Sunday, January 29, 2012

Shaikh Mohammed : Come and see the real Dubai

His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has stressed the need to strengthen cooperation between the UAE and China not only in the field of trade, but also in other fields like science, technology and clean and renewable energy. 

In an interview with Wang Liwen and media team of Beijing Youth Newspaper, Shaikh Mohammed emphasised on the importance of UAE-Chinese relations and discussed matters relating to his vision and his definition of success, his views about the youth and their role in his institutions, as well as the role of women in development.
Beijing Youth Newspaper is part of Beijing Youth Media Group, which owns 11 newspapers and five magazines and is considered to be the bestseller in the Chinese capital.
According to Wang Liwen, interviewing Shaikh Mohammed was a very enjoyable experience, and he could get a glimpse of his thinking from his answers to the questions.


Excerpts from the interview:

Q: China is also a fast-developing country. What do you foresee for economic cooperation between our countries in the future?
A: That is an excellent question. I hope your readers in China come to Dubai and see it for themselves. What you hear is an illusion; what you see is real.
In fact contact between Chinese and Arabs began in the 7th century. I myself have visited China on a couple of occasions, and I enjoyed seeing your cities and your culture first hand. China’s remarkable growth is a success story that we have observed with great interest. Dubai is like the ancient Chinese capital of Chang’an, a global cosmopolitan city, where people from 200 countries live and work together.
Dubai was a hub on the Silk Road then. More recently Dubai has made it more convenient for industry to spread to Central Asia, North Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Two thirds of the world’s population can fly to Dubai in eight hours or less. In the past 20 or 30 years, investors from all over the world have flocked to Dubai.
Our two countries both have shining histories and cultures, and our peoples have a relationship of friendship and equality. I hope that our countries have even greater cooperation in the future, not only in trade, but also in science and technology and in renewable and clean energy.

In the future we will consider sending students from the UAE to China to study. These issues were discussed during Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to UAE in January 2012 to participate in the World Future Energy Summit.
Q: When did your thinking come together?
A: About 10 years ago. When I was in Europe and the United States, I saw racetracks and subways, and I wondered when Dubai could have all that.
Q: Your Highness, what is the secret of your success?
A: There are no secrets to the success we have achieved. I will summarise three key points: First is the vision. You have to have a vision that would benefit the people and help them achieve their dreams, and you must believe in your ability to achieve the vision.
Second is the team. You need to choose a dedicated team that believes in the vision and has the positive energy and outlook to accomplish it.
Third, keep building. Do not stop from building on the vision. It is an inspiration for all around you, and is your catalyst to work towards your goals diligently every morning, doing and achieving something new that benefits your people.
Q: You once said that no one remembers dreamers and they only remember people who turn their dreams into reality. Do you think you have turned your dreams into reality?
A: Some people daydream all day and when they go to sleep they continue to dream. This is just dreaming and they have no way to turn their dreams into reality. The way we turn our dreams into reality is: when other people talk about working, we actually work; when other people are making their plans, we carry out our plans; and when other people are having doubts, we move boldly ahead.
There is a saying in Europe, “Let the lion lead the sheep.” My thinking is: If I am a lion and I am leading, I should be leading lions. I encourage talented young people to love their work. They shouldn’t be punished for their mistakes. Making mistakes is the best way to learn to do something.
What do the young people of the UAE need most? Success! I feel proud of everyone who works together with me to achieve our goals.
Q: In your book My Vision you make a special point to discuss the different influences positive and negative energy have on people. If someone says, if you have an influential position, power and financial resources, it’s easy to have positive energy, how do you respond?
A: In fact no one can be totally happy. There are a lot of countries and people with ample financial resources, but that doesn’t mean they can maintain positive energy. On the contrary, many people stop progressing because they are already well off. A leader needs to have positive energy. With positive energy comes optimism, and with optimism, anything becomes possible. However, people who constantly face challenges can face them bravely and overcome them because they accumulate the ability to do so day by day. It is very important to maintain a cheerful disposition day after day, month after month, year after year. When people see someone succeed, they often say that person was lucky. In my mind, luck favours people who are prepared. If there is always a hesitant voice in your heart saying, “It’s not possible” then it is really impossible for you. But me, I always encourage people to try again, and maybe try to do it differently. Conquering “the impossible” means refusing to give up hope. You have to think, “Somewhere there is a way to find a solution. Let’s work together to find it.”
Q: Concerning your ideas on developing the country, what is the source of your thinking other than learning from your father?
A: I am the son of Arab tribesmen. The sons of Arab tribesmen get their knowledge, wisdom and vision mainly from family members and not from schools. Aside from my university education, most of what I learned from Shaikh Zayed, the late president of the UAE, and my late father Shaikh Rashid. I studied their administrative experience, and learned a great deal from them. Also, I learned a lot from occasional small mistakes.
Q: What kind of mistakes?
A: For example, several years ago we were planning to build a golf course on the coast, but we put it off in the face of objections. When we finally got around to building it, we had lost a lot of valuable time. That’s why we often say “the clock ticks life away”. We don’t have time to hesitate. That is the cause of giving up something in the middle.
Q: Your Highness, why do women play such an important role in UAE society?

A: I am very proud of the strong role that women play in our society. They have complete equality. Today, 70 per cent of all our university graduates are women. More than 65 per cent of all jobs in our government are held by women. Thirty per cent of them hold managerial positions. More than 80 per cent of staff in my own office are women. We do not just talk about the important role women should have in our society; we deliver.
In his article Wang Liwen states that if one is lucky he can meet Shaikh Mohammed on the street, and can say hello, shake his hand, and have a picture taken with him just like the people of Dubai can. The probability of this happening is much greater than winning the lottery because he enjoys mingling with the people. You could meet him at the mall, a popular restaurant or a concert hall. He enjoys shopping, dining and listening to music just like you and I do, and he never has a large entourage of people with him.
His personal assistant told me that he doesn’t need bodyguards because the people of Dubai are all willing to fill that role. Many ordinary citizens know all to well how difficult life was for their fathers’ and grandfathers’ generations when they lived in tents without running water or electricity, and they have witnessed the enormous miraculous changes their country has undergone. They say, “Forty years ago we were just a small country with scant resources and nothing but our dreams”. But now with all the changes that have taken place, they are willing to believe that they can achieve the dream of becoming a strong country in 10 years like their ruler says they will.
Another person I met, described the Shaikh thus: “He trusts his government employees, but he never relies solely on their written or oral reports. He walks very fast, and no one dares to lag behind.”
In order to improve the quality of service, he has a third party from the secretarial pool to carry out oversight work. Sometimes, you can see him with a stopwatch at the airport recording how long it takes for visitors to clear Customs and Immigration. He believes that raising work efficiency is always a good thing, and he wants visitors to feel they are getting fast and high-quality service when they enter the country. He says that if visitors expect it to take an hour to clear customs and immigration, we should get them through in 30 minutes. That’s good-quality service, but not best-quality service. If you don’t keep improving your service to your customers, for example by cutting the time down to 20 minutes, you aren’t providing best service. Sometimes he files complaints in the guise of an ordinary citizen just to see how fast and well they are dealt with.
Shaikh Mohammed graduated from Mons Officer Cadet School in England, and was appointed Defence Minister of the UAE in 1971, and he said he wanted to make sure that Dubai earns its title of the safest city in the world.
He worked with interior decorators on the decor for the great hall of the airport, and has had a hand in the design of many public spaces. He was a principle designer of the opulent Bab Al Shams Hotel. He says the pursuit of beauty is in the DNA of the Arab people.
He has travelled all over the world, and every time he sees something beautiful he hopes that one day Dubai can have one just like it. He was delighted to learn that when French officials come to Dubai, they always buy French perfume to take home because it’s cheaper there due to Dubai being a duty free port. He says Dubai has the capability of becoming a major market for merchandise it doesn’t manufacture itself.
He hopes that Dubai will be a world-class trade, tourism and service city in the 21st century, and he is building the necessary infrastructure and creating an ideal environment to make that happen.
Shaikh Mohammed is a poet who has published several volumes of poetry, and also an accomplished horseman who has won the European Championship.
He says that writing poetry enables him to look at the things around him from a new perspective, and that the source of inspiration lies in beauty, accomplishments and dreams. He believes that his poetry draws him closer to other people.
During my interview, he told me he was preparing for an endurance horse race.
He has a powerful desire to make his country rich and strong, and he wrote the book My Vision: Challenges in the Race for Excellence, in which he summed up his vision about leadership and life in simple yet moving language. This book led a former teacher of his in England to write to him, “I’ve written 12 books, but none of them achieved the fame yours did.”
Shaikh Mohammed wrote back, “Your books are theoretical, mine is practical.”

