Saturday, November 26, 2011

Breaking News: Dutch MP Queries readers of Muscat Confidential.

There's going to be another royal visit it seems, and antiglobalist-occupy-hipster-Dutch MP Harry van Bommel wants you to send him an email with your honest opinion about Oman.

Go for it readers of MC!

Send him a short email NOW in answer to his questions. If you can, cc me on your answer!

Photo: Harry. He wants to ask you about Oman. He's Dutch, isn't that weird?

Dear friends,

Do the new powers of the Shura mean anything? I would like to know since our queen is coming to your country. Please mail me at

Best regards

Harry van Bommel MP


Dear friends,

Her Majesty the queen of the Netherlands is planning a state visit to Oman. Of course this is giving food for thought in my country. Our prime minister today said the situation in your country is 'stable enough' for a visit of the queen. What is your opinion? Have recent political changes really made a difference? Please mail me at with your opinion.

Keep up the good work!

Harry van Bommel MP

He's a real live Netherlands Member of Parliament, and he wants to here from you. Give it a go. You might get on CNN...

[no other news BTW.... hope you enjoyed Eid and National Holidays!]

Friday, October 28, 2011

Shura given new powers. Oman to offer asylum to Ghaddafi family? News round up.

So the Shura elections were held successfully, with just 1 woman elected (Congratulations to Nu'amah Bint Jamayel Al Busaidi). 1 is better than zero I guess, although most observers were hoping for more female representatives.

Photo: Happy young voters with photo's of their preferred candidates. Sunil K. Vaidya/Gulf News

After the elections, as promised to the protesters earlier this year, HM also issued the first major constitutional change since the Basic Law of the State was issued in 1996, granting (limited) legislative powers to the Shura and allowing the Majlis Ash' Shura to elect their own Chairman. The law even allows 15 members of the Majlis Ash'Shura to summon a 'Services' Minister for a grilling.

The decree updated the process of how a successor to the Sultan is selected, replacing the Defense Council with a small committee that includes the Majlis Chairman.

These are certainly big changes, and represent another step on the path to more effective representative government. Muscat Confidential has long held the view that HM has a goal of leaving Oman with a Constitutional Monarchy, and this is a key part of such a transition. Local legal-eagle BluChi wrote a good summary of the changes here.

Oman Daily Observer
Fri, 21 October 2011
Article 58 (bis 35): The draft laws prepared by the government shall be referred to the Majlis Oman for approval or amendment and then directly be submitted to His Majesty to issue them. In case of any amendments by the Majlis Oman on a draft law, His Majesty may return the same to the council for reconsidering the amendments and then shall be submitted again to His Majesty.

Article 58 (bis 36): The Majlis Oman may propose draft laws and refer the same to the government for assessment and returning the same to the Majlis, procedures provide for in Article 58 (bis 35) shall be followed in approving, amending or issuing the said draft laws.

Article 58 (bis 43): On a request signed by at least 15 members of the Majlis Ash’shura of any of the services ministers may be subject to interpellation on matters related to exceeding their prerogatives by acting in contrary to the law. The Majlis shall debate the same and submit the outcome to His Majesty the Sultan.

The results of the election showed how most of the voting is still done along tribal lines, with some people reporting that they were even told to vote for the local tribal leader. As political parties remain illegal in Oman, this is probably no surprise. Without a coordinated party structure, it is hard for potential Shura members to establish a cohesive manifesto, and even harder for voters to really know what they are voting for wrt specific policies or new legislation. But at least the ban on all polital parties keeps out the election of a dedicated religious extremist party.

It is questionable whether the Shura has the capability to use these new powers. This would require the Shura members be given the budget and authority to assemble a staff of advisors, who could then analyse the draft legislation sent from the Council of Ministers, and have a bigger chance of doing a decent job writing suitable amendments. The Shura need independent lawyers and experienced technocrats to take on the civil servants in the Ministries.

Oman still struggles to overcome the historic burden of tribalism and family-related favouritism. But, hey, this new law is a good start in a region not known for democracy.

Bit of a catch up on miscellaneous news.

Oman to offer Ghaddafi family asylum?
Strange report today that Oman was prepared to give the Ghaddafi family political asylum. Interesting.

While Oman is a signatory (in December 2000) to the International Criminal Court treaty, they have not yet ratified the treaty and so are not at present a 'State Party' to the ICC. So how any ICC arrest warrants would apply in Oman is a bit vague.

Oman 'ready' to give Gaddafi family policial asylum
Oct 27, 2011 22:16 Moscow Time

The authorities of Oman are prepared to grant political asylum to the members of Muammar Gaddafi’s family, Ash-Shark al-Ausat newspaper reports with reference to Libyan sources.

The authorities stressed that members of Muammar Gaddafi’s family will not be involved in politics in Oman.

According to other sources close to Gaddafi’s family, its surviving members may go to South Africa in the coming days where they will be joined by Gaddafi’s son Saadi who is now in Niger. (TASS)

If true, I wonder if we'll see this story in the Times of Oman?


Iranian Threat prompts Oman to buy advanced US anti-aircraft missile systems.
It seems releasing Iranian hostages can help get you access to some nice military kit. Oman is buyinga suite of advanced US anti-aircraft missiles. These would be capable of shooting down unmanned drones as well as helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. While the Iranian airforce may not be up to much, I guess it's always nice to be prepared.

Photo: the SLAMRAAM anti-aircraft system by Raytheon. Toys for the boys.

October 28, 2011: The Persian Gulf state of Oman is buying 18 American Avenger anti-aircraft systems, as well as 266 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles for them. Also being purchased on 290 SLAMRAAM (ground launched AMRAAM air-to-air missiles) and twenty Hummers to serve as launchers. A Sentinel radar system is being bought to support the SLAMRAAMs.

Avengers are hummers with a turret mounted on the back. The turret contains two missile pods (each containing four Stinger anti-aircraft missiles). Under one pod there is an M3P .50 caliber (12.7mm) machine gun. The weapons operator has use of a FLIR (night vision device) and a laser range finder. The machine-gun, however, can't be depressed sufficiently to fire at ground targets towards the front of the vehicle. The missiles have a range of four kilometers, the machine-gun about half that. The usual price is $12-15 million per Avenger system, including Stinger missiles, training gear, spare parts and training and technical assistance.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

US Sec. State Clinton visits HM Sultan Qaboos to say "Thanks" on Iran.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Oman today, seen here touring the Beit Al-Zubair Museum. Photo AFP

Nice to see US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropping by today for a 121 with HM Sultan Qaboos. My take on the US agenda:

1/ Say a big Thanks from the President for paying the Iranians and negotiating the release of those stupid American idiots. We owe you one.

2/ Discuss Iran (again), and the plot to assassinate an Ambassador of a fellow GCC state in the USA. [If true, this would be anathema to HM].

3/ Discuss and coordinate on the situations in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, and the GCC involvement in the search for solutions. Plus Afghanistan & Pakistan; Turkey & Israel. Iraq.

4/ Cautious praise on the recent elections: right direction, more power to Majlis eagerly awaited. And need more women.

5/ Talks on the Arab Spring, esp. Egypt and Libya.

6/ US support for HM. HM has done an excellent job as a regional & moderate peacemaker, and was the first leader to visit Iran after their most recent 'elections', hence the backchannel. Appreciation for his continuing to be a strong US ally in the region, and his cooperation on all levels.

It got Oman into the venerable Washington Post, with the gem:
... talks in Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id’s lavish palace, in the capital of this tiny Gulf state,....

The Secretary certainly praised Oman lavishly in the press release.

