Al Jazeera Report: "Human trafficking plagues UAE - 30 Jul 09"


Fox News Confuses Egypt with Iraq


From the 965Loft blog, Fox News makes a major blunder on a country whose invasion they fully endorsed and obsessively covered.

Cambodia's Khmer Rock


Here is an excellent article by Sarah Cuddon at the BBC on "Khmer Rock", a style of fusion rock that emerged in the pre-Khmer Rouge era of the 1960s and 1970s with the introduction of Western music from American Forces Radio out of Vietnam into society. Sadly, many of the artists were later killed with the anti-Western crackdown in the 1970s, including the "Cambodian Elvis" Sinn Sisamouth.

The style is a combination of traditional instruments and singing tones, but with elements of doowop, rock n roll, surfer, rythym and blues and classic garage rock. If you become really into it and want to learn more, the BBC Radio also did a piece called "Khmer Rock and the Killing Fields" covering the genre.

There is also a modern day band attempting to revive the movement called Dengue Fever. Here is their myspace page.

The Philippines Embassy Takes the Lead in Protecting its Migrant Workers in Kuwait


Having read the recent Jenny's Story in The Arab Times, as well as an article published today in The Kuwait Times by Ben Garcia that gave an estimate that 5 to 10 Filipina maids a day flee their employers. More importantly, the Philippines Embassy seems to have a vested concern about the condition of their female labourers in the country.

More than any other embassy that I have heard of so far, the Philippines Embassy utilizes the press very actively to shed light on abuses, a tactic that so far seems to be successful as it seems to provided positive encouragement for journalists to write more about these malpractices. I do not see other embassies nearly as vocal in terms of decrying the abuses experienced by their domestic workers in Kuwait.

They have helped move many articles on worker's rights awareness from the Opinion section and the Law and Order section into in-depth local reports. With the latest article today from the Kuwait Times, I also noticed a deliberate tactic to personalize and relate the account from the perspective of the abused maids. The reporter interviewed various mothers at the Filipino Workers Resource Center to hear their side of the story. I am highlighting the case of Yasmeen, as mentioned in the article:

"3-year-old Yasmin is the mother of a four-and-a-half year old daughter. She first sought the embassy's help on October 12, 2005, with her case possibly being the longest-ever battle in this category. Her husband refused to give her his consent when she wished to return to her native country with her then one-year-old daughter. Since then, her case has been in the hands of the Ministry of Interior.

When she first had her daughter, the father denied that the baby was his, but eventually he recognized her as his child and he and Yasmin were married in a Kuwaiti court. Yasmin was thankful that her mother-in-law supported her, ensuring that her daughter obtained a Kuwaiti passport. However, when she asked permission to return home to the Philippines with her daughter, her husband refused to give his consent, leaving her no choice but seek the embassy's assistance. According to Yasmin, her moved was triggered by husband's harsh treatment.

He would lock me up in the house and told me that if I leaved he would cut off my legs. I was afraid. I thank my mother-in-law, who supported me at least. She (the mother-in-law) brought me here to the embassy. I don't want to go home to the Philippines without my daughter. The police told me to just get permission from my husband so I could leave with my daughter, but my husband would not cooperate. So I've been here [at the embassy] with my daughter for almost four years now," Yasmin explained. Yasmin was also grateful to the embassy for providing her with shelter and food while she awaits her husband's decision.

I am very grateful to the embassy for providing me with a home [free of charge] for almost four years now. Much as I want to go back home, I cannot leave my daughter here alone," she said. Yasmin's estranged Kuwaiti husband is her former employer's son."

Kubbar Island Kuwait


Yesterday I took a ten hour boat ride for the day, stopping at Kubbar Island. I had mostly heard about the destination as a result of news headlines reminding readers that police authorities are considering taking major steps to boost up surveillance of "immoral" and "devious" activities that occur on and off the islands shores. Apparently, many yacht-cruising, mostly affluent Kuwaitis and foreigners, often go to the island to be able to party in peace. This tends to involve music, girls in bikinis and sometimes alcohol.

