Singing in a new year with plenty of promise for the UAE

A Green Line, a greener focus on living in the Emirates, an early visit from Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton and a great deal of activity in health, sport, education and cultural events make this year one to look forward to.

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 21: Musician Stevie Wonder performs onstage at the Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Camps at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center on October 21, 2010 in New York City.   Jemal Countess/Getty Images/AFP
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A Green Line, a greener focus on living in the Emirates, an early visit from Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton and a great deal of activity in health, sport, education and cultural events make this year one to look forward to. Say goodbye to 2010 and look at what 2011 has in store
Elections for the FNC are likely to dominate the country's political scene. Half the council's members were elected for the first time in 2006, and their terms end next month, although it is uncertain when new elections will be called, and if the electoral base will be expanded.
Ongoing talks to end the dispute over Iran's nuclear programme will have an impact on the UAE, which is hoping for a peaceful resolution to the dispute and to the eventual lifting of the sanctions regime.
The UAE will continue to reap the benefits of its humanitarian involvement in Afghanistan, with continuing political clout on the international stage, bolstered by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed's energetic diplomacy.
Deals for the purchase of advanced American missile defence systems like THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) and Patriot are expected to inch forward, with two major defence exhibitions, IDEX and the Dubai Airshow, set to take place this year. The UAE may also make a decision replacing its Mirage fighter jet fleet.
Arts & Culture
This month, to mark the close of the Larry Gagosian exhibition on Saadiyat Island, the Tourism Development and Investment Company will hold Artscape, an evening of art, film, music and workshops.
Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder are scheduled for a performance at Yas Arena in February. A collection of the world's finest classical musicians will perform at the Abu Dhabi Festival of Music and Arts, including the World Orchestra for Peace, which has never played in the Middle East.
As the spring progresses, the capital's book fair and Dubai's art fair should continue to draw crowds and Dubai's Jazz Festival is already generating a buzz.
Later on in the year, Sharjah will see the curtain rise on the 30th book fair and it is expected that Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, Ruler of Sharjah, will announce the publication of a new book about the cultural journey of the emirate and how it became what it is today.
Dubai Police will press on with traffic campaigns to build on the success of last year, to further reduce the death rate on the emirate's roads and endeavour to meet a statistical target of zero deaths per 100,000 people by 2020.
The force will also seek to improve the quality of its services by further investing in the training of its staff and officers.
In March, Dubai Police will host a Mena-wide meeting of Interpol to share experiences of the diamond raid on the Wafi mall in April 2007, when a gang crashed through a front entrance with two cars and stole jewellery worth Dh14 million. The Interpol meeting is part of Dubai Police's efforts to seek co-operation with the international community.
Abu Dhabi Police is planning a "crime scene" conference this month where they hope to develop skills and expertise by interacting with the international experts.
Abu Dhabi Judicial Department will this year focus on encouraging complainants to find alternative ways of solving their disputes outside the courtroom. The department said the aim was not only to reduce the load on the court system in an expanding city, but also to negate the risk of long court proceedings and negative publicity.
A new section has been created to handle this task. It will specialise in solving any civil, commercial, labour and family disputes, without the need to go to court.
Dubai Courts are expected to introduce more "specialist" courts, including a human trafficking court and, possibly, a court to handle drugs cases.
A large number of Emirati judges and prosecutors were sworn into office last year and are expected to don robes this year. According to the Chief Justice of the Dubai Criminal Court, a recruitment drive is also under way to bring more Arab judges from other countries to the emirate.
Dubai Public Prosecution also plans to reveal more technologically oriented services as they plan to complete their transition to a completely paperless institution in the next two years.
Ministry of Education officials will push ahead with an attempt to achieve the goals of a 10-year education strategy that includes bilingual education, elimination of remedial programmes, raising the profile of teachers and attracting more male Emirati teachers. Only 10 per cent are Emirati men.
Restructuring has been planned for schools, education zones and councils to chart out responsibilities and define the role of the authority in each emirate with the aim of reducing bureaucracy.
More regulation of private schools is expected with the ministry's newly formed private education department, which will scrutinise quality levels and monitor education costs.
