Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Draconian debt laws in the UAE. A Tale of Warning - Part One.

The UAE, and Dubai in particular, still peddle a life style vision of hedonistic pleasure to foreign expats (when not busy arresting and imprisoning them for saucy things like kissing and texting).

Middle talented service sector Brits, for example, seemed to be able to come over and live the lifestyle: posh new flat, new car, no taxes, and loads of relatively cheap restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

Bright Lights. Bright Opportunities!! From

They work in publishing, marketing, sales, account management, promotions, advertising, real estate.... Yeah, all those areas of employment heavily hit by Dubai's meltdown.

The problem is a lot of them believed the hype. They found themselves spending all that money on rents, loans to pay the rent in advance as demanded, car loans, going out. You know.

Then they got into the credit cards and personal loans too. Maybe even bought a place off plan. Ooops.

The UAE response to debt: Stop, Go to Jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

When such people get laid off, a whole new lifestyle kicks in. The UAE don't have a personal bankruptcy law, you see. And if you can't get another job to service your debts, the banks you owe money to can (and do) block your right to leave the country. If you can't pay your debts you get thrown in jail, for quite some time.

See the story of the guy who escaped by boat to India, and the facts about debt in Dubai

"Welcome to Debt City". By Tom Huntley
Ford also left behind an anguished “open letter” to friends and creditors that neatly encapsulates the predicament of many expats in Dubai who took out loans during the flush times and now find themselves out of work and unable to keep up with the payments on their seaside villas and luxury cars.

“I am not running away from debt, I am purely protecting those dearest to me and getting out of a country which, due to the lack of structured bankruptcy laws and a banking system which has zero flexibility on loan repayments, drives people to make horrible decisions,” he wrote in an open letter to local media.

He promised to repay all of his creditors.

Dubai authorities won’t say precisely how many people have been jailed for their debts, but local news accounts put the number at about 1,200 — more than 40 percent of the total prison population.

Even trickier to gauge is how many others took Ford’s route and simply fled. Judging by the number of apparently abandoned BMW’s and Mercedes gathering dust on city streets and the ensuing chatter on expats’ discussion boards, the number is not insignificant.

This situation has created a whole subclass of expats in the UAE who are in the hole (only a little bit, say $15k), unemployed, and therefore desperate. Hey, OK, so the banks lent them money. But 2 years in prison? How does that help pay their debt anyhow?

UAE Ministry of Tourism Photo: Everyone agreed the Ministry's new expat marketing campaign - though true - wasn't going to work.

So here's the sort of thing that's going on, and worryingly, Oman and our expat Governments' Representatives seems to be assisting the UAE to continue to imprison minor debtors.

Here's a cautionary tale folks. It's a true story. Some names have been changed.

PART ONE: The Fall From Grace

Roughly 5 months ago, NBD (National Bank of Dubai) put a case against me for missing 2 payments on a loan, this was due to loosing my job, as so many other people when the credit crisis hit. I was working in a construction related job.

I never once broke contact with the bank and as far as I am aware I would only be in serious default for missing 3 payments. I found another position and continued to pay, even paying a little more so I would eat away at the arrears and showing a determination to resolve my problem.

When NBD joined with Emirates Bank that they applied the case [law], this meaning a travel ban. They informed me of this situation by text message, not by letter or call..the arrears totalled 9000 dirhams which I paid immediately, therefore having a normal running loan account.

They insisted I have my salary paid into NBD but this was a problem due to commitments to Citi Bank ...

As time went on the [new] company I was with had difficulties, and a number of us where let go. But they also requested the residence visa back. This would have meant I could not go to the border to get a tourist visa due to the [travel ban], therefore I would eventually over stay, making it impossible to get another job with residency as all over stayers must be cleared and therefore I would be arrested.

Also as I must be a residency holder to have the loan in the first place, another reason I would not be able to clear the [travel ban]

So no matter what, he's screwed and will be arrested and put in jail for a debt - in this case - he was up to date with repaying!! What can our poor UAE expat do? What would you do?

These UAE laws are monstrous and barbaric. People guilty of nothing more than doing what was expected and encouraged by the Dubai authorities are being sent to prison in droves. With NO intervention by their embassies.

Why? In the west this would NOT be a cause for prison, but a negotiated settlement with creditors. Just like other bankrupt people or corporations (like Dubai World & Nakheel perhaps?) it's just a negotiation. It's not like the banks thought an expat Nakheel marketing guy was 'sovereign backed' when they loaned him money either, eh, Sh. Maktoum?

Coming in Part 2: The Escape... to Oman

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why do people in Oman keep driving around and "shitting in our own nest?" Littering really pisses me off.


An email.

I have just read your blog for the first time following the advice of a colleague. Most enjoyable.

However my visitors from overseas have been disappointed by the amount of rubbish in tourist areas such as wadis, left behind by the locals [and visitors]. I work in a local school, and students often arrange beach cleanups.

If you [or someone who reads your blog] could provide assistance with a contact [or offer] to provide free 4x4's and [maybe even, dare I pray] a truck for a day, we could have a wadi clean up to highlight the issue [and at the same time actually visit a wadi without throwing crap everywhere, because usually wadi visitors are from Muscat and expect someone else, probably in an orange suit; from India; to just.... pick up their shit]**.
** [bracketed comments added by UD]

Yes folks, lets face it.

Those beautiful wadis of millennia, so remote and pristine, requiring serious expeditionary skills to get to, are these days

Photo: Wadi Sham, without trash. Gorgeous. (wiki)

well, simply "next to an on-ramp near you".

Yes, even you, YOU, with an Echo, several 'friends' and a few bottles of black market hooch. And, as bizarre an urge as it seems - to drive out of Muscat, to camp and leave your trash everywhere - you know what, you can!

Thanks to all the wonderful new motorways exposing the whole damn country to development opportunities and new coastal real estate/tourist complexes, the previously remote places are also drowning in a sea of garbage and assholes.

Before the concrete Echo-safe hyperlink was there, there was a code, a code of Honour, when going off-road in Oman. Most off-roaders I know from before either took their trash back with them, or didn't have any to start with.

But these days this country's gorgeous and most important asset - clean pristine oceans and beaches and wadis and deserts - are being invaded by local and expat idiots who are literally trashing the place.

It's not the locals [that live in said pristine setting] that are doing this. Or the tourists.

It's the locals from elsewhere (especially Muscat) and the expat residents who, well, just don't give a shit. And these people proceed to leave their crap everywhere.

I hate you.

When you are out and about in Oman - for &^%&^%&^%&^^%*&^&^%^ sake pick up your fcuking rubbish. Or I curse you to eternal damnation.

Talk about Haram man? Talk about lack of common decency? That's gotta be it...

Photo: Think Global, Act Local

So, if you have a 4x4* and/or really want to help my generous correspondent and his school kids clean up the place, send me an email or leave a comment with contact details. They need assistance.

* or a TRUCK!!!! Yes? Call now!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Oman - Stratifications of service

I've sometimes mentioned that parts of Omani society remind me of Victorian England. The sexual repression. The high rate of divorce and prostitution. Maids. Gardeners. Drivers. Patriarchal and a Monarchy. High rate of industrial and technological change. New found wealth. Lots of infrastructure to be built.

But another characteristic is the class system. To those who live in Oman, such news is not news. It is as obvious and un-newsworthy as the fact the sky is blue.

