Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine flu builds - Oman MoH says 'don't panic'. Dragon says 'wash your hands'

As the flu spreads, people are naturally getting concerned, and GCC Health Ministers met this week. The UAE announced it had enough Tamiflu stockpiles to treat 40,000 people [1 million doses], and the Centre for Disease Control has confirmed the general influenza anti-viral Tamiflu seems effective so far.

There is a great map showing the status of the spread of swine flu on Google Plague Maps.

The Omani Ministry of Health says all is under control.

The symptoms of this new flu initially are the same as 'ordinary' influenza (which remember is also not a nice illness either, especially if you are old and/or immunocompromised), so even if you get the sniffles, don't panic. Also don't mistake a common cold (otherwise known as 'man flu') for influenza.

Also, most people will recover normally.

Are you most people?

The problem is that Tamiflu is only effective if treatment starts within 48 hrs, and also is not without side effects. I haven't tried to buy any lately in Oman, but normally such a powerful drug would be prescription only. I would say if you have vulnerable relatives, like old people, or young babies, you should take precautions to stop them getting the illness in the first place. Very young children can't take Tamiflu anyhow.

So, prevention. What should you do?

Frequently wash your hands with soap and/or hand sanitiser. Make people coming to your home sanitise their hands on entry.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Avoid groups of people.
Avoid people who have recently (within 72 hrs) travelled overseas or come into contact with flu sufferers.
Avoid anyone with cold/flu symptoms (but be aware people are infectious before they exhibit symptoms)
If you get ill, stay away from other people. Do not sneeze or cough near people, or onto items they might touch. Treat your tissues and bodily secretions as toxic waste!
Avoid visiting hospitals - you might carry the virus in, or pick it up there.
Have some stockpiles of water and food so if necessary you can stay home for several days.
Eat as much pork as you want. You don't get this flu from pork, no matter what the Abu Dhabi food authority thinks.

More info: swine influenza FAQ swine flu FAQ slideshow

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sadistic Torture tape by Abu Dhabi Sheikh Issa gets UAE in trouble

This is starting to become a UAE blog… ah well. Here's another reason why it's better to live in Oman...

This is a story you are not likely to see reported in the UAE papers. The mighty Abu Dhabi is in a bit of trouble over the actions of one Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, brother of the country's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed and also younger brother of the President of the U.A.E., Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed.

Tapes released by a former business partner of the Sheikh, and broadcast last week by US network ABC, showed the UAE Sheikh personally torturing an Afghan trader over a missing load of grain. The story was around in mid-2008, but now that ABC have broadcast it, the issue is again in the news: the main question is what will the new US Administration do?

The 45min video shows the man, whose identity in the tape was apparently confirmed by the UAE Ministry of the Interior as indeed being Sheikh Issa, clobbering him with wood panels from which nails protrude and electrocuting his genitals and anus. He then pours salt over the man's wounds and drives over him with a Mercedes SUV. Perhaps more worrying, he is clearly assisted in all this by a uniformed UAE Policeman.

The tape can be seen at, but be warned, it is exceptionally sickening (apparently my readers from the UAE without VPN cover will not be able to go to this website, funnily enough!).

The main issue is that the UAE Government decided that, because the Afgan who was tortured survived and is apparently unwilling to press charges, it’s all OK – despite the presence of UAE Police helping to hold him down. The event was filmed in 2005, and the US Embassy was also made aware at the time but chose to simply give it a one-liner in the 2008 Human Rights report for the UAE. I guess it helps when your brother is the Minister of the Interior, and that the hapless GW Bush's administration was keen not to offend one of its main regional allies, especially over torture - a subject GW was having his own problems with.

You can read the full story at ABC News.

ABC News Exclusive: Torture Tape Implicates UAE Royal Sheikh.
Police in Uniform Join In as Victim Is Whipped, Beaten, Electrocuted, Run Over by SUV

A video tape smuggled out of the United Arab Emirate shows a member of the country's royal family mercilessly torturing a man with whips, electric cattle prods and wooden planks with protruding nails.

In a statement to ABC News, the UAE Ministry of the Interior said it had reviewed the tape and acknowledged the involvement of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, brother of the country's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed.

"The incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behavior," the Interior Ministry's statement declared.

The Minister of the Interior is also one of Sheikh Issa's brother.

The government statement said its review found "all rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the Police Department."

The Sheikh begins by stuffing sand down the man's mouth, as the police officers restrain the victim. Then he fires bullets from an automatic rifle around him as the man howls incomprehensibly.

At another point on the tape, the Sheikh can be seen telling the cameraman to come closer. "Get closer. Get closer. Get closer. Let his suffering show," the Sheikh says.

Over the course of the tape, Sheikh Issa acts in an increasingly sadistic manner.

He uses an electric cattle prod against the man's testicles and inserts it in his anus. At another point, as the man wails in pain, the Sheikh pours lighter fluid on the man's testicles and sets them aflame. Then the tape shows the Sheikh sorting through some wooden planks. "I remember there was one that had a nail in it," he says on the tape.

The Sheikh then pulls down the pants of the victim and repeatedly strikes him with board and its protruding nail. At one point, he puts the nail next to the man's buttocks and bangs it through the flesh.

"Where's the salt," asks the Sheikh as he pours a large container of salt on to the man's bleeding wounds.

The victim pleads for mercy, to no avail.

The final scene on the tape shows the Sheikh positioning his victim on the desert sand and then driving over him repeatedly. A sound of breaking bones can be heard on the tape.

Sheikh Issa's lawyer, Daryl Bristow of Baker Botts in Houston, told ABC News "the tape is the tape."

The torture victim was identified by Nabulsi as an Afghan grain dealer, Mohammed Shah Poor, who the Sheikh accused of short changing on a grain delivery to his royal ranch on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.

The UAE government, in its statement, says the matter was settled privately between the Sheikh and the grain dealer, "by agreeing not to bring formal charges against each other, i.e., theft on the one hand and assault on the other hand."

Meanwhile, in other UAE news:

An Omani prisoner, identified only as Mahmoud, escaped from a UAE hospital a couple of days ago, after serving a year in Jail in Sharjah for smuggling vehicles.see Gulf News.

Prisoner at large will be given longer jail term when caught
By Mariam M. Al Serkal Staff Reporter
Published: April 27, 2009, 23:54

Sharjah: A runaway convict has been at large since Sunday and police are unable to confirm whether he is still in the country.
The 25-year-old Omani prisoner, identified by police as Mahmoud, was serving a jail term for smuggling vehicles out of the country and taking them to other Gulf States.

The police official also pointed out that the convict had already spent more than one year at Sharjah Central Jail.
The prisoner was transferred to a room at the Osteopathy Department where he escaped after removing the handcuffs and jumping out of the third-floor room

Dubai are upping their inspections of their squalid labourer camps following the recent reports in the UK media on how dire conditions are. Good to see the media doing its job. Pity it wasn't the local reporters...

