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Arab Relations

Nine Languages, One Network

Caitlin McMullen

In an office overlooking Dubai’s ‘Media City’, a small media organisation is undergoing a dramatic expansion in order to cater for the Emirates’ diverse communities.

The Arabian Radio Network (ARN) is a United Arab Emirates government broadcaster that began in the early 2000s.

After struggling for a long period, the national broadcaster found it difficult to attract an audience and to create sufficient revenue from advertising.

For a decade, ARN survived with three stations, relying heavily on the Arabic community to boost ratings.

In 2008, Australian Steve Smith was appointed the Chief Operating Officer for the national network, in the hope that he could grow listenership.

                                                Steve Smith. Photograph by Caitlin McMullen

                                                Steve Smith. Photograph by Caitlin McMullen

As Smith says, there is a lot of segregation because most of the population does not speak Arabic. “There was a continuing rise in expatriates coming to the UAE, with a language other than Arabic.

“In terms of a national language, I would argue that the UAE has become so diverse, we don’t have one. But the radio broadcasts did not reflect this.”

With the expatriate population dramatically rising, Smith decided that change must occur.

Smith, an expatriate himself, saw a “huge gap in the market in regards to foreign language radio stations.

“The goal was to create community radio stations for people to speak in their native language.”

With investment from the UAE Government, ARN managed to expand with six new stations offering Malayalam, Hindi, Farsi, and Tagalogue programming, as well as additional Arabic and English stations.

This increased the listenership to more than double the daily rate of 2008.  ARN currently estimates that 3.2 million people daily tune into one of their stations.

ARN chose the different language groups based on the amount of expatriates within the UAE at the time and the expected number for the future.

At the time the Farsi program was launched in 2009, there were only 100,000 Iranians. They number around 500,000, or five percent of the UAE’s total population.

Smith says “Fifty percent of UAE’s population is from the Asia Pacific.” He notes that it is “an interesting fact that Indian gets spoken more than Arabic”.

Since the development of the stations, ARN is now known for its “localised news and the communities revolving around the station”.

Smith says a government broadcaster should always reflect society.

“There are 200 nationalities in the UAE. It’s not possible to have a radio program for every single one. There should always be a correlation between the population and language groups within the media.”

There are no immediate plans to create more foreign language stations, although Smith is sure that ARN will continue to find ways to include expatriates within their broadcasting. 



Chef says Local Culture is the Key

Stefania Di Paola

“Middle Eastern food has gotten a bit lazy”, said Greg Malouf over a crackling phone line from Beirut.

The Australian chef used to own the well-known Melbourne restaurant MoMo. He moved to Dubai in 2013 because he was eager to explore new markets. But, when I tried calling him, he was visiting his family in Lebanon.

Since his return he has learnt several lessons about preparing Middle Eastern food for local people and is confident that upmarket local cuisine is gaining momentum in the Emirates, partly because there is a lack of quality restaurants specialising in the food of the region.

“If I go to a Lebanese restaurant and order something simple like kibbe, you’re not going to get lamb, it’s most likely frozen mutton.

“And that’s the disappointing part of some of the places in this part of the world, they haven’t moved on or pushed any boundaries.“

Photograph by Juliette Strangio

Photograph by Juliette Strangio

His restaurant is located in the International Financial Centre of Dubai. It’s called Clé, the French word for key, but Malouf said he didn’t come up with the name. “I had nothing to do with it, it’s not what I had in mind.”

The restaurant is an all-black, stylish venue with multiple rooms including a lounge and terrace. 

Photograph by Juliette Strangio

Photograph by Juliette Strangio

The editor at Dubai’s Country Guides Magazine, Eduan Maggo, said Clé’s modern setting contrasts with its rustic meals.

“He tries to cook the dishes his family cooked, and they do get an update in their presentation, but apart from that it’s very homely.

“His family style restaurant is a very Arab approach to eating, and mixing that with your high end almost western concept is quite cool.”

Maggo believes the restaurant set-up works because Emiratis love to go out in bigger groups to share meals.