The prevalence of class is also common in the Gulf, and in the society of our neighbours. It is also prevalent still everywhere else pretty much, but in the West these days it is much better hidden. In India as well, the caste system is alive and well, and is partially imported into Oman too.

Lets be honest - if you're not obviously a man of means, it helps to be white in Oman. Or even better a white female. You get better treatment - at pretty much any service establishment - than if you happen to be - as Maz Jobrani so aptly put it in his upcoming comedy tour show ... "brown and friendly".

Omanis have their own stratifications too. Perhaps a few of my Omani readers are better placed to enlighten us on that. And the relative positioning and conditions we can debate. But there is a tremendous class system in Oman.

As one tiny way of supporting my outrageous statement, here's a recent story of an Expat (not white) Accountant visiting the ROP:

Dear Dragon

An incident that happened to myself the other day when i visited Oman Traffic Office (not very sure the department it goes by) to renew my registration. As it was a weekend (Thursday) for me i visited the office in Seeb to renew my registration. I approached the officer at the front desk who offers you a ticket number. He looked at me and said "You need to leave the building NOW". I was surprised and i asked him what happened. He told me i was wearing shorts !!

I was wearing Capri Pants (AKA 3/4 shorts). I was decently dressed with a proper haircut and spoke well mannered. It was a shock to myself and a friend who accompanied me. I quitly walked out of the office and my friend went to a higher official to inqury about this. An office with 3 stars asks him "HE ENGLISH OR BRITISH" (the two mean the same) and he says NO.

The officer says "he has to change and come back".

Well i understand racial discrimination in certain countries. But lets look at it this way.. Out of 9/10 Omani picked randomly from the street they have a brown skin tone. So why is a "WHITE MAN" allowed to walk into a traffic office in shorts and a person with brown skin tone being asked to go back home and dress appropriately.

I would note the officer could just be discriminating on the basis of Nationality, not skin colour, according to the written report...

Photo: Cops in Bermuda: would those shorts would only be acceptable in Oman because he looks British?

Its just that the services sectors - including Government - could make a bit more of an effort to reduce the racism. I know there are issues of variable levels of illiteracy, sophistication, education and behaviour.

But we could start to treat each other with a bit more respect, on the basis of our common humanity.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Dragon is recovering from the ANZO Ball...

Yes, it was that time of year again and so Ms Dragon and I scored some tickets to the annual ANZO Ball at the Hyatt last night.

Champagne and VB in unlimited quantities has its effect on everyone, and I was no exception. Great company, food, music, decorations, an unlimited bar, and everyone looking freshly scrubbed and polished - at least to begin with. We had a fantastic time.

Well done ANZO committee! Usual service resumes soon...

Photo: Today, a little light reading was in order.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The lucky Winners of the Hi FM draw! ... free comedy for 2 readers

Ah, the witching hour....

We had our draw, supervised (and executed) by Ms Dragon at 00:03.57 am on Thursday 25th March.


the winners are....

Photo/promo: "The Middle East needs more comedy": Undercover Dragon, 2010

In second place:
Dr. Samir!!!!!!!!

Oman: Winners!!!

And The Winner:
Ian Unsworth

Photo: You are a winner - too!!! Nice pecs....


Congrats guys. Each of you get 2 free tickets. Emails with details (and your secret password) on the way to Dr. Samir and Ian.

BTW there were 60 entrants. Thanks go too to all the entrants.

So the rest of you please just blame statistics. Naturally, you can also simply text in to Darren and complain...,

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Interview with Y Magazine, Facebook Fan Page, and the ROP up the ante

I was flattered to be on the cover of this week's Y Magazine, with an interview about blogging and the impact of the internet on the professional media. You can find the issue on-line here.

Photo: Y Magazine cover this week. Twice in 2 months Muscat Confidential has graced the pages of Oman's print media. Note to self: Must up the ad rates...

The full interview is at the end of this post, and it discusses a lot of things that didn't end up in the article.

Big thanks to Kiran and Y magazine for the opportunity for Muscat Confidential to reach a new audience. Must admit, I sent my dear ol' Mum an e-copy. [Dragon's ARE vain, after all].

A Reminder:
This is your last chance to register for the Hi FM free ticket to awesome comedy draw. It will be drawn at midnight tomorrow! Keep watching for the even harder to get Sir Tom Jones tickets coming soon... [big thanks to Hi FM and Darren Shortt]

Meanwhile, speaking of Social Media...
I know many of you are on Facebook, but I was surprised to see some enterprising Omani fans had created a Facebook Fan Page for Muscat Confidential.

Don't be mis-lead by their flagrant ripping of my avatar, it's not me running the site, but they seem to be doing a good job. You can easily find it by searching Facebook for 'Muscat Confidential'. It lets you see the posts, nicely summarised for important points, and participate in the occasional discussion.

It's also beyond the reach of Omantel's evil net filters, so even if you're on a local dial up you can still see what's been posted if I get blocked yet again... I'll try and bring you an interview with the founders next month.

And in a sign I hope, of progress against the huge rise in crime, Bad Boys, Bad Boys, What you gonna do?
Hats off to the ROP for actually publishing the initials and mug-shots of 5 local Omani youths who were arrested for smashing the windows of 15 cars in Seeb to steal ashtray change.

This is real progress.

If they are found guilty, I hope they make the spoiled little bastards do community service for 3 months, 12 hrs a day, cleaning streets in orange cover-alls all summer with "I'm a stupid useless Twat" stenciled on the outfit. Only after having spent a couple of days entertaining 'Big Abdul' in the local prison, obviously. Don't pick up the soap boys!

Seriously. They haven't even been convicted yet. And if you know them (hey, yes you Ahmed!), you'd be able to recognise them despite the wonderfully old school little black rectangles.

Excellent. A huge thumbs up to the ROP for issuing the press release and for being up front that they are Omani. And well done to Muscat Daily for being on the case and printing it first. (I am noticing improvement...)

More please ROP. When people are convicted, it should NOT be illegal to publish their full names, photos (without the rectangles), the crime and their sentence. Let's start to incentivise parents to take a little more control of their kids.

And Y Magazine: how about an article on what its like inside Oman's prisons? It might encourage these wastrels to stop being such anti-social dickheads...

Finally, as promised:
Interview between Undercover Dragon and Y Magazine.

Y Magazine: Why do you blog, particularly about such controversial subjects that could ultimately land you in trouble?

Undercover Dragon: There are many reasons I blog. Its a hobby, for example, and I'm not a big fan of TV. So I guess it helps to keep me off the streets and out of the health clubs. But primarily I blog because I think the cultural tendency in Oman to avoid bad news, or to not discuss or even acknowledge in public many things that go on in the country, will prove to be a limiting factor to the nation's economic and cultural growth.

That many of the topics are 'controversial' is because these are things not being talked about in the public domain, or are even things many people would prefer didn't exist. A lot a 'good news' stories I could write about are already out there, and so the blog does therefore inherit a 'negative bias'. In order to counter this general negativity I try to use a tabloid style and to use sarcastic or ironic humour, as otherwise I doubt as many people would want to read the stuff I publish. This approach is deliberate.

I also include controversial topics to experiment with where the 'edge' actually is, because the location of this 'boundary' between what is culturally and legally accepted is not well known. Again, it's deliberate, to push the boundaries a little and see what happens.

Y: Were you involved in blogging or politics before you left your home country?

