UAE looks back (Part 2): Triumphs and tragedies of 2012

July - Economy gains momentum

With two quarters of 2012 already behind there were clear indicators about how the economy was moving forward. The overall economy showed signs of progress. The month also marked the beginning of Ramadan and the weather peaked with temperatures hitting 50.4 Celsius.

The first two quarters of 2012 had provides clear indicators about a growing economy and improving market conditions. There were signs of the property market picking up, with villas continuing to outperform the apartment sector. Property developer Union Properties posted a second quarter net profit of Dh83.6 million, compared to a loss of Dh520.79 million a year-ago.

UAE’s telecom provider Du reported a 57 per cent rise in second-quarter profit with quarterly a revenue of Dh2.45 billion, up 12.9 per cent from a year earlier, thereby posting a net profit of Dh325.5 million in the three months to June 30, up from Dh207.2 million in the year-earlier period.

There were new companies moving into Dubai as well. The Department of Economic Development (DED) in Dubai said it had issued 1,542 new licenses in the month of May, a 14 per cent increase compared to the same period last year. It had issued 1,298 new trade licenses during June 2012.

Separately, in a tragic incident, an Indian fisherman was killed after a US navy vessel fired on a fishing boat near the mouth of Jebel Ali Port in Dubai, mistaking them to be pirates. Three other Indian fishermen were injured in the incident.

On the sporting front, Al Wasl Club finally announced on July 10 that it had sacked its chief coach Diego Maradona along with his support

The former Argentina World Cup-winning captain had only completed one year of the two-year contract signed with Al Wasl in May 2011. Speculation had been rife that Maradona's days as coach were numbered following the resignation of the club's board in June and its replacement with a new one.

Meanwhile, religious authorities from across the region said July 20 (Friday) would will be the start of the holy month of Ramadan, a period of fasting, prayers and good deeds.

This was followed by a series of prisoner releases across the country. His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, also ordered the release of 554 prisoners from various prisons in Dubai.

The weather continued to remain hot in July despite a sudden downpour on July 9. Dubai was affected by a sandstorm, followed by rain, causing the temperatures to drop. Slightly. However the mercury shot back again and July emerged as the hottest month in the UAE. The temperatures climbed to its highest level in nine years. The National Centre for Meteorology and Seismology (NCMS) said the mercury levels had hit 50.4 Celsius on July 20, highest since 2003. The temperature
was recorded in the desert town of Suweihan outside Abu Dhabi.

In a countrywide crackdown on illegal residents, The Ministry of Interior arrested about 450 expatriates living and working without valid residency in the UAE. Among them arrested were 268 in Abu Dhabi, 95 in Al Ain, 54 in Ajman and 40 in Ras Al Khaimah.

August - The month of celebrations

With Eid al Fitr and the Hindu festival of Onam falling in the same month, the latter half of the month was filled with, festive spirit shopping discounts and cultural activities.

The deteriorating crisis in Syria forced UAE airlines to suspend flights to the country. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, said it was suspending flights between Abu Dhabi and Damascus with immediate effect and until further notice.

The airline however promised to offer a full refund for unused tickets.

August also witnessed a baby born being on an Emirates flight and the child was named 'EK'

An Emirates airline flight had an emergency stopover in Vietnam on August 22 to allow a mother and baby to disembark after the baby was born on board its flight to Manila. The parents have named the baby ‘EK’ after the airline’s flight code.

In a significant judgement, the Dubai World Tribunal ordered property developer Nakheel, the developer of the World project, on Tuesday to repay over Dhs57 million to investor Shokat Mohammed Dalal in a property dispute case. The money was paid by Dalal in May/June 2008 to reserve three islands on The World development. Dalal claimed that Nakheel did not develop the infrastructure on the islands as promised, and demanded a refund.

In yet another case of drowning a nine year old British kid drowned off Sharjah on August 29. The boy was swimming with his family at a Sharjah beach near Mamzar. Although rescuers tried to pull out the kid and save his life, he died on the spot.

However Moawiya Saleh Al Shunnar, 15, became an inspiration to many after he become theyoungest Emirati to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa standing at 5895m and the highest free standing mountain in the world.

The 11th Grade student at Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) was able to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro after a 7 day ascent, with a group of 15 people, five of whom dropped out midway.

