Monday, June 29, 2009

Oman Tribune reporting improves. Iran blames foreign elements for being dictatorial fascists

Response to my Help Wanted ad has been great. There are still openings, so don't be shy! One position that was filled is that of 'Omani' for the new segment here at Muscat Confidential: 'Ask an Omani'. So, please email me your 'Ask an Omani' questions to undercover(dot)dragon(at)gmail(dot)com

Meanwhile, the Iranian Theocracy tightens their grip, after the Tehran intelligensia got their local version of the Tiananmen square treatment. Reports are coming out of thousands of arrests, including senior opposition leaders, students, journalists, University profs, etc. A protest of a few thousand yesterday were again met with riot police.

...After several days of apparent calm – following the harsh repression of opposition protests - at least 3 thousand people gathered in front of the mosque in Ghoba yesterday. The police charged the crowd with truncheons and tear gas. An elderly woman was beaten and there were clashes between police and young people. ...
Asian News

Some theo-fascist is even calling for many of the opposition supporters to be executed. Nice. It's now pretty easy to see the iron fist that was previously somewhat cloaked in the pseudo-democracy espoused in the Republic. Nice to see the blame being put on foreign elements too, as per usual. Even the shooting of the young woman is being suggested as 'suspicious' by Ahmadinejad and the Iranian media. There is a partial recount of 10%, but apart from a few cosmetic errors the result will be confirmed, nats. Demonisation of the opposition is in full swing.

Iran: Photo of the millions of US, British and Israeli agents all pretending to be Iranian during the protests illegal riots

Lebanon meanwhile got started on the road back to civilisation as they voted for moderate Saad Al Hariri. Great news for the region. Fingers crossed.

Oh, and Michael Jackson, a troubled singer often accused of being a paedophile, died.

Local Supermarket News
Word is - thanks Sythe - we will be getting a Waitrose and Debenhams in Muscat next year, located in the new mall being completed in Al Khuwair. Maybe we'll then be able to buy the rather tasty specialist foods available from Waitrose at reasonable prices, compared to being totally ripped off by Al Fair for these products as we are now.

Oman Tribune: Getting Better?
Is it just me, or has the Oman Tribune been getting a little bolder of late? I think they have also, in just a few years, been able to surpass the bland and occasionally crazy Times of Oman, and the Government controlled Oman Observer ,to the number 1 spot too (they say).

A few days ago the Tribune published the sentencing in court of someone in Nizwa for murder (he deliberately shot someone), and also the tale of the conviction for man slaughter of an electrical engineering supervisor. OK, still no names and no real digging for the sub-story, etc, but the reporting is definitely getting a little better, even if its not yet what I'd call journalism. And today a story on how Shanty Towns are developing around Ruwi. I wish they'd be more explicit on the illegal activity...

Shanty towns on rise
MUSCAT Illegal residential areas are mushrooming around Muscat at an alarming pace.

The shanty towns in Al Hamriya region are now serving as a haven to illegal workers and criminal groups. The localities inhabited by low-income workers are turning into breeding grounds for illegal activities. It is high time that the authorities reviewed the situation and took action.

This menace is not limited to Al Hamriya. Similar shanty residential areas are also found in Ruwi, Matrah, Seeb and Bausher along with the other regions in the Sultanate.

Excellent. Keep it up, The Tribune. Well done Abdul Hamied Al Taie, Editor in Chief.

In this case, the story would be improved by interviews with the shanty town residents, local cops, Municipality comment too would be nice, plus some examination of why it's becoming a problem recently (increased rents for example?), and more photos. But even this is noticeably better IMHO.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Oman Air bomb hoax by Omani Flight Crew member, and more

Remember that Oman Air flight that was diverted on its way to India for an emergency search after a note saying ‘“You all are going to die, bye!” and ‘a suspicious package’ were discovered in-flight?

Later it was reported in the incisive and hard-hitting local rag The Times of Oman that the person had been caught and had also confessed.

Reliable sources now tell me the person was actually a female Omani national, who was… wait for it… one of the cabin crew on the flight.


File Photo: The usual suspects

Actually, perhaps not as surprising as you’d think.

A similar incident occured in March this year on an Emirates Flight to London, and in May the culprit – again a member of the crew – was jailed for 18 months in the UK. The case is eerily almost identical to the Oman Air incident, with a threatening note left in the bathroom. (see story below)

Omani detectives are not stupid, and it would seem that in cases like this, the first suspects are the crew themselves (similar I guess to when someone is murdered, and the spouse is always suspect no. 1).

No word on sentencing in the Oman Air case yet.

Flight attendant jailed in UK for Emirates bomb hoax
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

BOMB HOAX: Am Emirates flight from Dubai to London was at the centre of a bomb hoax in March at London's Gatwick Airport. (Getty Images)A flight attendant was jailed for 18 months last Thursday for leaving a bomb hoax note on board an Emirates aircraft he was working on and sparking a scare that led to London's Gatwick Airport briefly closing.

Australian national Matthew Carney, 24, left a message in the toilet of a flight from Dubai to London in March which read: "Explosive material can be found in the FWD (forward cargo department). We have the Taliban to thank for this."

