Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Saga of Umno-Linked Companies in the UAE

Last week, I received a call from a friend. He is a senior staff at an UMNO-linked company (ULC) operating in the UAE. A public-listed company with some concession contracts in Malaysia. You may guess it right.

His message was simple, he was desperately looking for a new job. This ULC was officially closed down when the JV partner took over by buying the whole equity. ULC staff was sent packing immediately.

The information received, it was due to the greed of the JV partner. I had an experience dealing with this particular ULC for some personal matters and the person-in-charge here was fired for some CBT-type of activities. He made some millions, the rumour said.

Another ULC by the name of Paremba had closed shop and lost millions. Its senior staff was detained and jailed for dishonoured cheque last year. He was freed after Malaysian community assisted through legal avenues. Another former staff was recently detained for the same charge and is still in prison, however, as claimed, this guy has some millions in his account as well.

Thieves are not uncommon for ULCs....they may follow the leaders.

The problem is not unique. Malaysian companies are coming lately to grab the ever increasing opportunities with USD trillions worth of projects all over the UAE. Some has made it in big way. Some like these two ULCs, should have learned their lessons or bad experiences well and hopefully return with vengeance to secure more projects with impressive ROI. Therefore UMNO bigwigs and mafia can spend lavishly for next election. Or for their own personal investments (like second wife or more girlfriends) and entertainments around the globe.

Another landscaping company, owned by son of former premier is already in deep financial shit. The staff salaries are always over due or if ever paid only half of the amount due. This has been going on since last one year. Most of the staff has already quit but some still hoping for a turnaround. (I managed to help few of them)

This son of former premier by the name of M seems, according to his staff, investing heavily in Dubai upmarket properties. He allegedly owns luxury homes here and a frequent visitor for pleasure. Well, his company needs cash injection with the current cash flow problems and he must be aware of the staff predicaments. However, his big mouth father should advise his son before KJ and gangs use this shitty problem as a weapon to kill him off. Like father like son.

The biggest Malaysian employer here by sheer size, an ID public-listed company with hundreds of Malaysian staff and RM billions worth of projects seem doing the right things except, most of its staff working without proper work visa. Mostly on visit visa which has to be renewed every two months. Malaysians can enter the UAE anytime with upon arrival visit visa which is valid for 60 days per entry.

In the UAE, anyone caught illegally working on visit visa can be jailed before being deported and will be banned from entering the country again. So far this company manages the risks very well even the office was raided few times and some staff deported for wrong reasons but at the end, linked to the illegal status.

This company may want to save upfront and operating cost but by risking or rather abusing its staff, it does show how inhumane some chinaman business is. Racism aside, it is not coincidence that most of its staff working illegally are Malays. Mind you, as I always remind these unfortunate guys and gals there are always positive sides of this especially they are here and can see the opportunities. If there are better opportunities around, leave this company immediately as we would never know the consequences. Better be safe than sorry.

The rumour says the current outgoing diplomat man here would be its chairman very soon after happily carrying the towkay's bags around for all these years......yes some few diplomats can be scumbags, but opportunists are acceptable unless they abuse their powers, privileges and special immunity for personal gains!

At the end of the day, we want more Malaysian companies, all of them not only UMNO-linked, MCA-linked, MIC-linked, PAS-linked, PKR-link, DAP-linked, Raja Petra-linked, chinaman or GLCs to be successful and proud of.

Do right thing as well as become wiser from those lessons learned!

73 per cent of employees in UAE unhappy with work

Dubai: More than 73 per cent of the employees in the UAE are unhappy with work, as only 27 per cent of them expressed high satisfaction with their job in a recent survey by employment site Bayt.com and research firm YouGovSiraj.
The study, conducted last month, collected answers from 9,760 respondents aged between 20 and 62 in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Pakistan.
Researchers said the UAE's job satisfaction rating was "considerably low" in the region. Lebanon and Morocco fared well, posting the highest satisfaction ratings at 36 per cent and 35 per cent respectively.
Of all the nationalities polled, Gulf nationals appeared to be the least happy, with only 26 per cent enjoying a high level of satisfaction in their work.
"These figures are very telling about the current employment situation in the region, and provide an accurate picture of how not only different nationalities feel in their jobs, but how attitudes towards the working environment change between countries," said Bayt.com chief executive officer Rabea Ataya.
YouGovSiraj chief executive officer Nassim Ghrayeb said the survey indicates that, "despite highly favourable economic conditions, companies are not going far enough to make their employees feel like valued members of the workforce."
"This knowledge is of fundamental importance to businesses, especially in the face of increased costs of recruiting staff, compared to the actual costs of retaining them," Ghrayeb added.
The study did not specify the factors that influenced workers' satisfaction levels, but for 33-year-old Luisa who is working as a receptionist in Dubai, her low salary and her employer's failure to deliver its promise are turning her off.
"My boss promised to give me a Dh500 increase after six months, but all I got was Dh300 after one year. It increased my salary from Dh2,000 to Dh2,300, which is barely enough to cover my living expenses," says Luisa, a Mass Communications graduate.
According to recruitment specialist Gulftalent.com, while employers have been forced to increase salaries by an average of 10.7 per cent last year, this falls short of the increase in cost of living experienced by most expatriates.
The study also asked employees if they were happy with their "work organisation." Saudi Arabia fared worst in this category, with 40 per cent of the respondents saying their satisfaction with their work organisation is low.
Algeria came second with 38 per cent, followed by Kuwait and UAE with 34 per cent. In terms of motivation levels, the UAE scored lowest, with 65 per cent of employees saying they "feel motivated to perform well in the work" they do.
The UAE has 3.11 million foreign workers from 202 countries, employed by approximately 260,000 establishments, according to the 2007 labour report.
Expats make up for more than 90 per cent of the private sector labour force.
Source : Gulfnews

Calling Telecom and Utility Men & Women

Monday, April 28, 2008

Globe-trotting Desperate VIP wives

Neither law nor ethics in mind

Comment by R. Nadeswaran(http://www.sun2surf.com/email%20to:citizen-nades@thesundaily.com)

If in March 2007 I had "temporarily transferred" the LawCare Fund out, to ensure that the money would be spent for the welfare purposes intended, and because I was unsure whether (Datuk) Ambiga (Sreenivasan) might remove some of the names from the list of recipients, I would be (and should be) struck off by now. My face will also not suffer from dry skin, because people will spit at me wherever I go. Carry on insulting the intelligence of the people, if you must.
- Yeo Yang Poh (former President of the Bar Council)
THE above response to theSun’s front page report on the transfer of funds from Balkis to Bakti appeared in the Bar Council’s website last week. It puts the whole issue into context. In a nutshell, the movement of money from one account to another is illegal and the council has been quoted in The Star as saying that this could tantamount to criminal breach of trust.
But the spin doctors and certain sections of the media who are beholden to individuals and not the truth have joined the bandwagon in an attempt to exonerate Datin Seri Zaharah Kechik, the beleaguered wife of former Mentri Besar, Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo from any wrongdoing.
However one looks at it, the whole exercise appears to have been carried out hastily without cognisance of law and procedure; ethics and morals and above all, common sense.
Donations to Balkis are exempt from tax, a privilege that is enjoyed by a select few and the all-important criteria is: the exemption is given ONLY for non-political bodies. Therefore, Balkis, in the eyes of the law, is apolitical although its membership is made of elected women wakil rakyat and in the case of men, their wives. There is a category for associate members, restricted to women who had been politicians or whose husbands had been elected wakil rakyat. They have no voting rights. Therefore, the issue of it being an exclusive "Barisan Nasional" club does not arise and ad-hoc decisions cannot be made by Zaharah, whose position as president is by virtue of being the Mentri Besar’s wife.
The issue that comes into question is the dissolution of Balkis. Zaharah, in her capacity as the former president (emphasis is the writer’s), has no power of dissolution. According the Balkis’ constitution, it can only be dissolved by two-thirds of the members at a special meeting convened at the request of at least one-fifth of "ordinary members".
The constitution is clear on such special meetings and it states it must be held within 30 days of receiving notice of such a requisition. It goes on to say that the notice and agenda of the meeting must be sent out by the secretary to members giving them 14 days’ notice.
Let’s work backwards. If the meeting was held on March 11, the notice must have been given on Feb 25 – at the latest. But her husband, then the Mentri Besar, was going around campaigning on the lines of "Zero Opposition in Selangor"! Did Zaharah get a written requisition from one-fifth of the members on Feb 11 – when Parliament was not even dissolved? Unless of course, some wives knew that their husbands won’t be occupying the seats of power!
Therefore, in short, this whole exercise of dissolution is void because procedures were not followed. This has been confirmed by the Registrar of Societies, who in his letter dated April 14 to the (new) Selangor Mentri Besar, says: "After going through the application to dissolve Balkis, we discovered that the information provided is incomplete. I have sent a letter asking Balkis to provide additional information within 30 days."
So, legally, Balkis is not dissolved. Therefore, no individual or factions can take it upon herself or themselves to transfer any monies to any other person or organisation.
Even if they had the power, they have defied their own constitution which states that upon dissolution, all monies should be donated to the government or a similar fund approved by the Inland Revenue Board (IRB). So, the inevitable question is: When was an application made to the IRB and if given the go ahead, when did it come?
Again, on March 11, Zaharah was no longer the president. There’s no such thing as "caretaker president" in its constitution. The only consolation she can take is that she can apply for associate member which does not come with voting rights, which she has not done to date.
But Bakti, the national body, cannot be absolved of blame for this shameful episode. How could it have accepted the money and held it in a separate account without checking if Balkis’s dissolution had been carried out in accordance with the law?
According to documents sighted by theSun, a sitting judge credited as "Bakti’s legal advisor" opined that it is all right. But Datuk Param Cumaraswamy, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyer said that the judge’s conduct was "likely to cause a reasonable suspicion that the judge allowed his private interests to come into conflict with his judicial duties, which could amount to a breach of the Judge’s Code of Ethics 1994".
Do remember, two wrongs don’t make a right.
And by the way, Mr Yeo, a lot of people are not yet walking around with wet skin!

From desert to destination

A model of the Desert Islands project at the Presidential Palace.

