A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for May, 2009

new views, new worlds

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 21, 2009

When I was in graduate school, I took a number of courses outside my immediate field for auditor credit, rather than full course credit. I had no background in petrochemicals, for example, or the oil markets of the Gulf, but I thought that as long as courses were being offered in those subjects, I should try to learn what I could.

One of these “I don’t know enough about this subject but I’d like to” courses was a semester-long class on the region’s political economy. I didn’t know anything about political economy – in fact, I didn’t know what the phrase meant. And I certainly knew nothing about terms like “ISI”, the “rentier state”, or the “tertiary sector”. But I stuck it out, and have been grateful ever since for the opportunity to develop at least a basic understanding of the mysterious world where economics and political science meet.

I have been equally grateful for the professor, Steve Heydemann, and his many memorable classroom quips of – including one that has resonated with increasing urgency over the past few months.

I believe, he said in response to a question about the credibility of another scholar’s recent op-ed, that in-country knowledge has a shelf life of about six months.

In other words, one can write about one’s experiences of the country as it was six months or a year or whatever other point when one was last there, but after a certain period one can no longer claim to have the intimate experiential knowledge of the country in its current state.

Six months isn’t a magic number – and for those with permanent ties, like H, perhaps the time limit is irrelevant.

But for me I find that it is time to make the switch from experiential writing – recounting the goofy bits of my daily adventures – to analytic writing. And quite frankly, I can take only so many analytic blog posts, either my own or others’.

I look forward to reading about the Lebanese elections, the Kuwaiti parliament, and other issues dear to my heart on your blogs, and I look forward to either resuming this blog or starting a new one when I feel that I have more daily-life anecdotes to share.

Advertisements

Posted in academia, blogging, women, words | Leave a Comment »

20,000 students “just like that”: American universities in Kuwait

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 20, 2009

This post isn’t about the upcoming Lebanese elections, or funny words in Arabic, or even about my prospects as a dictator. Its about Kuwait, and by extension about the many countries around the region who have been working over the past few years to partner with American, Australian, French, and UK universities as a way of making world-class higher education available to students within their national borders.

Its a tricky process, I think, and requires a great deal of trust on both sides. The article is long, but if you are a student, an educator, or simply an interested citizen, I think you will find it a good and useful read.

New Private Universities in Kuwait Pin Their Hopes on U.S. Partners

By ANDREW MILLS

Kuwait

Sharply dressed in black suits and bright red ties, the two recruiters latch onto high-school students as they walk through the gates of Exhibition Hall No. 8 at the Kuwait fairgrounds.

“I want to tell you about the American University of the Middle East,” one of the recruiters says, following a visitor into the university fair.

“We’re affiliated with Purdue University, from the United States. Do you know Purdue?” his sidekick adds, brandishing a clipboard emblazoned with the Purdue logo. “Would you like more information? Just fill out this card and visit our booth. We have a coffee bar there.”

These recruiters have figured out that the key to selling private higher education in Kuwait is to emphasize what may be their year-old institution’s most important asset: its affiliation with a top foreign university.

“The international affiliation is very important. Purdue is a good American university. Its reputation is known,” says Ahmad Al-Jaber, one of many high-school seniors who swarm around the American University of the Middle East’s booth. “And it’s not going to put its name with a school that is not good. Is it?”

This implied assurance of quality is more than just an institutional strategy. It’s a national one. When Kuwait lifted a ban on private higher education less than a decade ago, it decided that the best way to ensure the development of academically sound universities was to require all new institutions to have foreign partners.

That policy has helped the country rapidly build a credible private higher-education system where none existed before. In only eight years, eight private colleges have opened in this sprawling city-state, catering to some 13,000 students. Nine additional institutions have been authorized to open in the next few years.

Two other Kuwaiti universities have paired with American colleges. The Gulf University for Science and Technology, a polytechnic, teamed up with the University of Missouri at St. Louis; and the American University of Kuwait, a liberal-arts college, is in partnership with Dartmouth College. Other private colleges have Australian or European partners.

To be sure, Kuwait’s private universities have not yet established the kind of academic profile needed to place the small nation on the academic map. When it comes to the Middle East’s higher-education renaissance, nobody mentions Kuwait’s colleges in the same breath as New York University’s soon-to-open campus in Abu Dhabi or Qatar’s Education City, whose six U.S. branch campuses have established Doha as a college town on the Persian Gulf.

