22 December, 2010

A consultant's notes

A friend just sent me the links below, which is a consultant (from Boston Consulting Group/BCG) writing about his time in Dubai. Please find the links below, along. It is nice to read an inside view from someone unable to pretend in this country...

I quite liked this quote summing up nicely the work of many consultants I have seen around here:

"In any case it fell to us to decide for ourselves what question we had been hired to answer, and as a matter of convenience, we elected to answer questions that we had already answered in the course of previous cases — no sense in doing new work when old work will do."


19 December, 2010

Light in a dark world: Sami Yusuf

Light in a dark world: Sami Yusuf

Some Really Nice

13 December, 2010

39th UAE National Day 2010 celebrations in Abu Dhabi UAE

The 39th UAE National Day in 2010 was one of the most memorable with people from all nationalities joining in the celebrations as always. Buildings lighted up. Cars decorated in the most unexpected ways. And wars of foam. Here are a few moments captured in the capital - Abu Dhabi.

Courtesy: Copywriter in UAE

09 December, 2010

The Best Advertisement You Will Ever See

Has anyone else come across this advertisement in Dubai by the RTA?

Yes, that's right. The Roads and Transport Authority want to promote people taking taxis in between Emirates Towers and the DIFC Gate.

A whopping distance of 126 meters.

27 November, 2010

Mr and Mrs Secret

There is a troublesome and growing tendency in the UAE for “secret marriages”. If you have never heard of them, well then that’s the whole purpose of the deal. Unless you know someone personally who is in such a union, you would never find out.
In the last couple of years we have met dozens of men and women who have chosen to go down that road, mostly for odd reasons.
Secret marriages are often described as Islamic marriages without any public registration at any legal entity, such as a court. Fact is, in Islam there is no such thing as a secret marriage. For a marriage to be legal in Islam, one of the many conditions that are required is for it to publicized.
Most couples we’ve met who entered such marriages are Muslim men who “marry” non-Muslim foreigners with no knowledge of the legality issues involved. The girls, mostly from underprivileged backgrounds, are flattered that a guy would propose to them, just days or weeks after meeting their match. They would sign a handwritten marriage contract, signed by two friends-witnesses of the husband, a dowry and probably the guy will rent a place for her, so that she’s “taken care of”.  The guy has the convenience of having a woman at his beck and call, having to spend much less than if it was a proper marriage, avoiding the involvement of his family. Well, it’s not that simple.
Firstly, there is a good reason for marriages being required to be registered. A Muslim man can marry up to four women if he is able to, but if those marriages are not registered, then how will one know, how many wives and children he really has? Likewise, for a woman to be able to marry in a legal way, she cannot be already married. How will a man know, if he marries in “secret”, that his chosen mate is not married in her home country or elsewhere?
Some of the women we’ve met, have only realized they were in a secret marriage, once they got pregnant and the guy just took off, never to be seen again. In fact, one of the girls was arrested for adultery, after she went to the hospital when she wanted to give birth. Of course she could not produce a marriage certificate, her dear “husband” was at large and she ended up in jail. The women had never doubted the validity of their marriage. They thought their man just chose not to tell anyone about the alliance, as his family would never approve the marriage anyway. Then there are others of course, who are well aware that they are in fact in a secret marriage, but who settle for the financial advantages for as long as they are together. To all women who are in such a situation, we really wonder whether  their childhood dream of a marriage looked anything like this: One day the love of my life will come, propose to me within days because he is so smitten by me, then we’ll not tell anyone that we got married and as soon as I get pregnant, he will walk away, never to be seen again. What a romantic image. Such women should spend a few hundred Dirhams on their therapist to find out, why they think so little of themselves. Mr. and Mrs. Secret never have a happy ending. They don’t even exist in fairy tales.

22 November, 2010

Sat,27th Nov @AUS- Invitation to UAE premiere screening of "Napoleon: Life of an outlaw" documentary film

Please note the change in Date, Time, Venue and Topic

You are invited to the UAE premiere-screening of the documentary film:
Napoleon: Life of an outlaw
"When rags to riches isn't enough..."

The documentary chronicles the life of Mutah Beale. From his turbulent beginnings, witnessing his parents' murder, to his rise to stardom in the music industry as a member of the most infamous rap groups in history, 2pac Shakur's Outlawz and beyond. Napoleon will be present at the screening and will answer questions at the end. People of all faiths are welcome.

Watch Trailer

Date: Saturday, 27th November, 2010
Time: 6:00 PM
Ticket cost: Free
Venue: Lecture hall A & B, Main building, American University of Sharjah
Direction to venue: Click here for location map
*Separate seating for men and women.

About the speaker
Mutah Beale formerly known as Napoleon, of the world-wide bestselling musician 2pac Shakur's music group Outlawz, was a Hip-Hop/ Rap musician and a film actor.

Mutah Beale spent his youth in pain and poverty. After finally acquiring the fame and fortune he had always dreamt of in the music industry, he left it all for faith and peace of mind. He embraced Islam in 2002, he now travels the world as a motivational speaker. Speaking to youth and people of all ages on topics ranging from the realities of stardom to the importance of following the Sunnah (traditions of The Prophet of Islam PBUH).

Napoleon & Loon (of P Diddy's Bad Boy Records) are a new generation of "bad-boy" Hip-Hop/ Rap artist following a trend of celebrity converts to Islam. An interesting feature is the drastic change in lifestyle towards spirituality and simplicity that they have managed to achieve.

16 November, 2010

Eid Mubarak everyone. Be safe... :)

21 October, 2010


Just a quick note to let you all know that GeekFest is once again occuring at The Shelter in Al Quoz tonight. It'll be kicking off around 7.30pm and will feature five talks, a workshop on how to put together podcasts and a display from the EWS/WWF asking us to be nicer to turtles. The talks are:

To Nablus by Cam
Blogger Sara has won numerous hearts with her delightful accounts of life as a volunteer teaching in Nablus. Her blog, UssaNabulsiyeh, instantly gained a wide readership that has grown steadily day by day. We’re going to talk to Sara over videochat and listen to what she’s made of the Nablus experience so far. If this works we’ll try and do other cam link-ups in future.