In any case, I went yesterday with a group of people and was pleasantly surprised by the coastline. Minus the ugly metal tower smack in the center of the island that reminds you there is hardly a natural scenery in Kuwait without a shoutout to scrap technology, the rest of the island is a lot more peaceful than anticipated. There are even scattered shade umbrellas available to the public. The waters are a beautiful topaz blue and more importantly, pristine, which is difficult to come by on the mainland. Many divers come here to explore the many coral reefs surrounding the island. Hopefully all the luxury boats docking near to the shore are not scratching up the coral reefs and natural aquatic ecosystems to badly. There are also plenty of birds and an area of the island that seems to be natural hatching grounds, as evidenced by the several dozen adorable chicks that were stumbling on shaky legs through the sand.

Kuwait Times: "Saudi beauty queen behind the veil"


"Saudi beauty queen Aya Ali Al-Mullah trounced 274 rivals to win a crown, jewelry, cash and a trip to Malaysia, and all without showing her face, Saudi media reported yesterday. With her face and body completely covered by the black head-to-toe abaya mandatory in the conservative Muslim kingdom, 18-year-old Mullah was named "Queen of Beautiful Morals" late on Thursday, newspapers said.

There was none of the swimsuit and evening gown competitions and heavy media coverage of beauty pageants elsewhere when the contest was decided in the eastern city of Safwa. Instead, the winner and the two runner-up princesses had to undergo a three-month test of their dutifulness to their parents and family, and their service to society. This included a battery of personal, cultural, social and psychological tests, Al-Watan reported. It was unclear exactly what Mullah did to pip her rivals in the huge field, but Al-Watan reported that the high school graduate had good grades and hopes to go into medicine.

She raked in a 5,000-riyal (1,333-dollar) prize, a pearl necklace, diamond watch, diamond necklace, and a free ticket to Malaysia with her win. The 20-year-old first runner-up, one of triplets, had already won an education ministry-sponsored "I love you, my country" competition. The second runner-up, a high school student aged 15, was cited for taking care of her home and family during the week because her mother works far from home and can only return on weekends.

Beauty contests focused on physical beauty are non-existent in segregated Saudi Arabia, where women cannot mix with unrelated men, and must appear in public completely covered-even in photographs. Miss Moral Beauty pageant organiser Khadra Al-Mubarak kept the focus on inner beauty, as defined by Islamic standards of Saudi Arabia. "The real winner in this competition is the society. The winners represent the culture of the society and its high Islamic morals," Mubarak said, according to Al-Watan." (for full link click here)

Al Jazeera English Interview on Juarez Murders


The continuing problem of femicide in Juarez has been a cause dear to my heart for quite some time. I continue to be positively impressed with Al Jazeera's coverage and scope of topics, often times about victims that other media channels just do not talk about. Each year, the tally mark of victims keeps rising, and yet there is silence on behalf of Mexican authorities.

UNDP's 2009 Arab Human Development Report Now Available


This is the 5th installment of the AHDR (for full PDF of report, click here). Why is this report particularly interesting? Well, because Kuwait is chosen as one of four Arab states polled through questionaires on personal views of human security.

According to the report, the countries as well as their justification, included the following:

"These were (1) Morocco, considered to have gone farther than any other Arab state along the path of political emancipation, (2) Lebanon, which combines political emancipation with sharp sectarian divisions that have erupted more than once into civil war, (3) Kuwait, which reflects a distinctive culture, and whose citizens enjoy one of the highest levels of affluence in the Arab countries, and (4) the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which still languishes under Israeli occupation...

The report stresses that the questionnaire on human security included a broad gamma:

The questionnaire addressed eight aspects of human security: the concept; environmental security; security in its political and global dimensions; security in society (relations among groups); economic security; nutritional security; health security; and personal safety."

So how does Kuwait fair in terms of its perceptions? Here are some findings:

1. 91% of those polled in Kuwait viewed environmental pollutants as a threat, and it was Kuwait's highest ranked threat

2. More than half of all Kuwaitis were very satisfied with their current situation. Around 41% were moderately satisfied. Only 10% of Lebanese, about 20% of Moroccans, and around 7% of OPT were very satisfied with theirs.

3. When asked how safe they feel, about 4/5 felt at least self and secure. Rankings for the other three countries were much lower, with only less than 15% of Lebanese feeling the same, 20% of OPT, and 40% of Moroccans.

