Monday, July 16, 2012

Did the Omani Government break the law by publishing the photos of the activists jailed last week?



Everyone knows that the poets, 'activists' and others that were convicted of insulting his Majesty, Sultan Qaboos, have been sentenced to between 6 months and 1 year in prison.

And everyone who writes, comments, blogs, host's a forum, or writes or edits a newspaper seems worried that more arrests are likely.
Here's the report from the UAE's Gulf News:


Muscat: Literati in Oman has reacted angrily to government-owned media’s decision to publish photographs of four writers/poets in prison uniforms after being convicted by the Primary Court in Muscat last week. Both official dailies – Arabic as well as English – published the court verdict against Hamoud Al Rashdi (writer), Ali Al Muqbali (blogger), Hamad Al Kharousi (poet) and Mohammad Al Rawahi (poet) along with their photographs in prison uniform. The government-owned Oman News Agency had carried the news along with the photographs.

Three of the activists have been sentenced to one year in prison and one to six months in prison. Fifty nine signatories, including writers, poets, journalists, lawyers, activists, teachers, theatre personalities, students, and bloggers, demanded an apology from the news agency as well as publications for publishing the picture of four convicted activists with their photograph in prison uniform.

The signatories pointed out that the decision by the official media to publish the photographs of four convicted by the court was an unprecedented one and insulting to the four intellectuals in the country. All the signatories have termed it unacceptable and threatened boycott of Oman News Agency and two newspapers unless they apologise for publishing the pictures. “They are not traitors nor are they hard-core criminals then why publish their pictures that too in prison uniforms?” demanded writer Ebrahim Saeed.

He told Gulf News that it was sad that the report also carried graphic details of the convicted activists, including their birth place, tribe, residential place etc.

“It was shocking to see the report with picture of respected Omani poets and writers in prison uniform,” Turki Al Balushi, founder of Oman’s newest online publication http://albaladoman.com/ , told Gulf News. Yaqoub Al Harthi, lawyer for some of the detained activists, told Gulf News that there was no need to publish details and photographs after conviction of the four.

“Some of them have made a mistake,” Al Harthi agreed, saying that writing against the country’s leader on social media was a mistake but didn’t deserve the kind of publicity given to their conviction in the official media. “What was the need to publish graphic details of the activists and their photographs in prison uniform?” he questioned.

The official Arabic daily, ‘Oman’, in an edit, clarified that it had no intention of insulting the convicted activists but as a whole news package it was decided to publish the photographs. The edit also confirmed that the Omani literati had sent a memorandum condemning the publication of the photographs.

Meanwhile, Al Harthi also said that the lawyers have had no opportunity for one-on-one meetings with the detained activists. “We have had to meet our clients only in the presence of guards,” he added. He represents Esmail Al Muqbali, who has been detention for over a month. “I have met Esmail only once in court in the presence of guards,” he said worriedly. However, Al Harthi said that last Wednesday he was informed by the authorities that he can meet his clients (activists) in the central prison in Sumayil. “I am still not sure if I would get to meet who and how,” he said. Esmail was one of the first three activists to be held when they went to meet striking workers of contractors working for the oil companies.

The protest by the 400-odd Omani employees of private contractors working for oil companies was the latest protests in Oman since the first Green Rally taken out in January last year after Arab Spring sparked protest in Tunisia and Egypt. The protests in Oman were different. People demanded employment, better working condition, improved wages and removal of alleged corrupt officials. The protests in some places, mainly Sohar turned violent and fatal but overall the protests were peaceful. Sultan Qaboos Bin Saeed responded positively by ordering creation of 50,000 jobs, starting unemployment allowance, making major changes to the cabinet and granting more powers to the elected Shura council.


Well done to those publicly and bravely calling for some review of this whole affair. Is someone in the Public Prosecution deliberately doing this to inflame people's opinions AGAINST HM Sultan Qaboos? Because this is really really stupid. And when something really stupid happens in Oman, it's usually some idiot in the Government, not asking HM what to do.