The Giga-Pixel Man
Gerald Donovan’s videos of the Dubai fountains have gained him over two million views on YouTube, while his speeded up Dubai Metro video was hosted by Gizmodo and CNN. His GigaPixel images of Dubai have been similar smash hits. How does a man who seems to have the knack of ‘going viral’ view the phenomenon and what’s he going to get up to next? One answer is a stunning Gigapixel image of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed mosque, unveiled especially for GeekFest!

New Music Nation
DJ RoneJaxx is one of a burgeoning band of Middle East based hip-hop artists who are finding a growing audience around the region as young people take to the musical form to find expression. With catchy tunes and smart videos, he’s a leading member of a regional scene that’s finding its feet – but does the Arab World need to ape US rap and hip-hop or does it need a musical identity of its own? And how is technology affecting artists with something to say and no deal with ‘the man’ to help them say it? (A name-check here to Hass, whose Re-Volt Radio hip hop blog led to us discovering Monsieur Jaxx!)

Where are we going to go now?
Needing no introduction, Yousef Tuqan Tuqan comes from a long line of computer nerds and is one of the most respected figures in the world of Web Development in the Middle East. Online agency Flip Media have carved a niche as the go-to guys for web stuff, from sites to apps – even if they command a premium in return for a ferocious reputation for quality work. So who better to ask where the Internet is actually going next? Yousef’s promised to tell us...

The New Entrepeneurialism
There’s more talk of innovation, funding and the like these days than ever before. There’s more concrete reality taking place as well, with funds like Jordan’s Oasis500 and angel investors popping up to support new online businesses. One of the team behind the amazingly successful, and arguably first, entrepreneurial event in the region, ArabNet, Samer Karam Founder and CEO of Seeqnce, the first startup catalyst in the Arab World, will be outlining some of the initiatives in the region that are driving a new wave of online entrepreneurship – taking from similarly risk averse cultures: their challenges, opportunities, threats, solutions.

On a slightly more sober note than usual, we're also looking at ways we can raise funds to help Ola, a little girl from Nablus who needs to find $18,000 urgently to fund the operation that will save her life - without it her immediate future is exceedingly uncertain as she has a brain tumour that could snuff it out within days. Ola came to our attention because of Sara's blog (featured above).

GeekFest Dubai (The NOTGITEX Edition) Here's a link to The Shelter in Al Quoz. You can do the Facebook thing or follow @GeekFestDubai on Twitter (or tap me up at @alexandermcnabb) for more information.


05 October, 2010

Dubai Rental Property

Has anyone else been suffering with comment spam from Dubai Rental Property or Dubai Furnished Property? Neither of my blogs are about property, rental or furnished, in Dubai, and they are bugging me bigtime. Their whole aim, of course, is to score well in the search engines. If they've been bugging you, do a blog post about it, making sure you mention the words 'Dubai', 'property', 'rental' and 'furnished' in your post's title and the body of the post, and also as keywords or labels.

It would also help if you linked to either of my blog posts about this: http://probablymadrid.blogspot.com/2010/10/dubai-rental-property.html

28 September, 2010

Flickr Ban Lifted

According to a report in The National, the TRA has lifted the Flickr ban.  Good news for UAE internet users and photographers.  Apparently, it's been made possible by Yahoo utilising the same content filter that they are using for Singapore's Flickr access.

Let's hope that it stays lifted, this time!

09 September, 2010

Eid Mubarak

Have a wonderful Eid everyone.. :)

08 September, 2010

nItrnetainaol tliraeyc ady

eraindg nad wiritgn si osemtinhg ew tkae ofr rgtnaed. omsetnhig 776 imlilno tcna od. dtyoa ew eclbearte orlwd tliraeyc ady, a ayd roecnzgide owlrdidwe dan foiafcilyl spurpoerdt yb NUSECO nad ete nutied aniotsn. ltes amek tihs nirtnaetaoialn tliraeyc ady arelyl amen osmhtiegn nda phle omer eopoel elanr ot erda. pehl aemk a ifdreenefe dan letl ruoy eraesdr – adn het wlodr – ubaot eth irmpatnoce fo earindg adn od osmtehngi ot ephl rbeka hte liiltarcey yccel.

Having trouble reading this? Now you know what it is like for the 776 million people who can’t. Visit www.hope140.org to learn more.’

07 September, 2010

Serious Business

"These types of crimes are very serious, and according to the tip-off the department organised a team to investigate the case," said Major Salah Bu Aseeba, Director of the Department of Economic Crimes at Dubai Police."

Damn. What could be so serious? Not only serious, but "very serious"? And not only that, what could be so bad to catch the attention of the "Economic Crimes" department?

Corporate espionage? Price fixing? Cement and steel industry cartels? Monopoly?

No... Far more serious...

VoIP. Seriously.

02 September, 2010

Under The Knife

"Some plastic surgeons in Dubai are reporting an increase in business despite the global economic slowdown. An industry that once catered mostly to women is becoming increasingly popular among Dubai men.

"The number of men seeking cosmetic surgery has increased tremendously. A good 30 per cent of men are seeking liposuction. A common procedure for men is called male breast reduction which is on the rise because people are getting more conscious. Other popular procedures include botox, liposuction, rhinoplasty, body lifts and hair transplants," says Dr Parashar.

While the ratio between men and women is evening, the nationalities seeking procedures still remains a broad mix. Surgeons report the mix to be made up of around 50 to 60 per cent western expatriates and 40 to 50 per cent local and regional residents with the latter percentage slowly increasing."

More here

18 August, 2010

Strings Lab – First iPhone & iPad Game

My first iPhone & iPad game has just been released in the App store and I’m really excited. It is a special feeling to see an idea transformed into an actual product.

