UAE in 2018: KhalifaSat lifts off, UAE passport becomes most powerful, Amnesty gives chance to visa violators
Khaleej Times brings you a flashback of some of the local news that made it to our front-pages this year.
Tale of new beginnings, broken walls
The Year of Zayed couldn't have been more special for the citizens and residents of the UAE. It won't be a stretch to say that it was the year the nation outshone itself. KhalifaSat, the first fully Emirati-made satellite lifted off, women were empowered to get their fair share of seats in the UAE parliament, overstaying expats got their fines waived under the generous amnesty scheme, we learned the value (and certainty) of VAT, and Louvre Abu Dhabi opened its doors.
This was the year a UAE-made satellite lifted off to space
The videos and photos went viral. Men and women clad in identical jumpsuits were hugging, tears clearly visible. The month was October and the emotional scenes marked a historic day for the UAE. A feat that was, quite literally, out of this world. KhalifaSat, the UAE's first 100 per cent Emirati-made satellite, lifted off into space. In a year that saw the UAE go from curious space explorer to owner of one of the most advanced Earth observation satellites, the blood, sweat and tears of the 70 Emirati engineers from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre who made the satellite were applauded across the country that day.
Happy 100th birthday, Sheikh Zayed!
A 100 years ago in Abu Dhabi's Qasr Al Hosn, the birth was announced of the youngest of four sons of the emirate's ruling Al Nahyan family: Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. To mark that occasion, 2018 was declared the Year of Zayed. Remembered as "the man who turned the desert green", the year saw people of all ages, nationalities, and faiths come together to take part in a series of events that honoured his memory. Among others, there was a giant mural of his face made out of first aid boxes, and even our very own KT staffer put together a magnificent portrait of the founding father's face using Dh3 million in old money.
1 million Dubai residents dust off their sweatbands
Getting the city active once again, the Dubai Fitness Challenge returned for a second year in 2018. The 30-minute pledge to get active for 30 days saw residents of different ages and body types get involved. The free sessions across the city brought with it a sense of enthusiasm for exercise. The challenge concluded its second edition with more than one million people getting on board.
Abu Dhabi brought legendary Warner Bros toons to town
It was a milestone moment for the UAE. The world's biggest indoor theme park, Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, opened its doors to the public on July 25. Batman, Bugs Bunny and The Flintstones came to life, among others, and it has since become the ultimate playground for both adults and kiddies.
Diversity wins: First Hindu temple to come up in capital
The declaration of 2019 being named the 'Year of Tolerance' marked a time of reflection in 2018. But rather than simply speak of the 180 different nationalities here, the UAE, a country based on Muslim values, set aside plots of land to let others practise their beliefs. From the Hindu Temple in Bur Dubai to St Mary's Catholic Church in Oud Mehta, all faiths and religions are respected.
Pockets remained full as tuition fees got a big freeze
It was the news that pricked the ears of parents across Dubai; a freeze on school tuition fees for the 2018/19 academic year. The Dubai Executive Council issued a directive banning all private educational organisations from increasing their tuition fees. The reason? To reduce the financial burden on parents. The announcement was made just weeks before schools broke up for the summer vacation. Parents welcomed the monetary respite.
When PM Imran Khan swung by
In September, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Abu Dhabi on his way back from his inaugural foreign trip as PM - to Saudi Arabia, where he was offered a $6 billion bailout to stave off an economic crisis back home. "The UAE and Pakistan have very close ties at all levels and are working closely at this important moment as well," said Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary, who was a part of the delegation that visited the UAE. And just a day ago, the UAE too announced it would deposit Dh11 billion in the State Bank of Pakistan.
No surprises here: UAE passport is number 1
Two years ago, the Emirati passport ranked 27th in the global list of powerful passports. Now, it's number one. UAE passport holders can travel to 167 countries without a visa, which is 84 per cent of the countries in the Passport Index. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, called it a true reflection of the legacy of Sheikh Zayed.
A lookalike sparks nostalgia
At the end of the year, UAE residents were stunned by a 34-year-old Emirati's striking resemblance to the founding father of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. As pictures of the young Emirati circulated online, many wondered if he was some distant relative of the legendary leader, and it was easy to see why. His features were an uncanny match.