I can only interpret this as a knee jerk reaction from the old guard who somehow don't watch TV or surf the internet I guess. Because a few signs and some blogging that sort-of criticise HM is hardly the stuff of sedition. But strikes will certainly hurt the rich and powerful businessmen.

The problem I've always had are these incompetent fools in positions of power who already use the vast swathes of the law - a law that already makes it illegal to do or publish almost anything in reference to the Government - to then go on and wrap themselves in the protection of lese majesty laws. They wave HM's name to cover their own sins.

As a result, Oman is being unfairly dragged into the mud of international opinion that's putting us in the company of Bahrain and Saudi, and begging ignorant comparisons even with Yemen and Syria.

But then to top it off by publishing their photo and biography is quite unbelievable. They have no idea that while most Omanis, knowing only what is in the official media, may not like these protestors I don't think they want them in jail on such petty charges when we know that is not why they are really being arrested.

Overseas followers of Muscat Confidential should understand that this publishing of their pics is illegal in Oman and strongly goes against the traditions of the culture. Why to even publish the photo of a common thief is agreed to be an insult to their family (who are innocent, goes the argument) and is illegal under defamation laws.

Or it seemed to be. Because now the Government have published these photos, almost it seems as a deliberate slap in the face to them, their families and associates. Clear intimidation.

So, what I want to know is Mr Public Prosecutor, is it still illegal to publish details and photos of convicted people, and thus by implication that the Government has broken that defamation law? Or is it suddenly not illegal to do this now, so Muscat Daily can now have a Court Report, complete with photos and full names?

Or is it perhaps that you just make this shit up as you go ? Because you are so used to doing what you like, arresting who you like, bullying who you like, always having your way because you're so sure you're in the right, and because you're the Government, you're untouchable by definition?

And denying them legal advice achieves what, exactly?

Does no-one in this abysmal mis-handled cock-up of a response (to a few people making a nuisance of themselves to the Oligarchs) even notice that the Government are breaking the very same law and tradition that captures the moral spirit of the laws they are at the same time using to put some harmless poets and shit-stirrers in jail for a year?? [slap forehead]

His Majesty must move to more rapidly develop a constitutional monarchy, with an administration founded on the generation born after he came to power. There needs to be a significantly greater separation between His Majesty and Government, so lese majesty laws (which within reason seem perfectly OK to me as they apply to a Sovereign) can be removed from restricting public protests and discussions on Government and policy.

The system could be inspired by that of Jersey, one of the Sandwich Islands, ruled by the Sovereign of the British Isles for more than 900 years, with an appointed Governor and head of Parliament with elected members.

Which is ironic, because the current massive over-reaction to a few Omanis with the balls to complain are reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth alright, except it's Queen Elizabeth the first. You don't see Lizzie throwing people in the Tower of London for such petty nonsense, it's beneath her to stoop to such things.



Time is running out Sultan Qaboos. Because these other idiots all seem to think that they can behave as if they are the Sultan, throwing their weight around and telling people what to say, what to do, if it doesn't please them. Oman is increasing full of little dictators who abuse the system of governance to put these draconian laws between themselves and the people.

Oh, and where are the corruption investigations? Or is the official position that there isn't any? Because HM has nothing to fear from the people, as we all know. It's only incompetent Ministers and their minions who need worry about them I guess. And that's what this is really all about, isn't it Mr. Public Prosecution?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Oman Football Association scores own goal with FIFA


The Oman Football Association were in a spot of bother earlier this month. 3 clubs had taken the Association to court in a squabble over who runs things, and won a decision to overturn t he election of FIFA's official body in the Sultanate.



FIFA were not impressed, and responded that no court tells FIFA what to do, and that they had observed and approved the election. They sent the OFA a letter stating that should the courts decision be implemented, they would throw Oman out of FIFA, meaning no World cup 2014 qualifying matches.

