Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Gaza Surfers

With all the chaos and upheaval in the Arab world, I decided that it was time to stop watching the news. Around the same time, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Barakabits, ‘Baraka‘ meaning blessed in Arabic. After sitting with the incredibly inspiring Rama Chakaki – Founder of Barakabits – (who coincidentally advised me to not put on my tv) I realised that the Arab world has some pretty fascinating stories to report. Did you know that the UAE is home to a business that works to preserve traditional Palestinian embroidery?

Or that the Tigris River Flotilla in Iraq starts on September 15 to highlight a green future?

I certainly didn’t know that Gaza for example is home to a huge surfing community and has a full-fledged Gaza Surf Club that connects its members with international surfers of the world.

Barakabits brings us good news from the Middle East! Such a refreshing and alternative perspective on the region we live in. You can follow their news on social media or subscribe to their newsletter. Even better you may want to get in touch with them and contribute a ‘good’ story.

Tracing the history of my country

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

This article was first featured in Gulf News on 25th November, 2011

As we all know, certain points on a map become sacred because of their history — but articulating the details of that history is not always easy. As we celebrate the UAE Federation’s 40th anniversary, the country’s history is incredibly central to my thoughts and reflection. For one, over time it has been called the Pirate Coast and then the Trucial Coast which ultimately led to the UAE Federation.

In 1602, the Dutch and English gained commercial strength in the East under the Dutch VOC and the English East India Company, both joint stock companies owned by private merchants. This influenced much of the history of the Arabian Gulf. At the time, Amsterdam had developed into the leading financial and commercial city in Northern Europe. The existence of a vast integrated network of trade in the Indian Ocean stretched from the Red Sea and the Gulf to South of China, Amsterdam and London. The Dutch had gained extensive information on where the Portuguese had failed before them in the Gulf in terms of trade. The objective of the VOC was to obtain a monopoly of the lucrative Spice Islands and in 1619 they achieved this goal by having a stronghold in Batavia, Jakarta. This helped them establish trading ventures all over Asia allowing them to sell commodities from India, Indonesia and the Far East to Arabia, helping them monopolise the Indian Ocean trade routes. In 1622 the Dutch and English entered, through the Strait of Hormuz (known for its large number of pelagic fish such as tuna, mackerel and sardines), to the Gulf markets where they concentrated their trade with Basra and Bandar Abbas, the latter becoming a centre for trade and political activities in the Gulf for the next 150 years.

In 1652, competition intensified between the two powers and the English lost their Arabian Gulf factories at Bandar Abbas and Basra to the Dutch. The VOC became the chief supplier of spices in Persia and the Arabian Gulf by 1680.

By the mid 18th century the Dutch power weakened as a three-way warfare erupted between them, the English and French. In order to preserve their position in the Arabian Gulf they occupied the island of Kharg, which was offered them by the Arab ruler of the Za’ab tribe. Erecting both a fortress and factory strengthened their position and they took over many economic activities of the indigenous Arab population including pearling. In 1766 under the leadership of Mir Muhanna, the island of Kharg was freed from the Dutch. This was a historic moment as it ended the VOC presence in the Arabian Gulf.

With the decline of the Dutch, British fortunes increased in the region marking the beginning of the British Political Residency in the Gulf, whose primary functions were entirely political. At this same time in the 18th century three political entities emerged in southeastern Arabia — the Qawasim with their main base at Ras Al Khaimah, the Bani Yas federations and the Al Bu Said dynasty with Muscat as its capital. The region was known to the British as the ‘Pirate Coast’ as raiders based there harassed the shipping industry despite both European and Omani navies patrolling the area. There were disturbances between the Qawasim and the British and in 1820 the British concluded the General Treaty of Peace with the Shaikhs of the Arab Coast by which the Rulers agreed to putting an end to any disturbances at sea— this meant that they were not allowed to build large ships and erect fortifications along the coast. With this agreement also came the denunciation of the slave trade (that were mainly brought as domestic servants). This essentially gave the British the right to police the seas of the lower Gulf and was a crucial point in their ‘formal’ interest in the area.