How atomic Iran could trigger accidental Armageddon

One of the arguments often made in favour of bombing Iran to cripple its nuclear program is this: The mullahs in Tehran believe it is their consecrated duty to destroy Israel and so are building nuclear weapons to launch at Tel Aviv.

It’s beyond a doubt that the Iranian regime would like to bring about the destruction of Israel. However, the mullahs are also men determined, more than anything, to maintain their hold on absolute power.

Which is why it’s unlikely that they would immediately use their new weapons against Israel. An outright attack on Israel - a country possessing as many as 200 nuclear weapons - would lead to the obliteration of Tehran, the deaths of millions, and the destruction of Iran’s military and industrial capabilities.

The mullahs know this. But here’s the problem: It may not matter. The threat of a deliberate nuclear attack pales in comparison with the chance that a nuclear-armed Iran could accidentally trigger a cataclysmic exchange with Israel.

The experts who study this depressing issue seem to agree that a Middle East in which Iran has four or five nuclear weapons would be dangerously unstable and prone to warp-speed escalation.

Here’s one possible scenario for the not-so-distant future: Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese proxy, launches a cross-border attack into Israel, or kills a sizable number of Israeli civilians with conventional rockets. Israel responds by invading southern Lebanon, and promises, as it has in the past, to destroy Hezbollah. Iran, coming to the defense of its proxy, warns Israel to cease hostilities, and leaves open the question of what it will do if Israel refuses to heed its demand.

Dennis Ross, who until recently served as President Barack Obama’s Iran point man on the National Security Council, notes Hezbollah’s political importance to Tehran.

“The only place to which the Iranian government successfully exported the revolution is to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Ross told me. “If it looks as if the Israelis are going to destroy Hezbollah, you can see Iran threatening Israel, and they begin to change the readiness of their forces. This could set in motion a chain of events that would be like ‘Guns of August’ on steroids.”

Imagine that Israel detects a mobilization of Iran’s rocket force or the sudden movement of mobile missile launchers. Does Israel assume the Iranians are bluffing, or that they are not? And would Israel have time to figure this out?

Or imagine the opposite: Might Iran, which will have no second-strike capability for many years - that is, no reserve of nuclear weapons to respond with in an exchange - feel compelled to attack Israel first, knowing that it has no second chance?

Bruce Blair, the co-founder of the nuclear disarmament group Global Zero and an expert on nuclear strategy, told me that in a sudden crisis Iran and Israel might each abandon traditional peacetime safeguards, making an accidental exchange more likely.

“A confrontation that brings the two nuclear-armed states to a boiling point would likely lead them to raise the launch- readiness of their forces - mating warheads to delivery vehicles and preparing to fire on short notice,” he said. “Missiles put on hair-trigger alert also obviously increase the danger of their launch and release on false warning of attack -- false indications that the other side has initiated an attack.”

Then comes the problem of misinterpreted data, Blair said. “Intelligence failures in the midst of a nuclear crisis could readily lead to a false impression that the other side has decided to attack, and induce the other side to launch a preemptive strike.”

Blair notes that in a crisis it isn’t irrational to expect an attack, and this expectation makes it more likely that a leader will read the worst into incomplete intelligence.

“This predisposition is a cognitive bias that increases the danger that one side will jump the gun on the basis of incorrect information,” he said.

Ross told me that Iran’s relative proximity to Israel and the total absence of ties between the two countries make the situation even more hazardous.

“This is not the Cold War,” he said. “In this situation we don’t have any communications channels. Iran and Israel have zero communications. And even in the Cold War we nearly had a nuclear war. We were much closer than we realized.”

The answer to this predicament is to deny Iran nuclear weapons, but not through an attack on its nuclear facilities, at least not now. “The liabilities of preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear program vastly outweigh the benefits,” Blair said. “But certainly Iran’s program must be stopped before it reaches fruition with a nuclear weapons delivery capability.”

Ross argues that the Obama administration’s approach -- the imposition of steadily more debilitating sanctions -- may yet work. There’s a chance, albeit slim, that he may be right: New sanctions are just beginning to bite and, combined with an intensified cyberwar and sabotage efforts, they might prove costly enough to deter Tehran.

But opponents of military action make a mistake in arguing that a nuclear Iran is a containable problem. It is not.

(Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist and a national correspondent for the Atlantic. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Islamists poised to redefine society in the Arab world

  • Image Credit: ©Gulf News
The success at the polls of Islamists (as political activists who draw on the Quran as inspiration for their social ideology have come, willy-nilly, to be known) tells us little about Islam and much about Arab society today.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, Islamists have flexed their muscles in countries as far apart as Morocco, Palestine and Yemen, and won handily at the polls in Egypt and Tunisia. Of the 22 legal political parties in Algeria, six are Islamist, and Islamists make up the most influential opposition force in Jordan. And in a remarkable display of prowess that would have seemed unthinkable a mere 12 months ago, the Muslim Brotherhood, in its guise as the Freedom and Justice Party, has secured in post-revolutionary Egypt the most seats in the country’s parliamentary elections. And last Monday, with the clear mandate they had gained at the polls, their parliament speaker, Mohammad Sa’ad Katatni, opened the inaugural session of the lower house of parliament.