FIFA has reminded the Oman Football Association that all FIFA member associations must manage their affairs independently and without influence of any third parties, as clearly stipulated in articles 13 and 17 of the FIFA Statutes. This is in relation to the apparent award by the Administrative Court in the Sultanate of Oman on 25 June 2012 following an appeal by three OFA clubs, in connection with the OFA elections of August 2011, the enforcement of which would allegedly entail the nullification of said elections and the organisation of a new electoral process, FIFA confirms that the OFA elections were held under the strict observation of FIFA and AFC representatives and that those representatives duly asserted that the procedure of the election of the Board of Directors was carried out in accordance and conformity with the precepts of the OFA statutes. FIFA stresses that article 64 of the FIFA Statutes state that recourse to ordinary courts is, as a general rule, prohibited and that all FIFA member associations must ensure this stipulation is adhered to by their members. Should the aforementioned award of the Administrative Court materialise, the matter would be referred to the relevant FIFA bodies to take appropriate measures, which could extend to an immediate and indefinite suspension of the OFA. Such a suspension would jeopardise the participation of Oman in the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers and in other international competitions, and would also mean that neither the OFA nor any of its members or officials could benefit from any development programme, course, or training from FIFA or AFC while the OFA is suspended.

Ooops. Cue panic.
OFA news release.

So now
Sayyid Al Busaidi, is refusing the court oder and appealing to the Ministry of Sport. He wants the minister to somehow reverse the court by force of personality I guess, and give them the red card.

Yesterday the Oman Football Association met with 35 local clubs to discuss the verdict issued by the Administrative Court following a case filed by three clubs in Oman, Seeb and Muscat to dissolve the OFA board. All of the 35 clubs that attended the meeting restated their support for the current OFA board and expressed the need to unite to resolve the current case filed with the Supreme Judicial Council. The board of members have rejected any resignation suggestions by the three clubs and will continue to run the OFA until the end of the current tenure – 24 August 2015. Sayyid Khalid Bin Hamad Al Busaidi, OFA Chairman, said: “We have reached the decision to appeal to the Ministry of Sports Affairs to request the Administrative Court to pause the implementation of the verdict issued last week as a result of inaccurate data provided during the trial. We are confident that the OFA can work together with the support of the local clubs to help revise the court decision in order to retain The OFA has also approved the formation of a dedicated committee of nine representatives from local clubs and the OFA to oversee the process with the Ministry of Sports Affairs. In the meantime, the OFA board will approach the three clubs that filed the court case last year and try to convince them to withdraw their complaints in the effort to preserve the OFA’s reputation and the future of Omani football.  

There have been issues with Oman's soccer administration before, with the election contested, and actual voting for a position with power. The leadership of the most popular sport in Oman gives access to funding, lots of overseas trips, and wasta. It'll be interesting to see how this is resolved. Most likely by the 3 plaintiffs being strong armed into withdrawing the complaint, somehow even after judgement. Do any readers have some insight into the deeper currents behind this struggle?

Friday, June 29, 2012

New Series: “I’m super! Thanks for asking! Because everything is super when you’re … in Oman!”


In the spirit of the new guidance given to us recently from the venerable [and Government appointed] Oman Human Rights Commission, the dept. of Public Prosecutions, and compliant (as always!) with the comprehensive Omani publications law, here’s the news from Oman*!

[*not a police state, despite what the Economist says, like they know anything].

New Series: “I’m super! Thanks for asking! Because everything is super when you’re … in Oman!”
To honour the far sighted arrest, imprisonment and soon to be meted deserved punishment of those bloggers and activists, intent on causing trouble and hiding behind their abuse of free speech in this glorious country, we’ll have a series of posts about Oman in general, highlighting the positive things these people don't want you to know. These so-called Omanis (we all know if they act like this they can't be real Omanis) can't be allowed to bring the Omani Anglo-Bloggoshere into disrepute.

Starting with…

Government and The Law.

Government

Oman is governed by an excellent political system known as an http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_monarchy Absolute Monarchy, aka an Autocracy. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos issues all the laws, without the needless constraints of a written constitution or the oversight of a constitutional court. (There is a Basic Law, which effectively acts as a constitution for regulation and is just wonderful, but the Sultan can modify it if he wants to.)

This system of benign dictatorship ensures that all such laws and regulations are fully aligned with the wishes of the all people, by definition, and this is evidenced by the way all laws are greeted with delight by the citizens.


