Alexander McNabb is a prolific writer, speaker and social networker from Great Britain who has relished — and shared — his life in the UAE with audiences for two decades.
Blogger Alexander McNabb is at no loss for words
DUBAI // Whether Alexander McNabb is writing his blog, working on his latest novel, broadcasting on the radio or running his public relations firm, words are his medium and enthusiasm his asset.
When he started his Fake Plastic Souks almost four years ago, he decided to stand by his convictions. Unlike other bloggers who remain anonymous, such as the writer of Secret Dubai Diary - whose blog was blocked following a number of satirical posts about life in the UAE - he put his name to the project.
"I feel strongly that we have to take responsibility for our actions and words," said the 46-year-old Brit. "I don't think there is any point in being strident without owning up to your voice. Your identity and your opinion are one and the same.
"I didn't [start the blog] for exposure," he continued. "But at the same time I wasn't going to hide behind anonymity, like other Dubai bloggers at the time."
While McNabb's blog is frank about bureaucratic difficulties and technological hiccups that can make up part of daily UAE life, it is honest and, by his own admission, he has enough respect for the country he has lived in for 20 years not to cross the line.
"I'm very old and I've been here since it was all sand," he said. "I'm of the old way of thinking that the people of the UAE are my hosts and I am the guest. Therefore, we are both obliged by a certain set of behaviours.
"By the same token, your best friend is someone who criticises you and points out your faults. That is the stance I take when I blog."
The blog led to a weekly spot on Dubai Eye, the radio station at 103.8 FM where he has co-presented Techno Tuesdays with the announcer, Jessica Swann, since last spring.
McNabb and his Irish wife, Sarah, have lived in Sharjah since 1993. They met during a business trip he took to Dubai five years earlier with a subsidiary of ITP publishing house back in London.
After they married, he got a job as a publisher in Dubai and she worked in Sharjah as a primary school teacher.
He spent the next few years writing for magazines before starting an inhouse publication for Spinneys supermarket chain and finally BBC Gulfwise, which was a lifestyle and culture magazine about cooking and entertainment.
In 1997, he went into public relations, taking a management position at SpotOn PR, which was started by Carrington Malin, the man who ran GITEX — the Dubai computer and electronics trade show — in 1994.
Not satisfied with having to curtail his passion for writing, he wrote his first novel, Space, in 2002.
In 2009, by the time he was a prolific blogger, he had completed his second novel, Olives, and had been rejected by 75 literary agents.
"The biggest challenge for me at the moment is getting a book published," he said. "I'm angry about it; it's something I really want to achieve.
"Then of course, the question is will it last or will it get remaindered."
It was in 2009 that he founded GeekFest, a get-together for the online community. GeekFest was first hosted at The Shelter, a community work space in Dubai that nurtures social interaction and small-business creation.
GeekFest was formed with the help of Shadia Zahid, the former curator at The Shelter, to provide a gathering spot for "the digital people of Dubai".
"We did nothing more than pick a date and a time and talk about it on social media and it grew from there," he said.
Now there are regular GeekFests in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Alexandria, Amman, Beirut, Damascus and this year, there are plans for Doha and Ramallah.
"I take no credit for GeekFest; it just happened," he said. "People approach us and ask if they can host one and I just say, 'Yes.' The only rule is there are no rules."
Abdulla al Suwaidi, a 20-year-old Emirati who blogs and podcasts under the name You There, Speak!, is a GeekFest regular. He said he understands McNabb's reluctance to be recognised for launching the concept, but he doesn't agree.
"It's a simple idea, which if he hadn't thought of, somebody else would. But he's one of those people who actually went ahead and did it; he walked the walk and for that I think he deserves credit."
Nagham Akileh, a 26-year-old social media executive from Australia who also attends GeekFest, showed her respect for McNabb, also.
"Talking to Alex is always interesting as well as never-ending," she said. "I don't know if he will ever run out of words - from his blog to the radio show to Twitter and the books he writes, it's amazing."
Meanwhile, McNabb has just completed his third novel, Beirut, an intricate love story pitched against the background of internet transactions, nuclear missiles and a fictional president of Lebanon.
He said he is driven to writing about the Middle East to humanise the people of the region, who are so frequently misunderstood.
This desire is spurred on by a love for the region, which happened when his feet first touched the soil of Saudi Arabia in 1986 and only grew later in the UAE, the country where he has chosen to spend nearly half his life.
"I will never get this place out of my blood, it's too late. Even if I leave, I will still feel connected to it."