4. The most fascinating finding was "what makes citizens feel insecure?" and the responses were as follows, in order of importance:

economy/inflation, wars, environmental pollution, detiorating morals

economy/inflation, security, politics, health

health, poverty, unemployment, road accidents

Occupied Palestinian Territories:
occupation, economyc/inflation, politics, security

Lastly, my favorite quote from the report is the following:

"Coming generations have a right to an environmental inheritance that has not been overdrawn or mismanaged"

This is particularly true given that Kuwait's highest perceived threat stems from environmental concerns. I was actually having a conversation with David of The Gulf Blog recently, stating that one of the most disappointing responses I often receive from young Kuwaitis when I ask them about their concerns for their country's future is "it doesn't matter because I will not be alive then".

In short, future generations are not included in the Social Contract as the current generation does not have any obligation to them. In other words, they are not considered legitimate citizens by the current generation. Just as a democracy gone sour is a tyranny of the majority, this is a tyranny of a generation. One might argue against that this situation harms both ancestors and future generations in Kuwait, as there is hardly a respectful trace of Kuwait's past in the present.

Kuwait Times: "Kuwaiti pilgrims come home with swine flu"


Not the best end to neither a vacation nor a religious experience. I hope all the best for them.

"KUWAIT: Eight Kuwaitis have tested positive to swine flu on their return from an omra pilgrimage to Makkah and have been admitted to hospital, the Kuwaiti health ministry announced yesterday. The Kuwaitis, including six women, "underwent laboratory tests, which confirmed their infection by the A(H1N1) virus," ministry spokesman Yussef Al-Nisf.

They are receiving the necessary treatment at the hospital and they are in stable condition," he said. The new cases take the number of people in Kuwait confirmed to have contracted swine flu to 44, most of whom have now recovered, the spokesman said. As well as the annual hajj, which all Muslims are required to make once in a lifetime if they have the means, the faithful can also make a lesser pilgrimage, known as omra, to the holy places at any time of the year."

The Lighter Side of the UAE


My weekend to the UAE was a nice break from Kuwait. Here is the run-down of my itinerary. I went on Sri Lankan Airlines, which I recommend over Jazeera Airlines without reservation.


We only landed in Dubai from Kuwait later in the evening and by the time we got done with the rental car and hotel reservation it was around midnight. However, that evening we stopped by the Dubai Mall (of course) only to find it was closed. Nonetheless, after begging the security guard, he let us take a stroll through. No sensation is odder than being in the largest mall in the world after hours, when the lights are out (even those of the aquarium) and the people are missing. Well, except some people: the maintenance workers. They all come rushing right after closing to do construction on new shops opening, repair broken light fixtures and sweep the area. This was also true in the airport area, where a huge amount of blue-uniformed workers were busy laboring even in the eveningtime. I was alarmed to find that they work in the daytime as well, during some of the hottest hours, which in Kuwait is illegal until the end of Summer.


We left in the morning to take a road trip going from Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah along the coastal road E11. Along the way we passed through Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. In Sharjah we got out of the car just in time for Friday Prayers to see the old area of town, a collection of traditional buildings now being used as theatres, museums and cultural centres. The humidity was too intense to be out more than ten minutes at a time without feeling that all your body mass in water was seeping through your pores. It is difficult to understand how people can stand staying outside in that kind of climate.

The more you move further form Dubai, the less the other cities along the Gulf Sea seem to adhere to the Dubai model of development. All these other towns lacked any kind of chain stores whatsoever, which surprised me, and they also had streets with several small shops facing the road. I really enjoyed simply looking at some of the painted store signs (including plenty of tacky beauty salon logos) along the way, as well as the fisherman boats and modest, one-level whitewashed houses.

Later, once we reached up to the peninsula that is the province of Oman (Musandam), we went down (as the rental car had confiscated the passport of the person driving in our party) along E18, otherwise known as Digdagga Road I believe. At some point, we veered to E87 towards Dibba but decided to take a sideroad later in order to wander through the mountains in the hopes of driving up Jebel Yibbir (1,525m peak). Along the way, we stopped in a tiny, tiny, tiny town by the name of Tawian-most notable for its lack of any public toilet now that the town's only gas station bathroom lacks running water. We had some lunch in a restaurant with a token air conditioning unit, as there's nothing like letting patrons leave puddles of sweat behind on your plastic-lined foam seat chairs.