..."The Sultanate of Oman has made more progress than any country in the world in the past forty years, which has laid the stability at home and peace with its neighbors. ...It must be for other countries to learn how to become the Sultanate in this short period of time, a unique model of development ... in the Middle East. "

I wonder if she raised civil rights, and developments in the arrest and trials of journalists? (For those who care, the appeal was delayed until the 22nd October)

Also in Bloomberg here:

Clinton in Oman for Talks on Iran, Protests Across Arab World

By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan - Oct 19, 2011 10:10 AM GMT+0400

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Oman today to thank the Gulf state’s ruler for his role in securing the release of three American hikers jailed by Iran, and to discuss efforts to meet demands for greater economic and political freedoms in the sultanate.

Clinton will also hold talks with Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said on the recent alleged plot by Iran to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, and protests in nearby Syria and Yemen that have claimed the lives of demonstrators as the countries’ leaders cling to power, a U.S. official told reporters traveling with the secretary of State.

The U.S. is seeking to exert pressure on Iran, which it views as a rogue state that threatens global security, and Oman is key to that effort as a rare U.S. ally that has a friendly relationship with the government in Tehran, said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition that his name not be used because of the sensitive nature of the talks.

Qaboos was instrumental in the release last month of Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who spent two years imprisoned in Iran on charges of illegal entry and espionage, and in last year’s release of a third hiker, Sarah Shourd.

Lawyers for the three said Oman arranged for $500,000 in bail to be paid for each as a condition of their release. The trio, who denied spying, said they were trekking in Iraq in July 2009 when they were beckoned to approach a guard who then arrested them for illegal entry into neighboring Iran.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Late re-post: Melamine contamination in Oman's Chicken

I had to re-post Muscat Mutterers recent link to the Muscat Daily story last week about how half of the chicken sold in Oman had very high levels of the adulterant Melamine.

The plastic Melamine contains a LOT of nitrogen, which makes it test like good protein in food products. It can cause kidney stones and renal failure when eaten.

Meat in Oman contaminated with melamine, says SQU study
Muscat Daily, by Madhuparna Bhattacharjee 10/10/2011 1:30 pm
Meat and meat products in the Omani market are contaminated with melamine, a study has revealed. Experts caution against consuming such meat, which can cause serious health ailments.

“We found out that some meat here contains melamine and this is of serious concern,” Professor Isam T Kadim, head of the department of animal and veterinary sciences, SQU, who led the research, told Muscat Daily. “Melamine contamination can take place through the use of veterinary drugs such as antibiotics, hormones, growth promoting agents and commercialised feed.”

The approved melamine content in food from use of such industrial products is estimated at less than 0.015mg/kg. Acco-rding to Kadim, this is a small quantity and does not pose a public health concern. “However, we found out that chicken product samples from eight out of 16 poultry companies contain melamine in the range of 25.6-73mg/kg.”

The study tested 51 randomly collected meat and meat product samples from 35 local, regional and international companies. The samples represented cattle, she-ep and poultry, besides burgers, sausages, mortadella, salami and mincemeat from the processed meat category.

It also showed that the conc-entration of melamine in proc-essed poultry such as sausages, burger and mincemeat ranged between zero and 35.2 mg/kg. “However, melamine content in cattle and sheep meat samples was below the maximum residue limit,” he said. “The results indicated that some of the poultry companies may have used feed contaminated with melamine.”

These values were much higher than the maximum residue limit, consumption of which can cause kidney stones. Fifty per cent of poultry products tested were contaminated with more than the maximum permitted limit of melamine.

“The high levels of melamine must be taken seriously as poultry consumption among Omanis has increased by 75-80 per cent in recent years,” Kadim added.
He cited the example of China, where melamine was added to diluted milk for manufacturing powdered infant formula some years back. The adulterated formula resulted in 50,000 cases of kidney stones, mostly among children under three years of age.

Oman needs to strengthen sampling and develop techniques to monitor the potential hazards of contaminated food. “Screening of melamine residues in meat and meat products is very important, especially in Oman, where meat consumption is high,” Kad-im said.

Yes, another half-baked news story in the Omani press. No mention of brands impacted, or advice for consumers.

The issue of adulteration of many products with the plastic melamine, plus the rather nasty sounding cyanuric acid, is a world-wide issue, mainly thanks to the Chinese extreme laissez faire economy. There is little regulation, and what little inspection there is seems easiy corrupted and by-passed if there's a buck in it. There's a great extended article in wiki on Protein adulteration in the People's Republic of China.

The most likely cause of this contamination in Oman's chicken is via adulterated animal feed, where Chinese manufacturers add the melamine to boost measurements of 'protein' levels, faking even things labeled 'organic wheat gluten' by using ordinary wheat flour with added melamine and/or cyanuric acid. Yum.

The maximum recommended Total Daily Intake of Melamine?

...The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), in EFSA's Provisional Statement on a Request from the European Commission Related to Melamine and Structurally Related Compounds such as Cyanuric acid in Protein-rich Ingredients Used for Food and Feed, concluded: "EFSA provisionally recommends to apply a TDI of 0.5 mg/kg b.w. for the total of melamine and its analogues .... A source of uncertainty is the combined toxicity of melamine and cyanuric acid and their possible synergistic effects in relation to the recently observed toxicity linked to the acute renal failure and death of pet animals (cats and dogs) in the U.S. This mechanism is currently under investigation."

So, if you're a 60kg adult, you're allowed to eat up to a maximum of 30mg of melamine. According to the report in Muscat Daily, some of the chicken tested at 73mg/kg, so eating 400g of that chicken would max out your limit. However, children are more susceptible, and a child weighing 30 kg would be over the adult limit eating 200g of the stuff. And that's without allowing for the unknown impact of cyanuric acid, which makes melamine even more poisonous.

The fact that the brands were not named makes me suspect it was not restricted to imported chicken. This Chinese junk can enter the human food chain in so many ways, and melamine is difficult to test for. Are Omani Flour Mills using imports of gluten or other such products from China? Can they test for adulteration? Who in the Omani Government is testing for this stuff?

Meanwhile, avoid eating chicken, as well as all the other crap.
Be more aware of what you consume. Food Adulteration is a growing problem. Grass fed NZ & Aussie beef and lamb is a good option.

But in terms of Omani Health risk, I'd guess that fatty/sugar filled food is a much bigger problem in the Sultanate. We've all seen people in the supermarket queue loaded to the gunnels with highly processed foods and sugar by the ton - in a place plagued by obesity & diabetes.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

International NGO 'Committee to protect Journalists' writes formal letter to His Majesty over trial of Al Zaman journalists

Update on Omani journalists' trial for 'insulting' the Minister of Justice.

The trial of the 2 Al Zaman journalists over the alleged 'insult' to the Minister & Ministry of Justice will go to appeal this Saturday, 15th October.

You can find an Arabic summary of the case is here, and the original trial itself here.

The arrest and sentencing of the journalists to 5 months imprisonment has draw international attention, including the NGO 'Committee to Protect Journalists' [CPJ]. The NGO recently wrote a letter to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos (see below) to highlight their concerns over the treatment of the journos, their unfair trial, the new Publications Law amendment, and most interestingly, the reports of interference in the trial by the Attorney General.

The letter refers to reports that the Oman's Attorney General Al Hilali ordered the judge to pass a ruling condemning the newspaper and its editors. The journalists' lawyer, Ahmed al-Ajami, reportedly alleged that the Justice Minister called the Attorney General and told him to make clear to the judge what ruling should be made.

Oh dear, that doesn't sound very... just.

See CPJ concerned by politicized trial in Oman.