A passenger on board the Boeing 777 found the note 10 minutes before the plane was due to land and raised the alarm.

When the flight arrived at Gatwick it was taken to a secure holding area and surrounded by armed police.

The 164 passengers and 16 crew were taken off the plane and interviewed and Carney was arrested shortly afterwards.

He pleaded guilty to communicating false information, namely a bomb hoax, at Lewes Crown Court, police said.

The court was told that earlier in the flight Carney told his co-workers he had "found" wires hanging down from behind a mirror in a toilet in the economy section, the Press Association reported.

But senior cabin crew members who inspected the area found the wires were not attached to anything and the plane carried on to Britain.

Prosecutor Dale Sullivan said that because of the earlier incident, Carney was arrested and his luggage searched.

Inside a pair of his shorts was found a piece of paper with the words "Cargo contains explosives," which handwriting experts linked to the note left in the toilet.

His lawyer Andel Singh said Carney had been under a great deal of stress and was "extremely tired" at the time having worked on flights on different time schedules throughout the world.

"He apologizes wholeheartedly and sincerely to all those individuals who were even the slightest bit inconvenienced," Singh said.

Sullivan said the hoax had left Emirates with a bill for 42,000 pounds ($66,340) for arranging ongoing flights and other measures, while some passengers were left with a fear of flying and said they would never set foot on an aircraft again. (Reuters)

And to lighten up your weekend, a correspondent forwarded me this link to the website Despots Anonymous. A familiar looking Persian is the latest to join the list. Funny piece.

Hello, I am Ali and I really want to be a despot.
June 24, 2009 at 7:01 am

I’m trying hard, so help me, I really am, but it’s hard to get good help these days.

I thought we had that election all sewn up, but oy vey, that Mahmoud couldn’t steal candy from a baby, he’s so clueless. What a shemozzle. Now I have to come out from behind the veil and tell everybody straight out “That’s it, you know me, I wouldn’t cheat you, all over red rover.”

But those people in the streets, they’re so rude. That’s what I can’t forgive, they’re so rude, saying they don’t believe me no more. Okay, so we have to say that yes there was maybe a little bit of fraud, but not so much to change the result.

I like that bit. That bit I’m thinking was very clever, neh? “Eleven millions,” I say, “how could we steal eleven millions? Maybe you think we could steal a million or two, but eleven is way too many.”

That’s such a clever argument, they’ll never see through that one.

So now we’ve won the election, I have some problems I’d like some help on. Not so much problems maybe, just issues, you know. We despots don’t have problems, of course, just brilliant solutions that we haven’t shown yet.

So here’s the real issue. My economy is going down the toilet. Bad, bad, bad I’m thinking. Poor old Mahmoud, sweet guy, great schtick on blaming everybody else, but really not so smart when it comes to the money. We’re spending so much paying other people to fight our battles, but where’s the cost-benefit analysis? And building peaceful nuclear power is not cheap, you know what I mean?

Also, I hate that I need educated people so much, and they’re a real lippy bunch. But if you want to build nukes you need a few people who know how things go together. So how do I get people who know what’s what, when I don’t want people who know what’s what. Know what I mean?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

T shirt gets man 1 month and deportation in Dubai

You've got to be increasingly careful what you do and wear in the UAE, as some poor guy found out after getting a month in prison and deportation for... wearing a T shirt.

Photo: The offending garment: Not for use in the UAE

OK, so its a pretty eye catching T shirt, part of a New York designer's skin cancer awareness campaign. But increasingly the UAE is becoming more draconian in the punishments meted out to expats accused of offending Emirati sensitivities. This sort of thing is going to hurt the tourist trade. Not so much the need to be sensible in dress terms, but the seemingly random severity of the punishments. I mean, a month in an Emirati prison and deportation for .... a T Shirt. And there aren't even any visible nipples.

Also strange that his lawyer wasn't even present at the appeal.

In other news, Bahrain indefinitely suspended, and 12 hrs later reinstated , a newspaper that printed an OpEd piece highly critical of the Iranian leadership and the recent elections. Criticism of a foreign leader (as long as Bahrain has diplomatic relations with the country) is illegal. And Shia sensitivities are very high, especially right now.

The BBC has a nice article looking at the election numbers statistically. In some provinces the results - while possible - seem pretty suspicious and unlikely without some degree of fraud.

...The study examines the results from this year and compares them with the first round from 2005, concluding that there would have to have been a huge swing from previously reform-minded voters into the Ahmadinejad camp.

The study says: "In a third of all provinces, the official results would require that Ahmadinejad took not only all former conservative voters, and all former centrist voters, and all new voters, but also up to 44% of former reformist voters, despite a decade of conflict between these two groups." ...

Commentaries on the Iranian elections, the alleged fraud, and the riots and deaths as the Iranian junta try to re-establish control of the streets with brute force, are problematic for the GCC. They don't want to annoy the Iranians, as things are tense enough over disputed islands, gas access, and Iran's increased support for Shia groups in the Sunni-dominated GCC. But they also can't support what's happening either without looking silly. So... no comment will be the order of the day please media. Oman is different and has both allowed official media to report on the situation from the wire services, and let Essa express support for the result too. Here's the disturbing story of the murder of a young woman by Iranian paramilitaries, when she was deliberately shot and killed for just standing in the road a few blocks away from the riots.

