I believe most people who have spent a reasonable time in the UAE wrestle with two competing paradigms as to how the country works.
Is it (A) a suffocating bureaucracy in which any attempt at doing anything innovative grinds to a halt at the desk of a rulebound gentleman from the sub-continent (*) who has worked thanklessly for twenty years in an unmarked windowless room, located many miles of echoing corridors deep within the Ministry of Obstruction?
Or is it (B) a glorious anarchic free-for-all in which almost anything goes? Where, for instance, a missed highway turn is easily rectified by reversing back up the hard shoulder or plunging briefly into the sands.
The answer is of course a bit of both.
Rock climbing certainly operates chiefly within paradigm (B). We never ask permission to climb or even establish who owns the cliffs. Nor do we look for licences or club memberships from our prospective climbing partners. We infer each other’s competence from nuggets of behaviour, appearance or talk: being able to discuss climbs or climbing areas in other countries, having some gear and demonstrating appropriate usage (ie not racking trad protection for a sport route!), showing some power or grace in movement, not being overweight, etc, etc. This seems right and proper to me and in line with the climbing world elsewhere. There have been vague attempts to foist more structure on the community by people with vested interest but they have been resisted or ridiculed.
The problem with paradigm (B) comes when innocents are at risk. For example, the lack of bureaucratic overview means that almost anyone can market themselves as an outdoor climbing instructor or guide. And given the often-bored and transient character of the UAE expat population: plenty of clueless potential customers. Should we care who exploits that opportunity? I think so. Leaving aside the direct impact on a victim, a serious accident resulting from an incompetent instructor’s negligence that leads to adverse publicity could be disastrous for the sport in the UAE. I would expect: official bans at UAE climbing sites and calls for mandatory insurance and external regulation. If the victim were local and well-connected, then all bets would be off.
So, since at present we are a self-regulating community, what sort of instructors should we tolerate? The only practical answer is people with accredited qualifications. I have expressed that opinion in the guidebook and followed it up with a list of known qualified instructors at the guidebook resources web page. They are all people with UK qualifications. That’s part coincidence but part reflects the well-established nature of the UK mountain training sector. If anyone wants to be on that list and has another country’s qualification, then I would check a database like the UIAA’s and add them if the qualification were recognised.
If you have read this far, you may be guessing there’s a context to this. You are right. Various verbal anecdotes, emails and Facebook messages have revealed a vigorous effort by one non-credible individual to conduct instruction business. An american friend forwarded me correspondence with that individual showing suggested rates of 500-700 AED per client per day. His “qualification” is attendance at a Single Pitch Instructor course in the US. But not, as far as I know, the two day SPI assessment. That’s rather like deciding to drive solo after having a few driving lessons but before having passed a driving test; not something countries with sensible traffic regimes encourage. There’s only so much that we can do to dissuade people like this – particularly when known to be pig-headed – except peer pressure. So, if you agree with me, know who I am talking about (I don’t want to sully my blog with his name) and have an opportunity, please express your opinion to him and/or dissuade anyone entrusting themselves to his hands.
* apologies for this stereotyping but it does appear to be universally true. Be respectful to these folk, shake their hands, ask after their family, know where (usually) Kerala can be found on the map and the rules may even briefly relax for you.