Sunday, May 31, 2009

'The land that time forgot' - Saudi Arabia - bans innocent US Expat Blogger

I've always liked that joke about the pilot landing a commercial flight in Saudi who says "Welcome to Saudi Arabia folks, please set your watches back 500 years"...

Last week the Saudis blocked the blog of an expat American lady married to a Saudi, Susie, who has been writing about her observations, thoughts and experiences, and her take on daily life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Of course, as this is the same country who still behead and crucify people, ban women from driving or going to a gym to "protect their morality", and sentence victims of rape to lashings, etc etc... its not like this is a real shocker.


Ripped this image from Susie's site, I really like it...

That she recently changed her slant, and started writing a little more truthfully about some of the issues facing women in the 'Kingdom of the Dark Ages' is probably why she was blocked.

For example why the islamonutters think women must be protected from driving [of course, Susie doesn't use a phrase like islamonutter. She is quite respectful and polite, unlike me!], or
how the Saudi economy is deprived of a significant resource
: i.e. women, by making it very hard for them to work or be a business women.


Yeah, Saudi politics.


So, please tell all your friends, and hopefully we can show the authorities that by blocking Susie, they have only served to highlight to the world how afraid of facts and opinions the KSA are. Susie's posts can be mirrored elsewhere, and presto, block circumvented. I've ripped her post on the driving at the end. (hope that's OK Susie)

What the censorship report also indirectly points out is the impact of this East Berlin/North Korean approach to the public by the KSA authorities are phrases in the article about Susie below, eg:

"...Susie, like most of the expatriates blogging from Saudi Arabia, tries hard to avoid religion and politics -- though she admits that is difficult when writing about women...."


Of course, there are other countries that also block such things as innocent websites... well, ... like the UAE. Tolerance of criticism seems in short supply in the GCC, (which doesn't seem to stop them handing it out in large quantities to the USA and Europe I notice...)

That's the thing. This is about politics and a culture that has still to learn how to balance respect, responsibility, rights and critique.

USA, you are close to the House of Saud - how about boosting your demonstrable commitment to freedom of speech in the region, and the right to freedom of association for ideas at least? Get everyone to loosen up on the net thing. Its better for security too, by lowering the need to hack/buy a VPN. I know GW lost you a huge amount of moral high ground. But start climbing back up.

U.S. expat's blog on Saudi life blocked
May 27, 2009 at 08:17

By Paul Handley
Susie's Big Adventure in Saudi Arabia has turned a little dark: the U.S. expat's chirpy blog on life in the kingdom with a Saudi husband has been blocked by the country's censors.

The 57 year-old grandmother, who prefers not to give her full name, said on Wednesday she has no idea why the Saudi authorities have put a block on her blog (susiesbigadventure.blogspot.com), which recounts her experiences of moving to Saudi Arabia two years ago with her Saudi husband of 30 years.

"One night I went to bed and I could see it, and when I woke up I could not access my blog," she told news agency AFP from her home in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.

Since Monday, trying to read her blog from inside Saudi Arabia brings up an announcement from the Communications and Internet Technology Commission reading "Sorry, the requested page is unavailable".

CITC, which could not be reached for comment, mostly uses the block for pornographic and stridently anti-government political sites.

But Susie's Big Adventure is mostly about life as an expat woman in a new culture -- new foods to eat, places to visit and places to shop, and odd cultural experiences.

When the Arizona native strays to more current issues - like a recent post she headlined "Saudi Arabia Wastes Biggest Untapped Natural Resource: Women" - she says nothing that is not in the local newspapers.

"I don't know why," she replied when asked why the blog was censored. "Everybody discusses things that I discuss."

Her story suggests the difficulties for bloggers in a country split between a deep Islamic conservatism which does not allow women to drive cars, and a large number in the population who are pushing for sweeping change.

In December 2007 Fouad al-Farhan was jailed for four and a half months for the pro-reform postings on his popular Arabic-language political blog.

Susie, like most of the expatriates blogging from Saudi Arabia, tries hard to avoid religion and politics -- though she admits that is difficult when writing about women.

"Too many people around the world just don't know what this mysterious place is really like and I have tried my best to give an accurate glimpse into real life here. Is this wrong?" she asked on her website.

Her most popular post was about buying Katy Perry's hit CD "One of the Boys" in Jeddah and finding that the cover art, a picture of Perry in shorts, was overdrawn to show her in long pants.

Noted by a U.S. Hollywood gossip website, the post drove up her website hits from 250 a week to 9,000 a day, for a few days in April.

Susie said she was surprised to receive emails of support from other bloggers, including al-Farhan.

"Other bloggers said I didn't overstep the boundaries," she said.



Susie's great post! Free speech, objective data and an intelligent observer. Love it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The Case Against Women Driving in KSA

For anyone who has ever lived in or visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, you can attest to the fact that the drivers here - all men, of course - are more often than not, crazy, reckless, and not at all courteous, with few exceptions. Many drivers here seem to think that they are more important and in more of a hurry than everyone else. Traffic is always a nightmare. I can't help but think that if women were allowed to drive here, driving conditions would drastically improve and naturally become more civilized and the streets would become safer for everyone.


The arguments for why women should not and are not allowed to drive here in Saudi Arabia are weak, at best. I've talked at length with my husband about this subject and his basic vague reason is that women aren't allowed to drive here "for their own protection." This can have many different connotations, but I really believe that the main thinking behind this type of logic is expressed in a video of a Saudi cleric filmed in 2005, called "Why Women Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Drive (in Saudi Arabia)." You can view it for yourself by clicking HERE, or just read the complete translation below for this holy man of Islam's own words.

From the Memri TV Project – Saudi Cleric Dr. Abd Al-Aziz Al-Fawzan: Al-Majd TV - KSA/UAE - June 17, 2005.
“In conservative countries like Saudi Arabia, this blessed kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which, Allah be praised, is the most conservative in the Muslim world, in which a woman maintains her honor, decency, and modesty, and she does not reveal anything – not her hands, her face, or anything – how can she drive a car? Those who call to allow women to drive – according to what has been written – can be divided into two groups. The first group includes Westernized people, who want to westernize the society, to tell the truth. They want to destroy society, corrupt it, and drag it down into the depths of decay and permissiveness, like in Western societies. These people have been blinded by what they saw there when they studied or visited there, and they want our society to be like other societies. They want it to be devoid of all values, morals, and modesty. They want women to go out on the streets all made up, like a harlot, with her face uncovered, like they see in the West. They think that the shortest and best way to reach this goal is to allow women to drive, because if a woman drives, she will reveal her face, drive without a male chaperone, will have an easy opportunity to meet all kinds of young men and women, and she will get all made up, will mix with men, and so on. I don’t think that any woman throughout human history has been as oppressed as the Western woman today – and they still claim they have given her freedom. They took her out of the home in order to exploit her - to exploit her honor and dignity. Furthermore, in many countries, her salary is lower than the man’s, but she works more than him. She does not get what she wants unless she sacrifices her honor, to her bosses or her co-workers. How strange! Even though they have permissiveness there, and any man can satisfy his desires outside of marriage, he’s not satisfied with ten or twenty. Any girl he sees, who has certain features, he wants. If she consents, fine. If not, he rapes her. “


This is the kind of twisted reasoning that the people here are fed by their highly respected religious leaders. This guy is actually insinuating that every Western man, when confronted with a woman he finds desirable, will either have sex with her willingly or unwillingly. Puhh-leeeazzze! And he makes it sound like there are no people in the West with morals or modesty or honor, that every single person in the West is corrupt, that all women are exploited and have to sleep around to get anywhere in the workplace. Not only are his remarks extremely exaggerated and inaccurate, but they are also highly offensive and insulting.


I was truly appalled when I viewed this video, because it made me realize that the big problem is that people here listen to and believe inaccuracies like this. I know that Muslims don't like or appreciate other people making ridiculous generalizations about them like - all Muslims are terrorists, that they all beat their wives, and that the women are oppressed. But then they should also understand that making their own ridiculous generalizations about Westerners like - all Western men are rapists, all Western women are harlots, all Westerners have no morals - are just as wrong and hurtful. These types of broad, derrogatory, and highly exaggerated portrayals of one another must stop if there is ever to be any real peace and understanding between the Middle East and the West.