October 11, 2011

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Sa'id
Sultan, Head of the Supreme Judicial Council, Prime Minister, and
Commander-in-Chief of the Omani Armed Forces
Office of the Sultan
The Royal Palace
PO Box 875
Muscat 113
Sultanate of Oman

Via facsimile: +968 24 735 375

Your Majesty Sultan Qaboos:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to bring to your attention reports of an unfair trial of two Omani journalists and a civil servant sentenced to imprisonment on defamation charges. We ask you, in your capacity as head of the Supreme Judicial Council, to instruct the judicial authorities to respect the letter of the law and allow the defendants an opportunity to prove their innocence. This case will be appealed on October 15, and we hope the verdict against the newspaper and the three men will be reversed. We are also alarmed by the October 9 royal decree that amends an article in the Press and Publications Law, further tightening government control over the media, and urge you to consider the negative effect the amendment will have on independent media in Oman.

On September 21, an Omani court sentenced Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim al-Ma'mari and editor Youssef al-Haj of independent newspaper Al-Zaman, and longtime civil servant Haroun al-Mukeebli, to five months' imprisonment on charges of "defaming" and "insulting the dignity" of the minister of justice and his deputy. The court also ordered Al-Zaman to shut down for one month. The defamation charges stem from a May 14 article written by al-Haj in Al-Zaman alleging that the justice minister and his deputy refused to grant a salary and grade increase to al-Mukeebli. Al-Zaman has been allowed to operate until the appeals court rules on the case, and the defendants have been free on bail.

We are also concerned by highly credible reports that Attorney General Hussein al-Hilali ordered the judge to pass a ruling condemning the newspaper and its editors. One of the sources cited in these stories is the journalists' lawyer, Ahmed al-Ajami, who also alleged that the justice minister called al-Hilali and told him to make clear to the judge what ruling should be made. Al-Ajami told Al-Zaman that the journalists had not been given a fair trial and said that the prosecutor did not submit a written or oral statement, which is inconsistent with Omani law and internationally recognized fair trial standards.

Oman's Minister of Justice, a political appointee, also holds the post of deputy head of the Supreme Judicial Council, so it is vital to ensure that this trial be carried out in a transparent and fair manner. The credibility and independence of Oman's judiciary depend on it.

The October 9 royal decree amending Article 26 of the Press and Publications Law prohibits publishing "anything which may prejudice the safety of the state or its security, all that is related to their bylaws and internal regulations, any information or news or official secret communications, whether the publication was through visual, audio, or print or through the Internet, unless permission is obtained from the respective authority. It is also banned to publish the wordings of agreements and treaties concluded by the government before they are published in the official gazette." The failure here to unambiguously define "prejudicing the safety of the state" invites maximalist interpretations of the law and allows overzealous prosecutors to abuse it. In addition, the sweeping nature of the amendment and the ambiguity of its meaning create significant concerns about the fairness of future legal proceedings.

We urge your majesty, as the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, to condemn the botched trial of these journalists and ensure they are given an opportunity to prove their innocence. We also urge your majesty to consider the effect the amendment will have on independent media in Oman. Your actions could affirm Oman's commitment to press freedom and the rule of law.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to your response.


Joel Simon
Executive Director

Let's see what happens on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The new Great Game? Iran accused of ploting Saudi Ambassador's assassination

Oh oh. This isn't good.

Reuters: Oct. 11 - An Iranian in custody has confessed to an alleged $1.5 million assassination plot to kill the Saudi ambassador of the United States and provided information about involvement by factions of the Iranian government, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder tells a news conference.

Photo: Iranian President Ahmadinejad, said "Who, me?. No way!"

We've all seen the Saudi Bahrain response to the (predominantly Shia, linked to Iran) protests there - massive military force, riot police, imprisonment (including 15yrs for Doctors who had the gall to treat injured protesters), harassment. Sh. Fluffy, the Crown Prince, who called for dialogue and calm was immediately shifted to one side and the iron fist returned. Firmly. Note The reports that the UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar sent troops too. Pakistan sent mercenaries.

.... [Itanian News]
attacks come two days after Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar dispatched their armed forces to crisis-hit Bahrain to quash anti-government protests in the tiny Persian Gulf state.

[Ms Dragon calls the reports of Oman troops being sent as erroneous. I suspect we probably sent ROP & 'Observers' from ISS]

So the report today from the US Attorney General that the Feds had busted 'factions of the Iranian Government' funding a terrorist plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador (and countless innocents) on US soil, well, that was always going to be a big deal.

Anyway it plays - Iranian Gov did plan it (and how tremendously stupid to do it and then to get caught!), or bits did it (more likely), or it's a cunning Mossad/CIA conspiracy (it won't be the FBI. They're cops), or heck, even a cunning Saudi Intel black op - there are no 'uninteresting' explanations.

But the Saudis are gonna be pissed off in a big way if it was Iranian. EG, here just now on Reuters.

Saudi to 'take measures' in response to Iran-Americans arrested for plot to blow-up top adviser and security confident to King.

(Reuters) - The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be expected to 'take measures' by its people after U.S. authorities broke up a plot by two men linked to the Iranian government to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the United States.

"After this incident many in the kingdom will expect the kingdom to take measures, the least of which will be to pull the Saudi ambassador from Iran," said Abdullah Alshammari, a government official in Riyadh. "In the opinion of Saudi decision makers, this situation is not going to pass easily."

Saudi Arabia mistrusts Shi'ite power Iran, and together with the United States accuses Tehran of backing terrorism and pursuing nuclear arms.

"There were always problems with Iran and Saudi Arabia, what is new now is that America is involved... The fact that the Saudi ambassador was the target in the United States, I believe this will mean the kingdom and the United States will take a joint decision together," Alshammari said. "An ambassador of the level of Adel Al-Jubeir, who was an adviser to the royal court, that is a great provocation for Saudi Arabia and therefore we expect that the kingdom will take steps in this matter."

Hmmm. 'Take steps' sounds potentially ominous.

At least the USA will allow a trial and some evidence in public court. So Iran (and Saudi...) can always see what the evidence is I guess. That would NOT happen in Iran or Saudi, bastions of press freedom that they are.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

'Just in time' change in Oman's Publication Law? Another botched job.

Oman often has a very ad-hoc way of developing legislation. A couple of days ago, HM's Government issued an update to Article 26 of the Publishing law. It seems more than co-incidental that on the 15th October the Appeal case will be held for the local journalists sentenced to 6 months in prison (they're out on bail right now) for 'insulting'* the Minister & Ministry of Justice (yes, really. That's a criminal offense in Oman). I would expect this new law should not apply to their Appeal (ex-post facto / retrospective legislation anyone?), but I guess it does send a message to the Judges!

* Note, independent newspaper Al-Zaman was ordered shut-down for 1 month for publishing an article alleging corruption in the Ministry of Justice on 15 August 2011. The article's author, prominent Omani journalist and film maker Youssef al-Haj, and his Editor and source in the Ministry were arrested, interrogated, and sentenced to 6 months in prison.

This new law is lazy, even by Oman's typically vague and broad legislative standards. Hell, it makes it illegal to publish (quote) "anything" which "may" bear on internal or external security. Reading the law in translation, it appears to make saying essentially anything at all even remotely to do with Omani Government arguably illegal. This is sloppy, lazy law making. No definition of terms, no exclusions, and creating a broad crime whose very definition is subject to the opinion of someone in the Government.

This is unfortunately fully consistent with the Basic Law of Oman, namely:

Article 29 [Expression]
Freedom of opinion and expression, whether spoken, written or in other forms, is guaranteed within the limits of the Law.
[my emphasis]

IE, Omanis quite legally have no freedom of expression, because so many laws make almost any public expression not just illegal but criminal. Those arrested Al-Zaman journalists are about to find out how the lottery of Omani publication law works. (see earlier post here). I suppose if they are found guilty they will be beholding to an appeal for clemency from HM. This is not the way to run a legal system.