And here's the T shirt story. Take care with your wardrobe choices in the UAE folks!

Man in lewd T-shirt loses court appeal
Marten Youssef and Loveday Morris

Last Updated: June 18. 2009 11:16PM UAE

A Lebanese man is facing one month in jail and deportation for wearing a cancer awareness T-shirt depicting a near-naked woman, after losing an appeal yesterday.

In a brief hearing at Dubai Court of Appeals the judge upheld RN’s sentence of 30 days in jail followed by deportation on a charge of offending public decency. The defendant was not present. Neither was his lawyer.

According to court records RN, 28, was stopped at a bakery in Dubai on Nov 29 by an Arab man who confronted him over his T-shirt, which showed a nearly nude Victoria Beckham partially covered by the slogan “Protect the Skin You’re In”.
An argument ensued between the two, after which RN left to change his shirt, according to court documents. Police were called and three charges were initially pressed against the defendant: drunkenness, fleeing the scene of a conflict and offending public decency. The first two charges have since been dropped.

The defendant was detained for 48 hours, then released on bail. He submitted his passport to the police pending a judgment and was found guilty on April 19. He has been in prison since his first appeal hearing on June 11.

The defendant’s friend said there should be more clarity about the rules of dress in Dubai.

“You can go to the beach and see people wearing very little,” he said. “You can go to a mall or nightclub and see people dressed like that.”

The British government recently issued new travel advice for visitors to the UAE following a spate of high-profile cases of expatriates’ falling foul of the UAE’s rules on public behaviour.

The defendant is entitled to lodge a final appeal within 30 days.

Monday, June 22, 2009

calling it the way it is? trust an Aussie.

AT least Essa had a clear view on the Iranian election.

As one of the few homo sapien on the planet it seems who did find it easy to perceive such a crystal clear view of underlying events, any Oman should be - and I'm sure it is - Proud. Proud to have that sort of talent. Here. Today. Now.

Essa expounds a view that the Israelis wanted the opposition to win in Iran, and the...transparent victory, ... choice of the Iranian people... Ahmadinejad ... victory.. no cheating... (I must quote him in his own words, its so profound. My emphasis)

Essa Al Zedjali: Times Of Oman Editor in Chief:

SEVERAL months before Iran’s presidential elections, Israel went into overdrive spreading rumours and false propaganda against Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad who was seeking a second term as president. In the end however, Ahmadinejad waltzed through the June 12 polls with about 63 per cent of votes, torpedoing the wily designs of Israel.

The results of the elections have proved beyond doubt that the Iranian people made their own choice without any external interference and showed their continued faith in Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian elections were a successful democratic experiment ...
The fact is that Israel still fools the West by plying it with false information to the effect that Iran is still producing uranium in huge quantities which makes it within a few steps of nuclear bombs.


But the plain truth is that the Iranian voters, who turned up in huge numbers to cast their votes, have no doubt that Ahmadinejad pulled off a well-deserved victory by trumping his rivals decisively.

His victory was recognised and blessed by none other than Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, Iran’s supreme leader.


Personally, I think this opinion above from Essa is a silly, preposterous idea*.

The people who wanted Ahmadinejad to win more than anybody included the extreme right wing in Israel USA, GCC,, nutters almost everywhere. They can all deal with him.

We all can (well, except a significant percentage of the Iranian people it seems). To them, he's far easier to bomb/demonise. He's perhaps the LAST person I would vote for if I was Iranian and hoping for the best for my children (and such mundane stuff), but if I were a nut-case Zionist idiot, or an Adventist Christian nutcase, I'd be in there stacking the ballot boxes with his precompleted ballot papers faster than a senior cleric in Oum...

A new "moderate" - who would not anyhow as president control the military or the nuclear programme - would have been a disaster for the extremists. He could have talked to Obama for years whist the bomb was finished, in their view.

Normal people I think, would prefer to see a ... cooled off and more sensible chat about everything. We're all - in the end - just children, parents, or grandparents, or Uncles, or...


Wow. Middle East Politics. Pretty innocent young women seem to be being shot on the streets of Iran right now. That is not a good thing. And if Essa wants to tell me the guy pulling the trigger is a Jew....

On the official diplomat curriculum that must be like... "Really Hard Diplomacy Course number 407-c... or something.

My question: Will HM really go to Tehran on the 28th of June, as reported in the
Iranian Press a few days a go????

So instead I'm bringing you this insightful extract below from an apparently pretty independent observer, based in an area famed for not really giving a shit about anyone else too much: or what you think [unless you're China] or believe.


Well, they are reasonably rich, generally very nice people, free to talk and discuss pretty much what they want; big drinkers, and a loooooooong way away from here. They care about beaches, booze, and ... well,...

not us. Or the Iranians really. So this is what they say:

Picture: A few typical Aussies in their natural habitat

Hedonism 101 in general. (And to be honest seem to doing OK so far IMHO).