The game itself is a blend of two things I have always enjoyed open ended games and physics. In the game you are in charge of a Strings Labs and your objective is create as much energy as possible. You can create Quantum Strings, Photons and Gravitons and watch them interact and create more complex elements. You are also given a few tools to facilitate specific interactions.

Since it is a sandbox type game, I will keep the how-to to a minimum a let the gamer figure out stuff as they play, but I will be posting hints and tips here (amiri.hub.ae) from time to time.

The game comes in two falavors:

  • Free Ad Supported Version (iPhone Only) – Link Here

  • Full version (iPad and iPhone) – Link Here

Here are a few screen shots, and let me know what you think. If you like the game, a positive rating and/or review on iTunes is highly appreciated.

And since this is a shameless plug for my app, here are a few promo codes for the full version of the game:

  • PTFXER63A4N6
  • YX4R96FTN67E
  • F7XAA3HA7T7K
  • KFJFE733FW9P

07 August, 2010

Saudi BB ban lifted?

The UK Daily Telegraph is reporting that "Saudi Arabia and the makers of the BlackBerry smartphone have reached a deal to prevent a ban on the phone's messenger service."

The report says:

The agreement, which involves placing a BlackBerry server inside Saudi Arabia, would allow the government to monitor users' messages and allay official fears the service could be used for criminal purposes.

A Saudi regulatory official said tests were now under way to determine how to install a BlackBerry server inside the country.

The story's here.

04 August, 2010

Dubai Police Virtual Training?!

The Dubai Police Force is looking for a game developer to help them create a virtual training program for their department, according to a Gamasutra job posting.

There aren't a lot of details about what exactly the police department wants the "serious game" to do, but they job opening is for a CryEngine Game Developer and that the developer will report to Dr. Ahmed Bin Subaih, the department's head of the virtual training section.

Requirements include experience with artificial intelligence and multiplayer games and the job pays $70,000 and include health and transportation for the employee and family.

Looking at what appears to be a screenshot from the initiative, I'm intrigued by what the virtual training program could be. It looks like it will include pretty detailed environments and, perhaps, a third-person point of view.

More here: The Dubai Police want you to make a game for them (Kotaku)

02 August, 2010

Blackberry dumbphones

Assuming the BlackBerry ban isn't mere saber rattling, is it not disgusting that consumers will have to bear the costs of the TRA's decision to ban BlackBerry services?

Not only the cost of devices, but for companies and individuals to swap over to different devices?

It is absolutely not enough that the TRA require du and Etisalat to provide services in place of devices we've all already paid for;
"Both telecommunications operators – Etisalat and du – were informed of the decision earlier today. The notification was delivered with an instruction to ensure minimal consumer disruption in the provision of alternative services." (from www.tra.ae)
So where are the calls from Etisalat and du arranging delivery of our new phones that haven't had their feature-list suddenly cut in half overnight?

If this all turns out to be a failed attempt by the TRA to try and force RIM to co-operate with ridiculous laws who will refund consumers that went and bought new devices in the belief that BlackBerry services would be banned?

Given the absolutely atrociously ridiculous cost of on-the-fly 3G data in the UAE we're all going to end up "forking over yet another ton of money to Etisalat and du once again" (so common that we can henceforth abbreviate it to FOY-ATOM-TEA-DOA)

Also, at a time like this, let us not lose sight of the General Policy for the Telecommunications Sector in the State of the United Arab Emirates:
"3.3 Become the Regional ICT Hub
The Government will support the development of the UAE as a regional ICT and telecommunications hub by:
3. Ensuring a secure environment in telecommunication applications and usage, including information security and network security, authentication, privacy and consumer protection by developing Policies and Regulatory Framework for this subject."

So to ensure that the UAE becomes a regional ICT Hub by "ensuring a secure environment", the TRA's grandmaster plan is to ban anything that is a secure environment?

With front page CNN, BBC, Slashdot, New York Times the UAE is sure set to become the regional ICT hub in about minus 8000 years. What will the TRA find reason to block tomorrow in its continuous quest to 'protect consumers'? Skype?

Is it little wonder companies like Skype have set up shop in Bahrain and not the UAE?

Will the TRA use this extremely sound reasoning:
Blackberry data is immediately exported off-shore, where it is managed by a foreign, commercial organization. Blackberry data services are currently the only data services operating in the UAE where this is the case. (from www.tra.ae
to start blocking services which are managed overseas and are encrypted like Gmail? Will the TRA start outlawing all encrypted communications including https websites so we can no longer use banking facilities in a secure manner?

01 August, 2010

Blackberry services in UAE to be suspended

The TRA confirmed today that Blackberry Messenger, Blackberry E-mail and Blackberry Web-browsing services in the UAE will be suspended as of October 11th 2010.

Today’s decision is based on the fact that, in their current form, certain Blackberry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns for the UAE.

Commenting on the announcement TRA Director General Mohamed Al Ghanim said: “With no solution available and in the public interest, in order to affect resolution of this issue, as of October 11, 2010, Blackberry Messenger, Blackberry Email and Blackberry Web-browsing services will be suspended until an acceptable solution can be developed and applied.”

“We informed both Etisalat and du that providing the option of alternative services to ensure the continuity of service from October 11 to its subscribers – both individuals and organisations - is the most important priority.” Al Ghanim added.

Said Al Ghanim, “The TRA notes that Blackberry appears to be compliant in similar regulatory environments of other countries, which makes non-compliance in the UAE both disappointing and of great concern.”
From TRA's website.

The build-up to this can be seen two posts down.

30 July, 2010

Etisalat, eLife and unfair marketing practices

I called Etisalat this afternoon regarding their eLife services which I have posted about previously and have come to some interesting conclusions. Most of all the information provided on their website and the wording that they have chosen, as well as the unavailability of proper information appears to be unfair for consumers.