This was an opportunity wasted; a chance to update the laws involved with publishing - press, TV, radio, internet - in a systematic, competent, comprehensive way. Preferably involving independent review (eg, the Majlis Al Shura) and public comment.

Instead we get another of these vague & ill defined statements of good intent that will in reality be used as further restraints on constructive public dialogue of real issues. Another law that Government functionaries can hide behind and avoid scrutiny.

It will be very interesting to see what happens at the Appeal.

ONA issued the new law.

Decree amends publication law.
His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has issued Royal Decree No 95/2011 amending some provisions of the Law of Publications and Publishing. Article 1 stipulates that Article 26 of the said Publications and Publishing Law shall be replaced with the following text: “Article 26: It is prohibited to publish anything which may prejudice the safety of the state or its internal or external security or all that relates to military and security apparatuses, their bylaws and internal regulations, any documents or information or news or official secret communications, either by publication through visual, audio or print media or through the Internet or any means of the information technology unless a permission is obtained from the competent authority.

It is also prohibited to publish the wordings of the agreements and treaties concluded by the government before they are published in the official gazette.



Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Golden Ticket...

It seems the Ministry of Higher Education is announcing a new ""transparent" process to award the next crop of overseas graduate sponsored students.

I noticed it in the Khaleej Times here.

Oman pledges transparency in scholarship selections [Khaleej Times]

6 October 2011 MUSCAT — The authorities have pledged transparency in selecting candidates for the newly-announced government scholarships for 1,000 students.
The grants, for Master and Ph D students, were ordered by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said earlier this year. Two hundred scholars will receive the scholarship annually over the next five years.

Higher Education Minister Dr Rawiyah bint Saud Al Busaidiyah, who said on Tuesday that the programme would be launched soon, assured that the ‘principle of transparency’ would be applied in deciding eligible aspirants. The choice would be entirely based on merit, she added. She said an electronic system would be used to select the right candidates by the Standardised Admission Centre, stressing that the grant was open to ‘all members of the society in accordance with the prescribed conditions and terms.’ She added the selected students would be sent to the best and internationally-rated universities around the world.

Busaidiyah noted that the royal order for the scholarships coincided with ‘a new inspiring period in the comprehensive development’ in the country with several major projects under implementation in different sectors.

“One of the main goals that is expected to be achieved after completing the programme over the next five-year period is to provide enough experienced and specialised Omani cadres in various specialties so that they will be able to make a tangible impact on the development process,” she added. She said the ministry was in talks with government departments to seek their views to decide the most crucial specialities needed in the country now and in the future.

Based on replies received from them, the ministry has prepared a list of areas in which the selected students will pursue studies.

So, the competition begins! Imagine. Several years at an overseas University all expenses paid courtesy of HM's Government.

Winners of this "merit based" system would be set-up pretty well to get a guaranteed 'development for a technical or management level' job in a Ministry. And that makes you set for life.

Photo: Willie Wonka's Golden Ticket - this could be you!

Not a bad prospect, especially with your 3 year overseas holiday degree paid for.

Are there any readers who can keep us up to date on the outcome of this edu-lottery?

The emphasis on transparency is related to previous complaints about relatives of Ministers getting free scolarships - the magical wasta at work. Or Nepotism. Or both.

So it'll be with some interest how this turns out.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Nabil Al Busaidi, Omani Adventurer. Exclusive Interview Part 2

We continue with Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Nabil Al Busaidi, Omani Adventurer.

Nabil Al Busaidi Interview: Part 2
Location: Somewhere in Nepal, above base camp, Mount Everest*.

[interview continues. You can read Part 1 here]

UD: You've come close to death many times on your adventures. What thoughts go through your mind at that point?
Nabs: In the North Pole, I thought I was going to die several times, but one time it actually seemed close to happening. Far too close.

I was lost in a blizzard, the wind was blowing around 100 kmph, visibility was down to 5 metres, my GPS was not working, we were in a rubble field so large that the blocks were 2-3 metres high, so I couldn’t see my team mates even if they were one meter away but on the other side...and then I fell through a crack in the ice, and I couldn't get out. I was jammed in so tight that I could hardly breathe. There was nothing for me to grab to pull myself out, and I couldn’t get a toe hold to push myself out. As I realised that this would probably be the end, I relaxed and accepted it. Even if I got out, where would I go? I didn’t have the equipment to sit out a blizzard, so if I got out, I would only swap one death for another.

And then I laughed myself silly as I remembered the farewell message I had left my brother. We are both big jokers, and before I left I recorded a message for him in case I died. I knew that I would have the last laugh if he was watching that video, so I played a joke on him and that amused me no end!! I thought that was a pretty fitting way to go, laughing at the whole world.

And then I thought of my best friend, and how worried she had been when I had missed the scheduled satellite phone call one night previously, and how she had been close to tears for 24 hours. So I did what could technically be called an epileptic fit, until I fought scratched and dragged myself out of the ice, and then I walked as fast as I could in the direction I thought best, determined to generate heat and die fighting to the last moment.

Somehow, I managed to see one of my team cresting one of the boulders about 100 meters away, in a brief break in the weather, and eventually I was reunited with them, though we were still in a lot of danger from exposure, at least the most immediate threat of death had passed.

When I fell through the ice in Everest, it was very different. I didn’t even care about dying, all I cared about was not being able to summit. Very different situation, and very different attitude. When I look back it seems odd that I was more worried that my climb was over than worrying about rescue and descent to base camp and getting medical attention.

UD: What is the best thing readers of Muscat Confidential could do to help you, apart from just sending you some cash?
Nabs: To be honest, I do not want cash from individuals, although with time running out, it may come to that! What I really hoped I could achieve by being on your blog is 2 fold.

Firstly by being put in front of all your readers, I hoped that enough decision makers and influencers would be sufficiently encouraged to assist in raising corporate funds in whatever way they were capable and willing. More specifically that would mean senior executives in larger retail organisations or FMCG pushing my cause on my behalf. A bank for example or such like. These companies could really benefit from a sustained PR campaign, in English and Arabic, across Oman and the GCC that is inspirational and aspirational.

I would also really like the Ministry of Tourism to assist in producing the documentary of my trek to the South Pole. Nat Geo were sufficiently impressed with the North Pole to say they would be interested in broadcasting anything I made of the South, and we are hoping to highlight Oman as a destination to millions of people, but I seem to be stuck in a bureaucratic holding pattern concerning support for the filming.

Secondly, I was hoping that your readers would like the idea of me going to their children's schools and talking to them, and thus the parents would start asking the school principals to invite me in. Currently I have only 5 schools scheduled for my proposed 100 school tour, so there are plenty of schools still to come!

Plus, some schools are so large, that I could conceivably go several times. I also would like the Ministry of Education to support me so that I can go visit Government schools (at the moment I can only go to private schools that invite me). It seems a bit odd that only expat kids get the benefit of my school tour and Omani kids don’t!

UD: How do you think we could improve the opportunities for Omani kids currently in school or University? What advice would you give them?
Nabs: I am no guru in this field, and some of my exposure to this issue has been gleaned from your blog. What I have noticed in comparison to my experiences in the UK is that expectations are a lot higher here [UD: on the part of students] for a similar level of education, experience and attitude. At some stage there will have to be a rationalisation of the job market as the status quo cannot be sustained indefinitely.

One of the values that I hope I am spreading is that if you want something you have to go and get it, no one else will give it to you. And reward is linked to effort. It is not something many people can immediately appreciate, but there is a reason that less than 300 people have walked to the South Pole, and it isn't just inaccessibility or finance.

