There’s More to Dubai Than the Scyscrapers

I admit it, I have a thing for the Gulf. And Dubai is more than the expats, more than the oil, more than the fast money. There are beautiful places worth seeing, if you go off the beaten tracks.

These photos date a few years back to one of my trips to Dubai.

Photo copyrights: Sweden and the Middle East Views Blog

Beautiful Iraq – There is Light in the End of the Tunnel

Saif Alani

After my article “Tourism in Iraq Another Country is Possible” (that has been shared over 300 times on Facebook) I was by another Iraqi that, inspired my article, wanted to tell me about his project.

Consisting on nine people in London who works to keep up the website and the Facebook page with the aim to register as a company, Beautiful Iraq has big plans for the future.

“It was always one of my dreams to establish something in my beautiful and welcoming country for the whole world to enjoy,” says Saif Alani, the enthusiastic 23-year-old CEO.

The main idea with the project is to become a tour operator that can provide package holidays to Iraq, but also to provide a general source of information of Iraq. So far Beautiful Iraq describes themselves as a media outlet that provides people information about Iraq.

The page already contains travel recommendation on where to and not to travel in Iraq (basically most of the country except Kurdistan; “If you are leaving Kurdistan then make sure you hire a professional security team to escort you!”) and visitors can sign up to receive newsletters. The online shop sells backpacks, t-shirts and even umbrellas with labels such as “I love Iraq” – free delivery when you buy two or more items at the same time.

“We want to be a company for travelling and holiday travel”, Saif says. “And also to deliver the news of Iraq in a way for people to get a better understanding.”

As the name of his project suggests, Saif wants the world to know the beautiful sides of his home country that he himself left together with his family 10 years ago.

“I would like people to know that Iraq is a country as any other, all countries have beauties, the bad things are only temporary. We can share this knowledge through our customers’ successful insight of Iraq’s beauties, with our hospitality and unique way.”

Saif himself has a diploma in event management and two certificates in travel and tourism, so the tourism industry is not new to him. He maintains another job in a hotel reception and dedicates his free time to his business. When I ask him what a tour in Iraq could look like he is full of ideas and things that he wants to share.

“There are magical pictures that people haven’t thought about! A tour could start in the cathedral of Erbil and go on to explore the historical and natural beauties in Iraq, the churches, to the theme park Basra Land in the south… We have religious tourism such as Babylon, which is mentioned in the Bible, historical tourism such as the ancient sites of Iraq and adventurous such as the theme parks and roller coasters. You can explore the nightlife in Baghdad; there are shopping malls and cafes – this is a side of Iraq people haven’t seen yet.”

Saif has not been back since he left but maintains contact with family members that are still living in Baghdad. He is very keen on his goal of establishing a positive common Iraqi identity. Throughout our interview he talks about how welcoming and hospitable his home country is.

“Through this, we believe we can change something negative into something positive,” he says.

We talk about the world’s perception of Iraq and Saif brings up religion, the current ISIS crisis and how it’s perceived from the outside.

“People would think that the religious aspects of Iraq could be negative aspects when it’s not, religion is very much a private matter in Iraq. It’s done in the places of worship, that’s where it’s done.”

“We do not class them (ISIS, author’s comment) as Iraqis, we class them as bad person. A bad person could be of any nationality. The acts of (these) persons have unfortunately caused a certain picture of the country that is not true… Many would think it would make Iraq weaker which are true, people are somehow deflated about Iraq, but our concept has now been stronger in preparing for the future, and politicians are involved in the combat.”

The plans of starting tours are very current – Saif is planning on hiring tour guides who are keen on working in the hopeful environment that the concept of Beautiful Iraq is. I have to ask him when he thinks it’s realistic that Beautiful Iraq will be able to offer their first tours to Iraq and he says the aim is to start in March 2015.

“It all depends on the security situation and when that is improved.”

Despite the latest humanitarian tragedy that northern Iraq is experiencing in the hands of ISIS, Saif stays optimistic, just like the founder of Tourism in Iraq.

“We replace negativity with positivity through our program,” he says, determined, with his never-fading smile. “There is a light in the end of the tunnel.”

Basraland, Iraq

Photo copyrights: Beautiful Iraq

Sverigedemokraterna, Guess What? We’re All Here to Stay

In the wake of the frightening results of the Swedish election – 13% voted for the populist party Sverigedemokraterna, a double increase since the last election – I have many things to say, but what I want to do today is to share with you a small list. I like lists.

This one contains a description of a few different persons in Sweden. What do these people have in common? Make a guess while you’re reading.