The information Etisalat offers is as follows:
  • There will be a 100 GB LIMIT on the UNLIMITED eLife packages
  • They claim that it is under test and have no idea when it will be implemented
  • They have no idea how it will be implemented (i.e. what happens after bandwidth limit)
  • They have no idea of what the costs associated with such a limit would be
How are consumers meant to make informed decisions with their purchases when Etisalat is holding back information in such a way? Especially when eLife is offered with a 12 month contract.

Technically speaking Etisalat is offering an unlimited connection at this moment, however they have already previously mentioned things like fair usage policies and such on their website which they have since removed which is a little bit more than suspicious (in that it seems they are trying to make customers purchase an 'unlimited' connection on a 12 month contract that is going to be limited in the near future while making no solid information available).

At the moment there is no actual mention of any limitations at all on their website and this information is only available via phone; there is one webpage regarding the FUP (fair usage policy) however it is no longer linked to anywhere on the site and it makes no mentions of prices or any technical or solid information whatsoever.

I particularly find it interesting that the TRA is always so adamant about 'protecting consumers' when it comes to Skype or security threats on BlackBerry Messenger, but don't seem to do much of anything when it comes to actual consumers. Their policies make for interesting reading...
"2.1 Price Transparency Before Service Offering
2.1.1 Prior to offering service to consumers, licensees shall disclose the
(a) all prices that may apply, including deposits and pre-payments;

Etisalat had no idea when I called what the prices of additional bandwidth would be. Which means they are offering a service to customers without being able to inform customers of what pricing will actually be. This means that Etisalat is not being transparent in their pricing.
"2.2.2 When a Licensee offers a service which is priced per a certain number of usage units or in another similar manner, that Licensee shall provide the functionality for consumers to know their available units."

Etisalat does not currently offer any method for tracking bandwidth usage. To be fair they do not actually have a bandwidth limit yet, however if they are offering people a service that will be limited in the near future it would be considered fair to provide consumers with this service right now so they may ascertain the accuracy and functionality of such a service and also tailor their internet usage to fit any future limits.

"2.3 General Publication Requirements
2.3.1 Licensees shall publish, in a form easily available to consumers,
the prices for its services offered to consumers.
2.3.2 The information shall be published in a manner that is up-to-date
and easy to understand.
2.3.3 Where Licensees make more than one service offer for the same
service, they shall make available the prices in a manner that enables
consumers to compare the various offers.
2.3.4 Licensees shall provide a means for consumers to contact licensees
for further price information."
"2.1 No marketing communication or practice shall, or be likely, to mislead, confuse or deceive consumers by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise."

Etisalat's elife packages are displayed on their website as UNLIMITED yet are going to be LIMITED.

I ask you, is it "easy to understand" or "accurate" when a service is offered as unlimited when it is actually going to be limited?

The dictionary definition of unlimited for those of you who are interested:


not limited; unrestricted; unconfined: unlimited trade.
boundless; infinite; vast: the unlimited skies.
without any qualification or exception; unconditional."

The usage of the term 'unlimited' in telecommunications marketing has already proven contentious in other countries, yet the TRA has taken no action against Etisalat for it.

"11.1 References to prices, services, terms and conditions, or comparisons thereof, shall be clear and transparent and shall not mislead or deceive or be likely to mislead or deceive consumers."
(Taken from TRA Marketing and Communications Policy)

Obviously when Etisalat uses the language 'unlimited' consumers are going to be mislead into believing they are paying for an internet connection without limits when it will in fact have limits. 
"2.3 Any footnotes or disclaimers in marketing communications or practices
shall be readily visible and legible, audibly apparent and understandable
and shall not contradict, materially qualify or otherwise alter the basis of
the communication or practice.
This limit is mentioned nowhere on their website. The only specific terms and conditions that I could find was a simple "terms and conditions apply" which appeared to be in reference a special offer, Etisalat did not expand upon the terms and conditions for that promotion on their website. Etisalat's terms and conditions PDF makes absolutely no mention of any future bandwidth limitations or fair usage policy and does not fairly warn consumers of what they may end up paying.

"8.1 Marketing communications and practices shall not exploit the credulity,
lack of knowledge or inexperience of consumers."

This last part is what it all comes down to. Etisalat is offering a service which will be limited in the future and is not making adequate information available to consumers, furthermore, consumers who are not technically savvy will not understand the implementation of a fair usage policy on a connection that is described as "unlimited", especially when Etisalat has made little effort to inform customers of what the actual fair usage policy is and provide any solid information. Their usage of the term "UNLIMITED" is a sham and is deceiving and taking advantage of consumers who will be caught unaware when the fair usage policy is introduced. (Etisalat has already previously written on their site that the fair usage applies which would mean some customers believe the FUP is in effect when it currently isn't and this would be detrimental to people wanting to use their connection freely without fear of incurring extra costs)

Etisalat also refuses to offer telephone and internet services under seperate billing with eLife. I have read reports online of Etisalat forcing customers to abandon their Al Shamil internet service (which is just an internet service and does not include telephone connections) and this in itself is alarming. I have also been told by Etisalat's 101 number that some Etisalat business centers are no longer offering Al Shamil at all.
6.2.5 Anti-competitive bundling or tying – bundling or tying products or services offered in Relevant Markets, and which by doing so does or may restrict, prevent, or distort competition in one or more of those Relevant Markets or another Relevant Market;

This means, hypothetically, if you moved house and only had eLife and no traditional copper services you would have to purchase phone and internet from your ISP (in a bundle) and would have no method to subscribe to each individually. Given the upcoming interconnection between Etisalat and Du this would mean a very anti-competitive situation in which you may have to purchase two phone lines to get better offers from different providers.

EDIT: It appears based upon information on du's website and their customer support line they are doing the same forced phone/internet bundling with their 'real broadband' packages.
du said on the phone that they have no information about what would be available (i.e. whether seperate telephone/internet connections would be offered) when the interconnection starts.