But here in Kuwait, the private universities have transformed the local scene.

For more than three decades, private higher education was banned in Kuwait. The giant, state-owned Kuwait University was the only option for students who wanted to earn a college degree in this emirate at the northern end of the Persian Gulf.

But as the number of Kuwaitis edged close to a million during the 1990s, Kuwait University simply could not keep up with the demand.

Qatar and the United Arab Emirates faced similar challenges. But the unopposed rulers of those petrodollar-rich monarchies could set aside the kind of public money needed to build flashy campuses and lure top foreign universities to fill them up.

Politics are much more complicated in Kuwait, an aspiring democracy where a tumultuous parliament frequently exercises its power to oppose the ruling family’s decisions, including on the national budget. Public money has never been as easily available as it has been among Kuwait’s neighbors.

So the Ministry of Higher Education settled on a more cost-effective approach: It turned to the private sector.

The government has set out a number of requirements for private investors wishing to develop their own universities. The foreign partner must be ranked among the top 200 by The Times Higher Education Supplement or appear on U.S. News and World Report’s top tier of colleges. The relationship between the Kuwaiti institution and its foreign partner must be a meaningful one.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re buying degrees — fancy degrees, with fancy names, but not enough meat,” says Imad Alatiqi, secretary general of the Private Universities Council, which regulates all private universities in Kuwait. “We want substantive relationships, where there is a commitment of quality from the local people and from the international people.”

Within those requirements, though, there is quite a bit of variety. The University of Maastricht Business School, in the Netherlands, and the Box Hill Institute, in Australia, have opened branch campuses or franchises of their home institutions in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti partners take a back seat when it comes to day-to-day operations.

Other local investors have chosen to seek advice from their foreign partners, but manage their own academics and operations.

In those cases, the Private Universities Council requires the foreign partner to submit a formal opinion every time the Kuwaiti university makes a major academic decision, such as starting a program or hiring an academic officer.

The council, which licenses and accredits all institutions, also sets the standards it expects private universities in Kuwait to meet.

“Any arrangement between the two universities that can deliver those standards, we welcome,” Mr. Alatiqi says.

A Liberal-Arts Alternative

In 2003 a group of investors led by Sheikha Dana Nasser Al-Sabah, a member of Kuwait’s ruling family, wanted to establish an American-style liberal-arts college. They approached Dartmouth, which offered the kind of curriculum and approach to teaching they hoped to emulate.

They first called Dale F. Eickelman, a Dartmouth anthropologist. It was clear to him, he says, that the Kuwaiti investors wanted to develop a deep relationship.

“From the start, their instinct was to say to us, ‘We don’t just want you to sign off on things for us, we want you to help us aim for the highest level,'” says Mr. Eickelman, who has spent more than three decades working in the Middle East.

Dartmouth found the idea of helping build a liberal-arts college in the Middle East, a relatively uncommon concept here, hard to resist.

Six years later, hundreds of students now mingle in the shaded courtyards of the American University of Kuwait, switching seamlessly from Arabic to English and back again.

The compact campus on the outskirts of this dusty city, with its palm trees and glass buildings, could not seem farther from Hanover, N.H. But inside its classrooms, the approach to learning is similar.

The largely Western-educated faculty members do not expect their students to memorize lectures, as is common in Middle Eastern universities. Instead, Dartmouth has helped the American University of Kuwait set up the kind of curriculum and structure that, Mr. Eickelman says, encourage students to learn how to form their own opinions.

The university emphasizes a broad liberal education. After the Private Universities Council concluded that Kuwait had no need for anthropologists, Dartmouth worked with university officials to successfully argue that degrees in anthropology and sociology would prepare students for a wide variety of careers.

Dartmouth’s agreement with the American University of Kuwait, which extends until at least 2013, is intentionally vague, says Laurel R. Stavis, executive director of the Dartmouth College-American University of Kuwait Project. There is no pro forma checklist of things the two institutions must do for each other.

Instead the relationship is an “organic” one that changes to meet the Kuwaiti university’s needs as it matures, Ms. Stavis says.