UD: No, not at all. But I've always been interested in politics and economics. Being in the Middle East stimulated my thinking on the issues of how Government policies get decided and assessed, and especially the observation that the core principals of democracy are far better served through a free media and public debate than simply the act of 'voting'. This continues to be a theme.

Y: Was there any particular event which spurred you on to write your first blog and begin writing?

UD:I was shown a few local blogs at the time and started lurking. But when I realised that there were so many stories about life in Muscat that were still not getting into the public domain - at least not in English - I realised I could stop complaining and start my own blog. So I did!

There was - and is - so much corruption and incompetence in Omani society that seemed to be being actively suppressed by the very people who needed to be exposed.

Y: In your opinion, how do the two worlds of professional print media and ‘citizen journalism’ relate? Do you agree that there is the threat that print media could ultimately suffer at the hand of good quality unofficial e-media and if so, how can this be reconciled?

UD:The growth of technology - internet, camera phones, wifi, twitter etc - have created a vast amount of information that is generally publicly available, in real time. The professional print media are exploiting that, and have the advantage of resources, revenue and a dedicated audience. I don't think there is a threat to professionalism in media however. No-one has the time to review 1,000,000 blogs and twitter feeds, so people to collect and turn this data stream into information that is tailored to an audience will be needed even more than before.

Printed media may fade with time as the stone tablet did, and develop into a Huffington Post type outfit, especially once the technology enables this and there is a better funding/revenue model. The real competition will perhaps come from the organic news sharing network that SMS and twitter has become, so that news and stories become self organised.

The lack of reliability and professionalism remain an issue with Citizen Journalism, and society still requires a filter for this news as well as resources to execute real investigative journalism. But I predict so-called newspapers, printed on paper, that simply reprint stories from the wire services will be a thing of the past in future.

Y: How reliable are blogs? Is there a danger that misconstrued information can be spread or inexperienced bloggers are in danger of releasing information without it being sufficiently fact-checked? The results of this could ultimately mean further restrictions on professional media, so how do you ensure your information is accurate?

UD:Bogs are usually opinions, observations and rumours. People should doubt these as they appear on some internet website as much as they would the same thing in real life. When the blog is anonymous this caution is even more applicable. Fact checking is essential but can be difficult - although there again the net is very good at self correcting, with people pointing out errors or alternate points of view or conflicting facts. I don't think it will have a big impact on professional media except to make them subject to the same correcting mechanisms.

I try to double check stories via independent sources. I haven't been doing the blog for long, but my list of reliable and confidential sources keeps increasing, so this fact checking gets easier. The main motivation for this is to build and maintain the brand reputation of Muscat Confidential. If I kept publishing things that aren't true, pretty soon people would simply stop reading.

The law in Oman still acts as a significant blocker to a lot of stories I would like to publish. While I'm anonymous to you and my readers, I am under no illusions when it comes to the real professionals, who I know do know where to find me if required. So I continually make huge efforts to remain within both the letter and the spirit of the law in Oman. Muscat Confidential is legal, (at least according to my very well qualified legal advisors) and will remain so. I think the fact that I have not been blocked (except for a couple of times over trivial technicalities) demonstrates that Muscat Confidential has the support of the right people.

Y: Why do you blog anonymously?

UD:First, I do have a professional life, and the blog would probably impact that, which I don't want.

Second, the legislation for media and publishing in Oman is very poorly defined (in law) as to what is legal and what is not. As it stands now, it would be easy to publish something that is arguably illegal, and I don't want the hassle and expense of defending myself in the courts against either the Government or an individual, especially as the penalties include significant periods in jail. There have been so few cases tried in the courts that there is also no legal precedent to help in this regard (and what precious little there is is not encouraging).

Lastly, I'm saying things on the blog that are, to a few people, threatening and offensive. Unfortunately, there are some of these people who might decide to act on their opinions and do me or my family harm. I have received death threats from people who seem deranged and capable of violence, and I'd rather not have to deal with that, as its not like I'm getting paid to do this, and it would allow a tiny minority of embittered nutcases to deny people something they clearly enjoy and appreciate.

Y: Why do you believe you are such a successful blogger?

UD:What constitutes "a successful blogger"? All I know is that I'm getting growing readership numbers and lots of supportive emails. This is probably because they want to read what I write, at least more often than not, and is probably because there is not a lot of competition either (at least in English).

Y: What threats have you faced from blogging and have there been any particular moments when you thought about giving up blogging?

UD:I discussed the threats earlier. And I'm sure there are a few people of some influence would would make efforts to see me in court or to at least have the blog at least blocked/banned in Oman (in fact, I know several of them have made efforts to use 'wasta' to have me banned).

I have thought about stopping blogging a few times, either when I'm depressed by evidence that things are not really changing in Oman, or by the idea that I might be risking my family's physical or economic security. And sometimes because it can seem like a lot of work, as to sustain a blog for more than a few months takes a certain amount of dedication to just keep publishing regular stories that people might be interested in!

Y: Where do you get your leads? Would you send information of such leads to mainstream media publications if it was a significant story which needed breaking?

UD:See The great Times Of Oman Story. Yes, I do send leads to mainstream media, but not very often to those in Oman, as if I can't publish it, they certainly can't/won't.

Y: You are very critical of the media in this country, but do you not believe that the parameters change once you use your real name in print journalism?

UD:The owners of the media in Oman seem focused on making short-term profits by pandering to special interests and the Government. They treat with contempt the greater goals of protecting and addressing the public good and their traditional role in influencing politics and society that are both common elsewhere and were the actual drivers of their origin. This is partially the publics' own fault, in that subscription is no longer how such media are funded, and most advertising is controlled by the business interests and Government.

The anonymous argument is a cop-out. If there was a story of obvious public interest it could be published under the name of the paper rather than an individual with a byline. The editors could stand up for themselves, as they seem to be able to do in much more draconian societies such as Egypt, Iran, Russia or China. This massive failure and intellectual poverty of the mainstream Omani media is probably because (1) the papers are generally owned and controlled by people aligned with those same special interests and (2)because the staff are predominantly expats who are both vulnerable to the law, here for money and lifestyle, and do not have the same long term interest in improving Omani society as locals would have.

Y: When there are restrictions to the freedom of press how can bloggers help rectify this situation?

UD:Bloggers are allowing the printed media to print more daring stories because they are already being openly discussed. Plus, when a journalist is thrown in jail it will be the internet media and bloggers/forums that get them out!

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Oman ROP - unofficially - decriminalises prostitution in Muscat?

As even the Times of Oman confirms, there is a LOT of prostitution in Muscat. Reports are common of effectively well known brothels being run as 'Health Clubs', or places in Ruwi or Al Khuwair where cheap residential units are used as a base for hookers plying their trade.

For a while, a couple of years ago, men could be openly observed as a matter of public knowledge (see Muscati's old blog), queuing up in their cars for 'chinese takeaway' right outside the Ruwi Sheraton. You could see it as you waited for the lights to change. They had been downstairs in the night club, but the Sheraton had closed for renovation, so they just moved the action outside. Eventually it was soooo obviously the ROP moved them on I guess.

It was noted in several comments on the last post that addressed this issue that:
A) Prostitution is so common in Oman as to be verging on ridiculous;
B) Given the ratio of frustrated males to available females, either due to the men being single Asian expats or unsatisfied generally unmarried locals, it was a better thing that the men could get some relief this way anyhow.
C) That legalisation of the working girls (coupled with supervision, health checks, taxes and protection from human trafficking and exploitation) was probably a much better way to go.