Posted by Susie of Arabia at 2:40 AM 68 Messages in a Bottle Links to this post
Labels: culture, muslim, religion, Saudi Arabia, women's issues

Breaking News: Fire at Muscat Hills?

I'm told [UD: by what now, on reflection, seems to have been a hallucinating single source - sorry about that!] there was a big fire at Muscat Hills Golf and Country Club estates yesterday afternoon, with a whole block ablaze.




Ooops. I wouldn't have expected there was much to burn yet! perhaps the welding got out of hand...

Anyone else have any news on that?

H1N1 gets closer, but all seems OK so far...

Sometimes this H1N1/swine flu seems like it was just a conspiracy to sell all that excess stock of close-to-expiry-date Tamiflu that Governments around the world accumulated during the bird flu threat. So far H1N1 does not seem anything worse than typical flu. I hope it stays that way!

The GCC now has some confirmed cases, and Muscat Airport are screening people's temperatures on arrival with infra-red. We will get a case here eventually. Meanwhile keep washing hands regularly and avoid touching your face. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitiser with you. Its good advise even without swine flu - there are plenty of other potential nasties out there anyhow.

You can get a great map on H1N1's progress around the world here.


Pic: Swine flu - Google maps is a great tool for interactive mapping...

It didn't help either that the Ministry of Health sent a general spam SMS in Arabish that sort of implied (at least to native English speakers) that we had had our first case in Oman. It was the talk of the town on Thursday... Here's the helpful SMS

"Oman is free from H1N1 Flu (previously known as Swine Flu) til today. The Ministry of Health is closely monitring the situation and is prepared for response... Flu Hotline 99851003"


Meanwhile, friendly local law firm Curtis Oman have posted about the details of Oman's recent Emergency Powers Decree of last year on their rather useful website for things legal.

The law states:

State of Emergency Law
...
First, the law provides that the state of emergency may be declared when the security and public order is subject to a dangerous situation. This may include any situation posing a threat to society or state security. Examples of such situations include:

• War or threat of war;

• Internal criminal disturbances;

• Public calamity; or
• The spread of an epidemic or plague.
The state of emergency declaration is made through a Royal Order specifying the emergency situation, the area covered and the date of effect.

Second, the law requires the National Security Council to issue orders to protect safety and public order. It also provides additional authority to the government to respond to the emergency. For example, during the state of emergency the National Security Council may issue orders to the Royal Oman Police to take the following emergency response measures:

• Restrict individual liberties and rights to move, reside, and pass through specific locations at certain times;
• Take into custody anyone threatening public order;
• Specify timings and require closure of public places;
• Monitor all kinds of correspondence and information, and seize, confiscate, or destroy the correspondence and information;
• Evacuate or isolate certain regions, including by closing roads;
• Temporarily acquire any property;
• Utilize services of any person, depending on the functions that are required in the situation; and
• Prohibit employees from leaving work.
The law provides that the government will give reasonable remuneration if it temporarily acquires property or utilizes the services of any person to respond to the emergency.
...




The law also allows for the National Security Council to involk the use of the Army if required too.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Omani businessman financed LeT terrorists, planned terror bombings in Oman



This has been around a while, and commented here a couple of days ago, but better to get it out in an official post.

The Hindu newspaper has a couple of articles on the financing of terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba aka LeT, by an Omani businessman, Ali Abdul Aziz al-Hooti. Mr Al Hooti was apparently sentenced to life imprisionment here in Oman last month for his role in plotting terrorist attacks in Oman, supposedly targeting The Golden Tulip, Nizwa Spa, and the BBC (??).


Photo: Omani Businessman linked to Mumbai attacks

I didn't hear of anything in the local papers, at least not in English.

I don't believe the BBC thing either, as I don't think there is a BBC office in Oman. Perhaps they meant the British Council offices in MQ?

Good on Omani authorities and the guys and gals in Internal Security for getting this under control. However, there are rumours that there were more people arrested in connection with the investigation and that they are still being held without charge.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a definite increase in terrorist activities across the GCC of late - perhaps connected to the releases from Guantanamo. There was the abortive car bomb in Bahrain a few weeks ago when the thing detonated prematurely, the re-emergence of successionists and Al Qaida activities in Yemen, and reports on the arrest of two Bahrainis linked to Al Qaida.

The 2 extracts from The Hindu Times, FYI, are below. Not clear who the 'Omani Authorites' quoted actually are.

What annoys me somewhat is that even Bahrain publishes news about these things. Why do we have to rely on foreign newspapers to get important, basic, public information on Oman - like people convicted of terrorism in the courts????

Two Bahrainis to be tried for planning terror acts
By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief
Published: May 27, 2009, 18:10

Manama: The two Bahrainis arrested late last month over suspicions of planning terror acts in Bahrain were charged on Wednesday with contacting a terrorist organization to target foreign interests in Bahrain. The authorities did not name the organization, but it is thought to be Al Qaeda.

"The two suspects will be tried on June 30 for their contacts with a terrorist organisation abroad in order to perpetrate antagonistic attacks on foreign interests in Bahrain. They will also be tried for smuggling arms and
ammunitions to use during the attacks," the public prosecutor said.

"The prosecution has completed its investigation of the terrorist cell and the charges against the suspects have been confirmed," the statement said.

The two defendants will remain in custody until their trial next month.


The Hindu Times articles.

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Investigators have determined that a top Oman-based jihad financier was in Mumbai days before the November terror attacks, raising the possibility that elements of the operation might have been paid for by Lashkar-e-Taiba supporters in West Asia.

Muscat businessman Ali Abdul Aziz al-Hooti, who was sentenced to life by an Oman court last month for his role in plotting the bombing of offices, hotels and a spa, visited Mumbai between November 10 and 17, sources in the Maharashtra police told The Hindu. In his visa application, al-Hooti claimed that he wanted to visit relatives in the town of Miraj. Al-Hooti’s mother, the sources said, was of Maharashtra origin.



How Lashkar funded transnational terror campaign:
Oman millionaire, Kerala computer engineer, Pakistani jihadists facilitated attacks from Muscat to Mumbai and Bangalore


MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Back in 2006, the lives of a millionaire Omani businessman and a struggling computer technician from Kerala intersected with the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s battle-hardened jihadists. Even now, six months after the arrest of Ernakulam-born Sarfaraz Nawaz and Muscat entrepreneur Ali Abdul Aziz al-Hooti, investigators in India and Oman are struggling to understand the complex networks that emerged: networks that they are discovering bound together Indian Mujahideen attacks in southern India with the Lashkar’s assault on Mumbai and a series of planned bombings in West Asia.

Nawaz’s jihadist engagement began when he was just 18 years old. He joined the Students Islamic Movement of India in 1995, and was elected to its central committee five years later. His contemporaries included many who later played key roles in building the Indian jihadist movement among them, Safdar Nagori, Peedical Abdul Shibly and Yahya Kamakutty.

Like the overwhelming majority of SIMI members, though, Nawaz chose a life of middle-class respectability. He obtained a computer networking qualification from an institute in Kochi, married and, with the help of relatives, found a job in Oman.

During a visit home in 2006, however, Nawaz heard a sermon that dragged him back into the world he had escaped from. Tadiyantavide Nasir known to his followers as Haji Umar delivered a speech casting jihad as a central imperative of Islam.

Inspired by the speech, Oman authorities have since discovered, Nawaz set about making contacts with jihadists in Muscat. Friends at a local mosque put him in touch with al-Hooti, a successful automobile components dealer, who also owned a string of Internet caf├ęs.

Born to an Indian mother, al-Hooti’s radicalisation had been driven by stories of atrocities against Muslims he heard on visits home to Maharashtra. Before he turned 30, al-Hooti had had twice trained at Lashkar camps in Pakistan and emerged as the organisation’s key point-man in Oman.

Working with Lashkar intelligence operative Mohammad Jassem, also known by the alias Tehsin, al-Hooti used his businesses as camouflage for an elaborate operation that funnelled funds to jihadists in India and volunteers into Pakistan for training.