And they don't really give a hoot about the subtle sensitivities of the GCC. Shall we say. 'Cultural zeitgeist' it as you might, I found it refreshing, and thought I'd share....
[serving suggestion]: Funniest when read in the bath, with someone else, naked, with champagne obviously, but read out in an Australian accent.

Trust me on that.

Disclaimer: the following article does not necessarily represent the views of Muscat Confidential and readers are advised that even reading this extract from the foreign press may be illegal in the country you are in, especially if its in the GCC.

Brisbane Times.
Elections still a display of democracy other countries dream of
June 20, 2009

Unlike many of their neighbours, at least the people of Iran were able to vote, reports Middle East Correspondent Jason Koutsoukis.

THE electoral fiasco in Iran has reinforced Western fears about the state of democracy in the Middle East. But at least people in Iran were given the opportunity to vote.

Despite the questions about the result, Iran still proved itself capable of staging a genuine election campaign that had all the trappings of a US-style presidential race. Televised candidate debates, mass rallies and inspiring campaign rhetoric were all part of the show.

It was a display of freedom supporters of democracy in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates can only dream about. And a display that will have the rulers of those countries watching nervously.

The mere fact that opposition candidates were allowed to stand against the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had seemed worthy of commendation.

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad will only allow votes of confidence from the electorate when he is the only candidate standing. In many other Middle East regimes, political opposition of any sort - even the cosmetic kind - is banned.

Elections, if they are permitted, are mostly for legislative bodies that have no control over executive power and face having their decisions overturned at a moment's notice by the ruling monarch or dictator.

As Amnesty International noted in a recent report on challenging repression in the Middle East, the right to vote is not the only human right denied.

"Activists and journalists who seek to publicise human rights abuses face an array of repressive measures intended to silence them for exercising their right to freedom of expression," the report noted.

"Lawyers who try to uphold the rights of their clients not to be tortured or arbitrarily detained, to have access to legal counsel and to receive fair trials, often themselves face similar abuses. People who demonstrate peacefully in support of demands for improved rights for women, workers and minority communities risk arrest, imprisonment, beatings or even assassination by government security forces simply for exercising their right to freedom of assembly."

* Advanced Conspiracy 786

Ah hah! But what if Essa is just soooo dryly and darkly humourously ironic [see Monty Python] that with that opinion I simply show that I actually don't get it? He's actually saying the opposite? Right?... Obviously. Oh.... ha ha ha. Oscar Wild, look out honey!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Oman given a boost in 2009 US State Dept. Report on Human Trafficking

In a piece of good news for Oman and the Foreign Minister, the US State Dept.'s latest 2009 report on Human Trafficking has increased Oman from Tier 3 (bad) straight up to Tier 2 (not bad). Result!

The report summarises:
...The Government of Oman does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government’s enactment of anti-trafficking legislation and completion of its first prosecution under these provisions demonstrated increased commitment to combating trafficking during the reporting period....

The prosecution was the key, along with the distribution of leaflets to the manual labourers. The new American Ambassador will I'm sure be happy not to be being berated by Oman's Foreign Undersec this year!

Meanwhile, its now the UAE's turn to whine. The UAE Government officials responsible for their countries performance are now the ones sulking about how unfair their downgrade from Tier 2 to to Tier 2 Watch List is and that (naturally) its not their fault. LOL.

Gulf News:
....Rashid Musabah Al Kindi, member of the Federal National Council who sits on a committee for labour issues, said the report was not fair and the UAE was made to pay for other people's mistakes, referring to fraudsters in other countries who lure young women to the UAE for job opportunities and force them into prostitution.

On the issue of passports, he said: "Keeping workers' passports is the employer's right and not a violation for human rights as stated in the report".

"In case workers commit a crime then it is the employer's responsibility and keeping his passport will prevent him from leaving the country."

Abdul Rahim Al Shahin, also a member of the FNC, questioned why the UAE was being "attacked" when other countries' violations were not being talked about.

These countries would no way be working as hard as they are to improve the way they are dealing with Human Trafficking if it wasn't for this US report and the threat of trade sanctions it carries. The oft noted 'we don't read it/believe it, its all what we want to do anyway' crap is so laughable.

Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, Chief of Dubai Police, said: "I stopped reading these reports several years ago. It's full of contradictions". He questioned the credibility of a report coming from a state "that violates human rights in front of the whole world".

"Our conscience dictates our efforts, and not the US government," he said.

Yeah, which is why you're back in T2WL...

The recently released video-nasty of a member of the UAE Royal Familty torturing an Afgan grain dealer, and the initial acceptance of it by the UAE Government, probably didn't help either. Nor too the fact that during the year a member of a UAE ruling family and six of her traveling party were charged by a Belgian court for subjecting at least 17 Asian and Middle Eastern girls into forced labor as domestic servants.