In the mountains, it was amazing. We really just let ourselves get lost in the many different dirt roads. The landscape is so barren it seems unearthly, yet there are a fair amount of scattered houses, goats, and cats every now and then on along the paths. In some of the valleys, I almost felt I might see a T Rex stumble across us-it was that, how would you say...Land of the Lost. All this was fine until it began to be sundown and we were truly lost and doing circles. Just in the right moment, two goat herders did stumble across us, and asked us where we were going. I tried to use my two words of Arabic to say Dibba Medina, but someone much smarter than me in our group just opened up their Explorer UAE Road Map (duh) to show them. They let us follow them as they zipped faster than we had even dared on a granny, oxidized pick up truck to a paved road which took us straight to the coastline.

The coastline at sunset is amazing all along from Dibba to Fujairah. We took advantage of the water to wet our feet again and welcome in the humidity once again, which we had not minded parting with earlier in the mountains. The road travelling South at dusk and in the night is peculiar, so many strip cities (completely built vertically around the major highway) which consisted of so cafes, shops and stalls with crowds of migrant worker areas that do not seem to be attractive or lucrative destinations. Areas that seem completely void of locals and completely, completely void of women. In sum, as one of my friends put it, in the UAE there seem to be a lot of people in bizarre places...walking along some lunar-like, desolate mountain, behind the bushes once near our parked car, two on a highway in the middle of nowhere squatting and chatting...

We stayed in the Fujeirah Beach Motel (kind of like those funky, tacky old Floridian tourist motels worthy of a Nabokov description) and went to eat dinner in an Iranian restaurant, where I was finally able to see both locals and women, and had conversation with a very nice and courteous Palestinian manager. Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the restaurant, but it is right next to Bar Fez in the Hilton, our second stop for a drink. Unfortunately, I think its the only bar in town with alcohol, but its otherwise just another pathetic expat portal, filled mostly with pale, male and stale men in the cozy company of perky Filipino girls in cute spaghetti strap tops and American soldier-types, all in the backdrop of a ridiculously generic looking bar...I could not tell if it was really that personality-less or if I was really on the movie set for some TBS drama series or something.


Leaving Fujeirah, we went down South even more (first stopping at the Fujeirah Fort) to explore the coastline of Khor Kalba near to Oman UAE border. It is really an understatement to say that the beaches there are absolutely beautiful, perfectly litterless, pristine water, and beautiful wetlands which are surprisingly lush for their location. The whole way back from this Indian Ocean/Oman Sea coast until Dubai again was an incredible journey of ecosystems, as good as any theme park could provide. Especially coming from Kuwait which is relatively ecologically homogenous, and especially coming from the fact that the UAE is only known for its unsustainability when speaking in reference to the environment, I was in dismay by the relative diversity in such a tiny area. We left a dark sand coastline, entered into Mars-like rock mountains, then proceeded onto an almost African-like grassland Savannah with trees like upside down brooms and the shorthaired camels who feed off of their leaves, to peach colored sand dunes, and lastly into the world's No. 1 dystopia-Dubai.

My penultimate postcard of Dubai was the horrible Marina area, filled with more skyscrapers in the streets than there are to people in them. It is just as much an aberration on the eyes as it looks like in photographs. Its a disgusting monument not just to ecological unsustainability, but also to financial unsustainability-which after the economic crisis is coming to light as an important but little understood item on the international development agenda. Taking all of it in gives the spectator utter dismay that Dubai didn't have more of an existential crisis years ago before all this was built. Either the emirate knows some big secret we don't, or they themselves are their biggest con victims in their smoke and mirror game. Dubai is the ultimate desert mirage.

On a whole though, I found Emiratis extremely polite, the country, including locals, much more disciplined than here in Kuwait, and actually, they are making more efforts for public awareness campaigns than in Kuwait, whether its due to increased global negative exposure one will never know but simple things like good infrastructure, facilitated visa entry, old city historical quarter restoration projects, respectfulness, varied radio programs, mixed-use urbanization (even in Dubai, most notably in Jumeirah district) and decent road behavior go a long way in winning international respect.

The Foreign Policy Blog: "Revisiting Obama's Riyadh meeting"


Last month, I was glued to the news during Obama's first Middle East visit like the rest of the world. However, my interest had less to do with the Cairo Speech delivery than with his closed-doors meeting in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, hardly any press following his stop gave me much information as to what exactly happened on the ranch (I use that expression literally, not figuratively). I found it bizarre that so little was published. Well the Foreign Policy Blog just wrote a little piece on this bit of Obamamania blackout in the press during the President's visit with King Abdullah.