UD: What's your plan going forward? What are your new goals, and what will it take to get them?
Nabs: After the South Pole I am definitely calling it quits and looking after myself first. So the usual stuff settling down, getting a house, getting married, 9 to 5 etc. Normal things for all your readers, but quite scary for me!

UD: I know some of my female readers want to ask: Are you single?
Nabs: Ha ha ha! Yes I am. Single, straight and searching! So please make sure you put a good photo of me with this article, match maker Dragon!

UD: Done. That won't be difficult!

Photo: Yes, Nabil is single and an eligible bachelor ladies!

UD: What are the biggest difficulties you face when trying to raise sponsorship for your next goal?
Nabs: The simple answer is cash. If I had some cash, it would easier to raise the sponorship funds. The longer answer has multiple factors.

Arabic coverage. For various reasons, most of my coverage is in English, but most of the population speaks Arabic. Even though all my information is disseminated equally by email, the Arabic press tend not to follow up, or if they ever do, they ask for the content to be faxed to them. As you can imagine, I do not carry a fax machine on expeditions! When I had the photo exhibition in City Centre I had a comments book and it was totally filled with Omanis saying they had never heard of my feat which was a shame but highlights one of the reasons that it is hard to convince Omani companies the benefits of sponsoring me.

Support. I am a one man band. I do almost everything on my own. And there is a lot to, physio, organising the expedition, doing presentations, meetings, school visits, sponsor commitments, responding to the media, writing articles, producing a documentary, publishing a book, running a website etc each one of which could be made into a full time job if done to the fullest extent. It is great fun in the sense that I am doing something I want to do, instead of living a 9 to 5 rut, but it is also inefficient in that if I were able to hire someone to share some of the administrative work load, then I would be able to spend more time on delivering the things that only I can do. Like walking to the Poles! Compare my set up with Oman Sail who are absolutely world class in what they are doing...but they have the staff, support and finances to do that.

Realm of experience. One of my biggest problems for the North Pole was that most locals did not know where it was, or had never heard of it. Shocking but true. So it is hard to sell a concept that you have basically just invented as far they are concerned. On top of that, trying to convey the sheer difficulty of walking 650 km is outside the realm of most peoples experience, never mind explaining minus 80 Celsius. One of the beauties of the school tour is that students will be able to spend time in sub zero conditions, and hopefully will be able to extrapolate that experience to understand what I went through and what it takes to do something like that. Also having done the magnetic North, people are much more aware.

Leveraging opportunity. A lot of the time when I can convince a company of the marketing possibilities that associating with me presents, the opportunities are not exploited to the fullest. That is usually the internal marketing department not being proactive enough to follow up on all the ideas discussed. Thus when I go back to the company for the next expedition, they cite the lack of return on investment as reason for declining. A brilliant counter example is KPMG who sponsored me in return for being the "publishers" of the coffee table book amongst other things. Copies of the book were then sent to almost every country partner around the world, as well as other CIP, clients and dignitaries. They chose a niche that suited their business, and executed it perfectly although admittedly in a limited way.

Inertia. The truth is, things move at a different speed in Oman. That is not a good thing or a bad thing. It is just a fact. I consistently add in more lead time in my planning when it involves Oman, and I am still struggling to get things done on time. For example I contacted 40 schools 4 weeks before the start of the school tour, and I am still waiting for 30 schools to get back to me. And of course everyone knows that Ramadhan and summer are slow go and no go business wise. And it becomes a self fulfilling perception. I contacted a big corporation around 6 months before the North Pole trek, and followed up every month. 2 months before I left I spoke to the expat that I was in contact with, and when he heard how long was left he said I was a typical Omani leaving everything to the last minute, conveniently ignoring the emails I had been sending for the previous 4 months!

UD: Lastly, who are your top sponsors right now? We can give them a free plug.
Nabs: For my proposed Centenary South Pole Expedition, my sponsors so far are Port of Salalah, Ministry of Sports Affairs, and Berlitz Language school.

UD: Nabs, my tail is almost frozen and the crew are telling me our weather window is closing. Gotta get back to that 5 star hotel that's waiting for me. How you do this is amazingly inspirational and totally insane at the same time. See you back in Oman! Here's some Kendal Mint Cake, BTW. Thanks for the contact. I'm a fan.

Nabs: That is very kind of you to say! Mutual admiration society then!

And with that, my time was over. Nabil Al Busaidi, Omani Adventurer & Exceptionalist.

He waved as we left him, neither of us knowing if we'd meet again...

What a super nice guy.

And I know there must be many readers and fans of Muscat Confidential that can help Nabs in his South Pole expedition, and at the same time help give some inspiration to the nation, and even the region.

Get your school to invite Nabil to speak. Talk to your buddies in the various Ministries. And those CEOs and Board members of (presumably exceptional) Omani Companies reading this (yes, I know who you are), heck, get your cheque book out and get a hold of some great PR for your products/CSR while you can.

It's also important to realise that when you do sponsor an athlete for your company, you'll need to spend additional money on your own business's PR campaign to embed the sponsorship slant in your overall marketing efforts - that's how to get best value for the sponsorship.

Contact Nabil now at
Here's his website.

*Location Nepal: Not really. And helicopters can't even reach base camp at Everest anyhow - it's just too high! The interview was conducted via email in late Sept 2011.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Exclusive Interview with Nabil 'Nabs' Al Busaidi: Omani Adventurer

One of the things Oman needs more of is Exceptionalism.

As I once posted, can you imagine someone in say, New York, or Hong Kong, buying something Omani and saying to his/her friend "Awesome - made in Oman! Now that's the best shit there is man."

At the moment I can only think of 2 things that fit that: Amouage perfume, and Omani Frankincense. [Happy for readers to nominate anything I missed on this short list]

Exceptionalism. It begins with the idea that being the best is a valid goal. And then proving it. And 'the best' can mean many things. The best in the World, sure, but even 'the best in the region', or 'the best in Oman' or 'the best in my village' are valid. You need passion for that goal. How many Omanis have that attitude? How many are encouraged to dare aim that high? That take risks to succeed. Big risks. Chasing a vision of success.

Today Muscat Confidential publishes part 1 of its exclusive interview with someone who has done that. The First Arab to walk to the magnetic North Pole. The first Arab to row across an ocean.

Nabil Al Busaidi, aka 'Nabs'.

Photo: Nabs Al Busaidi. Steady ladies, steady! (and yes, he's single) [copyright Nabil Al Busaidi]

Here's his website.

Have a gander at his list of achievements:
An active adventurer, Nabs has undertaken the following expeditions since 2009:
April 2009, he became the first Arab to walk the 650 km from Resolute Bay to the magnetic North Pole and one of less than 500 ever to walk to a pole.

Later that year, Nabs helped Commander Richard Ryan, a United States Naval officer, set a World Record for a wheelchair traverse from Land’s End, Cornwall, England to John O’Groats, Scotland; a total distance of 1,451 km in 8 days 10 hours.

December 2009, successfully completed a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa at 5,895m and one of the 7 summits.

January 2010, Nabs became the first Omani, second Arab, and one of only 1,400 to climb the highest mountain in Antarctica, Mount Vinson – (4,897m) also one of the 7 summits.

April 2010, Nabs was hoping to be the first Omani to summit Mt Everest, but survived a fall that left him with several broken bones in one ankle and required evacuation from base camp.

2011: Set yet another world record by becoming the first Arab to row over 4,600 km across the Atlantic and joined an exclusive club of less than 500 ever to row an ocean.


Photo: Nabil 'Nabs' Al Busaidi on his trek to the Magnetic North Pole in 2009 [copyright Nabil Al Busaidi]

Undercover Dragon traveled far into the higher reaches of Mount Everest to speak mano-a-mano to Nabs on his expedition. Here's the report.

