. That would far exceed the 8 percent rise predicted for overall Saudi car sales next year.

Dealers see potential for further growth if the kingdom eventually allows women to drive. In September the government decided to let women vote in municipal elections, a step which could presage further social change.

“In Saudi Arabia, 20 percent of our customers are women, and the number is increasing,” said Umberto Cini, managing director at Maserati Middle East and Africa. At present, women are driven by relatives or chauffeurs. (Editing by Amran Abocar and Andrew Torchia)

13-48

$640b Halal Industry Needs to Align with $1tr Islamic Finance Sector

April 15, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Rushdi Siddiqui, Gulf News

I wanted to take a sukuk break, as the last few months seem to be only about sukuk default, restructuring, conferences/seminars, etc. Islamic finance is not sukuk, its much bigger than an instrument. I wanted to look at an area that Islamic finance (IF) has not been linked to: the $640 billion (Dh2.3 trillion) halal industry (HI). There is a link, but it’s associated with IF ignoring HI!

The halal industry believes that Islamic finance has long ignored its little ‘halal-half’ brother, because it either does not understand the business model or its financing needs.

Islamic finance continues to have expected ‘challenges’ with standardisation, and the halal industry, the issue of certification and certifying bodies appears to be even more nascent. In IF, we have generally accepted guidelines on accounting (AAOIFI and Malaysia), prudential regulations (IFSB), ratings (IIRA), hedging (IIFM), but what and where are the leading HI standard bodies; Malaysia (Jakim), Brunei (Brunei halal), but there are more ‘bodies’ in OECD than OIC countries. Query: is the certification process accepted outside the home country?

The GCC countries are major importers of billions of dollars in foods/products, projected to touch $53 billion in 2020. Now, what if large importers like Saudi Arabia or the UAE impose ‘their’ halal certification criteria for exports from these countries, including G20 countries like Australia (red meat) and Brazil (chickens)? Because of the GCC’s volume of imports, could there be a risk of back-door certification via the GCC? However, if GCC countries do not have certifications or it’s not yet harmonized, then halal exporters still have time to establish certification before externally imposed.

In Islamic (equity) investing, we have Sharia-compliant screening from the five index providers plus AAOIFI and Malaysia, however, what criteria, if any, for investing in listed halal companies. Meat or poultry [and food] companies should have their products according to Quranic guidelines, “O mankind! Eat of that which is on earth, lawful and good…” 2:168.

Global market

Although a Sharia-compliant food-only index may not yet exist, S&P has, as of March 30, 15 Sharia-compliant food companies in the GCC (15 Saudi and one in each Oman and the UAE) and 123 global Sharia-compliant food companies from China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the US and others.

Is it correct to assume that GCC public listed food or meat or poultry companies’ offerings are halal, because large local populations and percentages of the expatriate communities are Muslims in these Islamic countries? Assuming correctly, then the Halal Index is possible with ensuing Halal Funds/ETFs off of such indexes.

Thus, two sets of indexes: Sharia-compliant and Halal index, but what about Sharia-compliant Halal Food Index? Would this be a ‘low-debt non-financial social-ethical counter-cyclical halal index? This could benefit ‘investors of conscience and appetite.’

The reality is the halal industry needs to establish an initial screening methodology for publicly listed companies in the halal industry globally, as the Sharia-compliant screens may not capture them. The present awkward situation is: one can consume the food or products of listed halal companies, yet cannot invest in them because they may fail the present Sharia screening!

Islamic banks (in the GCC) have traditionally financed the chain of ‘borrowers’ associated in real estate industry, commercial and residential, as they allegedly better understand the business model, risk, and recourse. The banks have stayed away from halal companies, possibly ex-Al Islami, hence, the latter has relied on the ‘friends and family finance’ (upstarts) and traditional interest based loans (established companies).

There are halal funds set up, but they are more for acquisition than financing. It would seem the fragmented global halal industry, in OIC and G20 countries, would be ripe for a consolidation strategy, hence, no different than the often heard quest for a big balance sheet Islamic mega bank created via consolidation.

Thus, financing of viable halal companies via roll-up acquisition strategy? Surely, more must be done, otherwise we may continue to consume halal products or meats financed with Riba-based finance companies!

The halal industry needs to get (1) its act together on process, auditing, and certification, and get into the face of Islamic banks and better explain the (2) inter-relatedness of the sectors, (3) better explain the business model, risk and its mitigation, (4) better explain that it establishes the foundation for diversified lending, and increased investor options for Islamic banks’ customers, and (5) allow Islamic finance to talk the talk of a $2-trillion ‘niche’ market in the making!

The writer is the Global Head of Islamic Finance, Thomson Reuters. Views expressed in this column are of the writer.

12-16

The Camel Road

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

“As a camel beareth labour, and heat, and hunger, and thirst, through deserts of sand, and fainteth not; so the fortitude of a man shall sustain him through all perils.”

~Egyptian King- 14th Century

camel-s Long gone are the days when camels, also known as the ‘ships of the desert’, were considered mere beasts of burden. Over the past few decades, the beleaguered camel has come up in the world and is often considered, by more than a few wealthy Arab businessmen, to be a crowning jewel in a portfolio of glittering capitalism.

Every year the love of all things with skinny legs and a giant hump is brought out for all to see at the annual Al Dhafra Festival in Abu Dhabi, which started this week and runs until February 8. Located in the heart of Zayed City lies a barren and desolate unpaved road that comes to life but once a year.  Nicknamed “Millions Street” after many a million dollar deal that has been struck up over the years, the mere 3 kilometer long road is an internationally recognized commercial site for some of the best camels in the entire world. It’s also the site of the festival that draws in both a local and international crowd.

Camel owners and aficionados from all over the Middle East descend upon the tiny Gulf emirate in the weeks leading up to the camel show and auction. Organizers treat their wealthy guests to camel beauty pageants, camel petting sessions and an auction fit for a king’s ransom.  As a result of the buzz surrounding this social event, members of the non-camel loving set can also line their wallets with some cold hard cash simply by catering to both man and beast. Savvy merchants often set up tents and offer a host of camel-related gear, from plushies to woven mats, and traditional UAE handicrafts. The municipality has also gotten in on the game by offering meals and water for the human guests while providing fresh fodder for the four-legged ones. There is even a makeshift mosque, camel hospital and a grocery store.

The starting price for one of the perfectly pampered and preened camels is a whopping 50,000 Dirhams and often skyrockets to several millions of dollars. This year more than 28,000 camels are on display with each one carrying its own price tag based on breed and beauty. In the first days of the festival, reports in the local media already revealed that a wealthy local businessman named Hamdan Bin Ghanim Al Falahi bought several camels to complete his prestigious flock to the tune of 45 million Dirhams.

As for the beauty pageant, a team of judges determines which camels are the youngest, most beautiful, possess the best lineage and who are most well behaved. The prizes for the winners of the beauty pageant stand to win an estimated 42 million Dirhams. Owners busy themselves throughout the day fussing over the camels to ensure that everything is picture perfect. Once the sun sets, the festivities hit a peak and last well into the morning. It’s all smiles for the owners who stand to earn millions if one of their camels catches the eye of a ‘cash cow’ of a buyer.