"U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia are always something of a proverbial black box. And President Barack Obama's meeting with Saudi King Abdullah last month was no exception. A late add-on to Obama's planned June itinerary to Egypt, Germany, and France and conducted at King Abdullah's horse ranch outside of Riyadh, the June 3 meeting was quickly overtaken by coverage of Obama's high-profile June 4 speech to the Muslim world from Cairo.

But two sources, one a former U.S. official who recently traveled there and one a current official speaking anonymously, say the meeting did not go well from Obama's perspective. What's more, the former official says that Dennis Rosshas told associates that part of what prompted Obama to bring him on as his special assistant and NSC senior director for the "Central Region" last month was the president's feeling that the preparation for the trip was insufficient. The White House vigorously disputes all of that, some of which was previouslyreported by the New York Times.

Sources say Obama was hoping to persuade the king to be ready to show reciprocal gestures to Israel, which Washington has been pushing to halt settlements with the goal of advancing regional peace and the creation of a Palestinian state.

"The more time goes by, the more the Saudi meeting was a watershed event," said the former U.S. official who recently traveled to Riyadh. "It was the first time that President Obama as a senator, candidate, or president was not able to get almost anything or any movement using his personal power of persuasion."

"The bottom line is that the Saudis were not prepared," the former official continued, for Obama to ask them to take steps toward Israel. Obama changed his trip to go to Saudi Arabia, he pointed out.

"Senior sources in the Saudi national security team," he said, "think the president's trip was poorly prepared." From their perspective, "he was coming and asking them for big favors with no preparation," but "the Saudis never give big" in that situation.

The former official said that Ross has told associates that Obama was "upset" about the meeting "because he got nothing out of it." Ross didn't respond to a query."....(for full article, click here)

Al-Watan Daily: "World Bank warns Kuwait over education standards" by Nasser AlـOtaibi


"The World Bank has raised concerns over Kuwait''s current education system and warned that the perpetuation of the existing structure may render the country''s high school certificates unrecognized by major academic institutions in the future.

The warning came as part of the observations raised by the bank with regards to the overall education system in the country. The World Bank recently opened a bureau in Kuwait to provide the government''s various institutions with technical advice.

Sources close to the Ministry of Education revealed to Al Watan that the World Bank has based its findings on the short school hours, reportedly arguing that such timings are out of sync with international standards. The sources added that the total number of school days in Kuwait is calculated at about 170 per year.

They added that the relatively short school day in terms of hours "can negatively impact on the quality of education," noting that the World Bank has made a number of recommendations, including prolonging school day hours to meet international standards, "or else Kuwait''s academic certificates may not be recognized by timeـhonored universities."

"The ministry, however, hasn''t taken any decision concerning the recommendations, particularly with regards to the proposition of prolonging the school day," the sources added, noting, nevertheless, that the ministry is serious about improving education standards.

They pointed out to the fact that the ministry had gone a long way in keeping abreast of advanced education systems through major projects and added that the new educational blueprints are aimed at advancing education at all levels, including the primary, intermediate and secondary stages.

They insisted that the ministry spares no effort in maintaining quality in education in order to bring about meaningful development in the country, while ruling out the prospect of protracting the school day.
Meanwhile, a committee tasked with looking into the recently reported leakage of high school examinations will be submitting its report next week, Minister of Education and Minister of Higher Education Moudi AlـHomoud said Thursday.

"Once the report is submitted, the probe results will be made public. The ministry will then have nothing to hide," AlـHomoud told reporters following a meeting of the Parliamentary Educational, Cultural and Guidance committee.

The exam leaks were reported just prior to the examinations, and the Ministry of Education immediately set up a committee to investigate the issue.

Also during the committee meeting preparations and arrangements for the coming academic year were reviewed, including facilities, textbooks and technical equipment, the minister said.

Asked about segregation between male and female students at universities, she said the student segregation law was being enforced and "nothing new has happened in this respect."...(for link to article, click here)

Back from the UAE


I'll be posting a breakdown of my short weekend trip. We avoided, yes thats right, avoided Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We spent most of the time in the North near Oman and the Eastern Coast around Fujeirah and back again through the mountains. Spectacular, and more details later.

David Roberts of the Gulf Blog: "The Darker Half of Kuwait" from Daily News Egypt


Fellow blogger D. Roberts has an article published this week in the Egypt Daily News.