One is the realisation of a vision began by Sheikh Zayed. Another will bring jobs and new opportunities to some of the most distant parts of the country. A third rises like an ancient palace among the massive sand dunes of the Empty Quarter.
Together they represent not just an investment of billions of dirhams but a plan to make the Western Region one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
The full scope of the projects is now revealed following a review by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi. Within a decade they will transform what, historically, has been a region long overlooked despite its astonishing natural beauty.
Already the first tourists are getting ready to book their rooms on Sir Bani Yas Island, the wildlife reserve created by Sheikh Zayed for his people nearly 40 years ago. When they step off the ferry from the mainland, they will find an adventure camp and luxury hotel surrounded by some of the rarest animals in the Gulf, including the largest herd of Arabian Oryx in captivity.
Sir Bani Yas is just one of a number of islands being opened to the world along the coast. Marketed as the “Desert Islands” by the Tourism Development and Investment Company, they could eventually attract 250,000 visitors a year.
On Dalma Island, already home to about 6,500 people and nearly 40km from the mainland, a new hospitality education centre will be built to fully exploit the career opportunities of the Desert Islands.Other smaller islands – which are uninhabited at present – will be transformed into centres for ecological tourism where visitors can observe wild turtles and birdlife while escaping from the pressures of mainland life in private beach houses.
Deep in the desert, the walls of the new Qasr Al Sarab resort are already rising from the sand near Liwa. Due to open by the end of next year, it will feature a five-star hotel, villas, a spa with hammam healing baths and an observatory to examine the clear night skies.
Visitors will also be able to visit a tented village to ride camels and watch traditional desert occupations like falconry.
In the long term, there are even more ambitious plans for Al Siwa, just a few kilometres from the western border with Saudi Arabia, near Qatar. Still in the initial planning stages, the Government is considering everything from malls and golf courses to a port for cruise ships and new housing communities.
Source : The National

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Where Are The Malaysian Brands?

Malaysia may have several brands that recognised in certain parts of the world, but not yet globally. Petronas, Malaysia Airlines and Proton are among the most recognisable brands from Malaysia.
We can see Air Asia brand on the referees' sleeves while watching any EPL matches or billboards during MU's home matches. It is a good strategy which was adopted successfully by Emirates Airlines like Emirates Stadium, home venue for Arsenal. Before that splashing Emirates logo on Chelsea jerseys.
According to a business paper here, a number of brands from the Arab world, especially emerging from the Gulf, have the potential to emerge as top brands globally, media experts believe.
Even though the Arab world has some of the fastest growing economies in the world, very few Arab brands feature in the list of the top brands in the world, according to several studies.
While brands such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Toyota, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Ford, and many others are widely recognised by the average consumer worldwide, Arab brands are only known within the region and need to do a lot more to get international recognition, according to several experts at the Arab Media Forum being held in Dubai.
A few brands from the region, though, do show definite potential to garner global acclaim, the experts agreed. Brands such as Emirates and Etihad from the airline industry, Emaar and Nakheel from the real estate sector, The Arab Contractors and Consolidated Contractors from the construction and civil engineering sector, and Jumeirah Group from the hospitality sector are well-established brands in the region that are promising candidates to emerge as globally recognised brands in the near future.
In this they have the Al Jazeera News Network to look up to for inspiration, which is the only brand from the Arab world to have enjoyed ready recall internationally. A brand poll conducted by online magazine Brandchannel in 2005 found that the Qatar-based channel was the fifth most recognised of all the brands polled. It was in illustrious company, coming in after Apple, Google, Starbucks and Swedish furniture chain Ikea.
This was despite its Arabic name and broadcasting all its content in Arabic – Al Jazeera International, its English version, was launched only in 2006.
Yet, through frequently providing scoops and breaking news from Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq, and its alternative ways of delivery, Al Jazeera Arabic was able to capture the world’s imagination.
In the years that have followed, other brands have emerged from the Arab world and are poised to become household names globally, according to Abdul Aziz M Al Tewaijiri, Editor-in-charge of Al Eqtisadiya and Al Majalla magazines of the Saudi Research and Publishing Company, which also owns publications in Arabic, English, Urdu, Malayalam and Tagalog.
“I went to Canada a couple of years ago and met a lady from South Korea who told me that her dream was to fly on Emirates,” said Al Tewaijiri.
“She told me that she had spoken to friends who flew on the airline and seen the advertising campaigns. The level of service offered by Emirates, both in the air and on the ground at Dubai, she said, makes her want to fly in it,” he said. “When companies from any sector deliver on their promises and provide a different and great product, together with good customer service, it will put the company’s brand on the international stage, no matter where it comes from.”
Abu Dhabi, too, has realised the power and benefits that come from being a brand. It has formulated a strategy to become the favoured tourist and business destination in the Gulf and is investing not only in infrastructure but also in building its brand.
In November last year, it launched the Office of the Abu Dhabi Brand (Obad), devoted to promoting the emirate internationally, complete with a logo to go with all its promotional and advertising campaigns.
Reem Y Al Shemari, General Manager of Obad, said: “We know the power of a brand and it has to be a reflection of what it is claimed to be. The Abu Dhabi brand is the first initiative of its kind in the region, mandated to define and position the emirate on the international map by creating a unique brand identity that can be extended to other areas, such as investment, cultural heritage and social life.”
But to be well-known globally, companies in the region need to increase their visibility in the international media.
Lara, a Jordanian journalist who preferred to be called by her first name, said: “In order to be recognised as international brands, Arab companies need to focus on launching more attractive advertising campaigns.
“People who live in the region already know who these companies are and what services they offer, but the firms need to take their message to non-Arab media outlets that broadcast internationally.”
Some companies from the region are doing just that. Abu Dhabi-based real estate developer Masdar’s advertising campaign brought global attention to the emirate’s plans to build the first ever CO2-free city in the world.
“The Masdar initiative to go for alternative energy was almost on all major TV stations in Europe,” said Lewis Blackwell, Senior Vice-President and Group Creative Director of photo agency Getty Images.
Dubai’s Jumeirah Group has gone a few steps forward in positioning its brand as a recognised name in the hotels, resorts and hospitality sector.
According to Antony Lawrence, Director of Marketing and Innovation at the Jumeirah Group: “In addition to our facilities in Dubai, we have branches in London and New York City. Our customers there are usually people who were our guests in Dubai, where they were impressed by our quality of service and value for money.
“So they decided to stick to the Jumeirah brand in other parts of the world, too.
“We are becoming a globally recognised brand and we have plans to expand to other countries,” said Lawrence.
The region as a whole, however, needs to do a lot more. In a recent ranking exercise of brands conducted by London-based research company Millward Brown, Google stood first among a list of 100 global brands, with Standard Chartered Bank occupying the last place.
The other brands in the top five were General Electric, Microsoft, Coca Cola and China Mobile. Compared to the 2005 report by Brandchannel, Apple, which had come first in the earlier report ranked seven.
Ikea, which had come third, ranked 86 and Starbucks, which was fourth, ranked 56. However, the Top 100 in the Millward Brown ranking did not include a single brand from the Arab world. Indeed, the region was not even covered in the survey.
With the emergence of innovative and ambitious companies in the Arab world hungry for international recognition, that future most certainly will come soon.

Antara Dua Akhbar Mingguan Kepunyaan UMNO

Mingguan Malaysia membesarkan berita sensasi perkahwinan artis. Seakan begitu penting sekali untuk tatapan rakyat terutama bangsa Melayu yang dikatakan oleh pemimpin UMNO dalam krisis ketuanan yang hilang.
Membaca lapuran mengenai 'monorel tidak jadi?' membayangkan yang kerajaan pusat memang berniat negatif. Apakah tidak mungkin kerjasama diberikan oleh kerajaan negeri untuk faedah rakyat. Mungkin yang tersirat, tiada lagi habuan untuk pemimpin UMNO/BN dalam projek seperti monorel ini sekiranya dibawah selian kerajaan negeri dibawah PR.

Manakala Berita Minggu lebih rasional dan nampak lebih matang dengan memaparkan krisis makanan dunia. Tentunya jauh lebih penting dari dua artis yang tidak dikenali berkahwin.

Kedua-duanya kepunyaan UMNO, parti yang sedang juga dalam krisis kepimpinan. Dimanakah prioriti dua media perdana yang masih bertahan hanya kerana tiada lesen akhbar baru diberikan untuk pasaran nasional dalam bahasa Melayu.
Selain itu isu keris dan maruah Melayu menjadi paparan Berita Minggu. Manakala Mingguan Malaysia nampaknya tidak begitu peduli dengan 'Maruah Melayu' yang diulas Timbalan Presiden UMNO sendiri. Mungkin Najib tidak lagi masuk dalam geng pemimpin yang boleh ditonjolkan dan artis kahwin lebih penting.

(Ini tidak kena mengena dengan cerpen saya keluar dalam Berita Minggu hari ini...di sini)

Where The Streets Have No Name (in the UAE)

Till now in the modern era of 21st century, there is no proper address in the UAE. The best way to locate the building or villa is by certain landmarks which in proximity. There are street names but only 'visible' for major roads such as Sheikh Zayed Road (SZR), Emirates Road or Al Khail Road. The rest is just like U2 song, 'Where The Streets Have No Name'.

Confusions are unavoidable and sometimes hilarious. When they say, let's say like my villa, villa no 55, behind Emirates Co-op, Twar 3, it does not literally mean as simple as that. It could be a few kms behind and not exactly behind the mentioned landmark, most of the time out of the range.

But so far, we have to live with that idiosyncrasy and surviving the ordeals of locating the destination. The first rule, do not take the guide on landmark literally and have a bit of wild imaginations. Google map sometimes helps but the ground reality is different from the satellite images.
The best steps are to have ample time to be lost and keep your mobile handy, especially if it is your first trip to that destination (such as a friend's new house somewhere in Ajman...).

Read this news today:

ABU DHABI // The capital is to get a new address system to help everyone from residents to postal workers and emergency services locate streets, offices and houses quickly and logically.The system, to be designed with the help of a Norwegian company, should replace the traditional Middle Eastern method of identifying locations by their proximity to landmarks or intersections – plus a bit of guesswork and luck – which can make finding an address a frustrating experience.

Juma Mubarak al Junaibi, the director-general of Abu Dhabi Municipality, said the new system being developed should “eliminate misunderstanding” with respect to addresses and street directions.
The aim was to give all areas and streets unique names and logical and sequentially structured numbering, Mr Junaibi said in a statement issued in response to a query by The National.Norplan, a Norwegian company that specialises in urban planning and development, was selected as the consultant for designing the system after a tender by the municipality, the statement said.

Implementation of the system would begin by the end of the year or the beginning of next year, said Tor Overli, Norplan’s manager for the project. He said the company was preparing to start work, and the assessment and design phase was expected to be completed by October, but it was too early to say what the new system might look like.“We don’t know what will be implemented but it will be either an implementation of a new addressing system or upgrading of the existing one,” Mr Overli said.

Abu Dhabi’s Executive Council has established an Addressing System Committee to oversee and approve the project.“Over the next months, representatives of all stakeholder groups will be invited to contribute to the development of the new system.” The main challenge would be getting the public to use the addressing system once it was implemented, Mr Junaibi said.
“Any system, regardless of how good it looks on screen or paper, is worthless unless it is adopted and used by the public. An important part of the project will therefore be to design a campaign in order to make people aware of the new addressing system” and to ensure they understood its importance.