Looking back at past events, several lucrative sales have been made. Most notably were the sales of two camels that had made a name for themselves in the region. The camel named Marokan fetched an estimated 15 million Dirhams while his equally beautiful compatriot Mura’a was purchased for 10 million Dirhams. Camel breeding and herding is big business in the Gulf region which has pretty much catapulted itself out of the global credit crunch with only a couple of scratches. Event organizers hope to continue the event in the future and share a bit of the traditions of the UAE with the rest of the world.

12-6

Abu Dhabi’s Dubai aid shrinks to $5 bln

January 21, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Amran Abocar and Nicolas Parasie

2010-01-08T095618Z_1575008665_GM1E6181DQ601_RTRMADP_3_EMIRATES

Expert sky diver and BASE jump enthusiast Omar Al Hegelan (C) descends on to Burj Park Island after free falling from Burj Khalifa in Dubai, January 5, 2010. Al Hegelan and Nasser Al Neyadi both expert divers, have broken the record for the world’s highest BASE jump after free falling from the tallest building in the world, and made their landing on Burj Park Island after covering a vertical descent of 672 metres (2,205 ft). Picture taken January 5.

REUTERS/Stringer

DUBAI, Jan 18 (Reuters) – Dubai said on Monday that half of a $10 billion bailout from Abu Dhabi last December came from an older debt deal, highlighting what analysts said was the emirate’s poor market communications and lack of transparency.

Investors said news that Abu Dhabi directly lent less new money than previously thought also indicated the wealthy emirate wanted more evidence of Dubai’s fiscal probity, after helping it avert an embarrassing default on a state-linked bond.

“The government works behind a high degree of opacity and I think market players have factored that in,” said Khuram Maqsood, managing director of Emirates Capital.

The UAE is not known for exercising best practice transparency but that doesn’t mean they’re not trying. But I don’t think they’re there yet and I think people recognise that.”

A Dubai government spokeswoman said the last minute lifeline last Dec. 14 included $5 billion raised from Al Hilal Bank and National Bank of Abu Dhabi which was announced on Nov. 25.

“Obviously it’s a lot less cash than we had assumed,” said Raj Madha, an independent analyst based in Dubai.

“The interesting thing is what it says about the behaviour of Abu Dhabi: whether they are just rushing through a large amount of money or whether they are providing funding where required.”

Five-year credit default swaps for Dubai stood at 426 basis points, up from 423 basis points on Friday.

Dubai rocked global markets last Nov. 25 when it requested a standstill on $26 billion in debt linked to its flagship conglomerate Dubai World and its two main property developers, Nakheel and Limitless World.

The $5 billion raised from the two Abu Dhabi banks was part of a $20 billion bond programme announced early last year. The UAE central bank signed up for $10 billion of that in February.

But it was unclear whether Abu Dhabi’s $10 billion bailout on Dec. 14 — which enabled Dubai World to repay a $4.1 billion Islamic bond, or sukuk by developer Nakheel — was entirely new money or included the bond to the Abu Dhabi banks.

The government spokeswoman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Gulf Arab emirate had already drawn down $1 billion of the $5 billion from the banks, provided under a five-year bond priced at 4 percent, with the rest yet to be used.

The remainder of the funds, some $4.9 billion, may come from the banks’ or the Abu Dhabi government directly, the spokeswoman said, through another of its investment vehicles.

“The question is whether there will be more funds coming in; because as things stand today, Dubai without further support will find it very difficult to drive a favourable bargain with its creditors,” said a Gulf-based banker.

Asked whether Dubai would seek more funds, the spokeswoman declined to comment.

Abu Dhabi’s support in December came nearly three weeks after the standstill news and amid a lack of communication by Dubai which shook global markets and may have caused lasting damage to the reputation of the Gulf business hub.

CREDITOR TALKS

Dubai World is in the midst of talks with its creditors to finalise a formal standstill agreement that would last for six months, during which the conglomerate will restructure its remaining debt burden, estimated at some $22 billion.

The conglomerate has insisted the restructuring is limited only to certain units and has ringfenced its jewels such as ports operator DP World.

In a research note on Monday, UBS said there was a high probability Dubai World would have to offer “sweeteners” to creditors to bring them onside in the debt talks.

That could include higher interest rates or equity swap options to persuade creditors to give up claims to key assets, like the profitable port operator.

“It is unlikely that Abu Dhabi’s support has peaked just yet and the probability of further balance sheet assistance is high,” UBS economist Reinhard Cluse said.

But he said Abu Dhabi, the biggest and wealthiest of the seven member United Arab Emirates federation, would not want to act solely “as a channel for cash” and would demand systemic changes.

Dubai has said the Abu Dhabi lifeline is contingent on Dubai World reaching an acceptable standstill with creditors.

Uncertainty over the restructuring has weighed on UAE markets as investors fret about the outcome amid a dearth of information.

The conglomerate said this month it is “some time away” from presenting its formal plan to creditors, though it is expected in coming weeks.

“Clearly there were critical time deadlines last year that required extraordinary measures,” said Mashreq Capital Chief Executive Abdul Kadir Hussain, of Abu Dhabi’s bailout.

“But whatever form is required, whether it’s the federation or Abu Dhabi, what is critical now is a well-documented plan for repayment and … a strategy that will show how all of this will be taken care of.” On Monday, the Financial Times said some creditors to the conglomerate are seeking to offload loans to reduce their exposure to the conglomerate.

(Additional reporting by Chris Mangham and Dinesh Nair; Editing by John Irish and David Cowell)

12-4

Christmas Infectious in Middle East

December 27, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

-Christmas-Tree-Decorated Strands of colorful Christmas lights adorn the shop windows of too many stores to count, as employees decked out in red Santa hats greet customers with cheerful holiday grins. However, the setting is not in the suburbs of America but rather in the sand swept deserts of the Middle East. The majority of countries that make up the Middle East exercise religious freedom, which is in accordance with the religion of Islam. In many parts of the region Churches often reside on the same streets as Mosques and religious symbols, from Crucifixes to Buddhas, can be seen hanging from people’s necks and even rear view mirrors.

However, freedom of religion is primarily tolerated in the more liberal Gulf States while other Middle East countries, like Saudi Arabia, have a zero tolerance policy for any religion other than Islam. Churches and other religious buildings, other than Mosques, are strictly forbidden while displaying religious symbols in public are considered to be crimes punishable by imprisonment, lashings or deportation.

The large Christian population residing in the Middle East is the main reason why Christian holidays like Christmas are celebrated with such fanfare. The region is renowned for its’ hospitality towards guests. And encouraging a non-Muslim holiday to be celebrated in a Muslim country is just one of the many ways Gulf countries extend a hand of understanding to its non-Muslim inhabitants. Many Christians living in the Middle East put their own spin on Christmas and make it just as memorable as Christmases of the past back in their homelands.

In the city of Dubai, in the UAE, shoppers are greeted by a bedazzled 50-foot Christmas tree at Wafi City Mall which also boasts its very own ‘Santa’s Village’. In Kuwait, all of the 5-star hotels and restaurants offer a Christmas feast fit for a king as guests dine on roasted turkey with all the trimmings while Nat King Cole Christmas songs play in the background. The only thing missing from the menu is the Christmas ham, as pork is forbidden in most Middle East countries. However, it can still be found on the ‘Black Market’ most likely in an aluminum can or dried into meat jerky. In Bahrain, Christian members of the expatriate community often host their own Christmas parties and exchange gifts between one another. Christmas carols and singing programs are widespread in the western schools of most Gulf States.