MoMo was a modern Middle Eastern restaurant in the Melbourne Grand Hyatt on Collins St.

The Clé menu includes an extra hit of spices, unlike MoMo which had to accommodate the wine loving Australian palette.

Malouf said he had to be aware of the deep traditions of the region in order to accommodate them in the new menu.

“Middle Eastern people will always go back to what they know best, home cooking”.

He counts himself lucky to have a natural understanding of the regional palette because he was brought up in a Lebanese household.

The greatest proportion of Clé’s customers are locals, followed by expats and tourists.

“Early in the week it’s mostly expats and later on in the week its locals, which I love to see. It puts me at ease to know that I’m on the right track and going in the right direction.

“Most of my customers in Melbourne were locals and never Middle Eastern, and now it’s swung right around.

“My customers are 70 percent local, followed by Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian.”

Malouf said he picked Dubai for its location and diverse population with a well-travelled palate.  

However, he does admit that he had a greater response to his food back home because Australians are always willing to try something different.

“There is an incredible amount of food bloggers in Dubai because Arabs love to eat food and talk about food, and then talk about their next meal.”

Dining at Clé certainly made a strong impression on Country Guides Dubai food critic, Eduan Maggo.

“I remember he served a mayonnaise with pomegranate which I thought was a nice way of blending a traditional fruit with a modern condiment.

“His grandmother’s spinach pies were just amazing, it’s all about the textures, flavours and the different layers which were all really good.”

On the opening night of Clé, 1200 guests arrived including celebrities and a-list guests, something Malouf still isn’t used to.

“It’s just what happens in Dubai and my friends back in Melbourne were laughing at me.

“It diluted our brand, we don’t want to be an elitist restaurant we want to do something good for the region.”

Photograph by Juliette Strangio

Photograph by Juliette Strangio

Rent Rise makes Dubai Unaffordable

Aaron Ralston and Michael Thompson

An apartment complex in the Al Muraqqabat province of Dubai provides a snapshot into the living conditions of migrant workers.

The lobby was hot and humid, ten people from Sri Lanka, India, Africa and Pakistan were in the lobby, a manager spoke loudly at his desk, while another man exited the stairwell carrying a mattress.

These are some of the 8.3 million working migrants, according to the UN’s 2011 World Urbanization Prospects, who keep the UAE economy going.

Within one of these apartments plywood sheeting is stacked upon a makeshift wall that the owner has recently finished, converting his lounge into a bedroom.

A Tweety bird poster hangs on the door of the converted room that now houses an Indian couple that moved into the home two days earlier.

A mattress lies on a floor that is covered by clothes, the owner points to wood and tools in the corner that will be used to make a bed, because the couple could not afford one.

Photograph by Michael Thompson

Photograph by Michael Thompson

Rental reform laws were passed by the Dubai government in 2013 causing rental prices to increase by up to 20 percent per year.

Decree number 26 of 2013, passed by Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was implemented to ‘promote economic development and stability for the property sector’, according to the decree.

The decree allows landlords to raise the rental price of a property if it falls below the average price for its area by 11 percent.

The average rental price is determined by the Real Estate Regulatory Agency’s rent index.

One Sri Lankan migrant worker who rents the house wishes to remain anonymous for his safety.

He has been living in Dubai since 1983 and has witnessed first hand how the decree has affected the city, “At the moment the main problem we all have is the rent, the rent has increased.”

The Sri Lankan worker said, “They [landlords] don’t care about us, last year I started in that apartment for 42,000 the last year they increased it to 52,000 then this year they increased it to 75,000”.

“My situation is very bad, I’m not a guy cleaning outside, but that money is not enough to live. I can’t go out with friends anymore to eat, I can’t send money to my son and my son isn’t speaking to me,” He said.

The Indian migrant whom now lives in the converted room had imagined a different life for him and his wife.  

“I was told that Dubai was the land of opportunity, you have to sacrifice a lot, it is beyond expectations to sacrifice,” He said.