Mr Junaibi laid out the “guiding principles” for ensuring the new system “will be useful for residents and visitors to Abu Dhabi”.The first was that Abu Dhabi’s areas and streets should have unique names and logical numbering.The system should be simple to learn and remember, accurate and unambiguous, and easy to pronounce in Arabic and English.It should be flexible for extension to new developments and changes in existing areas. And it should be cost-efficient and implemented consistently throughout urban and rural areas, Mr Junaibi said.

Clark Beattie, a geographic information systems consultant, said Abu Dhabi had a “nice, orderly grid” street network with well numbered main streets but there was a need for a more “user friendly” system for interior streets.“In other cities, which have the same sort of grid pattern, it’s pretty easy to set it up so you know exactly where to go,” Mr Beattie said. Every building in Abu Dhabi municipality is numbered and sectored, but the green street signs which give a sector, zone number and street number are not commonly used and building numbers are not prominently displayed. Instead, major intersections and landmarks are used.

Mrs Beattie, who worked on a street addressing system in a rural town in Manitoba, Canada, said improving the street addressing system was critical for Abu Dhabi.

Dari Berita Minggu Hari Ini 27 April 2008

Cerpen : Melbourne Musim Bunga

Baca di sini

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Krisis Beras Dan Krisis Rabaan

Krisis kekurangan makanan yang melanda dunia menjadi berita besar di mana-mana. Di UAE, dilapurkan yang bekalan stok beras hanya bertahan untuk tiga bulan sahaja. Malah kenaikan mendadak harga beras memang cukup terasa sekali.
Salah satu punca adalah kerana kerajaan India mengawal ekspot beras. Dengan warga India menjadi majoriti di kawasan Teluk, permintaan terhadap beras memang tinggi. UAE mengimpot sebanyak 80 ribu tan beras setahun. Majoriti pemakan nasi adalah dari golongan berpendapatan sederhana ke bawah. Krisis beras menambahkan beban kenaikan barangan dan inflasi yang terus mengurangkan simpanan para ekspatriat di UAE.

Krisis beras juga kabarnya melanda tanahair yang pernah menjadi salah sebuah negara pengeluar beras yang besar. Pada hari ini kita menjadi pengimpot beras melalui pemegang AP beras tunggal, BERNAS.

Saya teringat satu projek di kampung yang mana kawasan sawah baru yang seluas 46 ribu hektar. Projek itu bertujuan menjadikan kampung saya sebagai Kawasan Jelapang Padi yang moden, produktif, mapan dan berdaya maju.

Kampung tempat saya dibesarkan dari tahun 1969 itu turut dikenali sebagai Bandar Udang Galah dan menjadi tempat final peraduan memancing nasional saban tahun.
Dikatakan tenaga konsultan dari Australia telah digunakan oleh Kementerian Pertanian dalam projek ini. Tidak pasti perkembangan terbaru tetapi yang pasti rumah-rumah untuk konsultan tersebut disewakan sebaik kontrak mereka tamat.

Yang pasti dalam krisis beras, rupanya ada krisis yang menghabiskan beras, krisis rabaan seorang bekas menteri yang menjadi cerita menarik minggu ini. Rasanya cerita menteri atau wakil rakyat dengan moral yang rendah bukan perkara luar biasa. Kalau akhbar perdana telus dan berani, tidak cukup ruang untuk mendedahkan pelbagai tabiat buruk para pemimpin yang ada atau yang telah menjadi 'bekas' menteri.

Mungkin dalam krisis politik parti Melayu terbesar itu, kes ini sengaja dijadikan bahan untuk memalukan bekas menteri tersebut yang menjadi regu timbalan presiden. Kebetulan bekas menteri yang dihebohkan itu adalah ahli parlimen kampung saya. Tetapi tidak mengejutkan.
Saya sendiri tidak pernah mengundi beliau atau apa sahaja yang berlambangkan dacing seumur hidup, lagipun beliau bukanlah berasal dari kampung saya, diterjunkan dari daerah lain. Malah sebelum ini ada keluarga sendiri yang bertanding dengan lambang dacing pun saya tidak undi.
Kalau dahulu, sebelum 1976, ahli parlimen kami (masih dalam Pekan) pernah menjadi Perdana Menteri kedua yang hebat. Saya tidak ingat ahli parlimen selepas aruah Tun Razak sebelum ahli parlimen sekarang dipayung terjunkan dari Pekan kerana kawan baiknya telah bertapak di kawasan aruah bapanya.

Begitupun, tidak dinafikan banyak jugalah jasa ahli parlimen sejak tiga penggal yang pernah menjadi menteri tersebut dalam membangunkan kawasan parlimen kami. Seperti membawa Universiti TNB, MRSM dan politeknik. Ada jugalah perubahan di kampung yang nampak. Tentu banyak juga dengar cerita negatif mengenai beliau, tetapi itu semua sebahagian dari politik, mungkin benar, mungkin tidak.

Sewaktu di TV3 ada juga saya berbaik dengan beliau yang belum bergelar menteri ketika itu. Masih ingat lagi dia memberitahu yang ramai pemuda UMNO di kawasan parlimen kami adalah PENYANGAK....sesuatu yang tidak dinafikan selagi berada dibawah jenama UMNO.

Nasib baik saya tidak meneruskan penglibatan dalam politik, kalau tidak saya sama sahaja bergelar kroni PENYANGAK kerana berketuakan jenis yang sama.....semuga apa yang terjadi mengubah beliau untuk lebih berbakti kepada rakyat biarpun nanti sebagai pembangkang di parlimen......amin!

UNTUK RAKYAT: Calon BN kerusi Parlimen Rompin, Datuk Seri Jamaluddin Jarjis meninjau sawah padi di Kampung Paya Setajam, Rompin, walaupun dalam hujan lebat untuk melihat sendiri masalah pesawah di daerah itu.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

50 most powerful Arab businesswomen

Executives running but not owning their businesses have topped the 2008 "Forbes Arabia" List of the 50 Most Powerful Arab Businesswomen, surpassing 'stereotypic' businesswomen who are running their own businesses, "Forbes Arabia" magazine has unveiled in its May edition due to be issued on Wednesday.

Six out of the list's top ten are executives who are running major businesses mostly working in the areas of banking and investment services.

Topping the 2008 "Forbes Arabia" list was UAE's Salma Hareb, the chief executive officer of Economic Zones World (EZW) and Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA). She was followed by Kuwait's Maha Al Ghunaim, chairperson of Global Investment House and Saudi Arabia's Lubna Olayan, chief executive officer and geneal manager of Olayan Financing Company (OFC), who had topped the 2006 list.

No. 4 was Saudi Arabia's Nahed Taher, founder and CEO of Gulf One Investment Bank, No. 5 was Kuwait's Sheikha Khaled Al Bahar, vice chief executive officer of the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK), and No. 6 was Egypt's Sahar el Sallab, vice chairperson of Commercial International Bank (CIB Egypt).

The 7th and 8th ranks were occupied by the UAE's Fatima Al Jaber, chief operating officer of Al Jaber Group and Raja Easa Saleh Al Gurg, managing director of Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group, while the 9th and 10 ranks were taken up by Kuwait's Sana Jumah, CEO of Kuwait Finance and Investment Company KFIC, and Suad Al Homaizi, founder and chairperson of Suad Al Homaizi Group.

The 2008 "Forbes Arabia" list saw 21 newcomers. "This large number does not mean that outgoing businesswomen's size of business has been reduced," said Refaat Jaafar, Managing Editor of "Forbes Arabia", the Arabic edition of US-based "Forbes". "Rather," he said, "it reflects the striking presence of newcomers who have shown perseverance in their societies that have now been supporting women's right in education and their active participation in society."

The 2008 "Forbes Arabia" list also saw continuing predominance by family business women, who run companies founded or owned by their parents, at the expense of self-built businesswomen.

Trade was the most highlighted business activity in the list (17 women), followed by manufacturing (8 women) and finance/banking services (7 women). Gulf dominance over the whole list is still on, with noticeable stress on leading ranks (29 versus 26 women in the 2006 list). Saudi businesswomen topped this year's list (9), followed by the UAE (8) and Kuwait (4). Egyptian businesswomen (7) were distributed almost equally along higher and lower ranks, while businesswomen belonging to the North Africa region struggled to get a few places in the lower ranks.

Jaafar refers Gulf predominance over this year's list "to the economic boom that countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have experienced in the past few years,” adding that "such boom paves the way for everyone – whether a man or woman - to excel in the world of business."

This year's list saw for the first time the introduction of businesswomen aged below 30; 28-year-old Egyptian Farida Mohammed Farid Khamis, vice chairperson of "Oriental Weavers Carpet", UAE's 27-year-old Amna BinHendi, CEO of BinHendi Enterprises and 28-year-old Amina Dasmal, chairperson of Alcove Entertainment of the UAE. Meanwhile, the above- 40 businesswomen's share has remained as high as the previous list, at 18 per cent.

"Forbes Arabia", whose first issue was published in Dubai in 2004, is renowned for its lists of celebrities and the rich. The most recent one, entitled "Religion Stars", which discussed the annual income of "neo-preachers", generated considerable media attention across the region following its release in February 2008.

Rustam A Sani

Sejauh perjalanan di muka bumi
menjangkau destinasi dan destini
berligar haluan yang melebari
perjuangan dari akar umbi
biar ranum tidak di puncak
masih bertahan menjejak
Suara terkumpul dari bawah
saujana ladang dan sawah
deretan kilang dan seluas lautan
cetusan mereka yang dilupakan
menjadikan kata-katamu berharga
permata menggilap jiwa
Pemergian adalah janji azali
yang tidak boleh dimungkari
nukilan tertinggal adalah kemanisan
sejarah yang mengungkap cendiakawan
dan bersama sekuntum fatihah
doa kami mengiringi pahlawan rakyat!


23 April 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Langkah Pertama Professional Malaysia di Dubai

Sabtu lepas (19 April 2008) telah berlangsung pertemuan pertama profesional Malaysia di UAE di bawah payung myUAE PRO. Seramai 70 orang yang hadir termasuk Konsul Besar.

Pertemuan tersebut berlangsung di pejabat Konsulat dan Matrade Dubai.

Gambar boleh di capai di sini, sini, sini. Baca lapuran dan berita.

Dengan bertambahnya warga profesional Malaysia di UAE (dikatakan melebihi 4 ribu) yang datang untuk mencari rezeki disamping menambahkan pengalaman dalam merebut peluang kerjaya yang melimpah, sememangnya myUAE PRO amat diperlukan.