The comments (unconfirmed) even reported a brothel "Health Club" being guarded by ROP, but I suspect it was not ROP but 'SSS', the State sanctioned and monopoly uniformed 'rent-a-cop' outfit, who happen to be owned by, err, well, the ROP Pension Fund.

It seems that effective decriminalisation of prostitution is unofficially official ROP policy. When asked why, seeing that it would be so easy, the Royal Oman Police didn't go out and arrest the girls (by, say, an ROP officer in plain clothes asking them for a quote), a Major from Oman CID (who will remain anonymous) explained:

"Look. You are an educated person, you understand that these women keep a lot of other crimes at bay. The guys at the top have discussed this issue and wondered what stand to take. Overall, it's a lot more work for us if we put these women away"

[Note: he means, by 'more work', that if there were not such services available, other and less consensual crime would escalate dramatically, eg forced prostitution, rape, sexual assults, and violence by frustrated single men].

Now this is just a hearsay statement by some ROP guy. He could be totally making that up. But it makes sense I guess.

In fact, once you think about it, it's the only thing that makes sense, as how else could such obvious well known prostitution, from the famous mid-market Muscat "Holiday hotel", via the many 'health clubs', to the upmarket Golden Tulip Hotel in Seeb, survive? Of course the ROP know. But as long as no-one makes too big a deal, the thing most consistent with the facts is that the official policy is tolerance. Maybe the Muscat Municipality official quoted in the Times' article who was promising (in a few months) to close the health clubs down hadn't got the memo.

What about exploitation?

Now, some of the girls my sources talked to confirmed they are effectively freelance. Women here as economic refugees, choosing to work in the sex trade. They are here as 'housemaids', who pay their sponsors in the usual free visa way (20-50 rials a month), pay their own apartment, and do 5-7 customers a night. This is, to be frank, down-market hustling. Full service charges for a nice, well behaved regular can be as low as 10-15 rials. For something quicker and less intrusive, 5 rials. We're not talking "Pretty Woman" here folks.

The sex trade, at the best of times and in the regulated West, is a damn hard, dirty and dangerous job. Here, well, it must be hard to imagine. But generally the business of selling sex services anywhere around the globe is plagued with women who are commonly trafficked and forced into prostitution; vulnerable homeless/abused children or drug addicts with few other options; or women who are prayed upon as effective sex slaves by primps and madams, people who take most - or all - of their hard earned money. Many others working boys and girls are anyhow natural clients of drug dealers, as a means to escape their terrible reality, or as means to fund their expensive habit.

The problem with the ROP's allegedly pragmatic and laissez-faire approach is that it would be a true cop out.

This would be akin to, say, American approaches in the 1950s, where cops informally managed the vice trade to keep it from the public, and allowed organised crime to operate as long as they kept the peace.

Such a 'benign neglect' approach will naturally, over time, drive corruption of the police, as people move to capture the economic rents available through effective informal taxation, either by Police directly, or through pimps and brothels paying for protection.

For some poor SE Asian street walker doing 6 customers a night at, say, 15 rials each, the gross income is about 2500 rials a month. This is equal to over 10 times the median wage for Omanis, let alone Asian expats. Even a junior ROP constable, after completing probation of 4 years, earns a base salary of just 700 rials and will, by then, already be in debt to the eyeballs. Both the Omani sponsor and/or the ROP will be highly incentivised to 'tax' most of that income.

A better approach, for society and the girls, IMHO is perhaps to decriminalise, tax, and regulate. Everyone with a brain knows that making the sale of sex illegal has never stopped sex being sold. Yes, continue to try to minimise demand, as religion already does, and how realistic education of the typical side effects of regular unsafe sex with prostitutes might do further. And criminalise the parasites - pimps and traffickers. You can even criminalise the customers if you want.

The options and arguments either way are nicely summarised by wikipedia:

Attitudes and legal issues [to Prostitution
Roughly speaking, the possible attitudes are either:
1) "Prostitution should be made to disappear":
a) prohibitionism (both prostitutes and clients are criminalized and are seen as immoral, they are considered criminals): the prevailing attitude nearly everywhere in the United States, with a few exceptions in some rural Nevada counties (see Prostitution in Nevada).

b) abolitionism (prostitution itself is not prohibited, but most associated activities are illegal, in an attempt to make it more difficult to engage in prostitution, prostitution is heavily discouraged and seen as a social problem): prostitution (the exchange of sexual services for money) is legal, but the surrounding activities such as public solicitation, operating a brothel and other forms of pimping are prohibited, the current situation in the United Kingdom, France and Canada among others;

c) neo-abolitionism ("prostitution is a form of violence against women, it is a violation of human rights, the clients of the prostitutes exploit the prostitutes"): prostitutes are not prosecuted, but their clients and pimps are, which is the current situation in Sweden, Norway and Iceland (in Norway the law is even more strict, forbidding also having sex with a prostitute abroad).

2) "Prostitution should be tolerated by society":
a) legalised and regulation: prostitution may be considered a legitimate business; prostitution and the employment of prostitutes are legal, but regulated; the current situation in the Netherlands, Germany and parts of Nevada (see Prostitution in Nevada). The degree of regulation varies very much, for example in Netherlands prostitutes are not required to undergo mandatory health checks (see Prostitution in the Netherlands) while in Nevada the regulations are very strict (see Prostitution in Nevada).
b) decriminalization: "prostitution is labor like any other. Sex industry premises should not be subject to any special regulation or laws", the current situation in New Zealand; the laws against operating a brothel, pimping and street prostitution are struck down, but prostitution is not regulated nearly at all. Proponents of this view often cite instances of government regulation under legalization that they consider intrusive, demeaning, or violent, but feel that criminalization adversely affects sex workers.

In some countries, there is controversy regarding the laws applicable to sex work. For instance, the legal stance of punishing pimping while keeping sex work legal but "underground" and risky is often denounced as hypocritical; opponents suggest either going the full abolition route and criminalize clients or making sex work a regulated business.

I think it's fair to say no country has yet solved the ethical, societal and political problems of prostitution. But nowhere has a 'blind eye approach' proved the best option. While convenient in the short term, I don't think in the long term it is healthy for anyone: sex workers, cops, customers, the state coffers, or society.

But perhaps, we should be discussing how to deal with it (focused on results based arguments and not moral 'thou shalt not' aphorisms.) Not pretending it doesn't happen.

Oh, but this is Oman. We don't do intelligent fact-based adult discussions about important issues and what to do about it, do we?


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dubai loses the plot - no sexy sexy times for expats. And the airport project strikes water

Photo: Thinking of a holiday in Dubai? You had better behave! [getty images]

The way Dubai is repeatedly imprisoning people for insignificant 'offenses' is certain to start to impact the tourist trade, as word spreads that you could be thrown in jail for such terrible crimes as kissing in public or sending sexy text messages.

Someone is losing the plot in the Emirate.

In the latest story, 2 Emirates cabin crew have been given 3 months in prison for sending each other sexy text messages, reduced on appeal from the original sentence of six months and deportation. The woman's husband had obtained the texts from the national telecom provider in a divorce dispute, and seems to be somewhat filled with a desire for revenge and to win custody of his child. It seems sending sexy texts in the UAE amounts to the crime of "coercion to the commitment of sin".

You've been warned.

The National has the story, but it's all over the net today.