The Sri Lankan worker believes he will be forced to leave Dubai at the end of the year because he can’t afford to live here anymore.

“I’m planning to go back to Sri Lanka at the end of this year and without anything, without anything, no retirement, no pension no anything and that is my biggest worry.”

“At the moment, I think it’s evil, I don’t know what has happened to Dubai. The money we make we spend on rent, [the landlords] are sucking your blood, they suck the blood out of you”, he said.

Seeing is Believing

Derek Schlennstedt

The view of Business Bay from Sanjay Chimnani’s office   , Photograph by Derek Schlennstedt

The view of Business Bay from Sanjay Chimnani’s office, Photograph by Derek Schlennstedt

“Seeing is believing,” says Sanjay Chimnani as we look out of his 15th floor office through the haze of a sandstorm.

Below us are the construction sites and property developments of Dubai’s Business Bay.

Chimnani is the Manager of the Australian-based real estate agency Raine and Horne, which moved to Dubai in early March.

He says foreign property developers are investing in the UAE for its strategic location in the region.

Building development in the UAE has recovered from the global financial crisis in 2007 to again becoming a mega billion dollar business that attracts investors from all over the world.

“Dubai has become the most logical place to operate in the Middle East due to its strategic location and strong economy.” Says Chimnani. “It is amongst the top ten cities in the world to invest in and is a very important market for Raine and Horne to be involved in”.   

They weren’t the first to arrive. LJ Hooker and Ray White are already well established.

“Ray White has recently opened an agency in Dubai before we did. The big top three Australian real estate agencies have all opened up offices in Dubai.”

“It’s too big a market to be ignored,” he says.

Despite Australian interest in the region, there are numerous cases of Australian developers losing money, along with their reputations in the Middle-East.

Marcus Lee knows all too well the problems and pitfalls in the UAE.

The accountant who worked for an Emirati developer says, “starting up a company in Dubai is generally a red taped roller coaster.”

Lee worked as­­ a commercial manager for the large developer Nakheel but was arrested on fraud-related charges after a failed deal by the Queensland developer, Sunlands.

He spent nine months in prison and four years under house arrest in Dubai.

Lee, who was eventually found innocent, says developers still face uncertainty in the market despite government rules to control property after the GFC.­

“In short the red tape and cross over requirements of Dubai and UAE Government agencies is immense. B does not follow A and D never follows C. Rules are made up and done away with at a moment’s notice all the time. There is no predictability whatsoever for any businesses in what may be required from one day to the next,” he says.

But so far Raine and Horne have not faced such problems.

Chimnani says, “The government regulatory authority has completely taken control of the market, this has gotten rid of speculators and left us with a very mature market with more long term investors.”

On moving to the region Chimnani says “the timing was right, there was a lot of regulation in the market which didn’t exist before 2009 and should there be another global financial crisis it would be corrected.”

This regulation and constant change in laws by government has left the market very unpredictable says Lee, “the laws are consistently changing and it’s important for Australian businesses to pay attention to this.”

A Gulf in Student Numbers

Tara Smith

Education experts agree there are complex reasons why more Australian students are studying in the UAE than Emiratis studying in Australia.

There are at least four Australian universities operating in the UAE but this has failed to translate into higher enrolments of Emiratis in Australia.

The reasons may include a lack of student incentives, weak marketing in Australia and the fluctuating Australian dollar, according to several industry observers.

Austrade reports that 1133 Australian students are currently studying in the UAE, while the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) records that only 700 Emiratis studied in Australia in 2014.

The University of Wollongong (UOW) has strong connections with the UAE and established the first western university in the region over 20 years ago.

Speaking from Wollongong’s Australian campus, the Director for International Student Engagement and Coordination, Peter Day, says almost no Emirati students transfer to Australia during their studies.

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   Students of the UAE   Photo courtesy of University of Wollongong Dubai

Students of the UAE Photo courtesy of University of Wollongong Dubai

He says the inconsistency of the dollar is a contributing factor.