And while Saudi Arabia forbids wanton public displays of religion, with the exception of Islam, the government does allow its expatriate community to celebrate Christmas within the privacy of their own homes. Granted, sticking a glittering Christmas tree in the front window could land any holidaymaker in the slammer, but an inconspicuous tree tucked safely away from being seen is acceptable. However, Christians in Saudi Arabia are hard pressed to find decorations for the aforementioned tree let alone the tree itself, although it is possible to find tinsel and baubles in the expatriate underground. Clever shopkeepers also do their part in offering a few Christmas items for their Christian customers. Tiny Christmas tree bulbs can often be found in the jewelry section of some stores and the odd plastic fir tree and even strands of lights can be found in the toy section, as many Asian expatriates use them year round to secularly decorate their homes. Many Christians in Saudi Arabia have also taken to making their own decorations, such as strings of popcorn and baked ornaments made of cinnamon paste.

The Prophet Muhammad (s) was an exemplar in religious freedom and never persecuted anyone based on his or her religious beliefs. So it is only natural for the holiday of Christmas to be welcome in the conservative Middle East, even though the degrees to which it is publicly celebrated varies as much as all those colorful bulbs strewn up on a tree.

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Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

mall_of_the_emirates_dubai_03

Mall of the Emirates, Dubai

Stolen glances, quiet giggles and flushed faces are just a few of the hallmarks of mingling with the opposite sex in the Middle East. Dating is wholly unacceptable and considered politically incorrect in the conservative Gulf region, which applies the letter of the Islamic law when it comes to relations between members of the opposite sex. However, as with most social aspects of life that governments attempt to control, where there is a will there is a way.

Tweens, teens and twenty-some things in the Middle East have come up with their own brand of dating that is not only secretive but also kept largely away from the public eye. Since a suitor driving up to a girl’s home is not an option, many Arab youths have capitalized on the abundance of luxury malls in the region. Many boys and girls cruise the malls looking for someone that catches their eye. Most malls are so enormous that is it easy to slip away from one’s family should the occasion arise. And while the ‘hunt’ may be extremely public, communications are kept excruciatingly secret. In many cases the boy will walk past a girl that catches his eye and slip his phone number to her on a piece of paper. It’s really up to her what she does with it, as some girls might call the boy and others may simply crunch the paper into a nearby garbage can. And in other cases both boys and girls interested in this new form of dating use technology to hook up.

Bluetooth cellular phone technology is the biggest ally for Arab youths wanting to find that special someone. Amorous boys and girls often send out random Bluetooth messages in both Arabic and English. Then they wait to see who will respond and reply back. It’s a little known fact that Bluetooth messaging has ignited countless numbers of romances in the Gulf. Unfortunately, many married men and women that happen to have their Blue Tooth switched on in the vicinity often get caught up in the wide-scoped message, which can create suspicion within their own union.

Once the match is made, actually going out on a date is almost a mission impossible. In the conservative Middle East, males enjoy more freedom than their female counterparts. For a girl to successfully get away from her parent’s watchful eyes she would have to lie and, most likely, enlist the help of some of her girlfriends to turn the date into a reality. And the date itself typically takes place on a local beach or garden, as it would be impractical to go to a restaurant or even the movies.

Two of the most relaxed Middle Eastern countries, when it comes to cruising for dates, are Kuwait and Bahrain. The opportunities for meeting are immense and there is very little enforcement when it comes to youths of the opposite sex scoping each other out. Contrastingly, Saudi Arabia takes a hard line against co-mingling and has its own religious police force to maintain segregation between the sexes. Even the UAE is becoming more stringent when it comes to public displays of affection.

The reality of this secretive form of dating is that Arab youths are dealing with adult issues that they may not be ready to cope with due to lack of sexual education in the region. They also lack parental support and intuition since the dating falls far below most parent’s radar. It’s very common to read in local newspapers about a young girl running off with a boyfriend. Instances of sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy and ‘date rape’ are on the rise. Unfortunately, due to the secretive nature of relationships between youths in the Gulf and most Arab governments unwillingness to admit that there is a problem, statistics revealing the magnitude of the issue are not readily available.

11-52

Dubai Officials’ Confidence-Building Britain, US Trip

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Amran Abocar and Steve Slater

2009-12-16T115052Z_26914839_GM1E5CG1J5P01_RTRMADP_3_DUBAI

An investor looks at stock information at the Dubai Financial Market December 16, 2009.   REUTERS/Mosab Omar

DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) – Two top Dubai officials are visiting Britain and the United States over the coming days to rebuild investor confidence after neighboring Abu Dhabi helped bail out the emirate’s flagship company.

A source close to the government said the officials were already in London and would be in New York on Thursday and Washington on Friday to meet financial and political leaders.

“This is the next step in Dubai’s commitment to greater transparency,” said the source.

“They will spend the next few days meeting financial, economic and political leaders in London, New York and Washington, D.C. to discuss the actions taken this week to stabilize global markets.”

The emirate, famous for its man-made islands in the shape of palms and for other infrastructure projects, rocked global markets on November 25 with a request for a standstill agreement on $26 billion of debt linked to Dubai World and its two main property units, Nakheel and Limitless World.

The roadshow is being led by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum, chairman of Dubai’s Supreme Fiscal Committee and the uncle of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. Until recently he was best known as leader of the Emirates airline, but his public profile has risen since the debt crisis erupted.

Also on the trip is Mohammed al-Shaibani, deputy chairman of the same committee. He heads Sheikh Mohammed’s court and is chief executive of the Investment Corporation Dubai, which oversees the government’s investment portfolio.

‘Comprehensive Solution’

Earlier this week, Abu Dhabi, which produces 90 percent of the United Arab Emirates’ oil exports, provided $10 billion of financial aid to its fellow UAE member to meet the debt obligations of Dubai World until the end of April and to stave off a bond default by Nakheel.

Some $4.1 billion of the rescue funding helped Nakheel repay an Islamic bond, or sukuk, on Tuesday, a day after its due date.

The Abu Dhabi lifeline came in the form of bonds, at similar terms to a $10 billion bond issue to the UAE central bank in February, which carried a coupon of 4 percent per annum for the five-year, fixed-term issue.

Dubai also announced this week it would implement immediately an insolvency law modeled on U.S. and British practices in the event Dubai World needs to seek protection from its creditors. Meanwhile, Dubai’s ruler ordered the creation of a tribunal, headed by three international judges, to oversee any disputes between Dubai World and its creditors.

“They want to explain what happened this week,” said another source close to the government. “It’s very much the transparency message and to discuss the fact they presented a comprehensive solution.”

With the bond repayment out of the way, Dubai World must now agree a standstill with creditors, allowing it time to undergo a massive restructuring. It is slated to meet representatives from some 90 banks in Dubai on Monday.

(Editing by Andrew Callus and Kenneth Barry)

11-52

Mideast Firms Ramp Up in Iraq, Western Firms Trail

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Deepa Babington

2009-11-27T155315Z_1505821627_GM1E5BR1TSO01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-OIL

Workers dig a new oil well at South Rumaila oil field, in southern Iraq November 26, 2009. Britain’s BP and China’s CNPC have clinched a final agreement to operate Iraq’s biggest field, Rumaila, and groups led by Italy’s Eni and U.S. major Exxon Mobil have secured initial deals over Zubair and West Qurna Phase One. Picture taken November 26, 2009. 

