Myanmar – where the army still determines the way ahead.

Lake Inle

Lake Inle

The Economist’s article is interesting – as this near fake democracy is a role model for other governments in South East Asia – including Thailand.

Yes, Myanmar does have a new President. The NLD does hold a commanding majority in Parliament.

But the army still has its hands on the steering wheel and will determine the path that the country takes.

From The Economist.

On March 30th in Napyidaw, Myanmar’s eerie purpose-built capital, Htin Kyaw was sworn in as the country’s first civilian president in more than 50 years. Parliament elected him president just over two weeks ago; in Myanmar’s hybrid electoral system, the people elect parliament, and then parliamentarians vote for president. His party, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), won commanding majorities in both houses of parliament last November, allowing them to elect their chosen candidate easily. Thein Sein, the outgoing president, handed over power peacefully. Min Aung Hlaing, head of the army, which ruled Myanmar either directly or through its fig-leaf party since 1962, said he supports the country’s democratic transition. This seems a triumph for Burmese democracy. The reality is more complex.

Mr Htin Kyaw was neither the NLD’s nor Myanmar’s first choice for president. They would have preferred Miss Suu Kyi, but the constitution bars anyone with a foreign spouse or children from the top job (her sons, like her late husband, are British; most believe the bar was specifically written to keep her out of office). Before last November’s elections Miss Suu Kyi said she would put herself “above the president”. She will run the country from the foreign ministry, while Mr Htin Kyaw, her longtime confidante and loyal placeholder, holds what looks like a nominal presidency. Installing a puppet president and subverting the constitution marks an inauspicious beginning for a party nominally devoted to democracy, transparency and rule of law.

But the larger threat to democracy comes from the expansive power Myanmar’s constitution reserves for the army. At a parade on March 27th Mr Min Aung Hlaing reminded Myanmar’s citizens that the army “ensure[s] the stability of the country” and “has to be present in a leading role in national politics.” The constitution was written to preserve that role. The army controls three powerful ministries: defence, border affairs and home affairs. The last gives it control of the state’s administrative backbone, right down to the village level. Through those ministries the army dominates the National Defence and Security Council, which can disband parliament, impose martial law and run the country. Changing the constitution requires a 75%+1 majority in parliament; since the army has 25% of seats reserved by law, it holds a perpetual veto.

So the civilian government and army will essentially control different parts of the government. The NLD’s top priorities are economic development and reaching a lasting peace with ethnic minorities along the country’s borders, some of whom have been fighting the central government for decades. These tasks are linked: unless Myanmar’s central government extends the state’s reach into the resource-rich borderlands, its economy will never reach full potential. But that may require the new government to make concessions that the army does not like, and the army’s control over the border-affairs and defence ministries—as well as its operational independence—give it an effective veto. How this conflict plays out will determine whether Myanmar keeps going forward on the road to democracy, or whether the army grabs the steering wheel for a quick U-turn

Shifting sands, moving dates

Dubai Opera
Picture: Emaar

Back in August 2015 the local Dubai media was excitedly reporting that the new Dubai Opera House would be completed in March 2016.

Here is Emirates 24/7 back on 20 August 2015:

Iconic Dubai Opera set for completion in March 2016

So as we approach the end  of March 2016 how was the opening?

No opening – just a change of date – to September 2016;

Emaar Properties said on Wednesday this week (23rd March) that “ts iconic Dubai Opera in Downtown Dubai will start to hold world-class performances later this year.

The developer’s website puts the completion date September 2016, revealing the concrete works are almost complete and the roof has been fully installed, while the electromechanical, façade, finishing and fit-out works are in progress at all levels.”

Here is Emirates 24/7 again: the same reporter but of course he does not mention that the date has slipped six months.

Target 2020: 10 amazing projects coming up in Dubai

The Opera House will be a very welcome addition to the city. It is a shame that it will be surrounded by high rise condominium and hotel construction for some years to come. More green space around the opera house would have been welcome. Think how much open space exists around the Sydney Opera House for instance.

But for Emaar there is too much money to be made around this site.


Fixing the maths on Dubai’s airport expansion plans

A model of the future DWC on display at the 2015 Dubai Air Show

Dubai Airports have appointed a contractor, ALEC, to expand the existing, rather basic, terminal building at the new Al Maktoum International AIrport.

Al Jaber LEGT Engineering and Contracting (ALEC) was appointed by Dubai Aviation Engineering Projects (DAEP) to increase the built-up area of the passenger terminal from the existing 66,107 sq. m. to 145,926 sq. m. The work is set to be completed by June 2017.

It is the first phase of an expansion project that will see the airport handle up to 26.5 million passengers per year by 2025.

Now how does this number make sense? On its own it does not.

The existing DXB terminals have been expanded with Concourse D to a capacity of 90 million. Add 26.5 million at DWC for 116.5 million passengers by 2025.

But look at this chart from Anna.Aero which shows the passenger numbers over the last nine years at Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi.

Passenger growth at DXB has exceeded 10% a year over the last nine years.

There is some slow down in 2016 with a possible full year number of 83.5 million. Then project forward at a conservative 6% per year for the following numbers. The trend is your friend and these must be the minimum numbers expected by DXB.

2016             83.5
2017             98.5
2018             93.8
2019             99.4
2020            105.4
2021            111.7
2022            118.4
2023            125.6
2024            133.1
2025            141.1

Any growth in excess of 6% per annum accelerates the need for rapid expansion at DWC.