Ali Asshama, a Maldivian national who along with Bangladesh-based Lashkar commander Faisal Haroun helped set up the Lashkar’s Indian Ocean networks, was among al-Hooti’s wards. Haroun and Assham are thought to have crafted the 2006 landing of assault rifles intended to have been used in a terror attack in Gujarat, as well as an abortive 2007 effort to land eight Lashkar fidayeen off Mumbai.

Early in 2007, al-Hooti and Jassem also arranged to ship Mumbai resident Fahim Arshad Ansari from Dubai to a Lashkar camp in Pakistan through Oman and Iran. Ansari is now being tried on charges of having generated the videotape of Mumbai’s streets which was used to train the Lashkar assault team that carried out the November massacre.

Multiple targets


By 2007, Oman authorities say, the pro-western Emirate itself had begun to figure on al-Hooti’s list of targets.

In June that year, al-Hooti held discussions with Lashkar sympathisers in Oman on the prospect of targeting prominent landmarks in Muscat, among them a British Broadcasting Corporation office, the Golden Tulip Hotel, and a spa in the upmarket Nizwa area. No final operational plans were made, but Oman authorities found enough evidence to sentence al-Hooti to life last month.
Meanwhile, Nasir made contact with Nawaz, asking for money to fund a series of bombings in southern India. Nasir also needed cash to send volunteers from Kerala to train with the Lashkar.

Nawaz turned to the Lashkar for logistical help. Between March and May, 2008, the Karnataka police believe, al-Hooti transferred an estimated $2,500 for Nasir’s use to a Kannur-based hawala dealer. Lashkar commander Rehan, one of al-Hooti’s associates, arranged for Nasir’s recruits to train with a jihadist unit operating near the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district.

From July, though, the plan began to slowly unravel. First, the bombs planted in Bangalore failed to work properly. Then, in October, five of Nasir’s volunteers were caught in an Indian Army ambush. Four were killed; the fifth man, Purathur resident Abdul Jabbar, was arrested. Even as the Andhra Pradesh police closed in on Nasir, al-Hooti and Rehan helped arrange his escape with the help of the Lashkar’s top resident agent in Bangladesh, Mubashir Shahid.

Lashkar International


West Asia-based jihadists have long played a role in financing the Lashkar’s operations against India, while the Pakistan-based group, in turn, has been seeking a role in the region.

Saudi Arabia-based Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmad Bahaziq, for example, has been indicted by the United Nations Security Council as a key financier of the Lashkar’s infrastructure in Pakistan. Bahaziq, who like al-Hooti, was born to an Indian mother is believed to have been arrested by Saudi Arabia in 2006. There has been no public word, however, on the status of his trial.

Back in 2004, British troops in Iraq detained top Lashkar commander Danish Ahmad who, using the name Abdul Rehman al-Dakhil, had for many years trained cadre for covert operations against India. Since Danish’s arrest, which was first reported in The Hindu, Lashkar operatives have been involved in operations in Australia, the United States of America and even the Maldives.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Wave gets tough on off-plan purchasers?




The Wave, the first big tourist development in Oman & located just west of Seeb airport, is making moves to try and force some off-plan buyers to commit to their purchases in the mega-development.

Properties at The Wave's later phases - still far from completion - were snapped up in the heady days of last year, to the extent that lotteries had to be held to decide who would even be allowed to just put down a deposit. Such was the feeding frenzy people were even paying 10 to 25 thousand rials [US$ 25k-62k!] to people who simply had such a 'ticket to purchase', just to get in line to buy these properties even before they had been built.

But those days must seem an age away to all the property developers in Oman right now. Resale prices have collapsed, but then liquidity is exceptionally low (my real estate friends say they haven't registered a sale of a Wave property on the after market all year).

Right now the real estate agents Cluttons are listing 75 properties for sale at the Wave. Gulf Properties list a somewhat shocking 172.


One of many properties being offered for sale at the Wave...


The problem is that many people who bought at the Wave were only planning to hold and resell for a huge profit - as those fortunate enough to get in on Phase 1 did, with some friends of mine cashing out mid-last year and making off with 150k rials profit in 18 months. (I know, Nick Smith is on record saying that speculators were only 20% of purchasers, I'm just not sure I believe him as I know a LOT of Omanis who were buying only in the hope of a quick buck, and without hindsight, who can blame them?).

But now, the market value of any yet to be completed off-plot purchases are probably worth a lot less than the total of the remaining payments, the negative equity trap. What to do?

The collapse in the market has meant many people are not making their promised follow up payments, unless they are already in so deep it would be crazy to even contemplate a default. Economically, the best solution if you made a deposit on such a now negative equity property - even if you still wanted a place to really live in or even to rent out - is to stop making any more payments, eat your loss on the original deposit, and consider buying a different place in the after market, as that will end up costing you less than your remaining payments for the same property.

As a response to this problem, The Wave is thus taking the unusual step of offering those purchasers the ability to only pay after the property is completed, instead of having to make interim payments now as in the original sales agreement, and blaming the lack of credit liquidity.
heres the letter they sent out a few days a go - with just 14 days to respond!


To: XXXX
RE: Amendment to Schedule Payments - XXXX
...
We are aware that the current adverse global financial circumstances have affected many of our customers who have bought property with us. We know that many have liquidity issues, and coupled with this, it is now more difficult than last year to arrange bank funding. This funding issue is particularly acute where properties are at an early stage of construction...

Hence we would like to offer you the following options:
1. To continue paying any outstanding invoice(s) and future invoice(s) in accordance with the provisions of the Agreement; OR
2. To pay any outstanding invoice(s) and/or future invoices(s) at the final stage subject to the terms and conditions stated in the next paragraph below.

...
2. It is your sole responsibility to ensure that payment of all outstanding invoices is made at the final stage as invoiced by the Developer....


sincerely,
Nick Smith,
CEO The Wave



Note this 'generous' offer seems to be being made only in return for them agreeing to change the sale and purchase agreement and in the process ensuring those who take the new deal become fully liable for the full payment later.

Quite clever. It forces people to make a choice: default now and loose your deposit, or, avoid default now (which no one really likes to do) but become locked in for the full payment later. It also allows the Wave's accountants to keep all those shakey sales on the books.

But they are a bit naughty not making that 'exchange' a bit more explicit. But, hey, business is business.

As the Wave is essentially Government backed, it's a reasonably safe investment in terms of completion (and has a pretty good history of being almost on time), but I personally thought it was always a bit pricey. Still, at least it's being built and some 100 homes have already been completed and handed over (albeit with a few concerns in places over changing the specifications of car garage dimensions..).

Note: there is no danger of the Wave itself getting short of cash, as they have the effective backing of Bank Muscat, which is essentially an Omani Government backed bank. They are as solid as it gets.

And The Wave might (with some justice) argue that if you really just wanted to live there, this is a great deal.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bomb Hoax diverts Oman Air flight. Bahrain boosts Omani tourism

Reports yesterday about how an Oman Air flight to Chennai was foced to land in Mumbai after a threatening note was discovered in a toilet on route.

The plane was searched and apparently nothing found. But the idiot who placed the note successfully delayed 130 people scheduled on the return flight, plus the delay in having to land and search the plane.

It's a pity they didn't catch whoever it was.

Not surprisingly, nothing in today's papers on the matter.




Flight from Muscat to Chennai delayed after hoax bomb threat

Express News Service/Agence France-PresseFirst Published : 26 May 2009 03:36:00 AM IST
CHENNAI: A hoax bomb note created a flutter amongst the passengers of an Oman Air flight bound to Chennai from Muscat on Monday afternoon.


The flight WY 857 had taken off from Muscat at 09:15 (local time there) and was scheduled to arrive in Chennai by 2:30 pm.

Enroute, the crew came across a note on the flight that supposedly announced, “You all are going to die, bye!” The note had been found in the toilet.

The captain of the flight then called for an emergency landing in Mumbai at about 1.15 pm where all the 135 passengers and four infants disembarked.

A bomb squad was pressed into service. It combed the aircraft but found nothing. The flight was then delayed due to some procedural formalities and took off from Mumbai at about 9.45pm.“Such pranks have cost a lot in terms of both time and money. This same flight was to take off from Chennai at about 4 pm,” an airport source said.

“More than 130 Muscat-bound passengers who were to take this flight at 4 pm will now be accommodated in hotels at the expense of Oman Air. They will take off tomorrow at 7 am,” an airport source told The New Indian Express.


