Inside the Middle East
December 17, 2012
Posted: 618 GMT

A look back at the highlights of 2012 covered on Inside the Middle East.

Want to see more?  Follow the show on Facebook for all the latest from 'Inside the Middle East.'

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Algeria •Bahrain •Culture •Dubai •Egypt •Inside The Middle East •Iran •Iraq •Israel •Jordan •Kuwait •Lebanon •Morocco •Oman •Saudi Arabia •Sports •Tunisia •Turkey •UAE •Women •Yemen

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August 12, 2012
Posted: 854 GMT

Remember the story about the world's most expensive cupcake in Dubai?

Bloomsbury’s, a boutique cafe in Dubai, made headlines earlier this year for selling a chocolate cupcake – the 'Golden Phoenix' – for around $27,000.

Since the cupcake first made its debut, the store has reportedly only sold two.  And now, the shop's owner has said that part of the proceeds on sales will be donated to the United Nations World Food Programme, according to local newspapers in the United Arab Emirates.

Here's the Abu Dhabi-based National newspaper on the cupcake:

The creators of the world's most expensive cupcake now say they will donate 50 per cent of the profit from it to the World Food Programme.

Ashraf Hamouda, of the World Food Programme, pointed out that the income from a single cupcake could feed at least 1,850 children.

He described Bloomsbury's charitable gesture as "formidable generosity".

"This unique partnership is evidence that behind the biggest talents and business ideas, you often find the bigger hearts," Hamouda told the National. "As I would put it, a golden heart behind every Golden Phoenix."

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Culture •Dubai •Economic crisis •General •Health •Inside The Middle East •UAE •United Nations

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June 10, 2012
Posted: 1315 GMT

US pop icon Madonna performs on stage during her first ever concert in the Gulf as part of her MDNA world tour at Abu Dhabi's Yas Island Stadium on June 3, 2012. An estimated 25,000 fans cheered and screamed as the Material Girl finally appeared on stage more than two hours late, wearing a skin-tight black outfit from her "Girl Gone Wild" album. (MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/GettyImages)

More than 20,000 fans waited in the warm weather for almost two hours before the 'Queen of Pop' Madonna kicked off her concert in Abu Dhabi last week, but her controversial performance is still echoing throughout the region today.

Coming from Tel Aviv in Israel, where she debuted her world tour last week, Madonna opened her Abu Dhabi gig with a series of religious, sexual and violent acts that left fans in both countries both mesmerized and shocked.

Some Madonna fans in the UAE, according to this columnist from Gulf Newspaper, were upset at the pop star for not abiding by their relatively conservative society.

At least one Twitter user noted a contradiction:

Madonna opened her first act  in Abu Dhabi with religious chants, and featured a huge cross on stage which was later cut in half.  In a later scene, Madonna carried an AK-47 and used it – mockingly – to kill a few of the dancers on stage.  She then proceeded to strip her clothes, albeit partially, leaving some fans with their jaws dropped in surprise.

It wasn't just in the UAE. Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Culture •Israel •UAE

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June 4, 2012
Posted: 1809 GMT

This month, 'Inside the Middle East', celebrates its 100th episode with a special look at education, focusing on the ways Egypt, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates are developing their future generations.  Our first airing is Wednesday June 6 (click here for showtimes in your area).

Here's a look at what's coming up this month on 'Inside the Middle East':

Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Egypt •Lebanon •UAE

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May 30, 2012
Posted: 1555 GMT

Arab clients smoke waterpipes after breaking their fast at a Ramadan tent in a five-star hotel in Dubai on September 16, 2008. (MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

Smokers in the United Arab Emirates may soon be feeling the squeeze.

Dubai is set to mark World No Tobacco Day this Thursday by banning tobacco sales for 24 hours, according to the UAE-based newspaper Gulf News.

More than 200 companies – including restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets – have reportedly elected not to sell tobacco products for the day.

In the past five years, the UAE has banned smoking in closed public places, increased the price of cigarettes, and soon will cover tobacco-related products with graphic warning labels.

But banning tobacco altogether may be tough for some:

A pack of cigarettes in the UAE costs under $2, but the nation's rulers are intending to change that.  Measures such as a tax increase on cigarettes are just one example of  the country's plan to discourage smoking – especially among the younger generation.

“It is never too late for the smoker to consider quitting regardless of the type, amount or duration of smoking. Whenever you have the will, there will always be a way,” Dr. Abdul Razzak Al Kaddour, a cardiologist at the Sheikh Khalifah Medical City in Abu Dhabi, told the Khaleej Times.  The Sheikh Khalifah Medical City is putting up breath-analyzing booths on Thursday to help motivate smokers to quit.