Administrators and faculty members from the American University of Kuwait are able to turn to a group of Dartmouth consultants, selected by Ms. Stavis and Mr. Eickelman, for advice on issues like governance, faculty recruiting, and communications.

Students from both universities have begun traveling back and forth. This summer an American University of Kuwait faculty member will be awarded a fellowship to spend a month conducting research in Hanover.

Ms. Stavis is also helping develop a dual-degree program that would enable Kuwaiti students interested in engineering degrees, which are not offered by the American University of Kuwait, to complete their studies in New Hampshire, earning a Dartmouth degree.

The Kuwaiti university covers all of Dartmouth’s expenses, but it is hardly a money-making opportunity for the college, Mr. Eickelman says.

“The amount of money is a joke. Let’s just say it’s tremendously little for the work that is being done,” he says, declining to say exactly how much money Dartmouth has brought in.

Building Up the Sciences

Joel Glassman, associate provost and director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, says his university is more interested in helping to build indigenous institutions overseas than in cloning the home campus and transplanting it to the other side of the world.

“It’s not so mysterious,” says Mr. Glassman, who heads up Missouri’s work with the Gulf University for Science and Technology. “They’re asking for our advice. Academics are not shy people. There is nothing we love more than being asked for advice.”

Administrators and faculty members from St. Louis have helped the Kuwaiti university develop academic programs and curriculum, recruit faculty and staff members, and build the university’s administrative organization.

The Gulf University for Science and Technology, which opened in 2002 and enrolls about 2,600 students, modeled its programs after those offered in Missouri. Students can earn undergraduate degrees in computer science, English, business, and mass communications, and a master’s in business administration.

Like the American University of Kuwait, it requires all undergraduates to take a set of general-education courses.

The university has ambitious plans to spend $100-million to expand its campus to house a full-fledged engineering college.

This is Missouri’s second such partnership in the Persian Gulf. It has advised the Modern College of Business and Science, in Muscat, Oman, since it opened in the early 1990s.

Now Missouri is helping the science-and-technology university as it seeks accreditation from AACSB International: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Robert Cook, vice president for academic affairs at the university in Kuwait, is in the process of hiring 38 faculty members.

He says the relationship with the Missouri campus has given the university’s recruitment efforts a boost. Attracting quality faculty members is often the biggest challenge new universities face in the region.

“For potential faculty members who have never been to the Middle East before, Kuwait can seem an intimidating place,” says Mr. Cook. “So we did all the interviews for American candidates on the St. Louis campus, and a University of Missouri-St. Louis faculty member in the same field sat in on the interviews.”

That assured candidates that the Gulf University for Science and Technology is a serious institution, strongly linked to a serious U.S. university, Mr. Cook says.

The Kuwaiti university has not yet built much of a regional reputation, but here in Kuwait its skills-based programs are highly regarded.

Mr. Cook boasts that 80 percent of its graduates are employed within six months of graduation. Unlike most public-university graduates, who are automatically given government jobs, graduates of the Gulf University for Science and Technology typically find work in the private sector, where employers demand the best candidates, he says.

Gaining Credibility

Back at the university fair, the American University of the Middle East’s recruiters have done their job: The university’s booth is surrounded by teenagers filling out applications for next fall.

The campus is still in its first year of operation. About 100 students are enrolled in three degree programs — business, design, and information technology — which operate out of a single building at the edge of a windswept stretch of land.

Purdue has agreed to help the Kuwaiti university design and build “some very Purdue-like programs that will, over time, morph into the kind of programs they need in Kuwait,” says Andrew Gillespie, Purdue’s associate dean of international programs.

Kuwait’s private universities face a clear challenge as they continue to expand. The best Kuwaiti students still prefer to study abroad. And two out of every five students — 20,000 of them — take advantage of generous overseas government scholarships every year.

Mr. Al-Jaber, the Kuwaiti student, says that his first choice is to study abroad and his second choice is to study at the American University of Kuwait. But, he adds, the American University of the Middle East is not a bad third choice.

While that suggests that many Kuwaiti students still don’t have confidence in the quality of their own higher-education system, Mr. Alatiqi, of the Private Universities Council, prefers to see the students as an untapped market.