In other news, Bahrain's MPs are doing their bit to support Oman's tourism trade by proposing to ban alcohol throughout Bahrain except in 5 start hotel rooms and in private residences.


Bahrain's Parliament: Out to lunch...

Thank goodness for benign dictatorship... it does help avoid a lot of the silliness of wacky elected members of Parliament! And great for us that Bahrain wants to get rid of the demon drink. All those Saudi's will now have to fly to Oman or the UAE for a libation.

Excellent.


Gulf Daily News: Letters
The whole world by now must know about the proposed ban on alcohol by our so-called visionary MPs who have Bahrain and its interests at heart.

I'm of course not referring to the weekly coverage and updates in the GDN or other publications here, but the fact that it was headlined on BBC's leisure/tourist programme Fast Track which carried a feature about Dubai and how it is coping following the world financial crisis.

The presenter in his despatch said Bahrain's parliament had proposed a ban on the sale of alcohol and would only permit its consumption for guests in hotel rooms or for residents in their private residences.

Now that the cat has been let out of the bag, it would be interesting to see what the knock-on effect will be following this disclosure.

Potential visitors from outside the region, I suspect, will be put off coming to Bahrain and opt for more attractive destinations such as the UAE, Oman or Qatar.

I am sure people from around the world have known about Bahrain through Formula One, but on hearing the proposed ban they will surely have second thoughts about visiting?

Didn't the MPs realise that BBC is probably the most watched and listened to medium in the world and millions would have heard the message.

Well done MPs, you are well on the road to successfully turning this fine little country and its positive image over the years into the laughing stock of the region.


In Other news:

Tehran blocks Facebook ahead of elections

Tehran blocks access to Facebook

Iran has blocked access to social networking site Facebook ahead of June's presidential elections, Iran's Ilna news agency and web users say.

Ilna says the move is aimed at stopping supporters of reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi from using the site for his campaign.

Facebook, which says it has 175m users worldwide, expressed its disappointment over the reported ban.

So far there has been no comment from the Tehran authorities.
...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Microfinance finally arrives in Oman - thanks to Khimji, Fancy and Barwani

I think this is excellent news: Oman is going to get a microfinance organisation (also known as microcredit). see report in Zawya.com.

The microfinance model was made famous by The Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, and involves a scheme where poor/low income individuals can get a small loan to finance the start of a small business, such as money for a sewing machine to make clothes, or for a mobile to act as a mini-telecom company.

The trick to making money on what seems the ultimate sub-prime clientel was two-fold:
- the loan was often made not to an individual, but to a group of 5 unrelated people in the same area who are jointly liable for each others loans. This means there is peer pressure to repay the loans.
- mostly the loans go to women. Women generally work harder and are more responsible than males when it comes to repaying money. They are also more likely to be in poverty and out of paid employment to start with.



You can find out more about microfinance here.

A great thing about microfinance is the way it can dramatically improve the lives of poor families, and empower women by giving them a business, confidence and (sometimes for the first time in their lives) their own money.

So, well done Samir Fancy, Mohammed Barwani, and Ajith Khimji for supporting this in Oman.




UAE firm to launch first microfinance unit in Oman
24 May 2009

The first microfinance project in Oman is to be launched by PlaNet Finance UAE to give financial assistance to entrepreneurs.

Microfinance schemes provide financial services to those on low income. In the GCC only Saudi Arabia and Bahrain currently have such organisations. Now a new joint stock company called Greenfield is being formed to create a microfinance institution (MFI) in the Sultanate of Oman.

"PlaNet Finance is in the process of registering the first MFI in Oman and the initiative is supported by business groups such as the Ajith Khimji Group and MB Holding and philanthropist Samir Fancy," Programme Manager Sawsen Ayari told Emirates Business.

"The headquarters of the Greenfield MFI will be in Muscat with branches planned in Salalah and other parts of Oman. The maiden MFI in Oman will provide financial and non-financial services to poor Omani entrepreneurs, especially female entrepreneurs. The project is being implemented with the support of the Omani Ministry of Social Development."

PlaNet Finance is a global organisation that works with MFIs, governments, banks, insurance companies and investment funds to ease poverty. The Oman venture is likely to be financed by business partners.

Donors have accepted the business plan and PlaNet Finance is currently working on the creation of a legal structure for a joint stock company, which will act as a microfinance institution.

Oman has a strong banking system but traditional finance reaches only medium and large enterprises - leaving poor people outside the banking system. The proposed size of a microfinance loan in Oman will be between $800 (Dh2,940) and $4,000. "PlaNet Finance was contacted by Bank Muscat and two Omani philanthropists to conduct a market survey in Oman," said Ayari. "The study shows about 66,000 households - 20 per cent of households in the country - depend on micro or small enterprises for their livelihoods.

"Out of these 42 per cent are willing to take out a microfinance loan, creating 27,720 potential microfinance clients in Oman.

The PlaNet Finance team plans to offer income-generating solidarity loans of between OR300 (Dh2,861) and OR1,500 to provide working capital. The loans will last for up to a year.

The initial investment needed for the MFI is $3.4m, and a $15m concessionary and commercial loan will have to be secured for between three and five years to finance portfolio growth.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blue City's new sales office... a sneek preview. And the Appeal court rules both for... and against... AAJH.


Photo: Blue City's new sales office.

As promised in a recent comment response to BCC1 apologist, the anonymous 'John', who took great exception to a recent post that implied things were not totally OK with Blue City's cash flow (and seems to have difficulty accurately recalling his company's original promises with regard to the number of golf courses and public buildings promised in Phase 1).

Here's a peek at the new BCC1 Blue City sales office, just completed at great expense. It is amazing what you can do with borrowed money, eh John?

John's approach IMHO actually shows a common problem with wastafarians here: when people start asking uncomfortable questions, their response is to attack them as evil, disrespectful, etc; to state that there are no problems (and certainly nothing that might be blamed on the highly experienced board of BCC1 or Cyclone LLC); and wait for everything to blow over. It is indeed almost a GW Bush/Cheney approach to criticism - attack the messenger.

Perhaps we'll all just have to wait for the next ratings report from the bond holders.

Oh, and the appeal court - in what to me seems a bizarre finding - finally ruled on the 11th of May on the dispute between AAJH and Cyclone over the ownership of Blue City. I'm told their ruling was that yes, AAJ Holdings does own 70% (as had been found by the original court verdict, appealed by Cyclone), but that they were somehow also instructed to transfer their 70% to Cyclone in return for just the original US$38 Million. Hmmm. So they own it, but have to sell it. Maybe a lawyer can explain. Did the court find the original sale illegal, and thus effectively annulled the share transfer?

I predict more to come on that issue in the regional press very soon.

PS: Don't know why Internet Explorer is having wierd errors lately, especially on that Blue City post... Firefox seems OK.

Friday, May 22, 2009

UAE pulls plug on common currency, Yemeni has Omani passport revolked.

In a dramatic move in response to the GCC monetary council deciding to base the planned Central Bank in Saudi, the UAE announced its withdrawal from the single currency scheme. Oman had pulled out a couple of years ago.




The UAE have said they will reconsider as long as that decision is reversed and the new bank is hosted in Abu Dhabi, according to reports today in the Gulf News.


UAE has most suitable financial infrastructure in region: Al Mansouri

By Himendra Mohan Kumar, Staff Reporter
Published: May 21, 2009, 23:15

Abu Dhabi: A rethink by the UAE on its decision to pull out of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) monetary union plans is possible, provided Abu Dhabi is chosen over Riyadh as the location for the proposed GCC Central Bank, Minister of Economy Sultan Bin Saeed Al Mansouri said here on Thursday.

"The decision has to go back to the cabinet of the UAE. We have to feel comfortable with the decision ourselves," Al Mansouri told reporters.

Earlier this month, the GCC secretariat announced that the proposed GCC Central Bank would be located in Riyadh, a decision which disappointed the UAE and prompted its decision to formally pull out of the proposed Gulf monetary union on Wednesday.

The UAE Central Bank Governor Sultan Bin Nasser Al Suwaidi said there will be no change in the UAE's monetary policy and that the dirham will remain pegged to the dollar.

The UAE move jeopardised the future of the region's single currency aspirations, which is aimed to encourage trade and financial integration.

