20 October 2007

Suspense tale tells behind-the-scenes start of Dubai exchange

When the two highest-ranked Saudi Arabian religious leaders at the Saudi consulate in New York declined to support the establishment of the proposed Dubai Mercantile Exchange, David Russo's spirits plummeted.

Russo, the protagonist of prolific writer Ben Mezrich's latest page-turner, "Rigged," feared that the months of hard work, globetrotting, networking and Machiavellian machinations he and his friend Khaled Abdul-Aziz, a member of the Dubai ruling family, had invested in the ambitious project had turned into a futile exercise.

Although Saudi Arabia could not dictate what the sheiks of the United Arab Emirates did in their sovereign territories, the Saudi clerics had the power to kill the project simply by declaring that such an exchange in a Muslim country would violate sharia law.

The trading of derivatives would be haraam, forbidden.

"But according to Khaled, in practice as it applied to Dubai, sharia law was whatever the religious and political leaders of Saudi Arabia decided it was. When it came to matters of business in Dubai, Saudi Arabia was the 800-pound gorilla in the region because of the level of investment in the region and its power over the sheiks themselves," writes Mezrich.
Russo and Khaled had accomplished the seemingly impossible already by convincing the board of the New York Mercantile Exchange that partnering with Dubai on an exchange for trading oil in the politically volatile Middle East was a gamble worth the risk. The Nymex board's approval, of course, was contingent upon the acquiescence of the Saudis.
It appeared to Russo that the Saudis had weighed in against it, even though Khaled had pointed out that Dubai's emirate had set up free zones where in practice charging interest would be allowed.
"They hadn't said no. Which meant that the Dubai exchange wasn't haraam. It wasn't forbidden," writes Mezrich.
The DME, a joint venture of Dubai Holding, the New York Mercantile Exchange and the Oman Investment Fund, is now located in the Dubai International Financial Centre.
"Rigged" is a mostly true story of behind-the-scenes events that led to the creation of the exchange.
Fiction techniques are employed to create an atmosphere of suspense and enhance the readability of the true story.
Even more eye-widening to some readers will be Mezrich's representation of what is evolving out of the desert in Dubai — the proliferating futuristic skyscrapers, the man-made islands, the luxury hotels, the indoor ski courses and the whole smorgasbord of development and amenities for luxurious living that is transforming Dubai into a tourist mecca and commercial crossroads.-(azstarnet)

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.