"On Tuesday night outside Kuwait’s Parliament, sandwiched between the Persian Gulf and Kuwait’s eponymous Arabian Gulf Road, around 100 Kuwaitis gathered to protest the disappearance and detention of Hussain Al-Fudalah. A year ago to the day, Al-Fudalah along with two Indian men were sailing in the Persian Gulf when they were apparently arrested by Iranian authorities. Since then, despite the Kuwaiti Ambassador seeing Al-Fudalah in an Iranian jail, the Iranian authorities have denied knowledge of his arrest and whereabouts.

This was, however, a very Kuwaiti protest. Against the backdrop of the elegant Parliament building’s facade and the ever-growing skyline of downtown Kuwait, chairs were neatly arranged and covered with linen as if for a wedding party. With the media in attendance, members of the family, opposition and pro-government MPs stepped up to deliver essentially the same speech: this is a human rights issue, not a political one; this could happen to any Kuwaiti and the government is clearly not doing enough to secure his release. The only differences stemmed largely from the divisions that exist within Kuwait’s Parliament, with opposition MPs being harsher in their criticism than more conciliatory pro-government MPs. As in Kuwaiti society more generally, the fate of the two Indians with the Kuwaiti was largely ignored..." (for full article, click on aforementioned link)

UAE and Me


Yes, I will be taking that great voyage to the ultimate Gulf hyperreality experience...all that is United Arab Emirates. I am only going to go for the weekend, but my goal is to (while of course seeing it a little bit) is to keep Dubai to a minimum and focus on the Northern lesser known Emirates.

Migrant Rights: "Cities of Exclusion in the Gulf: Evidence in a UAE Mall’s Ban on Laborers"


I am now serving as a guest contributer for the website Migrant Rights. Here is a recent post I wrote:

"Last week, I read a blog post with a link to an article in the Maktoob Business on one Dubai mall’s recent decision to ban low-skilled laborers from entering on evenings and weekends. While this is an example of pretty blatant discrimination, the Al Bawadi Mall’s spokesperson, Mr. Khalid Shraim ( the mall’s marketing manager) claims in the article that, due to a “lack of education” these workers do not know “appropriate behavior”, which impedes on realizing the shopping complex’s full potential as a “wholesome family shopping experience”.

Although attempting to throw a bone by letting it known that this policy is not a total ban, the dehumanization and apartheid of workers in the UAE only becomes more obvious in the following ludicrous concession:

Shraim said it was not a total ban, adding that laborers were “allowed to use the mall’s rear entrance closest to Carrefour during the day and early evening”.

Whereas outdoor shopping areas can occur on public streets, the advent of the mall culture in the Gulf countries has brought with it and increasing privatization of social areas of congregation—and with it greater exclusivity on who gets in and who remains outside.

I first read about the notion of geographies of exclusion and hierarchies of entitlement in reference to the banning of lower income citizens in certain enclaves of Bangalore, India however I believe the same observations can be drawn from this scenario.

Much scholarly research has also been done on in Western cities, particularly the United States, on analyzing how the spatial make-up of cities and municipal governance either divides and fractures cities or unites them.A city of exclusion bars certain segments of its residents from a right to use certain amenities, partaking in certain processes or entering certain areas. In short, a city of exclusion marginalizes certain city dwellers, and this subsequent segmentation of society is manifested in distinct geographies.

The main question this recent development beckons is whether their quest to build modern, skyscraper cities are Gulf countries deliberately creating rules that prevent the very laborers who built these enclaves from being able to access them in their leisure time?

So what makes a city inclusive? The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) is the UN’s responsible branch for the promotion of “socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all”.

UN HABITAT has a deliberate agenda committed to augmenting cities’ capacity for greater inclusion. According to this initiative, an inclusive city is:

It is a place where everyone, regardless of their economic means, gender, race, ethnicity or religion, is enabled and empowered to fully participate in the social, economic and political opportunities that cities have to offer.

How can we change the direction of cities in the Gulf, with large foreign labor populations to make these urban areas less demarcated by the haves and have-nots? How can we change this “tale of two cities” story?What can be done to counteract these socio-spatial divisions?

This article highlights an urgent and unable to be neglected need by local governments in the Gulf to assess their obligations to low-skilled foreign nationals, who although not citizens, often form the bulk of urban residents. It also demonstrates that much work is yet to be done on the Gulf countries’ participation and best practices in projects that take into consideration the international sustainable urban social development goals as demarcated in the UN HABITAT agenda."