Nabil Al Busaidi Interview: Part 1
Location: Somewhere in Nepal, above base camp*.

Undercover Dragon: The large Chinook stuggled to make progress against the howling gale outside the protection of the plexi-glass. All I could see was white, endless white. Only the GPS and the instruments enabled us to get to where the expeditionary team were. When we landed in a moment of clarity in the snow, the icy blast as the door slid open greeted us with 40deg below zero. That's F or C, take your pick. I exited the protection of the chopper and crawled to the small hole in the snow that concealed the temporary refuge protecting Omani Adventurer, Nabil Al Busaidi. The tent beneath was quickly resealed and the relative quietness and protection from the wind was a welcome refuge, even after my short time walking/crawling from the landing zone.

[photo copyright Nabil Al Busaidi]

UD: Good afternoon Nabil! I'm glad you made it to the rendezvous point!

Nabil Al Busaidi: No problem Mr Dragon. Thanks for meeting me.

UD: Why did you decide to become an adventurer?
Nabs: I didn’t consciously decide to become an adventurer, it just evolved over time.

I was working as director of finance and admin for a company in Bahrain, and due to the economic downturn, there wasn’t much business. I decided that I would make myself redundant, formally as opposed to practically, and use the 3 months gardening leave to prepare for the North Pole. After I came back from the North Pole, I fully expected to get back into corporate life, but one thing kept leading to another, and before I knew it, it was 12 months later and I was deciding to go for Everest...

UD: How can you afford this lifestyle? Were you born with a silver spoon in your mouth?
Nabs: Not at all. I fund myself with whatever I can raise. Some people seem to think I make a living out of this, but financially, I am much worse off than if I had stayed working. I have no savings left, I no longer have the deposit for a house, I am in constant debt and I could go on...I am currently living off my book sales hand to mouth! But that isn't intended as a sob story, just bursting any illusions people have over my lifestyle.

The assumption is that the only metric for measuring success or progress is financial. If that were so, then I admit I am a complete failure. I started off near the top, and sunk into debt. But I am so much richer in so many ways, and I don’t mean in just my personal adventures. I have brought a lot of pride to Omanis. I am able to mobilize a lot of charitable efforts. I have met people that I would never have expected. And I have done things I would never have expected. For example, being interviewed live on Italian TV by Miss Italy! The after party for the James Blunt concert, the Crown Prince of Bahrain. And I met two of the best friends I have ever made through this.

But back to the question, I am only able to afford this thanks to the amount of support I get from the private sector. Fortunately, there are many business leaders who either see the potential benefit of being associated with the media exposure I generate, or do it for their own CSR [UD: Corporate Social Responsibility] reasons.

I realise that most companies expect a return on any type of sponsorship, so I tailor make packages that can give great return on investment if leveraged correctly by the respective marketing deparments. Whether that is realised or not is up to the companies themselves of course, but I know how they think, and I do my best to address that.

UD: How supportive of your efforts has the Government been? Has that changed over time?
Nabs: The ministry of sports were very sceptical before I went to the North Pole for very valid reasons. I was an unknown quantity, I had no track record that they could appreciate, and what I was attempting was so outside the envelope of their experience that they couldn’t see the relevance to Oman or the ministry of sports.

Of course since then the attitude has changed a lot. When I broke my ankles on Everest, the first person to call me, even before my family, was the Minister of Sports himself!

However, despite that, all my funding still has to be raised by myself and through the commercial world rather than through grants from the Government. It is tough work raising sponsorship, much harder than the expeditions themselves. Sir Ranulph Fiennes estimates that 95% of his time and effort is spent on fund raising, and I would have to agree.

UD: I presume Sir Ranulph Fiennes was a point of inspiration? Have you ever met?
Nabs: Funnily enough he is the godfather of a girl I was friends with a long time ago in London, and long before I ever thought of doing any of this. Apparently he knows of me through his god daughter, and I have read several of his books, where he actually mentions his god daughter's father as one of his mentors!

UD: On a change of topic, what do you think of the political situation in the Middle East lately and the 'Arab Spring'?
Nabs: I am a very apolitical person to be honest, and my views are a cross between apathetic and wilfully ignorant. However, this time I have a valid excuse. When I set out to row across the Atlantic, there was some vague mentions of unrest in Tunisia. When I got to the other side, New Zealand, Japan, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Oman, Bahrain, Yemen had all happened! It was all a bit of a surprise to be fair, and also explains why there was more coverage of the Atlantic row in the UK than in Oman or Bahrain, places where I would normally expect great coverage.

I missed everything that happened in Oman as I was still living in Bahrain until April [2011].

One thing that we took exception to, as residents in Bahrain, was the awful standards of journalism and reporting. Anyone calling the "Pearl Roundabout" the "Pearl Square" was immediately discredited locally, but when the news is being spread by CNN, BBC and Sky there is little you can do to counter the spread of disinformation.

I am sure the third hand nature of the journalism, without fact checking or people on the ground, caused more problems as subversive elements went out of their way to further mislead.

The most ridiculous report I think was in the UK Independent, with Robert Fisk a major culprit (and probably duped victim) claiming that 150,000 demonstrators were at the Pearl Roundabout. If you could get 15,000 people in that small area, I would be surprised, and bearing in mind that the total Shia population is 300,000 I have no idea how they got 50% of them in an area the size of a stadium.

.... to be continued

Contact Nabil now at

Here's his website.

Coming up in the Nabil Al Busaidi Interview Part 2: Nabs on being near death in the Artic. His thoughts when he had the nearly fatal accident on Everest. His biggest hurdles to getting sponsorship. How you can help. And his plans beyond the South Pole.

And as a special treat, here are Nabs' top 7 most interesting responses to requests for support!

1) What is Everest? (I answer) If it is so high why are you climbing it?

2) Where is the North Pole? Is it in India?

3) Why should we pay you to go on holiday?

4) We want to be the naming sponsor, so don’t talk to anyone else. (Major national company, that then pulled out the day after the final day for payment, leaving me scrambling for funds, or cancelling)

5) We don’t want to be associated with you in case you fail (Charity official)

6) I don’t give a damn. Why can’t Omanis do something original? (European CEO in Oman)

7) I’ve been there at least 20 times. Every time I fly to America I fly over it. What’s the big deal?

* Note: This interview was actually conducted via email in late Sept 2011. No actual helicopters were harmed as a result of this interview.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Minister of Justice presses charges against Omani newspaper for 'insulting him and the Ministry'. Courts order shutdown and jail 2 journalists

Here's a topic for the incoming Majlis Al Shura to fix - Oman's antiquated media and 'freedom of expression' (sic) laws. In a criminal case brought by the Minister of Justice Mohamed Al-Hanai, a few days ago the Omani courts ruled against a small Muscat-based Arabic language paper Al-Zaman, ordering the paper closed for a month and sentencing an editor and journalist to 5 months in prison for publishing allegations of corruption within the Ministry. The case goes to appeal on Oct 15th.

These are the charges:
- insulting the Justice Ministry
- insulting the Justice Minister and his Under-Secretary
- trying to create divisions within Omani society
- violating article 60 of the civil code (the publications law)
- working as a journalist without a permit.

What an evil bunch. Who would ever commit such heinous acts? They were insulting a Minister of the Crown; impuning his reputation (albeit based on reports of allegations to the contrary). As for the last 3 charges, well, almost any publication can be found guilty of those if you want to.

[side note to UD from Consigliere on list above: - Yep (although not this Ministry), Yep (although not this Minister), arguably; yep (who hasn't?); yep (obviously) ].

Er, indeed Consigliere. Noted. Five months in prison, you say? I think we all await the results of the appeal on baited breath. However I fear the problem is with the law itself, not the legal process or the probity of the Courts. I bet I could legally convict my cat. with a violation of Article 60.