Even in Syria, where the irrelevant phantasm of Baathism — an ageing concoction of pan-Arabist and Euro-nationalist ideology dreamed up by a Levantine secularist in 1940 — has retained its grip on government, the power of Islamists, albeit so far underground, is evident. There is not, in other words, a single country in the Arab world that does not have an Islamist vanguard.

These folks, as we speak, are preparing to play a dominant role in drafting new constitutions in their countries reflecting the new ideology of hope engendered by the Arab awakening, a movement that seeks to define a citizen’s right to live freely and independently not as a luxury but as a rigorous need. That indeed would be, well, yes, a revolutionary transformation for societies that, since independence well over six decades ago, have been broken in back and spirit, and whose people had for generations been socialised on an ethic of fear, defeat and despair. And it looks like the Islamists will be the agents of that transformation.
How do we explain this phenomenon, then, and what does it portend for the future?
To be sure, the Islamist revival in the Arab world may have begun, should we assume a point of departure for it, as far back as 1967, in the wake of the devastating military defeat of the June War, when Arabs collectively felt betrayed by the hodge-podge of secular ideologies they had put their trust in throughout the first three quarters of the 20th century, ideologies like Nasserism and Baathism, Communism and Greater Syria nationalism, socialism and pan-Arabism, that now were exposed as having been hollow and meaningless, essentially worthless imports from the West. As a massive silence descended upon Arabs at the time, which became a kind of rhetoric in its way, it seemed that there was no better ideology to turn to than the one that had grown out of the very bosom of their own culture — Islam.
Understandably, the activists who pioneered the Islamist movement, at the least in countries in the Levant and the Maghreb, were born again Islamists, originally secular ideologues who had turned to Islam after their secular ideologies began to appear impotent and irrelevant. These activists’ mass appeal became evident, even in traditionally secular societies such as Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Jordan, after they buttressed their vision with intimate responsiveness to peoples’ discontent with, disdain for and alienation from the ruling elite. And, above all, to peoples’ everyday, pedestrian needs.
When Uncle Ahmad, for example, the name we give the common impoverished Arab in these countries, needed a good school, a reliable clinic, a warm coat, adequate food and a summer camp for his kids, he did not turn to corrupt officials, who cared little about him in the first place, to address these needs. He turned instead to the mosque, seeking representatives of the Islamist group nearest him who he knew, from observing their modest life-style and moral rectitude, were above reproach. And a strong affinity inevitably developed between care-giver and the common man. The latter remembered all that when he went to cast his vote.

Truth be told, this state of affairs is characteristic of all deprived societies in which authority had callously turned its back on its people. In other words, when the state becomes corrupt and ineffectual, when it demonstrates its unwillingness to meet ordinary folks’ needs, civil society will in time establish an alternative order within the state, a shadow state, if you will.

All of which reminds us of the first scene in Godfather I.

Godfather I relevant to our theme here? Yes, very much so, I say. In that scene in Godfather I, an iconic film in American cinematic art, Amerigo Bonasera, a lowly mortician from New York’s Little Italy, fills the screen as he despairingly tells Don Corleone: “I believe in America, but ...” The Italian immigrant believed in America, but its justice system had failed him miserably. His daughter’s honour had been violated by two local boys who — after being apprehended and brought to court to stand trial — were acquitted on a technicality. To rub salt into his wounds, the boys even snickered at him as they walked out, free men. He wanted justice, and he wanted the Godfather to mete it out.
There is a zoom-out on the Don, played by the indomitable Marlon Brando, head of the Cosa Nostra Corleone family, who responds reproachfully in one of the most textually telling lines in the film: “Why didn’t you come to me first?”

Bonasera should have known better than to go to the authorities in the first place. Italian immigrants at the time, in the 1940s, were still anchored in their Sicilian culture and its norms: to settle a dispute or to right a wrong committed against you, you did not turn to the cops, who were corrupt and uncaring, but to that network of local Cosa Nostra chiefs who knew how to take care of their own. That is how it was in Italy in those days, and Italian immigrants brought that tradition with them to the New World. Cosa Nostra was born at the same time as the modern Italian state in the late 19th century, a weak state that could not, or would not, protect its citizens and guarantee them jobs and services, let alone social justice.
That’s also how it was, as well, before civil rights acts were legislated in the US, for African-Americans, who often turned to their church leaders because there was no one else to turn to for representation of their political and civil rights. And that’s how it was for Iranians, on the eve of the 1979 revolution, who had turned to their mosques to seek equity because the state had prevented them from, or punished them for, agitating for what was due to them.

Guess what? There are times when that shadow state, probably by fiat of the imagination inherent in history, comes to power. And when that shadow state itself becomes the state, you have to talk to it. No two ways about it. When you don’t, as the US did not in 2006 after Hamas became the ascendant authority, everybody ends up paying a heavy price in human suffering so that Washington will sustain a dysfunctional political system rejected by its people in fair, free and open elections.

Today Islamists are all over the place, all over the Arab world, poised to pre-empt and then define their societies’ tomorrow. And what the devil whimsical foreign policy will the US pursue then? Stay tuned.

Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A watchman who started a free school from his savings

A mighty heart
By Megha Pai
Friday, January 27, 2012

Sharjah resident Abdul Mannan Jamaluddin wasn’t exactly rolling in money when he started a free school in his hometown in Bangladesh but, as he says, when your heart is set on doing good, help is never far away. Student strength today: 200 and counting…

It is perhaps much easier to be giving and charitable when you have a cool six figure in your bank balance and your next seven generations are taken care of (unless, of course, you are the progeny of Ebenezer Scrooge). But starting a free school in your hometown when you are a security guard living on a Dh1, 200 per month salary, is something to marvel about. So when we heard the story of Abdul Mannan Jamaluddin, we knew we had to meet him and hear his story.
Al Qasba is a well-to-do locality in the plush Buhaira Corniche in Sharjah. Not well-versed with the area and relying mainly on a somewhat malfunctioning GPS (at one point it instructed us to go off the road and drive into the water!), we decided to seek the help of a shopkeeper for directions to Bulbul Apartments, where Abdul is a security guard.
“Oh! You want to meet Abdul!” came the reply. Surprised as we hadn’t mentioned his name, we asked him how he guessed. “He is a bit of a local hero,” the shopkeeper smiled. “After all, how many watchmen do you know who start a free school from their savings?”
Good point. Following the much more reliable directions of the kindly shopkeeper — no need to jump into the Corniche, we were assured — we reached our destination, passing through the graffiti-riddled by-lanes. Abdul was standing at the gate, dressed in casuals, as it was his day off. He invited us to his office, which also serves as his living room and bedroom and offered us tea. A Bangla channel ran on mute on the television. On a shelf above his bed was a small stack of books in Bengali.
After some casual banter and lovely chitchat and tea, we came down to discussing Abdul’s extraordinary feat. He tells wknd. the story — from being a high school dropout to starting a free school in his native village, Belchura, in Bangladesh, where he has educated 200 children in the last six years.