And, again after international pressure, the UAE prison service have released British woman (and ex-Omani florist) Marnie Pearce early and suspended her deportation order.

Pearce released after serving adultery term
Rasha Abu Baker and Nour Samaha

Last Updated: April 27. 2009 11:00PM UAE / April 27. 2009 7:00PM GMT DUBAI // A British woman who was sentenced to three months in prison for committing adultery was yesterday released from Dubai Central Jail.

A spokesperson for the prison said Marnie Pearce, 40, was released at around 9am after serving 68 days of her three-month sentence. An order to deport Ms Pearce after serving her sentence has been suspended, the spokesperson said.

“She has been released but her passport is being held. Ms Pearce will not be leaving the country because her deportation order was suspended and for some unresolved legal reasons her passport is being held with public prosecution,” she said.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Buy Tamiflu stock... while you can?

Only news of late, and another reason why its great to live in the Sultanate of Oman everybody. Its a loooong way away from the USA.

Yes, it's 'The next new pandemic' - swine flu.

I'd recommend The Motley Fool's excellent analysis of the possible downsides.

Note the 'mortality rate' should be significantly less than 5% especially for a fit adult [5% is what it was for nastier SARS] - see article below from sensible Canada.

The problem compared to SARS will be old fashioned spreadability. So even here there will be a few cases, and it will as a result probably cause more total deaths globally than SARS or Bird Flu did. Note:

an influenza pandemic has the potential of killing thousands more because it will infect 35% of the population

Be sensible and don't panic.

But don't go round coughing and sneezing all over people either, especially me and my family.

I'd hate to have to waste good ammo...

No need to panic ... yet

Ontario officials are worried swine flu could be pandemic, killing thousands
Last Updated: 26th April 2009, 2:57am

This could finally be the global flu pandemic we've been warned is long overdue.

And if deadly SARS was just a dress rehearsal, Ontario health officials insist they are better prepared to face this unique swine flu that could potentially infect one in three Ontarians and kill more than 12,000 across the province.

"SARS gave us a good swift kick in the ass in terms of planning for the next event," said Dr. Michael Gardam, director of Infectious Disease Prevention and Control with the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion.

"We are erring on the side of caution and with cases being reported in New York City, which is just across the border, we have to assume we're going to have cases in Ontario."

After a day of conference calls and preparation strategy, a weary Gardam stopped short last night of predicting a pandemic but said, "we're getting closer and closer to reaching that stage.

"I would be surprised if we would be able to stop this. You can't really stop influenza."

Ontario health officials have been on high alert since Thursday when they first learned Mexico had an unusual spike in flu deaths. Those concerns escalated yesterday when WHO director-general Margaret Chan confirmed this strain of the H1N1 virus is now being transmitted from human to human and has "pandemic potential."

Dr. Allison McGeer, director of infection control at Mount Sinai Hospital, expects the United Nations health agency will soon raise its six-stage alert from its current level three to four or five, just short of declaring a full- on pandemic.

But she insists there is no need to panic.

"This is a new influenza virus that is moving from human to human," she explained, "that doesn't mean automatically that it will be the next pandemic. And if it is, we don't know how long it will be until it gets here."

She suspects it could be several months before it reaches Canada and "that will give us time to make a vaccine."

Watching footage of worried Mexicans outfitted in hospital masks brings back painful memories for Torontonians who lived through the frightening spring of 2003.

"It will be nothing like SARS," warned Gardam, whose Ontario agency was created to better deal with another infectious disease outbreak.

Where SARS killed 44 in the GTA, he said an influenza pandemic has the potential of killing thousands more because it will infect 35% of the population.

"Everybody's a little worried," admitted McGeer, who was quarantined for SARS herself.

"For hospitals and health-care workers who lived through SARS, it's really difficult. They're saying, 'I'm going to have to live through this again?'

"For health-care workers in Toronto, this is going to be a hard challenge to rise to, but I have no doubt they will rise to the challenge. But it's not easy."


Because the numbers who will fall ill are frightening.

In last year's Ontario Health Plan for an Influenza Pandemic, officials estimate a probable death toll of 12,303 people, though as many as 20,000 could die if it is a particularly severe strain. And it predicts the crisis will not be a quick one -- the plan says a pandemic usually spreads in two to three waves, three to nine months apart.

SARS was relatively short and contained, with a 5% mortality rate. A flu pandemic will last longer and won't be as lethal, yet more will die because so many more will be infected.

"With SARS, the highest transmission was in hospitals," McGeer explained. "That's not true of influenza. The transmission is absolutely everywhere. It's going to be everybody at risk."

The pandemic plan predicts 35% of Ontarians will be sick enough to take time off work and 53,000 will be hospitalized but recover.

The plan also admits that a vaccine can only be developed four to five months after the pandemic starts, and will "initially be in short supply and high demand."

The good news, said Gardam, is that this new swine flu appears to respond to Tamiflu and the Canadian government has stockpiled enough of the anti-viral drug to treat the expected 25% of the population who will need it.

"The other glimmer of hope we've seen is that this strain likely is not going to be super nasty," Gardam said.

So hopefully, he added, this will be more like the Hong Kong pandemic than the Spanish one.

During the last century, the world experienced three influenza pandemics with the most serious, the Spanish flu of 1918-19, blamed for killing between 40 and 50 million people. The last pandemic, the 1968 Hong Kong flu, killed one million.

With usually 30 years between outbreaks of a deadly new global influenza strain, scientists have been warning for more than a decade that it was coming.

And it seems the time is now.

"I'm tired, we're all tired but I wouldn't say we're nervous," said Gardam of the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion. "We've been planning for this since 2003."

As for McGeer of Mount Sinai, she insisted it's far too early for us to worry -- which is easier said than done.

"It's a gorgeous day," she said. "Get back to your garden."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

One law for all in UAE? Not.

As is often the case, little of note to report in Oman, except the apparent total abscence of any Omani media follow-up to local blogger Ali's conviction last week (see previous post. Has anyone seen anything in the official media here?)

But I noticed 3 interesting sex related sentences handed down by the courts in the UAE last week (unlike Oman, even the UAE newspapers publish interesting court case outcomes).

Case 1: A Filipino waiter who had what sounds like careless consensual sex with a drunk 16 yr old at his birthday party, gets 3 years in prison followed by deportation for statutory rape. The girl only reported the sexual encounter 6 months later, after she found herself pregnant.

The Dubai Court of First Instance on Tuesday sentenced the 27-year-old Filipino accused to three years' imprisonment after he was found guilty of having sex with a minor against her will. Presiding Judge Al Saeed Mohammad Barghout, who pronounced yesterday's verdict, said the accused will be deported after serving his punishment.