I mean, the person pressing charges is the Minister in charge of the law! I suspect his legal case is pretty well honed.

Photo: Insulted Minister of Justice for Oman Mohamed Al-Hanai shown here on left (Muscat Daily)

Dhofari Gucci blogged about it today too here.

The news of their arrest and conviction was reported world wide (Journalists write the world's news, remember chaps?) (eg. BBC) and was even reported in the Times of Oman. Here's the BBC report:

Oman editors jailed for 'insulting' justice minister

A court in Oman has jailed two senior journalists for five months for insulting the justice minister.

The court also ordered the closure of Ibrahim al-Maamary Yussuf and al-Haj's newspaper, Azzaman, for one month.

The newspaper had published articles alleging corruption inside the justice ministry.

The case stirred complaints about media clampdowns in the Gulf Arab nation, which faced small but significant pro-reform protests earlier this year.

An Omani official, Haron Saeed, was also sentenced to five months in jail in the same case.

All three were found guilty of "insulting" Justice Minister Mohamed al-Hanai and his under secretary of state by accusing them of "fraud, deception and prevarications" in an article published on 14 May.

Defence lawyer Ahmed al-Ajmi said he had succeeded in having the three freed on bail and the order closing the newspaper suspended, until an appeal against the verdicts on 15 October.

Oman's media laws are ill-defined, poorly served by legal president, and give broad reasons for courts to convict. Note the trial was a criminal case, not just a civil suit. And readers should know that in this specific case, under the law, it would NOT be a defense to simply prove the allegations are true.(!)

So, the Minister of Justice was well within his legal rights to press charges, presumably also feeling darn right insulted, and the courts would not have had difficulty reaching a legally valid verdict in his favour, as the law is so draconian. What the case has highlighted is the true state of play with journalism and law in the Sultanate, something I've blogged about often.

There is no real freedom of expression in Oman, especially in the licensed media. This blog has been blocked by the internet authorities several times in the past.

It's about time Omani law recognised that public criticism of the Government's performance or of Government Ministers, especially if true, is not the same thing as sedition. At the same time, journalists should know that reporting hearsay and accusations as if they were true means those claims first need to be substantiated, or they can be correctly considered libel in any reasonable jurisdiction. Even then it should be a civil case.

The big international Journalism NGO Reporters without Borders is also involved:


Reporters Without Borders has written to Sultan Qaboos, Oman’s head of state, expressing deep concern at tomorrow’s trial of Yousef Al-Haj, a journalist with the Muscat-based daily Al-Zaman, as a result of a complaint by justice minister Mohamed Al-Hanai about article published on 14 May.

In its letter, sent on 11 August, Reporters Without Borders voiced amazement at the range and scale of the charges brought against Al-Haj in response to the article, which quoted a justice ministry employee’s allegations about growing corruption within the ministry and favouritism in promotions.

“The proceedings are out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence and we call for their immediate withdrawal,” the letter said. “We fear that Yousef Al-Haj will not have time to organize his defence for the first hearing and will not get a fair trial.”

After being summoned at short notice for interrogation at the prosecutor’s office on 5 July, without having time to notify is lawyer, Al-Haj was charged with:

insulting the justice ministry
insulting the justice minister and his under-secretary
trying to create divisions within Omani society
violating article 60 of the civil code (the publications law)
working as a journalist without a permit.

Reporters Without Borders has been told that Al-Zaman editor Ibrahim Al-Mo’amari had applied for press cards for his journalists and had obtained the requested accreditation for all of them except Al-Haj.

On returning to the newspaper after his interrogation on 5 July, Al-Haj was surprised to find he had been banned by the information ministry from writing any further articles for publication. The ban is still in force. He had been interrogated by the police three times in the past without being banned.

The Reporters Without Borders letter also advised against closing Al-Zaman in response to an order issued by a Muscat court in connection with the case. “It would be regrettable if the Omani courts upheld this decision, which would violate freedom of the press and would give credence to the journalist’s allegedly defamatory claims.” The newspaper has nonetheless been closed.

The president of Al-Zaman’s board, its editor and one of its design editors are also to be tried tomorrow on a charge of illegally employing Al-Haj without a permit from the information ministry. Many journalists work without permits in Oman.

So, lots of good press for Oman in the global media, just as we approach the Majlis elections (which were supposed be the 'good news' story).

Still, Muscat Confidential says well done Justice Minister Mohamed Al-Hanai! His job is to enforce the law, and he's a man that clearly enjoys his work. He's got guts.

I mean, we've had riots, strikes, civil disobedience, looting, arson, demonstrations, sit-ins, arrests, imprisonment, wholesale changes to the Cabinet & the constitution, and then yet further protests. (and that's just what was reported in the Times of Oman)

And now people choose to insult the Minister of Legal Affairs by publishing tattle-tale from his junior staff about corruption and nepotism. My god - has it come to this? This, this is anarchy.

I join the honorable Minister of Justice in saying, No.

Not here.

Not now.

Here, we draw the line.

Insulting a Minister? How about you try a few months imprisoned at His Majesty's pleasure my son.


On a different topic entirely, Enforcing the law, Saudi Arabia Style.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

HM once again rescues American prisoners from Iran, and the special relationship between Oman and the USA.

Oman has always had a very close relationship with the USA. His Majesty, as befits a professional diplomat, has long had a consistent foreign policy that Oman - while retaining full sovereignty - should basically get along with both its regional neighbours and the great powers. In fact, a treaty of friendship and navigation, one of the first agreements of its kind between the USA and an Arab state, was concluded between the United States and Muscat way back in 1833.

Oman has not joined the US-led chorus prevalent in the rest of the GCC states to isolate Iran. Instead, Oman has consistently pursued engagement with Iran as being in its own best interests. Oman has never been too friendly with the Saudis, especially as they funded and supported the Iman of Nizwa's rebellion, and sees Iran as a regional balance against any attempted dominance in the region by the Wahabis of Saudi, as exemplified by the recent protests in Bahrain.

This has enabled Oman to act as a trusted intermediary between the US and Iran. The results of this were evident last week as Oman secured the release of the 2 American 'hikers', who were apparently stupid enough to go wandering near the Iraq/Iran border and got nabbed by the Iranians and thrown into jail for 'spying'. (I mean, come on, who would ever think that it's a good idea to go anywhere near Iran if you have an American passport?)

HM not only negotiated for their release, but also personally paid the Iranian's blackmail/blood money 'bail', a nice round sum of half a million US$ per person, which allows the American Administration to state as fact that they did not pay Iran a cent.

So Barack Obama gave HM a call yesterday to personally thank him.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama thanked Oman's Sultan Qaboos on Friday for his role in getting Iran to free two US hikers jailed there for spying and illegal entry for over two years.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, both 29, were flown into Muscat on an Omani Royal Air Force plane Wednesday after the Gulf sultanate of Oman paid their $1 million bail to get them released from Tehran's notorious Evin prison. Their case had poisoned already tense ties between Tehran and Washington.

Obama called Sultan Qaboos bin Said "to convey the United States' deepest appreciation for the Sultan's exceptional and successful role in securing the release of the young American hikers from Iranian detention and the cooperation between our governments in this endeavor," the White House said.

"The president expressed our gratitude to the sultan and his special envoy, Salim al-Ismaili, for sparing no effort to secure the release of Sarah Shourd last year, and Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal this past Wednesday, thus ending a painful chapter for the hikers and their families."

Shourd, Bauer's fiancee, was released last year on $500,000 bail also paid by Oman.
During their call, Obama and Sultan Qaboos "affirmed that the friendship and partnership between our two nations, as manifested in our cooperation for the release of the hikers, have only grown stronger, and that the United States and Oman will continue to work together on a broad range of common interests," the White House added in its statement.