But we need to keep our efforts going in Oman or we'll be back on the Watch List too next year. More needs to be done for the housemaids especially, and the manual laborers, and for the poor prostitutes being hidden away in Ruwi and Adam. We need shelters for Domestic maids to flee to, and support from the Government to take their abusive employers to court. The practice of passport confiscation remains widespread. The practice of Omani men going on sex tours to Thailand is never mentioned in the media, nor the fact that they are indirectly supporting the enslavement of innocent girls and women.

The Unions should be supported more too - afterall, they are what forced the West's industry to improve safety and working conditions (before later going a bit power crazy and bankrupting companies like GM). It's quite bizaar, for example, that apparently the head of Galfar's Workers Union is... their senior HR Director. No conflict of interest there then...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Free Press and Oman Forum: Muscat Confidential in the dock?

Another busy week at the office. We’re in the final burn towards the 2 month slow down that is July and August here. It’s still hot folks, at about 38deg, but not as hot as a couple of weeks ago… And of course we now have H1N1 cases here from students returning from the US: Times of Oman story yesterday.

As Abdulla pointed out in the previous comments section, it seems Muscat Confidential was being talked about on the Oman Forum.

Just in time for the ‘Help Wanted’ ad too. There’s nothing like free press; or a free press (irony/double entendre). [sic]

My colleague Abu Kana'ad is a believer in soliciting public opinion on variety of issues. Shura is of course part of our culture therefore he does exercise it in seeking others view.

His latest concern is a certain bloger. He feels the bloger pokes his nose where he shouldn’t and in the process steps on too many toes around.

So he is seeking your view once more, is this blog informative and beneficial to the public? Or a tabloid type scandal-mongering blog out to upset the norm?

What are your thoughts?

A few observations on my little mini-trial by Oman Forum people.

I guess my first point is: why would it up to one Mr. Abu Kana'ad – whoever he is - to somehow decide if Muscat Confidential is 'allowed' to be available, at least to persons within Oman ? (the last part is an assumption). How patronizing and self aggrandizing.

Or is he making a legal argument? If so, what exactly? Note: He eventually ordained begrudgedly that this blog was OK to be tolerated, on the balance of a mere handful or two of positive submissions on the forum [much like an Iranian election it seems]. Hmmm. Oh and to answer Mti's question: " this blog informative and beneficial to the public? Or a tabloid type scandal-mongering blog out to upset the norm?" - BOTH. Obviously...

Second, I concur with a lot of the points made in the comments on the forum thread. Thanks and big kisses to the lovers. Keep coming back and clicking on the ads to my haters.

And gals and guys, it’s just a blog. By me, The Dragon. Semi-anonymous. Not the New York Times, or an official, funded, accredited, news media source. It ‘does what it says on the can’. IMHO.

Set against the local Omani and GCC context of media control, censorship, and Governmental non-communication strategies, the blog Muscat Confidential perhaps stands out somewhat, because I mention all sorts of stuff that is generally not reported here or anywhere, and is hopefully both informative, entertaining, and dare I say it, occasionally thought provoking. Gossip, facts, opinions, news, inside tips – while never breaking the law.

I'd like to think that there are fewer excuses for what the official media choose to print and ignore thanks to the internet, and to the fact I still haven't been blocked or arrested. Look around Abu Kana'ad. Citizen journalism is catching on everywhere. (So powerful, that in the recent elections the Government in Iran blocked blogger, all cell phones, SMS, facebook, twitter, etc etc. They were scared.)

For many countries a key concern is: how can they control activities like freedom of association and freedom of expression on the net, as heavily controlling these very things in real life is something these Governments have always done?

As for the original ‘trigger post’ - about how I would never ever break my pledge of confidentiality to my sources and employees, unless put under severe duress by the authorities (and indirectly referred to being waterboarded in the under construction mega- building I call The dark Castle that - rumour has it - is the new headquarters of Oman’s Internal Security central command). The implication of the complaint was, I think, that what I was supposedly implying about torture happening in Oman, or being darkly humourous, or too direct or offensive, or just straight damn funny, or all of the above, etc. Yawn.

I’ll admit it. If I find myself detained without charge by Internal Security and hooked up to electrodes and/or being water boarded up in the basement cells of the Dark Castle, I must admit… I’ll crack. In real life – unlike the movies – everybody turns out to be eager to cooperate when under that sort of pressure, trust me. I know I’ll be no exception. So apologies in advance.

The Dragon is very vain, and likes to think he does not suffer fools. But this time, I’ll make an exception. Look, its complicated, Abu Kana'ad and Mti. For your edification I’ll try to explain what’s going on ‘behind the scenes’ as it were, with just this one little snippet of Muscat Confidential. The zeitgeist. The background. The foreground.

- Waterboarding has been in the news for years. There is masses of stuff on it I can’t go into here. Is it really legal in the US? Is it ethical? Where is it happening, by who to whom? Should it be used?

- It certainly seems to work, with a typical civilian time of about 15 seconds between commencement of the waterboarding proper to the ‘STOP!! I’ll tell you everything’ phase. One of OBL’s top guys apparently was widely admired by the US interrogators for ballsy determination by holding out for a tremendous …. 2 and a half minutes. Ouch. Read the personal accounts. I found them fascinating.