“With all the ups and downs of the Australian dollar we’ve never had many Emirati students transferring from our campus to Australia”.

Day says Australia also fails to attract any of the many students from the subcontinent – such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh - who study at the Dubai campus.

He says access to free education in the UAE, coupled with state-of-the-art local facilities, may deter Emirati students from transferring to Australia to study.

“We’ve never pushed them to transfer because from our point of view it’s very much the choice of the student,” he says.

The Australian Ambassador to the UAE, Mr Pablo Kang, attributes low enrolments of Emiratis at Australian universities to the UAE’s concentration on local education.

“I think that number is not going to go much higher because the focus now is on building up the local capacity of universities in this country,” he said.

While 15% of Emiratis who study overseas study in Australia, it’s a low number in comparison to Australians studying in the UAE.

“There is a greater awareness of the UAE for Australian students but it’s nowhere near the same levels the other way, so certainly that needs to be addressed,” Kang says.

“We would also like to see Australian schools coming to Dubai and Abu Dhabi which hasn’t quite happened yet.”

Australian students in the UAE are spread between Australian and private international institutions, with around 100 students studying at the UOW Dubai campus.

Many tertiary students are expatriates with family based in Dubai, as well as those wishing to travel with Dubai as their starting point. With English spoken widely in the UAE, it’s easier for Australian students to adapt to the lifestyle.

However, they are faced with the barrier of paying upfront tuition fees, as Australian students are ineligible to apply for a HECS/HELP loan when studying in the UAE.

Head to the West to Get in the Zone

Edwina Toohey

The taxi passes Jebel Ali, the last train station on the Red line heading out of Dubai. It’s lunchtime and the temperature is in the low 40s. We travel past an industrial park of large warehouses behind locked fences. In the last row of factories before the desert there are large gates that have the feel of a border crossing. There’s a tollgate where a man tells us to stop.

Jebel Ali 2.png

This is the entrance to the largest free trade zone in the Middle East and North Africa region, where, inside the offices of TNA Middle East FZE, the general manager Mukul Shukla is waiting for us. But we can’t reach him on the phone and the guard at the gatehouse won’t let us in without a pass.

Later that day after returning to Dubai, Shukla rings to explain why his Australian based company operates in a free trade zone.

“It’s a great advantage for TNA as it provides smooth operations and ease of doing business.”

TNA sells food processing and packaging equipment. It was established in Australia 33 years ago and now has 27 offices around the world. Its Dubai office coordinates imports and exports across the Middle East and India. He says free trade zones “encourage the relationship between the two countries (Australia and the UAE) and provides a platform for many other companies to set up operations.”

Free trade zones attract foreign investors by offering them 100% ownership and zero taxes. The UAE is home to 37 free trade zones. Including Dubai Auto Zone –the market place for the auto industry and Dubai Gold and Diamond Park – which houses 37 retailers.

Free trade zones have made the UAE very attractive for foreign companies. Including several Australian companies such as, steel production company ITW Construction Systems and ceramic manufactures Claytan Australia.

The Australian Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Pablo Kang, says: “The UAE introduced these free trade zones to try and encourage more companies to invest in the region.”

And he says, “more companies could be benefitting from them.”  

“There are a number of Australian companies that are set up in the free trade zones that are using it as a hub but I think it’s a bit underdone.”

A free zone company is not allowed to trade directly with the UAE market. This protects the UAE economy. Kang says it is way to “build up its local businesses,” assuring security for local companies.

The government and Austrade are trying to convince companies “to look westwards” and see the opportunities for them to trade and expand their businesses in the UAE.

The companies’ perceptions are holding them back from investing in the region. Kang says they would “much rather do business somewhere more familiar and closer to home like South East Asia or Northern Asia.”

But TNA’s Shukla says, the experience for his company has been positive.

“With the presence of many multinational corporations in Dubai, all local producers’ quality has increased.”

The Australian Ambassadors

Krystal Mizzi

After a 12,000 km journey and a 30-year relationship, two Australian  salt-water crocodiles have finally started a family in Dubai’s under water zoo.