The 27-year-old claimed that he had consensual sex with the girl and denied intoxicating her drink and raping her during his birthday party, as charged by the Public Prosecution.

The lawyer said the girl had sex with two other men and when she discovered her pregnancy (six months after the incident), she accused R.B. of making her pregnant.

Case 2: A British woman, Marnie Pearce, while trying to get divorced from her crazy adulterous Egyptian husband, was accused of having sex with a male friend when separated from the hubby. Found guilty, she loses custody of her 2 young sons, and gets 3 months in prison (reduced from 6 on appeal), to be followed by deportation.

(Although the international outcry is having an effect – Dubai have apparently promised to review the deportation order…)

Case 3: An Emirati man who was found guilty of raping his 22 yr old Indonesian maid gets… 6 months suspended.

... Records said the accused dropped his children and a second Indonesian maid he had employed at a park before rushing home to have sex with the victim.

Public Prosecution records quoted the maid accusing the mechant, who is her sponsor, of trying to pay her Dh1,000, which she rejected, before he raped her.
"He walked into my room while I was ironing the family's clothes... he offered to pay me Dh1,000 in cash, which I refused because it was not my salary. Then he used one hand to silence me, undressed me with the other hand, and raped me," the woman claimed in her statement to the Public Prosecution.

The merchant was charged with raping the housemaid. Medical reports confirmed that she lost her virginity due to the incident.

So, that’s alright then.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Oman's Internet Forum Moderator Trial: Ali Zuwaidi's verdict

Breaking News readers ( and apologies for the lack of posts - very busy) - The ruling in Ali Zuwaidi's internet case was finished this morning.

1) He was found NOT GUILTY on the first charge, made under the infamous and poorly defined Article 61. This charge was raised following a formal complaint made by OmanTel's ex-CEO Dr Wahaibi. The case was related to Ali's involvement as a moderator for a forum in which a post was made (by a still unidentified 3rd party) that criticised Dr Wahaibi's work.

2) He was found GUILTY on the second charge, made under more general professional secrecy laws that are within the standard criminal code, for leaking the confidential Council of Ministers document that related to a radio program called "haza al sabah" (This Morning) (a show that had been used as a forum for members of the public to criticise Government performance live on air until the Ministers allegedly decided to can it). He was sentenced to 10 days in prison and ordered to pay a 200 rials fine, but was released as his time served following his arrest and being held on remand was already 11 days.

It will be interesting to see how the trial result plays out in the regional and international Media, especially after the recent criticisms of the new UAE Media Law made by the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the somewhat defensive response to that criticism by Dubai Authorities.

Hopefully The Ministry of Information is a little more prepared for questions and able to expalin how his being found guilty is not directly related to Article 61, although some commentators have linked the two charges and implied that he was being arrested, charged and tried 'pour encourage les autres'.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Oman tops the world in Military Expenditure?

It well known that the Middle Eastern countries like to spend on their Military. (There's a nice description and photos of the recent IDEX 9th International Defence Exhibition and Conference held at the Abu Dhabi Exhibition center last month here at the Magnum website.)

A friendly arms dealer snapped in Abu Dhabi last month. Photo ripped from Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Interesting statement in the comments section caught my eye:
Oman is listed as the No. 1 country in the world for Military expenditure as a % of GDP (of countries where such data is available, so in reality we probably get beaten into 2nd place by North Korea).

The full list is available from the ever helpful Central Intelligence Agency here. And there we are, proudly at the number 1 spot.

Country Military expenditures (% of GDP)

1 Oman 11.4% 2005 est.

2 Qatar 10.0% 2005 est.
3 Saudi Arabia 10.0% 2005 est.
4 Iraq 8.6% 2006
5 Jordan 8.6% 2006
6 Israel 7.3% 2006
7 Yemen 6.6% 2006
8 Armenia 6.5% FY01
9 Eritrea 6.3% 2006 est.
10 Macedonia 6.0% 2005 est.
11 Burundi 5.9% 2006 est.
12 Syria 5.9% 2005 est.
13 Angola 5.7% 2006
14 Mauritania 5.5% 2006
15 Maldives 5.5% 2005 est.
16 Kuwait 5.3% 2006
17 Turkey 5.3% 2005 est.
18 El Salvador 5.0% 2006
19 Morocco 5.0% 2003 est.
20 Singapore 4.9% 2005 est.

Of course, the trick with this No. 1 rank is based on % GDP, and I understand also includes ROP.

In absolute spending terms (based on 2002 purchasing power parity data), Oman only ranks around 50th out of 164 in a 2004 report to the US Congress.

On % GDP, we still came out top in the GCC, and 4th Globally.

In terms of GCC absolute spend though, we're not too bad. In the 2004 report the estimates are (2002 spend in US$)
Saudi Arabia: $22.2 bln
Kuwait: $3.5 bln
United Arab Emirates: ~$2.8 bln
Oman: $2.7 bln
Qatar: $1.9 bln
Bahrain: 0.33 bln

This is one of the reasons Oman is a safe country to live in. It's security we do pay for!

But perhaps we can improve the transparency of our reporting a bit, and get off the no. 1 spot... I think its hardly a ranking we deserve, as Oman is not overtly militarised...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ali al-Zuwaidy internet freedom trial on Reuters

Nice story here. Oman has hit the Reuters wire service over the on-going trial of an Omani internet forum 'moderator' Ali al-Zuwaidy.

If you surf the Omani bloggosphere you'd already know about it. Muscati and BlueChi are doing a reasonable job there.

Here's the report.

Oman Web trial raises censorship concerns
Wed Apr 8, 2009 4:02pm BST

By Andrew Hammond
MUSCAT (Reuters) - The trial in Oman of a Web moderator over criticism of the government in a popular Internet forum has led to calls for the Gulf Arab state to ease its grip on the media and improve business transparency.

Ali al-Zuwaidy was detained for 11 days earlier this year for questioning over an anonymous post suggesting corruption in state telecom firm Omantel and for publishing a cabinet directive putting an end to live radio phone-ins.

A verdict in Zuwaidy's trial is due on April 21.

It is the latest in a series of legal cases concerning Internet blogs, forums and websites in the Arab world, where rights groups say governments are clamping down. The Internet has become a popular arena for discussion partly because of restraint observed in traditional media.

Oman, a country of 3.3 million people on the tip of the Arabian peninsula, has one of the most closed media and political cultures in the Gulf region, analysts say.

"We view this case as threatening freedom of expression in the country and we think it is not in the interest of the state's development efforts," said Said al-Hashemi, a member of the Omani Writers Association which has provided legal aid for Zuwaidy, a writer and civil aviation administrator.

"There is corruption in some institutions. If we don't have the right to criticize then there is a problem," Hashemi said, adding that three journalists were detained briefly last year over reports they published in Omani papers.

Ministry of Information officials declined to comment when contacted by telephone. Continued...