With no further room for growth at DXB then DWC will need a capacity of at least 50million by 2025. If the existing LCC terminal can only accommodate 26.5 million then the proposed West terminal at DZC will need to be operational by the end of 2022.

The work on the existing terminal includes a new immigration hall with 55 counters. The departure building will see the expansion of the public hall, commercial areas and offices as well as the check-in hall which will house 64 check-in counters. An additional 10 counters will be specifically dedicated to business-class travelers.

The existing terminal has no airbridges and it appears that the expansion assumes that passengers will be bussed to their airplane. Effectively this is a LCC terminal. It is reasonable to assume that flydubai will be expected to move there after the expansion is completed in 2017. This will free capacity for some airlines at DXB’s Terminal 2 although moving there will not be popular for any airline.

Don’t worry, be happy

Below is today’s editorial in the sycophantic Khaleej Times. Cloying. The very idea that the world should adopt the UAE model is just pandering to the theme.

The UAE cabinet has endorsed a National Happiness and Positivity Charter which aims to instill concepts of happiness and positivity in all aspects of life in the UAE. The program will feature several initiatives such as instilling happiness in government policies, programmes and services; promoting positivity and happiness as a lifestyle in the community; and developing benchmarks and ways to measure happiness.

The UAE’s happiness regime is less than a month old. It is far too soon to assess whether it is useful to the UAE; let alone whether it is relevant to other nations.

Ohood Al Roumi is Minister of State for Happiness of the United Arab Emirates. For International Happiness Day she wrote that “happiness is knowing that you and your family are safe; that there is opportunity open to you and your children; and that you can depend on a high degree of care, dignity, and fairness in your society. Happiness is not something that is bestowed from on high; we all must work to achieve it. But, as I see it, our role in government is to create an environment that enables happiness and a positive attitude toward life to flourish.”

It is a sensible view; where the government creates a framework that allows positive change to happen.

The country’s vice president (and ruler of Dubai) Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid made clear that there are practical reasons for the campaign stating that “focusing on happiness is both feasible and fully justified. … Studies have shown that happy people produce more, live longer, and drive better economic development in their communities and countries.”

The trouble is we all have different things that make us happy; for instance, my happiness would be improved by people learning to drive with courtesy and common sense. But I doubt that is part of the program.

But the UAE is run by dynastic ruling families. Benevolent but still autocratic. Over 80% of the population are in the UAE on work permits and can be returned to their home nation at any time. The majority of the UAE’s population can have no official say in the governance of the nation.

Can people be happy in this context?

Can you truly be happy when you are working twelve hour shifts, six days a week in high heat and in working conditions that are barely tolerable?

Can you really be happy in a nation with such a massive gulf between those who have and those who have not; between the entitled and the rest?

Can you really be happy when ostentatious wealth buys happiness for many?

Yes the UAE is tolerant. But it is exactly that tolerance that also generates its wealth through the service and tourist sectors that are critical to the nation’s sustainable growth.

Tolerant yes. But open; not yet. In the 2015 press freedom index the UAE. ranked 120th of 180 nations. Just ten years ago it was in the top 70. Dissent or disagreement is not tolerated. And that is my problem; if you cannot have free speech; if self-censorship is a requirement of compliance; then can you truly be happy? Can you be happy where even writing this feels like a risk, albeit small.

I don’t know the answers. But I do know that the Khaleej Times would make me happier by debating how to achieve the government’s goal. One simple statement in the editorial says that the UAE wants a culture where there is an equal opportunity for all in society, and where merit and transparency rule. That is simply not possible in a society which allows long standing foreign workers no residence or status. It is society of un-equals which by its nature cannot provide equal opportunity for all.

So embrace the intent; welcome the initiative; but let’s see where it takes us before we hail its success and tell the rest of the world to follow us.

Khaleej Times Editorial – 22 March 2016

UAE’s happiness index is a role model – It is a doctrine for collective growth and security, and the world should emulate the UAE model.

The UAE believes in happiness and positivity as a lifestyle pattern, and this is what differentiates it from the rest of the world. With people from more than 200 nationalities living on its soil to realise their dreams for a better tomorrow, the credit goes to the visionary leadership of the country who have made coexistence, growth and transparency the fundamentals of an interactive society.

Which is why His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, endorsed the launch of corporate happiness and positivity initiatives as a corner stone of good governance. The goal is quite simple i.e., to usher in happiness, and create a culture of tolerance and forbearance.

It is, indeed, a phenomenon, which propels positivity in the right direction, and guides not only the individual, but also the public and private sectors to attain the hallmark of collective betterment. “We are at the beginning of our journey, learning day-by-day to achieve goodness and happiness for the individual. We wish happiness for all the peoples and countries in the world”, Shaikh Mohammed remarked, making it categorically clear that the sky is the limit for the UAE, as it believes in achieving the best for generations to come.

The path for the UAE is to strive for excellence. By inculcating the values of tolerance and mutual self-respect, the UAE is, in fact, rewriting a social contract for a pluralistic and heterogeneous society. This is no small achievement in an era when conflicts and discords are all around, and human values are rapidly being undermined. The Emirates wants a culture where there is an equal opportunity for all in society, and where merit and transparency rule. This aspect ultimately streamlines happiness, respect for law and a sense of commitment towards society as a responsible citizen. It is a doctrine for collective growth and security, and the world should emulate the UAE model.