As a child, I used to dream of becoming a lawyer but I wasn’t able              to continue my studies after the tenth grade as my father couldn’t afford it. After my father passed away, the burden of my entire family fell upon my shoulders. I came to the UAE in 1989 at the age of 26. The only job that I could find was as a watchman. Due to my lack of education, I was not able to move up in life. That’s when I decided that I didn’t want the same fate for my next generation.

But there was no school in my village and the new highway that was supposed to connect our village to other places, separated us from the only nearby school. Here, in the UAE, parents drop and pick up kids or there are bus services to take the kids to and fro. But it is not so in my village. The parents have no time to keep a tab on the children. The fathers go to work in the fields every morning and the mothers are busy with the housework. So the children go to the school of their own accord — if at all. Despite making several requests to the government, no provisions were made to provide learning opportunities to the village kids.
Every time I saw the excellent lives of the children here in Sharjah, I couldn’t help but wish that the children in my hometown could also have such opportunities. Education is the first step to development. So when I visited home in 2001, I decided to start a free school and I had a few months to do it in before returning to Sharjah.
Initially, my wife didn’t approve of my initiative. I had my own three children to take care of. But I didn’t let that fact deter me from starting the school. I thought to myself, if every person thought only about oneself, there would be no goodness left in the world. Besides, I have very little expenses in Sharjah and I own a small garment business back home that takes care of my family’s needs. So I decided to put in all my savings and most of my salary into the project. Now all I needed was land.
When you have set your mind on doing good, help is never too far away. One day, I happened to mention my intention to one of the village elders. He very generously offered to donate a piece of land that belonged to his family. Amazed at how easily the situation was resolved, I got cracking on building the school.
With the help of the local labourers, I managed to put up a basic building in four months and with the aid of a teacher from the local mosque, I had the school up and running. Slowly but surely, children started coming in too. Soon there were several students in the first grade. I appointed a few more teachers and everything seemed great for a month. That’s when catastrophe hit.
The elder who had donated the land hadn’t asked all the family members before making the decision. Out of spite, the family members demolished the school building and there was nothing that I could do.  I was back to square one.
It was time for me to return to the UAE. But I hadn’t given up. I took it as God’s way of testing my determination. For the next four years, I continued to save. It was not a matter of salvaging my image. My cause was bigger than that. I couldn’t fail as the future of the children was at stake.
After four years of saving and planning, when I went home in 2005, I wanted to include the entire village in the work as I knew I couldn’t do it without their help. But the moment I mentioned anything about the school, the people weren’t interested. So I had to come up with something more novel.
I invited the entire village for a feast to announce a wedding. I knew they wouldn’t say no to free food. And they would be curious to know who is getting married as there isn’t anyone of marriageable age in my family.
After the villagers had had tea and snacks, I told them that I had bought land where I intended to build the school and also told them that I didn’t expect them to contribute monetarily. However, I was surprised when a few of them offered whatever they could. Some gave money, while others gave sacks of cement, and some others simply put in hours of labour for the construction.
Before it was time for me to return to the Gulf, the ground floor of the building was ready, and the first batch of 70 students attended class at the school, called Hazrat Abu Bakar Siddique ® Sunni Madrasa.
The taste of sweet success at last was like nothing else. Those who had been sceptical and discouraging, including my wife, were now beginning to realise how good this was for the community.
Since we started in 2005, we have been adding one grade to the school every year. The number of students has grown from 70 to 200. This year we begin Grade 7. My aim is to see that the school expands all the way to Grade 12. Also, I intend to buy a bus for the school so the children from the village and the surrounding villages can be fetched easily. The day we have 100 per cent literacy in my village, I will have achieved my purpose.
For now, the fact that my kids and the rest of the children in the village will never have to live the kind of life that I had to live is reward enough for me. I intend to start a trust so that the progress is maintained even after I am gone.

Why 'waste' money in space?

The launch of a new space mission, and even more so the failure of a spacecraft (as we witnessed recently), invariably leads me to face the following question from students and acquaintances: why do we waste that kind of money in space pursuits when we have so much poverty and suffering that we should be trying to alleviate here on earth?

That's a good, well-meaning question, and it deserves a good answer. There are several arguments that one can bring up in addressing this concern.

First, one must examine more closely just how much money is being "wasted" in space projects and compare that with other human expenditures.

The total space budget of all nations on Earth is less than $40 billion (Dh147 billion). Nasa's budget for 2012 is $19.5 billion (that is 0.5 per cent of the entire US budget); ESA's (the European Space Agency's) budget was $5.65 billion in 2011; the Russian space budget amounted to about $2.5 billion; China's is $2 billion; India's is $1.6 billion; plus small amounts for smaller countries.

The whole human expenditure on space projects, including all satellites, rockets, spacecrafts and the hundreds of thousands of people who work on that, increases by less than 1 per cent each year!
Contrast this with the world's spending in the military sector (armament and personnel): a whopping $1.6 trillion in 2010, the US part representing 42 per cent of that! That's 40 times more than the worldwide space budget, and that amount increases by about 5 per cent each year.

Destructive expenditure
Now, lest anyone think that they are not responsible for any of this (neither the space money ‘waste' nor the scary military budget), I would like to mention a few other kinds of expenses, these being more at the personal level. Each year in Europe (for which we have statistics), people spend about $50 billion a year on cigarettes; Europeans, who constitute only 10 per cent of humans, spend $150 billion a year on alcoholic drinks, $24 billion on pet food, $200 billion on cosmetics, and $1.4 trillion on entertainment and media (music, cinema, TV shows, electronics, newspapers and magazines)!

At this point of the discussion, my interlocutors usually respond with: yes, we humans are clearly wasting large sums of money on destructive items (weapons, cigarettes, alcohol), but does that mean that we should throw away more money in space? There are two ways to counter this argument. One line is to list the numerous and diverse spin-offs that have resulted from space research. Indeed, because space places different sets of constraints on any project, be it a new satellite or a trip to Mars, new tools often need to be developed, and these almost always find applications in our lives here on Earth.
There are, without exaggeration, hundreds of spin-offs, ranging from bio-medical techniques to digital systems, from imaging technology to robotics, where important uses have been found in medicine, meteorology, environmental monitoring (of potential or unfolding disasters), information and communication technology, remote sensing, surveillance, and many other fields.
What must be stressed is that such applications do indeed lead to helping address and alleviate the poverty and human suffering, which the sceptics of space projects insist that we focus on.

Another line of argumentation against the idea that "space projects are a luxurious waste and should at most be left to very rich countries" is more cultural and educational. Indeed, the pursuit of such ‘lofty' projects strongly reflects the intellectual attitude of a given nation: the more we look upward the more future-minded and less materialistic we prove to be. And the more governments push their people to seek discoveries of all kinds (space-bound or earth-focused), the more people will tend to pursue scientific and cultural careers and lift the whole society up in various ways. In many parts of the world, including in this region, students are fleeing the scientific disciplines, seeing them as difficult and not financially rewarding — compared to administrative and business careers. We must do everything to encourage our children and students to invest themselves in those fields, for they are not only fascinating but extremely important. Let us not forget the strategic importance of space, where powers engage in espionage and ‘monitoring'.