REUTERS/Atef Hassan

BAGHDAD, Nov 30 (Reuters) – While Western firms notch up high-profile energy deals in Iraq, smaller regional firms from Iran to Turkey are quietly building a broader Iraqi presence by pumping billions of dollars into housing and other projects.

Pledges by companies to invest in Iraq are suddenly taking off as violence falls sharply and the government seeks help to rebuild after years of war, sanctions and bloodshed.

Investors have announced $156.7 billion worth of projects in Iraq this year, not all of which are likely to bear fruit, Dunia Frontier Consultants said in a report.
Much of the spotlight has fallen on mega-deals by Big Oil firms like Exxon Mobil <XOM.N> and BP <BP.L> for oilfields, but high security costs — 26 percent of total costs according to one estimate — have deterred Westerners from other sectors.

Meanwhile, Iranian investors have been piling into the Shi’ite Muslim tourism business, Turkish companies have cornered the market in the Kurdish north and Gulf companies, some run by Iraqi expatriates, are nailing construction deals.

Middle East firms are perhaps more accustomed to operating in difficult environments, and have an easier time navigating Iraqi red tape and corruption, analysts said.

“It is easier for Gulf and regional companies to operate here because they know the mentality here,” said Munther al Fattal, director of investment promotion at the U.S. agency for international development’s Tijara project.

“Security has greatly improved but there still are a lot of impediments such as bureaucracy and lack of transparency.”

While most investment projects announced in Iraq never seem to get off the ground, the growing business clout of regional firms is increasingly obvious.

Turkish firms have been investing in projects in the north and plan an $8 billion mixed development project in the south, while Iranian firms have catered to tourism supporting Shi’ite pilgrimages to the holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala as well as industrial projects in Basra in the south, Dunia says.

Lebanese investors have opened up a bank and plan to set up a $500 million residential city and dairy factory in Diwaniya, while investors from the United Arab Emirates have been eyeing residential complexes and infrastructure projects.

US is Small Fry Outside Energy

The United Arab Emirates has emerged as the top foreign investor in Iraq this year with pledges of $37.7 billion, followed by South Korea and the United States, Dunia said.

But South Korea owes its number two spot almost entirely to a planned $20 billion investment in a new industrial city in Anbar province’s untapped gas fields, which appears to be little more than a pipedream or at the very least, aspirational.

The U.S. position in the rankings is almost entirely due to Exxon’s $25 billion contract for the West Qurna oilfield, which has yet to be ratified by the Iraqi cabinet. U.S. investment into Iraq accounts for less than 1 percent of the total if government contracts and oil are excluded.

A look at smaller deals offers a more revealing picture of the players with a wider presence in Iraq.

Lebanon tops the list of investment deals below $1 billion, followed by South Korea, Iran, the UAE and Turkey, Dunia said.

Once again, South Korea’s position in the list is misleading, exaggerated due to a single energy project.

“Once the major energy deals are stripped away, it is largely regional players that dominate,” the Dunia report said.

Some analysts say the dominance of Middle East players is likely to continue.

“Most of the investment will come from Gulf States and Jordan — with a significant contribution from Iran,” said Gavin Jones of Upper Quartile, an Edinburgh-based research firm.

He said repatriation of wealth by Iraqis living in Jordan or the Gulf could account for a sizeable chunk.

(Editing by Michael Christie; Editing by Victoria Main) ((deepa.babington@thomsonreuters.com, Baghdad newsroom, +964 7901 917 023, deepa.babington.reuters.com@reuters.net))

11-50

Dubai Babylon: The glitz, the Glamour – and Now the Gloom

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Property of TVS, Inc. Dubai, the Arabian city state that tried to turn itself into Manhattan-on-the-Gulf inside a decade, looks this weekend as if it may end up more like an expensive imitation of Sodom and Gomorrah. No brimstone, no vengeful God, but still an awful lot of wreckage after an orgy of hedonistic excess.

This, until last week, was the world capital of greed, a Legoland of lolly, where flashy malls, artificial islands, and preposterous skyscrapers were run up in no time; where monied chancers booked into £4,000-a-night hotel rooms; and where celebrities who didn’t know better were lured into a place that was even gaudier than their own homes. People said it was all built on sand, but, after the businesses at the core of the Dubai empire revealed a black hole of $80bn, we now know it was actually built on debt, semi-slave labour and the glossiest puffery that borrowed money can buy.

This, before we get down to the juicy details, is not how Gordon Brown saw it. The Dubai dream was largely the creation of the late Sheikh Maktoum and his successor, the current ruler Sheikh Mohammed. The day before Dubai’s shock debt announcement, the sheikh was in London. According to UAE’s national news service, Gordon Brown said he was “impressed with the quick recovery made by the UAE economy and the measures made by the leadership and government there that led to minimal impact of that crisis on the country’s economy.”

Once upon a recent time, this was true. At the height of Dubai’s property bubble, developers competed to outdo each other and impress the sheikh with more and more outlandish projects at the city’s annual property show Cityscape. Ski fields in the desert and the world’s largest shopping mall of 1,200 shops, complete with an aquarium housing 400 sharks, are among the projects already built, and plans for an underwater hotel.

Prospective buyers would queue for hours for the chance to purchase off-plan property. Ten minutes later they would sell on to someone at the back of the queue for a £10,000 profit.

While the economy boomed, the city partied hard. Dubai quickly became a favourite playground for Russian gangsters, Bollywood movie stars, and British footballers and their WAGs. David Beckham and Michael Owen were among those splashing out on multimillion-pound properties on the Palm, while Brad Pitt and Denzel Washington were also rumoured to have homes there.

Paris Hilton made a version of her reality show in the bars and malls of city this year. On any given night, parked out front the Grosvenor Hotel, with its popular bars, would be an eye-popping collection of the most expensive sports cars. “Soon,” one sheik was quoted as saying, “every Count of Monte Cristo will be in Dubai. In 10 years, only rich and famous people will live here.” And the servants? “I would hope robots or clones will do all that by then.”

With Western cash came Western cultural norms. Though foreign residents need a liquor licence to drink in their own homes, alcohol is widely available in hotel bars. All-you-can-drink brunches where expatriates got sloshed on champagne became the favoured way of passing Friday afternoons. While the Muslim community spent the holy day at the mosque, Westerners drank themselves legless.

It was at one of these infamous brunches that two Britons fell foul of the strict laws that govern the state. Michelle Palmer, 36, and Vince Acors, 34, who had met for the first time that day, were sentenced to three months in prison in July 2008 after being arrested for having sex on the beach. Not long after, British women Marnie Pearce and Sally Antia were jailed for adultery after their husbands told the police they were having affairs. Yet Arab men will drink openly in hotel bars and prostitution is rife.

The Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest skyscraper at 818m, disappears into the clouds high above this emirate of contradictions. Dubai is an architectural odyssey, yet an urban planner’s worst nightmare which employed, until recently, 50 per cent of the world’s largest cranes. The people of the more sedate and richer emirate of Abu Dhabi 70 miles down the road have often been said to shake their heads at the money its neighbour has wasted. Abu Dhabi’s developments such as the breathtaking Yas Marina Circuit used in this year’s Formula One championship have been carefully planned.