RIP flydubai FZ981

It is always harder when the accident is closer to home.

UAE airlines had not had a life-taking accident until this last week.

But in the early hours of 19th March a flydubai Boeing 737-800, registration A6-FDN performing flight FZ-981 from Dubai to Rostov on Don (Russia) crashed while landing. The airliner, which was carrying 55 passengers and 7 crew, had aborted its first approach to Rostov’s runway 22 at 01:41L (22:41Z) due to weather and entered a hold initially at 8000 feet After 30 minutes at 8000 feet the aircraft climbed to FL150. After about 2 hours of holding the aircraft commenced another approach to Rostov’s runway 22, winds from 240 degrees at 27 knots (14 metres/second) gusting 42 knots (22 m/s), the crew announced a go around.

However, the aircraft impacted the ground just off the runway at about 03:43L (00:43Z), broke up and burst into flames. There were no survivors.

The aircraft carried fuel for the trip, contingency, alternate, final fuel reserve (30 minutes) and additional holding for about 2:30 hours, total fuel for an endurance of about 8.5 hours. The aircraft had been airborne until time of impact for 06:02 hours.

The deep sense of sadness has hit everyone connected to Dubai’s economy driving aviation industry.

The airline’s CEO has asked that there be no speculation on the causes of the accident, saying that “we are aware that in the course of the past 24 hours there has been a great deal of speculation as to the cause of this tragedy. We share the desire to get answers as quickly as possible but at this stage we must not be drawn into speculation. We would ask that the investigating authorities are given the time and space they need to report definitively on the causes of the accident.”

But it inevitable that people talk about and try to find an explanation for the crash. It is also likely that the airline’s operating procedures will come under heavy scrutiny and this is something that airline management will seek to mitigate.

The captain was 38-year-old Aristos Sokratous, from Cyprus. It was his first flight to the airport of Rostov-on-Don. He had 5,965 hours of total flying time.

Sokatous had submitted his resignation to the airline, after accepting a job with Ryanair, which would allow him to be based with his family in Cyprus. His wife is due to give birth to their first child in the next few weeks.

The co-pilot, 37-year-old Alejandro Cruz Alava, was Spanish. He had 5,769 hours of flying time. He started his career with Flydubai two years ago having flown before for two regional airlines in the Spanish Canary Islands, Binter and Naysa.

At the time of the crash, wind speed in the vicinity ranged between 14–22 m/s (27–43 kn; 31–49 mph). Just before the crash, ATC reported to Flight 981 that wind direction was 230 degrees (more or less down the runnway), wind speed 12 m/s (23 kn; 27 mph) with gusts to 18 m/s (35 kn; 40 mph), and visibility was 3,500 m (11,500 ft).

Russia measures windspeed in metres per second.

Ten minutes before Flight 981 was cleared for its first attempt to land, two other flights landed successfully at Rostov: S7 Airlines Flight 1159 (at 01:23 local time), and Ural Airlines Flight 2758 (at 01:28). Twelve minutes after Flight 981’s first aborted landing at 1:42 local time, after which it went into a holding pattern, Aeroflot Flight 1166 from Moscow Sheremetyevo made the first of three unsuccessful attempts to land at Rostov within the next 35 minutes before diverting to the nearby Krasnodar Airport, landing successfully there at 02:59 local time.

According to ATC communications published online the pilots advised (in their second approach) that that they were established on the localiser and continued their descent. Then at 5.5 kilometres (3.4 mi) before the runway threshold, when the aircraft was at 1500 feet, the pilots announced a go-around and climbed to an altitude of 4,050 ft (1,230 m). At that point the airliner began a rapid descent with a vertical speed reaching more than 21,000 ft/min crashing close to the runway less than a minute later, at 03:42 local time.

The pilots reported their intention to abort the landing with “Going around, Skydubai 981”. ATC advised Flight 981 to switch to another air traffic controller (“Skydubai 981, contact Rostov Radar on 121.2”). Flight 981 acknowledged this with “121.2, bye-bye”, which was their final transmission.

A simple timeline of events (times in UTC/Zulu):
17:45 FZ981 scheduled time of departure
18:22 FZ981 pushed back from Stand E18 at Dubai Airport
18:37 FZ981 commences takeoff from runway 30R at Dubai Airport
19:14 FZ981 reaches cruising altitude of FL360
22:16 FZ981 commences descent from FL360
22:20 FZ981 scheduled time of arrival
22:23 S71159 (an Airbus A319 from Moscow-Domodedovo) lands after it’s first approach to runway 22
22:28 U62758 (an Airbus A320 from Khudzhand) lands after it’s first approach to runway 22
22:39 FZ981 commences final approach to runway 22 at Rostov Airport
22:42 FZ981 aborts first approach at 1725 ft, 6.7 km short of the runway
22:49 FZ981 reaches 8000 feet and heads towards the northeast of the airport
22:54 SU1166 (a Sukhoi Superjet 100-95B from Moscow-Sheremetyevo) aborts the first approach to runway 22
23:07 SU1166 aborts the second approach to runway 22
23:17 SU1166 aborts the third approach to runway 22
23:20 SU1166 diverts towards Krasnodar
23:20 FZ982 scheduled time of return flight back to Dubai
23:27 FZ981 enters holding pattern at 15000 feet to the southeast of the airport
00:28 FZ981 leaves the holding pattern and descends for a second approach
00:36 FZ981 intercepts the runway 22 localizer at 10 NM from the runway
00:40 FZ981 aborts second approach at 1550 ft, 5.6 km short of the runway
00:41 FZ981 impacts airport terrain after a steep descent from 3975 feet

There are some revealing comments on PPRUNE that will no doubt be part of the Russian led investigation.