Ramai yang baru tiba dan memerlukan bantuan dari orang-orang lama yang kebanyakan memang meneruskan budaya bantu-membantu. Memang bila jauh diperantauan, permuafakatan sesama rakyat Malaysia lebih terasa dan mesra.

Jalinan muhibah yang tidak superfisial kerana warga Malaysia adalah minoriti dalam lautan warga ekspatriat yang memenuhi UAE. Hanya 20 peratus adalah bumiputera UAE yaitu Emirati. Cabaran dalam keadaan sebegini menjadikan kekuatan brand 'Malaysia' terserlah.

myUAE PRO bersifat non-political dan NGO dengan prioriti utama menjadi wadah untuk warga profesional Malaysia bergerak sebagai satu persatuan sosial. Ianya bermula dari yahoogroup Malaysian-UAE yang saya peloporkan dan menjadi 'persatuan siber' komuniti Malaysia di UAE yang tidak rasmi sejak tahun 2000.

Kemudian bersama lima lagi warga profesional, Hasnol, Affandy, Ariffin, Nik FakhrulAnwar dan Khairul Affandy, menganjurkan beberapa aktiviti termasuk myUAE Times.

Pada AJK 2008/9 myUAE PRO, selamat menjalankan tugas yang diamanahkan!

Peluang Kerjaya di UAE

Saya telah menyelenggara Kerja Dubai blog sejak setahun lalu.

Ini untuk menghebahkan apa-apa jawatan kosong yang ada disiarkan di mana-mana.

Terbaru iklan dari du, telco kedua UAE.

du (UAE Second Telco) IS CALLING YOU
Billing Testing Specialist
Content Management Specialist
Senior Contact Centre Manager
Electro-Mechanical Engineer
Radio Planning Manager
Personal Assistant
Traffic Routing Manager
Manager - International Voice
HR Specialist (Payroll & Admin)
Business Center Manager
Call Centre Supervisor
Systems Support Analyst
Billing Operations Assistant
Billing Support Manager
: Manager Professional Services (Client ICT Strategy)
Contact Centre Manager - Front Office
Quality Assurance Manager
Senior Account Manager

dan banyak lagi di Kerja Dubai

Dubai - Hujan Emas Dan Hujan Batu

Seorang sahabat Emirati yang bertugas sebagai pegawai protokol di pejabat bertanya mengenai cuti di Malaysia. Sahabat ini adalah salah seorang teman sepermainan Putera Mahkota Dubai dan beliau nampak serius mengenai percutian di Malaysia.
Saya sudah menjadi 'pegawai promosi' pelancungan Malaysia sejak awal 2000. Walau apapun perspektif politik, kebanggaan terhadap negara sendiri tidak pudar.
Sahabat ini sudah menjelajah dunia tetapi masih belum ke Malaysia dan tahun ini beliau akan mendarat di KLIA bersama ratusan ribu pelancung Arab lain.
Menjelang musim panas, boleh dikatakan semua, sama ada Emirati atau ekspatriat sudah atau mula merancang untuk bercuti. Dengan suhu yang semakin naik dan humiditi yang tinggi, majoriti ekspatriat tentunya mahu pulang bercuti di tanahair masing-masing, manakala Emirati dan sebahagian ekspatriat lain mahu makan angin.

Lapangan Terbang Dubai yang sentiasa sesak akan lebih sesak sepanjang musim panas. Dubai juga bijak dalam memastikan bilik-bilik hotel tidak kosong dengan menganjurkan Dubai Summer Surprises yang menyaksikan musim panas di gurun lebih meriah. Berpusu-pusu pelancung datang ke Dubai walau suhu boleh mencecah 50 darjah.
Sememangnya Malaysia adalah destinasi popular untuk warga Arab dan ekspatriat di Timur Tengah. Semakin banyak penerbangan untuk menampung permintaan dan tentunya harga tiket juga tidak semurah dahulu, seperti juga pelbagai harga barangan dan sewa rumah yang melambung.
Dengan inflasi dan penurunan nilai USD dimana Dirham ditambatkan kepada USD, cabaran besar buat ekspatriat yang datang kerana wang. Tetapi dari bancian terbaru, 42% ekspatriat mengatakan mereka tidak dapat menyimpan apa-apa dalam keadaan sekarang. Semuanya pendapatan dibelanjakan untuk menampung kehidupan.

Lebih memeranjatkan:-
  • 17% dari ekspatriat menanggung hutang
  • 28% menghantar keluarga pulang (3 kali tinggi dafri 2006)
  • 45% berpindah rumah kerana sewa yang meningkat (kenaikan 14% berbanding 2006)

Begitupun kebanyakan berpendapat yang pekerjaan mereka masih terjamin. 16 peratus Arab ekspatriat menjangka akan meninggalkan UAE dalam 5 hingga 6 tahun lagi, manakala 14 ekspatriat Asia (bermaksud India/Pakistan) mahu menetap dalam 3 hingga 4 tahun. Ekspatriat Barat pula hanya mahu menetap tidak lebih dari 3 tahun.
Bagaimana dengan ekspatriat Malaysia?
Bagi saya pula sedang berkira-kira untuk 'take a break' dari Dubai dengan berhijrah ke Eropah atau Canada. Kalau ada rezeki hujung tahun.
Kalau tidak, setahun lagi di Dubai mengumpulkan dana pencen!

Monday, April 21, 2008

MSC Pun Tenggelam Dalam Koridor

Nampaknya salah satu cetusan mega Dr. M yang bernama MSC seakan tidak ujud lagi dalam kerangka pembangunan negara. Tidak pasti sejauh mana tahap kejayaan MSC ketika ini dibawah Pak Lah yang sibuk dengan pelbagai koridor dan selepas pilihanraya ke 12, tanpa disedari mengujudkan KORIDOR 5 negeri Pakatan Rakyat.

Sudah berapa banyak wang rakyat yang dileburkan dalam MSC? Ketika ini MSC dibawah MDEC (bertukar nama dari MDC).

Sewaktu di Dubai Internet City (DIC) tahun 2000, saya teringat pernah menerima kunjungan dari aruah Tan Sri pengerusi MDC ketika itu. CEO DIC meminta saya mengiringinya dalam mesyuarat pertama.

Dari mesyuarat itu, setelah pusing sana sini, aruah Tan Sri tersebut bersama seorang pengurus kanan (wanita) akhirnya mahu menawarkan MDC sebagai konsultan kepada DIC.

CEO berpaling kepada saya yang mencemik kerana salah satu sebab saya bekerja di DIC adalah hasil tulisan, "Learning From Malaysia's MISTAKES" (in developing MSC). Artikel yang berdasarkan pengalaman saya memohon status MSC untuk TV3.

Begitupun saya membantu MDC untuk menangani MOU dengan DIC sewaktu Dr. M datang melawat. MOU itu saya tulis 100% dengan memasukkan unsur-unsur berat sebelah kepada MDC. Malangnya, orang kita memang kaki MOU, selepas MOU, tiada apa yang berlaku!

Sebelas tahun lalu, saya pernah bersemangat menulis mengenai MSC yang muncul di halaman editorial Berita Harian. Membaca kembali artikel pertama siri memuji MSC ini sedikit melucukan...manusia boleh berubah terutama apabila sudah cukup maklumat untuk membuat keputusan.

Berita Harian - Khamis, 20.11.97

Patriotisme dalam pelaksanaan MSC
BANYAK sudah diperkatakan mengenai MSC dan sudah hampir semua lapisan masyarakat mengetahui sedikit sebanyak mengenainya. Dari kempen memasyarakatkan IT sehingga kepada pelbagai seminar mengenainya yang berterusan menyemarakkan MSC sebagai agenda utama semua pihak. Pengurus IT TV3, MOHD FUDZAIL MOHD NOR membicarakan soal MSC itu dari sudut mewujudkan jiwa patriotik.