“So you can see why we’re so concerned about building quality universities,” says Mr. Alatiqi, snapping his fingers. “We can pick up 20,000 more students just like that.”

Posted in academia, Americans, Arab world, education | 2 Comments »

life as a Middle Eastern dictator

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 19, 2009

This morning I found during my breakfast-time Internet check that Qifa Nabki had taken a Facebook quiz called “Which Middle Eastern dictator are you?” I won’t spoil his fun by telling you what the result was, but I couldn’t wait to take the quiz for myself. After all, why spend my time online checking the day’s weather forecast when I could be doing something truly useful?

I should have known that I was getting into something serious when I read the quiz’s tag line:

Holding together a post-colonial society bound by artificial political boundaries is a difficult endeavor. How would you do it?

Um – not a quiz designed by just anyone, clearly. And the questions were stumpers. For example:

2. Of the following cars, which suits you best?
The Peugot knock-off your countrymen built for you
car? more like TANK!
a 1980’s mercedes
71′ VW van with huge moon roof

What happened to Option 5, the Ghost?

Or,

4.You have to spend $2,000 in one day, what do you buy?
leather unitard
a new AR-15 with sweet optics
A functional, all purpose, tailored suit
give half to my religious institution and buy a decent PA system

Isn’t Option “1” a given, regardless of whether one chooses 1, 3, or 4?

And seriously, what was the purpose of Question 7, which asked for my game plan when attacked by zombies? Is this really a pressing issue for today’s dicator-class?

What I learned from this quiz is that I’m not a very good Middle Eastern dictator. But I’m hoping that a new quiz will come my way soon – one like “Which khaliji amir are you?” I’m going to stack my answers in favor of rich food, progressive schooling, and sword dances: I’d like to be the Emir of Qatar.

Posted in Arab world, politics | 1 Comment »

words and things: what’s in a car?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 18, 2009

I’ve been slowly working my way through a thin but rich family memoir: Grace Dodge Guthrie’s Legacy to Lebanon, about the various contributions of her paternal and maternal families (the Dodges and the Blisses, both deeply connected to AUB and to Robert College in Istanbul). Grace, who was born in Beirut in 1915, writes sweetly of her childhood there and her parents’ work while her father, Bayard Dodge, served as AUB’s president.

She describes her father’s arrival to Beirut during a family trip in 1910:

After being ferried ashore by red-tarboushed boatmen rowing forward to prevent colliding with other boats and being waved through customs under President Bliss’s wing, the Dodge family would have ridden to the college in arabiyehs, open carriages manned by colorful drivers urging on their scrawny horses with cries and whips.

I’m rolling my eyes a bit at this depiction of AUB extra-legality (though under Ottoman laws the Dodges were likely exempt from most customs scrutiny in any case), but what really makes me curious is the word “arabiyeh”. When I studied Arabic in school, I was taught that “siyara” was the word for car.

As my aunt says, sometimes you don’t even know what it is that you don’t know. I didn’t hear the word “arabeh” in Damascus for some time, because I didn’t know to listen for it – just like I didn’t know to listen for “bagnole” when listening to my Parisian friends, because I knew that the word for “car” in French was “voiture”.

But I did begin to hear it – both as “arabeh” and “arabiyeh” – and I did begin to wonder. Why would there be a word for “car” in Arabic that sounded just like the word for “Arabic” in Arabic?

My short attention span meant that I stopped wondering at some point – probably when I grew enough accustomed to Lebanese car culture to refer to cars by their model and make, rather than simply as “car” :). But Guthrie’s use of the term reawakened my curiosity, and I turned to my dictionary and to Google.

My dictionary confirmed what I already knew: that “araba” and “arabiyeh” both refer to a “carriage, vehicle, araba, cart, car, [or] coach”. And Google produced a Wiktionary entry, which gave me a sense of 1) just how much the Wikipedia empire has expanded and 2) the origins of the term. It defines “araba” as: a carriage used in Turkey and Asia Minor drawn by horses or oxen.