The trouble with the investigation is that a combination of powerful lawyers and influential figures and organisations will all be lobbying to deflect any liability or reputational damage.

One major question is why did the airliner not divert to its alternate airport?

On PPRUNE the suggestion is that “the 2 hours holding is standard FDB operations. We are routinely sent to somewhere we knew we couldn’t get into with little prospect of being able to get into it with boatloads of fuel and told give it a go. If you didn’t then you came under the scrutiny of the chief pilot who had a penchant for bullying crew and making careers untenable.”

This writer is clearly familiar with FDB operations and added that “the route they were flying was not one that more senior pilots would ever pick as it is known for crap weather, is captain only landing and its dark o’clock. It was just one of those places that you hoped to not get on your roster and if you did and if you couldn’t swap it then you hoped you had one of those nights where there was a break in the crap weather and you could get in. If not you rocked up with extra stuff as you knew you could easily end up in a hotel.”

For pilots flydubai is a stepping zone, not a career; this is where  you build up money, hours and left-hand-seat experience before moving to somewhere else.

Again details will emerge soon, but it appears that the captain flew to India the previous night, another long night flight. He would have certainly been tired.

One quick read of the flydubai thread on the middle east PPRUNE forum shows many posts addressing fatigue and rostering.

Commenting on FZ981 a former FZ pilot on PPRUNE noted that “the last 5 mins of the flight are indeed very important for many reasons but whatever those reasons be they act of god, mishandling, catastrophic failure they were made possible by the launch of the aircraft from base in weather in which they not only predicted not to be able to land but was predicted for the entire duration of their fuel to be highly unlikely to allow them to do so.”

This issue may not be so much why did the pilots not divert but why was the flight even dispatched in the first place?

Russia Today is the first media outlet to write in detail about fatique issues at flydubai. A former pilot saying that “It’s ridiculous that there’s been an aviation industry for so long and this stuff is still going on. And you hear about people being worked to death. I had some months at Flydubai where I really felt like I was being worked to death. And I just couldn’t do it. [People] buy an airplane ticket and they assume that they are safe on the airplane, but the way that an airline like Flydubai rosters their pilots, it’s not safe. It’s not safe at all.”

The full Russia Today report on pilot fatique at flydubai

It is desperately sad that so many people lost their lives that night. Families and friends, and anyone who cares about aviation in this region, have to hope that the investigation is swift and thorough; and that recommendations are comprehensive and get to the real core of operating procedures and the effectiveness of the regulators.

flydubai will never be the same again. My heart goes out to the families of the crew and passengers and to their friends and colleagues at flydubai who are trying to do their job as normal at a time when nothing is normal.




Germanwings – privacy or need to tell?

Image from GQ magazine – see story link below

The French accident report into the crash of GermanWings flight 4U9525 was released on Sunday and it makes for some grim reading.

The report confirmed that Lubitz had deliberately set the Airbus A320’s autopilot to carry out a controlled descent over the French Alps where it ploughed into a mountain, after locking the flight captain out of the cockpit.

The investigation revealed that Lubitz had begun suffering a “severe depressive episode without psychotic symptoms” in August 2008 and had made several “no suicide pacts” with his treating psychiatrist.

In February 2015, a private doctor diagnosed Lubitz with “psychosomatic and anxiety disorders” and referred him to a psychotherapist and psychiatrist.

On 9 March, another private doctor gave Lubitz a sick leave certificate. It was not forwarded to Germanwings. The following day, the first private doctor referred the pilot to a psychiatric hospital for treatment for a possible psychosis. The same doctor gave Lubitz a 19-day sick leave certificate on 12 March. It was not sent to Germanwings.

But there are strict privacy laws in Germany and Lubitz’s diagnosis could not be passed on to the airline. It was Lubitz’s responsibility to declare himself unfit to fly.

The investigators were hugely hampered in their work by the same doctors who confirmed Lubitz had “shown symptoms suggesting a psychotic depressive episode” just weeks before the crash, but who refused to speak to investigators, citing patient confidentiality.

“No action could have been taken by the authorities and/or his employer to prevent him from flying that day, because they were informed by neither the co-pilot himself, nor by anyone else, such as a physician, a colleague or family member,” it said.

Victims’ families have every right to be angry.

But angry at who – the airline; the medical profession; the lawmakers?

Lubitz had seen 41 doctors – many of them eye specialists – in five years, seven in the month before the crash.

“It is likely that breaching medical confidentiality was perceived by these doctors as presenting more risks, in particular for themselves, than not reporting the co-pilot to authorities,” the BEA stated.

The first officer had just 630 hours’ flying time. In reality this is low. The equivalent of about 8 months of a commercial pilot’s flying time (assuming 900 hours a year). My current IFR instructor has more hours.

Investigators recommended more frequent medical evaluations for all pilots showing any kind of psychological or psychiatric problems, however minor. The BEA said the medical secrecy rules must protect the patient, but should also take into account public safety, and that there should be greater support for pilots who have depression.

Markus Wahl, spokesman for the Cockpit union representing German pilots, said the BEA’s safety recommendations were a balanced package of measures and should be implemented in full.