Encouragement for students to take on this field and its applications must come in the form of strategic projects, where governments and companies invest for the future. Salaries and rewards must be substantial. But most importantly, society in general, and the vital education and media sectors in particular, must project a bright image of those fields and of the people who pursue them.
It is a shame that hardly anyone can name an Arab or Muslim astronaut (yes, a few have gone up to space), but many can name entire sports teams or movie casts. We need to change this, for our future and our children's.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Several giant leaps for Dubai

DUBAI // Stunning photographs of Dubai taken from space, showing the staggering pace of urbanisation over the past 11 years, have become an online hit.
Hundreds of thousands of people have viewed the time-lapse videos and images taken by Nasa, documenting the creation of The Palm and The World islands.
There are 12 photographs dated between November 11, 2000 and April 25 last year showing the city's remarkable growth in that time.
They can be found on Nasa's Earth Observatory website. Slideshow videos of the images have so far attracted more than 240,000 views on YouTube from people all over the world.
"To expand the possibilities for beachfront tourist development, Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, undertook a massive engineering project to create hundreds of artificial islands along its Persian Gulf coastline," says Nasa's website.
The pictures show how dredging helped to raise The Palm Jumeirah from faint outlines in 2002 to the complete structure, including buildings, by 2009.
"By October 2002, substantial progress had been made on The Palm with many sandy 'palm fronds' inside a circular breakwater," says the Nasa website.
"The final image, taken in February 2011, shows vegetation on most of the fronds and numerous buildings on the tree trunk."
At the same time Dubai can be seen growing out of the desert.
Nasa says the images are false colour, meaning bare ground appears brown and vegetation shows up as red, water is dark blue and buildings and paved surfaces are light blue or grey. Courtesy NasaWhat look like thin lines begin to appear from February 2, 2002, with snake-shaped patterns popping up soon after. These eventually become the man-made lakes in Emirates Hills and Jumeirah Islands.
By November 4, 2003, road grids can be seen with more buildings being constructed. Dubai Marina, Media City and Internet City, The Greens and Tecom all begin to take shape.

The World islands begin to develop from 2004 and are fully formed by 2009.
"Inland, changes are just as dramatic between November 2000 and February 2011. In the earliest image, empty desert fills the lower right quadrant of the image, as cityscape primarily hugs the coast," the website explains.
"As the years pass, urbanisation spreads and the final image shows the area almost entirely filled by roads, buildings and irrigated land."
The pictures were taken by Nasa's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, or Aster, on the space agency's Terra satellite.
Nasa says the images are false colour, meaning bare ground appears brown and vegetation shows up as red, water is dark blue and buildings and paved surfaces are light blue or grey.
The images have delighted those who have seen them, with many commenting on social media.
"Beautiful! Nasa captures Dubai's insane 11-year urbanisation," tweeted Hamna.
"Wow! Dubai has seriously grown in 11 years. Check out the images," said Bearbledeals.

Thomas Brunskill tweeted: "So awesome! Artificial islands, parks, and new city blocks transformed Dubai over the past decade."
"Time lapse of epic proportions. Eleven years of Dubai's insane growth seen from space," tweeted mohamedsomji.
"Think Dubai's artificial islands look crazy? Just wait until you see them from space," said mariusmele.
There are at least three videos on YouTube featuring a short 44-second compilation of the images.
So far they have been viewed a combined 241,820 times.
The Terra satellite was launched in December 1999 as part of Nasa's Earth Observing System.
Aster is a joint project between Nasa, the Japanese ministry of economy, trade and industry, and the Earth Remote Sensing Data Analysis Centre, also in Japan.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

‘Embracing Islam is the best deal I made in the Kingdom’

US businessman and pilot calls for efforts to project true image of his new religion

RIYADH: Just after spending one month in the Kingdom, where he was treated with kindness in a spiritual atmosphere, American businessman and pilot Richard Patterson, converted to Islam.

Richard, who is now called Abdulaziz, owns a company providing services in critical care. It has a capital of $50 million, and a fleet of two aircraft and two helicopters, specializing in medical flights.
Abdulaziz arrived in the Kingdom on a contract with the Saudi Red Crescent to train students for air emergency.  During his stay, three members of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance invited him out for dinner. The members who worked with the “Guide Me to Islam” project, talked to Abdulaziz about Islam and it’s real essence.

“I came to the Kingdom for a commercial deal. I was so thrilled to make the best deal of my life with God Almighty by converting to Islam,” said Abdulaziz, during the conversion ceremony, commending the Saudi attire and describing it as comfortable and beautiful.

When Abdulaziz was in his country, he used to hear negative things about Islam through media channels, which were aimed at distorting its image.

“Just reading about Islam is not enough to understand Islam. It’s meeting people who best represent it and reflect its true spirit,” said Abdulaziz. He considers himself lucky to discover through Muslim friends he met and dealt with in the Kingdom that Islam is a religion of righteousness and tolerance. “Muslims and Saudis are kind, humble and open to others,” said Abdulaziz, adding that he felt they were like family to him, and never experienced alienation or ill treatment from their side.

What attracted Abdulaziz the most to the Saudi society is that it is religious. That helps people relate to religion as a part of their daily life. “I wish I could bring all my colleagues to the Kingdom to experience what I have and change their viewpoints on Islam,” he said.

Abdulaziz called upon fellow Muslim businessmen to work on attracting foreign businessmen to Islam, accusing them of not taking serious initiatives to call their peers to this glorious religion. “We can provide books on Islam to delegates during business meetings which help present true image of Islam to others,” said Abdulaziz.

Teacher and scholar Esam Abdul Razzaq, who translated for Abdulaziz, said that celebrities and key figures play a greater role in their societies in projecting a certain image. “Successful people have a credibility among members of their society, as they are considered important. Therefore, when they choose to convert to Islam, they trigger curiosity in others, who in turn, want to know more about this religion,” said Abdul Razzaq.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

George Soros on the Coming U.S. Class War

The situation is about as serious and difficult as I've experienced in my career.'

 You know George Soros. He’s the investor’s investor—the man who still holds the record for making more money in a single day’s trading than anyone. He pocketed $1 billion betting against the British pound on “Black Wednesday” in 1992, when sterling lost 20 percent of its value in less than 24 hours and crashed out of the European exchange-rate mechanism. No wonder Brits call him, with a mix of awe and annoyance, “the man who broke the Bank of England.”

