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Beware of the booze! The UK Embassy in Qatar’s @ukinqatar Twitter feeds spreads its Christmas message

Christmas is a merry time of year, and, if you are following the UK Embassy in Qatar on Twitter, then you’d be forgiven that all of us Brits are enjoying ourselves much more than is safe during December.

In the run up to Christmas on the 24th/25th of December, the UK Embassy began tweeting its annual countdown using the lyrics of the traditional song ‘the 12 Days of Christmas’. The Embassy has decided to remind British nationals in Qatar of their behaviours, with a specific focus on alcohol and its side effects.

While there’s not been a backlash as much as bemusement around the campaign (see below for reactions), the reasons for this messaging seems to be the need to stress good behaviour among British nationals in Qatar and the wider Gulf. A British Embassy spokesman told the Doha News that debate around its campaign was welcome.

“We are glad our 12 days of Christmas tweets have sparked a debate amongst Doha’s Twitter community. Whether you love them or hate them, we hope that they make people stop and think about the best way to enjoy a safe and happy festive season.

Christmas is a special time for many of us in Doha but it can be a time when people become carried away with the festivities and forget that the culture and laws in Qatar are different to that of the UK.”

The following Tweets from the Embassy have focused less specifically on alcohol, and whilst some of the responses to the account, which is followed by over 9,000, have been positive and thankful for the reminders, others have been less than impressed. Let’s hope the embassy focuses on positive messaging next year.

#Sit_Down_Hind (#اقعدي_يا_هند) and sexism in Jordan’s politics

All credit to #BBCTrending for an amazing piece on politics in Jordan, following a bizarre debate in the country’s Parliament which turned from a discussion on the Muslim Brotherhood to one of sexism in politics. Please read the full story here from the BBC’s website. In the meantime, I’m going to quote from the BBC piece below. Even if you’re not an Arabic speaker, the body language of those in the video can be understood by anyone.

The Jordanian parliament is no stranger to screaming matches but a recent incident was so controversial that it provoked people to poke fun at their MPs online.

Earlier this week, during a heated argument over the Muslim Brotherhood, independent MP Yehia al-Saud was cut off by one of his female colleagues, Hind al-Fayez.

“Sit down Hind!” al-Saud yelled several times.

When al-Fayez ignored him, al-Saud turned his gaze and hands upwards and shouted “May God have his revenge on whoever brought quota to this parliament!” – a reference to female parliamentary quotas.

Local media reported that al-Saud later made another comment that women were created to put on make-up and cook for their husbands.

Videos of the incident have had over a million views on Facebook and YouTube, and were quickly followed by sarcastic comments and memes.

The Arabic hashtag “Sit down Hind” mocking the MPs also became popular in Jordan.

If there’s anything we have in abundance in the region, its a sense of humor. With scenes like this and outdated views on the place of women, we need a sense of humor more than ever.

#ChallengeBahrain, an island in gridlock and a social media backlash

If you were planning to enjoy a quiet weekend in Bahrain this weekend, you’ll have been disappointed. Most likely, you’ll have also spent your Saturday stuck in traffic. The island kingdom was host to Challenge Bahrain, a professional triathlon with a $500,000 prize purse. Most importantly, for the smallest country in the Gulf (which measures a whopping 765.3 km²), the Challenge Bahrain triathlon covered a total of 113 kilometers.

The size of the triathlon meant that many of the roads around Bahrain were closed for most of Saturday, including the island’s key highways such as King Faisal Highway, and Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Causeway. Unfortunately, most of Bahrain’s residents seemed to be unaware that there was 1) a race, and 2) that the race would mean traffic chaos during the weekend.

To give you an idea of how much the race affected the island, this is a map of the race's path across Bahrain

To give you an idea of how much the race affected the island, this is a map of the race’s path across Bahrain

The ensuing disruption to traffic meant that most people decided to stay at home. Instead, they vented their annoyance online, on social media. To give you an idea of how popular the topic became, have a look at the below analysis from Keyhole, and remember that the total population of Bahrain is just over 1.3 million people.

An analysis of the #ChallengeBahrain hashtag by Keyhole

An analysis of the #ChallengeBahrain hashtag by Keyhole

Tweeting and messaging with the hashtags #ChallengeBahrain and #ترايثلون_البحرين Bahrainis showed their feelings about the race and its planning. They let the race organizers know of their displeasure.

A small selection of the Twitter posts using the hashtag #ChallengeBahrain

A small selection of the Twitter posts using the hashtag #ChallengeBahrain

More tweets from yesterday's #ChallengeBahrain

More tweets from yesterday’s #ChallengeBahrain

For those heading to the airport it was even worse. As many of the roads to Bahrain International Airport were closed people had to walk for kilometers just to make it to the terminal.

