I thought it may be interesting to share some of these stories, to give those of you less familiar with this part of the world a flavor of what it is like here. So this is the first in an occasional series of "Weird and Wonderful UAE".
I should note that I am not passing judgement about any of these stories. "Different" can be positive or negative. The fact is that these are things I have read or heard in the last couple of weeks that have made me do a double take.
I will leave you to form your own views.
As you may be aware homosexuality is illegal in many countries in this part of the world. The news this week is that apparently a number of countries, led by Kuwait, are developing medical tests which will allow them to "detect" gay people, and prevent them from entering the country. This one has, perhaps unsurprisingly, made the news back in the UK. Link
Just like in the UK there are court cases here that make you stop and listen.
This week a woman was cleared of "brandishing" her middle finger at a fellow motorist after he objected to her stopping to take a photo of a vintage car. Whilst she was cleared, it's a good reminder to keep your temper in check when dealing with some of the suicidal driving here. Link
At the other end of the spectrum there has been outrage in the last couple of weeks when a drunk driver was sentenced to one month in prison for knocking a triathlete off his bike, and killing him (link). And there is further anger this week because a man who beat his son to death for doing badly in his exams has only been sentenced to three years (Link), and another drunk driver who smashed into the front of a restaurant killing three people has been given a sentence of one month (link).
It's not the UAE, but this one certainly caught the attention. A Saudi teenage boy has been given ten years in prison and 2000 lashes for dancing topless on a jeep. Apparently the authorities intend to appeal the sentence as being too lenient. Link
On a lighter note it has also been reported that so far this year 119 car owners have been fined the equivalent of £85 for washing their cars in public. Apparently doing this can cause a health hazard or even a flood. Just the excuse I need! Link
A grand scale
After a few tough years following the financial crisis, the economy of the UAE seems to be picking up pace again (not that it ever got quite as bad as elsewhere in the world).
There has been a big property exhibition in Dubai this week, where a number of big projects have been announced, including the completion of the Dubai Canal project which will effectively turn a large part of the city into an island (Link), and the city is also to get the world's largest man made lagoon. This lagoon is not just going to be slightly bigger than the previous record holder, it is going to be FOUR times bigger (Link)!
I can't remember which at the moment, but one of the above projects is going to include thousands of new homes and offices, and 450 new restaurants.
The mind certainly does boggle at the scale of some of the projects here.
Whilst leading the way with mega projects there are often reminders that the country still has some catching up to do in other areas. For example, there has been much fanfare this week about direct debits coming to the UAE (Link). Until now, things like rent had to be paid by writing a number of post dated cheques at the start of the year (or paying the whole years rent in advance), but now this is all going to change. The central bank is very pleased with itself, putting regular adverts on the radio congratulating itself on the achievement.
Only in the UAE? A retailer is offering a free BMW with each of a new range of TVs that it sells. Mind you, the TV does cost $35k. Still sounds like a good deal. Link
We've not watched any local TV yet but this caught my attention on YouTube. An "Arab's Got Talent" competitor bites the head off a live snake and skins it with his teeth! Beat that Simon Cowell! Link