Like the last bit. So classically oxymoronic...

Lessons from Dubai.

Following the BBC Panorama broadcast yesterday, on the shame that is Dubai's horrific treatment of migrant construction labour, my attention has been drawn to the recent Independent Newspaper articles [thanks Willie!] and various UAE blog posts.

Links/exerpts are at the end of this post.

Thankfully, here in sunny Muscat we mostly avoided the excesses of the UAE's Sin City. Now, the Dubai experience dealing with the aftermath of their excesses should provide a dramatic lesson for Oman on many fronts: real estate, environment, expats, bankrupcy law, debt, tourists, wealth, Government, and the old adage: "If it seems too good to be true, it usually is".

Take the status of their housing development market, with Arabian Business reporting that 70% of expat owned real estate in the UAE is in 'negative equity', with swathes of buildings incomplete and likely to stay that way. Not to mention the ridiculous excesses exemplified by the Atlantis Hotel, Burj, and The World's empty artificial islands.

Recently, too many Omani had come to believe (like many around the world) that the way to wealth was easy: through speculation in shares, property and land; by being allowed to be a minority partner in some Government development; by being Mr.5% for some foreign company; or by effectively taxing the income stream of the expats you could sponsor. Money was swilling around the country as oil prices exploded and the Government spent large on big industrial and oil infrastructure projects.

Perhaps now there can be a return to sensibility: That wealth should be gained through professionalism, hard work and true value creation. That education is important because of the skills and knowledge it brings and not because it is supposed to provide a magic piece of paper that gives an automatic right to sit behind a desk reading the papers all day. That borrowing beyond your means to consume and speculate is unwise. And to be wary of hubris.

And that just because others have treated people horribly and inhumanely in the past [USA - slaves, UK - Indians, Japan - Koreans], or still do so now [China - Tibet, Pakistan, Dubai - NRIs ...], doesn't make it OK for us to do the same. Truthfully decribing a criticism as hypocritical doesn't mean the criticism isn't true. We can and should be better than that.

An expat minimum wage and enforcement of decent terms and conditions is needed here urgently, not just because it's humane, but because we have to meet the number 1 challenge of this country - unemployment/under employment and a huge ratio of under 18 to working age people. Aluminium plants may be another cleaver way to export artifially cheap gas, but they don't actually provide jobs for very many people.

Oman must convert itself from an economy based on industrialisation, hydrocarbons and cheap labour to a service based economy with Omanis serving Omanis, and doing so with efficiency and professionalism (Government included). Having an endless supply of cheap, low-skill imported labour halts the effective Omanisation of the service industry, and legislating 'job types' or compulsory Omanisation % is highly inefficient and ineffective.

The comments section on the Johann Hari OpEd piece is a story in itself, and generally binary (either totally disagree/totally agree]. The emotion, vitriol and back story evident in some of the comments made is incredible. Especially defensive are those comments from Emirati and Dubai western expats, who are somewhat pilloried in the article.

Check these links out.

The Desert Blogger.
The strange world of Middle East media:

The Panorama appreciation society
Posted by desert_blogger
Monday, 6 April 2009 at 06:55 pm

It can de difficult to express just how frustrating it is, now and again, to be a journalist in a region that lacks so many basic facets of personal liberty. I'm both deliriously happy, and a little ashamed, to read the synopsis of Panorama: Slumdogs and Millionaires, which will be screened by the BBC in the UK in two hours time, for the highly respected, international current affairs show has chosen to gather its tanks on the lawns of Dubai's migrant labour market.

I'm happy, because, like hundreds of thousands across Dubai, I walk in the shadows of the labourers from the Indian sub-continent (almost) everyday, and while I can't begin to claim to know their way of life, I know of the impossible situation that these men face. I know of their exploitation, while being acutely aware of the glamorous reputation that Dubai manages to convey on the world stage - what Panorama's Ben Anderson calls, "one of the greatest PR triumphs of the past 20 years."

And this too is the source of my shame. As a journalist in Dubai predominantly covering the construction industry, should it not be my job to write the story that Ben Anderson will have the privilege of telling in two hours time? Well, yes, it is. So do we? Well, yes, we do.

Last July, I wrote and we published this article, passionately supportive of the introduction of a minimum wage for Dubai's oversea's labour force. ...

And yesterday a long, 9000 word article by Johann Hari in Independent: Comment has been drawing lots of attention in the UAE bloggosphere, either attacked as a biased hatchet job, or praised as an honest view of the real and deep problems of the giant fake plastic Ponzi-scheme built on the bones of exploited NRIs and a sea of sewerage that is Dubai, or perhaps more reasonably a bit of both. But its a nice (albeit one-sided) story, apparently full of actual interviews and quotes.

The dark side of Dubai

Dubai was meant to be a Middle-Eastern Shangri-La, a glittering monument to Arab enterprise and western capitalism. But as hard times arrive in the city state that rose from the desert sands, an uglier story is emerging. Johann Hari reports...


I say. I can't stand it. She sighs with relief and says: "This is the most terrible place! I hate it! I was here for months before I realised – everything in Dubai is fake. Everything you see. The trees are fake, the workers' contracts are fake, the islands are fake, the smiles are fake – even the water is fake!" But she is trapped, she says. She got into debt to come here, and she is stuck for three years: an old story now. "I think Dubai is like an oasis. It is an illusion, not real. You think you have seen water in the distance, but you get close and you only get a mouthful of sand."

As she says this, another customer enters. She forces her face into the broad, empty Dubai smile and says: "And how may I help you tonight, sir?"

And the new UAE media law is a worry. We always knew recession and unemployment leads to fascism I guess...
MiddleEast Blog

The government has already taken steps to control media coverage of the crisis with a new draft media law, which would make it a criminal offence to “damage the country’s reputation or economy”. The new law could see those reporting about the crisis faced with fines of up to 1 million dirhams (around £190,000).

Last month Humaid bin Dimas, a spokesman for Dubai’s Labor Ministry, refused to confirm, deny or comment on local newspaper reports that 1,500 work visas were being cancelled every day.

“At the moment there is a readiness to believe the worst,” said Simon Williams, HSBC bank’s chief economist in Dubai. “And the limits on data make it difficult to counter the rumours.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Oman ranks 50th in networked readiness out of 134 countries

The World Economic Forum released last week its ranking of countries for internet readiness in The Global Information Technology Report 2008-2009. You can read the full report here.

Oman came 50th, up from 53 last year, beating countries like Greece and Kuwait.

The Country report for Oman highlights 1 or 2 really low ranking scores that contributed to keeping the overall ranking as low as it was.

The one that caught my eye was our miserable rank of 126/134 for Freedom of the Press. These are the only countries reported as having a less free press than us:
Moldova, Lesotho, Chad, Armenia, Libya, Venezuela, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. To be beaten on this by paragons like China, Saudi Arabia and the Kyrgyz Republic is something we could perhaps do something about.