King and Queen Croc of The Dubai Mall Aquarium have been mating regularly since they arrived in the Emirates in June last year, but unfortunately her eggs have always been soft shelled so most people assumed she wouldn’t be able to reproduce. 

The King is about 35 years old and Queen is assumed to be over 80. That’s why the person who captured her, John Lever, called her the ‘cougar.’

Once known in Australia as Jock and Missy, the pair were taken from Queensland’s north in June last year to their new home.

Greg Giarratana, National Airfreight Development Manager at Mainfreight Australia, is one of the few experts at transporting wild animals, but was asked to take his job to a new extreme for this mission.

“Generally speaking, the small animals are usually more delicate to handle, while the large ones present a real logistical challenge. To transport the crocs we had to get really creative and converted a 20-foot metal crate into a two-bedroom ‘motor home’ for over-sized reptiles – complete with split system air conditioning.”

Paul Hamilton, General manager and curator of the aquarium has crafted an exact replica of an Australian crocodile habitat, where humidity and air quality is constantly monitored and controlled between 28-30 degrees.

King and Queen Croc now live in a ‘multi-million dollar’ enclosure, which features a 150 sq m pool stocked with fish from Australia. A few kookaburras have been added to the enclosure as well.

The giant male is between 35-40 years of age, 5 meters long and weighs in at 750-800kg, ‘and he will continue to grow with a life span of around 100 years’, said Hamilton.

King Croc was rescued in 1986 after he moved into a manmade lake in the Royal Botanical Garden in North Queensland. His presence had become a safety concern for visitors as he took up the habit of nightly strolls up an attached dry creek and into the local neighborhoods. 

John Lever, owner of the Koorana Salt Water Crocodile Farm on the Capricorn Coast in Central Queensland found King Croc 30 years ago when he was only 2.2 metres.

King was kept with four females, one of which was Queen, or at the time, Missy. But eventually there was only the two left, ‘Missy was very domineering, she would beat all the other crocs up to get his attention,’ said Lever.

Even though ‘Queen’s age can not be identified she is estimated to be up to 80 years old, and females generally have a breeding life of 40 years and it would be extremely unusual for females to breed after 60 years of age,’ said Lever.

Crowned ‘King and Queen Croc’ upon their arrival, the crocodiles soon became the ‘it’ couple of Dubai, wasting no time settling in, within 20 days they were ‘blowing bubbles at one another’ Lever said, as a kind of ‘foreplay’ or invitation to mate. 

The honeymoon was successful and rewarding at best as within the year Queen Croc had laid 59 eggs, which was astounding considering the last few decades the two had been unsuccessful countless times. 

The successful reproduction is unheard of considering her age and inability in the last three decades, however the miracle birth is making headlines with the arrival of their 3 newborns.

To see salt water crocodile’s mate is an extremely rare sighting considering their natural habitats. Their love is no secret and neither is their intimacy as their mating habits are quite frequent and completely random ‘one moment King croc will be having a feed and the next he will take Queen under his arm for a good time’ said Hamilton. 

To ensure the hatchlings survived, the eggs were put into an incubator however out of the 59 only 3 survived, though this was a miracle that even that many made it at all. 

The baby crocs are still developing in the incubators for visitors of the aquarium to see and soon they will be reunited with their parents.

“The crocs are bringing in a large number of visitors and proved to be successful of the initial proposals, we see 74 million visitors to the entrance window annually,” said Hamilton. 

“We have plans to expand and refurbish both the croc enclosure and the entry of the aquarium which will be underway in the coming months,” said Hamilton. This will include designed multimedia 3d imagery that will show a killer whale jumping out of the water, personally designed by Paul Hamilton. 

The crocs are ambassadors for Australia and help to dispel myths of our country. When the Australian Ambassador of The United Arab Emirates, Pablo Kane opened the crocodile sanctuary he was asked “what if they escape and they eat people?”

Just as Australians have myths about the Middle East, the Middle East has myths about Australia.