Dubai has simply built bigger and bigger with little thought given to planning. It was bound to fail: no city or region could sustain such growth – particularly as the oil that drove that expansion has been slowly running out. The financial crisis simply exacerbated the long-term structural problems of its economy. Last week’s announcement that Dubai World, the developer of the famous man-made Palm Jumeirah island development that can be seen from space, wanted a standstill on its repayments on a chunk of its $60bn indebtedness shocked the financial markets. Banks in London and Edinburgh, such as HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland, had lent Dubai World billions of pounds. Now there is the very real possibility that they will lose much of this as Dubai World defaults.

On the Palm, on the Persian Gulf’s man-made coastline, is the Atlantis Hotel, an imposing construction of two towers linked by a bridge. Kylie Minogue sang at its star-studded opening last year, with spectacular fireworks visible for miles a one-night jamboree that cost £20m. Dubai World could not have chosen a worse time to open the seven-star hotel.

Attracting Western tourists has been one of the pillars of Dubai’s gross domestic product growth, but as Westerners tighten the purse strings so Dubai’s tourism industry has started to wobble. The fear now is that the dreams of Sheikh Mohammed could turn into an economic nightmare for both the emirate and the rest of the world. Economists are analysing whether this is the disaster that will create a so-called W-shaped recession – that is, two collapses rather than just the one of a V-shape.

It might seem extraordinary that a tiny emirate of about 1.5 million people could cause such global turmoil, but Dubai is intertwined with some of the most everyday parts of the UK economy alone. Dubai World owns P&O, the ferry operator, while Dubai International Capital (DIC), the state’s international investment arm, has a 20 per cent stake in the company that runs Madame Tussauds, the London Eye and the Sea Life Centres.

The reciprocal nature of the UK and Dubai economies means that British firms are now coming to the rescue. The Independent on Sunday can reveal that Dubai World’s big lenders, led by the UK-based institutions, have lined up the London-based financial restructuring team a accountants KMPG to salvage the $30bn-plus they are owed. A formal appointment is expected this week.

They will have their hands full.

Gulf state’s holdings: Small sample of Dubai’s global reach

Millions of dollars have been invested in Sheikh Mohammed’s passion: thoroughbred racehorses. In Newmarket, he owns Dalham Hall stud farm and Godolphin stables. The sheikh’s 4,000 acres in Ireland make him the largest farmer in the country. He also owns 7,000 acres of paddocks in Britain and 5,000 acres of farmland. Other assets owned by Dubai investors include:

* The QE2, currently moored in Cape Town
* The Adelphi on the Strand and the Grand Buildings in Trafalgar Square
* A 20 per cent stake in Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian circus troupe
* Budget hotel chain Travelodge
* A stake in Merlin Entertainments, which runs Alton Towers, Madame Tussauds and the London Eye
* Scottish golf course Turnberry
* Chris Evert tennis clubs in the US
* A ski resort in Aspen, Colorado
* A 21 per cent stake in the London Stock Exchange
* Ports and ferries group P&O

11-50

World’s First Arab Robot

November 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

facebot-ibn-sina-robot Known more for its architectural feats and infrastructure genius, the UAE is charting new waters in Artificial Intelligence with the creation of the Arab world’s very first Arabic-speaking robot. Named after the famous 11th century Islamic scientist and philosopher Ibn Sina, or Avicenna in English, the robot appears extremely life like and bears quite a resemblance to his namesake while also speaking in classical Arabic. Ibn Sina wears traditional Arab clothes complete with a flowing gilded robe and headdress. A series of motors in his face help him to move just like his human counterparts.

The robot is the first humanoid robot that can carry on a conversation and articulate human gestures as well as facial expressions in the Middle East. Ibn Sina can also ‘see’ and is programmed with software that helps him recognize objects, remember faces, understand dialogue and respond verbally. A team of students at the UAE University with the guidance of Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Nikolaos Mavridis, designed Ibn Sina.  Hailing from Greece, Mavridis spearheaded the project alongside 12 international students, which also included several local UAE citizens.

Ibn Sina can fulfill a number of tasks including answering specific questions, connecting to the Internet and providing other information. According to Mavridis, Ibn Sina is destined to be cloned and will go into public service as a shopping mall information clerk. The prototype Ibn Sina already serves a full day at the help desk at the local Al Ain Mall where he also directs shoppers to stores carrying items that they are looking for. However, Mavridis estimates that it will take another six months and a team of five students to perfect Ibn Sina so that he is more useful and delivers a flawless performance.

Funding for the project was made by the ruler of the UAE himself with an investment of almost $200,000. Ibn Sina is also used for other projects in the university laboratory as students are more than eager to use him as an, albeit robotic, guinea pig.

A gentle buzz has slowly started forming around the world’s first Arabic robot with several companies reaching out to Mavridis and his team to learn more about Ibn Sina. In a recent interview Mavridis revealed his own hopes and dreams for the future of technology in the tiny Gulf kingdom, “Given all the growth that is happening right here at this moment, it’s important that apart from building the largest tower in the world and all of these beautiful buildings, to try to do something that has to do with scientific and intellectual achievements. For that reason we chose Ibn Sina as the character from which our robot was inspired in order to bring back his values to our students. He brings together a lot of traditions, ancient and more recent traditions.”

Ibn Sina is also becoming an old hand at social networking. He has his very own Facebook account. Ibn Sina can ask someone new their name, look them up on Facebook and become friends with them online. And with over 115 friends on his profile page, Ibn Sina looks well on his way to becoming a social networking guru in no time at all. Bots and humans forming social connections online is just the tip of the iceberg in artificial intelligence, at least in the UAE. The UAE University plans to further develop its robotics department and laboratory. Recent research conducted by the Information Data Corporation projects that IT development and projects will grow by over 12% over the next five years in the UAE at an estimated cost of almost $2 billion dollars.

11-46

Skilled Labor?

October 22, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service Middle East correspondent (MMNS)

hand-holding-diploma The economic boom and unprecedented growth of the Middle East over the past several years has made it a lucrative venue for employment seekers. Barely scathed by the global economic turndown, that has brought the rest of the world to its’ knees, most Middle Eastern countries continue to ride a wave of economic independence and expansion.

As a result of the sheer speed of growth, an increased demand for skilled workers has evolved. Doctors, nurses, teachers, IT professionals, architects and engineers are just a few of the careers that are in high demand in the Middle East region. However, not everyone seeking a job has the proper credentials and, unfortunately, many people who have already acquired high paying jobs in specialized fields have done so with fake university degrees.

Within the past few months, the extensive reliance of unqualified persons utilizing the services of fake degree mills has come to light. The Spokesman newspaper in Washington State recently published a list of more than 10,000 names of people who have already purchased fake university degrees or were in the process of doing so. The majority of persons on the list were Arab Americans who now face possible criminal charges from the US Department of Justice.

What is most surprising is that the majority of the wealthier Middle Eastern countries like Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain offer free university education for their nationals. So, it is not necessarily a matter of someone being denied access to higher education but actually it is often about someone lacking the initiative to attend university for the required number of years to earn full accreditation.