Also, we didn't do too well on invention, with zero patents in 2007 (albeit along with 45 other countries). We were even beaten on that one by Zimbabwe. Enforcing contracts seems complex too.

But we did very well in some other areas: having a low burden of Government regulation, low taxes, and it being relatively easy to start a business, amongst others.

here's a selection of some of the indicators.

Key indicators

Population (millions), 2007............................................................2.6
GDP (PPP) per capita (int’l $), 2007 ......................................23,987
Internet users per 100 population, 2007 ..................................13.1
Internet bandwidth (mB/s) per 10,000 population, 2007..........4.8
Mobile telephone subscribers per 100 population, 2007......96.3
Networked Readiness Index
Edition (number of economies) Rank
2008–2009 (134) ...................................................50
2007–2008 (127) ...............................................................................53
2006–2007 (122)..............................................................................n/a
Global Competitiveness Index 2008–2009 (134) 38
Environment component 51
Market environment 42
1.01 Venture capital availability..................................................22
1.02 Financial market sophistication .........................................46
1.03 Availability of latest technologies ......................................55
1.04 State of cluster development ............................................49
1.05 Utility patents, 2007* ........................................................89
1.06 High-tech exports, 2006* ................................................119
1.07 Burden of government regulation .......................................7
1.08 Extent and effect of taxation...............................................7
1.09 Total tax rate, 2007*..........................................................11
1.10 Time required to start a business, 2008*..........................38
1.11 No. of procedures required to start a business, 2008* ....46
1.12 Intensity of local competition ............................................84
1.13 Freedom of the press......................................................126
1.14 Accessibility of digital content...........................................77
Political and regulatory environment 44
2.01 Effectiveness of law-making bodies..................................22
2.02 Laws relating to ICT ..........................................................42
2.03 Judicial independence .......................................................34
2.04 Intellectual property protection .........................................30
2.05 Efficiency of legal framework............................................27
2.06 Property rights ...................................................................41
2.07 Quality of competition in the ISP sector ...........................95
2.08 Number of procedures to enforce a contract, 2008*......127
2.09 Time to enforce a contract, 2008* ....................................81
Infrastructure environment 78
3.01 Number of telephone lines, 2007*....................................89
3.02 Secure Internet servers, 2007*.........................................79
3.03 Electricity production, 2005*.............................................45
3.04 Availability of scientists and engineers..............................95
3.05 Quality of scientific research institutions ..........................59
3.06 Tertiary enrollment, 2006*.................................................77
3.07 Education expenditure, 2006*...........................................81

Monday, April 6, 2009

BBC expose on Dubai's treatment of expat labour

More today in the international media on the human rights/slavery issue wrt expat labourers in the Middle East. [Thanks for the tip, Devil's Advocate].

The BBC's "Panorama", an inhouse investigative journalism programme, are broadcasting an expose tonight on Dubai, following a 3 month investigation into Dubai's infamous treatment of migrant labourers and their conditions.

Photo: Ben Johnson, BBC, in Dubai

See the BBC website here and here.

Highly recommended. I've copied the first story below.

Would we like the BBC to do a similar investigation here?

How many of us have actually visited the labourers' camps out in the wilds of Ghala or Ruwi? I think we would all like to hope the results would be a lot better than in Dubai... and I'm sure most would be.

But IMHO the issue of labour treatment is going to run and run... so perhaps we should make sure our house really is in order before the NGOs and the BBC switch their focus?

Migrant worker 'fixer' speaks out

Panorama reporter Ben Anderson interviews Almass Pardiwala, one of the first recruitment agents to speak out about the treatment of immigrant construction workers in Dubai.

How did you start sending workers to Dubai from India?

Initially the idea was we sent people here to look forward to a better tomorrow. They would earn more than what they were getting at home. Since their accommodation was provided they would definitely save on the rent and we thought, they would be able to send a substantial amount back home, which would help them to save something for the future, or at least their next generation. They could better themselves economically and have a better lifestyle.

When did you first start getting the impression that things were not as good for the workers as you thought they were?

When I started coming here I started talking to the workers, dealing with them, looking at the situation, I visited a few labour camps and I was appalled at the situation they were living in. That's when I realised that they are giving up their lives for a few dirhams (United Arab Emirates' currency). But human life is just not worth the few extra dirhams that they make.

Before they even arrive, they are in debt because they are charged a visa fee, could developers insist that fee is not charged? That their passports are not taken away or the workers are given the minimum wage?

Yes, of course, there are companies who could specifically mention that all the visa expenses, about 7,000 to 8,000 dirham (roughly £1600), are borne by the company themselves. That is the law. They are not legally in a position to charge any visa fees from the workers coming in.

But they do charge the workers…
Sometimes they have to mortgage their land, their house, or whatever little ornaments their family has of value. Sometimes I have cases where they've even gone on and mortgaged the utensils the house has, you know, metals, they have mortgaged even that.

What, like pots and pans and cookers?

Everything! Everything! Land which has been in their family from centuries, maybe generations and just the lure that okay we'll go abroad and we'll make a better lifestyle for ourselves. It's a dream that, very honestly is a nightmare the moment they land here.

You said these things are against the law…

All these things are against the law.

How did you first find out about this problem? You said before that you had received complaints from workers, and that they had disappeared...

After a lot of pressure I got an address of an official camp where our 80 people were there and believe me I was ashamed to call myself a human when I entered the camp. The camp was so bad, so, so bad. It was like walking into a stable where diseased animals would be put. There were 40 Indians and 40 Bangladeshis and they had three bathrooms and they had a whole line of stones outside the washrooms. I told these guys, why are you keeping these in the middle, why don't you move them aside, someone might trip over? They said no madam, these stones we've kept like this. This stone belongs to me, this stone represents so and so person. This is a queue for us to visit the washroom. We get an opportunity every three days to have a turn to have a bath. So that was the condition of the guys over there. According to law six people are supposed to be in a room, there were 12 of them 14 of them just cramped in like animals, there were no windows in the entire camp. They had no food, because they were not paid any salaries.

So how was their health?

It was terrible. I was with this guy who had his finger cut and it was full of pus and it was rotting. And I asked him why haven't you done anything? He said if I go to the doctor he wants 50 dirhams from me, I don't have five dirhams to eat, how am I going to pay the doctor 50 dirhams? There were people who didn't have shoes to wear. They had blisters on their feet that were infected and pus was just going through. Of course they were weak, they were losing weight, they had aged so terribly in the three months since they had left India. They were sure they were just going to die over here and the people back home were not even going to see them. There was this date orchard next to their camp and the gardener had a heart so at the end of the day whatever dates used to fall off the tree he would give to them and that's what they were eating when I first saw them. People don't even treat animals like this. These guys were worse than stray animals out on the street. And the authorities, this was in Ras Al Khaimah, the neighbouring emirate, knew about it - the workers had demonstrated out on the road - so the immigration authorities were aware what was going on.

