Jun 30, 2010

The evolution of Emirates Business 24/7

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Emirates Business 24/7 print edition has met its demise. This doesn't come as a shock. In fact, most people are surprised it didn't come any sooner. The online version will be revamped and relaunched later this year, a desperate move to keep the title alive. 

For kicks, I designed a tribute picture to highlight the evolution of Emirates Business over the years. Click here to see the image. Note: Emirates Business 24/7 actually claims to be the first and only publication in the UAE to provide the readers with first-rate business news that you can use.

Jun 29, 2010

Arab countries do the ICANN-CAN

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Saudi, UAE and Egypt can now have domain names in Arabic. A move praised by many so-called ‘experts’ in the region. In may 2010, Egypt’s ministry of communications launched its Arabic domain. Few other companies are expected to follow.

No one is expected to use it! 

The Internet has been accessible for users in Arabiansim land since 1995. By the start of the millennium, it became a necessarily and widely used.  Interestingly enough, you didn’t need to be bilingual to be online. Arabic was sufficient for many users to log on and chat, research, shop, play games, participate in forum discussions and more.

All they needed was 3 simple steps:
  •      Turn on the computer
  •      Open the browser
  •      Look for Google or Yahoo in your favorites or bookmark bar.
For the past 15 years, new Internet users, with basic knowledge, have been following the above steps. With search engines providing the ability to search in Arabic, the Internet has been an easy ride for monolinguals.

And change is never easy. Once you are used to a simple functioning method, it is very difficult to adopt a new one.

Even if users wanted to use Arabic domains, unless they actually know the domain, they would still need to follow the above steps to search for it.

So why the Arabic addresses? If it’s not benefiting the users, who does it benefit? 

Is it another fake symbol of Patriotism and Arabianism? Does it make companies and organizations prouder to have Arabic URL addresses? Have they just woken up to this after 15 years of hibernation?

What I really would like to know is why are the so-called experts calling this a positive change? Is their business card that empty and need to be cluttered with yet another URL? More importantly, will those experts adopt this change and create Arabic domains for their websites? I sincerely doubt that.

Even the BBC called the new Icann (net regulator) move “historic”, yet the article failed to mention the benfits of having an Arabic URL.

In my personal opinion. Arabic domains are nothing but a 'prestige' which will lead to familiar PR stunts. Just wait and see the flooding of press releases with headlines such as: “First telecom company to have an Arabic domain” or “First bank to have an Arabic domain”, etc.

Honestly, before we brag about Arabic domains, I would rather see more Arabic content and users online. That would be the historic change. 

Jun 26, 2010

رسالة اعتذار للغة العربية

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العزيزة اللغة العربية،

قرأت "سأحمل روحي على راحتي والقي بها في مهاوي الردى، فاما حياة تسر الصديق واما ممات يغيظ العدا" للشاعر الفلسطيني "عبد الرحيم محمود" وأنا في الحادية عشر من عمري وكان بداية مشوار عشقي لك وللشعر العربي. ومن شدة تعلقي بعذب كلماتك، دفعتني للاشتراك بمسابقة الشعر العربي والحصول على المرتبة الخامسة على مستوى الدولة. 

وللأسف،كان المشوار قصيراً....وافترقنا.

ومرت الاعوام وتخليت عنك. واستبدلتك بالرويات والاشعار الغربية. 

وها انا اليوم اعتذر. وأكتب رسالتي وأنا بخجل من ركاكة اسلوبها وضعفها اللغوي. فلقد هجرت الفتحة والكسرة، والضمة والشدة. هجرت القاف وهجرتك.

وأعترف يا لغتي العزيزة بان لولا مهرجان اللغة العربية ويوم دوّن بالعربي لما تذكرت ولما اعتذرت.

يسألونني: ايهما افضل لك للكتابة وللتعبير؟
أجيبهم ورأسي منحني: الانجليزية.
يسألونني: من تلوم؟
أجيبهم: نفسي.