This potentially means (as a worst case scenario) at the start of the upcoming interconnection (apparently in a few weeks?) will leave customers already in 12 month contracts unable to usefully purchase individual services from other providers without doubling up on services they already have, although lets see what happens.

du and Etisalat's "real broadband" / eLife packages both come with 12 month contracts. For me as an Etisalat customer this is a problem. If I were to hypothetically sign up for eLife tomorrow, and then du made phone lines available in my area in 6 months time I would be disadvantaged for wanting to use the competitors services because I am in a 12 month contract that forcefully bundles both phone and internet services.

Additionally, du also said on the customer support line that there is no bandwidth limit on their 'real broadband' packages, they have also stated on twitter that there is no fair usage policy.

"6.2.9 Anti-competitive customer lock-in - locking-in customers through unduly long-term contracts, and which by doing so does or may restrict, prevent, or distort competition in a Relevant Market;"

(Taken from TRA Competition Safeguards Policy)

"2.1.2 Where a service is packaged with another service and/or product, licensees shall inform consumers of the price they would pay if they obtained that service and/or product from licensees separately and of any additional conditions or restrictions that apply."
What can you do? There are other TRA policies that do hopefully protect the consumer;
2.2.4 Licensees shall notify consumers individually, at least twenty-eight (28) calendar days prior to any price increase or any change that has the effect of a price increase.
2.2.5 Licensees shall offer consumers the opportunity to terminate their contracts without penalties before an increase in prices takes effect.

This means that when Etisalat changes their price they must announce it to consumers and you have the right to discontinue services without incurring any penalty for terminating your contract. However, as Etisalat seems intent on preventing people from making separate subscriptions to telephone/internet/etc you may find yourselves out of options in a country that supposedly doesn't have a telecommunications monopoly anymore.

Blackberry Shenanigans part 2: Security Forces Boogaloo

Reporters Without Borders is reporting that people have been held for spreading opposition to the government via BlackBerry Messenger...
"The Emirati authorities have been harassing and arresting users of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) who allegedly tried to organise a protest against an increase in the price of gasoline (one of the highest in the Arab world). The protest was eventually called off. BBM user Badr Ali Saiwad Al Dhohori, an 18-year-old resident of Ras Al Khaimah, has reportedly been held in Abu Dhabi since 15 July.
The authorities were able to trace the organiser, known as “Saud,” because he included his BlackBerry PIN in a BBM message he sent calling for the protest. They held Saud for a week and interrogated him to trace those he had been messaging. Accused of inciting opposition to the government, he has lost his job. At least five other members of the group have reportedly been summoned by the police or are still being sought.
“We call for an end to this government witch-hunt against BlackBerry Messenger users who tried to get their fellow citizens to join them in a protest,” Reporters Without Borders said. “These young people did nothing bad. At first they planned a peaceful demonstration but they ended up calling it off because they did not want to break the law. They must not be made to pay for the government’s dispute with BlackBerry’s services, which it cannot control as it would like.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Because they cannot decipher BlackBerry’s encrypted data and thereby gain access to its clients’ personal data, the security forces have decided to intimidate users in order to combat their potential for disseminating information. These summonses must stop. Al Dhohori and others potentially held at the moment in relation to this case must be freed without delay.”
More here: Wave of arrests of BlackBerry Messenger users (Reporters Without Borders)
And here: (localnewsuae) موقع: اعتقال اماراتيين على خلفية دعوتهم لتظاهرة سلمية احتجاجاً على اسعار البنزين

Links via @sultanalqassemi on twitter 

25 July, 2010

Blackberry Shenanigans

The National is reporting that the future of BlackBerry within the UAE may be in doubt...

BlackBerry is operating beyond the UAE law, the government’s official news service reported today, throwing doubt on the future of the mobile email and messaging service.

BlackBerry’s suite of communication services such as e-mail and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) use internal networks that are encrypted under one of the world’s most complex codes.

BlackBerry has about 500,000 subscribers in the Emirates, not counting visitors who roam through the airports.

BlackBerry “operates beyond the jurisdiction of national legislation”, according to a statement issued today by the state-run news service WAM. This is because it “is the only device operating in the UAE that immediately exports its data offshore and is managed by a foreign, commercial organisation”.

“As a result of how BlackBerry data is managed and stored, in their current form, certain BlackBerry applications allow people to misuse the service, causing serious social, judicial and national security repercussions,” the statement added.

More here: BlackBerry is 'beyond the law' says government (The National)

To read some info about the kind of stuff kicking around on BlackBerry Messenger service I recommend taking a look at Sultan Al Qassemi's twitter feed (e.g. this tweet, this tweet and this tweet

And I'm sure we need no reminder of Etisalat's efforts to "spy" on UAE BlackBerry users last year. (link courtesy anon)

EDIT: In case the TRA's claim that they are doing this to "[safeguard] our consumers" sounds familiar, that's because it is the same reasoning they used when trying to explain why Skype is blocked in the UAE.

12 July, 2010

Fuel price to increase again

"Abu Dhabi: Local petroleum products distributors have decided to increase the price of a litre of petrol by 20 fils from Thursday, July 15, at all fueling stations across the UAE.
A statement issued on Monday by the distributing companies said the increase is part of liberalisation of prices and their gradual rise. “The announced rise comes within efforts to gradually mitigate accumulated and growing losses these companies are sustaining due to continuous surge in cost of the product,” the statement added."

More here: Petrol prices to go up by 20 fils (Gulf News)

(Link via AdamFlinter on twitter)

10 July, 2010

Emaar sued for torture and false imprisonment

"Dubai based Emaar Properties best known for building the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, has been sued in California for torture and false imprisonment by American businessman Lionel Lombard. United States District Court, Eastern District of California, Case 2:10-at-00928 LOMBARD v. EMAAR USA et al.