Soros doesn’t make small bets on anything. Beyond the markets, he has plowed billions of dollars of his own money into promoting political freedom in Eastern Europe and other causes. He bet against the Bush White House, becoming a hate magnet for the right that persists to this day. So, as Soros and the world’s movers once again converge on Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum this week, what is one of the world’s highest-stakes economic gamblers betting on now?
He’s not. For the first time in his 60-year career, Soros, now 81, admits he is not sure what to do. “It’s very hard to know how you can be right, given the damage that was done during the boom years,” Soros says. He won’t discuss his portfolio, lest anyone think he’s talking things down to make a buck. But people who know him well say he advocates making long-term stock picks with solid companies, avoiding gold—“the ultimate bubble”—and, mainly, holding cash.
He’s not even doing the one thing that you would expect from a man who knows a crippled currency when he sees one: shorting the euro, and perhaps even the U.S. dollar, to hell. Quite the reverse. He backs the beleaguered euro, publicly urging European leaders to do whatever it takes to ensure its survival. “The euro must survive because the alternative—a breakup—would cause a meltdown that Europe, the world, can’t afford.” He has bought about $2 billion in European bonds, mainly Italian, from MF Global Holdings Ltd., the securities firm run by former Goldman Sachs head Jon Corzine that filed for bankruptcy protection last October.
Has the great short seller gone soft? Well, yes. Sitting in his 33rd-floor corner office high above Seventh Avenue in New York, preparing for his trip to Davos, he is more concerned with surviving than staying rich. “At times like these, survival is the most important thing,” he says, peering through his owlish glasses and brushing wisps of gray hair off his forehead. He doesn’t just mean it’s time to protect your assets. He means it’s time to stave off disaster. As he sees it, the world faces one of the most dangerous periods of modern history—a period of “evil.” Europe is confronting a descent into chaos and conflict. In America he predicts riots on the streets that will lead to a brutal clampdown that will dramatically curtail civil liberties. The global economic system could even collapse altogether.
George Soros.
“I am not here to cheer you up. The situation is about as serious and difficult as I’ve experienced in my career,” Soros tells Newsweek. “We are facing an extremely difficult time, comparable in many ways to the 1930s, the Great Depression. We are facing now a general retrenchment in the developed world, which threatens to put us in a decade of more stagnation, or worse. The best-case scenario is a deflationary environment. The worst-case scenario is a collapse of the financial system.”
Soros’s warning is based as much on his own extraordinary personal history as on his gut instinct for market booms and busts. “I did survive a personally much more threatening situation, so it is emotional, as well as rational,” he acknowledges. Soros was just 13 when Nazi soldiers invaded and occupied his native Hungary in March 1944. In only eight weeks, almost half a million Hungarian Jews were deported, many to Auschwitz. He saw bodies of Jews, and the Christians who helped them, swinging from lampposts, their skulls crushed. He survived, thanks to his father, Tivadar, who managed to secure false identities for his family. Later, he watched as Russian forces ousted the Nazis and a new totalitarian ideology, communism, replaced fascism. As life got tougher during the postwar Soviet occupation, Soros managed to emigrate, first to London, then to New York.
Soros draws on his past to argue that the global economic crisis is as significant, and unpredictable, as the end of communism. “The collapse of the Soviet system was a pretty extraordinary event, and we are currently experiencing something similar in the developed world, without fully realizing what’s happening.” To Soros, the spectacular debunking of the credo of efficient markets—the notion that markets are rational and can regulate themselves to avert disaster—“is comparable to the collapse of Marxism as a political system. The prevailing interpretation has turned out to be very misleading. It assumes perfect knowledge, which is very far removed from reality. We need to move from the Age of Reason to the Age of Fallibility in order to have a proper understanding of the problems.”
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Sajak: Horizon

(Dari majalah WANITA Februari 2012)


Di udara
saujana horizon masa
melebar satu kerinduan
terlakar imej-imej perasaan
sebagai satu perjalanan
serba memungkinkan

Di jiwa
terbentang keinginan cita
pun rohani kepasrahan
gerabak musim di kejauhan
melerai seribu kenangan
di laman-laman persinggahan

Di mata
bersanding tanpa rupa
meriah tanpa suara
mengiringi janji gerhana
ke tapak-tapak pusara
nisan setia bercerita!

Hamilton, New Zealand

Why Israel needs blockbusters


Muslim-Jewish animosity started only a century ago, with the advent of Zionism, and for obvious reasons

ISRAEL has no foreign policy, only a domestic policy,” Henry Kissinger once remarked.
This has probably been more or less true of every country since the advent of democracy. Yet in Israel, this seems even truer. In order to understand our foreign policy, we have to look in the mirror. Who are we? What is our society like? In every immigrant country, from the United States to Australia, every new wave of immigrants is greeted by the scorn, contempt and even open hostility of those who came before them.

Still, the dominant myth was that of the “melting pot.” All immigrants would be thrown into the same pot and cleansed of their “foreign” traits, emerging as a uniform new nation without any traces of their origin. This myth died some decades ago.

Israel is now a kind of federation of several major demographic-cultural blocs which dominate our social and political life. Who are they? There are (1) the old Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin); (2) the Oriental (or “Sephardi”) Jews; (3) the religious (partly Ashkenazi, partly Oriental); (4) the “Russians”, immigrants from all the countries of the former Soviet union; and (5) the Palestinian-Arab citizens, who did not come from anywhere.

The political scene almost exactly mirrors these divisions. The Labor party was, in its heyday, the main instrument of Ashkenazi power. Its remnants, together with Kadima and Meretz, are still Ashkenazi. Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beytenu consists mainly of Russians. There are three or four religious parties. Then there are two exclusively Arab parties, and the Communist party, which is mainly Arab, too. The Likud represents the bulk of the Orientals, though almost all its leaders are Ashkenazim.

The relationship between the blocs is often strained. Just now, the whole country is in an uproar because in Kiryat Malakhi, a southern town with mainly Oriental inhabitants, house owners have signed a commitment not to sell apartments to Ethiopians, while the rabbi of Safed, a northern town of mainly Orthodox Jews, has forbidden his flock to rent apartments to Arabs.

But apart from the rift between the Jews and the Arabs, the main problem is the resentment of the Orientals, the Russians and the religious against what they call “the Ashkenazi elite.”

Since they were the first to arrive, long before the establishment of the state, Ashkenazim control most of the centers of power — social, political, economic, cultural et al.

The Likud came to power in 1977, dethroning Labor. With short interruptions, it has been in power ever since. Yet most Likud members still feel that the Ashkenazim rule Israel, leaving them far behind. In our society, all the other blocs feel like outsiders looking through the holes, full of envy for the Ashkenazi “elite” inside, who have all the good things. They hate everything they connect with this “elite”: The Supreme Court, the media, the human rights organizations, and especially the peace camp. All these are called “leftist”, a word curiously enough identified with the “elite.”
How has “peace” become associated with the dominant and domineering Ashkenazim? That is one of the great tragedies of our country.

Jews have lived for many centuries in the Muslim world. There they never experienced the terrible things committed in Europe by Christian anti-Semitism. Muslim-Jewish animosity started only a century ago, with the advent of Zionism, and for obvious reasons.

When the Jews from Muslim countries started to arrive en masse in Israel, they were steeped in Arab culture. But here they were received by a society that held everything Arab in total contempt. Their Arab culture was “primitive”, while real culture was European. Furthermore, they were identified with the “murderous” Muslims. So the immigrants were required to shed their own culture and traditions, their accent, their memories, their music. In order to show how thoroughly Israeli they had become, they also had to hate Arabs.