With the problem in the international spotlight, some Middle Eastern countries are taking swift action to punish anyone attempting to utilize a bogus university degree to get employment. The United Arab Emirates has launched a stellar campaign to crackdown on anyone currently employed or seeking employment by presenting a fake university degree. Violators face a lifetime ban from working or even entering the UAE and face up to 24 years in prison. In the State of Kuwait, the Public prosecution has received several complaints from employers regarding job seekers presenting phony academic certificates. Most recently, this past week, 19 potential teachers were ordered held for prosecution as their educational certification was proven to be counterfeit by the Ministry of Education.

Obtaining a fake university degree is not difficult. A short trip to Southeast Asia or even Hungary can help someone achieve a PHD or CPA without spending a lot of time or money in school and for a fraction of the cost of a long stint in college. However, the odds are against such persons once they are on the job and cannot fulfill the work that their forged certification claims that they can do. Such was the case recently in Kuwait when a man went to the Ministry of Education seeking a job as a teacher. His forged university degree came from Hungary. However, he could not speak Hungarian or even English and simply claimed that he studied with the aid of a translator.

Unscrupulous degree dealers can be found all over the Gulf region offering a variety of degrees for under $1000 and in less than a month. A local reporter in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recently exposed one such degree dealer. The dealer advertised on the Internet and communicated exclusively by email or mobile phones to elude detection from Saudi authorities. He promised the reporter “you name it and we provide it”. The degrees for sale bore the name of “Buxton University” in the UK and could be made to order immediately.

The real losers in this scam are the people who hold authentic university certification and now find themselves having to prove that their degree is worth the paper that it is printed on. Degree cheaters have forced most Mideast governments to cast out an overly wide net to root degree violators out, unfortunately authentic degree holders are getting caught up in it as well.

11-44

‘Eidul Fitr 1430 – and warning

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

We will update this post as we learn of more country announcements of when ‘Eid will be.

UAE on 9/15/09 announced that ‘Eid would be Saturday, 9/19/09.

Saudi Arabia:  Unsure as of 9/18/09. 

Note:  In Saudi Arabia ‘Eidul Fitr and ‘Eidul Adha are each ten-day holidays, and typically Saudi Arabia reduces work hours during Ramadan to 6 hours per day.  Saudi weekends are Thursday and Friday.

Turkey:  Sunday 9/20/09 is ‘Eidul Fitr

FCNA/ISNA has announced ‘Eid will be Sunday, 9/20/09.

**Note that some non-Muslims are intentionally spreading viruses by making fake announcements about ‘Eidul Fitr—as soon as you open the web page your computer will be attacked. 

Do not open Eid announcement from www.patriceanderson.com.  Patrice Anderson appears to be from Houston, TX and runs a website that shows some expertise with web development, including apparently some knowledge of security which she is using to compromise the computers of Muslims in contravention of the law.  (“patrice.anderson: front-end web developer, sometimes designer and perpetual learner.”)  Will not give the live link to the page with the virus here.

We have notified authorities and are awaiting their response to this malicious act by Patrice Anderson.

 

clean print screen of virus from patrice anderson

Halal Make-Up

September 17, 2009 by · 8 Comments 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

skin_240809 What started out as a quest to find halal make-up for her own skin, has now taken Layla Mandi on the journey of a lifetime. As a Canadian convert to Islam and with an extensive background as a make-up artist, Mandi was unsatisfied with the quality of the beauty products available to her as a Muslim. “There are pork derivatives and alcohol in most cosmetic products,” Mandi said in a recent interview. She has performed extensive research into many beauty products currently on the market and her findings are pretty alarming.

Many shampoos, moisturizers and lipsticks contain pig by-products such as placenta, blood, urine fat and gelatin obtained from boiling pig skin, bones and hooves. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have long been protesting against the use of animal byproducts in the cosmetic industry, which is a multibillion-dollar industry in America alone. For this reason Mandi moved to Morocco in 2006 to both enrich her Islamic faith and obtain halal beauty products to use for herself. The only trouble was that there were not any halal products available. “I assumed, just as in the food sector, there would be plenty of halal cosmetics for Muslim women. But I suddenly realized there were none,” she said recently, “In fact, people either didn’t know or didn’t care that the cream they were putting on their face had pig and other animal derivatives in it. I decided to try to make my own.”

It took her three years and another move to Gulf powerhouse Dubai, while also enlisting the aid of a chemist and dermatologist from Canada, to create her very own brand of halal make up called, One Pure. Dressed in a flowing black abaya and with blond strands of a perfectly coifed hairstyle peeking out from her hijab, Mandi is slowly making a name for herself in Dubai and the rest of the Middle East. Her products are guaranteed to be free from pork derivatives and come packaged in sparkling luxury wrappers to appeal to even the most refined tastes. Her first clients were Saudi Airlines and Souk Al-Bahar, which is located in the World’s tallest building, Burj Dubai. Mandi has also been selling her halal beauty products online.

The One Pure cosmetic line also has religious backing in the form of halal certification from Malaysia and recent comments from at least one religious scholar in Dubai who has confirmed that Muslims are forbidden to touch the pig let alone allow its bodily fluids and parts to penetrate the skin. For the time being, the line is primarily being released in the Middle East with Mandi already turning her attention to a men’s line.

As with anything new that hits the market, critics of One Pure have already started weighing on in on the whole concept of halal beauty products for women. Some say that it is just a clever marketing ploy to make Muslim women buy the products so that they feel they are better Muslims. Others insist that One Pure is not the first halal make-up to be sold, the secularly marketed ‘The Body Shop’ has been in business for years and all of their products are free from animal derivatives and are not tested on animals either.

Only time will tell if One Pure will become a sensation, with Mandi declared the reigning queen of the halal beauty scene. There is nothing new about halal cosmetics in the Gulf region with an estimated $150 million worth of products being filtered through the tiny UAE alone per annum. However, these products rarely find the hands of consumers. For Mandi, her top priority is fulfilling the halal beauty needs of the everyday Muslim woman so that they can put their best face forward.

11-39

Breastfeeding Rates too Low Despite Global Education Programs

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

mother-and-child Despite widespread awareness of the importance of breastfeeding to the human child, mothers in developed countries demonstrate low rates of compliance with global recommendations. Nursing past six months is the exception rather than the rule. Bottle-feeding infants has become normal. Exclusive and extensive breastfeeding has become a pastime primarily for the rich with some interesting exceptions. Nordic countries exhibit the overall highest European breastfeeding rate with England ranking lowest. UAE ruling class mothers exclusively breastfeed the longest among Arabs while Iraq suffers the lowest breastfeeding rates. US Whites and Native Americans are most likely to breastfeed while Blacks and Hispanics are the least likely.

Class plays a large role in decision to breastfeed, for far fewer women belonging to the routine and manual labor socio-economic group nurse beyond six weeks than is typical of professional women and full time mothers. Yet, religion and philosophy also affect women’s decision to breastfeed. In Singapore non-Malay Muslim women are 6.7 times more likely to breastfeed than Buddhist women although Malays have the lowest rate. Urban babies receive half the breast milk of rural babies. The youngest mothers tend to supplement with bottles from birth.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF work hard to promote breastfeeding worldwide, but their success is undermined by factors such as free infant formula distribution, hospital practices and lack of personal support. Breastfeeding is a learned skill requiring effort and focus. Good intentions are not always enough to establish lactation. “Baby-friendly hospital” initiatives in many countries have significantly increased breastfeeding but rates are still well below optimum health guidelines.