As the New School Model (NSM) rolls out into Grade 4 - and possibly Grade 5, depending on Abu Dhabi Education Council's analysis of the pros and cons of the new system - many schools will be moving into new high-tech school buildings designed to work alongside the NSM.
The challenges for higher education this year will include funding, research and the ongoing issue of raising both university and student standards.
Federal universities will struggle financially as budgets have been frozen. Their funding will become largely enrolment-based, and universities will need to compete with dozens of private and foreign universities across the Emirates - not to mention thousands overseas.
As universities attempt to compete on a world stage, they are looking more to fields of research study and links with industry. UAE University and Khalifa University have already pitched themselves as key players in developing industries like nuclear energy, microprocessors and aerospace.
How this approach plays out will become evident over the coming months, as universities begin to ask government and private enterprise to depend more on local expertise, rather than imported staff.
The Abu Dhabi Education Council announced last year that Dh4.9 billion would be pumped into research and development by 2018. The council promised to reform the quality of high school maths and science teaching, and said it hoped that by 2018, 50 per cent of students would be pursuing maths or science degrees. If these ambitious goals are to be met, experts say work must begin this year.
While Europe and North America freeze, racing drivers, tennis players and golfers will take advantage of the UAE's mild winter sunshine.
The Yas Marina Circuit will host top motoring events, including a leg of the Australian V8 Supercars series next month. A round of the FIA GT1 World Championship in March will include Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Maserati. The pace will pick up when the penultimate race of the Formula One World Championship is held in November.
Those who prefer their racing in a straight line will be attracted by the Pro Drag Racing Series, which begins at Yas Marina Circuit this month. It will feature seven classes of professional racing over a series of weekends, finishing in March.
The Dubai Autodrome will also be busy, hosting the 24 Hours of Dubai this month, an endurance event that draws cars and drivers from all over the world. A series of national racing days, including the UAE GT championship, are also scheduled.
For those who like glitz and glamour with their racing, the world's richest horse race, the Dubai World Cup, takes place again at Meydan in Dubai. Last year's event included a US$10 million (Dh36.7m) prize.
Bicycles, runners and swimmers will replace roaring cars in the Tri Yas, a triathlon for beginners and experienced athletes to be held at Yas Marina Circuit this month. For the more seasoned, there is the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, where competitors must swim 3km, cycle 200km and then run 20km. There will also be a sprint distance for beginners.
Some of the world's best golfers will take part in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship this month. The European Tour will wrap up as usual with the Dubai World Championship in December.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship begins next month and is likely to attract its usual world-class field. The end of this year will see the build-up for the Volvo Ocean Race, which is expected to sail into Abu Dhabi on January 1 next year. Organisers expect 250,000 people to visit Abu Dhabi, one of 10 host ports, over two weeks to watch at least six teams race along the Corniche.
 Public Works
This year, Abu Dhabi Municipality plans to roll out new building codes to replace the current system: a mishmash of codes based on systems from the US, Australia and Europe. In addition to instituting comprehensive regulations on building safety and fire prevention for the first time, the new code will mark a shift to improving the quality of building materials, as well as enhancing health and safety standards.
Authorities in Dubai plan to make all municipality services available to residents online by the end of this year in an effort to ease crowding at its walk-in centres. The emirate also plans to increase its amount of green space by four per cent, with various beautification projects including the expansion of public parks, shaded areas and water features.
Early in the year, Abu Dhabi's Urban Planning Council will unveil the Al Gharbia 2030 Plan for the Western Region. This comprehensive masterplan will direct the urban planning and development of the 60,000-square-metre swath of the emirate between the Empty Quarter and the Arabian Gulf to the west of Abu Dhabi. The plan will outline specific strategies for boosting tourism, transportation and cultural offerings.
 Roads and Transport
Metro users can look forward to the Green Line service in August, which will connect portions of northern Dubai not yet linked to mass transit. The 54km line, which will include 18 dedicated stations, will intersect with the Red Line at two stops and is expected to double the number of daily passengers to 270,000.
Public transport users can also expect more access and better frequency of routes between Dubai and other emirates as part of the Roads and Transport Authority's (RTA) plans to boost its intercity network and upgrade services.
Drivers can look forward to the completion of the Dh617m First Interchange project near the Burj Khalifa. The interchange on the Sheikh Zayed Road, scheduled for completion by the end of this month, is one of the biggest undertaken by the RTA and includes 3km of bridges and more than 850 metres of tunnels.