However, Johann Reuss, of Germany’s air accident investigation agency, said it would be difficult to change the law regarding medical confidentiality. German doctors can be punished with a fine or up to a year in prison for breaching patient confidentiality.

But Lubitz was more than just ill. He was a murderer.

Flight recorder data showed that Lubitz was left alone at the controls of the Barcelona to Düsseldorf flight at 9.30am – 30 minutes after it had taken off. Half a minute later, Lubitz changed the altitude from a cruising height of 38,000ft to just 100ft and set the automatic pilot to descend. In the following seconds Lubitz changed the plane’s speed 10 times, according to the report.

He failed to respond to repeated calls from both civilian and military air traffic controllers and the crew of another aircraft.

He also ignored increasingly frantic signals at the door and cabin calls, and requests by the flight captain Patrick Sondenheimer to open the door. The final moments of the flight recorder suggest someone tried to break down the cockpit door.

Flight data from the outbound flight to Barcelona earlier that morning suggested Lubitz had reduced the altitude from 35,000ft to 100ft for three seconds before returning it to the original setting.

“Actions on the autopilot system during the first flight of the day may be interpreted as a rehearsal for suicide,” reported investigators.

The BEA report stated that Lubitz’s professional level was judged to be “above standard” by his flight instructors and examiners.

“None of the pilots or instructors interviewed during the investigation, who flew with him in the months preceding the accident, indicated any concern about his attitude or behaviour during flights.”

Those same pilots must be thanking their own gods that he did not choose their flights for his murderous act.

Lubitz had been denied a medical certificate enabling him to fly in 2009 because of his depression and the medication he was taking to combat it. He was granted permission, with conditions, in July 2014, which was valid until August 2015.

The BEA’s report said “the limited medical and personal data available to the safety investigation did not make it possible for an unambiguous psychiatric diagnosis to be made. In particular an interview with the co-pilot’s relatives and his private physicians was impossible, as they exercised their right to refuse to be interviewed.

“On the day of the accident, the pilot was still suffering from a psychiatric disorder, which was possibly a psychotic depressive episode and was taking psychotropic medication. This made him unfit to fly,” the BEA report states.

The privacy laws are a double-edged sword. In this case it would seem obvious that there should be a mechanism to alert the airline that one of their employees is undergoing psychotic evaluation. On the other hand if there is no confidentiality then no pilot or industry professional will ever visit a doctor for treatment.

What is clear is that the airline industry has to establish a reviewed and coordinated ‘best practice’ strategy to mental health that reflects relevant key stakeholder concerns in a workable way may offer a solution balancing effective and practical requirements. We can never manage risk away entirely, but a combined policy, best practice and technology-enabled approach may give us a viable route into managing the level of risk faced as a consequence of aircrew mental health issues, and a balanced approach to mitigating that risk which meets the need of all the key stakeholder groups.

This is the final report from the French investigator (In English)

This is a detailed GQ magazine investigation into the crash. The Real Story of Germanwings Flight 9525

The UAE’s delicate balance

Last month, the United Arab Emirates made headlines when its rulers announced they were appointing a ‘Minister for Happiness’. Sceptics scoffed that it was little more than a publicity stunt in keeping with a nation probably best known for Dubai’s brash ostentation.Human rights groups which have long documented violations – from abuse of migrant labourers to crackdowns on political dissent – behind the UAE’s glossy facade were scathing.
“You can be happy [in the UAE] as long as you keep your mouth shut,” Nicholas McGeehan of Human Rights Watch told the ‘New York Times’. “That is the sort of social contract that is in place there.”

The creation of the minister of happiness post, along with a minister of tolerance, is part of the biggest government revamp the Gulf state has experienced in its 44-year history. It was announced on Twitter by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who also serves as the country’s prime minister.

The UAE, with a population of 10 million, most of whom are expatriates, has weathered several storms over the past decade. Of its component parts, Dubai was the worst affected by the 2008 global financial crisis. Many expatriate workers fled and the emirate’s construction frenzy ground to a halt. Dubai has since bounced back albeit with its wings more clipped.

The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, now towers above a cityscape where building continues but at a more modest pace than before, particularly as the drop in global oil prices begins to bite.
“People have become a bit more realistic, a bit more cautious,” says one long-term resident.

“The overweening ambitions of a decade ago have been checked to a degree and you could say that was perhaps a good thing.”

The wave of revolutions and uprisings that swept across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 left the UAE untouched.

But the turmoil it left in its wake, particularly in places like Syria, Libya and Egypt, has prompted many young Arab professionals to move to the Emirates to seek their fortunes. They are drawn by a relaxed immigration regime and an economy more robust than most in the region.
“There are more opportunities in the UAE and many of us think it is better to hunker down here and progress in our careers until our home countries stabilise a little more,” says one Libyan, who moved to Dubai two years ago as his country descended into a civil war which continues today.

“Life is pretty good here but of course it is not home.”

Other UAE denizens continue to fret about the economy. A local newspaper recently reported on market research that showed 53pc of residents polled at the end of 2015 believed that they were in recession, a 10-point increase from the previous quarter. Optimism about job opportunities was also found to be declining, with only 58pc saying they feel positive about employment prospects.