- Does waterboarding happen in Oman? I don’t know personally or definitively. Do you? At least in the US they discuss these things… And as in the US, there are a few reports of so-called ‘special renditions’ from Oman, to places one might be more concerned of civil rights wise.

- And the image of myself, down in the basement, being questioned by internal security, for blogging on what is near public knowledge and gossip at worst, was so ridiculous I found the mental image preposterous and thus hilariously funny. I sincerely hope they have better things to do.

- And related to that image, the base point being that my troths of confidentiality I put in the job ads would, of course, be instantly voided, because I would talk, and probably very quickly and cooperatively (and sorry in advance – call it the small print), if placed under duress by the authorities here.

- And then too, just recently, the Omani Government DID arrest, remand, and imprison for 2 weeks an internet forum administrator for … stuff (read it yourself). It’s not like I’d fancy that experience either. So I’m commenting on that too. Do we think that’s a good idea? IS Article 61 a law we all support? Could it be improved? What are the legal precedents? Etc etc.

- And apparently (according to the Indian press) a big time financier of terrorism, a naturalized Omani citizen, was tried and found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment - here in Oman - and it was unreported in our media as far as I could see.

- I’m pointing out too that the Internal Security in Oman IS excellent, and I’m very glad of it. (A personal theory – in the draft for picking Oman’s brightest every year, the best ones get recruited by first Diwan, then IS, then Military Intelligence, the Armed Forces, The Diplomatic squad, and so on down the line. And thus unfortunately the crop of energetic, dedicated, razor sharp Omani graduates there of course are, seems to never stretch as far as some of the more obvious Ministries… Just a theory.)

- While I like to be newsy, most important is the desire to be entertaining and a pleasurable experience to read and comment upon. Deep Intellectual comment in general (albeit not so much in Omani public fora) there is enough of; and I’d be no good at it anyhow compared to the pros.

On it goes.

And in regard to the issue of humour, and dark and offensive entertainment, I recommend below some ‘pre-reading’ for Muscat Confidential … to guide you in general, but especially with respect to the funnier bits.

Blackadder (especially Blackadder Goes Forth) This extract below seems especially relevant, as Blackadder interrogates Capt. Darling ...

My original inspiration for Muscat Confidential was always the UK Political and satirical magazine Private Eye.

Other references:
The Onion

Monty Python

Bill Maher

Not the 9 o’clock news

And of course, the fabuously offensive (now Dead) Bill Hicks…

Start with those….

Oh, and keep those job applications coming in!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Help Wanted

The Dragon is looking for a few special people to provide assistance with improving the service here at Muscat Confidential.

Applications should be sent to undercover.dragon (at) gmail (dot) com

Kudos: – Huge
Anonymity: 100% Guaranteed*
Salary: – er… well.. nil, to be honest

Positions Available

Oman Court Reporter
Omani newspapers don’t really report anything about what goes on in the courts, either civil or criminal, even though in theory it's public information. I’m looking for Omanis, preferably with some legal training, who already visit the courts regularly, are relatively fluent in English and Arabic, and can provide highlights of cases being heard before the courts on a bi-weekly basis.

Guest Columnists: ‘Ask an Omani’
Muscat Confidential would like to start a weekly “Ask an Omani” column. You should be fluent in English, and preferably be witty, articulate and intelligent. You will be able to concisely answer occasional questions from our readers on mysteries of Omani daily life, traditions, wasta, religion, culture, politics, history, tribes, etc.

Blog Post translators
Muscat Confidential is published in English. I’m looking for at least 2 volunteers to simply translate the posts into Arabic, so we can have an Arabic mirror version of Muscat Confidential.

Construction Contractors - Informants
Times are hard, and a lot of Expats are waiting to be laid off from the domestic construction industry. I’m looking for people who are currently working in the various construction contractors and who would like to send me info on how schedules and payments are going, who’s paying you – and who isn’t. I’ll also make sure the information we publish can’t be used to identify you.

Chamber of Commerce Researcher
Limited liability companies in Oman have to document who owns them in the official company register. Unfortunately, the register is only available in hard copy at the Omani Chamber of Commerce, and its in Arabic. I’m looking for someone who regularly visits the OCC and can get background information on who is behind various companies.

General Information Providers
Just been laid off? Shafted by the Omani Indian Mafia? Finally in a position to tell someone what you know is really going on? Have access to lots of good stories but your insane and small minded Editor won’t let you run with that great story? Tired of being a reporter when what you want is to be a real journalist? Why not join the ranks of Muscat Confidential’s extensive network of ‘little helpers’! The Dragon can’t be everywhere, but you can. Send me an email to the address above. Confidentiality assured*

I’ll admit it. If I find myself detained without charge by Internal Security and hooked up to electrodes and/or being water boarded up in the basement cells of the Dark Castle, I must admit… I’ll crack. In real life – unlike the movies – everybody turns out to be eager to cooperate when under that sort of pressure, trust me. I know I’ll be no exception. So apologies in advance.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ministry of Tourism putting the pressure on Capital Area Yacht Club

The Capital Area Yacht Club - now partially rebranding itself as Capital Area Yacht Centre - has been an Omani Institution for ages.