Images of the traffic from Al-Deir and Samaheej near to the Bahrain International Airport. People had to walk for miles to reach the terminal building.

Images of the traffic from Al-Deir and Samaheej near to the Bahrain International Airport. People had to walk for miles to reach the terminal building.

Unfortunately, Bahrain’s Gulf Air was one of the sponsors. Forty two flights were delayed due to transportation in and around the Airport; hardly the type of brand association any airline would need.

The traffic was so bad that even Bahrain’s chief traffic cop had to apologize publicly for the mess.

Bahrain's top traffic cop apologizes for the gridlock during #ChallengeBahrain

Bahrain’s top traffic cop apologizes for the gridlock during #ChallengeBahrain

Some Bahrainis did see the funny side. Many created and shared memes, particularly on dark social sites such as Whatsapp, hinting at how successful the event had been in shutting down Bahrain, a feat which even Bahrain’s main political opposition couldn’t achieve.

A meme of AlWefaq's leader and #ChallengeBahrain

A meme of AlWefaq’s leader and #ChallengeBahrain

While the event came to a close on the same day, many of the organizers are looking ahead to 2015 and the second edition of Challenge Bahrain. For most Bahrainis, their hope is that someone will be listening to their social media and that whatever happens next year will not impact the island on the scale as they saw yesterday. If it takes several months to get in shape for a triathlon, I can’t wait to see what the island’s residents have in store for next year’s gridlock as they prepare over the next 12 months for Challenge Bahrain 2015.

The Abu Dhabi Reem Island Murder Video – the ethical and moral considerations

The past week was witness to a tragic incident in the UAE’s capital. On the first of December a women, a US national, was fatally stabbed by a suspect wearing an abaya and niqab, the traditional cloak worn by women and a full face covering. You can read the full background here at The National.

This incident is unique; the country is known for its safety for both nationals and expatriates. A major operation was launched by Abu Dhabi police to locate and capture the suspect(s). Two days following the killing, Abu Dhabi Police shared with the media and via their YouTube channel CCTV footage from the mall of the suspect entering and leaving the location. The video has been seen more than two million times in the space of 48 hours.

The next day, on the 4th of December and 48 hours after the murder, the Ministry of Interior made the announcement that everyone was waiting for. The suspect had been caught. The Ministry shared more details of events on that day, including how the suspect had placed an explosive device outside the flat of another American national.

But that wasn’t all. Abu Dhabi Police shared a video, which was an edit of the CCTV footage along with video from the raid on the house where the suspect was arrested. Do watch the video, which is posted below.

Personally, I’ve never seen such footage broadcast before a trial has begun. The video, which runs for over six minutes and has now been watched almost two million times, plays music for dramatic effect on top of the footage.

I have a number of questions and issues, which I’d like your opinion on. Firstly, was the timing right? The video sends out the message that we will catch the perpetrators of such crimes as soon as is possible, but how will this affect a family which is still grieving? Secondly, does this prejudice the defence’s case and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty?

Most importantly, the video doesn’t answer why the crime was committed. If certain individuals hold views that are anti-foreigner, how are these views to be addressed?

For me, there’s more questions than answers about this case. I’d love to hear your feedback.

How can the UAE encourage more locals to enter the media industry?

The words of HH Sheikh Mohammad during the Emirati Media Forum. The country is looking to encourage more locals to enter the media industry

The words of HH Sheikh Mohammad during the Emirati Media Forum. The country is looking to encourage more locals to enter the media industry

This month we’ve been treated to not one but two regional forums focusing on the media sector. First we had the Abu Dhabi Media Summit. Not to be outdone, Dubai held the second edition of the Emirati Media Forum (EMF). The words above were the highlight of the event, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, spoke about the need for there to be more nationals in the media sector.

Reinforcing the message, UAE Minister for State and Chairman of Sky News Arabia Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber spoke on the need for the country’s media to, as Gulf Today put it, become proactive and anticipative, provide deep analysis and interpretation for the current events, carry its social and cultural responsibilities, deliver our message and voice to the world and reflects our sound peaceful culture.

“Over the past years, UAE media has registered many successes and achievements and we need to adopt a balanced and objective strategy that shall contribute in enhancing and bolstering UAE creditability regionally and internationally.”

“When I call for a proactive role, I do not mean exaggeration but rather I call upon our national media to be an icon for ethics and professionalism.”

As a former journalist in the UAE and someone who has dealt extensively with media across the Gulf, the country doesn’t lack for journalists or publications. However, the vast majority of journalists are expats. Even on the Arabic side, most of the media are from Egypt, Jordan or Lebanon.