Plummeting global oil prices mean the UAE’s economy is predicted to grow at a much slower rate this year and its rulers have had to slash their budgets accordingly.
The emergence of Isil in different parts of the Middle East has also caused jitters in the UAE. Security has been stepped up at Dubai’s luxury hotels and gigantic shopping malls which draw hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. There are fears that Emirati military involvement in Syria, Iraq and Yemen could result in some blowback.

Mariam al-Mansouri, the UAE’s first female fighter pilot, has become a cause celebre in her homeland, feted by Emirati officials at the Dubai Women’s Forum last month as a symbol of empowerment. Al-Mansouri has been among the coalition forces taking part in US-led airstrikes against Isil in Iraq. But not everyone is happy with al-Mansouri being held up as a role model. “I’m uneasy with the idea of a fighter pilot being seen as the best example of an Emirati woman,” one young woman from Dubai told me. “We need to have a range of role models.”

The UAE has always struck a delicate balance between its broadly conservative indigenous population and its much larger cohort of expatriates who range from Asian construction workers to professionals from across the world. Maintaining that equilibrium amid falling oil prices and rising security threats will be key to its future.

HRC v Trump: the looming battle for the soul of America


A very solid read from today’s Guardian – barring a major shock or change in voter sentiment this will be the battle for the US Presidency – how on earth did the leadership of a great nation sink this low.

Shaping up to be Hillary v Trump: the looming battle for the soul of America

In his gilded age mansion by the sea, once intended as a winter White House for presidents craving Florida sun, Donald Trump watched television intently. News networks were calling state after state for him in the Super Tuesday primary votes for the Republican nomination. Then they cut to what was in effect a victory speech by Hillary Clinton.

The exultant Democrat voiced the deep frustration of millions of Americans whose incomes have stagnated, including “struggling rust belt communities and small towns that have been hollowed out by lost jobs and lost hope”. Minutes later Trump walked out to face the world’s media in a ballroom dripping in gold leaf, bedecked with three giant chandeliers and four white cherubs. Clinton had been in government with Barack Obama for a long time, he said. “Why hasn’t she done anything about it?”

The first shot in the duel to become 45th president of the United States had been fired.

Clinton versus Trump has all the makings of a rambunctious, vicious clash of styles. One is a former first lady, senator and secretary of state, a measured planner who appeals to the head but leaves some voters cold. The other is a brash tycoon and reality TV star who appeals to the heart by, in the words of many supporters, “cutting through bullshit” and “telling it like it is”. When the two come to debate, it will be an Olympic boxer versus a street fighter or, according to one Clinton friend quoted by The Hill website, “the smartest person in the room against the class clown”.

This is unchartered territory, even in a nation that has elected actors Ronald Reagan as president and Arnold Schwarzenegger as a governor. George Ajjan, a Republican strategist and consultant, said: “There’s no precedent for a head-to-head matchup between a traditional politician and a purely private sector tycoon on the national stage – let alone one who had his own top-rated TV show. But whether Trump’s campaign can provide enough substance and rigour to compete at a presidential level, or [will] collapse under the weight of its own bombast, remains to be seen.”

It is also a struggle between two discordant visions. Clinton has cast herself as the continuity candidate, in effect offering a third term of Barack Obama, albeit with some concessions to Sanders’s enthusiastic support on her left flank. Trump is all over the map, but has styled himself as a conservative and caused outrage with proposals to build a wall on the Mexican border and temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.

The criticism he offered last Tuesday offers a foretaste of a line of attack against Clinton that has served him so well already in the campaign. Pointing to her time in the White House and the State Department, it is safe to assume he will portray her as the ultimate establishment figure to an electorate feeling betrayed by Washington. This will include an “abysmal” spell as America’s top diplomat, the lingering stench around her use of a private email server and, going further back, her husband’s scandalous entanglement with Monica Lewinsky.

Moreover, where Clinton offers hard-baked policies, Trump will play on the great man theory of history: trust him, his charisma, force of personality and entrepreneurial spirit can “make America great again”. His choice of venue for Super Tuesday spoke volumes. Built from Dorian stone shipped from Genoa, Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach was opened in 1927 as a private estate by one of the richest women in the world, Marjorie Merriweather Post, and donated to the US government in 1973 for use as the winter White House.

Trump bought the 128-room home in 1985 after typically aggressive wheeling and dealing. He added a Louis XIV-style ballroom with $7m worth of gold leaf on the walls and spent $100,000 on four gold-plated bathroom sinks. Michael Jackson stayed here and, when Trump married Melania Knauss at the venue, guests included Hillary Clinton. The swimming pool, beauty salon, spa, tennis courts and croquet court shout aspiration, wealth and success, a version of the American dream.

Mar-a-Lago invites comparisons with Xanadu, the palatial Florida retreat of Citizen Kane, the ego-driven newspaper magnate played by Orson Welles in the 1941 film. It reinforces the pitch that Trump is a winner like Kane, not a loser like Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Whereas Kane’s campaign for the US presidency is ultimately derailed by adultery, thrice married Trump’s private life appears bulletproof in the age of celebrity. Perhaps the key to the former Apprentice host’s popularity lies in an observation made by President Calvin Coolidge in January 1925: “The chief business of the American people is business.”

Trump told the latest issue of Time magazine: “I am the most successful person ever to run for president. I built an incredible business … I go on one of these shows and the ratings double. They triple. And that gives you power. It’s not the polls. It’s the ratings … I have always been a winner. If we have the delegates at the convention, there is nothing they can do about it … I am the last person on Earth [Clinton] wants to run against.”