Airline pair jailed over sex texting
Awad Mustafa
March 17. 2010
DUBAI // Two Emirates Airline cabin crew have been jailed for three months for exchanging lewd text messages.

RS, 42, a flight attendant, and EB, 47, a cabin services supervisor, were convicted of “coercion to commit sin” after sending each other sexually themed SMS messages, according to court documents released yesterday.

The pair, both Indian, were sentenced to six months in prison and deportation by the Dubai Court of Misdemeanors in December.

The court said the texts “fulfilled all the necessary angles of coercion to the commitment of sin”.

The Appeals Court upheld that decision last week. But it halved their jail sentences and scrapped the deportation orders. There was not enough evidence to prove that the pair had extramarital relations, it added.

The flight attendant’s sister, BM, 25, was also convicted of perjury and sentenced to three months and deportation by the lower court. Her deportation order was withdrawn on appeal.

The case first went to court after the flight attendant’s husband, SG, filed a lawsuit against his wife in March 2009 claiming that she was involved in an illicit relationship with the supervisor.

The couple had been embroiled in a divorce battle since 2007.

SG has now gained sole custody of their four-year-old son, although it was not clear when the couple divorced.

During the divorce proceedings, SG requested that the courts order Etisalat to produce copies of his wife’s text messages, which, he said, proved the illicit relationship.

The telecoms provider turned them over to the court in October 2008.

Five months later, the flight attendant’s husband filed a criminal complaint against her, charging her with having an affair and saying her text messages were an insult to Islam.

She told police that her sister sent the messages to the supervisor, who also denied any relationship with RS. He told officers that he had been seeing her sister for the past four years. Prosecutors decided that was untrue, however, leading to the perjury charge against the sister.

Meanwhile, Muscat Airport runway costs go up at least Half a Billion dollars.

Muscat's new airport is in trouble. A Ministry official was quoted in the papers as saying the new runway would be delayed for 2 years and cost an extra $500 million due to hitting seawater.

What the official didn't mention that the project screwed up big time. Not only did they skimp by not doing basic geotechnical investigation - drilling exploratory boreholes to sample the rock and soil where the runway was planned - but my sources tell me similar problems had already hit the sewage waste water project last year, and so should have been obvious.

The problem is the contractors needed to dig quite deep to make a proper runway that can be engineered to last and withstand being pounded by planes landing all day. And the excavation, on land right by the ocean, needed to be a lot deeper than the level of the aquifer. Doh!

My sources, who know a thing or two about engineering, also said $500 million was a low estimate, and it could end up adding an extra billion dollars, almost doubling the cost of the runway. This is because they will have to build it up even higher, and thus needing a LOT more rock and sand.

Reuters reported that the extension of Oman's main airport in Muscat will be delayed by 2 years and may cost the state up to an extra USD 500 million after runway excavations hit seawater.

The official said that the Muscat airport extension will now be completed in 2014, not in 2012 as expected due to soft ground which contractors come across in some places. He said that it would cost the government up to USD 500 million to pay for reinforcements to fill affected ground in places where civil work excavations hit seawater.

Speaking of cock-ups, in other news, The Asian Beach Games project, despite rumours to the contrary, will apparently be ready on time. Even my sources confirm this, not just OMRAN.

However, the project is beset with problems, with chaotic redesigns on the fly coupled with the immovable date for completion in November this year, as Oman hosts the Asian Beach Games. The bits that will appear on TV are already finished, and the hotel will be OK. But the athletes village will be a Heath Robinson affair that will not be built to last, and plans to create yet another OMRAN mini-city at the site have been shelved, replaced by a now 4 star hotel (was 3 star) and the usual Integrated Tourist Development we know and love.

There are also persistent rumours of sweet contracts being awarded** to people who just happen to be closely related to senior people at Omran and the Ministries of both Sport and Tourism. To enable things to be done super quickly, CEO of OMRAN, Mr. Wael bin Ahmed Al Lawati, appears to have been given the ability to by-pass normal tender board procedures. I'm sure that there is no way such a removal of standard oversight would lead to contracts being given to relatives or buddies.

Coincidentally and totally unrelated, as the deadline approaches the budget is going through the roof. So while the project will scrape home and will look great on TV, the costs will be huge and the final product nothing like as grand as what was originally approved.

Small wonder the leadership of the project, under the responsibility of the Muscat Asian Beach Games Organising Committee (MABGOC) and Director General Eng. Habib Macki, have been replaced resigned. On Tuesday, Muscat Daily reported that executive Director Sheikh Soud bin Hamed Al Rawahi had decided to spend more time with his family due to the pressure of work.... In January, Talal al Kishry the deputy Director of Operations resigned also.

But it's only Government money after all.

** Dear Mr State Auditor, maybe have a look at the contracts surrounding the Convention Centre...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Win free tickets to top Comedy - Maz Jobrani Live in Muscat, by Hi FM

Yes readers, it's another amazing Muscat Confidential promotional give-away!

Thanks to Hi! FM and Darren Shortt, you and a companion could win free tickets to see Maz Jobrani and his 'Brown & Friendly' comedy show, live, in Muscat, on April 7th at the Crown Plaza.

Thats right. Free. Tickets are not only hard to get, but a pair of these babies would normally set you back 30 rials.

I have 2 pairs of VIP tickets to give away to Muscat Confidential readers.

Maz was here last year on the comedy tour show, and he's seriously funny.

All you have to do to be in the draw is either:
(1) put a comment in the comments section of this post with a way for me to contact you when you win; or,
(2) email me here at undercover(dot)dragon(at)gmail(dot)com

And that's it.

The draw will be held in a week's time at midnight on Wednesday March 24th using a super-random number generator, military level encryption and under the independent supervision of no less an arbitrator than Ms. Dragon herself. Winners will be notified by email and via the blog - anonymity preserved.

If you are one of the two lucky winners you will be emailed a magic codeword and you can simply pick up your tickets at the door.

Here at Muscat Confidential we are firm believers in the power of comedy. And the Middle East seriously needs a LOT more good comedy. Eihab Maqbool al Saleh of OHI and Hi! FM gets my congratulations for bringing this show to Muscat.

So, enter!

Photo: This could be you. Just enter a comment and a way to be contacted. Remember everyone will see it, so don't put a phone number. You can email us instead if you want

Monday, March 15, 2010

Times of Oman revisits a really great story: The Sleazy Massage Parlours of Muscat

How did I miss this great story from... OMG ... The Times of Oman, just published last week on the issue of the Sleazy Massage Parlors of Muscat masquerading as 'health clubs'? [thx SH for the link!]

I mean, it's not often one gets to read a story in the mainstream Oman media that contains things like: Muscat, scantily-clad women, seduction, sexually transmitted diseases, physical needs, sleazy joints and youngsters. OK, they didn't use the words 'happy ending', sex, prostitute, or John, but all in all, a pretty straight story.

I just wish I'd seen some photos.

Photo: Apparently this is not the only pussy that's available in Muscat's 'health clubs'

While TOO's sage advice for people to "verify the credentials of the health club, or you just might encounter something entirely different [than a normal massage]" was, I'm sure, well meaning, I'm now getting even more search requests than normal from hopeful customers in the Sultanate looking especially for those small-time sleazy health clubs / brothels massage parlors The Times alerted them to. Presumably they are looking for the very same "something entirely different" from a scantily clad female 'therapist' that the unmarried man in the article confessed to enjoying often. Such things are, according to the hard-hitting Times, already a "fact of life in Oman".