I just hope HM asked President Obama for a visit (the last visit by a US President was Clinton). Something timed just after the Shura elections next month would be great PR for both of them. The press releases would almost write themselves. What greater contrast with the on-going disaster that is Yemen?

Photo: Judgmentally-challenged American hikers Shane Bauer (L) and Josh Fattal hold a press conference after arriving free in Oman (ripped from AFP, Mohammed Mahjoub)

A history of Military Cooperation
The close relationship between Oman and the USA is something the Omani Government has always avoided discussing in public (see the wikileaks cables), afraid of stirring up those Omanis and other Arabs who would get worked up about such superficial issues as Israel, US foreign policy, etc.

Oman has allowed the US to place emergency war materials [USAF Prepositioned War Reserve Materiel, aka WRM] in Oman for decades, recently extending in December 2010 the 10 year duration Base Access Agreement (BAA) first agreed in 1980. In return, the Americans are being allowed to build (at their own cost) a new 36,000 sqm warehousing facility for this purpose, plus a large refueling capability, at the Oman Airforce base in Al Musannah, north of Muscat, to the tune of a whopping $166 million. This will replace the previous facilities at Seeb. The details are publicly available via the US Airforce budget submission to Congress for funding.

... A requirement exists to construct a new airlift apron, taxiway and lighting along with fuel storage and distribution system to support two C-5 or equivalent commercial wide body strategic airlift aircraft at Al Musanah AB, Oman. The fuel storage delivery system must be capable of sustaining a maximum of four(4) C-5 flights a day for seven (7) consecutive days. Maximum fuel load calculated at 189,270 liters per flight.

In support of Overseas Contingency Operations, Al Musanah AB has been designated as a key strategic location for future US development. The Sultan of Oman has mandated that the US War Reserve Materiel (WRM) outload site at Seeb be relocated due to the commercial development of Seeb International Airport.

The Sultan of Oman has offered Al Musanah AB as a viable alternative to Seeb AB. The US government has accepted the offer and consequently developed a long range strategic and tactical plan that fully develops Al Musanah AB in accordance with future US defense posture plans. The initial phase relocates the entire WRM compound from Seeb by FY 12 (AMAB 08-3000). The follow phase (this project) begins the initial strategic development phase of this effort by developing a limited "Gas-n-Go" capability. This capability will provide aircraft with the ability to land at Al Musanah AB, refuel and then depart toward a final destination.

There is a lot of information about the relationship between Oman and US available via the US Congressional Research Service, especially stuff written by their Middle East expert Kenneth Katzman, eg here. A quote:
The Sultanate of Oman is a long-time U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf; it has allowed U.S. access to its military facilities for virtually every U.S. military operation in and around the Gulf since 1980, despite the sensitivities in Oman and throughout the Middle East about a U.S. military presence there.

The US is also long active at the RAFO airport base on Masirah Island, known as 'Camp Justice' and apparently nicknamed Moon Base Alpha by the American troops stationed there due to being pretty much at the end of the earth.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

HM Sultan Qaboos interview with US in 2005: On Women wearing Hijab, Free speech, Iran, and a whole heap more.

As I wrote when Wikileaks released the first few cables, one of the best parts of the material were the possibility of more interviews with HM Sultan Qaboos.

HM does not do many interviews, and getting to 'sit in' on a small discussion with His Majesty is a rare and wonderful honour. HM is one smart cookie, and his advise and observations are generally pretty spot on.

In this cable from 2005, just released, he gives a far ranging view of his opinions across the Middle East: Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi, and some domestic issues.

In the middle of the discussion is this, HM is reported to have discussed (* see disclaimer) the Hijab.


¶8. (C) Revealing much about his own views on religion, the Sultan observed that religion combines many features: fundamental pillars of belief, rules of interpersonal behavior, and a kind of social contract, among others. Islam, he said, strictly proscribes only a very narrow band of activities, such as drinking blood and eating pork; everything else is simply cultural interpretation.

He finds it ridiculous that some people claim women must wear a hijab as an article of faith, whereas the Quran makes no such requirement.


Wow. Once again, HM totally rocks. Take that creeping Wahabi-ism. Ladies, over to you! You are free to wear what you want - including the Hijab - but the reason you can wear a hijab is because it's up to you and your cultural traditions, NOT because someone has the right to tell you to wear it or force you to wear it under a religious threat. I guess it wasn't necessary to mention the Niqab.

Photo: Omani Hijab - not prescribed by Quran.

On freespeech and extremism:
Later, he talks about freedom of expression. As well as saying (when discussing Iraq) that "Ordinary people do not want religious or ethnic strife, but rather jobs and personal security", HM expanded on the importance of Arabs expressing their opinions more openly. :

¶15. (C) Asked to gauge the strength of terror groups today, the Sultan agreed with GEN Abizaid that they appear to be weaker, but that it is difficult to know what they may be organizing themselves for in the future. He felt extremist ideology has been discredited by its senseless violence.

The Sultan argued that freedom of conscience and speech were the best antidote to extremist ideology, and was encouraged that Arabs appear to be getting over their fear of speaking out and expressing their views. It is time, he said, to let the silent majority speak and exile extremists to the margins of society where they belong.

He also thought that couching harsh ideologies in religious cloaks was likewise losing its appeal, in part given the human nature of fearing eternal damnation for violating true religious tenets.


So HM also supports free speech, and cites the connection between free speech and its impact of suppressing extremism. People have always wondered how the Sablas and Forums and blogs remained on-line, now we know! It also speaks to HM's responses to the protests this year.

Advice on Iran:
Earlier, HM generously gives his visitor, the US CENTCOM General Abizaid, some really excellent advice on Iran:

Offering the unique perspective of an ancient state that has always bordered Iran, the Sultan cautioned the U.S. not to be fooled by the superficial patina of the "Islamic Republic of Iran." "You are dealing with Persia, not the 'Islamic Republic.'"

This is so true. Every Iranian I meet just wants a peaceful secure economy in Iran, and almost always they have relatives in the USA, and actually really don't mind the USA at all. I wish the new Republican presidential candidates could get that. That one observation contains a heap of deep strategic wisdom, IMHO.

He gives more advice on Iran to the General, detailed in a different cable here

Implications for Oman
I just wish HM would give more speeches and interviews of this nature, in public. In this way his views would have a more pervasive and perhaps longer lasting impact, as he is so sensible in his prescriptions. His arguments are so convincing and imbued with integrity. What a leader. He should show it off a lot more.

How can Omanis get a chance to share more directly in this leadership via the media? Can you imagine HM tweeting?

President Obama has a blog, website, tweeter account, photos, speeches, etc etc etc. Why doesn't HM bypass the MOI and get some young Omani on-line intelligensia to hook him up on the information superhighway?

Follow this link to see the whole interview. It's too big to post here in full.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: * These alleged confidential documents are more accurately "what wikileaks and their anonymous source purports to be what those representatives from the US State department chose to commit formally in writing (and after editing and review) to the US Secretary of State about what HM Sultan Qaboos was perceived by them to have probably said, or inferred, to them about what HM's opinions were, in an unstated context, and when knowingly shared by HM with official representatives of the US State Department in a non-121 meeting attended by other persons".

Gedit? Caveat Emptor indeed. We weren't there, so you don't know what really happened, right?

In this world, some (or most) of these cables may be official unoffical propaganda/black intel, from almost anyone. It's just the internet after all. So readers are advised that all this is for entertainment value only. Treat it as a novel. For god's sake don't go off and do anything silly based on these digital bits and bytes. And that advice applies to professionals and amateurs alike!