Dubai residents welcomed the news on social media, but some noted that the day-long ban might not go far enough:

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Dubai •General •UAE

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May 21, 2012
Posted: 1256 GMT

The United Arab Emirates is sending a woman to compete in weightlifting at the London Games this summer, the first time that a female bodybuilder from the Gulf nation has qualified for the sport.

But the Emirati women's squad is also making history for another reason – they were the first female weightlifters to compete internationally while wearing the hijab, according to a recent report from the National.

The Abu-Dhabi-based newspaper reports on the UAE’s decision to wear the Islamic headscarf while competing:

Until recently, the rules governing the sport stipulated uniforms had to be collarless and could not cover elbows or knees, essentially because judges need to see that a competitor's elbows and knees are locked during a lift.

However, those dress regulations were modified by the International Weightlifting Federation, after being challenged last year by a Muslim American who wanted to wear Islamic dress while competing in US national competitions.

"It was a decision which will help the whole Islamic world," Sheikh Sultan bin Mejren, president of the Emirates Weightlifting Federation, told the National.  "Now there is no difference between Muslims and non-Muslims in events like the Olympics. There is no border to accept them or not. Everybody can participate without breaking rules."

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Dubai •Sports •UAE •Women

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April 28, 2011
Posted: 1340 GMT

Saying “I Do” in the Gulf

By Jenifer Fenton

If you have a question about anything Emirati, “Ask Ali,” real name Ali Alsaloom, is the one with the answer. The Emirati author and television host has his own online portal where he answers queries about his culture. Alsaloom also has a cultural consultancy Embrace Arabia dedicated to intercultural awareness. He studied hospitality as an undergraduate, has a Masters in Business Administration and has travelled extensively. I asked “Ask Ali" about weddings in his country.

How are marriages arranged traditionally in the Gulf?

The term “recommended” marriages would be a more appropriate term since this is actually what families would do – they would “screen” the social circles of the family for potential matches. Once potential partners for single relatives get into the focus of the families, a bit of research will be done to find out more about this potential partner. Only then a formal contact will be initiated between the families. If both families agree to a potential partnership, the two “candidates” will be asked their opinion. And only if both agree, they will be formally introduced and meet in the presence of some relatives. Only after this meeting and only with agreement of bride and groom-to-be will the engagement and marriage be arranged.

What happens at a royal wedding in the UAE?

The legal paperwork is all based on our Islamic Sharia Law, so nothing is different from the public weddings. Basically royal weddings are nothing more than other weddings when it comes to the formalities. The father or guardian of the bride and the groom sign the marriage contract in the presence of the religious leader and the witnesses – and like this, the marriage is formally acknowledged.

But the main difference is that our royal families, because of their tribal background, definitely consider the importance of tying the knot with other royal members from other Emirates or other royal families from neighbouring sheikdoms to strengthen their political position; also to strengthen the relationships between both royal families and the countries for the future. This is something that existed in most royal weddings around the world and not just here in the UAE. But having said that, there is also the regular royal weddings which consist of a sheikh from royal family “x” to a “y“ sheikha from another Emirati royal family or from a well known tribe from the UAE. So a mix of both do exist.

Usually a few weeks after this, there will be separate celebrations for the men and the women. The groom will usually host more of a reception-style party, where relatives and friends – and in case of members of the royal families national and international dignitaries – will come to congratulate. For the bride usually a lavish “ladies-only” party will be held. The groom will usually come in the late hours of the evening to this party to greet his bride, take the official pictures, meet the well-wishers and then take his wife with him. A royal wedding might see more guests, but even the most “humble” local wedding will not see less than 300 guests. Of course, the budget of the couple will determine location and menu, not their status.

Is a marriage ceremony to a second wife different?

Even though a Muslim man can marry up to four wives, if he has valid reasons and is convinced that he can support and treat his wives with equal care and attention, multiple marriages here in the UAE are the exception, not the norm. The formal ceremony is exactly the same: signing the contract in the presence of a sheikh and the witnesses. Parties are at the discretion of the couple and they can range from absolutely nothing to a lavish celebration.

Are there prenuptials in the Gulf States?

We don’t have prenuptial agreements in Islam, therefore a country like the UAE that implements Sharia Law won’t approve a prenuptial agreement. But what we do have is a Sharia Law marriage agreement which automatically entitles the woman, after getting married and God forbid she gets a divorce, to alimony to support her as well as any children. The custom from many men, when they divorce, is to leave their house to their wife along with the children for convenience. Here it is customary that the groom gives the bride the so-called “dowry”, this is an amount of money or wealth for her to have as a financial backup. This is completely hers and she is free to use this as she wishes. However, in our Islamic Sharia Law, as well as our culture, it is entirely the responsibility of the man to take care of his wife and to share his wealth with her.

Ali Alsaloom is the author of “Ask Ali: A guide to Abu Dhabi” and “Ask Ali: A guide to Dubai”. He is from Abu Dhabi.