Wish to stay longer in the UAE? Granted, folks
Expats were delighted as the UAE Cabinet approved a plan to allow non-Emiratis to remain in the country after retirement from 2019. Expats aged 55 or above will be eligible to secure a five-year retirement, if they meet certain requirements. If you have properties worth at least Dh2 million, at least Dh1 million in savings, or an active income of more than Dh20,000 per month, you qualify. Also targeting the younger lot, Dubai Internet City launched a new freelance permit for people working in the technology sectors too.
New kidney for child, a first in the UAE
In November, 9-year-old Bana Nizar Hassan from Sudan became the first child to receive a kidney transplant in Dubai. She's doing fine. Bana received the kidney in October after a five-hour long surgery on a deceased adult patient from Abu Dhabi. Bana's surgery was done at Al Jalila Children's Speciality Hospital by a joint medical team from Al Jalila Children's and Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU). Bana was on the list for a transplant list for a long time since she had end-stage kidney failure.
Soon you're going to be happy driving on many new roads
Motorists here would be the first to offload their woes about hours on end spent in traffic. But 2018 saw a big transformation around the city. Flyovers came up just as quick as work on them started, and key areas around town are no longer remarked as the congestion hotspots they once were. From the Sana interchange near Karama, to Latifa bint Hamdan Street in Al Quoz, roads that once sat chock-o-block with cars during rush hour now boast a smooth traffic flow. And more good news is on the way. Dubai's Al Khawaneej area is going to get better connected, RTA said this year. The plan is to construct new roads extending 77km, which is part of a larger 5-year plan to improve connectivity to residential areas.
Louvre Abu Dhabi deferred unveiling of the priceless Salvator Mundi
There was much excitement around this priceless work of art coming to Abu Dhabi. Salvator Mundi (the saviour of the world) was described by auction house Christie's as the biggest discovery of the 21st century. The Guardian reported: "It depicts Jesus Christ holding a crystal orb in his left hand while raising his right in a gesture of benediction. At $450.3 million, it broke the world record for the most expensive painting sold at an auction, after a 20-minute sale involving unidentified bidders". Nobody knew the real buyer initially but it was revealed to be Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family standing in for the Louvre Abu Dhabi. French President Emmanuel Macron last year opened the Louvre museum in the UAE. We're eagerly awaiting developments on this front.
A smart solution to prevent fires at home
Residential fires made headlines in 2018. One that shook the whole community was the Baniyas villa fire tragedy in October. It took the lives of eight members of an Emirati family; a one-year old baby was among them. Residents approved of the mandatory smart fire alarm system to avoid home fires. The Ministry of Interior announced 'Hassantuk' would cover 4,00,000 homes across the country within six years. It's a 24/7 system to alert the inhabitants of the house and the civil defence.
A smart online move for one week
The 9-5 service centre approach to customer queries is no longer good enough. In October, Dubai took note. The Department of Finance announced it would relaunch the 'Day Without Service Centres' initiative - only this time for a full working week. Over 1,100 Dubai government services were available online-only for five days straight. The move aimed to give consumers a nudge in the right direction by encouraging them to turn to smart channels instead of manned service centres. A smart transition, given that the goal is to see all government departments turn completely paperless by 2021.
Amnesty gave UAE's overstayers a golden chance
People waited months for this opportunity; some even years. So in June, when the three-month UAE visa amnesty was announced, it was a second chance for thousands of residents, living illegally, to go home. From August 1 to October 31, the programme gave visa violators two options: Exit the country without paying fines, facing jail time or getting a ban, or rectify their status by getting a new visa. Millions of dirhams in fines were waived off. Khaleej Times followed the news every step of the way. A mum-of-one, Hope, finally made it home to Nigeria after living illegally in the country for over a year with her young daughter.