How did you feel at that moment because you and the men were convinced everyone was coming here for a better life?

Shattered. A dream shattered. Or an illusion shattered at that point of time. These people were totally disillusioned and they had no hope at all. They were shouting and screaming, but nobody was willing to hear them.

At that point did you think that the situation you were in was just a one off?

I found scores of people with the same story. The only difference was that they had nobody who could put forward their story for them. They were in an unknown land, the language was unfamiliar to them, they didn't know the rules and regulations and they didn't have money or power. There was nobody who was trying to do anything for them. There were just these guys going 'shoo- come tomorrow. Nothing we can do for you'. I went to these places I realised no this is not an isolated case this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Are the workers afraid to complain?

Yes they are. The first thing the company will say is get out of my camp and where do they go then? It's not like they are going to be able to go to a guesthouse and spend a night. They are not going to be able to sleep under a banyan tree. Also their documents are in the company's hands.

So what can you do?

I've yet to come across a successful solution. The maximum you can do is get someone from the media to talk, get some articles printed and pressurise the company into solving the matter. Which I seriously feel is very unfair to the workers. They are the people responsible for building this country. They are the ones treated like shit, like slaves most of the time. I have had workers tell me that they have been horsewhipped when they tried to open their mouths or protest. Whips have actually been removed and hit on them. As far as we know slavery is extinct right?

Do you really think slavery is an accurate term?

Right now they don't call them slaves they call them employees and they give them visas but they are almost bound as slaves with almost no rights at all. Slaves were actually bought and sold, these guys are so-called employed, but what rights do they have? What rights are made available to them in any kind of a situation? I think it's zilch.

When we in the West think of Dubai...

When Westerners see Dubai they see the racecourses and fireworks over the Atlantis. Even if 10% of the money that was burnt up over the Atlantis was put up for the workers I'm sure people would sleep with a clearer conscience - if they had one.

What do you say to the argument this is just globalisation - getting people from markets where the wages are very low?

Fine but why the hell can't you pay them the wages that have been promised to them? They are not asking you to pay them the standard wages that a person in a developed country gets.

You often hear people from the West say that the accommodation looks bad to us, the salary sounds low to us, but for them it's fine, for them it's a good salary?

I would suggest you take a visit to some of the villages in India and come and have a look at them before you form an opinion on that. I don't think it is an argument unless you have actually seen both sides of the coin. I would suggest that they are behaving like ostriches with their heads in the sand. They may not have a tiled bedroom or a Jacuzzi, but it's not inhuman like this, I can bet that it's not as bad as this.

Lots of people from all over the world are investing in property here, coming here on holiday, is there anything they could do for the workers?

Just ask can I look at your labour camp? If you are going to buy one apartment your going to see it 10 times from 10 different angles. Just ask the company; can I look at your labour camp? I'm not telling you to say; I want a written statement from each of the workers to say I'm happy, just say can I have a look at your labour camp? See how they will jump then.

And what do you think their reaction would be if they were taken to an average labour camp?

If the person has a conscience I'm sure they would never ever think of buying any property out here. Those who made an effort would be appalled by conditions, they would be appalled by the inhuman treatment these people go through. They are working for 10 hours, 12 hours - then they are commuting one and a half to two hours. They are cooking in primitive conditions - whatever they can manage to cook at 2130 2200 at night when they are dog tired - whether it's hygienic, whether it's nutritious, nothing, just having something to fill their stomachs and fall asleep. Next day they get up at 0400, maybe gulp down a cup of tea. Their health is going to disintegrate. If someone from the West, maybe some kind of organisation, maybe authorities concerned pressurise the government into implementing the rules that are there in place I'm sure things will be much better and I'm sure humanity will be in a better condition for the efforts made.

Have you come across any workers who have come out here and have made a better life for themselves and their families?

Very, very few. I will not lie and say I've never come across any. There are a few companies which even though the workers have paid visa fees, at least they give them salaries and have been reasonably good. There are a few good companies but I can count them on my fingers. But yes, there have been a few, which is probably what keeps these guys going, the few success stories that they hear back in their village, they think, okay, if he did it, maybe I will be lucky enough to have the same thing happen to me.

Expat Labour in Oman

Nosyguy gave such a great comment on the expat imprisonment plan posted earlier I wanted to respond properly. (You should read this post first if you're new I guess).

Thank you for the comment NG. I'll try to address some points.

"I am not an employer in Oman. I have no expertise or ambition to be an employment lawyer and the following comments are based on unease with the tendency to ignore a complex employment setting in pursuit of a PC cry of “free the workers!”

UD: Totally agree. Pragmatism rules in my handbook. Let me not be accused of being PC, please. Nobody is calling for anarchy here.

"...unintended consequences for all."

UD: I too am a big fan of the study of unintended consequences. It should be taught in schools! You are right, there would be a transition period required to effect significant changes or a degree of chaos would ensue. But still the goal should be set and moved toward, and meanwhile certain humane minimum standards can and should be enforced.

" is unfair to deride local employers as slavers without acknowledging that ‘sponsors’ can have considerable obligations for those that they sponsor. Contracts ... If workers are able to be in constant search for immediate improvements by changing their employer then this should be balanced by greater freedom of the employer to abandon contracts and to HIRE and fire."

UD: Unfair? Slavery? Read the definition from 1926... would there not be some in Oman who might be out of line with that declaration? And its 2009, not 1926.

One's behavior should be subject to an absolute as well as a relative measure. If you have to imprison your employees to do business I think there is something wrong with your way of doing business, even if its driven by the system. The obligation is on the employer to ensure their treatment of their staff, and the prospects they provide for the employee, enable them to properly protect that investment via retention. I'm all for hire and fire too.

And I don't think the way the cost of official paperwork inflates the value of someone who's just here and 'willing and able' to work, is an excuse either.

The obligations of employer and employee are expressed in employment contracts and law. .... [UD: + lots of examples of real obligations on sponsor].

Well, fair point. Sponsors DO face a bit of a hole financially and legally with the current system of visas. Contracts are OK if signed with awareness up front. But 3 months notice - no matter what the cost that you as an employer would face - is enough. If they walk to another employer on a 2 year visa, tough. Again, the underlying solution is to treat your staff better.


that would mean that OMANI staff would become more competitive in the labour market, with an overall higher cost per unit of labour. We must at the same time increase unit productivity by a greater amount, and then the economy will not meltdown due to increasd costs. The economy grows and living standards improve, but only if people want to pull their finger out and work.