The Guardian: "Myths of Victorian squalor" by Jeremy Seabrook


Interesting article about many of the topics covered in my thesis, and with analysis from one of my favorite academics in India, Amitabh Kundu, however he failed to bridge the Victorian slum/modern slum connection myth raised in the title.

"To view urban slums as a modern manifestation of industrialising Britain is damaging, and prevents genuine, helpful analysis

Most reports – official, academic, journalistic – on the slum population of the world foresee a relentless increase in these agglomerations of human misery. For three decades the UN has overestimated the future population of the world's megacities: in 1975, the UN Population Fund forecast a 2000 population of 19.7 million for Kolkata (it was 13.1). Jakarta was to reach 16.9 million (it had 11.1). Mexico City 31.6 million (18.1), Cairo 16.4 million (10.4).

The most recent UN/HItalicabitat document, The Challenge of Slums in 2003, sees the doubling by 2030 of the 1 billion slum dwellers of today. Asia will have at least five cities with more than 20 million by 2025 – Jakarta, Dhaka, Karachi, Shanghai and Mumbai. Mike Davis, in his splendid polemic, Planet of Slums, evokes a plausibly scary world in which hundreds of millions of young urban unemployed, prey to fundamentalism – Muslim and Christian – are potential recruits in drug wars, mafias, and political militias.

Given this apocalyptic consensus, it is surprising that the government of India's urban poverty report of 2009 (pdf) claims a mere 25% of people in cities live in slums, against The Challenge of Slums estimate of 60%. In June 2009, the president of India declared there would be a "slum-free India" in the next five years.

It is natural for governments to play down slum populations, just as non-government organisations working with the urban poor will seek to inflate the figures to impress donors. But why such wide variations?"...(for full article, click here)

Al-Watan Daily: "The nuisance caused by roaming taxis"


Oh Faris! You do not like things that are smelly and old and tiny on your road. I agree with you that there needs to be more regulation of vehicles on the road in unfit condition, but you seem to blame all taxi drivers for this problem, and then you use a bit of jingoist talk in what you think should happen. By insisting that Kuwaitis be given priority in working and owning these companies, like in say Bahrain where Bahrainis drive taxis, you forget one important thing. The situation now is no trick against Kuwaitis, rather its a result of supply and demand. Find me Kuwaitis willing to work in blue collar jobs like taxi driving?

"May God save Kuwait"? Ban Hummers! They pulverize the other party in an accident and they guzzle an unsustainable amount of oil that is here today, but as EVERYONE knows, gone tomorrow.

"May God save Kuwait"? Start an education campaign to GET parents to STOP putting children on their lap in the front seat. Three days ago, a woman speeding almost ran me over and when I looked at her in the stoplight, she had a toddler on her lap and a phone in her hand.

"May God save Kuwait"? Start fining teenagers using the road to perform stunts. There is never a greater indication of a roadside negative externality if I have ever seen one than this.

"I call on my dear brothers; the concerned senior officials at the Interior Ministry to pay a visit to Bahrain, Dubai or Cairo and see for themselves how they manage these roaming taxis. Bahrain and Dubai have appointed two or three official companies to oversee the general management of these taxis. Especially in Bahrain, most drivers of these taxis are Bahrainis."

"I wish to see serious steps undertaken by our dear brothers in the Interior Ministry to combat this social and security threat and establish shareholding companies for roaming taxis. Citizens should be allowed to own these companies. Kuwaiti retirees and unemployed young Kuwaitis should also be permitted to work in these companies as drivers and receive financial support from the government in addition to their salaries."

"I also urge the Interior Ministry to allocate special parking lanes for these taxis to protect people''s lives. I believe addressing such an issue should be a high priority for the Interior Ministry which has always attained remarkable achievements at all levels.

May God save Kuwait and its people from any harm!"

Link to article is here.

My Two Cents on Angie Galal's "A foreign view of the 'foreign'' niqab' from the Al-Watan Daily


The Al Watan Daily published another leg of their exploratory journey of the niqab. This time, expats were interviewed to get their opinion on their initial impressions/aprehensions of seeing women wear the niqab for the first time in Kuwait. Although most of the responses are common to many foreigners living in Kuwait, some other perspectives were excluded in this talk. There are three that stick out in my head:

1. It is very difficult for foreigners to wrap their head around the idea that the niqab is utilized as a means of achieving modesty when some of those who wear it wear obscene amounts of makeup or are more studded with bling crystals than a LITE BRITE.