"We are very practical and open. UAE has the most suitable financial infrastructure in the region and we were the first nation to apply to host the GCC Central Bank in Abu Dhabi," said Al Mansouri.

He said the UAE had supported bids of other countries for hosting different GCC bodies. "We do not have any of the GCC organisations on UAE soil," said Al Mansouri.

However, he added that the UAE would continue to support the GCC monetary union.

"We are still part of the GCC economic structure," said Mansouri.

A UAE Central Bank source told Gulf News previously the country had been told initially that it would host the GCC Central Bank.

"The work on the headquarters [in Abu Dhabi] was done and the place was ready to start operations," he said, adding that the UAE was "taken off guard" by the decision to base the bank in Saudi Arabia.

The GCC in 2001 agreed to form an EU-style monetary union. Oman pulled out in 2007. Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain are still part of the project.


Its a nice tale of the tense nature of relationships in the GCC. Without the UAE, second biggest economy in the GCC, the single currency will be a damp squib.

Meanwhile, Yemen's recent request for Oman to stop protecting a former Yemeni politician was granted. See News Yemen .

Oman withdraws citizenship from Yemeni former vice president
21/05/2009
MUSCAT, NewsYemen

The Sultanate of Oman announced on Thursday withdrawal of the Omani citizenship from Ali Salim Al-Beidh following his announcement to return to the political activity.

Official Saba quoted a statement attributed to the Oman News Agency (ONA) as saying that the Sultanate Police has confirmed "the Omani citizenship has been withdrawn from Ali Salim Al-Bidh immediately according to the Omani laws enforced".
"Al-Bidh has taken his decision without permission from the Sultanate to which he headed for in 1994," said the statement.

The source affirmed that "the Sultanate of Oman will ever continue to be the loyal neighbor for Yemen and wishes it every progress and welfare."
...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What a party!

Managed to get a ticket for the ANZO ball.

Amazing.




Had a blast, Ms Dragon had a blast, and so did everyone else I think. Those I can remember. It did get rather hazy...

There is something to be said for a theme based on Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and being surrounded by free booze, scantily clad ladies and men in their best frocks....

The ping pong balls were a nice touch. And no-one I think got arrested.

The Dragon recommends the ANZO ball.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

More cash flow woes for Blue City? Reports that planned Public Buildings have been shelved.



Observant readers will have noticed there have been no press releases from Blue City (aka Al Madina A'Zarqa) lately about how basically everything is on track. Things can't be going well when there are not even stories to report of meaningless progress milestones, contracts signed, or glittering awards won for things not yet built. Lets see what the next "Quarterly News Bulletin" says, expected this month, unless Issue No. 2 of this riveting mag is delayed too.

Meanwhile, the Dragon’s sources in BCC1 have informed Muscat Confidential that construction of eight of the planned Public Amenities buildings in Phase One have been “indefinitely suspended”, whatever that means.

Fortunately our sources were clearly undeterred by an earlier note (reported here) from BCC1 top management threatening their staff with disciplinary action if they shared news with the media…

Buildings affected by the cash-saving axe are (apparently): A Mosque, Police Station, City Hall, Medical Centre, Post Office, Nursery and Kindergarten, Primary School, and Fire Station.

Of course, the original plan had a 27 hole golf course, already cut back to 18 holes, and BCC1 management were even considering building only a 9 hole course until it was pointed out that no-one would come to play at a 9 hole course in the middle of nowhere. . .

As noted in some of the PR releases from Blue City,
Phase one, a 2.5 sq km development, comprises around 5000 apartments and 500 villas. Initial sales began in December 2007, with one-bedroom apartments priced at about $179,400 and two-bedroom apartments at around $291,200. Three-bedroom villas are being sold from around $535,600.

The project is set to include three five-star hotels, an 18-hole golf course, shops, schools, mosques and police stations. Slated for completion in 2012, the phase one site is expected to create around 7000 jobs.


Or to quote from His Highness Sayyid Haitham Bin Tariq Al Said, as reported in OCIPED's newsletter in 2007
“Al Madina A’Zarqa is planned to become a model for a lifestyle that adapts to the surrounding environment. The project has not excluded traditional Omani architectural design and construction; on the contrary, it is inspired by architectural elements to be found in the local environment. Al Madina A´Zarqa is planned to be a model for those seeking relaxation in an integrated community that meets the need of daily life, including family and work requirements”.



The problem with public amenity buildings is, of course, that while they might meet the integrated needs of residents daily lives, they cost good money to build while providing didly-squat in terms of sales income to the developers. So presumeably the residents daily lives will be a little less complicated and a little more relaxed in Blue City. I mean, really, who needs a lousy post office?

I hope those buying the Blue City's apartments and villas (actually, relative to other Oman developments, I must say they are very competitively priced) looked very carefully at their contracts to check exactly what hard guarantees they really have with regard to general facilities and other public amenities. Perhaps this is why they have not been cancelled but merely 'indefinitely suspended'...?

This was all expected. Those in the know were long predicting - even before the global crisis and GCC's regional meltdown in the off-plan speculative real estate model – that the grandiose plans for Blue City would be forced to revert to a standard integrated tourism development complex: A few hotels, apartments and villas; maybe a marina and some shops and restaurants, a golf course and Spa, and some beaches to sunbathe on. Throw in some diving and fishing/dolphin watching, and you can imagine a 'Shangri La by the Daymaniats' experience quite easily, and very nice for a week or two's holiday I'm sure it will eventually be.

The Government are also, it seems, still pressing ahead with their side of the deal, with a tender for the overhead powerlines that will carry power to Blue City's town issued last week.

But the whole stand alone economic model; all the "it's a new city for 200,000 people we're building, the future commercial capital of Oman, blah blah blah" crap, so hyped before the construction was delayed and contractual sales targets missed, always relied on massive internal economies of scale – Lots of businesses and residences with local staff who would need schools and universities for their kids, whose teachers would need a hospital, whose nurses would go out to restaurants, etc etc. So cut backs might indicate the real future is not so grand, at least unless the Government steps in and forces some Ministries to move up there.

It didn’t help either when the 'Medical City' planned to be built next door, and promising the usual Dubai-esque array of yet more universities, hospitals, schools, etc etc etc, was cancelled in October last year.

Sue Hutton of NewsBriefsOman pointed out in March this
recent article from UK based MoneyWeek
on why not to buy property in Oman:

Sadly, Oman's property boom is likely to be little more than a mirage – and one that sounds remarkably like Dubai's. The developments are huge – the first will consist of 4,000 homes – with tiny properties "pressed closely together on modest plots". These shoe-box homes don't come cheap. An 82 sq m one-bedroom flat will set you back £210,000. But at least it's in a convenient location – right next door to Muscat airport.
Pundits argue that Oman is a better bet than Dubai because it's pursuing a steadier process of development. Perhaps they haven't noticed that it's currently building an entirely new town in the desert northwest of Muscat. The Blue City will have accommodation for 200,000 people when it is completed in 2019. What's unclear is where these 200,000 people will come from.

...

Another fear is Oman's track record. Last October thousands of tourists found their holiday plans cancelled when Oman announced that the Gulf Co-operation Council Summit would take place from 26-30 December. Every room in six of its leading hotels was requisitioned for the conference, causing thousands of bookings to be cancelled. A country that tolerates foreign investment rather than welcoming it isn't a reassuring prospect for anyone thinking of sinking thousands into off-plan properties. In short, we suspect that if you're patient, you'll find better opportunities closer to home long before Oman is ever worth buying into.



Hmmm. A little harsh at the end I thought.

Perhaps this is why Blue City changed their logo to a stylised plug hole?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Movie to be made of banned book on Oman and SAS: The Feathermen

Commonly found of the bookshelves of many expats who currently or who have previously lived in Oman, Ranulph Fiennes's 'novel' "The Featherman" is - as far as I know - still banned in the Sultanate.



The book deals with the aftermath of the Oman civil war and the role played by the British SAS. In the book, an Omani Sheikh supposedly orchestrates a series of secret revenge assassinations of SAS soldiers who had been involved with the death of his son during the war. The ex-SAS boys then defend themselves.

And now it seems it will be made into a movie! Cool.

