Reality, fiction and a superfast highway for the UAE

You could soon be travelling – legally – at warp speed on Dubai’s highways (picture credit: storiesbywilliams.com)

We’re not big fans of irony in this part of the world. However, one website has been trying to change that. The Pan-Arabia Enquirer, which is also known by its tag-line ‘the world’s only 7-star news source, reported on a fantastical tale, of how a Gold Class lane was to be introduced on road between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The news piece went like this:

Drivers looking for a bit of luxury on the road between Dubai and Abu Dhabi will soon be able to take advantage of an exclusive members-only car lane when it comes into service next year.

The ‘Gold Class’ lane, which will be available for a set monthly fee, offers a full range of extras unavailable in the other lanes. Gold Class drivers will be given an extra 10kmph top speed limit, newly laid top-of-the-range gold painted tarmac and discounts at various service stations. The whole lane will also be an extra 50cm wide, and will be cordoned off from the other lanes with a red velvet rope.

This piece of news would seem absurd anywhere in the world. But even though we are in Dubai, where reality is often more outlandish than fantasy, I had to pinch myself when I read about a proposal to build a highway with a top speed of 200 kilometers per hour. The Daily Telegraph’s Dubai-based blogger Annabel Kantaria wrote a great piece on the comparison which you can read here.

I’ve taken details of the proposal, from local English-language newspaper Emirates 24/7, which can be read below:

[The concept] was announced by Major General Mohammed Saif Al Zafeen, Director of Dubai’s Traffic Police Department, on the sidelines of a press conference in Dubai on Monday.

Mohammed Saif Al Zafeen explained that the plan is to have at least four lanes in each direction and allow only those cars to drive on the highway, which can go at high speed.

He said the project will be executed after thorough study and support from the private sector.

He said this has been decided following studies which suggest that high speed alone does not cause accidents but there’re other factors involved for the rise in accidents.

He explained that there is a correlation between the occurrence of accidents and the disparity between the car speeds, meaning that accidents increase when one car travelling at 140 kmph is surprised by a car going in front at 60 kmph.

According to the World Health Authority the UAE ranked 171 out of 179 countries in terms of road safety with 37.1 deaths per 100,000 of population in 2011. The good General’s own thinking is countered by the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi which states that the the most important factor relating to the severity of road injuries is speeding.

What does worry me is the concept that a faster car means a safer road. Driving is already poor enough in this part of the world. Would you want to risk your own life by driving on a highway where the sole aim seems to be to floor it and drive bat s$#@. What is the consistency of the message here? Some government departments are saying clearly that speed kills; others painly are saying something different. For the sake of the country, I hope that Major General Al Zafeen is either an admirer of or ghost writer for the Pan-Arabia Enquirer.

The UAE’s Obsession with (women’s) Rankings and its consequences when things go wrong

Is it right to trumpet the times when you come top and make excuses when you're not?

Is it right to trumpet the times when you come top and make excuses when you’re not?

Everybody loves a good ranking, especially when you’re ranked at or near the top of the listings. If you’re doing a survey, a list or a table then you’ll always be welcomed in the UAE. The country has leveraged off its rise up the rankings of global surveys to promote inward investments and position itself as the leading destination in the Gulf and the wider Middle East region for all things consumer and business-related.

However, things don’t always turn out so well with surveys. A recent Global Gender Report published by the World Economic Forum ranked the UAE 107 out of 135 countries listed in the report. The response from one writer, Shaikha Al Maskari, was to list what the UAE has done for women, and to showcase why Emirati women are pioneers in their field.

Rather than review the article (which was actually entitled ‘The Happiest Women in the World’ in print) I’m going to quote selectively. Enjoy the read while this writer throws her toys out of the pram, belittles the rest of the region and the strides the Gulf’s women have made and harps on about what her country has done without really saying much. Or maybe it’s just me…

“The question of women equality in the UAE is always brought under the limelight with a negative connotation that they are oppressed, discriminated against and constrained — especially in the social, cultural, economic and political perspective. To the UAE, it is just a stereotypical challenge; to other Arab countries, the problem is much more complex.”

“The constitution clearly states that women have equal rights as men and it ensures that they are provided equal opportunities in employment and advancement and equal pay at the work place. And in many cases, a female is favoured over a male candidate — form of an unannounced affirmative action.”

“…we have achieved what no other Arab country has in decades. It is no wonder that we take pride in calling her our model and “Mother of the Nation”. Emirati women enjoy vast privileges that are envied. Based on Islamic rulings, the man is the care provider for the family and financial responsibility rests with him.”

Is the Middle East’s CSR industry forgetting about its youth?

We’re in a region where the majority of the population is under the age of 24. The youth is the story of the Middle East. And yet I didn’t feel this way at a recently-held event on corporate social responsibility here in Dubai. Many of the speakers were in their fifties or sixties. The audience, while slightly younger, were still old enough to be a decade or two above the region’s median age.

While the speeches about sustainability and social responsibility were notable for their good intentions and advice, there still seems to be a good deal of the old leading the young rather than empowering young to help themselves. There have been a couple of notable attempts to break this mould, such as Coca Cola’s Ripples of Happiness which supported university students in Bahrain, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Jordan to identify opportunities for CSR and employment projects.

I hope that corporations and governments understand what I’m trying to convey above. If we’re going to engender change in the region, the agents of change will be the youth. They need to be given the chance to set an agenda for social change and social responsibility rather than have ideas developed by older generations.

For more info about Coca Cola’s Ripples of Happiness please see the video below which is from the Dubailynx.com website.

XPRESS – the UAE’s investigative newspaper

Over the past couple of weekends I’ve become increasingly irritated. It’s not that I don’t like weekends; on the contrary I enjoy the time away from work. However, I’ve become accustomed to picking up the XPRESS newspaper. The title, which was launched in March 2007, is a weekly newspaper which is published by Al Nisr Group (Al Nisr also publishes Gulf News).

The paper, which describes itself as a community paper, is released every Thursday. Of late, XPRESS has focused on investigative pieces and has run a number of pieces that have caught my eye. Some of the best include a report on the changing face of a number of Dubai’s largest real estate projects (see the below or click on this link), the cost of wasted medicines to the country’s coffers and insurance firms, and the horror story of how the MMA forex scam robbed thousands of their money.

XPRESS regularly focuses on stories that engage the community including this piece on how developers have not kept their word on project developments

XPRESS regularly focuses on stories that engage the community including this piece on how developers have not kept their word on project developments

There have been some duds including a scandalous piece that seemed to suggest expats were more inclined to engage in illegal sexual acts which focused on a Norwegian lady who was raped and yet charged by the local police (this piece and the comments by a number of Emirati lawyers still shocks me). But in general XPRESS is a wonderful read which often puts other newspapers to shame. If you have a spare copy save it for me!

Another breaking news piece by XPRESS which wasn't picked up by other media outlets in the UAE

Another breaking news piece by XPRESS which wasn’t picked up by other media outlets in the UAE