IKHTIAR mewujudkan Koridor Raya Multimedia (MSC) dianggap berani dan ke depan. Peralihan penekanan dari pertanian ke industri, dari pembekal sumber mentah kepada pengeluar barangan siap, MSC membawa kita melangkau ke satu era yang berteraskan kepada multimedia. Ia satu usaha patriotik dalam meneruskan pengisian kemerdekaan dan pembinaan ke arah kegemilangan dalam pelbagai bidang.
Begitupun, ketika semuanya masih baru bermula, kita harus juga sama merenung sejauh manakah teknologi boleh menjadi alat patriotik dan bukan sekadar satu penerusan penjajahan yang menjadikan kita tidak lebih daripada tempat percubaan.
Terlalu bergantung kepada luar akan memberikan kesan negatif dalam jangka waktu yang panjang. Kebanyakan negara yang berkurangan sumber teknologi sendiri semakin terjerat dengan negara pengeluar dan selalunya turut mempengaruhi keadaan politik dan budaya. Contohnya terlalu banyak dan kita sendiri turut mengalaminya. Patriotik tidak lagi sekadar perlambangan untuk menyemarakkan semangat kecintaan pada negara, tetapi lebih merupakan pelaksanaan yang bersifat buatan Malaysia sepenuhnya oleh rakyat Malaysia untuk pasaran Malaysia dan global.
Tidak keterlaluan jika dikatakan Proton sukar dikaitkan dengan patriotik kerana seperti yang diketahui semua orang, enjin, reka bentuk asal dan bahagian tertentunya masih lagi dibuat di Jepun. Kita juga tidak boleh menjadikan kereta Lotus sebagai lambang patriotik dengan sebab yang kita semua tahu.
Malah pada hari ini beberapa bangunan tertentu yang menjadi mercu tanda bukan sahaja tidak dari hasil daya kreatif rakyat tempatan malah dibangunkan juga oleh pakar dan buruh asing.
Dalam bidang sukan misalnya, kegagalan negara dalam bola sepak Sukan SEA Jakarta baru-baru ini menunjukkan betapa kita bersikap patriotik dan menganggap kekalahan dengan Laos sebagai menjatuhkan maruah negara. Kita juga cukup terhina apabila Perdana Menteri kita dipersendakan oleh media atau pemimpin Barat.
Malah kerana semangat patriotiklah kita mencapai kemerdekaan dan membangunkan negara ke arah kemajuan pada hari ini. Bendera, lagu dan pakaian kebangsaan sudah menjadi lambang patriotik tradisi.
Hakikatnya, kita masih belum mempunyai produk yang bertaraf dunia. Menurut Menteri Kewangan sewaktu membentangkan belanjawan baru-baru ini, ramai rakyat tempatan yang masih menganggap barangan tempatan adalah 'kodi' yakni tidak bermutu. Persepsi yang seakan menjadi satu kepercayaan dari generasi ke generasi ini memang tidak mengejutkan. Barat berjaya mempengaruhi minda kita bahawa yang datang dari Barat itu semuanya bermutu dan mempunyai kelas.
Keikhlasan pihak yang bertanggungjawab dalam memasarkan barangan tempatan juga adalah diragui. Kita dapat melihat bagaimana patriotisme bangsa Jepun dan Korea memberi pulangan ekonomi kepada negara mereka. Siapa lagi yang harus memberi sokongan jika tidak rakyat tempatan.
Memang tidak semua barangan tempatan itu bermutu. Seperti juga tidak semua barangan buatan luar negara itu bermutu. Nilai bukanlah ditentukan oleh jenama dan buatan mana, tetapi pada barangan atau produk itu sendiri.
Apabila MSC kini menjadi sebahagian daripada perbendaharaan kata rakyat Malaysia, bersamanya perlu ada semangat patriotik yang intipatinya pula menjadi pemangkin ke arah sebuah negara maju hasil daya usaha bersama. Bukan sekadar kita menjadi pencetus idea dan pengguna sedangkan isi dan strukturnya adalah daripada orang lain.
MSC adalah peluang dan saluran terbaik untuk menjadi tapak kepada hasil yang boleh membawa semangat patriotik yang lebih kukuh. Memang kita masih memerlukan bantuan luar. Malah adalah mustahil untuk mendapatkan 100 peratus sumber tempatan. Tetapi ianya tidak bermakna kita tidak boleh melakukannya sekiranya kita bersatu mengumpulkan semua pakar tempatan dalam satu kumpulan.
Sumber perkakasan dan perisian asas memang semuanya adalah bahan import yang sukar untuk kita sendiri menghasilkannya dalam waktu terdekat ini. Tetapi aplikasi yang tertentu, terutama kerajaan elektronik mestilah dibangunkan sepenuhnya oleh rakyat tempatan.
Kita boleh melahirkan produk tempatan yang bertaraf dunia sekiranya kita menerima sokongan padu daripada semua pihak. Perisian komputer untuk MSC misalnya boleh menerima pasaran global sekiranya berhasil.
MSC akan turut membangunkan dua buah kota bestari yakni Cyberjaya dan Putrajaya. Bolehkah kita menganggap Cyberjaya bercorak antarabangsa, manakala Putrajaya adalah sepenuhnya bersifat dan berjiwa Malaysia. Adalah patriotik namanya apabila Putrajaya sebagai pusat pentadbiran baru negara, dari pembangunan hartanah, infrastruktur, bangunan sehingga aplikasi-aplikasi perdana di bawah sasaran MSC, adalah sepenuhnya hasil daya usaha rakyat Malaysia.
Putrajaya sebagai 'showcase' yang menjadi lambang kemajuan rakyat tempatan setelah kita mengisi kemerdekaan adalah milik rakyat seluruhnya. Seratus peratus buatan Malaysia.
Melaungkan slogan "Malaysia Boleh" dan "Beli barangan buatan Malaysia" bukan sekadar bermusim atau kempen tertentu. Kita tidak mahu sebuah projek yang sebesar serta sepenting ini dan bakal menjadi asas kepada corak pentadbiran baru negara tidak lebih daripada kulit semata-mata yang sekadar menampakkan buatan Malaysia.
Aplikasi-aplikasi perdana terutama kerajaan elektronik yang mengandungi modul-modul perintis seperti sistem sumber manusia, penghantaran elektronik, pembelian elektronik, pejabat generik dan sistem monitoring projek akan digunakan oleh seluruh rakyat Malaysia sepenuhnya menjelang tahun 2000.
Kerajaan elektronik misalnya bakal menjadi alat komunikasi dua hala antara rakyat dan kerajaan yang mengurangkan karenah birokrasi. Malah menjadikan kerajaan lebih telus untuk didekati rakyat.
Semua aplikasi ini juga menggunakan teknolgi terkini dan memerlukan pembangunan perisian. Kepakaran tempatan yang sedia ada sebenarnya sudah memadai untuk memenuhi keperluan ini. Peluang dan kepercayaan adalah perlu bersama semangat patriotik untuk kita berbangga dengan produk tempatan. Kebimbangan ini lahir kerana CFRP (yang ditulis sepenuhnya dalam bahasa Inggeris tanpa versi bahasa Melayu) terbuka untuk semua, bukan sahaja menerima cadangan dari syarikat tempatan, malah luar negeri yang sudah lama bertapak dan mempunyai segala sumber yang perlu.
Kelebihan itu seakan membuka ruang pada mereka yang tidak mempunyai semangat patriotik kepada Malaysia, sekadar tempat berniaga dan membuat untung. Dan rakyat tempatan akan hanya menjadi pengguna semata-mata, kerana kemungkinan besar pelabur akan mengambil ramai sumber tenaga IT dari luar yang lebih murah, seperti India atau Filipina.
Ianya sudah berlaku dalam beberapa sektor industri sebelum ini. Kita hanya mendapat faedah jangka pendek daripada pelabur yang kini mula mencari tapak baru yang lebih kompetitif di negara lain. Kebimbangan ini juga bukan disebabkan oleh semangat patriotik membuta tuli dan sempit. Teknologi akan menjadi komoditi di alaf mendatang dan MSC adalah berasaskan teknologi maklumat, sesuatu yang ingin kita kuasai. Malah hak cipta intelektual dalam bentuk perisian aplikasi ini penting sebagai komoditi.
Sebagai pemangkin ke arah itu, MSC tidak boleh lari daripada menjadi sumber patriotik rakyat Malaysia yang berteraskan teknologi. Generasi kemudian tentu mendapat faedah besar apabila generasi hari ini menyediakan tapak kukuh untuk mereka mengembangkan MSC seterusnya.
Kita ingin ramai rakyat tempatan berjaya seperti Bill Gates atau memiliki syarikat IT seperti Microsoft, Oracle atau Sun suatu hari nanti. Seperti mana kita turut rasa patriotik dengan Petronas dan dua tiga yang lain. Patriotik kerana ia sepenuhnya dibangun dan ditadbir oleh rakyat tempatan.
Kita bukan mengatakan harus menutup pintu pada syarikat IT luar dari melabur kerana ruang MSC adalah terlalu besar dan tidak mungkin sepenuhnya dibangunkan oleh rakyat tempatan. Cyberjaya adalah untuk mereka melebarkan R&D atau operasi mereka di dunia sebelah sini.
Malah Perdana Menteri tidak jemu-jemu dan berjaya menarik ramai pelabur asing sama ada syarikat gergasi atau tidak ke Cyberjaya. Usaha ini bakal menjanjikan suasana kompetitif dan seterusnya menggalakkan usaha sama 'menang menang' dengan pelabur tempatan.
Syarikat tempatan pula jangan pula mengambil kesempatan dengan menjual nama semata-mata dan mengambil bahagian sekadar di kulit, bukan isinya. MoU yang ditandatangani bukan sekadar hiasan dan publisiti murahan, tetapi perkongsian teknologi dan kepakaran yang menguntungkan negara.
Jika penyelewengan terus berlaku dalam perlaksanaan MSC, betapalah segala perancangan hari ini akan menjadi satu pengkhianatan terbesar pada generasi Malaysia mendatang. Terutama pada Bumiputera yang sudah kehilangan keistimewaan di bumi Cyberjaya.
Kesimpulannya dengan usaha ke arah meramaikan kelas menengah, sikap tidak terlalu bergantung pada luar, merealisasikan Wawasan 2020 dan mengukuhkan semangat patriotik Malaysia, adalah diharapkan pada mereka yang bertanggungjawab dengan pelaksanaan MSC di semua peringkat untuk sama menjadi patriotik dengan teknologi dan kebolehan anak-anak tempatan.
Siapa lagi kalau bukan kita sendiri yang boleh mengubah nasib kita dan generasi baru Malaysia di negara tercinta ini.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Antara Blog 2 Mantan MB Selangor

Tan Sri dan Datuk Sri yang keduanya mantan MB Selangor sudah melangkah ke alam blogging.

Satu perkembangan menarik kerana perbedaan usia dan status masa kini. Tan Sri kembali ke persada politik melalui tiket senator dan menjadi menteri pusat serta ketua penerangan parti terbesar melayu.

Tan Sri Mat Tyson ini pernah didakwa di Brisbane kerana membawa duit berjuta dalam guni dan mengaku di mahkamah tidak boleh berbahasa Inggeris. Juga melarikan puteri raja untuk dinikahkan di Golok.

Kalau dari segi melihat tarikh lupus, sepatutnya beliau sudah pencen sahaja dari politik. Tetapi Pak Lah memerlukan khidmat beliau untuk mencepatkan kepupusan parti yang didokong. Maka Tan Sri sanggup bermatian mempertahankan Pak Lah.

Manakala Datuk Seri yang meluluskan projek ternak babi besar-besaran kemudian menafikannya kini menjadi ketua pembangkang di DUN Selangor. Selain mahu kembali menjadi doktor gigi dan orang biasa. Nampak awet muda dengan khasiat tempe.

Datuk Seri ini kini lantang menempelak Pak Lah dan mahukan peralihan kuasa di segerakan di peringkat pimpinan tinggi. Suara protes sebegini sudah semakin kerap dan bengit di dengar di mana-mana, Datuk Seri mungkin mengikut arus untuk survival.

Begitulah nasib manusia. Yang penting mereka sudah sama berblog setelah tsunami pilihanraya menenggelamkan parti mereka di Selangor.

Mungkin kita dapat mengenal mereka secara lebih dekat melalui blog masing-masing. Tak kenal maka tak cinta...bila dah kenal blog makan jatuh cinta....

(Harap Tan Seri tidaklah 'outsourced' kan blog sebab ada tersebut 'beliau' bukan 'saya'! Opps, sudah dibetulkan...tetapi Tan Sri ada banyak masakah untuk menjawab komen?)

Dr M Terbang jumpa Fidel Castro

Dr. M transit di Manchester

Seorang rakan black 14 merakamkan pertemuan dengan Dr. M sewaktu transit (ambil minyak) di Manchester dalam perjalanan ke Cuba, untuk jumpa Fidel Castro.
Baca di sini.
Sementara itu Huzair Sulaiman menulis di STAR mengenai 'Mahathir Years'.
Kali pertama saya bertemu Dr. M apabila dia membuat lawatan rasmi ke New Zealand dalam tahun 1984. Kemudian dia merasmikan bangunan operasi Sri Pentas TV3.
Tahun 2002, beliau mengadakan lawatan rasmi ke Dubai Internet City (DIC) dan saya menjadi pengendali lawatan bagi pihak DIC. Tetapi saya enggan bertemu dengan beliau kerana masih marah membara dengan apa yang dilakukannya semasa era reformasi.
Ketika ini dalam usia yang semakin tersisa, Dr. M menjadi pengkritik no. 1 Pak Lah dan masih tidak mahu melihat Anwar sebagai PM.
Mungkin pertemuan Dr. M dengan Fidel Castro antara yang terakhir buat dua diktator, tidak pasti siapa yang akan dahulu meninggalkan dunia fana (termasuk kita...). Yang pasti, sama ada anda benci atau suka pada keduanya, mereka sudah menjadi lagenda.
Bagaimana dengan Mugabe, Dr. M? Tidak mahu melawat kawan baik yang juga dalam keadaan nazak usia politiknya?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A is for Arabs

From algebra and coffee to guitars, optics and universities -- an alphabetical reminder of what the West owes to the People of the Crescent Moon.