It is, of course, a worldwide phenomenon that in multinational countries, the most downtrodden class of the dominant nation is also the most radical nationalist foe of the minority nations. This is one of the reasons why the Orientals were attracted to the Likud, for whom the rejection of peace and the hatred of Arabs are supreme virtues. Also, having been in opposition for ages, the Likud was seen as representing those who were “outside”, fighting those who were “inside.” This is still the case.
The case of the “Russians” is different. They grew up in a society that despised democracy, admired strong leaders. The “whites”, Russians and Ukrainians, despised and hated the “dark” peoples of the south — Armenians, Georgians, Tatars, Uzbeks and such.

When the Russian Jews came to join us, they brought with them a virulent nationalism, a complete disinterest in democracy and an automatic hatred of Arabs. They cannot understand why we allowed them to stay here at all. When, this week, a lady deputy (though “lady” may be euphemistic) from St. Petersburg poured a glass of water on the head of an Arab deputy from the Labor party, nobody was very surprised. For Lieberman's followers, Peace is a dirty word, and so is Democracy. For religious people of all shades — from the ultra-Orthodox to the national-religious settlers, there is no problem at all. From the crib on, they learn that Jews are the Chosen People; that the Almighty personally promised us this country; that the Goyim — including the Arabs — are just inferior human beings.

It may be said, quite rightly, that I generalize. I do, just to simplify matters. There are indeed a lot of Orientals, especially of the younger generation, who are repelled by the ultranationalism of the Likud, the more so as the neoliberalism of Benjamin Netanyahu (which Shimon Peres once called “swinish capitalism”) is in direct contradiction to the basic interests of their community. There are also a lot of decent, liberal, peace-loving religious people. (Yeshayahu Leibovitz comes to mind.) Some Russians are gradually leaving their self-imposed ghetto. But these are small minorities in their communities. The bulk of the three blocs — Oriental, Russian and religious — are united in their opposition to peace, and at best indifferent to democracy.

All these together constitute the right-wing, anti-peace coalition that is governing Israel now. The problem is not just a question of politics. It is much more profound — and much more daunting. Some people blame us, the democratic peace movement, for not recognizing the problem early enough, and not doing enough to attract the members of the various blocs to the ideals of peace and democracy. Also, it is said, we did not show that social justice is inseparably connected with democracy and peace.

I must accept my share of the blame for this failure, though I might point out that I tried to make the connection right from the beginning. I asked my friends to concentrate our efforts on the Oriental community, remind them of the glories of the Muslim-Jewish “golden Age” in Spain, of the huge mutual impact of Jewish and Muslim scientists, poets and religious thinkers throughout the ages.
A few days ago, I was invited to give a lecture to the faculty and students of Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva. I described the situation more or less along the same lines. The first question from the large audience, which consisted of Jews — both Orientals and Ashkenazim, and Arabs — especially Bedouins was: “So what hope is there? Faced with this reality, how can the peace forces win?” I told them that I put my trust in the new generation. Last summer's huge social protest movement can happen here. The movement united Ashkenazim and Orientals. Tent cities sprang up in Tel Aviv and Beer Sheva, all over the place. Our first job is to break the barriers between the blocs, change reality, create a new Israeli society. We need blockbusters.
Yes, it is a daunting job. But I believe it can be done.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Dubai's Global Village: From Arab Spring to unity

Decorated pavilions of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen at Global Village speak volumes

This is Tahrir Square, the epicentre of Egypt’s January 25 revolution. Er, not in Cairo but in Dubai. The Egypt Pavilion at the Global Village is a model of Tahrir Square, where the Arab Spring began, and the narrow streets of Khan El Khalili in the Islamic district of Cairo.

Near the entrance, two men dressed as King Tut made me smile. Working laboriously on ‘traditional’ Egyptian crafts, such as hieroglyphic bookmarks and greeting cards, they look up for a second and get back to serious work.

“When I’m in Cairo, I go to Tahrir Square every Friday and join the latest ‘millioneya’,” (the million man/woman march which seems to be an event on most Fridays) says Abel H, while his friend Ahmed nods. “It is unacceptable for me to be part of the silent majority. Being part of the silent majority in Egypt now labels you as being a member of the ‘couch party.’ You sit on the couch and you watch the latest millioneya on television, and the only political views you have are communicated to whoever happens to be sitting next to you, or to your cat,” he says, firmly and gets back to work.

Naturally you come across the predictable papyrus leaf prints, busts of Nefertiti, cat statues and the paraphernalia. A sensational discovery 89 years ago by archaeologist Howard Carter turned the unknown pharaoh Tutankhamun into an international superstar. For years, Tutankhamun, his treasures and his tomb have been touring the globe with an ambassador-like presence in each city he visits. He’s here, too.
You walk further and you hear a slight music playing ahead from an oud. The history of music would remain incomplete without a reference of Egyptian Oud. Mohammed at the stall recalls how his friend Tarek from Revolutionary Artists of Egypt had taken his oud along and played music after the turmoil had calmed down in Tahrir Square. “It was then that he brought his oud guitar and we sang political and revolutionary songs, which gave people hope and excitement in those times,” he beams.
You walk further down and you come across quilts and people buying cotton underwear! The quilted fabric called ‘Khayameya’ fabric, takes its name from a whole quarter in old Cairo called Khayameya, originating from Kheyma or tent in Arabic. The fabric is actually used to set up huge tents in streets to celebrate or gather for a marriage or someone’s death.
The tent is calledSewan in Egyptian Arabic. I made a mental note that if I ever visited Cairo again, I would track down Khayameya Street (The Alley of Tentmakers, south of Bab Zweila) and get one of these quilts. But it was right there in front of me so I decided not to wait any longer.
While walking out of the square, I noticed a young man in a bright red T-shirt that read ‘My new birthday is January 25th’ walking past. It reminded me of a shirt my friend had picked up for me from the (real) Tahrir Square which read ‘100 Percent Egyptian.’


When you step inside the pavilion, an ambience of a traditional Damascus courtyard house greets you, with the beautifully ornate shops resembling the Northern Damascus souk and homes. The pavilion is in the shape of a gate like the seventh Damascus gate.
The shops sell an assortment of traditional Syrian ware including abayas, crystal, antiques, traditional music instruments, wood work ‘Arabesk,’ herbs, traditional sweets, curtains, and the damascene table cloth symbolising the wealthy civilisation of the country.
Clank. Clink. Clank. The rhythmic clanking of his cymbals resonates distinctively through the thick noise of visitors bustling about. When a thirsty passerby stops him for erk sous, a cold liquorice juice, the vendor, in his baggy Turkish-style pants, thick cloth belt, little vest, and rubber boots, tilts his heavy ice-filled copper container and pours the brownish juice into a glass held way below his waist so as to foam up the liquid. Othman who’s being serving this drink in his hometown Homs says, “Homs is one place where the people just don’t give up, it has become so symbolic. It is such an extended city, with extensive suburbs, villages and surrounding areas taking part in the protests that it has been hard for the Syrian army to subdue all of that territory, as well as everywhere else,” he says, cautiously.
You can also experience the sounds of the religious folkloric band ‘Mawaly’ providing live entertainment, nearby.
The rows of knick-knack shops attractively displaying traditional antique Syrian items gives one a feeling of walking through an aisle selling heritage items in Souk al Hamidiyeh in Damascus. “People from Homs are renowned for their sense of humour and this has come out so strongly in the crisis says Abdallah, of the Arabesk furniture stall.
That is why in the Syrian revolution, Homs has become the capital that Damascus has not.