Photo: HM Sultan Qaboos. A true warrior Diplomat, handsome, debonnaire, visionary, and the original inspiration for The Most Interesting Man in the World ads by Mexican beer company Dos Equis. True story.



We all know that a fundamental foundation of the Oman system is that the authority of His Majesty The Sultan must be held inviolate. Because all Omanis agree on that absolutely, and wouldn't even think of deviating from that even in their dreams, this national unanimity is robustly protected by very strong Lese-majesty Laws. Even the hard-core looters carried signs in praise of His Majesty. (It goes to show that just because someone's a seditious rioter doesn't mean they're stupid opposed to HM.)

This blog has always held to the observation that there is a word for what Oman would be like without HM Qaboos - And that word is "Yemen". And without an Opera House or Grand Mosque at that. And fewer pastels. Even Al Qaida are apprently leaving Yemen and coming here of late, that's how bad Yemen is.

Great leaders though the ages have agreed a benign dictatorship is the best system ever devised to govern a country, as long as you have a dictator who is benign and wise, as we have had here in Oman during the more than 40 years of Blessed Renaissance. That's why we were awarded most progressed nation by the UN.

It is not a problem what so ever that there is no publicly known successor to His Majesty, no heir nor Crown Price. We can proceed secure in the knowledge that everything will be OK and that His Majesty will continue to live for many decades making all the big decisions on behalf of a grateful citizenry.

Some of these seditious critics abusing their right to free speech claim that robust institutional systems are not in place to moderate the power of a future successor to the Sultan. All Omani people are united behind His Majesty, and HM has wisely put in place a process for the succession, so it is not something people need fret about, it’ll all be OK. The tremendous talents intrinsic to the very DNA of all members of the Royal Family, under the wise guidance of the Oman Military, will ensure the eventual successor is just as infallible, honorable, visionary, dedicated and benign as Sultan Qaboos. Afterall, just look at how things were in Oman even before his Majesty. And that was exactly the same a completely different system. See?

His Majesty also appoints all the members of his Cabinet and the Ministers that administer the functions of Government. All these appointees are regularly made to appear before the democratically elected members of the Shura, where they must answer questions. There are no political parties in Oman's Shura, people vote for their representative's tribe or family personal probity and status. They might well have a degree.

Despite the fact that the Shura has few resources of its own and little expertise in the technical details of the Ministerial portfolios or activities, they ask very probing and challenging questions based on solid data and independent evidence, and ensure the Government continues to function perfectly in line with the interests of the people. In addition, the Ministers and their staff never make any mistakes anyway, which is of course why we have to have these Q and A sessions in private behind closed doors, and don’t report the proceedings in the public domain.

It's therefore agreed and self-evident that Oman's system of Government is awesome. In fact, it is so good, I know you'll agree with me that we must ensure that no-one can sully our Government's shining reputation, for example by making false allegations, or publishing slanderous rumours about it or it's Ministers.

Well, like myself, Ms Dragon and all readers of Muscat Confidential, you'll be pleased to know the law here in Oman, guided by those strong and deep Omani cultural traditions you'd have to be a traitor to disagree with, wisely ensures anything people publish which may prejudice the safety of the state is not only criminal, but vigorously pursued and those transgressors punished with jail-time!  Whew.

Law

Making detailed, complex laws that spell out exactly what is required of the citizens is an awful lot of work. So instead, we generally make up our laws on the back of a napkin from a nearby shwarma shop, often just hours before it is submitted to the process to be brought into law via a Royal Decree. And as all Royal Decrees are issued by His Majesty, they are (again, by definition) perfect. That’s how efficient our Government is. No messing around. Everyone knows what the law means anyway, because our laws are based on our strong and deep cultural values of doing exactly what you’re told by those in authority without question.