By George Rafael
Even before Sept. 11 forced the West to face the cultural friction between it and the Arab/Islamic world, there was an unwarranted sense of superiority. The renowned Italian journalist and interviewer Oriana Fallaci wrote Arab culture off as a few interesting architectural flourishes and the Quran. Apparently, it's easy to forget that history is cyclical and the roles were once reversed. A millennium ago, while the West was shrouded in darkness, Islam enjoyed a golden age. Lighting in the streets of Cordoba when London was a barbarous pit; religious tolerance in Toledo while pogroms raged from York to Vienna. As custodians of our classical legacy, Arabs were midwives to our Renaissance. Their influence, however alien it might seem, has always been with us, whether it's a cup of steaming hot Joe or the algorithms in computer programs. A little magnanimity is called for.

A is for algebra
From "al-jabr," Arabic for "restoration," itself a transliteration of a Latin term, and just one of many contributions Arab mathematicians have made to the "Queen of Sciences." Al-Khwarizmi (c.780-c.850), the chief librarian of the observatory, research center and library called the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, was the man responsible for making my life miserable at school. The motivation behind his treatise, "Hisab al-jabr w'al-muqabala" ("Calculation by Restoration and Reduction": widely used up to the 17th century), which covers linear and quadratic equations, was to solve trade imbalances, inheritance questions and problems arising from land surveyance and allocation. In passing, he also introduced into common usage our present numerical system, which replaced the old, cumbersome Roman one. Al-Karaji of Baghdad (953-c.1029), founder of a highly influential school of algebraic thought, defined higher powers and their reciprocals in his "al-Fakhri" and showed how to find their products. He also looked at polynomials and gave the rule for expanding a binomial, anticipating Pascal's triangle by more than six centuries. Arab syntheses of Babylonian, Indian and Greek concepts also led to important developments in arithmetic, trigonometry (the algorithm, for instance, thanks to al-Khwarizmi) and spherical geometry.

B is for backgammon
Sheshbesh is what it's called in Beirut and Cairo, whence the savviest players hail. Although this beautiful waste of time dates back to the pharaohs, the form we enjoy today came to us via Moorish Spain in the 10th century. Ghioul and moultezim are two other variants of "the game of kings," popular wherever the happy hookah is indulged.

C is for cough medicine
Necessity being the mother of invention, the Arabs were the first to distill water, for long journeys across areas (such as the Sahara) where supplies were uncertain. Their experiments with various chemical compounds also gave us ethanol alcohol, sulfuric acid, ammonia (have you ever noticed the uncanny resemblance between Mr. Clean and the genie in "Thief of Baghdad"?) and mercury. In applied chemistry they discovered better and more efficient ways for tanning leather and forging metals. Messing around with mortars and pestles produced camphor, pomades and syrups.

D is for Dante
Her countryman Silvio Berlusconi echoed Fallaci's ill-spoken sentiments that, on the whole, Western civilization was superior to that of Islam. She said she was quite happy with Dante, thank you very much. She spoke too soon. Though the theory has long incited fierce debate, Dante may have been acquainted with "ascension literature," a fantastical literary genre that deals with Mohammed's ascent to Heaven (using a spiraling, magical ladder; ascension literature is still popular in the Middle East and Africa). Dante was undoubtedly acquainted with Avicenna and Averroes ("who made the great commentary"), assigned as they are to that benign circle of the Inferno reserved for pagan and non-Christian worthies known as Limbo.
Moreover, according to the dean of Arabic literary studies, the formidable Robert Irwin, "a full understanding of the writings of Voltaire, Dickens, Melville, Proust and Borges, or indeed of the origins of science fiction, is impossible without some familiarity with the stories of the Arabian Nights." Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba and Scheherazade, archetypes each and every one, are honorary members of the Western canon. The mock, allegorical travelogues and cautionary tales of Montesquieu, Voltaire, Johnson and other 18th-century writers and philosophes, are inconceivable without the garrulous, wayward conceits of "The Arabian Nights." They're detectable as well in the parodic chivalry of Don Quixote and in Calvino's postmodern children's fable "Marcovaldo."

E is for equestrian
Although the ancestors of Mr. Ed and Secretariat probably originated in Central Asia (with the "Heavenly Horses" of the King of Ferghana), our equine friends were first bred for speed in the desert sands of the Empty Quarter. Arab historian al-Kelbi (c. 786) traced the Arabian to the pedigreed horses of Bax, great-great-great grandson of Noah. The conquest of the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and Spain was due in no small part to the aptly named beast (and the indefatigable camel), mount of choice for the tribesmen who swept all in their path. The descendents of these terrible swift steeds were brought to the New World by the Conquistadors, to devastating effect, particularly in ancient Peru where the Incas mistook the horsemen for gods. (By the time they learned the truth it was too late.) Appropriately enough, the largest and most successful stable today belongs to Sheikh Maktoum of Dubai.

F is for Fitzgerald
Edward, translator of that beloved chestnut of yore, "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" (a jug of wine, a loaf of bread -- and thou). My concern here, of course, is not with Fitzgerald, nice duffer though he was, but with Khayyam himself (1048-1131) -- gifted physician, Persian bard and geometer extraordinaire. In his seminal "Algebra" he attempted a fusion of algebraic and geometric methods, discussing the solution of cubic equations by geometric means, anticipating analytical geometry. (Descartes took up this thread 500 years later, though it's unlikely he knew Khayyam's work.) Khayyam also dabbled in astronomy, his lunar calculations leading him to reform the calendar in 1079 (there are references to this throughout the Rubaiyat). Furthermore, Islamic astronomers invented the pendulum, improved upon the sundial, prognosticated the existence of sunspots and studied eclipses and comets. And al-Biruni calculated the length of the solar year to within 24 seconds and discussed the earth's rotation on its axis -- 500 years before Galileo. Arabian and Islamic astronomers also constructed the first observatories, in Toledo, Cordoba, Baghdad and Cairo.
G is for guitar
If the Moors had known they would be responsible for the spectacle of Mick Jagger shaking his scrawny ass onstage into his late 50s, they might have thought twice about schlepping the early prototypes of the instruments that make up the typical rock band to Spain and Southern Italy. Percussion in the form of cymbals and timpani, bowed instruments, the lute (from "al-ud," the wood; see "The Buena Vista Social Club" for more), the Spanish guitar (or guitarra morisca as it was originally called 800 years ago), the zither (brought west from Greece), the dulcimer began keeping the neighbors awake as early as the 9th century. There's also that unique Near Eastern sound and rhythm, which, aside from early Spanish music, made itself felt in 18th-century classical music, most famously in Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio." (Turkish things were so "in" then. Witness all those wonderfully exotic 18th-century Venetian scenes by Longhi and Reynolds' costumed, turbaned toffs.) Miles Davis accented the "Oriental," Near Eastern strain in his "Sketches of Spain." The godfather of world music, Davis incorporated Middle Eastern elements into his fusion of jazz and rock in the late '60s and '70s. Nowadays nobody thinks twice about such hybridization.
H is for "Havi"
Expanding on the legacy of the Greek physician and philosopher Galen was Rhazes (c. 865-c. 930), the greatest doctor of the Middle Ages. His extensive medical treatise in nine volumes, "Havi" ("The Virtuous Life"), was used as a textbook in the Sorbonne as late as 1395. In addition to case studies and clinical reports that still have anecdotal interest, Rhazes also wrote a celebrated monograph on smallpox. (Knock wood.)
I is for Ibn Khaldun of Tunis (1332-1406)
He invented the scientific study of history (and, indirectly it could be argued, sociology) centuries before the French Enlightenment, Hegel, Weber and Braudel. His "Muqaddimah" ("The Prolegomena"), the introduction to a general survey of Islamic history with a specific focus on North Africa, was begun in 1377 and updated several times to account for sociopolitical changes. In it, he attempts to order the raw material and outward phenomena of history under basic principles.
"Human society in its various manifestations shows certain inherent features by which all narratives must be controlled ... The historian who relies solely upon tradition and who has no thorough understanding of the principles governing the normal course of events, the fundamental rules of the art of government, the nature of civilization and the characteristics of human society is seldom secure against straying from the highway of truth ... All traditional narratives must invariably be referred back to general principles and controlled by reference to fundamental rules."
Of Olympian detachment, Ibn Khaldun was less prone than most historians, then and now, to fiddle the books and force facts to fit preconceived theories. He saw that the course of history is governed by the balance of two forces, which for him were the nomadic and the settled life. He identified history with civilization and, having established this theory, expounded in minute detail upon civilization in all its religious, administrative, economic, artistic and scientific layers.
Ibn Khaldun briefly made headlines in the early 1980s, when President Reagan quoted him in a speech. His name mystified the White House press corps, driving them to their encyclopedias to bone up on this Ibn guy; within hours they were speaking knowledgeably of him. As an undergraduate at the time, I was taking a yearlong seminar entitled "Oriental Humanities." One of our assigned texts in the Arabian section was "Muqqadimah." Professor Meskill, an old China hand, informed us of the Great Communicator's "erudition." We all had a good laugh.

J is for jihad
This word, which has been misinterpreted as "religious war" but really means "an effort" or "striving," is one of many Arabic words that have entered the English language. Besides mullah and ayatollah, which have also acquired pejorative connotations, a partial list of Arabic words or derivatives thereof includes: alcohol, orange, coffee, sofa, caravan, tariff (from Tarifa -- the village through which the Moors invaded Spain, near Gibraltar), citrus, lemon, alembic, algebra, chess, sugar, cataract, magazine, seraphim, arsenal (also the name of a London soccer club, Osama bin Laden's favorite, appropriately enough), apricot, sandal, Satan (from "Shaitan," the Evil One), rice (from "al-ruzz"), sherbet and sorbet, talisman, artichoke, rack (from "arrack," perspiration, also the name of the fiery spirit, raqi; wrack your brains on that one), almanac, alcove, albatross (from "al-kadas," which the Portuguese corrupted into "alcatraz"; now what would the author of "Kubla Khan" make of that?), castle (from "alcazar"), albacore, Abyssinia, ginger, ghoul, zircon (from which we derive "jargon," one being a mixture of stones, the other of tongues), banana (from "banan," finger or toes), nadir, zenith, cipher, zero and monsoon (from "mausim," or season).
K is for kebab
Next time you're munching on a Nathans, or, in my case, disputing the nutritional value of chorizo with the missus, you have the Moor to thank. Cured meats and sausages and the humble kebab, usually lamb or beef (never pork), were among the culinary delights that came to Europe via Islamic Spain. Likewise the hotter spices and spicier condiments. The Moors were also the first to crystallize sugar (which they also brought to Europe).

