When in December 2014 I moved to Qatar to work in Al Jazeera I quickly learned how local culture and customs differ greatly from what I was used to back in Spain.
Qatar’s cultural and religious roots blend in a modern and vibrant city that despite its moderate size enjoys all the amenities and services of a modern metropolis. The close to 2.5 million population is hugely diverse and expats make up 85% of Qatar residents, giving the city an incredibly cosmopolitan and multicultural feel. Similar statements can be made about UAE.
“There must be some Magic going on in here” – I thought when I moved to Qatar.
A search on the Judge Center showed three Level 1 judges in UAE (Abdulrahman Alhadhrami, Olivier Gheysen and George Cuartero), just across the Persian Gulf from Qatar. Wizards’ Store & Event Locator also showed a couple WPN locations in Dubai, one in Kuwait, and one in Doha. I got in touch with the WPN location in Doha, and happily discovered there was already a Level 1 judge living in Qatar, Byron Frankish!
Later on I got in touch with the UAE community, and started working together with them in order to develop the area. First thing we did was establishing a communication channel, the Middle East Magic Judges Facebook group. Later on we created the Middle East Magic Judges project on JudgeApps, meant to function as a regional forum would do, allowing both discussion on anything judging and also event solicitation, mainly for Premier Events such as PPTQs and GPTs.
The community in the area kept growing, thanks to the migration of already certified judges, like Masaru Koide, L2 from Japan, and to the certification of new ones. Special thanks here for their mentoring and help to judges travelling through UAE, like David Guteša and George Gavrilita. There are currently 12 judges between Qatar and UAE: eight Level 1s, three Level 2s (Abdulrahman and Olivier were both promoted in the last months), and one Level 3 (myself).
Early in 2015 I opened a discussion on the state of the Middle East judge community with Level 3 Giorgos Trichopoulos, Level 4 Cristiana Dionisio, and Andy Heckt, Wizards of the Coast Judge Manager at the time. Together we started looking at the challenges in the development of the Middle East area, and at the solutions to potential problems.
We identified several important areas that needed to be addressed, most importantly:
Education and learning opportunities
While we were providing through the channels we established links and resources we didn’t think that was going to be enough. We thought we needed a closer, more personal approach. It was clear this would be more demanding on our side as program leaders, and we saw we certainly could use some extra help.
Sense of belonging
The Middle East is isolated geographically – specially when it comes to Magic – but they were also isolated from the Judge Program structure itself, since they were not part of any region. Judges that belong nowhere are easily isolated and demoralized, generally due to lack of support and/or growth opportunities, so we felt the Middle East judges needed more contact and exposure to a greater group of judges.
Based on Wizards of the Coast’s business strategies we looked towards Europe thinking of adding the Middle East countries to an already existing region. The Europe-East region is geographically the closest, and already has included in his region a Middle East country (Turkey). Europe-East is an already multicultural region that includes 13 countries and 7 different languages, and all their forums and judge conferences are held in English, which is also true for the Middle East Facebook group, so we saw the transition should be smooth. Among other interesting initiatives Europe-East has an already existing program that helps Level 1s advance to Level 2, a program that was immensely successful in 2014, when Europe-East was the region with the most Level 2 growth in the world. This very effective mentoring tools are ready to help Middle Eastern judges with education, inclusion, and community building.
Last weekend during the World Magic Cup in Barcelona I had the chance to discuss all of this with Cristiana Dionisio and the current Interim Judge Manager, Aaron Hamer, and it was decided that Qatar, UAE, and Kuwait are now part of the Europe-East region. You can read the official announcement here.
I am personally very excited about how the future for the Middle East judge community is shaping, and I look forward to the cooperation with the Europe-East region and our new RC, Giorgos Trichopoulos.
The best is yet to come.