ولكني اليوم أعاهدك بأني لن أنساكي ولن أقتلك. وأتوسل اليك لتقبلي اعتذاري، متأملا ان نفتح سوياً صفحة جديدة لأثبت لكي صدق وفائي.

أقسم بأني اشتقت اليك ولكلماتك ولشعرائك.

عاشق اللغة العريـية

"هذه الرسالة مهداة لمهرجان اللغة العربية ويوم دون بالعربي."

Jun 25, 2010

Social media deserves its own day

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After all, we spend endless hours each day on Twitter and Facebook.But it’s not all in vain. We genuinely believe in social media, despite what certain pundits would have you believe. 

Not only do we use social media tools to connect with friends and tweeps, but we also help spread and break the news, support and promote businesses, express opinions, engage in discussions, solve problems, share insights and  change perceptions.

With 400 million Facebook and over 100 million Twitter users, Social media is a force to be reckoned with. And if you choose to ignore it, you will end up at the bottom of the chain. 

In our region, there are 15 million Facebook users and despite being relatively new, Twitter has managed to attract 40,000 users in the Middle East. (Figures by Spot On PR)

Social Media Day (#SMDAY) is set to take place globally on June 30th. Mashable is taking the lead in creating and organizing the meetups “to celebrate the revolution of media becoming a social dialogue.”

In Lebanon, social media advocates – AKA Maniachi – are taking the lead in organizing the event locally.

You can register here for the event. The venue is yet to be confirmed but the Maniachi team are asking you to suggest the venue. Poll closes in less than 2 days.

If you are in Dubai, you can register for SMDAY here

Jun 23, 2010

Reality Check: UAE vs. Lebanon

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Disclaimer: This post is based on a personal experience and does not necessarily reflect the views of others.

Before we get to the comparison, here’s a brief background…

Eight years ago, I took the decision to leave Lebanon to work in Dubai. During those 8 years in the UAE, I visit Lebanon ONCE for 10 days. Except for the call to my family twice a week, my relationship with Lebanon was completely cut off.  I didn’t even watch Lebanese channels and never followed its news. Furthermore, 90% of my close friends have left the country for jobs abroad.
Few months ago, I decided to quit my job and come to Lebanon for an extended vacation. At that point in time, A sabbatical was needed. 

Some might dispute that few months is an insignificant period of time to draw a comparison between the two countries, especially after being disconnected from Lebanon for 8 years.  Bullocks.  It is significant. 

This post is nothing but a reality check to remind myself that 8 years in the UAE was not enough and that I should be grateful for what the country has given me and my family. This explains why I still refer to my stay in Lebanon as 'vacation'. Evey person I met, every client I handled and every new culture I learned about has contributed to my success and growth. 

Dear Lebanon, this does not mean I don't love you. It only means that, until you get your act together, I can tolerate you 10 days every 8 years.

Pleasant / reasonable weather 9 months of the year. July and August are the worst. Air conditioning is a must and with the constant power cuts, expect to shower 3 times a day.

Pleasant / reasonable weather 4 months of the year. Insufferable 8 months of the year. Do not plan any outdoor activities.
Historical sites, natural reserves, NATURAL ski resorts, beautiful beaches.

Malls, world’s tallest-largest-widest-smartest buildings, fancy resorts across the Emirates.
Road Infrastructure
Are you kidding? We don’t even have traffic signals on one of the most dangerous intersections in Beirut.  A 5KM distance in the summer will take you 30-45 minutes.
Pretty decent. Yes, traffic jams used to be a nightmare but the with the new bridges and the metro, things have changed. A plus: from my old apartment in Dubai to Abu Dhabi (170km), there’s not one traffic signal.

You can take a shared taxi (service) anywhere in Beirut for $1.30 dollars.  A non-shared taxi costs $6.70.

A taxi from my apartment in Abu Hail (Deira) to Sheikh Zayed Road (Buj Khalifa, for example) would cost an average of $7.00 - $8.00.  A taxi to media city would cost around $15. No shared taxis in Dubai..
Customer Service
What is customer service?
We tend to bitch a lot and we act  spoiled but compared to Lebanon, customer service in Dubai is fairly acceptable.