Its located in the beautiful little bay in front of Cat Island, in between the newish (and also very nice) Marina Bandar Rowdha and the British Ambassadors house on the coastal road to the Al Bustan.

For some time that little bay has been targeted by the Ministry of Real Estate Tourism as a great site for yet another integrated hotel development. CAYC are currently battling the MoT in the courts, as luckily (and apparently at the last minute) they found the original Deed of Title given to the club by no less a personage than His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.

But even this apparently isn't stopping the greedy people at the MoT and their apparatchiks in the OMRAN real estate development arm. They seem determined to forceably requisition every last scrap of nice coastal property that isn't already owned by someone important.

The zealots at the MoT are now I'm told just recently gave the CAYC 1 months notice of 'eviction' - despite the on-going court case over that very issue. That's not nice. And I'd be surpised if such intimidation is legal. The big meeting is tomorrow.

Now, I think the CAYC is a great little club. It has a restaurant & bar, a nice beach, a place to store your boat, all reasonably priced. In fact, and perhaps contrary to popular belief, most members are middle class Omani families who want a place from which to go fishing that is family friendly. Expats too like it, especially those who can't join restricted clubs such as PDO, or the various Military clubs, and want something more than the bland 5 star hotel pool and gym clubs. They often host weddings and celebrations too at much better prices than the big hotels too.

Why are MoT doing this? And who is the developer that this prime spot has been promised to? I don't believe the various rumours of corruption within Omran with people being given payments for signing off on contracts sigle sourced at significantly over the market rates. This very rumour was subject to a recent investigation by State Audit, apparently triggered by tendering 'irregularities' in the Yeti development.

And I'm reliably informed the Minister of Tourism, HE Rajiha bint Abd al-Amir bin ALI, has restarted construction of her massive house extension (built on the free piece of prime oil company concession land in Qurm that was given to her 11 years ago, while she was on their board of Directors), so presumably she was given a clean bill of health.

It looks to me like someone in the MoT has already made some commitments to someone who wants to develop that bay and make a shit-load of money in the process... But the plan then went a bit sour when CAYC found the magic piece of paper from HM. Damn.

Will Oman have any public beach property at all in 5 years?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Omani Government effectively Nationalises Dhofar Power

Given the recent pledge to privatise the power and water companies in Oman, you might be surprised that the Government is taking over effective ownership of Dhofar Power Co in Salalah.

This appeared a couple of weeks ago, and now the deal seems to be doing though. The share price has dropped from a high of 2.4 rials and is now 1.4.

They are effectively admitting they screwed up the first attempt. Maybe they will listen to some more advice this time around?

Dubai: Oman's state-owned power generator and distributor plans to buy back Dhofar Power Co after the country's first attempt to sell power assets failed to improve service and attract investment, the government-run company said.

Electricity Holding Co, which runs Oman's electricity assets, has agreed on the price for the majority stake in Dhofar Power, Chief Executive Karl Matacz told Bloomberg News at a conference in Dubai yesterday. He didn't disclose the price.

Oman and Dhofar Power previously agreed on a price the government would pay to repurchase the company if its private owners didn't invest enough or improve service. Neither of those requirements has been fulfilled, Matacz said. ...

And here are the shareholders... naughty naughty. They were making a nice 28% on equity. And in debt to the eye balls. So, out they go.

MUSCAT, June 10 (Reuters) - Oman plans to buy the majority stake in Dhofar Power DHP.OM from international and regional private investors, a company statement said on Wednesday.

"Shareholders holding 10,619,378 shares, constituting 53.9 percent of the issued and paid up capital of the company have informed the company that they are in discussions with Electricity Holding Company (EHC), whereby EHC would acquire their entire shareholding in the company," it said.

State-run EHC is negotiating with Malakoff Berhad of Malaysia, Dubai based GCC Energy Fund, local companies Muscat Overseas and Malatan.

Other shareholders include Oman & Emirates Investment Company, local pension funds and private investors.

Dhofar Power made a net profit of 940,000 million rials in the first quarter of 2009, down from 980,000 million rials in the first three months of 2008. (Reporting by Saleh al-Shaibany)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Yes. It is us. Oman LLC in the market for Newcastle

Quick one.

Re-confirmation from a great source yesterday of what everyone already 'knows' I guess...... HM is indeed in the market for Newcastle.

No! Newcastle!

If they can keep Shearer on board, an OK investment perhaps, but only if you can work the merchandising and build the brand... Tie in Omani Tourism,..

hands up who wants to be on the Board of Directors?

Oh, and can I be Ali Al Habsi's agent please?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

This is the week that was ... Blue City sued in London; WJ Towel backing up the local courts. And Obama wows the Middle East

Sometimes I do have to work. *&^%&$&$ Meetings.

Feeling bored and lonely people? Call a meeting. I thought I'd seen the light at the end of the tunnel on Wednesday, but it just turned out to be some bastard with a torch bringing me more work.

So, this week! What a week. Real news at the end. meanwhile:

We're buying some new military transport planes,

A C130J Hercules in Oman: Nice kit.