Asking the Omani 'working class' to compete with pseudo-slave labour is anathema to real Omanisation. Enabling business to behave this way may be fine if your aim is to subsidise the business opportunities of an occasional wastafarian like T3, but I don't think it's fundamentally healthy or effective as a State policy on political, moral, social, economic, or security grounds.

Oman should not be about setting the bar low, but about working to where we can set it higher and higher. Replacing work that should be done by machines, operated by trained and skilled Omani, with a load of cheap manual labour from the subcontinent with picks and shovels just because you can is a problem, not a solution. You can think of the human rights improvement as just a side effect of good economics if you like.

Needlessly exploiting vulnerable people is neither ethical, nor good business. We should address the actualité of how we treat expat labour, not just the window dressing.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The real Visa run! UAE to Yemen by land to avoid biometrics

Great story today in the Gulf News about how Oman is being used as a transit country for illegal workers, and those on the run for other reasons, to get from UAE to Yemen.

They are driven across the desert at night, crossing over the border, and then down to Yemen. A hell of a drive. I wonder how they get through the monster fence that the UAE erected across their borders a couple of years ago?

Picture: Gulf News

Now that's what I call a visa run!

The new Iris scans at UAE are thus having a big impact, stopping the common practice of people simply getting a new passport in a different name back in their home country to re-enter the UAE and thereby avoiding pre-existing problems associated with their old identity, such as an employment ban.

Such practice - reentering on a new passport with a different name - is common in Oman, where there is still no use of biometrics at the entry points, making it easy to avoid employment bans and get back into Oman on a new visa.

Illegal residents fleeing UAE via Oman's borders
By Bassma Al Jandaly, Staff Reporter
Published: April 04, 2009, 22:46

Dubai: Hundreds of illegal residents are fleeing the country via the UAE-Oman borders to avoid the iris scan, in order for them to return to the UAE, Gulf News learnt.

A police source told Gulf News that some people, who are wanted by police for bounced cheques, unpaid loans and other crimes, are also fleeing the country through the borders.

The source said they are crossing the desert using routes that will lead them to Salalah in Oman.

"After reaching Salalah they head to Yemen," the source said.

The source said some housemaids, workers and other expatriates, who are staying illegally in the country, are doing this to avoid the iris scan and the ban which will prevent them from coming back to the UAE.

He said some wanted people also fled the country in the same way.

"Police in the country are hunting those who are aiding these illegal residents and the criminals, to flee the country," he said.

He said they use four-wheel drive vehicles on their trips to help them through the desert.

"Their outings are dangerous. These agents who help the illegals to flee the country are armed while police and military forces on the border are chasing them which put their lives and the people who are travelling with them at risk," he said.

He said most of the time, the agents dump the infiltrators in the desert after taking their money.

He said they go through deserts from any emirate to reach Salalah which is the nearest area to Yemen on the border with the UAE.

He said they travel at night and it takes them one and a half days to reach Yemen.

Police said the country's borders are tightly monitored to prevent infiltration.

An Ethiopian housemaid who works for a Sudanese family in Sharjah, told Gulf News that she stayed in the UAE illegally for more than ten years before she infiltrated to Oman then to Yemen to avoid the life ban.

"I came to work in the UAE 11 years ago for an Emirati family in Abu Dhabi, but I absconded after two months and I worked for different families for ten years," she said.

She said when she decided to go back to her country, it was hard because her iris scan would be taken and she would be banned from coming back.

"If I had my iris scan that would not help me if I changed my passport in my country in order to come back here because I would be caught upon arrival," she said.

She added that last year she fled the UAE to Yemen then to her home country.

"When we went on our trip, I had an agreement with the people who helped us flee, to pay Dh3,500. We were seven people in one car. All of us were illegals. We were different nationalities. Indians, Filipinos, Ethiopians, Sir Lankans and Afghans."

She said that each one had paid different prices. The Indian woman had paid Dh2,500, some had paid Dh6,000 depending on the period of time they had been here and the cost was higher for wanted people.

She said that at the borders they were chased by police and her friend who was with her was afraid and jumped from the car.

"We had no clue what happened to her but later on we came to know that she died on the spot after jumping from the car," she said.

She said when they reached Yemen, they surrendered to the authorities there.

"The people who took us to Yemen, left us alone but they told us to go to the police and say that we had entered Yemen illegally, that we had no passports and wanted to go to our home countries," she said.

She said the authorities in Yemen questioned them and then deported them back to their countries.

"I changed my passport and I obtained a new employment visa in the UAE," she said.

The housemaid said she is now working legally. She added it was a horrible experience which she could not do again.

Gulf News spoke with senior Interior Ministry officials who did not comment on those who had illegally left the UAE via the land borders.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dubai frets about Youtube: Chief of Dubai Police calls for ban

The Middle East continues to struggle with the implications of the internet in terms of what people can choose to watch on their computers. Once again, Youtube is the target of complaints, with one Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, Chief of Dubai Police yesterday calling for the innocuous YouTube website to be blocked.

Youtube is by internet standards pretty tame image-wise, but there are indeed clips available that voice ideas many would find truly shocking and offensive, such as woman kissing each other, or sacrilgious mini-movies on Islam, or any religion for that matter. But as always, the default solution is BAN! BLOCK! Instead of educate, and encourage independent thought. And perhaps getting parents to supervise their children while on line.


Such attitudes will help ensure the region continues to stimulate innovation, computer skills and creativity among its youth, as they immediately try to find ways to circumvent such heavy handed controls.

I especially like the quote on how Dubai police are all for person freedom... well, unless you want to use that freedom watching harmless mini-movies that they don't approve of in the privacy of your own home, obviously. I'm so glad that the entire planet (unacceptable to any country, society or individual) is being so ably protected from itself by Major General Al Mazeina of the Dubai Police.

Thank goodness they banned public dancing, kissing and hand-holding too, or the place would really start going downhill. You can't be having people watching something that mocks religion while swilling a beer in the company of 2 Ukrainian prostitutes in a Dubai Hotel, can you?

Is this big brother Abu Dhabi demanding a little behavioural pay back for their loaning Dubai $10bln++??

Police highlight negative aspects of YouTube
By Siham Al Najami, Staff Reporter
Published: April 03, 2009, 23:01

Dubai: A session held at Dubai Police highlighted the negative aspects of YouTube as part of the Juvenile Association in Dubai's duty to raise public awareness on the dangers of the internet.

Last month Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, website to be blocked.

He said the video-sharing website included indecent material that influenced the younger generation towards delinquency. He added the association was launching a campaign for this purpose, as its duty to protect the youth.

The areas of discussion with a delegation from Google covered the site's negative points such as showing pornographic clips and blasphemous clips that mock religions.

"Dubai Police completely supports the personal freedom of every individual but there is certain content on YouTube that is absolutely unacceptable to any country, society or individual," said Major General Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina, Deputy Chief of Dubai Police.
Dubai Police will collaborate with the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to ensure the safe use of the internet that will encourage the youth to benefit from it.