Should anyone have evidence of any problem with any Government Official, no matter how high their rank, the authorities await you with open arms and would be most appreciative of such evidence, as they don’t have time to waste trying to collect such evidence themselves when there isn’t any to be found in the first place. Instead of creating rumours on-line or on a ‘blog’ [working illegally as a journalist are you now?] or newspaper, which is quite rightly a serious criminal offense, just come to the ROP. Why risk saying or writing “anything” which “may” potentially cause damage to the respect for any Government Institution, which is also illegal? Instead, simply take the matter to the people who are tasked with enforcing the law, as they want to hear your complaint, as we point out to the Americans and the UN all the time.

Just ask a good friend of the blog, our Man from the Ministry Mti! I'm confident he'll tell you do do exactly that!

(Of course, making a false or unsupported accusation to the Police or Internal Security is a very serious matter indeed, and could lead to important people being insulted and offended by your very accusation of malfeasance or incompetence. And offending and insulting people is a crime in Oman, in fact a crime we prosecute far more often (and more successfully) than we prosecute crimes of corruption. So I’d make darned sure your evidence is water-tight before going around making wild unfounded accusations against members of His Majesty’s Government sunshine, or before you know it you’ll be helping Big Abdullah make his bed every night in Muscat’s wonderfully-respectful-of-all-human-rights penal facility for uppity people like you. )

Just a warning there, certainly not a threat or an attempt to intimidate anyone.

Please report any suspicions you may have, especially if they are suspicions or complaints about people who are creating suspicions, because we take those complaints very seriously indeed.

The Basic Law, examples

Oman guartantees all Omani people and lawful residents free speech and freedom of expression. It's in The Basic Law, issued in 1996. Here, read it: http://www.omanet.om/english/government/basiclaw/overview.asp?cat=gov&subcat=blaw. Here's a sample.

Article (29) Freedom of opinion and expression, whether spoken, written or in other forms, is guaranteed within the limits of the Law.
Article (30) Freedom of postal, telegraphic, telephonic and other forms of communication is sacrosanct and their confidentiality is guaranteed. Hence, it is not permitted to monitor or inspect them, reveal their contents, or delay or confiscate them except in circumstances defined by the Law and in accordance with the procedures laid down therein.

Article (31) Freedom of the press, printing and publication is guaranteed in accordance with the conditions and circumstances defined by the Law. It is prohibited to print or publish material that leads to public discord, violates the security of the State or abuses a person’s dignity and his rights.

Article (32) Citizens have the right of assembly within the limits of the Law.

These articles are subject to subsequent legislation, which is what makes them so Universal. You see, all Omanis have freedom of expression as a right in the Basic Law, (well, except where we make it illegal, obviously).

And we make it perfectly illegal like this http://www.main.omanobserver.om/node/67972 - just one tiny excellent example of Omani law in action from the new Publications Law:
Decree amends publication law
Mon, 10 October 2011

It is prohibited to publish anything which may prejudice the safety of the state or its internal or external security - MUSCAT —
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. Article 2: The Decree comes into force from the day following its date of publishing in the gazette. — ONA


This is a wonderful law, and I've written enthusiastically about it before, as regular readers will know. (Although, I must confess, for absolute elegance the defamation laws are my favourite, if you must know).

I asked a friend of mine who is a real-life Senior Judge here in the Western world if he would review it, and give his expert judicial opinion on the above as a piece of legislation.

He read it very carefully, and announced it was "a world class example of fascist law", and there was nothing to review. It was so comprehensive, in his opinion, it made ANY statement on the Government's actions criminal by definition. "There is no free speech with that law, none."

Wow. Our legal minds are that good people! World Class Law!!  Go Oman!


~

So, that was our fast tour of Oman's Governance and Law. We'll add to the series as we go through the balmy days of summer. Hell, maybe we'll even get around to Blue City III...




Monday, June 25, 2012

Oman's first IPO of 2012 - Bank Nizwa, Islamic Bank - a tremendous success!

Ex-Minister of the Ex-Ministry of National Economy, HE Macki was always opposed to so-called Islamic Banking. But after the post-protest mass sacking reorganization of the Cabinet, and the departure of Mr. Macki to the land of gnomes, it was back on the agenda.

You see, with the opening up of the free trade region, Omani's were exporting deposits to Islamic Banks in other GCC countries at an increasing rate. That was the convincer.