Lombard a former partner in a Dubai public relations firm complained about Apartheid and treatment of foreign workers at one of Emaar’s flagship properties, The Springs. Lombard, an American citizen, was repeatedly harassed by Emaar’s security guards because of his stance. After he took his case directly to Emaar’s chairman, Mohammed Ali Alabbar, Lombard was imprisoned for almost two years, beaten and tortured in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

All charges against Lombard were dropped in February 2010 without explanation. Non citizens are often imprisoned in Dubai at the whim of officials or due to business disputes. Despite attempts by Dubai to portray itself as a progressive business and tourist destination, the reality is that hundreds of non citizens are jailed each year due to minor civil disputes. Emaar and Alabbar became incensed at Lombard after local media picked up his story."

More here: Builder of World’s Tallest Building Accused of Torture & Racism (Peace FM Online)

(link via secretdubai on twitter)

07 July, 2010

A simple fine

Hot on the heels of Abu Dhabi Police giving drivers a 50% discount for fines, Dubai Police has decided to take serious action following reckless driving on Sheikh Zayed Road and award an appropriate fine for endangering the lives of other road users:

"Two motorists who were arrested after shocking videos of dangerous driving in Dubai were posted on YouTube have been fined just dhs1,000 each.
The footage showed a 4x4 vehicle driving down Sheikh Zayed Road on two wheels, while a pick-up truck was performing handbrake turns.
The two Emirati men, thought to be in their 20s, were found guilty of endangering the lives of other road users and were handed the fines by Dubai Court of Misdemeanours today.

The police revealed that the reckless drivers had been part of an organised celebratory procession for fans of Al Wasl Football Club after they won the Gulf Club Champions Cup.
He said that patrols had been at the procession to ensure it happened safely, but they had been at the back of the parade so the cops did not see them."

More here: YouTube drivers escape with a fine (7Days)

EDIT: The National has reported that the court found the police had no case against them for charges of public endangerment.
It also mentions that one of the people is in fact a police officer:
"However, the Dubai Court of Misdemeanours found the 25-year-old policeman, identified as SS, and SG, 20, both Emiratis, not guilty of endangering the public and intentionally endangering motorists."

SMS spam in the UAE finally coming to an end

Mobile phone users in the UAE can now opt out of annoying text message spam, after a ruling from the Telecommunications Regulations Authority (TRA).

Prompted by the anger of millions of mobile phone customers at their days being interrupted by unwanted text message offers of reduced prices at the local supermarket, membership deals at the country club and, perhaps most annoying of all, a bargain text-messaging plan from their mobile service provider, the TRA has brought in a regulation that users must be able to block text spam.

Mohammed al Ghanim, the director general of the regulator, said: “After receiving many complaints from customers about random marketing SMS messages, the TRA decided to introduce this new policy to curb the annoyance such messages cause,” said

After the announcement from the TRA, Etisalat said its customers could opt out of spam messages by texting “b etisalat” to 1011 without paying a penalty. Customers of du can text a blank message to 5293 to block all mobile spam.

Best part of article:
"It is not known whether either company intends to publicise this latest initiative with an SMS marketing campaign."

More here: Block on mobile phone spam for UAE users (The National)

UAE and Iran arguing

"July 7 (Bloomberg) -- Iran may bar trips to the United Arab Emirates after the U.A.E.’s envoy to the U.S. said his country supports military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“I hope the government of the U.A.E. will correct this viewpoint,” said Kazem Jalali, the spokesman for the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, according to the state-run Mehr news agency. The U.A.E. should clarify whether the ambassador’s “foul” comments are government policy, he said.
Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba said an attack on Iran may be necessary if sanctions fail to halt the country’s nuclear program, and said the U.A.E. would be willing to weather a domestic backlash against such military action, the Washington Times reported yesterday, citing remarks the U.A.E. diplomat made at an event in Aspen, Colorado.
Jalali said tours to the U.A.E. may be suspended “to guard the reputation of the Iranian people,” as Iranians visiting the country are not being treated well. He said spending by Iranian tourists has helped prevent a worse economic crisis in the U.A.E. and especially Dubai."

More here: Iran MP Slams U.A.E. Envoy Remarks, Says Tours May Be Suspended (Business Week)

02 July, 2010

Du, Etisalat, the TRA and the future

According to The National, Du is (finally) soon going to gain access to Etisalat's telecommunications network...
The telecommunications operator du is set to gain access to the network of its rival Etisalat within weeks, ushering in a fresh wave of competition in the phone, internet and television market.

If the move goes ahead as expected, UAE residents will finally have a choice of telecoms providers regardless of where they live.

Etisalat has a monopoly on traditional telephones, internet service and cable TV throughout most of the country, while du services a small area of Dubai that includes newer neighbourhoods such as Dubai Marina and Media City.

“Welcome to competition,” Farid Faraidooni, the chief commercial officer for du, said this week.

The development will be a boon to du, which has been able to offer UAE consumers only mobile and landline services because of regulatory and technical issues.

Here are my personal predictions for broadband internet access and telecommunications in general in the next 12-24 months:
  • Du and Etisalat will begin a price war and heavily reduce the cost of their bundles (i.e. internet/tv/phone bundles) in a short timespan in an effort to gain market share.
  • We will see impossibly ridiculous combinations of high-speed internet with low bandwidth (like Etisalat's connections that you can only use for 6 hours at full capacity in an entire month) In light of bandwidth increases for internet connections it is likely (and already on the way to happening) that we will see people having to pay for additional bandwidth through their teeth (like Telstra in Australia
    used to charge 465 AED per additional GB). Because of these bandwidth restrictions we will be 'heavily reliant' on content provided by Etisalat / Du.
  • They will make it harder to individually purchase services (i.e. a separate internet or separate telephone connection) and harder to purchase services with no obligations.
  • They will both introduce things like yearly contracts, ETF (early termination fees) and start ramping up the fees so we can enjoy full duopoly greatness; the contracts will make it hard for us to move between Etisalat and Du. You can already see that Du's new low priced, high speed connections have a 12 month contract with a 100 AED early termination fee (in my opinion this isn't too bad)
  • While the price of telecommunications will seem to come down, we will all be at the mercy of contracts with our telephone companies and will end up paying heavily for breaching them.
  • Skype will still be cheaper.
  • The TRA will probably say "no comment"
(Of course this is in many cases a worst-case scenario prediction and is just a prediction so take it with a grain of salt. But please do ask Du and Etisalat as much as possible before signing anything and research whatever services you purchase as much as possible before agreeing to anything)

01 July, 2010

50% traffic fine discount in Abu Dhabi

Are you one of the crazy people that believed higher penalties for traffic offences were actually starting to do some good? Fear no more, because in Abu Dhabi (this month only) you can pay your traffic violations with a 50% discount!