Food and Restaurants
Several cuisines and choices.

As for produce, it’s mainly local. You are limited with what’s available. Nevertheless, it’s cheap.
Several cuisine and choices.

Produce comes from all over the world. Variety of choices.  I declare UAE a winner here because of more variety and better service.

Crime on the rise. Law is hopeless. Wasta rules.
You can keep your door unlocked for months and nothing will happen. Police officers are courteous, supportive and friendly.

Telecom and Broadband
Broadband? Err…um…what?

As for telecom, if you buy a prepaid card and plan to make a call, DON’T LEAVE THE STORE. You will need a new card in seconds. Credit vanishes  faster than the invisible man.  
Again we tend to complain a lot about the pricing and the 2-day slow Internet when a sea cable is damaged but come one Lebanesos, deep inside, you know it’s heaven compared to cedar land.

Nightlife is second to none in the region. Plus, lots of cultural events take place all year long. A clear winner.

Choices are limited. Night clubs are mediocre. Cultural events are almost nonexistent.
Utilities and Petrol
Power cuts, power lines are damaged every winter, water is supplied every other day. In the summer, expect your utility bill to quadruple.  Petrol is ridiculously expensive.
I have no complaints here.

Sad and pathetic. Epic fail. They make you fill and sign 200 pages to open an account. If you deposit money, they take commission. If you add money to your Internet card, they take commission. If you ask for Internet banking, they give you a CD-ROM to activate your ONLINE account (serious!) and you can install it on one computer only. Banking service in Lebanon is garbage. And I am talking about the number one bank in Lebanon.
One signature to open an account. I’ve never spent more than 10 minutes at a bank in the UAE. Service is superb. Online banking truly makes life easier (paying bills and whatnot). However, choose your bank wisely. Go with local banks. If you prefer an international bank,  for the love of god don’t go with HSBC.

Yes, the financial crisis caused some people to lose their jobs but patience is a virtue and lots of those people managed to find alternative jobs.

Starting a Business
A friend of mine wanted to establish a restaurant in Beirut. The Government asked for $200,000 for permission and license. That ridiculous amount did not include the property and the cost of setting up. (Could someone verify this information? My only source is my friend)
You have several options. Even though cost of setting up a business in Dubai Free Zone is high (but definitely won’t cost you $200K), you have cheaper alternatives in other Emirates.

Differentiating Factors
I don't know about you but both are equally important to me. Both win.
Family, Social life
Money, career growth

Jun 21, 2010

Preserving the Arabic language

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The Arabic Language Festival is set to take place on June 26 in Beirut. In line with the event, the Lebanese blogging squad came up with a fitting concept: Blog ONLY in Arabic on June 26.

Since my blog’s name is called Arabianism, it is only appropriate to partake in this initiative. That’s why, on June 26, I will post my first blog in Arabic. I don’t have a topic in mind yet but I am sure by then, inspiration will prevail.

It has always been easier for me to write in English, despite the fact that my Arabic writing is relatively decent. This initiative is a powerful reminder that we should do our part to preserve our language and add more Arabic content on the web.

P.S. I do get the irony that this post is typed in English!

Will Qatar bend the rules to win the World Cup 2022 bid?

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From low-carbon cooling technologies to the renovations of its stadiums, Qatar is going out of its way to win the bid to host the World Cup2022 in the tiny peninsula.

In  my heart of hearts, I do hope Qatar wins the bid. It’s about time the World Cup is hosted in the Middle East.

But  I do have a valid question to ask.

Yesterday, while watching the Brazil Vs. Côte d'Ivoire match, I noticed the Budweiser ads across the stadium LED banners.

Fact:  Budweiser has been sponsoring the World Cup since 1986.
Fact: Alcohol advertising is prohibited by law in Qatar.
Fact: Public drinking of alcohol is prohibited by law in Qatar.

