30 April 2008

My Introduction to Middle East Politics

I used to work for a major oil company. Before the oil bust in the mid 80's, we used to take engineers from other affiliates who came to work in the Gulf of Mexico as a training assignment. (Yes, those were the good ol' days when New Orleans and the GOM was the center of the offshore oil industry) One year we got a Saudi engineer from ARAMCO and I was appointed to act as his supervisor. During the welcome and familiarization discussion, I suggested that he may want to consult with one of our other engineers if he had any questions about New Orleans. This engineer happened to be Iranian. He immediately gave me the steely eye and said, "He is not Arab. He is Persian!" in a tone that made his feeling about Iranians in general very clear. That was my introduction to the politics of the middle east.

29 April 2008

The Ongoing Saga of the Magic Stone

The 52 year old Yemeni gem merchant who was trying to sell the onyx with bullet deflecting properties has been released on bail pending his next scheduled court appearance on 12 May. There was no mention of any testing results. His lawyer wants the Dubai Courts to send the stone overseas for testing.

Note to Dubai Courts: You may want to rent the episode of Mythbusters where they tested the ability of a magnetic field to deflect a bullet.

Here's the story.

28 April 2008

Fouad al Farhan Freed

The Saudi blogger imprisoned 137 days ago has been freed. Fouad, who was often critical of the Saudi leadership, was arrested on December 10, 2007 and held without any specific charges.

24 April 2008

Bill Starbuck Comes to Riydah

Evidently not being content to leave things to the Will of Allah, the Saudis have been experimenting with cloud seeding in order to increase rainfall in The Kingdom and thereby increase water supplies. Some 11 aircraft are employed in the effort. Maybe they need to find a copy of The Rainmaker to see how Burt Lancaster did it.

Tomorrow it will rain, enshallah!

21 April 2008

Floating Poetry

A Dutch company, Dutch Docklands, has been contracted to build a series of floating homes as part of the Jebel Ali Palm development. The twist is that the development will be formed into the shape of Arabic letters spelling out poetry written by Sheikh Mohammad. The development will form an inner ring inside the main breakwater of the Jebel Ali Palm.

What does the Sheikh have to say that's so important? The translated poetry follows:

Take wisdom from the wise.
It takes a man of vision to write on water.
Not everyone who rides a horse is a jockey.
Great men rise to greater challenges.

16 April 2008

National Identity II

Shaikh Mohammad reviewed a study on UAE national identity prior to the beginning of the 2 day conference on the same subject. The study was done by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development. He had the following to say about it:

"The creative proposals need deployment of individual and collective efforts to be undertaken in a civilised, practical and scientific methods that could render it a successful model to be emulated locally and regionally as the first study of its kind," Shaikh Mohammad said.

I challenge anyone to find a better example of government double speak. Will someone please explain what this means?

07 April 2008

A National Identity

Sheikh Mohammud is having a two-day conference on forming a national identity for the UAE. The problem is that that Dubai and the other Emirates have little history or identity outside of the one he created.

What is now the UAE was a sandy little crossroads known for its pearl trade. There was little else there to recommend it as a permanent settlement. If it wasn't for British protection, they probably would have been swallowed up by King Saud when he joined all the tribes to form Saudi Arabia.

Today they are known as an elegant, if artificial, oasis for tourism and business, builder of world wonders and architectural marvels. Unfortunately, they are also known as enslavers of children in the camel racing business and owners of Dubai Ports, the port operation deal soundly rejected by the people of the US. They also have an image as lazy, preferring to hire outside labor than get dirty themselves. 99 percent of private sector jobs are held by ex-pats. In a country that is hungry for labor, the unemployment rate among Emiratis is 13 per cent.

And they are invisible. A visitor to the Emitrates could spend his entire trip there and the only Emirati he may see in a working capacity is the passport control officer. (I'm not counting the ones at the shopping malls, of course)

Sheikh Mo has his work cut out for him. If he wants to develop a national identity, he will first have to change the welfare state he has created.

03 April 2008

Business, and Freedom, in Dubai

Bloomberg has an excellent article on Dubai. Go here to read it. It reinforces my personal opinion that Dubai is a good place to make some money but you have to trade off some personal freedoms to do so. It then becomes a decision as to what those personal freedoms are worth to you.

01 April 2008

More Magic Stone

I reported earlier that the Dubai courts had requested an expert to study the magic stone with bulletproof properties. The job was assigned to the police criminal laboratory. In a twist to the ongoing tale, the police lab claims not to have the equipment to test the stone. Therefore, the courts have turned the stone, an onyx that was marketed by a Yemeni gem dealer at 1,800,000,000 dirhams ($450,000,000), to the Dubai Metals and Commodity Center. The DMCC is not a scientific organization but a commodities exchange owned by the Dubai government. In any case, they are supposed to determine the stones value and issue a report by April 14.

Head Count

Saudi Arabia executed 7 people in March for a 1st Quarter total of 37. All 7 were convicted of murder.