"The Abu Dhabi police traffic department announced on Tuesday that motorists will need to pay only half of what they owe in fines to the department following a ministerial decree issued by Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior.
The traffic departments in the emirate, which include Abu Dhabi city, Musaffah, Al Ain and Gharbia (western region) have extended their working hours from 7.30am to 12 midnight. During the extended hours, only the fines payment section will function.
The sections in Abu Dhabi and Musaffah started following the new timings from yesterday while the Al Ain section will follow the timings from today.
On Tuesday alone, close to 4,000 people thronged the traffic departments to pay fines.
"More than 3,969 people cleared off their fines at the traffic departments in the emirate, inclusive of Al Ain and Gharbia (western region), on Tuesday," said Colonel Khamis Ishaq Mohammad, Deputy Director of the Traffic and Patrols department."
--More here: Traffic fine slash leads to huge rush (Gulf News)

In addition, the traffic law has been changed so that every emirate can allow discounts on fines!
"The ministerial decree, No.400/2010, issued by Lieutenant General Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, has made a provision in the law for traffic departments in all emirates to extend the traffic fines discount to all offenders should they wish to do so, said Brigadier Gaith Hassan Al Za'abi, Director of Traffic Department, Ministry of Interior." --More here: All emirates 'can allow discounts in traffic fines' (Gulf News)

Here are some interesting blog posts from around the UAE on the decision:
-Sale extended to traffic fines (Life in Dubai)
-No Bad Deed Goes Punished (Abu Dhabi Dispatches)
-Best discount price, Habibi (The Grumpy Goat)

30 June, 2010

UAE Celebrates Mashable Social Media Day

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Mashable has declared that 30th June should be celebrated as Social Media Day worldwide. There are over 615 meet ups worldwide. UAE (mostly Dubai) is celebrating this at The Shelter tonight.

Here we have tried to lend a hand and throw the spotlight on some of the small businesses in the community as well as a platform to share some of the interesting community projects from recycling to using public transport to saving the Hammour, being selective in our consumerism.

As part of the online community – this event is open to all – so please join us this evening from 7 pm onwards with talks beginning at 7.30pm.

See you all there.

28 June, 2010

Abu Dhabi Tourism TV Commercial Wins A Cannes Lions Awards

It's good to see the city that you've grown up in, in the limelight.

'Be Still' - a TV spot created by TBWA\RAAD Abu Dhabi for Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority has just won a Cannes Lions Award. What I find really nice about it is that the award is for the poetic words in it - the copywriting. Have a look...

If you'd like to read more about this, see the Copywriter in UAE blog.

25 June, 2010

CNN interview with Sheikh Mohammed

The Government of Dubai Media Office YouTube channel has just posted this interview of Sheikh Mohammed with CNN:

24 June, 2010

Life in prison for cough syrup

There is an absolutely disgusting story in today's gulf news:

"Dubai: A pharmacist is serving a life sentence for selling a bottle of controlled medicine for Dh100, a judicial official told Gulf News.

The Indian pharmacist, identified as A.Sh. is in his mid-40s and had been working for a private hospital in Dubai. He is undergoing his punishment at Dubai Central Jail after being convicted by a court of selling a bottle of Actifed Compound Linctus for Dh100.

A.Sh. told Gulf News that he had been working as pharmacist for a private hospital in Dubai for nearly seven years and had never sold any medicine without prescriptions.

"An Emirati HIV patient identified as Khalid used to come to our hospital for treatment and doctors prescribed for him Actifed Compound Linctus," he said.

A.Sh. recalled the day when he was arrested saying that Khalid came to the hospital pharmacy asking for the medicine."

Life in prison for a bottle of Actifed Compound Lictus (known in the UAE as a controlled drug and in other countries as horrific 'cough syrup') that doesn't even contain enough codeine (10 mg) to be abused.

Keeping in mind the person that bought the cough syrup was actually prescribed to have cough syrup in the first place makes this story all the more ridiculous.

23 June, 2010

No more Emirates Business 24/7

Everyone's favorite source of optimistic recession news (formerly everyone's favorite non-negative newspaper) is going to be turned into an e-paper:

"Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Board Chairman of Dubai Media Incorporated (DMI), has given the instruction to turn the newspaper copy of Emirates Business 24|7 into a comprehensive and interactive electronic newspaper that follows up local and international events.

The new e-paper, which will be launched in the second half of next month, will reflect a variety of the knowledge and information products of DMI which operates television and radio channels and newspapers."

More here: Emirates Business to turn into e-paper (Emirates Business 24-7)

Emirates to place large plane order

"Dubai's Emirates Airline will place a large plane order at the Farnborough Air Show in July, the emirate's ruler has said.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, in an interview with CNN, said Dubai Airport's continued expansion, in addition to a large growth in passenger numbers and tourism, prompted the national airline to invest in more airplanes to keep pace with developments.

In response to a question about the secret behind the Emirates Group's $15 billion business deals following the events of 9/11, as well as the recent $11.5 billion A380 Airbus purchase during the global financial crisis, Sheikh Mohammed said that opportunities arise out of crises."

more here: Emirates plans large order at Farnborough (Trade Arabia)

These comments were made during a CNN interview with Sheikh Mohammed that is going to air soon and looks so far to be pretty interesting.

22 June, 2010

Fresh milk, sir?

You have to hand it to the Saudis - they come up with some novel ideas:


500 million AED on CCTV in 2010

‘DUBAI // Dubai police are to spend Dh500 million on security technology this year with the aim of having “cameras everywhere”.

Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the Chief of Dubai Police, said surveillance needs to be ramped up to meet the growing requirements of an expanding city.

There are 25,000 security cameras in the emirate, and the number will increase as the force begins installing a new type of smart camera that can rotate to cover what were once “dead spots”."


"The police chief said residents should not be concerned about privacy issues as more cameras are installed.

“The big number of cameras does not alter the privacy of the city’s residents and visitors,” he said. “To intrude on people’s privacy is not allowed by law and is not acceptable by our religion and tradition, so nobody in Dubai need feel scared about their privacy.”

The force has 16,500 police officers and another 4,000 administrative staff who oversee security in the city, in which there are about 60,000 buildings, according to government statistics."

More here: Dubai to spend Dh500m on security (The National)

17 June, 2010

LA Times: Alleged victim of gang rape sentenced to one year in prison

"The Criminal Court of Abu Dhabi, in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, ruled this week that an 18-year-old Emirati woman who accused six men of gang-raping her will herself serve a one-year sentence for consensual sex.
It's one of in the latest in a scourge of reported rape cases in Dubai, The court proceedings were marred by legal travesties, experts say.
While the plaintiff was not granted a lawyer, the defendants were. Moreover, the plaintiff could not have any family members present with her during the trial, the court decided. The prosecution also argued that simply because the plaintiff agreed to enter the police officer's car, this action somehow constituted partial consent to sex, The National reported.
Emirati authorities had kept the plaintiff imprisoned since she made the allegations last month.

Meanwhile, the accused rapists mostly got off lightly. A police officer will serve one year in prison for extramarital sex and two of the other defendants were sentenced to three months for being in the company of a woman not related to them by blood."

More here: DUBAI: Alleged victim of gang rape sentenced to one year in prison (LA times blog)

Ban me banner!

Try and ban this!

Dubai bans the flying of national flags and banners from cars or buildings during the World Cup "for safety reasons".
(There seems to be an exception for UAE flags plastered across car windows, because as we know, Emirati drivers are safe anyway. Another reason could be that otherwise UAE would never have a chance to brandish their flag because they'll never make it to the World Cup. But that's of course just a malicious rumour.)

I think the recent Emirati approach is that everything should be banned unless specifically allowed.

Ras Al Khaimah 'succession struggle'

More news from Ras Al Khaimah...

"RAS AL-KHAIMAH, United Arab Emirates — In tiny but strategic Ras al-Khaimah, the aged emir's failing health is spotlighting a succession struggle between the crown prince and his deposed half brother.

Sheikh Khaled bin Saqr al-Qassimi was crown prince until 2003 and has launched a campaign to regain his position. He accuses current Crown Prince Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al-Qassimi of turning the emirate into a "rogue state" that Iran uses to circumvent UN sanctions.

The emirate, which has been governed by now 92-year-old Shiekh Saqr bin Mohammed al-Qassimi since 1948, is located on the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which some 40 percent of the world's oil is shipped.

Sheikh Saqr's health "condition is critical, which poses a real problem of succession" for Ras al-Khaima, a source close to the royal family told AFP.

"Sheikh Khaled considers himself the legitimate heir and deputy ruler, saying he has in hand a 2004 decree by his father returning him to his position, a year after Sheikh Saud replaced him," the source said."

Read more here: Deposed prince vies to succeed ailing emir in northern UAE (AFP)

16 June, 2010


When you wake up with a head filled-up with thoughts which put your mind on overdrive mode, you just hope the day passes by as quickly as possible with the least amount of emotions/thoughts/crap. Fate is not on your side when it comes to this son, the sooner you realize that the better :)

15 June, 2010

Rent drop in 2010

Arabian Business has an interesting analysis of the decrease in rent within Dubai this year...
"The cheapest annual rent in Dubai is as little as AED22,000 for a studio in the country clusters of International City, latest figures reveal. 
Landmark Advisory's rental guide for June also showed that one-bed apartments in Palm Jumeirah are now available for AED75,000, a 20 percent drop compared to March rents listed by Dubai's real estate regulatory agency.
The study by Landmark, which said on Monday that rents had declined in even the most sought after locations since April, also showed that a studio apartment in Dubai Marina now costs as low as AED38,000."
More here: Cheapest Dubai annual rent drops to AED22,000 (Arabian Business)

14 June, 2010

Germany shows UAE the way

At the FIFA Worldcup last night Germany’s Nationalmannschaft (NB: sharply click your heels when saying this) demolished a pathetic looking Australian team 4-0. What does that have to do with the UAE and its community blog I hear you say? Apart from putting gobby Ozzies in their rightful place at the bottom, which is welcome always and everywhere, it is relevant to the UAE in one particular aspect.

The entire German Worldcup squad features no less than 11 players who were either born outside Germany or to are first or second generation Germans, i.e. they were born to parents who came to Germany as “guestworkers” / immigrants from Turkey or Poland, Ghana, Brazil or Vietnam who became German citizens. In the UAE we like to call these people expats - which sounds more glamorous than guestworker but really is the same thing.

I do not suggest that native Germans have less talent than foreign born or naturalized citizens and are therefore destined to be sidelined (cheap pun intended). But what seems important to me is that despite featuring several ‘new’ Germans the team yesterday still played that typically German brand of football of a physically dominating team effort with a no nonsense finish with deadly efficiency. It shows that the (oxymoronic) soul of German football can be maintained and even perfected by incorporating and assimilating foreign elements, by giving clear directions and coaching. If Germany with their abominable history of doing the exact opposite can do that, anyone can. (Heck, it’s fun to vent one’s bigoted chauvinism every four years!)

Dubai’s 'idol' Singapore grants citizenship to residents willing to vest their interest and commit, as do most countries civilized and brave enough to realize the potential advantages of injecting fresh blood in an aging and dwindling national population and harness the ambition that most immigrants tend to have.

The UAE don’t’, and are worse for it.