Many other agreements were signed after these series of events — an important one being the Ten Years Truce, which was a document that established permanent peace at sea and in 1853 The Perpetual Treaty of Maritime Peace. The area became known in political documents as the Trucial Coast as a result of this truce. This later led to The Exclusive Agreements of 1892 which ensured that the Trucial Shaikhs not enter into any agreement with any power other than the British Government, in return for defending the emirates from foreign aggression.

Between both World Wars, the British got more involved with the Trucial States with the ‘British Imperial Airways’ securing landing rights in Sharjah in 1932 and the introduction of a Political Agency, which was later, transferred to Dubai in 1953. The signing of the oil concessions was ultimately the biggest involvement on their side and this led to the demarcating of boundaries in the 1950s.

As oil was discovered and produced in Abu Dhabi in 1962 and later in Dubai and Sharjah the region gained momentum in world economic and political affairs. This led to the development of a desired unification among the emirates. In 1968 the British finally announced their intention to withdraw from the Gulf by 1971.

On the 18th of February 1968, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, met at Al Semha and agreed to merge their respective emirates in a union and jointly conduct foreign affairs, defence, social services, security and adopt a common immigration policy. This momentous agreement came to be known as the Union Accord and considered as the first step towards uniting the Trucial Coast as a whole. The foundation of an independent, sovereign state was formally proclaimed on December 2, 1971, and after Ras Al Khaimah joined on February 10, 1972, the federation was complete, with the inclusion of all the seven former Trucial states. This newly-founded federal state became officially known as Dawlat al Imarat al Arabiyya Al Muttahida or the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

As I watch the small abra boats cross the Dubai creek, I imagine the incredible series of tumultuous events that make up the history of my now peaceful home, the UAE.

Published at

Becoming an Aspen Institute Fellow

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011




Think creativity, values-based leadership, and change. These words describe the Aspen Institute Fellowship program.

My experience with the Aspen Institute started upon receiving a call at the start of 2011 saying I was nominated to be a Fellow. At the time,  I was not quite sure what it meant, though after some research and conversations with past Fellows I was pleased to hear that a great deal of good comes out of this 2-year program. I was informed that discussions within the sessions will lead to working on a project that would bring positive change within my community. Aspen will be investing in me. I accepted enthusiastically.

What was ahead of me was something truly beyond what I had expected. All twenty Fellows from across the Middle East met at the Dead Sea in September 2011. We read and discussed many leadership types from Thatcher to Martin Luther King, and Jack Welch to Machiavelli. But the Aspen program turned out to be not just about discussions on various leaders and their styles. It involved a journey of self-discovery into our inner characteristics as managers, leaders, parents, spouses and even as children. The Aspen program evoked a human element to leadership and a great deal more of emotional discovery. We spoke about the ‘sadhu’s’ in our lives – the people we tend to forget whilst climbing up the corporate ladder. Those were powerful sessions.

I was fortunate to make the best of friends whom I learnt so much from, one of them being Anousheh Ansari – the first female astronaut and private space explorer. Anousheh is an engineer and businesswoman and she always knew that she wanted to travel in space. She made sure she turned her dream into a reality. Anousheh is an incredibly inspiring person to us all.

There are some fascinating success stories that have come out of Aspen over the years, such as the eye doctor who worked on manufacturing affordable eyeglasses for people in poverty-stricken countries. Post Aspen, this Fellow left his job as a doctor to continue growing this business and help thousands of people around the world.

We came back from the program having bonded – our minds buzzing with ideas. We were all incredibly motivated to do the best we can for the countries that we live and work in.

I’m now working on the first part of my project and cannot wait to share the idea with the other Fellows at the next meet up which will be early next year.