But the bully, showman, party crasher and demagogue – as Time’s cover put it – is also the last person many Republicans want to see at the top of the ticket, though arch conservative Cruz comes close. In the past week alone, the previous two Republican nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, have launched unprecedented attacks on everything from Trump’s business records to his national security credentials. Numerous others have joined a #NeverTrump campaign and sworn that they cannot support Trump as the party’s standard bearer.

The morning after Super Tuesday, as smoke rose from the wreckage, MSNBC television host Brian Williams told viewers: “The Republican party is facing an existential crisis. We’re covering a moving history lesson.”

By thumbing his nose at the party elite, who waited too long to take him seriously, Trump has energised millions of people who usually do not vote or who are sick of electing Republicans to Congress only to find no change in their daily lives. Political biographer Jon Meacham told MSNBC: “Trump has managed to hijack an entire political party, and the pilots are asking why no one is on their side. The passengers are cheering for the guy who took over the plane.”

One such passenger is John Schlegel, a retired manager and Vietnam war veteran. “Donald Trump has touched a nerve,” he said. “I think he’s got America thinking again and speaking about things again that weren’t speakable until Trump started the dialogue. He’s saying a lot of things that people have got on their mind but are not secure enough in speaking them themselves, but they’re coming out now.”

Schlegel, 68, from Clinton, Ohio, added: “I think the Republican establishment is screwing the pooch when they turn on Trump. He’s the only one of them that has a chance against Hillary Clinton. I hope he wins and throws the whole establishment on their ear. They’re a bunch of spoiled kids right now: they’re not getting exactly what they want when they want it, so they’re trying to actually shoot themselves in the foot.”

Analysts suggest that the Republicans are reaping the whirlwind of a split between conservatives and moderates dating back to the 1950s, and a purge of moderates in the 1990s. Heather Cox Richardson, an academic at Boston College and author of To Make Men Free, a history of the Republican party, said: “The establishment has lost control of the beast they created through their own rhetoric and there’s no way they’re going to get it back, whatever Romney says.”

There have been ominous incidents of black people being pushed, shoved and ejected from Trump rallies dominated by a white working class hollering with the partisan passion of sports fans. Pre- and post-election violence is usually seen as a phenomenon of Middle Eastern and African countries, yet in the wake of riots in Ferguson and other cities, Richardson believes America is playing with fire.

“You can look at the fury that Trump and Cruz have incited, aided and abetted by Congress, and where is it going to go?” she asked. “Even if Trump is elected, he cannot produce what he promised. He has a lot of angry people and I don’t see where it goes apart from rioting.”

On Friday Cruz told the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington that the Republican establishment would be making a huge mistake if delegates subvert the popular will on the floor of the convention. “If that happens, we will have a manifest revolt on our hands all across this country.”

But if Trump does manage to become the Republican nominee, he will still find standing in his way the formidable battle-tested Clinton machine. Some Democrats believe she would beat Trump by a landslide, the New York Times reported last week, not least because his comments about immigrants and Muslims would alienate the African American and Hispanic voters who have proved to be Clinton’s firewall against Sanders. But Bill Clinton reportedly warned that Trump has a keen sense of the electorate’s mood and should be underestimated at the Democrats’ peril.

Dannel Malloy, the governor of Connecticut, told the New York Times: “He’s formidable, he understands voters’ anxieties, and he will be ruthless against Hillary Clinton. I’ve gone from denial — ‘I can’t believe anyone would listen to this guy’ — to admiration, in the sense that he’s figured out how to capture everyone’s angst, to real worry.”

Indeed, one chilling statistic for Clinton stands out: more than 8m voters took part in the Republican Super Tuesday contests, while the Democratic turnout was around 5.5m. This is an almost exact reversal of the figures in 2008. Obama and Trump have absolutely nothing in common except their power to enthuse. What Clinton and Trump share is a power to inspire hatred and mobilise votes not for themselves but against each other. “Hope and change, not so much,” former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said, referring to the coming Clinton campaign. “More like hate and castrate.”

Clinton will be desperate to make peace with Sanders’s impassioned supporters, especially millennials, but it remains difficult to imagine her inspiring Obama-style fervour at the polls. Her strategy is likely to involve attack ads that highlight Trump’s misogynistic and xenophobic statements and question whether his temperament is suitable for commander in chief. Rich Galen, former press secretary to vice-president Dan Quayle and House speaker Newt Gingrich, said: “If I was advising the Clintons, I’d go back to that [2008] ‘Who do you want to answer the phone at three in the morning?’ ad. Is this the guy you want going toe to toe with Assad? It’s one thing to make war; making peace is much harder.

“On the other hand, Trump gets to say she was Secretary of State during some of the worst foreign policy years in the country’s history. In a debate it would be pretty much a draw. They both have great presentational skills. It will be fun to watch.”

Galen acknowledged the crisis facing the Republican party and his own culpability. “I bear my part of the responsibility for getting it there. I work inside the Beltway. The words have come out out my mouth: ‘I know how to do this better than you know how to do it.’ The message my generation was offering has clearly run its course. I wasn’t smart enough to get that.”