Motorists will be able to renew their driving licence at vision-testing centres once the RTA shortlists four such Dubai facilities as one-stop shops to process eye tests and renewals. The agency will also launch an iPhone application to allow drivers to pay Salik road tolls and traffic fines.
An important focus this year will be the tightening of building standards and improved efficiency of buildings. Abu Dhabi Municipality is expected to issue new regulations for all buildings early in the year. It is expected that the new Energy Code will require any new building to use up to 70 per cent less energy than older structures.
Once the rules for new buildings are established, it is important they are implemented. The Government will then turn to the existing building stock, which in many cases is inefficient.
Dubai, which has been developing its own green building guidelines for three years, is also expected to release them and improve the efficiency of its building stock.
The work to study the carbon footprint through Al Basama Al Beeiya will continue to formulate a clear climate change policy.
The reforms of last year aim to change consumer perceptions that imported food is of better quality this year. While it may take years for the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) to reap the full benefits of farming reforms, the amount of locally grown food on supermarket shelves should noticeably increase by the end of this year.
To encourage farmers to boost crop quality, the ADFCA is offering a Dh100,000 bonus for following official guidelines. The new scheme requires farmers to stop planting Rhodes grass and to remain members of the Farmers' Services Centre (FSC), which aims to improve farming practices.
The FSC will begin a four-month registration drive. According to Mohamed al Reyaysa, the authority's communications director, farmers will be contacted through a newly established call centre.
Fruit and vegetables grown by small farms will be brought together by the ADFCA under a unified - and yet unnamed - brand, and sold at major supermarkets.
More meat and poultry will also be making its way to consumers. A database that traces every animal back to its origin is due to be completed in April. According to the ADFCA, the census will improve livestock production and health.
Department officials say their focus will be on preventing and treating non-communicable diseases, or chronic diseases, in the months to come. Diabetes and heart disease are becoming an economic burden. Diabetes, in particular, affects one in five in the UAE and shortens life expectancy by seven to eight years.
Finding ways to get people more healthy by adopting an active lifestyle and making better nutrition choices will be a challenge for the healthcare industry. One way, doctors have said, is to strengthen the delivery of primary health care and make sure that a family doctor is an individual's "guardian" of health.
This year, Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA) plans to open at least seven primary healthcare facilities across the emirate, and private sector healthcare providers are also launching a number of hospitals and clinics that will ensure a family doctor and paediatrician are the patient's first point of reference, instead of a specialist or consultant.
The Indian Community
For those living in the Gulf, the issue of non-resident Indians (NRIs) voting will be a focus this year. Following an uproar by the expatriate community, it is hoped the Indian government will amend the law to allow NRIs to make absentee votes, instead of travelling to India.
The change in employment laws will also have a significant impact on the community. While two-thirds of the 1.75 million Indian residents are in blue-collar jobs, a new employment law that allows skilled workers to switch jobs without a no-objection certificate comes as a great relief to those affected by the economic downturn.
Trade-wise, the relationship between the countries will grow in significance, as they are eager to increase co-operation.
India is the UAE's largest trading partner and bilateral trade was worth US$43 billion (Dh158bn) in the 2009-2010 period. This is expected to grow in the coming year. Investments in India are expected to reach Dh6.9bn by this year, with a focus on energy, services, software and construction sectors.
The Filipino Community
Filipino labour officials and the UAE branch of Migrante, a migrant workers rights group, have welcomed a move by the Government to do away with the no-objection certificate.
There are nearly 600,000 Filipinos in the Emirates. Sixty per cent are skilled and professional workers, while 25 per cent are in the service sector and 15 per cent are household workers.
This year, the Philippines consulate is expected to make an announcement on the outcome of talks with the Dubai authorities to build a social club.
The Philippine congress will review the mandatory insurance provision of the amended Filipino migrant workers law amid mounting criticism from recruiters. Under the law, every newly hired overseas Filipino recruited through an agency should be covered by insurance.
The Philippines is also expected to address the overcrowding at two shelters in Abu Dhabi and Dubai for Filipinas, many of them housemaids who fled their employer's homes after complaining of mistreatment.
* The National