And – just like the OED – it includes historical illustrations of the word’s usage:

Quotations

  • 1836: No one but a native of the luxurious East could ever have invented an araba, with its comfortable cushions, and its gaily painted roof, and gilded pillars. The prettiest are those of brown and gold, with rose-coloured draperies, through which the breeze flutters to your cheek as blandly as though it loved the tint that reminded it of the roses of the past season amid which it had wandered.”— Julia Pardoe, City of the Sultan; and Domestic Manners of the Turks, in 1836.
  • 1845: I found the examination of these antiquities much less pleasant than to look at the many troops of children assembled on the plain to play; and to watch them as they were dragged about in little queer arobas, or painted carriages, which are there kept for hire. William Makepeace Thackeray, Notes on a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, 1845
  • 1898:There is, however, such a thing as an “araba,” a vehicle drawn by oxen, in which the wives of a rich man are sometimes dragged four or five miles over the grass by way of recreation. The carriage is rudely framed, but you recognise in the simple grandeur of its design a likeness to things majestic; in short, if your carpenter’s son were to make a “Lord Mayor’s coach” for little Amy, he would build a carriage very much in the style of a Turkish araba. — Alexander William Kinglake, Eothen, 1898.
  • 1917:Whenever I mounted the araba, he would whip his horses to a sharp trot or canter for half a mile, and then at a word stop for me to get out. — W.J. Childs, Across Asia Minor on Foot, 1917.

I love these quotes, and even though I’m not a wiki’er, I love knowing the origins of the word “araba” (or “arabiyeh”). I see so many Ottoman influences in Lebanon and in Syria and am delighted to have found one more.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, research, time, travel, women, words | 4 Comments »

hummus for the Homsis

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 17, 2009

Its been a work-weekend for me, and I’m afraid that I have nothing witty or even vaguely interesting to contribute to the blogosphere. On the other hand, I did manage – barely, but still! – to make several key deadlines, which is making me inordinately impressed with myself.

When not work-working, I’ve been working on straightening up my apartment. My parents, Big and Business Diamond, are arriving on Friday, and while they aren’t staying with me, they certainly will not be impressed by the amount of paper debris collecting on my desk, side table, and coffee table. What can I say? I am a paper magnet.

Buried in those paper piles are several old issues of Aramica, which I skimmed before adding to my recycling. Those of you who read Arabic may get a kick out of this issue’s collection of Homsi jokes:

IMG_1159

My understanding is that Aramica’s audience includes Arab New Yorkers from all around the region, although skewing slightly Lebanese in its coverage thanks to the publisher. Evidently the market for Homsi jokes is broad enough to amuse all of them – Egyptian, Yemeni, Palestinian, etc.

The jokes are a little stereotypical for me, but they were certainly a change from everything else I had been doing 🙂 .

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, humor, Syria | 1 Comment »

Tycoon Diamond

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 14, 2009

Another morning, another sad email from a Hong Kong banker. These Arab investors seem to be – pardon me – dying like flies, and their bankers all seem to think that I should be the one to profit from their families’ loss. But this is the first email to delve into my psyche and my – heretofore unknown to me – financial acumen.

FROM: Liu Yan Bank of China Ltd. 13/F. Bank of China Tower 1 Garden Road Hong Kong,

I sincerely ask for forgiveness for I know this may seem like a complete intrusion to your privacy but right about now this is my best option of communication. This mail might come to you as a surprise and the temptation to ignore it as frivolous could come into your mind; but please consider it a divine wish and accept it with a deep sense of humility.

[A divine wish? Are you sure that God gets personally involved in these types of things?]

This letter must surprise you because we have never meet before neither in person nor by correspondence,but I believe that it takes just one day to meet or know someone either physically or through correspondence.

[Ah: the love-at-first-sight-or-email approach to financial illegality. Super.]

I got your contact through my personal search, you were revealed as being quite astute in private entrepreneurship,and one has no doubt in your ability to handle a financial business transaction.

[Well – I don’t like to brag, but I do indeed know my way around a credit card purchase. And I’ve been very successful in selling off excess furniture and personal effects whenever I move.]

I am Liu Yan a transfer supervisor operations in investment section in Bank of China Ltd. Secretariat of the BOCHK Charitable Foundation 13/F. Bank of China Tower, 1 Garden Road, Hong Kong. I have an obscured business suggestion for you. Before the U.S and Iraqi war our client General Mohammed Jassim Ali who work with the Iraqi forces and also business man made a numbered fixed deposit for 18 calendar months, with a value of (I will disclose amount upon your reply) in my branch.