Most people in the UK have no idea about the rather nasty shooting war their country played a key role in during the Sultan's struggle to unify the country in the 70s.

Statham is a relatively big star these days, and the action movie will probably be the first time millions will learn of the Sultanate.

Unfortunately it looks like the desert scenes will be filmed in Australia rather than here.

Come on Oman!

Talk to the producers and get some of the filming done here.
Maybe that way you can make sure Oman gets a good tourist boost out of it, as well as some work for struggling Omani thespians...


Jason Statham joins 'The Killer Elite'
Friday, May 15 2009, 13:08 BST

By Alex Fletcher, Senior Entertainment Reporter

Jason Statham has signed up to star in $40 million action thriller The Killer Elite, reports Variety.

The project, which is based on Ranulph Fiennes's novel The Featherman, will be directed by Everything In This Country Must's Gary McKendry.

Fiennes's book, based on real events, tells the story of former British special forces members who are being hunted down by assassins called The Clinic on the orders of the ex-Shah of Oman.
Statham will play an ex-Navy Seal who comes out of retirement to save a close friend.

Shooting is expected to begin in London, Paris and Australia in the autumn.

New York Times article on lack of Omani political freedom

In a nice follow up to the raised international profile Oman achieved through its recent prosecution by the State of an Omani forum administrator, Ali Zuwaidi, The New York Times over the weekend published a short article on Oman's apparent crack down on increased civil freedom, quoting extensively from minor members of the past and current Government, as well as Ali's lawyer Basmah Said.


Generations of the Dhori family — Rashid Said, 27, and his great-uncle, Saed al-Dhori — near their homes in Khasab, Oman Photo: Shawn Baldwin for The New York Times

As the UAE is finding out, the power of the net to disseminate stories internationally and to extend the news cycle away from the usual news media and state control applies increasingly to Oman too. The internet trial was a catalyst for lots of NGOs and journalists to 'discover' a country called Oman and to find out what the story was here. Oman having a free trade agreement with the USA has also raised the visibility of the Sultanate with foreign reporters.

I think the US, EU and their allies have been totally missing the point in the Middle East. Instead of focusing on forcing some dumbed down version of Democracy-lite and relatively minor issues such as 'voting', they would be better placed concentrating instead on boosting the independence of the media, and rights of freedom of speech and free association. An ignorant population ruled by an exclusive elite, or a situation where citizens can vote but are allowed no effective say in the issues of Government on pain of imprisonment, is not a democracy worthy of the name. Far more critical is the ability of the people to safely voice their support or disapproval of the actions of Government or the powerful.

A benign dictatorship with a strong free press and robust civil society, characterised by open debate and diversity of opinion is, to my way of thinking, far more effectively in line with the true spirit of democracy and power to the people. Compare that to the supposed 'democracies' of Egypt, Venezuela, Russia or Iran et al, where you may have the right to vote occasionally, but just try criticising the Government, or even having a say in who the choice of vote is between.

So, well done Michael Slackman for this article, and another recent one on the fantastic smugglers of Khasab and Oman's pragmatic policy of Iranian engagement. (In that story he states how the local government in Oman coordinates deliveries to the smugglers’ boats, and of course collects taxes on the smuggling).

But his story on political freedom (reposted below) is, unfortunately, unlikely to be republished or even mentioned in the official media here.

At least for now.

And thanks too to Omanis willing to stand up and be quoted: Said al-Hashmi, Salim al-Mahruqi, Ahmed al-Mukhaini, and Basmah Said.


KHASAB, Oman — The mountains here are solid rock, flint-colored jagged peaks slicing through the haze and dust of intensely hot days. The old Dhori family home is at the top of one unforgiving peak, a single room made of stone. No electricity, no water, a doorway as small as a window, one narrow dark room and a dirt floor.

That was what the Dhoris knew for generations. Then the present ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, staged a coup against his father, and the Dhori family came down to the valley. Sultan Qaboos provided water and electricity, and over the next 39 years transformed a country that had been hermetically sealed into a modern state.

For the older generations, that is more than enough. But like the rest of the Middle East, Oman has a very young population, a generation that did not experience the deprivations of the not-too-distant past. They are generally educated and aware. They want political change, rule of law, freedom of speech, institutions, a voice.

As a whole, Oman is a rare success story in the modern Middle East, a nation that has managed to navigate the shoals of modernity while holding onto its traditional identity. It has oil wealth, but its people still know the value of work.

But it is also an example of why authoritarian systems, no matter how benevolent and right minded, eventually rub up against the human desire for justice and self-determination.

“For me, for my generation, there are a lot of ambitions,” said Said al-Hashmi, 32, the information and research manager for the State Council, one of two advisory bodies that were formed in place of a real Parliament. “My father, my grandfather, grandmother, they really appreciate this life. For me, I don’t appreciate it like that. We need civil life, we need more democracy or real democracy.”

Oman is experiencing the stirrings of discontent. It is not with Sultan Qaboos, at least not publicly, but with the government, whose officials declined to be interviewed for this article.

“The challenge now is to open the system and be more transparent and more accountable,” said Salim al-Mahruqi, a former Omani diplomat who runs the Culture Club, an arm of the Ministry of Culture. There is virtually no civil society in Oman; citizen organizations are all affiliated with the government. The university does not have a political science department. Only the sultan has the power to approve laws.

As the quiet calls for change spread, there are some signs that Oman is taking the familiar approach of authoritarian states in the Middle East, relying on security services and restrictive laws to silence and frighten the people. A recently amended law allows the government to prosecute anyone associated with a Web site or blog that posts anything objectionable, not just the writer.

A blogger was sentenced last month to 10 days in jail after posting on a public forum a confidential government document that called for secretly forcing a call-in radio show to stop live broadcasts and to record the show, so the government could censor the comments.

Perhaps more ominously, one political analyst said that top government positions, once filled with academics and prominent members of society, are increasingly being filled by former security officials. “They’re putting brakes now on all development,” said Ahmed al-Mukhaini, a former adviser and researcher for the State Council. “I think it is natural for them to do this because they have power, and no one is willing to give up power unless there is a civil struggle. And Omanis are not willing to have a civil struggle.”

There are some positive signs, glimmers of hope that Oman will find a way to satisfy the desire for greater political freedom. Last month, there was a two-day workshop to discuss freedom of speech. It was organized by a writers’ association and was seen as a monumental achievement.

“Things will change,” said Basmah Said, 24, the lawyer who represented the blogger charged with posting the government document. “It is bound to happen. The government might interfere with a stick to slow the wheel but things will change.”

Oman, a nation of about three million people, has survived in a turbulent neighborhood in part because it has adopted a keep-your-head down approach, shunning the kind of attention many of its regional neighbors have craved. This differentiates Oman from Dubai, which is right next door and before the global financial crisis was often promoted as the model modern Arab state.

Oman, however, may ultimately emerge as the model modern Arab state, at least in terms of development. It started from nearly zero when the sultan took power. At the time, the gates to the capital city of Muscat were still being closed at night. Sunglasses were banned, along with bicycles and radios, as Western conventions. There was essentially no national infrastructure. Infant mortality was so high that families held celebrations when a baby survived to its first birthday.

But when the sultan came to power, he offered a chance for change and he called on Omanis to work with him to build a new state. Oman had oil, and the money helped a great deal.

But there was no pressure to come out of the hills. For at least another 14 years, Saed al-Dhori was reluctant to leave a life that centered on the daily donkey ride along narrow paths to fetch water from a well. In the valley below, his extended family built homes and had children, and those children went to school, and bought cars. He finally came down in 1984, when he was ready. That was part of the sultan’s plan, to let people move at their own pace.

“Before, people moved everywhere on donkeys,” said Mr. Dhori, a diminutive man in his 80s with hands and feet as rough as the rocks around him. “You could stop them and talk to them. Now, everyone is zooming around in cars.”

He marvels at the changes. But Oman has also discovered that it is difficult to open the doors to modernity, especially to education, without also fostering a degree of cynicism about authority and a desire for more freedom. That, and the reality that its oil may soon run out, is what Oman is wrestling with today.

“This is our life, we have to talk about freedom of speech and about public freedoms,” said Mr. Hashmi, the information and research manager of the State Council. “These are not accessories. These are necessities for Omanis in the 21st century.”