September -  Schools, glamour and gadgets

September marked the beginning of the new school year. There are more than 1,276 public and private schools across the UAE and close to 700,000 students returned to schools this year.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, marked the start of the new academic year by attending the morning assembly of the Al Watan school in Umm Al Quwain.

Separately, in a major infrastructure development project, Abu Dhabi Ports Company started thecommercial testing of the Khalifa Port, paving the way for its full-fledged operations by the end of the year.

The port has a capacity of 2.5m TEUs and is the most technically advanced one in the Mena region.

In another freak accident, a 60-year old Emirati man who was cleaning his old gun, accidentally shot and killed himself in Ras Al Khaimah. The victim was cleaning his an old gun at home when he shot himself directly into his heart. He died on the spot.

In another incident, a restaurant manager was charred to death in a fire that broke out in his apartment in Bur Dubai. Suresh, 55 was a manager at Arab Uduppi restaurant was living with two other employees in Al Refa area.

There was entertainment as well as several Bollywood stars descended into Dubai to promote their movies. First it was Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra for Barfi, followed by Bipasha Basu, Emraan Hashmi and former Miss India Esha Gupta for 'Raaz 3'.

Film buffs in Abu Dhabi also had a chance to enjoy films by Shyam Benegal, a leading Indian filmmaker known for his socially relevant themes during a three day retrospective starting September 27. Among the films screened were Zubeidaa, starring Karishma Kapoor, Sardari Begum and Mammo.

The end of September saw the beginning of Gitex Shopper - the eight-day shopping extravaganza for tech and electronic products that started on September 29. This year’s shopper was shifted to a new venue at the World Trade Centre and included about 120 participating companies. It was also decided that starting next year the Gitex Shopper will be held twice a year to meet the growing needs of UAE consumers.

October - Cityscape, et al

October witnessed several key events including Cityscape Global, The World Energy Forum, apart from various festivities such as Eid in Dubai, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and the Eid Holidays itself.

The eleventh edition of Cityscape was considered special as Dubai was reemerging as a major player after years of slowdown.

Cityscape Global was held during Oct 2 - 4 at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre, where leading developers announced new projects worth several billion dirhams – such as the Meydan City Corporation’s Dh15billion additional investment commitment; Al Futtaim Group and Emaar’s joint venture to develop the Dh3 billion ‘Cairo Gate’ project; and Emmar’s $2.1 billion “Emaar Square” in Cairo.

India’s Shoba Developers announced a multi-billion dollar Meydan Sobha City project - 8m square feet with 280 villas, 13 high-rises, entertainment, retail complex and schools.

Not to be left behind Abu Dhabi also announced a major expansion to its airport - a Dh10.8 billion project to build a new large terminal as part of ongoing expansions intended to face growing business and boost capacity to up to 40 million passengers in 2017. The project will be completed in 2016 but will be commissioned in 2017 after a six-month test period to ensure its preparedness.

Meanwhile, experts and heads of state from across the world gathered in Dubai for the World Energy Forum, with the goal of creating a roadmap towards safe and sustainable energy accessible to all. It was also decided that October 22 will be observed as the World Energy Day every year.

A new global prosperity index adjudged UAE as the most prosperous nation in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena). Globally, the UAE also ranked 29th overall out of 142 countries in the 2012 Legatum Institute Prosperity Index.

During the month Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority started four express trains to serve on Dubai Metro's Red Line, cutting the total travel time by 10 minutes. The service was introduced on trial for five month and will be available in the early morning peak hours.

Global Village also became operational with eight countries added to the 37 pavilions, bringing the total to 65.

The month also witnessed a few tragic incidents as two maids died while trying to save an Emirati child from drowning in a hotel swimming pool in Dibba, Fujairah. The child later succumbed to injuries.

More than 300 people were evacuated and balconies of ten floors charred following a fire in the 13-floor Saif Belhasa building in Tecom in Dubai. The fire was allegedly caused after a cigarette butt was thrown from a balcony.

In another alarming news and the second such incident in less than a month, an Indian teenager died of stroke in the UAE.

The 17-year-old Nasneen Naser – a Grade 12 student of Indian Islamic School Abu Dhabi –succumbed to a heart attack after a party at one of her relatives’ place on Friday night.


November – Realty checks in

The real estate momentum continued after the Cityscape leading to resumption of work on many stalled projects in Dubai including two in Jumeirah Lakes Towers and one in the Business Bay.