So the question is: What happens to Budweiser, a strategic FIFA partner, if Qatar wins the Wolrd Cup 2022 bid?

Should Qatar bend its Islamic laws? Will we see Bud ads publicly displayed across Qatari stadiums? 

Will it be sold at the stadium for the thousands of beer-loving fans who plan to travel thousands of miles to Qatar?

What do you think?

I would be interested to know Qatar and FIFA's input on this.

Jun 20, 2010

Poor customer service in Lebanon begins at the airport

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A Couple of days ago, my sister and my two nephews (aged 2 & 3) arrived from Kuwait . My mother was waiting for them at the airport to welcome them.

She decided to buy her grandsons a couple of helium balloons. She goes into the airport gift shop and…

Mother: Can you please help me? I would like a couple of balloons.

A.Hole shopkeeper: (with an attitude) Can’t you see I'm busy?

Mother: The balloons are all tied together. Should I untie them myself?

A.Hole shopkeeper: (with an i-don’t’-give-a-shit tone) Do whatever you want!

I am no tourism expert but I would guess tourism 101 states that ‘exceptional customer service is a MUST at the airport.’

A professional – and a decent – shopkeeper would have the courtesy to say something like:” I will be with you in a minute Ma’am.” But this lowlife SOB,  solely gives a negative image about the service quality in the country. 

Why should anyone resort to saying: “This is Lebanon. Did you expect any better?”

Moral of the story: Don’t set yourself up for a disappointment. If you plan to visit Lebanon this summer, don’t anticipate high standards of customer service. Or better yet, go somewhere else. Anywhere else is cheaper and a decent customer service is expected.

In case you are wondering,  my mother did not buy the balloons because of his attitude.

Jun 19, 2010


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I never knew how thriving blogging is in Lebanon until I stumbled upon Lebanon Aggregator

This is actually one of the reasons why I started a personal blog. I do think blogging is taken seriously in this country (much more than the UAE) and I would like to think that it is as influential as traditional media. 

In fact, recent events have proven that bloggers can bring to the table what traditional media couldn’t bring. 

What’s even more interesting is the diversity of Lebanese blogs. We have the poets, the politicians, the cooks, the activists, and many more. 

And Lebanon Aggregator has gathered them all into one site. 

Not only does it offer a list of 100+ Lebanese blogs but it also features a “Not so mini blog-roll”, highlighting the latest entries from each blog.

This is by no mean a plug for Lebanon Aggregator (although I don’t see the harm). As a matter of fact, I have a bone to pick with the site. 

I would have preferred if the blogs were divided into categories. I know it takes a lot of time for the webmaster to categorize every blog, but it takes even more time to go through the 100+ sites to find the ones that cater to people’s interests. 

I tried that! Eventually, and after visiting 20+ blogs, I gave up! I did however find the first 20 or so blogs fascinating. I do plan to check every single one on the list in the coming days.

Nevertheless, kudos to the site for its round-up of Lebanese Blogs. Great effort, undoubtedly; and props to the blogging community and social media advocates across Lebanon and Arabianism land. 

Something wicked comes your way

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Just when you thought you could adjust to living in Lebanon, something wicked comes your way. No, it’s not the power cuts three hours a day. No, it’s not the roads and the traffic jams. No, it’s not the horrendous slowness of the Internet or the rip-off plans. This time it’s VoIP.

Yes, following the footsteps of the UAE, VoIP has died in Lebanon.

In fact, it was murdered by law in 2002 but it was still active (don’t ask!).

However, a family member just informed me that she can’t use Vonage anymore. And the buzz on Twitter is that Skype is terminally ill and its demise is expected soon.

Are we intentionally trying to kill what’s left of our economy? Are we intentionally trying to tell regional and multinational companies to shove off and not invest in Lebanon? 

I cannot begin to understand how such decisions are taken. How do we manage to keep on moving backwards instead of forward? 

If officials in Arabianism Land are not aware of VoIP benefits, it's time to brush up on some serious reading: 
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