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Galfar - Not in favour these days?

I have noticed for the last 12 months or so that mega-construction firm Galfar are not flavour of the week with the Government.

Lots of snide remarks from my friends in the Ministries about why anyone would pick Galfar.Pointed questions in meetings about their performance, etc, etc. The on-going lawsuit over the [alleged] sub-spec road Galfar built for the Government is part of that perhaps.

Oh, and the Musandam hotel debacle.

But I haven't figured out the deeper reason behind the obvious dog-house treatment. Any ideas readers?

And here's more evidence of it. The recent tender for the airport went to a higher (OK, only just, $40 mln) foreign bidder.

That's gotta hurt.

But clearly the Government is finally becoming more aware that a low bid price isn't everything.

About time.

And Greeks and Turks working together? Cool!



Last trading day Galfar shares down 7%

Their shares took a 7% hit, and that's on top of the recent moves.

Galfar have really been hit surprisingly hard by the slowdown in project growth. I did consider them pretty solid last year, but they (over)invested a lot in capital equipment after the float to pursue the business strategy of never ending growth in Oman's infrastructure projects, plus continued big expenditure in the oil and gas sector. Now they are left with far too much capacity, kit they can't sell anywhere near book value, and cost cutting is the word of the day. So apparently lots of western Expats have been sent home, and its in with the NRIs.



Dr. Hans Erlings, an ex-Shell Engineer who worked in Oman previously and has been CEO of Galfar since public launch, must be under a bit of pressure to deliver. I hope not too much of his probably huge pay packet is in shares...








In the past year, their share price has basically dropped back to their IPO.
Ouch.


Galfar share price since launch



High bidders win Muscat Airport contract
A US $1.3 billion (OMR500 million) contract to expand Muscat International Airport has been awarded to Turkey's TAV Construction and the Athens-based firm Consolidated Contractors Co (CCC).

Oman’s Ministry of National Economy announced a number of contracts it had awarded on Tuesday. The joint venture CCC-TAV was given the contract even though it was not the lowest bidder for the work.

The two companies' price of $1.32 billion was outbid by the local Galfar Engineering and Contracting Company and India's Larsen & Toubro (L&T), which submitted the lowest bid of $1.28 million.

"We've won the contract as a joint venture with TAV (Turkey)," senior proposal leader at CCC in Muscat Zahi Saba told Reuters. "The contract should be announced by the client within the next few weeks and work should start thereafter."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Oman not so great for mothers and children




It seems Oman has some way to go on improving the environment for mothers and children. A Save the Children Fund 2009 report lists Oman as the worst in the GCC for mums, with us coming 67th out of 75 countries in the middle grouping of "Less Developed Countries". See the story in the Gulf News.

Critics will be pleased to know that the US was also ranked 27th out of 43 developed countries.

But at least we're getting our own Ikea store.

BAHRAIN is the best country in the Arab region to be a mother or a child, according to a new index by a US-based global humanitarian organisation.

It came 21st out of 75 in the 'Save the Children's Mother's Index 2009 Less Developed Countries', which included all the other Arab countries.

They were divided into more, less and least developed countries.

Other Arab countries considered in the survey included Kuwait (27), Libya (39), the UAE (41), Qatar (43), Jordan (44), Iran (49), Lebanon (49), Syria (58), Egypt (61) and Oman (67).

The index ranks Bahrain as the 25th best country out of 76 for a mother to live, which also makes it the best in the Arab world.

The index also ranks Bahrain as the 14th best country out of 79 for a child to live.

Britain came in 13th and the US in 27th position in the more developed countries category, out of 43 countries.

Philippines came in 42nd, Sri Lanka 54th and India 70th in the less developed countries tier, out of 75 countries.

Nepal and Bangladesh came in 11th and 20th position respectively in the least developed countries tier, out of 40 countries.

The Mothers' Index shows that in Bahrain the lifetime risk of maternal mortality was one in 1,300, a figure much better than in the 2006 report when it was one in 1,200.

Ninety-eight per cent of births were attended by skilled personnel, 31pc of women use modern contraception and female life expectancy is 78 years, according to the report.

However, infant mortality rate has gone up slightly in the latest index, from nine to 10 out of every 1,000 births.

Children under five years suffering from moderate to severe nutritional wasting in Bahrain has almost doubled in the 2009 index, compared to the 2006 index - from 5 to 9pc.

It revealed that only 3pc of government seats were held by women, a reduction of 4.5pc, compared to the 2006 index.

The expected number of years of formal schooling for females in Bahrain was calculated at 16 years.

The key findings of the Mother's Index identify early childhood care and development as a proven and powerful investment in nation's well-being and future economic prosperity.

It reveals that in the developing world, nearly 40pc of all children aged under five fail to reach their potential in cognitive development because poverty, poor health and nutrition and lack of care.

According to the researchers, the future of humankind will be defined by how well mothers today are able to raise their children.

The experts recommend countries to invest in better healthcare for mothers and children and provide coaching and information to help new mothers and fathers give their children the best possible chance to succeed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Oman turns down the Iranian gas deal, starts negotiations with Qatar



It might seem that the cold winds of global ression are starting to bite in Muscat. Reuters story released today by oil and gas magazine Upstream that - surprise surprise - Oman will NOT be paying $12 bln to develop the Iranian Kish gas field right now because of "tight credit markets".

Actually, there are several reasons for this delay.

While Oman's credit is pretty good right now, and there is a load of cash around for the right projects, investing that sort of dosh in Iran is something Oman would prefer to do with someone else's money, with repayments tied to the gas arriving in Oman.

And of course Oman LLC is suffering a significantly reduced income right now, after last years all time record haul due to high oil price (and the solid production gain compared to 2007). So cash for new projects is obviously tighter.

But the real reason for this delay is probably that the Iranians were simply asking waaaay too high a price for the gas. My sources tell me the price being discussed could have worked out at more than US$14/Mscf.

Compare that to the prices being paid by the Sohar industry (rumoured to be about $0.80 to $1 per Mscf). It would have been cheaper for Oman to just re-import their own LNG exports than pay those sort of prices...

Hopefully the Iranians - whose economy is now even deeper in the shit than it was a year ago - will realise what an opportunity they have lost by being so greedy.

Oman are now taking the opportunity to try and get more from the Qataris - and also making sure the Iranians know it by having Oman Gas Company execs telling the wire services.


Oman Gas wants more from Dolphin

State-owned Oman Gas Company is seeking extra gas imports from the United Arab Emirates' Dolphin Energy to meet rising demand in the sultanate, a company official said today.

Dolphin exports 5.5 million cubic metres per day to non-Opec producer Oman, Nasser Rasbi, a technical director with the company told reporters on the sidelines of an industry conference.

"We are in talks with Dolphin to increase imports," Reuters quoted Rasbi as saying. "Oman needs more gas because of demand in power and industrial that are taking more gas...Oman needs additional gas this year or latest next year," he said.

Oman Gas handles about 40% of the country's dry gas distribution, mainly to commercial users, he said. Its suppliers include Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) which supplies the bulk of the gas, Occidental Petroleum and Dolphin.


Renegotiation anyone? After all, it is a buyers market... And a year 'delay' in the Iranian deal might be enough to get Qatar to try and sell a bit more and keep the Iranians out. The Americans I'm sure would be keen to help Oman get gas from Qatar rather than Iran too.

Perhaps Iran was just a stalking horse?

Kish delayed on credit crunch

Oman will delay by at least a year a joint venture with Iran to develop the Kish gas field due to tight finances, an Omani industry source involved in the project said today.

Oman is struggling to fund energy development projects after the financial crisis
made it hard to get credit.

The project to develop the Iranian gas field had a price tag of up to $12 billion that Oman had agreed to fund fully.

"The production from the Kish gas field will not happen in 2012 as planned," the
source told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "The uncertainty of the global financial crunch has forced Oman to put the project on hold for a year." Oman's oil and gas minister said last year the financial crisis would likely impact the country's energy projects and cause delays.

An Omani energy official said last year the Kish development was expected to be signed off in December 2008 and the project would be wholly funded by the Gulf Arab state. A 200 kilometre subsea pipeline from the field, would run from Musandam, near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, to Sohar in Oman. Phase one of the project would transport gas to Oman at a rate of 1 billion cubic feet per day, later rising to 3 Bcfd.