As such, instead of a mock 'shock horror' story about what is 'a fact of life', a decent independent review of the various establishments might have proved more worthwhile. Prices, services, quality, decor, how warm the hands were, interviews with customers and perhaps the businesses' owners and Omani sponsors, that sort of thing. Just a suggestion. Perhaps Y or the week can do a decent follow-up?

Good to see too that Muscat Municipality, in a rare expression of LGBT friendliness, intends to keep open sleazy massage parlors in the long term, but only for homosexuals and lesbians, as "...workers in a club should be of the same sex as the customer..."

And they say Muscat's a quiet town...

Sleazy massage parlours face closure
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

MUSCAT | A relaxing massage at the end of a hard day can work wonders for that sore back or ease the stiffness in your neck. But what if you walk into an innocuous looking health club and find scantily-clad women offering you something entirely different?

That is exactly what is happening around the city, with sleazy massage parlours in the guise of health clubs mushrooming in and around Muscat. But come May, and the Muscat Municipality is all set to introduce regulations governing health clubs in the Sultanate.

“These health clubs are suddenly as common as grocery stores. There is a sudden fad for getting a ‘massage’,” observes Huzeim Almanei.

Nasir Al Zidi, a teacher, was in for a rude shock when he went to a health club seeking relief from a sore back.

Scantily-clad therapist
“I saw scantily-clad foreigners passing off as therapists. One of them even tried to seduce me. The entire atmosphere was sleazy and what was on offer was anything other than a therapeutic massage,” he says.

Yusuf Al Hatami a government employee avers: “These massage centres have an adverse effect on the youth, and destroy the very fabric of our society.

It is also a fertile ground for spreading sexually transmitted diseases.”

What is more disturbing is the trend of these centres often coming up near residential areas.

Khalil Al Saadi, an engineer, was dismayed to see a teenager trying to sneak into one of these seedy joints. “It’s tough for youngsters to resist the pull of these health clubs. There need to be some sort of monitoring to prevent young people from such activities.”

These special services don’t come cheap either. “Youngsters come and spend a lot of money to avail these services. It’s a vicious circle that they find difficult to break free from,” feels Abdul Rahim Al Balushi, a college student.

There are many health centres with certified professionals that offer genuine services. But many of these centres are getting a bad name thanks to the activities of other centres that are not quite the real thing.

There is another side to the story, however. A fact of life in Oman, in fact!

One person who frequents such sleazy joints confessed to me: “I sometimes sneak into these massage parlours because I am a man and have some physical needs. With the dowry amount skyrocketing, I can’t even imagine ever getting married. The cost of living has also soared. So where is the question of saving to make dowry money? I can’t afford feeding a family and paying the flat rent with my low income.” So what do people like me do?

Health benefits
Sahar, a trained therapist at a health centre points out the health benefits of a proper massage.

“It soothes the body and helps blood circulation. It could even help ease one’s blood pressure. But it is unfortunate that some small-time players are giving us all a bad name.”

Naif Al Shandodi and Saif Al Washahi echoed similar sentiments.

“It’s not fair to label all health clubs shady. There are many certified centres with fully qualified health professionals. However, those that are not should be dealt with severely by the authorities,” he adds.

The authorities are aware of the situation, hence the stricter regime from the month of May. The municipality is all set to introduce stringent regulations to monitor these health clubs.

According to estimates there are more than 230 health clubs in Muscat governorate alone.

A source in the Muscat Municipality says, “We have set a time limit of up to 6 months for these health clubs to modify their conditions consistent with the new regulations, which include separate health clubs for men and women.

He adds: “The new regulation stipulates that workers in a club should be of the same sex as the customer in order to avoid abuse. Also, the workers of these centres need to be certified professionals with genuine diplomas from recognised government-approved centres.”

The municipality has received several complaints from residents living near these health centres about youngsters sneaking into these parlours.

“We are taking these complaints very seriously, and those found violating the existing norms will have punitive measures coming down on them.”

So the next time you step out for a relaxing back rub, do verify the credentials of the health club, or you just might encounter something entirely different.

Guidelines for health clubs:
The masseurs should be qualified, possess diplomas from recognised bodies; the therapists should be of the same sex; there should be separate health clubs for men and women; any complaints from residents in the vicinity will be dealt with severely. —

Friday, March 12, 2010

Blue City executes Anees' cunning plan of... bankruptcy. Or, How to blow a billion dollars

In keeping with the theme of financial fraud, Blue City is again in the news.

In UAE newspaper The National today is a nice article on the on-going slow motion financial train wreck that is Blue City.

Black cloud hangs over the future of Oman's Blue City
Bradley Hope
Last Updated: March 12. 2010 1:38AM UAE / March 11. 2010 9:38PM GMT
Blue City, Oman’s largest property development, could be forced into liquidation under plans being considered by the company’s board of directors, The National can reveal.

The board of Al Sawadi Investment and Tourism Company (ASIT), the parent company of the project, last month sent out a notice calling for investors to vote on the “dissolution of the company and filing subsidiaries”. The meeting has since been postponed to Monday.

The company has lost all of its capital and have no reasonable expectation to meet their debt payment obligations when due,” the letter said. It was signed by Anees Issa al Zadjali, the chairman of ASIT.

Richard Russell, the managing director and chief executive of Blue City’s first phase, said in a statement the meeting had been postponed to allow a restructuring proposal to be made by some bondholders.

“Blue City is pleased to comment that the board meeting has been postponed for a short period to March 15, 2010, since certain Class A note holders have requested time to present a restructuring proposal for consideration by the Blue City shareholders,” Mr Russell said.

“Unlike most projects in the Middle East, our homebuyers in Blue City are secured by mortgage over the project assets of Blue City.”

Photo: Annes Al Zedjali, Chairman of a bankrupt company who started out with 32km2 of prime ocean-front real estate and almost a billion dollars in cash.

This has been predicted by Muscat Confidential for some time, with the latest post in January here for example. I continue to expect the scheme will be 'restructured' by the mortgage-backed bond holders, enabling them to get all the land and the works completed to date. GCC money is already coming in to the project. This has been the plan for some time.

Property developing ace and part-time paper boy Chairman Anees Al Zedjali has clearly figured that he's ridden this pony as far as he can, especially now that Bank of NY Mellon have firmly closed the taps. More legal disputes will now be on the way as the tussle between the various bond holders, credit default insurers, escrow account trustee Bank of NY Mellon, shareholders, contractors, sub-contractors and holding companies gets going. The lawyers will pick the bones clean.

Meanwhile, the executives of Blue City and its failed Chairman continue to sit on their fat bank accounts. Remember the project borrowed over $900 million dollars, and has continually pumped itself up on a steam of self agrandising hallucinations. If I was Bank Mellon, the bond insurer or a less secured bond holder I'd be making inquiries as to whether civil or indeed criminal charges should be instigated. There may be no holidays in Florida for Anees for a while...

While publicly the blame will no doubt be laid on the global credit crunch, project delays and AAJH etc etc, probably aided and abetted by support from the pages of Times of Oman, the gross financial mismanagement will presumably be ignored.

Eventually a scaled down phase 1 will be completed, with the hotel, marina, golf course and a load of villas, owned mainly by Kuwaitis, Qataris, Saudis and Iranians. While every businessman in Oman who wants to raise foreign capital, even for a project that's real, will see significantly higher interest payments and a lot less interested lenders. Contractors will factor in higher default risk and counterparty premium. This will damage the entire Oman economy, to an extent. But Anees will be OK.