[There are two things I particularly like about this paragraph: First, the idea that this is an “obscured” business proposal – meaning what, exactly? – and second, that Mr. Liu is keeping the precise amount of General Ali’s deposit to himself until I demonstrate interest.]

Upon maturity several notices was sent to him, even early in the war,again after the war another notification was sent and still no response came from him,We later find out that General Mohammed Jassim Ali and his family had been killed during the war in a bomb blast that hit their home.

After further investigation it was also discovered that General Mohammed Jassim Ali did not declare any next of kin in his official papers including the paper work of his bank deposit. And he also confided in me the last time he was at my office that no one except me knew of his deposit in my bank. So, (I will disclose amount upon your reply) is still lying in my bank and no one will ever come forward to claim it. What bothers me most is that, according to the laws of my country at the expiration 3 years the funds will revert to the ownership of the Hong Kong Government if nobody applies to claim the funds.

[Um, I can think of a number of things in this story that bother me most. Just FYI.]

Against this backdrop, my suggestion to you is that I will like you as a foreigner to stand as the next of kin to General Mohammed Jassim Ali so that you will be able to receive his funds. I want you to know that I have had everything planned out so that we shall come out successful.

[Oh yes – as with the last Hong Kong email, I think this sounds like a great idea. Baathist Iraqi general killed by U.S. forces somehow declared a non-Arab American women his next-of-kin. Who on earth would doubt this?]

I have contacted an attorney who will prepare the legal documents that will back you up as the next of kin to General Mohammed Jassim Ali, all what is required from you at this stage is for you to provide me with your Full Names, private phone number and Address so that the attorney can commence his job. After you have been made the next of kin, the attorney will also fill in for claims on your behalf and secure the necessary approval and letter of probate in your favor for the transfer of the funds to an account that will be provided by you with my guidance.There is no risk involved at all in the matter as we are going adopt a legalized method and the attorney will prepare all the necessary documents.

[A “legalized method” for an illegal activity? Suddenly I have a new image of Hong Kong … ]

Please endeavor to observe utmost discretion in all matters concerning this issue. Once the funds have been transferred to your nominated bank account we shall discuss the percentage issue on your reply.

[Hunh. This whole proposal seems a little low in the numbers department. No disclosure of the deposit, and no disclosure of the percentages? I think I’ll go with the dead Saudi.]

If you are interested please send me your full names and current residential address, and I will prefer you to reach me on my private and secure email address below and finally after that I shall provide you with more details of this operation.

Best Regards Liu Yan

[And my regards to you, Mr. Liu. You’ve made my day. I’m not taking you up on your offer, but I definitely plan to put my “ability to handle a financial business transaction” to use by doing a little online shopping!]

Posted in advertising, Arab world, economics, Iraq, vanity | Leave a Comment »

getting credit where credit is due

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 13, 2009

Someone in Dubai thinks that I deserve more credit – and he (or she) evidently wants to help.

I’m not used to this. What happened to the confidential business offers – minus 10% for expenses – that I’ve been getting? Am I now expected to earn my living through – gasp! – hard work?

Here’s what my latest offer has to say:

We arrange and assist with Letter of Credits – LCs

[Great – didn’t know I needed one!]

Are you a trader, exporter, importer, manufacturer?

[Um, no. But I’m a very good purchaser, at least on an individual level.]

General Trading? Trading in commodities? Bulk supplies?

[Depends what you mean by “general”, “commodities”, and “bulk”. If you are referring to shoes, skincare products, and books, the answer is “YES”.]

Milk Powder, Sugar, Oil Products, Metals, Fertilizers, etc?

[What?]

Trading in Middle East, Africa, Asia, South America?

[My trading – again, on the “buy side” – has been largely limited to the Middle East, but I’m more than open to branching out :D.]

We arrange LCs for more than 100+ countries world-wide :

Discounting of LCs

Confirmation of LCs

Back to Back LCs

Usance LCs

Conditional LCs

Sight LCs

[I have no idea what any of this means. Is that a problem?]