Tone and vision

Trump is tapping into fear and anger; Clinton says America needs “love and kindness”. Trump’s campaign slogan is “make America great again”; Clinton insists: “America never stopped being great. We have to make America whole.” Trump has vowed to build walls; Clinton has promised to break down barriers. Trump is a New Yorker with a liberal past on issues such as abortion that worries some conservatives; Clinton is a former New York senator with political baggage and under pressure to appease the Sanders left. Clinton is compared to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; Trump is compared to everyone from Benito Mussolini to Juan Perón to Silvio Berlusconi.

Jobs and wages
“The economy, stupid,” was campaign strategist James Carville’s phrase for Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against president George H W Bush. Although unemployment is below 5%, it is now received wisdom that the slow rate of wage growth incubated the frustration and resentment that powers Trump’s campaign. Clinton may do better to associate herself with her husband’s 1990s achievements than the Obama post-2009 recovery. Trump says China, Japan and Mexico are “killing us on free trade and he will bring jobs back to America.

National security
Clinton boasts experience but Sanders raised questions over her judgment: she admitted making a mistake in backing the Iraq war and, as Secretary of State, in masterminding the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, now in chaos. Then there is the saga of her private email server, under investigation by the FBI. Trump has been fiercely criticised for lack of expertise and statements advocating torture, cosying up to Vladimir Putin, being neutral on Israel-Palestine and bombing the wives and children of terrorists. There have been suggestions that the military might disobey his orders.

The signature plan of Trump’s that everyone knows is the building of a wall along the Mexican border that he insists that Mexico will pay for (Mexicans say forget it). He has also declared that he will deport 11 million illegal immigrants, which opponents say is both heartless and impractical. Clinton has called for comprehensive reform with a path to full and equal citizenship as well as closing private immigrant detention centres. She is expected to trounce Trump among Hispanic voters and benefit from American’s changing demographics. In 1980, Ronald Reagan took 56% of the white vote and won by 10 points; in 2012, Mitt Romney won the white vote by 59% and lost.

Gun control
Clinton has vowed to take on the gun lobby, just as her husband and Obama did, with varying degrees of success. She has pledged to enforce comprehensive background checks, crack down on illegal gun traffickers, hold dealers and manufacturers accountable “when they endanger Americans” and keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers. Trump has said he owns a firearm and will defend the second amendment and roll back Obama’s recent executive actions. “Gun and magazine bans are a total failure,” his manifesto says.

Clean for the Queen – the UK at its worst

Clean for the Queen…..this week the British are being exhorted to voluntarily tidy up the country for the old girl’s 90th birthday.

It is unlikely she will even notice. The monarch doesn’t often go out on your average street, let alone the grubbier ones.

Michael Gove and Boris (“photo-op”) Johnson have been posing in purple, clutching litter-picking equipment, to publicise events.

Fair enough – more needs to be done to Keep Britain Tidy.

But that costs money: a coordinated national strategy, better design of public spaces, consistent educational campaigns and penalties, more paid staff, more bins. Not just a cheapskate plan with Gove and Boris in rubbish outfits.

To add to the nonsense the CftQ campaign sponsors include a range of takeaway companies from Gregg’s to KFC. Among the bigger litter culprits.

So are you ready to “Vacuum Your Villages! Spruce Up Your Cities! Delitter The Land!”

What this hapless campaign seems to have exposed, in other words, is a profound cultural divide between those who think “Clean For The Queen” is a sweet and inspiring idea, and those who think it is a joke at best, and one with a subtext that is far from amusing.

If there is one person in the entire UK who does not need help with the cleaning, it is the Queen, who not only has a large domestic staff of her own, but also suffers the irritation of knowing that every place she visits has invariably been scrubbed and refurbished within an inch of its life, so as to protect her from any knowledge of the normal condition of her realm.

Old, infirm people whose care visits have been slashed to a miserably rushed ten minutes morning and evening need help with the cleaning. English local authorities whose street cleaning budgets have typically fallen by 16 per cent in five years need help with the cleaning. People who used to work as cleaners in hospitals or on our streets, but have seen their jobs disappear or their pay decimated over the last two decades, need help to start cleaning again, at a decent living wage.

The Queen, though, needs none of this; indeed she is conspicuous for her irrelevance to the whole business.

Clean up because it is the right thing to do. But not for your Queen.

Meanwhile you should spend your cleaning time reading this splendid takedown of CftQ from the New Statesman:

The “Clean for the Queen” campaign is Tory Britain at its worst

UAE jail for offensive whatsapp message


This is really a cautionary tale for foreigners living in the UAE.

Last Monday the supreme court in the United Arab Emirates jailed an Omani man for three years for “mocking” the Gulf state on WhatsApp messenger, local media reported.

Owaissi was also fined 50,000 dirhams.

There has been no information on who he shared the message with on the popular mobile telephone application, or how many people it reached.

The UAE is a key member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen in support of internationally recognised President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The oil-rich country has not seen any of the pro-reform protests that have swept other Arab countries since 2011, including fellow Gulf states Bahrain and Oman.

But authorities have stepped up a crackdown on dissent amid calls for democratic reform.

Self censorship and the need to be highly cautious with comments that might be considered critical are hard to reconcile with the objectives of newly set up new ministries for happiness, tolerance and youth.

Freedom of speech is surely one of the pre-requisites of a tolerant, successful and ambitious nation.

Owaissi was convicted of violating the country’s cybercrime law which was passed in 2012. Human Rights Watch has called the law an “attack on free speech”.

The legislation governs all online communications, prohibiting criticism of the UAE’s leaders and barring calls for political reform in the authoritarian Gulf state.

Be careful.