Google's Gisel Hiscock, Director of New Biz Development in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said her visit was part of a tour she is undergoing in the region to listen to ideas and recommendations as well as to prepare for future meetings with officials to address specific concerns.

More Government idiocy being considered - Imprison all expats in Oman!

Hope you all had a nice weekend - cool weather, a little bit of rain, but no major storm (at least so far!). More rain forecast for the next 2 to 3 days, but as long as it keeps coming in spurts, excellent news. It is amazing how beautiful the temperature gets when we have some decent cloud cover. More thunder and heavy rain likely tomorrow, BTW.

Meanwhile, Oman continues to try to improve their current status as 'Tier 3 / Tier 2 watch list' in the upcoming 2009 US State Dept Human Trafficking Report.

As it has already been agreed that expat workers in Oman are entitled to hold onto their own passports (even though many still have their passport kept illegally by their 'employers', a crime for which there is no defined punishment anyhow), the problem is now seen as this:

How can an Omani sponsor stop his expats leaving the country without 'permission' if he can't legally confiscate their passports?

Ah ha! Easy. We'll invent a new document called an "Exit Pass" that would be required from the sponsor before any expat is allowed to leave Oman, even temporarily, passport or not! See report in Gulf News. [thanks for the tip AM]

Yes. Turn all of Oman into a giant prison for all non-GCC expats, unless they have written permission to leave from their owner 'Sponsor'. Problem solved!

This proposal totally misses the point (I hope readers can figure that out). It may allow Oman's National Committee for Getting out of Human Trafficking Report Tier 3 Combating Human Trafficking to tick the box on 'Expats don't have passports confiscated anymore', but maintains in practice that 'Expats would still not able to leave the country without permission from their sponsor'.

And in the process would create a whole new load of paperwork before any expat could even drive to Dubai, and henceforth there would be two classes of expats: those with a magic exit permit [aka free men], and those without [aka slaves - Check out the recent book on Modern Slavery: A Crime So Monstrous].

That such a proposal is even considered provides a revealing glimpse of how most Expats are still thought of by the powers that be in Oman - as a resource to be used and controlled via coertion.

Even now, an Expat in Oman is effectively owned by his or her Omani sponsor. You have 4 choices:
(1) work for your sponsor, and if you have a problem with wages, your treatment or other contractual aspects, complain to the Ministry of Manpower, or;
(2) leave the country (if you have your passport and labour card), or;
(3) get permission from your sponsor to transfer to a new sponsor (usually for a significant fee), or;
(4) abscond and work illegally for someone else, thus being subject to arrest, fines, imprisonment and deportation.

But an expat cannot resign from one sponsor to work for another without permission from the original sponsor. It's a form of bonded labour. You can imagine the power this gives an Omani sponsor over an employee whose only option is being sent on a one-way flight back to their miserable home country, and who perhaps might not be treated very well while they wait for their complaint with the MoM or the backed up court system to be processed.

Now, an argument would be that if expats don't want to work in such a system they can choose not to come here. But few expats realise that this is they way Oman works before getting here, perhaps thinking that an Omani work visa is similar to how it would be in the UK or US, where the Government has given you a right to seek employment relatively freely. And most low paid expats here have little choice anyhow - they are here out of desperation to earn money to send home. But that is exactly why Governments should protect such powerless people from being overly exploited.

If they are truly serious about Human Rights, Oman needs to think properly about how it could improve the way it treats expats, especially low-paid labour from the 3rd world, and protect them from such effective slavery. The answer is not to just turn the entire country into a prison, just so that we can claim expats have a travel document, albeit one that is useless for actually travelling.

And perhaps we should re-read the 1926 International Slavery Convention while we're at it:

Slavery was defined(Art.1) as:
"the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised"

and the slave trade was defined to include:

"all acts involved in the capture, acquisition or disposal of a person with intent to reduce him to slavery; all acts involved in the acquisition of a slave with a view to selling or exchanging him; all acts of disposal by sale or exchange of a slave acquired with a view to being sold or exchanged, and, in general, every act of trade or transport in slaves."

here's the news article from yesterday's Gulf News:

Oman considers exit pass for expatriates
By Sunil K. Vaidya, Bureau Chief
Published: April 03, 2009, 23:02

Muscat: Oman is considering a proposal to introduce 'exit permits' for expatriate residents even as the police chief has identified three forms of human trafficking prevalent in the country.

Lieutenant General Malek Bin Sulaiman Al Maamari, Oman's Inspector General of Police and Customs, said that the National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking would prepare a draft on combating various aspects of human trafficking and it would be completed within three months.

"Protecting the rights of foreign work force is part of the proposed draft," the police chief told media at the end of the first meeting of the Committee at the Royal Oman Police headquarters.

"The Manpower Ministry has done a lot to guarantee the rights of workers but there are some small details that need to be looked into, including [the] right to keep [one's] passport," he said.

"[A] passport is a private document and every employee has the right to keep the same with him or her," he said but added that the employers also needed some form of guarantee that employees would not leave dubiously.

Therefore, the committee discussed a proposal where every expatriate would be required to obtain a clearance letter from the employer or sponsor before leaving the country.

"It is like 'exit pass' that is in practice in some of the other GCC countries," he told Gulf News.

In Saudi Arabia and Qatar, foreign workers have to obtain exit permit to leave the country. The police chief stressed that the committee only discussed the proposal on clearance letters for expatriate leaving Oman.

"If accepted every expatriate will have to seek [an] exit permit even before going on leave," Al Maamari said.
Oman is a home to about 750,000 foreign workers, and the majority of them are currently required to hand over their passports to their employers.

However, the new move is set to allow them to keep their passports.

The chairman of the National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking also admitted that prostitution, trade in human organs and child labour had afflicted Oman.

Authorities had so far uncovered only one case of human trafficking, relating to prostitution.

"We have arrested seven Omani nationals and four expatriates of other nationalities for forcing women into prostitution," he said.

He said that victims of the prostitution racket were sheltered at a centre run by the authorities and that they were well looked after. He also said the women were even escorted when they went shopping or undertook leisure trips. He also the victims would be sent back to their home country once legal proceedings were concluded and rulings delivered.

He said it was bitter to note that some countries demanding human rights observance by all nations had legalised prostitution as a profession and even ensure benefits accrued to prostitutes.

"It [prostitution] may be the oldest profession in human history but our religion does not tolerate this," the top Omani police officer reiterated.

Al Maamari said that the problem of illegal immigrants entering Oman along the Batina coast was a continuing development.

"We arrest almost 30 to 40 illegal immigrants every day along the coast and currently there are over 1,000 people from Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan languishing in our detention centres for illegally entering the country," he said.

He admitted that the nation was faced with a complex challenge in the form of human traffickers from Pakistan as well as Iran.