GCC countries, India, China, Western Europe, Russia, Countries of Africa, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Sudan, Yemen, Brazil, Argentina, etc.

[Iran, Syria, and Iran? You clearly are not based in the U.S.!]

Professional service and simple procedures. Lowest rates for foodstuff and medical supplies.

[Well, I do think of skincare products as a medical necessity … ]

Pls write us for pricing quote and other details.

[Absolutely – I’m on it!]

Posted in advertising, Arab world, economics | 1 Comment »

nothing but blah blah blue skies

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 12, 2009

I love posters, I love graphic design, and I love election campaigns. So its been killing me to miss out on all the fun that +961, Beirut/NTSC, QN, and others have been having with their photos of the various and varied electoral posters that currently pepper Lebanon’s highways and byways.

Of course, I have been enjoying all the digital riffs I’ve received via email (not to mention those on which friends have been “tagged” on Facebook); my favorite, of course, is the Jumblatt’ed “Sois Beik et Pivote”. And last week I began to have the glimmer of a hope that I might have stumbled upon a new source for electoral ads: the Daily Star.

But I’m not sure in the end that this is worth getting at all excited about. Here is last week’s political ad, courtesy of Mustaqbal:

08_05_2009_003_003

Ho-hum.

Am I missing something here? Is there some deeper meaning to “blue sky”? I get that Mustaqbal’s color is blue, and that blue skies are tranquil. But in my memory, blue sky days are good not only for beachs and skiing, but also for a whole lot of less-than-tranquil ishtibakat’ing. If I were a voter, I’d like to see a detailed platform explaining how a Mustaqbal vote would encourage some blue-sky activities and discourage others.

Sometimes simplicity is artistic. And sometimes its just unhelpfully vague. Blue sky. Yawn.

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, Lebanon, media, politics | 2 Comments »

Arab American Comedy Festival:ها ها ها

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 9, 2009

If you’re in New York this week, you might be interested in the Arab-American Comedy Festival, which starts tomorrow and runs through Thursday. (It got a nice profile on WNYC – the local public radio station – yesterday, which you can read or listen to here.)

The design for this year’s festival is a hoot:

nyaacf

I’ve got tickets for some of the events next week, and I can’t wait. This past week was a doozy – time for a few laughs.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, humor | 1 Comment »

Lebanon calling

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 8, 2009

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been reading about the Lebanese Ministry of Communications’ plans to encourage the establishment of call centers in Lebanon, starting with the ten contracts it signed in late March. Earlier this month, the telecomm industry newsite TMCnet reported that one of these contracted firms, Call Center International, is moving ahead with its plans to open five call centers throughout Lebanon. Although CCI is a California-based firm, it will operate in Lebanon as a local branch (with a largely non-functional website) in partnership with a U.S. firm called InContact, whose software will route calls placed in the U.S. to Lebanese customer service agents.

The TMCnet articles notes thatThis move [by the Ministry] is part of the Lebanese government’s efforts to try and provide more jobs for its workforce, which is considered to be well educated and highly skilled. In addition to the licenses, the Lebanese government has also pledged to provide full support and encouragement of the new business.”

I’m all for initiatives to bring more service jobs to Lebanon – especially those located outside of Beirut -, and to diversify its employment sectors. And if this expansion comes with increased education and professional training opportunities, so much the better. (CCI Senior Corporate Advisor William Robertson is quoted in the article as saying, “One of our key focus areas includes the development of online distance education for schools, government agencies, and higher learning institutions.”)

On the other hand, I’ve had some fairly scarring outsourced call service experiences. Foreign customer service agents seem measurably less interested in customer service, sadly. More importantly, they seem much less willing to take a creative, problem-solving approach to the problems that necessitate calling the service line in the first place.

I don’t think this latter issue will carry over to Lebanon, but I do worry about the type of problem solving they might suggest. I can just imagine myself calling to contest a credit card charge, or to be rebooked when my scheduled flight is late, and being asked whether I have any relatives or friends who work at the mis-charging store, or at the carrier whose flight I want to switch to. Its better if you know somebody, I can hear my friendly Lebanese helper telling me.

I’m not sure that this is a problem-solving approach that I want brought to the U.S. :).

Posted in economics, education, Lebanon | Leave a Comment »