We signed a non-binding deal deal to talk to the Russians about nuclear power,

We bought 5% of a Spanish gas utility,

For what seemed a lot of dosh... still, a safe investment I guess, especially if you have LNG to sell....

Oh, and we thought about buying Tottenham Hotspurs Newcastle (obviously!) , (a rather iconic football team)

with an international following... as many Shibab will attest

Meanwhile, the Taliban are getting beaten back in Swat, and more importantly the Tali-wackos are loosing the PR campaign too,

And speaking of wackos, the lady who forced an Oman Air plane to divert, and be searched, got caught, and is so harmless she made the Omani media too.

the Saudi censors decided to unblock Susie the Saudi blogger,

and we had the hottest week here since... fcuk knows. It was HOT. HOOOOOOT. Over 50 deg.

Local blogger Muscato...

As a result, Ms. Dragon has taken to the airport with a clutch of my credit cards, turned left at the boarding gate into the wonderful world that is international business class, and quite sensibly flown back to cooler climes for the duration.

Deliveries of loose women, caviar and bubbles will therefore be gratefully received and possibly might eventually even have to be ordered!

This is the life. I will soon too depart for the summer exodus. Dragon's don't do suffering.

First - Real News:

Obama. No surprise perhaps that I thought it was a pretty masterful speech.

Obama made possibly the most reasonable, frank and forward looking speech I've heard from a Polititian in a long time... it blew me away. He successfully articulated a firm but fair approach, stating his underlying reasoning, and most definitely positioned himself as a pragmatist.

Most moderate Islamicists I know loved it. OK, Ok, we need action and results, but even Al Jazeera struggled to find anyone sensible who could really fault it.

The extremists of all persuasions hated it.

Crazy Zionists,

Muslim fundos,

right-wing Christian apocalyptics,

republican nut-jobs
(oops - are those last 2 actually different these days?)

Iranian reactionaries,

OBL sulking from his damp cave...

Man on right: 'I know he's the President of the Great Satan, But I still sort of like him OBL, you know? He sort of makes sense...'

the list goes on. Yeah, the speech exposed the haters all right.

To all of them he said, No. There is a way that is not driven by your hatred and irrational desire to screw everything up. Lets be adults who can discuss things rationally and focus on all the critical stuff we all agree needs addressing now. I liked especially the bit about Gulf states using the Israeli/Palestine conflict as a diversion from domestic affairs. Talk about spot on.

Wow. Could you imagine GW Bush giving a speech that coherent, and understanding what it meant at the same time? The man's doing good. Even Essa is a fan,, no mean feat that.

[lol: try an image search for Essa Al Zedjali!. UD]

Second - Reports continue of many Omani 'big companies', especially those with some real estate exposure, having a few cashflow problems.

I've been told that ol' faithful Blue City continue to pay no-one (except their staff, nats), and are about to be sued in London by Bovis (who walked out in disgust after Blue City stiffed them [Bovis]/who were kicked out for non-performance and didn't do anything worth being paid for [Blue City].

Has the writ been served yet .. John? I realise such trifles are a standard part of doing business in the real world, and big excellent development companies get sued ALL THE TIME by pesky small people who build things and want to be paid. I mean, what a cheek. Don't they know who they're dealing with?

Plus, we can't comment too much as its now all sub-judice soon...

I'm reliably informed too that even extremely well-connected and historic Omani company W.J. Towell Group, are underpaying contractors (by 50%) and pointing to a queue of over 4000 outstanding court cases against them, saying 'hey, sure sue us, take a number, but this is what you're getting'...

Of course, that can't be true. A venerable major company like that acting with such disregard for the laws of the land or legal contracts?

No way.

That sort of behaviour could end up in foreign courts and start to blacken the name of the whole business environment in the Sultanate (not to mention the good name the company has established over decades), imposing an indirect cost on the whole economy that is the last thing we need in these days of recession and increased competition for FDI. Surely not. And yet people tell me these tales...

Perhaps the older Sultan family board members should be asking some more pointed questions of the younger generation at the board....?

And last, the comedy at the Crown Plaza. I managed to sneak in the back, and - only partially assisted by copious amounts of ethyl alcohol - laugh my socks off, along with everyone else (and mostly an Omani audience too).

Ms Dragon and a rather agreeable female friend also had a total blast, although that wine wasn't cheap. OHI, and Eihab Al Saleh in particular, deserve massive kudos for pulling that off 'cos it took some balls.

Darren Short - erstwhile disk spinner for Hi! Fm

joined in the comedic spirit of the evening by wearing an outfit that perfectly captured the 'sleezy promoter' look with a garish white vest and black office suit ensemble.

Well done chaps. The buzz of the audience before the event was palpable and that said it all. More please. Eventually we'll get a bit more satirical, but this was hopefully just a fantastic start to lots more regular Arabic comedy in Oman.
Oh, one of the comics, - Dean Obeidallah - has a blog, too.

I have always insisted the Gulf needs a load more comedy. Hillary Clinton should be sponsoring this shit. Then the wine could be cheaper too.

Coming soon - advice to a dear Omani reader who is overseas at University and wants to be a Minister in the Sultanate some day. Bless.