Almost all new mothers attempt breastfeeding but few continue for the recommended period. According to UNICEF the early introduction of bottle-feeding and complementary food leads to premature weaning, the primary cause of malnutrition in children under age two worldwide.

Many women give up nursing in favor of bottle-feeding out of a sense of powerless over the situation. These mothers often wanted very much to nurse their child, but they lost their chance. Hospitals fail to promote exclusive breastfeeding of newborns. Most new mothers receive free samples of formula because of multi-million dollar deals between hospitals and pharmaceutical companies and come home with their babies already addicted to the bottle. Coaxing a newborn child to breastfeed after he has been bottle-fed even just once or twice can be a big struggle. Success may be impossible without the aid of a midwife or lactation counselor because unfortunately even the older generation of mothers lack sufficient knowledge.

When newborns reject the breast, mothers typically try for a while, then give up and supply a bottle. This teaches the baby that refusing to nurse will be rewarded. Parents must exercise “tough love” by declining to give the baby a bottle even if it takes several hours or even days for the baby to nurse willingly. (If the baby gets dehydrated, do give him water with a cup or medicine dropper, but introducing a bottle creates “nipple confusion” which is disastrous for the mother-child relationship).

Some women give up on breastfeeding because the husband insists. This tragedy reveals a stripping away at women’s postnatal rights and sets a dangerous precedent. Nursing a baby is an exhausting and time-consuming job requiring family help, encouragement, and support especially from the father to enable mother and child to be together undisturbed as much as possible particularly during the first 40 days of the baby’s life.

Many women manage to make it through those hardest days in the beginning and then stop breastfeeding after a few weeks out of fear of insufficient milk supply. These mothers need to increase their consumption of calories and to get adequate rest. Under no circumstances should they give their baby a bottle because this will only decrease the supply of breastmilk. Sometimes it is actually the doctor’s advice to start feeding their babies solids before 6 months that leads to premature weaning. A mother needs to weigh the fun of spoon-feeding her infant against the risk of premature rejection of the breast.

Thus bottle-feeding rates remain high despite awareness that breastmilk alone contains all the nutrients, antibodies, hormones and immune factors that a baby needs.

“Encouraging exclusive breastfeeding has to become a high priority in all sectors of society,” said Dr. Mahendra Sheth, UNICEF Regional Health and Nutrition Adviser for the Middle East and North Africa. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months followed by complementary feeding between 6-9 months with continued breastfeeding through the first year could save an estimated 1.5 million lives annually. 

Women receiving adequate advice can often prolong nursing even after returning to work outside the home. Premature or weak infants in particular need breast milk for the best odds in life.

Pregnant women should read books on how to breastfeed and understand fully the necessary commitment to avoid making a tragic mistake to be remembered with regret.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based writer on Middle East affairs and US politics. She is Director of the Division on Muslim Civil Rights and Liberties for the National Association of Muslim American Women.

11-36

The Crimson Tide

March 26, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

Red%20Tide

It sounds like something out of a sci-fi blockbuster. A mysterious red blob suffocates and kills anything that gets in its way as it slithers along, leaving mayhem in its wake.

However, in the case of the current crimson tide washing up in the GCC, truth is stranger than fiction. Known as ‘red tide’, the phenomenon is caused by a thick growth of phytoplankton called dinoflagellates, and it occurs naturally.

However, scientists have discovered that some variants of the occurrence may also be a by-product of human activities, such as development programs to extend land borders by adding fillers to the sea, or the dumping of waste into the ocean. The red tide suffocates fish and other marine life to death. Areas of the coastline affected by the phenomenon are often littered with the carcasses of fish, crabs and other sea creatures.

Typically, the red tide rears its’ ugly head in the spring. However, this year the red tide arrived as early as this past October off the coast of the UAE where it still lingers and is spreading to other GCC States including Oman. This past January the Ministry of Environment and Water in Abu Dhabi appointed a specialized team to develop a national course of action to cope with the problem that has left many beaches in the kingdom empty as well as several dinner plates. The ministry has also launched an intense media blitz to inform the public how to stay safe during the peak of the red tides. While studies have shown that it is safe to swim in the tainted water, being in close contact with the algae can cause severe respiratory problems. As for eating the marine life that is veritably soaking up the contaminated water, it is safe to consume seafood as long as the catches are caught fresh and alive. Officials have warned the public from scavenging through the several tons of dead fish that have already washed up along the coast. A mass clean up effort is continuously underway in the affected regions to collect the decomposing corpses and incinerate them at a public facility.    The government of the UAE also plans to develop a system of satellites to serve as an early warning system for when the red tides begin to roll in.

This past week the State of Kuwait was put on alert as the red tide began looking for its next victim. The Environment Public Authority (EPA) in Kuwait has warned the government to give the phenomenon special attention for the sake of public health. The Kuwaiti government sent scientific expert, Dr. Mona Hussein, to the UAE this week to study the red tides first hand before they make landfall in Kuwait. Dr. Hussein will collect water and dead fish samples to bring back to Kuwait for further studies.

As a result of the red tides, the tourism industry in the GCC has taken a massive hit especially in Dubai where divers from all over the world come to enjoy the crystal blue waters and immaculate coral reefs. The murky waters are keeping tourists away and isolating the public from their own coastline.

11-14

Diabetes Spirals Out of Control in Gulf

March 12, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

mcdonalds The unprecedented growth of diabetes around the world has raised red flags in the medical community, which is seeing a global spike in the disease in both the young and old alike. Nowhere is this more evident than in Gulf nations where the UAE is rated as 2nd in the world for the most diabetics per capita, 27% of the population is diabetic with the same percentage at risk for developing the disease. Other Gulf nations like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are also fighting an uphill battle against the illness with more and more of their residents succumbing to a similar fate as their tiny Gulf neighbor.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic illnesses in the world. It happens when the body stops producing insulin or when the body still produces insulin but is unable to respond to it. The most common treatment is the external administration of insulin through injection. However, many cases of diabetes in the Gulf go undetected until severe signs of the disease become manifest. Unlike most western nations, who are increasing budgetary expenditures to meet the influx of chronic disease within their borders, Gulf nations spent less than 4% of the GDP on the health sector last year that is in sharp contrast with the US who spent more than 11% of its GDP.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of diabetes is the requirement, for some patients, to have a limb or extremity amputated. Diabetes restricts the amount of blood that flows throughout the body thus damaging nerves and often causing gangrene to set in. The only way to save the patient’s life is to amputate and even then it is estimated that the patient will only have 5 more years to live. In Saudi Arabia, where 25% of the population is diabetic, more than 90 foot amputations are carried out each month, which roughly translates into 3 amputations per day.

The increased revenue from years of oil surpluses and a life of ease has created a perfect storm that has swept through the Middle East with a ferocity that has taken many by surprise. With more money in the family budget, many families eat out a few times a week. And the choice of restaurant is not always the healthiest. Fast food restaurants, junk food and fizzy carbonated drinks have for years crept into the hearts of Gulf denizens who often prefer a McDonald’s Big Mac to traditional fare. Add to that the lifestyle in the Gulf, which turns lounging around into a sport and makes ‘exercise’ a dirty word.  Children are the most at risk for developing diabetes before they even reach puberty due to obesity, a decrease in physical activity and an increase in sedentary activities such as surfing the Internet or playing video games.