L is for latte
As you sip one of those wimpy, froufrou confections in Starbucks, think about this: Arabica. Yes, the humble coffee bean. First cultivated and brewed as rocket fuel by Yemeni tribesman way back when -- though it's disputed whether the beans were transplanted from Abyssinia (Ethiopia) to the Arabian Peninsula or whether it was the other way around. As an afterthought, we might not now have this plague of Starbucks and chi-chi cafes were it not for the Ottoman Turks, the Viennese getting the clever idea of the coffeehouse from them in the late 17th century.
M is for mosque
Funny, thinking about what Oriana Fallaci said earlier, the architectural flourish commonly attributed to the Moors, the curved arch, was actually copied from the Visigoths in Spain. Byzantine art and architecture, above all the Hagia Sophia in what was then Constantinople, had a profound influence on Islamic builders and artisans. However, it's the humble church steeple (via the mighty cathedral tower) that has an Islamic antecedent, the minaret.
N is for navigation
Without Arabian improvements upon the compass, the astrolabe, nautical maps and seaworthy lanterns, Magellan, Cabot, Vasco da Gama, Columbus, et al., might have had trouble pulling anchor and leaving port. The Arabs also pioneered the usage of hydraulic presses and water clocks, which tracked the passage of time and phases of the moon.
O is for optics
The concept of camera obscura, which is indispensable to the later development of photography, was first suggested in "The Treatise on Optics," by Hassan Ali Aitan (963-1009).
P is for paradise
Consider the varieties of roses -- the damask and the gallica, to name the two most common -- brought to Europe through Spain and Southern Italy by the Moor. Perhaps a rose is a rose is a rose, but what signifies here is where they're planted, and to Islamic sages and poets, gardens were symbolic of the paradise to come, a "blue green" paradise, blue for water, naturally, and green for greenery. The word "paradise" is of Persian origin ("paradaeza"); it literally means garden. Paradise as a garden or pleasure ground with swaying houris (heavenly handmaidens), the one that's promised to good male Muslims, figures heavily in the Quran, in contrast to Genesis where the Garden of Eden is a paradise lost. (And there are no houris in the Old Testament and definitely none in the New; is it any wonder Islam won so many converts?)

Q is for Qasim
Can you name the mystical Sufi poet who inspired Spiritual Girl Madonna to whirl like a dervish in "Speed of Light"? The one who is beloved by Demi Moore, quoted by Deepak Chopra and read by New Age ninnies from Beverly Hills to Notting Hill? (None of this, incidentally, should be held against him.) A Persian of Greek descent, who's up there in the Persian pantheon with Attar, Firdausi, Hafiz, Khayyam and Sadi? OK, OK, you know already: It's Jalad'din , but actually before him there was another, more carnal Rumi. Ibn al-Rumi (836-896) was an expansive, unforgettable, larger than life figure, Walt Whitman and Dylan Thomas rolled into one. He was magnificently ugly, unkempt and unwashed, pugnacious and ferociously sarcastic ("Those who kiss ass shouldn't complain of wind"), promiscuous, gluttonous, bibulous, blasphemous and irredeemably bohemian -- and he wondered why he couldn't get a position at court. And Qasim, you ask? He was the Caliph's vizier, who, fearful of the poet's wicked tongue, graciously poisoned him at supper. Rumi, though, had the last laugh. Upon quaffing the fatal potion and having a good burp, Rumi rose to leave. Qasim asked where he was off to, and Rumi replied he was going where the vizier had sent him. "In that case, convey my greetings to my father," Qasim said, thinking himself very witty. "I am not going to the fires of hell," Rumi replied. (Well, I needed something for Q.)

R is for religious tolerance and racial equality
Yes, hard as that might be for some to believe, Islam was the first major religion, certainly the first monotheistic one, to practice religious tolerance. Not that Muslim tribesmen didn't put to the sword those who refused to convert -- they committed their fair share of well-documented massacres early on -- but military success came so swiftly to them and on such a vast scale, that they found themselves burdened with an empire, and needed all the help they could get from their cleverer subjects to run it. They were, after all, warriors, not administrators. As rulers they were lenient, even generous (unlike the Germanic tribes that ravaged the late Roman Empire). Besides, Jews and Christians were "People of the Book" -- Islam borrowed much from its elders; Abraham, Moses and Christ are recognized prophets in the Koran -- and as long as they paid their tithe to the Caliph and kept out of trouble, they were free to do as they wished (the Zoroastrians in Persia were treated in similar fashion). "Holy Toledo," the meeting point of the three great religions, became a model of religious tolerance and harmony -- an idyll that ended when the Christian kings of the north recaptured it in 1085.
(Until the rise of Holland in the 17th century, if you were Jewish it was generally better for your overall health and well-being to live in Muslim lands such as North Africa, the Levant or Turkey than almost anywhere in Christendom, particularly those places where Catholicism prevailed. French missionaries are to blame for introducing the virus of anti-Semitism to the Middle East in the 19th century.) Of the three great thinkers who flourished under Islamic rule, one was non-Muslim, Maimonides of Cordoba (1135-1204), author of "The Guide for the Perplexed," who was Jewish. Like Avicenna and his fellow Cordoban, Averroes, Maimonides attempted to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy with religious belief. He died in Alexandria, where he founded the great synagogue.
Regarding race, Islam is colorblind, which came as a surprise to Malcolm X on his pilgrimage to Mecca, where he found himself worshipping alongside blond-haired, blue-eyed white devils. Unlike Christianity, which justified racial slavery (blacks were inferior, less than human and so forth) by citing Ham in the Old Testament, Islam emphasized the equality of man before the eyes of God, whether black or white, rich or poor, man or woman. But, as we all know, what is preached isn't necessarily what is practiced. The cruel irony of Malcolm X's revelation, which challenged his ideas and changed the course of his life, was that he had it in a country that didn't abolish slavery until 1973. (Slavery exists today, despite claims to the contrary, in Mauritania and in the Sudan, both Muslim nations, the latter a fundamentalist state that has prosecuted a genocidal war against its southern, African half for more than 20 years. None of this, of course, was brought up at the United Nations conference on slavery in September.) And although the British, Dutch and Portuguese dominated the Atlantic slave trade in Caryl Philips' "Atlantic Sound," the Arabs held a firm whip hand in East Africa, built entire ports and cities devoted solely to that very profitable end, and played a significant role as middlemen throughout the continent. Still, it is good to know that Islam is colorblind.
S is for shatranj
modern chess originated in Northern India in the 7th century A.D., where it was called chaturanga, it was introduced to Spain and Sicily a century later by Moorish invaders and Saracen traders. Shatranj, which means "king's game" (shah tranj), differs slightly from the game we know today, in that instead of a queen there was a firzan, and in place of the bishop there was a fil (of course). The game was slower, with pawns allowed to advance but one square in the opening and no castling allowed. Victory came from checkmate (from the Persian, "Shah mat," the King is lost or helpless), stalemate or a "bare king" (the king alone, like Richard III at Bosworth Field). Some caliphs played "living chess" -- human pieces, slaves or prisoners -- the downside for the participants being possible decapitation if one was captured. As depicted by the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine -- in real life infamous for the Sack of Baghdad in which a million people died -- was fond of this pastime.
T is for turban
Let's face it, the turban, the burnoose, that wild and crazy Arafat thingy the college kids love to wear, whatever you wish to call it, is a brilliant fashion accessory. Imagine Edith Sitwell, Audrey Hepburn or David Hume without theirs; you can't, can you? With a little bit of water moistened about the inside you have a portable air conditioner. The turban was an early instance of form following function, though I have a feeling Sitwell, Hepburn and Hume were unaware of all this. Speaking of turbans, you need the right setting for one, too, something out of an odalisque by Ingres or Matisse: muslin, damask, chintz to cover sofas and pillows -- Moorish appurtenances on which to seat your little keester and to rest your weary head -- while being fanned by eunuchs, of course.
U is for university
The concept of the university originated with the madrassas, which were centers devoted to religious instruction, as they are in considerably less cosmopolitan forms in Muslim nations today. The first madrassas in Spain, in Malaga, Zaragoza and Cordoba, which later evolved into universities, started in the 11th century. The foundation of Damascus University dates back to the 8th century.
V is for venetian glass
Venetian glass blowers, famed for their miraculously intricate and delicate creations, learned their secrets from the Arabs (and went on to monopolize the glass trade for centuries). Islamic artisans and craftsmen, renowned for their ceramics, armory and masonry, made a deep impression on their Spanish, French and Italian counterparts. One could easily compose an alphabet of objects, decorative and otherwise, from Aubusson tapestries to the engravings on Zildjian cymbals, that bear traces of Arabic and Islamic design and calligraphy.
W is for watermelon
This is just one of the many crops the Arabs introduced to the West. Others include artichokes, rice, cotton, asparagus, oranges (from "naranj"), lemons, limes, figs, dates, spinach and eggplants. Arab methods of irrigation, which made the desert bloom, are still utilized today in North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, as are the wells and aqueducts they built.

X is for Xenophon
Have you heard of him? Friend of Socrates and Plato, guest at the Symposium, author of a treatise on horses (the Hippike), Xenophon, in truth, was a bit of bore. Nevertheless, we're better off for knowing him because of the company he kept. Aristotle was a special favorite of Islamic scholars and thinkers such as Avicenna and Averroes, particularly for his "Ethics." Much of what remains of the Greek classics was salvaged, translated -- into classical Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, Persian and vernacular languages such as Castillian -- and interpreted under the aegis of the Arabs, with non-Muslims, anonymous scribes and great thinkers alike playing their parts (Maimonides comes to mind). Contrary to popular belief, it was Christian fanatics who sacked the Great Library of Alexandria (they followed up with a pogrom), decades before Muhammad was born.