You get surrounded by Yemeni stuff here, and at the stalls charming and chatty Yemenis in their traditional garbs, including daggers, sell their local goods.
The prime attraction at this pavilion is the Yemeni honey. It’s pricey but tasty. And if you have even slight grey hair and are male, get raedy for a ‘honey viagra’!
Yemen’s uprising began much before protesters in Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets. But while the dictators in those countries were toppled, activists in Yemen have been repressed by a leadership that for years has manipulated tribes and exploited the country’s instability.
“Yemen is not like Tunisia, or Egypt, or Libya, or Syria,” says Mousa, a honey-vendor, “Yemen has a culture and society of its own that is still deeply rooted in its old norms. Modernity is prevailing in all the other countries, but in Yemen it is still crawling,” he adds handing out the honey with a smile, to add to the sweetness.


You may even walk past without noticing it. Sadly, the ‘cradle of civilisation’ pavilion is quite small and unassuming. But stop and look because it’s a real treasure house ‘a la Aladdin’s Cave,’ but full of artworks. This is the real deal: original oil paintings and other art forms, especially calligraphy come straight from Baghdad. Some of the art is sold directly from the artists. There are artists like Haider who make paintings the whole year just to display and sell it here. “I once sold a painting to an American marine telling him that the painting meant revival and renaissance and he bought it immediately,” he exclaims. “In actuality it was a painting of unrequited love, the story of Iraq is similar, isn’t it?” he questions with a lost look.
As you make your way out of the Global Village, you realise it’s not just about shopping for the unique handmade global items. The spirit of one world pervades the village. Even though gunfire reverberates in their homeland, these people are here as ambassadors of peace.

The rise of Islamists and Sharia-compliant realist governance

A pragmatic principle gains ground in Islamist politics

The results are final: Islamists have secured 75 per cent of the seats in Egypt's parliament. They will shape politics for at least five years to come, a chilling thought for many. But the reverse might also be true, not only in Egypt but in every country where Islamists are winning at the ballot box: politics will shape Islamism.

The rise of Islamists in the region has revived a pragmatic form of Islamic jurisprudence that has been neglected for centuries: "siyasa shariyyah", or Sharia-compliant realist governance, deals with politics, economics and law based on an overarching principle known as "maslaha", or public interest. In practice, siyasa shariyyah is often seen as in opposition to traditional jurisprudence.

But it is a school of thought that is gaining ground in different quarters. "Politics is mainly about maslaha," says Dr Salman Al Odah, one of Saudi Arabia's more prominent clerics. Dr Al Odah is in the process of preparing a study on the subject that deals with Sharia in the context of the Arab Spring.

Sheikh Mohammed Hassan, one of Egypt's top Salafi clerics, has used the principle of maslaha to justify the need to comply with the peace treaty with Israel. He maintains that it is not in Egypt's best interests to break the accords, citing the example of a 10-year truce Prophet Mohammed signed with Quraishi leaders when Muslims were weak. Although it was a deeply "unfair and humiliating" agreement, Sheikh Mohammed says, the Prophet adhered to the truce until it was eventually broken by the Meccans. Egypt's Salafi Al Nour party has recently held training courses for its members on siyasa shariyyah.

Ibrahim bin Omar Al Sakran, a Saudi intellectual, has been attacked by extremist Salafis after writing a treatise on siyasa shariyyah in which he argued that the Islamic political concept of "shura", or consultation, meant that all Muslims must be consulted - rather than a select group - bringing the idea of shura closer to a democratic system. He also argues that governments have contracts with the people that can be revoked just like any other contract if the terms are breached. Political engagement of the entire community, he says, falls within the national maslaha.

The significance is that these opinions come from moderate figures within the Salafi movement, who base their arguments on Sharia texts (the Quran and the Hadiths) and the views of Islam's early generations, making the ideas more credible in the eyes of other religious scholars.

Here in the UAE, the judiciary offers concrete examples of how the principle of siyasa shariyyah is applied. In 2010, Abu Dhabi's Court of Cassation set a legal precedent by ruling that a Muslim can be executed for the murder of a non-Muslim although the UAE hears cases under the Maliki school of jurisprudence - which stipulates the contrary. The lower courts found a Sudanese man guilty of stabbing to death a Christian woman from Ethiopia, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

The Public Prosecution appealed against the verdicts and demanded the case be tried under Hanafi teachings, the only Sunni school that calls for the death penalty if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim. Prosecutors said it was in the interest of the country to ensure equality for residents. The victim was a legitimate resident and therefore entitled to protection, security and sanctity for her "blood, honour and money", according to the prosecutor.

The case was then retried under the Hanafi school and the man was sentenced to death. As the cassation court's rulings are binding on local courts, all Abu Dhabi courts now have to treat Muslims and non-Muslims equally in criminal matters. Magistrates at the time cited the pragmatic principle of siyasa shariyyah.
"In Islamic jurisprudence, judges can announce that a person is sentenced to death in accordance with Sharia but should not be executed in consideration of politics," says Dr Ahmed Al Kubaisi, the head of Sharia studies at UAE University. "The interests of the nation precede the interests of the individual. Justice that safeguards the interests of the whole nation is preferable to that which safeguards the interests of the individual."

In another case, the federal Supreme Court ruled against a borrower who refused to pay interest that he owed on delayed loan repayments. The man claimed that interest was forbidden by Sharia and therefore he was not obliged to pay. Lower courts accepted his argument but the Supreme Court ruled the bank's right to charge interest was in line with both UAE secular laws and Sharia.

"As a general rule, interest, whether simple or compound, is prohibited by Sharia," the Supreme Court ruled. "But it has been made necessary for banks to accept simple interest. As long as the necessity persists, and until an economic alternative is established to replace the current banking system, interest is lawful."
The judges based their ruling on the Hadith: "A rich man's delay in payment is an injustice.

"In line with the Hadith, ordering the borrower to pay interest for late payments can be considered a sort of damages, which is compliant with both the UAE law and Sharia," the justices ruled.

Over the last century, Islamic scholastic tradition has been largely shaped by faqihs, or Sharia scholars, whose fatwas have been based purely on religious texts, even if the issues involve scientific fact or public interest. Siyasa shariyyah, on the other hand, requires judgements in light of the specific context and the general maslaha.

Across the region, the principle has gained momentum since Islamists rose in the political arena after the Arab Spring. It is not enough for a scholar to issue a maslaha-based opinion; the reasoning still must be based on a religious text. That is why siyasa shariyyah has such an imposing authority within Islamist thought. And it is why it may fundamentally reshape Islamic jurisprudence in public affairs.