So that's alright then.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

DeVere Oman - Locally somewhat bent "Financial Advisors" - caught engaged in activities outside their license.

** Hi there! Google has brought you here because of the extensive comments section, which is full of stuff about the activities of the De Veer Group of Financial 'advisors'.

In fact, this post has become one of my most popular of all time, because some commentors have said that in many of the internet places similar information has been posted, lawyers from The Group have shut them down. That has not happened here, and I certainly have not experienced anything consistent with such rumours.

So, go read the comments, and feel free to post new ones. If you're interested in Oman, read some other stuff, or even 'like' Muscat Confidential on facebook! **

It's a slow week.

But common knowledge is that local franchise of Global Financial Advisory Giant DeVere Group were totally busted by Inspector Al-Plod a few weeks ago for running yet another Ponzi scheme we caught too late engaging in investment activity beyond the scope of their licence.

Those with children at Muscat British School Muscat probably already knew things were afoot with DeVere. And my sources confirm that the local Omani sponsor of the franchise was also taken into custody to, ahem, "assist with inquiries".

It does however, seem unfortunate that the very man who was parachuted in by DeVere Central Command from Switzerland/London/New York a few months ago, to sort things out, and specifically tasked to deal with the obvious AWOL bonus-driven Ponzi action going on local 'problem', ended up getting arrested and thrown in jail by the ROP, along with the local guy who, let's face it, probably belonged inside from the start.


That the problem with the local outfit here in little ol' Muscat had been generating a strong enough stench to cross oceans was obvious.

That the guy DeVere Central finally sent out here to "sort it out" on the QT, one Mr. Brent Mayhew, was subsequently temporarily arrested and thrown in detention for a few days, was unfortunate to say the least.


Next time chaps, maybe try first engaging with the local ROP/Ministry of Commerce/CBO beforehand ? They can and will help.

That the Omani "sponsor" [he cannot be named, even here at recently blocked MUSCAT CONFIDENTIAL, because of media defamation laws, sorry*] was also totally busted is a great sign. We don't like Ponzi schemes when you get caught.

*try asking Google Oman

(And thanks for the prompt RT)

Want to Advertise on Muscat Confidential? Ethical NGO? Viewing records smashed!

Thanks to YOU dear readers, I must confess, we are smashing internet records here at Muscat Confidential. I never dreamed the rants, gossip and occasional story from Undercover Dragon would prove to be of so great an interest.

Why, you ask?

Well, this week, despite being temporarily banned by the Government, this blog got more than 1000 visitors a day , for the first time ever, AND more than 1800 page views per day**.

Image: This week's Muscat Confidential traffic: Yellow bar is visitors, red bar is 'page views'.

I'm very grateful you all care that much. These are getting to be on-line kind of numbers that even corporate types get excited about in the region, let alone in Oman.

For those outside the GCC Media business, trust me, 1000 people per day on-line in Oman is a big deal. Internet penetration in Oman is at best 3% of a 2 million population (and thats obviously the richest part, and most of those don't speak English).

So, I'm making an incredible offer. To ADVERTISE to these fantastic people.

I'll run your ad here in exchange for providing a significant donation to a charity of my choice.

Let's be honest. My readers are dominated by filthy rich Oman based expats, & educated and sophisticated Anglophile Omanis who are not just highly literate, but who are typically blessed with obscenely rich parents too.

Who could advertise? I'm thinking car sales, banks, restaurants, educational services, recruitment, real estate, mobile phones,...

So. Send me an email. To undercover(dot)dragon(at)gmail(dot)com . Even if you're a small company, or NGO, and think your pitch might fit my readers, hey, who knows? It's not like I'm taking the cash personally.

Make me an offer I can't refuse.

This is a really limited offer, but you can maybe get in now if you're bold!

Meanwhile: If you are an NGO, non-profit, an Official Charity in Oman, or even just have a good idea for how to spend the oodles of cash I'll get from smart advertisers, and you would like to collect some sponsorship, let me know. You too should email me at undercover(dot)dragon(at)gmail(dot)com

Yes, the sky's the limit if only you could advertise on Muscat Confidential.

I have zero interest in taking sponsorship for myself; but maybe I can help an advertiser contribute to your organisation.

** Media types will be amazed to know that average visit length is just short of 4 minutes, documented.

Really. 4 minutes per visitor, 1000 times a day.

Hell, I read the entire local section of Times of Oman in less than 48 seconds...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Human Trafficking, Human Rights, and the thin line: A cautionary tale for wannabe maids.

We all know the shock and embarrassment felt when the annual US State Dept. Report on Human Trafficking demoted Oman to Tier 3 (the lowest level). After a serious tantrum by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, supported by the Oman Press and the Official News Agency, the US retrospectively adjusted the rating to Tier 2 Watch List, while the Ministry then finally got around to actually passing a law against human trafficking, arrested some pimps, and held yet more awareness workshops. Now we've even got a Human Rights Commission!

It has often been stated in the press by representatives of His Majesty's Government and their media apologists supporters (like Essa Al Zedjali, Editor in Chief of the hard-hitting Times of Oman), that Oman is a country where fair and equal treatment under the law is the right of all residents, Omani and local alike. And in theory, that's supposedly true.

Only, its not.

So, where is the line between employing a foreign national on terms few of us would ever put up with, vs 'normal for Oman' exploitation, vs effective modern-day slavery?

Photo: The life of a housemaid in Oman can be sometimes brutal. Who's responsible? Image ripped from

Take this story I recently received from a concerned relative of a Filipino housemaid who just arrived in Oman.

Dear Mr. Dragon,
My cousin is a female filipino, 35 years old, single, and has 8 family members here for her to support. She is working there in Oman as a domestic helper.

The Filipino agency here does not allow her to photocopy her signed contract here, they only gave it to her before she boards the plane for Oman. Her contract with her Filipino agency is $400 a month(*) and a day off a week, but when she got to Oman she is made by the Oman agency counterpart to sign another contract stating she is not permitted any day off and her monthly wage is reduced to $200. Her employer works at a bank.

She is not allowed to have a cellphone, use the phone or use the mail.

Her employer's wife seized her passport. Her employer told her that Omani law said that without a passport any foreign worker will be put to jail if she goes to the embassy.

She said her employer is good to her but her daily work hours are 5am to 11pm, 7 days a week. She is being paid 85 rials per month.

1. Should a person sign a foreign agency contract in Oman even is he/she has already made a contract in his/her home country agency?

2. Should the contract stated that he/she must have a salary 50% lower than written on his/her original home country agency contract?

3. Should his/her passport be seized by his/her employer?

4. Should he/she be deprived of communication the outside world and a dayoff?

5. In Oman are the above question is legal? If illegal what should he/she do and what Omani agency can help his/her problem?

Thanks for your kind consideration.

[name withheld]

This situation is, I'm afraid to say, not uncommon in Oman, and I blogged about this just last year.

Note: The labour Law (in English) can be found abridged here at the Kerala Monitor or in full here from the Ministry of Manpower. (A hint though, there's a great catch!)