Y is for the yearning one (el taleb)
Like Scotsmen and their kilts, there's more going on under those burqas than you might think. El taleb, or "the yearning one," is one of the 46 different kinds of vulvae described in the ninth chapter of the Arabian equivalent of "The Kama Sutra," "The Perfumed Garden of the Shaykh Nefzawi," translated by my favorite roaming Brit (a very short list, that), the randy Sir Richard Burton. "This vagina is met with in a few women only. With some it is natural; with others it becomes what it is by long abstinence. It is burning for a member, and having got one in its embrace, it refuses to part with it until its fire is completely extinguished"; talk about vagina monologues. (Note, fair ladies, there's a similar chapter on male equipment.) Other chapters deal with the act of generation, with praiseworthy men and women, with contemptible men and women, with positions other than the missionary (mullah position, anyone?), with arousal techniques, with impotence and sterility, with pregnancy, and so on and so forth. In contrast to the early Christians, the Arabs had a refreshing view of sex -- it was for pleasure, too, not just procreation.

Z is for zero
From "zefira," or cipher. Nought, nothing, nil. What a concept. Carried over from India to the West by the Arabs. Less than zero? Well, you're getting into negative numbers there ...

Building on the past

The road is buffeted by wind and sand. Between Tarif and Madinat Zayed, the sky thickens as the coarse grains shoot across the hard surface, wiping out road markings and stinging our eyes even inside the vehicle. As we approach Mezaria’a, the wind drops, the sky clears, the dunes rise and suddenly it is like driving across the ocean. All around us, as far as the eye can see, are wild, undulating mountains of sand. The breeze catches their soaring ridges, splashing dust into the air like ­water from the crest of a wave. And on the way to the Moreeb Dune, tons of sand have spilt across the middle of the road, forcing drivers to swerve.
At an overnight camp in a desert valley overlooking the great Rub al Khali, or Empty Quarter – a 650,000 square kilometre expanse swallowing a large part of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen and the UAE – my guide, Mubarak, explains the continuing allure of this place and its importance as a place of refuge for Emiratis. “We call it tabiri. It means to be in a natural place with no roads, no buildings and no people. Even though I work and live in Abu Dhabi, I am a Bedouin and to me the desert is like a seven-star hotel. I come here alone or with friends, we go hunting and sleep out. Sometimes I stay for months. I rest very well here.”
Mubarak removes his shoes and we walk to a lookout. The view is spectacular. The landscape is just as inhospitable as it was when Wilfred Thesiger travelled here between 1945 and 1950, and it is hard to imagine there ever being roads, buildings or people living permanently here. Mubarak then receives a series of calls on his mobile phone – the Mazayin Dhafra Camel Festival is under way near Madinat Zayed and he is helping to organise things. He owns some 150 camels, which graze “somewhere near the Saudi border”, but he laughs when I ask if he ever rides them. “Why would I ride a camel when I have an SUV? We use the camels for racing, and for their milk.”
The modern world, it seems, is not totally at odds with traditional Bedouin life. “The things which make our lives better, the things which make it easier, we take,” ­Mubarak adds. “Things which do not help us, we leave.”This is echoed by Salem al Mazrouei, who was born in Madinat Zayed and is the operations director of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage (ADACH), which brings visitors to stay at the tented camp between November and March. “It is very important for people to come here to see the importance of the desert in our culture. We are supporting this kind of initiative because maybe people will hear about the desert but they will not know. And if they do not know what it is like, they will not understand us.”
Salem al Mazrouei is talking about the Bedouin mindset, a way of thinking that is adaptive, resilient and open to change, but rooted in tradition. “In Bedouin culture there is always a solution. We try not to have a clash. If my friend says something I don’t like, I try not to be upset. If there has been a mistake, we all try to solve the problem together. We know that the desert is better than a home. We make a fire, make coffee and tea and spend the night as friends. Even as our towns get bigger, we are a part of the desert and we cannot live without it.”
Although they now have roads, electricity, cars, and houses built of concrete in the agricultural settlements in Liwa, the crescent of oases centred around Mezaria’a still looks much as Wilfred Thesiger described them in Arabian Sands: “Palms planted along the salt-flats, close under high steep-sided dunes, and in hollows in the sand.” Although Thesiger was a perceptive observer of the Bedouin and their landscape, he underestimated their character and was wrong about their future. “Even before I left Arabia in 1950, the Iraq Petroleum Company had started to search for oil in the territories of Abu Dhabi and Dubai,” he wrote. “They soon discovered it in enormous quantities, and as a result the life I have described in this book disappeared forever.” In 1977 Thesiger revisited Abu Dhabi, calling it “an Arabian nightmare, the final disillusionment” and stated that “this book remains a memorial to a vanished past, a once magnificent people.”
But at the camel festival at Madinat Zayed, the present is merely the past with modern accoutrements. Here thousands gather from all across the Gulf, business men and some women who one would think the modern world would own completely. But here traditions live on. I joined a convoy of dozens of SUVs which careered across the desert to view a Sheikh’s new camels. When we arrived at the pen, people jumped out of their vehicles before forming a circle, with spontaneous music and dancing. I watched women in dark black burkas - an essential defence against the windswept environment - load piles of handicrafts for sale at the market. And, while some camel traders and visitors stay in tents, I was invited for dinner in a modern version, a concrete bungalow in the middle of the flat plain, complete with bedrooms, chandeliers and air conditioning.
Out on the terrace, in an open-air majlis, or meeting room, dozens of modern Bedouin reclined on cushions, shared food and exchanged traditional greetings with other tribe members. In the tent next door to this building, a Qatari whose camels won him 17 new cars was celebrating into the night with a troupe of live musicians playing traditional Emirati music. I spoke to Rashad ali bin noss al Mansoori, a 32-year-old transport company owner from Alilabanah, a village 30 kilometres from Hameem, a settlement on the easternmost edge of Liwa. One of Mr al-Mansoori’s camels, Alkaida, won this year’s camel beauty competition and as such was labelled the “prettiest camel in the Gulf.” His pride was obvious. “I live for work, and for camels”, Mr al-Mansoori said. “The late Sheikh Zayed said ‘he who has no past has no present and no future’, and he was right. Still to this day all our traditions are still going on and we are still participating.” Other traditional Emirati pastimes include falconry, Arabic dancing and fishing. “These traditions were loved by the ruling families”, al-Mansoori said. “And the reason these traditions continue is because the rulers and Government have supported these sports. These industries make a very good living for local people so no matter how advanced technology becomes, the traditions still survive.” But what does Mr al-Mansoori think of Abu Dhabi, the “Arabian nightmare” described by Thesiger? “I love it”, he says. “Although I still live here in Liwa I am so happy when I see that my town has taken its place in the world in such a short time.”
Abu Dhabi, of course, has cultural plans that would have made Thesiger quake. In four year’s time, Saadiyat Island alone will boast a vast new cultural district containing five state-of-the-art venues, including the Lourve Abu Dhabi, a branch of the Guggenheim, designed by Frank Gehry, a performing Arts Centre by Zaha Hadid, a Maritime Museum and the Sheikh Zayed National Museum. But all of this is not just about making Abu Dhabi a new tourist or arts centre. It is about making Abu Dhabi the cultural headquarters of the Middle East and an attempt to stimulate a new international cultural awareness through the acquisition and display of cutting-edge modern art. At the exhibition of the plans at the Emirates Palace Hotel, the Gehry partners cite Abu Dhabi as a unique coming together of cultural awareness and financial resources.
“The landscape, the opportunities, the requirement to build something that people from all over the world would come to and the possible resource to accomplish it opened tracks that were not likely to be considered anywhere else.” Similar limitless ambition is on show from the makers of the Louvre, who boast that the museum will “span every geographical area and every historical artistic period.”Yet the biggest challenge facing Abu Dhabi is not how to build the cultural future. It is about maintaining the cultural identity necessary to sustain such projects amid the constant pressures of globalisation. Research recently commissioned by ADACH suggested that Abu Dhabi’s young people were seriously at risk of losing their identity through the fast pace of development. The increasing use of English has led some Emirati students to require remedial classes in Arabic and children raised by foreign nannies and increasing exposure to television has prompted local education councils to involve teachers in workshops to bring Emirati culture and heritage onto the school curriculum. Bassem Kudsi, a spokesman for the ADACH, said “failure was not an option” when it came to preserving the nation’s cultural identity. “The world is now a family of nations, but unless you have your own traditions, you will all become vanilla flavour. We are very proud of our culture and heritage, and if we allow our traditions to die out we will have nothing to offer. We cannot develop at the expense of our history.”
One of those charged with teaching Emirati culture is Jane Bristol-Rhys, professor of anthropology at Zayed University. She said there was a “surprising lack of interest” in Saadiyat Island from young people. “You have to remember that when Abu Dhabi was built, it was built around the immediate needs of the oil industry and the people: roads, hospitals, houses, airports, banks and schools. People are not used to having such museums and art galleries. When I take people to see the exhibition at the Emirates Palace it isn’t a case of them saying ‘wow, they’re building a Guggenheim here’, but ‘what’s a Guggenheim? But it’s a learning curve. Once it’s here, they’ll go. We’re building up the momentum and I’m particularly excited about the performing arts centre, which will showcase music and song, which people do connect with now.”
Currently teaching a course on the architecture of the region, Bristol-Rhys says the Emiratis needed to guard against a patronising and tasteless rendering of the country’s culture. “Some of the stuff that is marketed as Emirati culture is truly hideous”, she said. “When we look at the stuff that is sold to tourists, we get pictures of camels, coffee pots, baskets and those horrible scale models of Bedouin encampments. I’ve even seen these salt and pepper shakers where the pepper is shaped like a woman in a black abaya and the man is the salt, dressed in white. They call it the sheikh and sheikha. The danger is that it is much easier to put these things out there than to look a little deeper.”
Through the study of Emirati building styles, the architecture of mosques the translation of traditional poetry and the performance of dance, Bristol-Rhys encourages her students to look at their heritage in context. She cites the importance of family networks and the enthusiasm for the national dress as evidence that traditions are still very much alive. “Languages everywhere are changing, and some are under threat but most of my students are incredibly proud of their Arabic and they are always telling me that mine is not up to snuff. Yes, some vocabulary is being lost but languages are not static. Two new volumes about the Khaleej, the Gulf dialect, have just been published. When people are concerned about heritage and culture they sometimes over-react, and they try to preserve it in some kind of aspic, but this is exactly the opposite of what made these people so resilient.”
Just as Wilfred Thesiger mistakenly feared that “the traditional Bedu way of life had been irrevocably destroyed by the introduction of motor transport, helicopters and aeroplanes”, Bristol-Rhys thinks the Emirates should beware of outside prejudices obscuring an obvious and uniquely Emirati approach to cultural change. “In general people here are very well educated. Emiratis had to be very adaptive and accommodating to survive here in the old days and now they don’t see any disconnect between the modern world and their traditions. Cultural heritage is kept alive in families, and I have seen from the closeness of families and the way people treat their elders that the family network is still very strong. These are an adaptive and resilient people, and they have great pride in their past.”