Iran has the world's second-biggest gas reserves but has been slow to develop gas exports and has no LNG facilities, which super cool gas so it can be exported by ship. The Islamic Republic has increasingly turned towards Asia and elsewhere to develop its oil and gas sector as sanctions and US pressure have prevented US and European companies from investing there. But long contract negotiations and poor terms have delayed many of the preliminary gas export deals Iran has signed.
Oman has struggled to keep up with rising domestic gas demand from industry and power generation.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

But isn't it soooo ironic? Is Times' Editor Essa actually a tool of the zionist conspiracy?

Almost speechless.

I saw the piece from Essa in The Times today, Israel is the main culprit behind piracy and was dying to say... something.... but so busy at work, couldn't.

And welcome back Suburban, you said it.
Essa...publishing what is, quite possibly, his craziest "Viewpoint" article yet.
...
I want you all to Join me in applauding Essa Al Zedjali, Editor in Chief of the Times of Oman, for using front page space, on World Press Freedom Day to help spread ingnornace and hatred throughout the world with his Crazed, Psychotic, Paranoid rant on the evils of Israeli/Somali Piracy.

If he can write and publish these sort of lies and conspiracy on the front page of his newspaper here, then we really do have some astounding press freedoms.

What an ass.




I can probably only echo a lot of earlier comments about this. Here's the image that came to mind while I read Essa's rant.




Does Essa actually read this stuff? Or is he perhaps on life support and this is his henchmen / apparatchiks under the pay of.... someone else?

We've been here before, just a few months ago, it has to be said. Does he have family who care?

Funnily enough, Essa's ground-breaking viewpoint is exactly the sort of story that is consistent with someone who is ....



...


actually a part of the very conspiracy he alludes too!!!!!!!! Its true, read it here. [or is wiki too a part of the conspiracy?....]

I know!!!! How crafty is that????? He points to a well known [UD: actually, well known hoax] and classic conspiracy theory dating back to the late 19th century, and yet that same conspiracy theory clearly and obviously implicates him as an effective part of it.




Lets just list some facts shall we?

1/ The conspirators (obviously) control the global media.

Co-incidence?: Essa happens to be the owner and Chief Editor of the largest organ of the 4th Estate in Oman.

2/ The conspirators (obviously) control the entire world finance system, and use usury and foreign loans to get countries into debt.

Co-incidence?: Essa's son controls the biggest economic development project in Oman, or indeed the GCC: Blue City, touted at over $20bln. The high interest rate bonds used in the overseas funding were raised by ..... a New York/Swiss based outfit called Oppenheimer. And even more concerning perhaps, if the covenants of those loans are breached, the mysterious bond holders probably get the land!

3/ The conspirators, which Essa is clearly intimately aware of, are part of the Freemasons, and here is a rendering of one of their key symbols, the Hermaphroditic Goat of Mendes, (a composite creature formulated to symbolize an astral light. It is identical, by the way, with Baphomet, the mystic pantheos of those disciples of ceremonial magic, the Templars, who probably obtained it from the Arabians).



Co-incidence?: here is the logo of the Times of Oman.


Notice the central emblem?


Wow. I'm sure observant readers may well find more of these coincidences, for that is obviously all that they are, mere innocent coincidences. I think the idea that I've heard around town, namely that Essa Al Zedjali is a co-conspirator in the most incredible global conspiracy in the history of the world (well, Ok, since Goldmember) , is contemptible and baseless on the prima facie.

And I think I've said enough. The space ship will be checking in on me later, and right now I have to help Elvis take Jimmy Hoffa down to the basement to shred some more files from JFK's thing for the Russians. Once I get instructions from Tom Cruise, naturally.

Spooky.

But really. As Suburban said, thank goodness (especially on International press day), the widely esteemed senior Editor of a national newspaper can speak his mind here in Oman, and utilise his privileged position high on a lofty and national, nay, international podium to make a real change for the better in this country.

To highlight an issue like this, in a way that will undoubtably place Oman front and centre on the stage of intellectual critique and strategic international foreign policy, and indeed simultaneously those of global diplomatic, economic and military policy.

I would think the Omani Government, the Foreign ministry, our brave lads and lasses in the military, the embassadors of our friends, and especially our good friends in Yemen, Saudi and Iran, would applaud this colossal insight into the key drivers for Arab unity and who what should control occupy the public agenda here in Oman.

Some might call him a towering monument to the level of intellectual public debate we have here in the Omani press.

Yes folks, here in Oman, Essa can print (with a license from the Government, all official and everything, no worries on that score I can assure you) fearless and brave statements about exactly what he thinks is really going on.

And cheers to that Essa.

Perhaps I should think of you more as a canary in a cage....


Saturday, May 2, 2009

The wacky world that is Saudi.

A couple of funny stories from the crazy wacky world of Saudi Arabia might amuse you.



First, young Saudi men are getting hooked on Viagra, to the extent that they can no longer get it up without it.

I love the way the default defense is that the problem is caused by the internet spam ads...Classic.

Young Saudi men go wild over notorious blue pill
By Abdul Rahman Shaheen, Correspondent
Published: April 30, 2009, 22:57

Riyadh: The kingdom has been gripped with a craze for erectile-dysfunction medications by young men - an occurrence which has many worried.

A large number of married Saudi youths are flocking to pharmacies to take hold of Viagra - "the little blue pill" - or any other stimulants that will give them more satisfaction. The catchy words and obscene images that appear on online advertisements of these medications are another factor luring youth into buying packets of these stimulants.

According to Saudi doctors, this phenomenon reflects the spread of a negative sexual culture among the younger generation in the Kingdom.

"[The] lack of an effective mechanism to monitor and curb these adverts was instrumental in spreading this mania among the youths," they said. However, agents of the pharmaceutical companies deny responsibility for this. The firms called for strict vigilance by authorities to stop the sale of counterfeit medications.

Several young men said that they started taking stimulants soon after marriage. Some of these youths dared to disclose their identity while others requested anonymity.

They agreed that the pills were instrumental in keeping them virile during love making. They also felt that their masculinity was directly linked to their potency.

Mohammad Nassir Al Qah'tani, said: "I started taking stimulant during the very first week after my marriage at the instance of one of my friends. This was an impressive experience for me and my wife."

He added that he stopped using the stimulants at the advice of a doctor but added that his sudden stoppage resulted in some mental disturbance.

Another young man, called M.A., said that he became addicted to the stimulant and could not make love to his wife without using the pill. He said he was now considering seeking psychiatric help.

Dr Duraid Yazji, a consultant urologist, said that the erectile-dysfunction medications were meant for aged men in their 50s and 60s with some degree of dysfunction due to reduced hormonal production.


Perhaps its because they are married to wives they have no attraction for? Because meanwhile, a Reuters report in the Gulf News that the Saudi authorities are closing woman-only gyms. Apparently there is no way for the businesses to get a license (unlike men-only gyms).

And, of course, everyone knows that such vigorous exercising might make girls loose their virginity. Nice point Shaikh Abdullah. Clearly you've been giving the idea of vigourously exercising young women a lot of thought.

Saudi women question government clampdown
Reuters
Published: May 01, 2009, 22:51
...
Unhappy at the growing number of unlicensed female gyms, the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs recently closed two in the Red Sea city of Jeddah and one in the city of Dammam on the Gulf Arab coast for not having a licence.
...
While male gyms get licences from a government sports body, female gyms have no official authority overseeing them.
...
"Football and basketball are sports that require a lot of movement and jumping," Shaikh Abdullah Al Maneea, member of the official Supreme Council of Religious Scholars, said in a religious opinion published in Okaz newspaper on Thursday.

He said such excessive movement may harm girls who are still virgins, possibly causing them to lose their virginity.
...


You've gotta love the comedy that the Supreme Council of Religious Scholars manages to pump out. This classic one was reported after an 8 year old girl finally got her divorce from a 50 yr old letch who had bought her from her father for $13,000.

Saudi Arabia's conservative Muslim clergy have opposed the drive to end child marriages. In January, the kingdom's most senior cleric said it was permissible for 10-year-old girls to marry and those who believe they are too young are doing the girls an injustice.