2. Again, as I mentioned earlier, the irony of this article of clothing is that it provides the anonymity needed to facilitate the very activities that it aims to diminish. Many of us have been accosted by women wearing the niqab resorting to begging in the central souks, and although I have not personally, I have male friends who have been approached for prostitution by women wearing the niqab. I will not mention the school, but my parents told me about an incident of a male high schooler dressing up in the niqab and abaya in order to sneak into the ladies bathroom at a ceremonial function. The police came and everything to take him away.

3. The hardest part of actually knowing and interacting with women wearing the niqab is that it is difficult for me to deal with not being able to see their smiles. I know it sounds silly, but once I was laughing with a girl wearing it and this really struck me about the situation. On another hand, I have been approached before by people I know who wear the niqab while in the supermarkets and shopping centres. It is always these women who have to come to me to greet me, because I would not recognize them otherwise. I find it a little saddening that I could walk past someone I might know for years without turning my head. I also believe it limits what I call opportunities for improvised social interaction, which are already so limited and few here in Kuwait. A world full of people wearing the niqab would be a world of eternal strangers. I find it isolating not only to the wearer but to the observer.

But, of course, women have been wearing the niqab for centuries and have continued on, and I have lived here less than a year. Nonetheless, these are elements I grapple with when meeting people who "choose" to wear the niqab.

"The niqab, the black cloth covering the faces of women in the Middle East and particularly the Gulf region, is considered eccentric by many foreigners who come to this part of the world. Some of the foreigners residing in Kuwait try to untangle the meanings behind what is, to them, an unconventional costume, while others prefer to stay distant, believing that by doing so they are respecting the culture and religion of the country. Concluding a week long look at the niqab and other similar coverings in Kuwait, Al Watan Daily spoke to several foreigners to hear what they had to say about the traditional clothing.

Jana, a European expatriate, said that "it''s up to them if they feel ok like this. I''m asking why there are women who wear it and why there are others who do not, but I respect that they wear it."

Vicky, an American expatriate, described her initial reaction when she first came to Kuwait as "thrown back."
"I did not understand why women should not show their face. I asked and got different responses from people. Some people said it was to cover the women''s beauty, some people said it was the husband''s choice. I never really got a clear understanding of why. When you initially get here, well, you become overwhelmed because you don''t see this dress a lot in America. However, when you then see it a lot for the first few days, it becomes normal to you and just part of life. I was wondering if it was oppressive, but the women I talked to feel very comfortable wearing it. It gives you greater respect for someone else''s culture. I guess if you are ignorant and judgmental, you''ll wonder why are they doing that, but being knowledgeable, you carry what you know about the culture back home," she said.

Raquel and Lee, a married American couple, felt "intimidated" when they first came to Kuwait. "We are always trying to be respectful and keep our distance," said Raquel. You always expect that someone that traditional will not relate to us or speak English," she added.

"We had an experience a year ago because we heard a ''monaqaba'' (a woman wearing the niqab) speak perfect Californian English, and we were surprised. I guess she grew up there," said Lee, believing that the reason behind the niqab is due to cultural reasons, unlike his wife who argued that it''s religious.

"We both threw ourselves in and researched and learned and did everything we could to engross ourselves about the culture and it didn''t take us very long at all. Just a little bit of research and talking to people and we felt completely natural," he added.

"Our biggest shock, a visual parallel to us, was walking into a mall and seeing a woman fully covered in a lingerie store. And now when we go back home we''re more understanding," said Raquel." (for link, click here)

Beauty Standards and the Cosmetics Industry in the Gulf


The "salon" experience deserves its own sociological study in the Middle East (although the recent Lebanese movie hit Caramel introduced us to this), especially in the Gulf countries. One of the offers in many salons is to get make-up done, a process that goes far beyond (by far we are talking galaxies and parallel dimensions) Western standards of a makeoever.

I have really tried to do research on the cosmetics industry here in the Gulf to try to ascertain consumer demand but have a hard time finding studies on beauty standards, makeup aesthetics and market sector analysis.

In any case, I found a catalogue of famous makeup artists here in Kuwait. Below are some of their...creations. Yes, the first picture says "Kuwait" on the forehead. I am attempting to honor this month, as christened by Sarkozy, in the name of standards and perceptions of beauty/modesty, freedom/constraint, the secular/the religious towards Women in the Middle East.