Lets first look at the issues point by point.
1/ Salary.
While it is a recent Filipino law that their citizens must earn at least US$400 a month, this foreign law is not recognised in the Sultanate of Oman (or any other GCC nation). **This is why her employment contract in the Philippines stated the magic minimum of $400 bucks. An MOU between the Omani and Indian Governments last year agreed minimum wages for Indian Maids to be 75 rials (~US$180) a month. This has not been done with the Filipinos as far as I am aware. She shouldn't have signed the new contract, but I can understand why she did. Even the UAE has agreed minimum rules for Filipino domestic staff, agreed back in 2006. There minimum wage is $200 a month with mandatory 1 day off a week that cannot be overtimed.

2/ Confiscating of passport.
Technically, this is now supposed to be illegal in Oman. However, it is both common practice and accepted as totally reasonable by pretty much every Omani I've spoken to, including the Police and the Ministries ("But they might run away!"), and as there is no actual penalty described in the legislation for breaking this particular law, it makes it a rather pointless law, to say the least. (Oh, wait, except for the Foreign Ministry being able to absolutely & honestly state to the US State Dept and the ILO that passport confiscation is illegal in Oman! Silly Dragon!).

3/ 7 days a week, 18hrs a day...
This is also illegal under Omani law, and yet alas, is also not an uncommon practice. The difficult part is - who enforces this law? Statutory minimum is 1 day off per week, but I'm not sure how this is interpreted (with respect to shifts in the interior for example). So it may be that law interprets this as some kind of yearly average requirement, so if you get 40 days off in one lump + overtime, that counts. Legal eagles out there - any guidance?

4/ No passport + show up at Embassy = jail.
I would have seriously doubted this is true. But... in the Muscat Daily just today was a story (page 2) where it was stated that for 40 'illegal' Indian migrants who didn't have identification "As of now, all of them are under detention." Detention sounds a lot like a nice way of saying 'in jail'.

5/ Parasitic Lying Exploitative 'Agents'
This is a sad reality across the undeveloped world and the Gulf. Fellow locals of people in say India or the Philippines dupe desperate people into believing that a land of high wages and easy living awaits them in the Gulf. These are often illiterate and rather naive people. These agents proceed to charge them sometimes thousands of dollars, which they usually have to borrow from relatives or even loan sharks. Omanis are also charged by the local counterparts of these agents to get a maid, who site recruitment expenses and of course, airfares and visa charges. Both parties - expat and Omani - are getting totally ripped off by these unscrupulous parasites and their Omani sponsors. I have no idea why comprehensive laws to control these 'agencies' have not been implemented. And these are just the ones who actually do put them into jobs as domestic workers. The super nasty ones of course sell them straight on to pimps and brothels.

OK, so what does the law say? 'One law to rule them all' and all that good stuff.

Well, for a start, lets look at that nasty sounding 7 days a week, 18 hrs a day stuff.

Omani labour law, issued as per Royal Decree No. 35/2003
Working hours
Workers should not be asked to work for more than nine hours per day or 48 hours per week. Rest interval should be given during working hours, provided that work cannot be continuous for six hours.

If a worker is asked to work more than the working hours, the employer should give him/her extra pay equivalent to his/her wage for the extra period plus 25 per cent or give a permission to be absent for the number of hours he/she worked, provided that the worker agrees to this arrangement.

Employer should give worker not less than 24 hours rest after six days of work. ...

Hey, excellent! So that seems pretty clear. Just the sort of thing one would expect for law designed "to control Exploitation of Expatriate Workers" (I'm not making this up).

But wait readers.

Oh oh. The law also states:

General rules
This law is not applicable to the armed forces, security and government departments and domestic servants such as cook or childminder.

So that's alright then.

It seems to me the ultimate Orwellian irony that a law named as being to prevent the exploitation of expatriats explicitly denies coverage to perhaps the most vulnerable expat workers in the entire country.

The crime here is that it is so difficult for these women to get access to information, to assistance, to a fair deal. That the law was expressly denied them. That there is no effective Government monitoring of them; in fact, the Government agencies generally reinforce their defacto imprisionment. The fact that we continue to allow unscrupulous agents to exploit these people.

I could rant on, but to what avail?

So readers, what should this woman do?

If she somehow manages to escape, she'll be an absconder. Her salary is after all just above accepted minimum for a 48hr week. How could she prove she's working 126hrs a week? Even if she gets to the embassy, what will happen? At best, deportation, back to a place where she still has dependents plus loans paid to an agent? At worst, a period of incarceration then being sent back to her "employer". And how would that work out I wonder?

Where are the NGOs who could help? Does anyone know?

What should she do?

What would YOU do?

But, obviously, this is not 'Human Trafficking' Mr Dragon. After all, she's being paid AND she apparently isn't even being beaten and molested! What responsibility would the Government of Oman possibly have in this? Why shouldn't we be Tier 2?

It's just a housemaid. And her employers no doubt paid good money for her.

Telephone Numbers for the Philipino embassy:
24605140; 24605143, 24805335; or 24605176.

(968) 99233596 (Mobile)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Well, that was unexpected! Muscat Confidential finally censored by Oman's Government over ... a photo of women kissing

UPDATE: Muscat Confidential has been unblocked after about 12 hrs of being censored. Thanks to all the emails to Omantel readers - they seem to have worked, along with, I can only presume, my removing of the offending photo of the two girls kissing.

Special thanks too to local bloggers (in no particular order):
Dhofari Gucci, Mr Sythe, Suburban, Muscato, Angry in Oman, Jet Driver, The Restless Quill, Non-Crowned Princess, and all the others.

Thank you for the support. It worked. Normal business is resumed. And to the haters who were crowing and bragging... well. You just KNOW what I'm thinking... heh heh.

And thanks Omantel and/or Mr. TRA for listening. Next time, maybe send me an email about what you're objecting to? Sometimes just asking will get results, you know?

Yes, well, I can hardly say it was a surprise. It seems today the internet censors here in the Sultanate of Oman have blocked Muscat Confidential.

Nice pic - image credit:

As a result, standard requests through the only internet gateway available to people within Oman will not connect to this site right now. Those outside Oman obviously continue to have access. As do those within Oman who either use a VPN or who know how to circumvent the filters (quite trivial, in reality).

It would seem likely that the cause of the block was a photo used to illustrate the post where Muscat Confidential interviewed a local blogger from Community Queer, who is an Omani bi-lesbian woman. Some people objected to the photo as being against the 'cultural and religious traditions of Oman', even though it was quite a tame photo of two young women exchanging a kiss. Shocking, I know. But obviously enough to convince the censors to block the whole website.

The offending photo has been removed, as it was not Oman specific (in fact, the women were almost certainly not from Oman) and was purely used to provide an image to support the interview.

Lets now see if the block will be reversed as a result of appeals to Omantel.

It's actually most surprising to me that this what what finally got Muscat Confidential blocked, after a couple of years of this blog annoying various important people and posts ranging from Government corruption through to expropriation of land and various shady dealings among the great and the good.

In the end, all it took was 1 image of 2 fully clothed young ladies kissing. One has to laugh at the irony.

Supporters of Muscat Confidential within Oman can submit a request on the 'This site is blocked' form that appears when you try to access the site normally. This seemed to work for the recent blocking and rapid unblocking of Community Queer, so its true that Omantel do respond to public opinion.

Those outside Oman can send a request by clicking here:
here, which will also let you experience the magic of having someone tell you what sites you can visit!

More on this to come.

Note: Normal service at Muscat Confidential will be maintained. The block doesn't mean I'm in prison or anything equally crazy.

Tomorrow: A Cautionary Tale for Filipino housemaids intending to come to the Sultanate of Oman.