Diabetes is called the ‘silent killer’ for a reason as many people either don’t know they have it or ignore the treatment to care for it. Eating healthfully and engaging in exercise is often pushed to the wayside in favor of more pressing issues, like earning a living or caring for a family. According to the International Diabetes Fund, there are more than 250 million known cases of diabetes in the world. That figure is set to exponentially rise to 380 million in the next 15 years. And unless the governments of the Gulf take preventative measures now, the Middle East nations will make up a bulk of those cases. For this reason, the UAE based Harvard Medical School Dubai Center (HMSDC) has launched an initiative in cooperation with His Highness Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Academic Medical Center to make 2009 the year to combat diabetes in the kingdom, educate the public and help doctors to better treat the disease.

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American TV Popular in the Middle East

March 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

friends There certainly is no love lost between most Middle East countries and the US, where peaceful coexistence is often stormier than two dogs fighting over a juicy bone.  Years of bias, perpetrated by American foreign policy, has left a bitter taste in the hearts and minds of the denizens of the Gulf that won’t easily be washed away by mere ‘sweet talk’ from the Obama administration. However, politics aside, there is a quiet love affair between the East and West that has only grown more intense over the past few years. Regardless of the innumerable ‘fatwas’ issued about the evils of the boob tube or outright condemnations by Muslim clerics, western television and cinema is the daily bread of many Gulf residents, and have  made an irrevocable mark on the social fabric of the region.

Talk-Diva Oprah Winfrey’s show is just as popular in Kuwait as it is in the suburbs of California. Dramas like ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ have Gulf dwellers glued to their television screens, just like their American counterparts, on sofas in the UAE, Oman and Bahrain.  And even syndicated shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ still resonate with the Gulf audience. And while English is not the primary language spoken in the region, all the programming is made complete with Arabic subtitles at the bottom. A notable side effect of the translation crawler is that many Arab speakers are learning to speak English, courtesy of the western programming.

There are two primary satellite television stations situated in Saudi Arabia and Dubai that send out American programming 24/7 throughout the whole Gulf region.  The media giant of the Gulf is known as the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) and is completely financed by Saudi Arabia. The MBC Group has evolved over the years to include 5 separate channels including MBC3 which airs American cartoons dubbed in Arabic, MBC4 which airs American sitcoms and dramas, as well as the newest channel named MBCMax which airs the latest Hollywood blockbusters to grace the silver screen. The second biggest media giant in the Middle East is known as OneTV, which is owned and operated by the UAE. It combines the best of both worlds, to include western sitcoms and movies in its monthly repertoire.

Both media empires compete for viewers’ attention by offering the most sought-after shows without charging a single penny. Unlike the popular Showtime channel, which is the predominant pay channel in the Gulf, and rakes in billions of oil soaked dollars every year from their subscribers. However, thanks to cutthroat advertisers hocking everything from shampoo to cooking oil, the television business is becoming more lucrative in the Gulf  than the ‘black gold’ that lies beneath the land. Advertisers scoop airtime up as fast as it becomes available, much to the chagrin of viewers who have to wait between 4-5 minutes for the commercials to end, with each show having no less than 3 commercial breaks.

Surprisingly, the key to the success of satellite television in the Middle East is censorship, which keeps everyone happy. Scenes depicting intimacy or even a kiss are cut off. Programming dealing with things such as homosexuality or teenage pregnancy is usually not aired. It is really up to the code of morals followed by each country where the stations are based. For example, the MBC group based in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia almost never shows intimate situations, whereas OneTV based in liberal Dubai has been known to allow some kissing scenes to appear on its viewer’s screens. For the most part, there is not a lot of governmental regulation as to what is aired by either the stations airing the programming or the countries receiving the feed.

However, one country has gone to great lengths to block American television and cinema. Iran only allows a handful of approved American serials to be played on the state-run news station. As a result, young Iranians are downloading their favorite American serials from the Internet or purchasing them from video dealers.
With the Middle East region constantly feeling the strain of threat, whether from internally or from abroad, western television offers viewers in the Gulf a chance to forget their problems and indulge in a bit of escapism, resplendent in jaw dropping comedy and breathtaking stuntmanship that could only be concocted in Hollywood and exported to the rest of the world.

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The Arab Bailout

October 30, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

bank-op

Vans line up at Gulf Bank to deliver money to the bank branches.

Photo Courtesy www.248am.com.

When news of the U.S. bailout hit the Middle East newswire, the snickering could most likely have been heard halfway around the World. There is no love lost between the U.S. and most Gulf States as the mass majority of Gulf residents view the U.S. as an aggressor and not the liberator they claim to be. However, no one is laughing now as the very first casualty of the World economic crisis, stemming directly from the U.S. bailout, has fallen right in the State of Kuwait, which is sure to send shockwaves to neighboring GCC nations.

One of the most prestigious and trusted financial institutions in Kuwait, Gulf Bank, had to be bailed out by the Kuwaiti government this past week. As Kuwait’s second largest lender, Gulf Bank suffered losses as a result of trading in oil derivatives and its’ own investors refused to help settle those losses. The Central Bank of Kuwait (CBK) has stepped in and is quoted as saying it, “backs the bank and fully guarantees its deposits.” The CBK also halted trading by Gulf Bank in the Kuwait Stock Exchange and sent its’ own surpervisors to deal with risk management. Bank records will be closely scrutinized to determine the scale of the risks the bank took without the knowledge of the CBK.

From the moment the news broke in this tiny Gulf nation, jittery Gulf Bank customers raced to the nearest ATM’s, local branches and even online to immediately withdraw the full balances from their accounts. All of the branches were swarmed with panic-stricken customers and rioting nearly broke out at one of those branches. By the mid-morning of the first day it is estimated that over $100 million US dollars was withdrawn. By the second day, rumors were rife that the all the Gulf Bank branches were under lockdown and customers were being limited as to how much they could withdraw from the ATM machines.

However, to hear Gulf Banks version of the events over the past few days, one might feel like they’ve entered the ‘Twilight Zone’. According to General Manager for Board Affairs Fawzy Al-Thunayan the reason for so many customers descending on the branches of the bank is because, “It’s the time of salaries … It’s the end of the month.” Al-Thunayan also denied that money from CBK is being pumped into his bank despite reports of several armored vehicles being spotted lined up at many of the main branches. 

Weighing in on the turmoil facing Gulf Bank, an employee of one of their main rivals National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) had this to say, “Our bank has been in business since 1952 and we know how to handle our client’s money. If Gulf Bank is having problems, small investors have the right to withdraw their money and look for other banking options.” As the largest lender, by assets, its not surprising that former Gulf Bank customers have been flooding NBK to open up new accounts.

So far Gulf Bank is the first ever Kuwaiti bank to buckle under the pressure of an increasingly uncertain global economy. Other banks in Kuwait are discussing ways to safeguard themselves from falling into a similar situation. A local Arabic daily newspaper has reported that at least four proposals for mergers between Kuwaiti banks have been received by the CBK. By merging into a larger entity, banks can best weather the current economic firestorm.

While Kuwait is the first country to see the demise of one of its’ banks up close and personal, it is not the first country to guarantee bank deposits. The UAE took the preventative measure of calming down its’ investors and clients by guaranteeing all deposits in the first quarter of October 2008.

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