  • Person 1: Iranian woman. Has a weird sense of humor, always makes you laugh, can cook you amazing dishes that takes hours to prepare.
  • Person 2: Swedish-Greek woman. A person who listens to you more than she talks about herself. Brings small gifts whenever you see her, anything from a bottle of wine to a pair of earrings from one of her travels all around the world.
  • Person 3: Syrian woman. Always makes the gatherings light and bubbly, always makes you feel good about yourself.
  • Person 4: Swedish-Finnish woman. Hosts you in her house when you need somewhere to stay, despite having three small unruly kids, without asking for anything in return.
  • Person 5: Swedish man. A wonderful person who’ll do anything for you and helps you out whenever you need him, but also tells you if he thinks you’re completely down the wrong lane.

So what is it that these people have in common? They’re all close friends to me. Without them my life would be quite empty. And the other common factor: they all have legal residence status in Sweden, just like I do. A residence permit or citizenship is not something that can suddenly seize to exist, no matter what your hair colour or religion happens to be. And you who voted for Sverigedemokraterna, guess what? Your racist policies won’t break up friendships, or lovers, or parents from their children. People from different colours and ethnicities have always mixed with each other and will continue to do so. We’re all here to stay.

I’m a True Swedish Patriot – You’re Not

Sweden in the summer

Election time in Sweden is coming on September 14 and I’m abroad on a humanitarian mission as I usually am. Last minute it suddenly turned out I hadn’t the possibility to vote at the Swedish embassy in the country where I am. I desperately called and e-mailed the Swedish embassy and asked them to send me the voting material – they made an exception and sent it by private mail to my office. I taped together an envelope with my vote and sent it by DHL to Sweden for 40 USD, eternally grateful that it had worked out, not regretting the 40 USD it had cost me. I will do anything for my country, because I love my country.

I love my country because of many things. I love it because of the weather: in Southern Sweden the weather is mild and rainy in the winters which I love as I hate snow, crisp and sunny in the springs and the short summers are, despite being short, always provided with some sunny days.

I love it because of the clean beaches and the sea, the big, clean parks with fountains and lakes.

I love it because of the social welfare system. I have been unemployed many times between my missions and I always had an income so that I could pay my rent and afford food, because of the unemployment benefits I received. We have public daycares, schools, hospitals, health clinics, psychological care  – all to no or minimum cost. We have decent homes for homeless people, drug addicts and asylum seekers. As long as I live in Sweden I will never have to be afraid of living on the street or not afford health care or school for my kids. I love paying tax to my country as I see the good that comes out of it and since I love my country.

I love it because of the diversity. I have friends from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Liberia, Turkey, Kurdistan, Gaza, Greece, Pakistan, Bolivia, France, UK and Sweden. We have clubs in my city playing dancehall, hiphop, Arabic music, Persian music, singersongwriter evenings, pop, hard rock, electro, classical music, klezmer. An addicted traveller like me will never feel bored in my homecountry.

I spent all this effort and money to vote as I love my country and I want to keep the good things with my country and see it develop. I am a true Swedish patriot since I love my country as it is. You Swedish nationalists, Sverigedemokraterna and Svenskarnas parti, who are candidates for the upcoming national elections, don’t. You’re striving for a Sweden that never existed. A Sweden where people are no longer safe. I’m a true and proud Swedish patriot loving my country for all that it is – you’re not.

Photo copyright: Sweden and the Middle East Views

Iraqi Womens’ Petition to the White House to Act Against ISIS

I’m reluctant to what kind of international support Iraq and Syria are needing in the ongoing crisis of ISIS, as I as most other people don’t want to see previous disasters repeated all over again. But tonight my friends the women’s right activists at Warvin Foundation for Women’s Issues in Iraqi Kurdistan e-mailed me about a petition that they have signed for the White House, where they ask them to take immediate action to rescue the kidnapped Yesidi Kurdish women from ISIS, and I had a look.

The petition says:

We the… appeal to you to take immediate action to rescue the more than 1000 Ezidi Kurdish women who have been kidnapped by the monstrous ISIS terror group. The majority of women under ISIS control has been raped and is currently being traded on the market to serve as sex slave. We beg you take action and protect those woman’s glories as well as the rest of the women from those barbarous armed men.

This isn’t some foreigners wanting to liberate women in the Middle East, it’s not a bombing campaign noone asked for. This is Iraqi women asking for help for their fellow citizens that are enslaved under conditions you don’t want to imagine. At least I don’t want to imagine. That’s why I decided to share this with you.