The projects - Wind Tower I and II in the JLT and another project renamed by its Indian developer as Burj Pacific were revived under the Dubai Land Department’s (DLD) Tanmia initiative.

Book lovers from across the country and the GCC participated in this year’s Sharjah International Book Fair. The event was represented by almost 920 publishers from 60 countries.

Speaking about books, students of a school in Al Ain had a miraculous escape after the bus they were travelling in was involved in a head-on collision with a vehicle and topped over. The accident occurred with about 10 students on board. Some students were injured.

Continuing with busses and transportation, Abu Dhabi implemented a hike in bus fares across the emirate. The Abu Dhabi Department of Transport doubled city bus fares to Dh2.

While fares to the suburbs will be changed an additional five-fils per kilometer, inter-city bus fares will start at Dh10 while a trip to Al Ain and Ruwais will cost Dh25 and Dh35.

While road transport became a bit more expensive there were more options for people travelling by air. Both Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways included new destinations to their network. Emirates launched its service to Adelaide, making it South Australia's first non-stop flight link with the Middle East.

Etihad Airlines which connected Abu Dhabi to eight Indian cities added Ahmedabad to the list. The airline flies a total of 59 flights to India per week.

Meanwhile, as if the fire at the 13-floored Saif Belhasa building in Tecom last month was not sufficient enough to test the fire safety standards and the preparedness of the Civil Defence, another massive fire broke out in the early hours of a Sunday morning (November 18) at the Tamweel Tower (Cluster U) in Dubai's Jumeirah Lake Towers (JLT).

More than 600 people were affected and several apartments completely burnt. Initial Dubai Police reports say the blaze was started by a discarded cigarette butt. The forensic laboratory report, released later said the cigarette end was thrown on a pile of waste materials, igniting the fire that burnt several apartments and left hundreds of people homeless in the 34 storey building.

In yet another freak accident a five-year-old Emirati boy in Ras Al Khaimah was paralyzed after he was hit by a stray bullet fired by another local family celebrating the return of relatives from pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Saeed Rashid Al Khatri was walking with his father in Suwan neighbourhood when the bullet hit his back and landed inside his backbone, Emirat Alyoum said.

Expatriates be warned, especially those from Kerala. A new study released in November said there has been a 70 per cent increase in impotency cases among single males from Kerala based in the Middle East

The study, conducted by the National Rural Health Mission in Kerala, analysed statistics based on the number of patients visiting infertility clinics during the last ten years. The study found that 80 per cent of the patients were Keralite men living in the Gulf.

The study pointed out that among the main factors leading to such large increase in numbers are climate change, diabetes, alcoholism, stress and an increase in financial instability.

Dubai also witnessed some rainfall during the last week of the month -  almost after a gap of two years. The weather remained cloudy in most parts of the country with incessant rain in several parts.

December - Glitz and glamour

The rains continued into December turning most evenings into a romantic experience. There were traffic jams and more than 300 accidents were reported from across the country as roads were filled with water ponds following the heavy downpour.

The National Day was celebrated with as much fervor as every year. Public parks, beaches and malls had full attendance as long weekends added to the flavor.

Meanwhile, this year’s Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) was dazzling with stars from across all continents.

The eight day festival began on December 9with the screening of Life of Pi. Among the other films that were premiered include the international premiere of Iraqi-born director Karzan Kader, Bekas, Andrew Adamson and James Cameron’s Cirque du Soleil: World’s Away 3D, Hitchock in the Cinema of the World category and first female Saudi director Haifaa Al Mansour’s feature film Wadjda. Hollywood star Cate Blanchett led the way as head of the jury for the first IWC Film Makers Awards.

More than $570,000 was collected in prize money across three categories for the Muhr Awards during the closing ceremony.

Among those present on the closing ceremony was Colin Firth, Freida Pinto, Kristin Davis of ‘Sex And The City’ fame, Rooney Mara and Arab star Amr Waked. Bollywood was represented by the likes of Malaika Arora Khan and designer Vikram Phadnis.

In another significant development, 22 hostages onboard a Dubai-based ship MV Iceberg, were freed from captivity after nearly 32 months.

The crew members were taken hostage by Somali pirates in March 2010 in the Gulf of Aden, the cargo ship’s owner had stopped negotiations with the pirates.

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