Dubai Zoo closed, but look, a safari reopened
2018 may have rung in a new year for us humans, but it also marked a journey to greener pastures for some of Dubai's long-staying four-legged, furry and feathery residents. As the city sadly bid adieu to one of its longest standing attractions, the Dubai Zoo, during the end of 2017, it wasn't all frowns. But 2018 saw people flock to the city's latest animal haven, Dubai Safari, and it became home to many of the animals who resided at the 50-year-old zoo. If you're brave enough to visit, it boasts the UAE's only drive-through hippo and tiger exhibit. Also, a Komodo Dragon.
A move towards equality: Women, men to get 50/50 split in parliament
There was good news for women in 2018. A landmark move from the President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in December directed the country to double women representation in the Federal National Council (FNC). In 2019, women will represent 50 per cent of the seats in parliament, more than doubling the current figure, which stands at 22.5 per cent. UAE women have been decision-makers in the government and private sector, but this new declaration marked a political shift in the history of a country that is 47 years young. The step is expected to propel the UAE to the fourth position globally, on a list compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Actor Sridevi breathes her last in Dubai
Bollywood was left in shock when the sudden death of Sridevi on February 24 made headlines. Just days after attending a family wedding in Ras Al Khaimah, where video footage showed the beloved actress in good spirits, dancing and smiling with guests, she was found dead in a bathtub at a Dubai hotel. As tributes poured in, even India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked at the loss. Described as an actor who touched the lives of millions, Khaleej Times quickly realised the impact of Sridevi's passing on the masses, none more so than fans locally. KT reporters delivered hour by hour updates from the teams tasked with preparing her body for repatriation, and days after the tragedy, the Dubai Police announced the final cause of death as accidental drowning, putting to bed any rumours of foul play.
Dumping pet can get you jailed now
The UAE announced in December that pet abandonment is now punishable by law. The new legislation came at a timely point in the year, the festive season when animals are often gifted as presents, only to be abandoned later. Animal welfare organisations and residents immediately reacted to the news: "at last". Owners will now be fined or serve jail time if found guilty of poor nutrition and poor housing conditions, among other forms of animal cruelty. The law prohibits the use of electroshock devices (cattle prods) and sharp tools while handling animals to get them to move. Article Four defines the health and technical standards for barns, cages, and stables, stating that they should be safe, sterile, and adequate for the species, gender, age, size, and weight of the animals. Administering growth-promoting drugs and steroids to animal feed is illegal. Owners are responsible, the UAE said.
We started living with VAT
The dawn of 2018 in the UAE meant the death of tax-free living in the country. The value added tax (VAT) system kicked in on January 1. The 5 per cent levy on the majority of goods and services meant an estimated Dh12 billion more into the government exchequer. For the common man, it meant coughing up an additional five per cent when eating out, filling petrol or shopping. But VAT didn't make a dent on disposable income because important sectors like healthcare, education and property were exempted. Other GCC countries are soon to roll out VAT.
Speeding tourist in a Lamborghini got a Dh50,000 discount in fine
There was no escaping this story in 2018. The tourist, the Lamborghini, and the whopping Dh170,000 in speeding tickets. International media went crazy when Welsh tourist, Farah Hashi, racked up the mammoth fines after taking to Dubai's roads in a luxury car. Reaching speeds in excess of 200kmph more than once, he quickly felt the wrath of his joy ride. In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, Hashi held his hands up saying he "didn't notice the cameras"; odd, considering he was flashed 33 times in just four hours. Weeks later, he eventually paid off Dh117,000 in fines; getting a tidy Dh50,000 in discounts from Dubai Traffic Police, before flying home with his tail between his legs. We're assuming it was a lesson to all.
Skype banned, but hello, Botim, other VoIP apps
Skype is still banned in the UAE but some VoIP services (Voice-over Internet Protocol) can work, even though you risk voice phishing and hacking. Etisalat and du both listed VoIP-based apps, Botim and C'me. The downside? You just have to fork out a fee of Dh50 and Dh100 to 'legally' use the service.
Emiratis to be in space in 2019
We're headed into space - and for 10 days, no less. In 2019, the first Emirati astronauts will board a spacecraft, to land on the International Space Station. The Rulers of the UAE expressed pride at the prospect of the space mission finally bearing fruit, a mere 12 years after it was planned. Watch this space. Headlines will undoubtedly be made.
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