Whilst it could be argued that the media industry in the Gulf isn’t respected or held in the same regard as in other geographies such as Europe or America, most of the countries in the region have a high percentage of nationals working as journalists – most of the Arabic-language journalists in Saudi are locals, while Bahraini journalists include the head of the local AP bureau. Kuwait has the most lively political publications, which are mostly fueled by local columnists and writers. If countries like Bahrain and Kuwait, two countries with national populations roughly the size of the UAE, how can the UAE promote media among their nationals? Here’s a couple of ideas to get nationals more engaged in the media:

1) Encourage critical thinking and debate – it’s probably no surprise that Kuwait and Saudi have the largest number of local writers, thanks in part to debates around issues such as governance, politics and other issues which matter to local communities. The greater the range of views and opinions that are on offer locally, the greater the public engagement with that media. Conversely, the greater the degree of monotony the less interest there is in the media.

2) Support an independent press – there’s some confusion in the region in terms of what the media is and what its job is. As many media outlets are government owned, they’re often seen as a voice for the authorities. Independent media are generally viewed as more credible, more likely to take on vested interests and promote investigative journalism. Independent media help to promote a strong civil society that in turn promotes transparency and ethics.

3) Engage nationals from a young age – there are some up-and-coming young Emiratis in the media sector who are producing great work. They’re the exception however. Most of the nationals in the media are older and occupy higher positions. We need young role-models for today’s Emirati students to follow, role-models who will tell of the long days, of the persistence on chasing a lead, and of the exhilaration in scoring a scoop.

As was touched upon at the Emirati Media Forum, the Internet is disrupting traditional media. In America dozens of newspapers have had to close shop due to our changing media consumption habits. In a world where stories are broken and shared virally online, many are arguing that traditional media is not needed as it has been for decades. I disagree. Good local analysis can put any news story in context. This is where a strong press plays a role.

For a country that wants to be the first in everything it does, the UAE needs to look again at the local media and ask where is the country’s Al Jazeera, and where are UAE journalists who can be compared to the likes Saudi presenter Turki Al Dakhil, Bahraini editor-in-chief Mansour Al-Jamri, and Kuwaiti journalist Mohammed Al-Sager, all of whom are well respected, famous figures in the media industries in their home countries and abroad.

If the UAE wants a strong media presence and aims to attract more UAE nationals into the sector, then there has to be a shift towards a strong, empowered media that can tell the country’s story through its own words. A mature media that can speak on its own behalf, that has a reputation for holding others to account, and which strengthens local communities can only be good for everyone in the country, most of all its nationals, and will help to attract young nationals who want to support their country’s development as well as be involved in what is one of the most exciting jobs anyone can do.

I’m going to end this piece with a quote from the Columbia School of Journalism, of what media can do for a country.

Journalism exposes corruption, draws attention to injustice, holds politicians and businesses accountable for their promises and duties. It informs citizens and consumers, helps organize public opinion, explains complex issues and clarifies essential disagreements. Journalism plays an irreplaceable role in both democratic politics and market economies.

For those in the industry, I’d love to hear your feedback.

The New York Times looks to Arabic, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat goes Chinese

The New York Times’ Mark Thompson expects the newspaper to focus more on the Middle East next year; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat is moving further east, to China (image source: http://english.alarabiya.net)

All eyes in the media world seem to be looking East. First, at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, we had New York Times Company chief executive Mark Thompson talking about how the New York Times is looking to print and report in additional languages next year (the paper currently publishes in English and Chinese). Speaking to Al Arabiya News, Thompson spelt out his vision for the New York Times and its relationship with the Middle East.

“We will look at other languages and obviously Arabic is on this list. We would not want to do anything that was not very high quality, and it’s got to make economic sense.”

“The appeal of the Middle East – whether we do an Arabic edition or not – is that it is a big region which necessarily, because of the extremely complex and unstable politics of the wider region, is fascinated by news,” he added.

“We also believe that a lot of people would be interested in other perspectives. For the really international news brands the Middle East is an opportunity you cannot ignore.”

Not to be outdone, one of the region’s largest and most respected newspapers is looking to launch its own Chinese version of the newspaper online. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat already publishes in both English and Arabic and has numerous apps and digital editions in addition to its online portal and hard copy – its Android app has around 25,000 unique users on a daily basis, and I’m sure its applications on the iPhone and iPad have the same amount, if not more, readers.

What is fascinating is Al-Sharq’s focus on Asia. The newspaper, which claims a daily circulation of 230,000 copies, is looking to establish itself in and around the largest economies in Asia. As part of this drive, the newspaper’s editorial management is looking to print in Mandarin Chinese. With Saudi’s increasing focus on Asia (the newspaper is owned by a Saudi-listed company), the move to publish in Chinese makes sense. Will other Arab newspapers follow suit?