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Culture •UAE

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January 5, 2011
Posted: 1059 GMT

Music can change the state of the world, stop conflict and bloodshed, and bring peace to war-torn regions.
If that sounds far-fetched then you haven’t met Russia's famed maestro Valery Gergiev.

"The power of music can be (a) very quiet power because your heart feels happy. Beautiful music makes you maybe a better person. Maybe a better person will think twice before supporting a military solution, before seeing yet another conflict,” Gergiev said before conducting the World Orchestra for Peace, which performed Tuesday for the first time in an Arab country, the United Arab Emirates. “Instead of living in this troubled world we will find a way to share the sea, to share the sunlight."

The 75 musicians performing represented at least 62 international orchestras and 30 countries. To have representatives of many nations seated together on stage sends what Gergiev hopes is a transformative message.

“You start to feel that people find it easy to build relationships immediately, of course through music,” Gergiev, who is also the artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theatre, said. "We don't have to tell each other 'Look we need peace.’ We bring it. Just the very fact of our arrival is already a fanfare for peace."

The orchestra founded by the Hungarian conductor Sir Georg Solti first performed in Geneva in 1995 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. Following Solti's death in 1997, Gergiev, was chosen as his successor. The orchestra has since gathered on special occasions to promote peace and rebirth.

Previously they have played in London on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Blitz; in Germany, Russia and China on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II; to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of St. Petersburg; for the Easter Festival in Moscow; and in cities that know the devastation war can bring like Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Krakow, Poland.

Solti lived through two world wars and was a refugee. He believed that conflict was pointless, his wife and also patron of the World Orchestra for Peace Valerie Solti said. "What's the point of…bombing each other, shooting each other? Historically we know it doesn't work." The orchestra grew from the idea that people can work together without conflict. "Musicians are global people. Solti had the idea to demonstrate that and orchestra or musicians are citizens of the globe and they all get together and religion and race doesn't come into it."

The sold out performance at Emirates Palace was hosted by the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation. The orchestra played Rossini’s William Tell Overture, Prokofiev’s Symphony No 1 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 5.

“I am blessed with being on stage with the very fine musicians and playing very very fine composition, playing for the people,” said Gergiev who grew up in the Caucasus, then part of the Soviet Union.
“We cannot, we are not military we cannot make a statement that we are going to attack unless you stop doing certain bad things that you do now. That is not the way for musicians we can only send yet another positive signal.”

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •UAE

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December 30, 2010
Posted: 1154 GMT

Beginning in January, Canadian citizens visiting the United Arab Emirates will have to pay as much as 1,000 Canadian dollars to obtain a visa, according to the website of the UAE Embassy in Ottawa.

This major change in policy is the most recent development in the ongoing altercation between both countries over airline landing rights.

Canadians, who until now have been allowed entry into the UAE without a visa and free of charge, will not only be required to pay for a visa starting next month, they'll also have to apply for one at least 15 days before departure. According to the embassy, Canadians will be charged 250 Canadian dollars for a 30 day visa, $500 Canadian for a three month visa, and $1,000 Canadian for a six-month multiple entry visa. (The Canadian dollar is almost exactly equivalent in currency value to the U.S. dollar.)

At the heart of the dispute are the number of flights per week that UAE airlines are able to make into Canada. The UAE maintains that the current level of six weekly flights for its carriers, Ettihad and Emirtaes, simply doesn't come close to meeting rising demand. Read more...

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December 16, 2010
Posted: 856 GMT

Worth $11 million, standing 13 meters high and draped with jewellery, silver and gold colored balls and white lights, the tree at Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi is the world’s most expensive Christmas tree ever – or so the hotel hopes.

The tree is fake, but the jewels are not. There are 181 pieces of jewellery including diamonds, emeralds, rubies and pearls, according to Khalifa Khouri the owner of Style Gallery, which dressed the tree. There is a mix of rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets. The most expensive item on the Christmas tree is a diamond set worth 3.5 million Dirhams, nearly $1 million.

The hotel will soon make a bid for an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, says Hans Olbertz, General Manager of Emirates Palace.

The Christmas tree has been at the hotel since its opening. It has been decorated differently every year to try to give visitors the Christmas feeling when they are away from home. This year the hotel decided to elevate the decorations, according to Mr. Olbertz – an understatement. “We wanted to have another record to coincide with the luxury of the palace.”

It is not what is under this tree that counts, but what is on it. The items are insured for 100 percent of their value and security monitors the tree 24 hours a day. Emirates Palace already has a gold ATM and holds a Guinness record for the most expensive alcoholic shot, a cognac which would set a visitor back a couple of grand, according to Mr. Olbertz.

Mr. Khouri, who celebrates his own birthday on December 25, said “with this tree we are saying Merry Christmas to everyone.”

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