So with great enthusiasm a few big wheels decided to start Oman's first bank that will base their operations on Sharia principles. The IPO was a great success, almost 11x over subscribed and raising $160 million.

In typical Omani style, the bluster and enthusiasm combined with a slopshod approach to corporate governance and management was not matched by performance.

The initial shareholders meeting, required to establish the 'constitution' of the company so it can legally start operations, couldn't make a quorum of the required 75% of shares. Oh dear.

So the company set up with over a 150 million dollars in shareholders cash can't even organize a meeting. And not just any meeting. The most important meeting a public company ever has, its first General Meeting. This is now being seen as representing not just (by definition) a big Omani company with piss-poor management, but as casting doubt on the competence of the Muscat exchange to run a real public offering. The Dubai exchange must be pissing themselves laughing.

Of course, all of this in no way whatsoever reflects badly on the reputation or honour of the very important Omani people involved. They have moved heaven and earth to bring this tremendously important and complex project to what has been, in reality, a great success. The backers of the company, the outstanding advisors, and the stock exchange itself are run by the best there is. They're just great. They not only did everything humanly possible, but did it with the highest of intentions, guided by the vision of His Majesty in this glorious time to be a banker in Oman.

And the Government regulator was totally blameless. Nothing they could have done to avoid this.



This delay and mix-up was not only completely understandable, and normal, and yanni to be expected,and inshallah the paperwork will be ready soon.

There's certainly nothing for anybody to get offended or insulted about here. Just keep repeating what a tremendously successful thing Bank Nizwa is. I'm sure the crack reporters at The Observer and Times of Oman are on the case.

The reputations of those responsible must not be tarnished by a mere failure to achieve results. This is in line with the deep cultural traditions of Omani society not to point out in public when someone - especially someone officially very important - cocks everything up. Whoever was responsible was certainly not Omani. They will be found and sent back to the sub-continent they came from.

Fortunately, we have laws in this country. Laws to protect people's reputation from things like a public discussion of observable facts that relate to their performance.

And whoever it was that pointed out the mistake and officially noted the lack of a legal quorum at that meeting deserves a promotion. Now that was a person actually doing their job.



Post-press: Times of Oman publishes Bank Nizwa response.

.... However, Ahmed Said Al Rawahi, Chairman of Bank Nizwa Founding Committee, stated; "The bank's launch preparations are progressing as scheduled. Our staff is in place, the first three branches at Muscat, Nizwa and Sohar are currently being fitted out, the core banking system has already been deployed, and the product portfolio is under approval.

"The general meeting could not be concluded on the appointed day of June 21 as Bank Nizwa has a large base of over 37,000 shareholders with many of them not being in the country owing to the current holiday season. This made it difficult to achieve the requisite attendance norm and we are rescheduling the meeting. We are confident that in the next meeting we will have the requisite quorum, he explained. As per the law, votes representing 75 per cent of the bank's capital are required to conduct the meeting. Bank Nizwas has 92 founding members, who have collectively invested RO90 million.

'We are on track'
Saying that the rescheduling will not affect the bank's launch plans, Al Rawahi noted, "I am glad to inform that we are on track to be ready to open our doors to the public during the third quarter of 2012, subject to CBO approval.

The date of the new meeting is being agreed with appropriate authorities and will be scheduled to take place sometime within the next six weeks, in keeping with Capital Market Authority regulations.

Market sources said there is no clarity on when the regulation on Islamic banking will be issued and when Bank Nizwa to commence operation, which have affected the bank's share prices on the bourse. "There has been a lack of interest among institutional investors, while retailers continued their selling, said Kanaga Sundar, Senior Analyst at Gulf Baader Capital Markets.



Yes indeed, so as I said, everything is a great success and it's all going according to plan.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Public Prosecution arrests bloggers. Oman named 'nicest police state in the world'.

It's been a busy month in the Dragon's lair. While I was gone, it seems the Public Prosecution Dept decided to expose the reality of Oman's law on speech - it's illegal. The story from Human Rights Watch is here

As local blogger Susan Al Shahari notes, the law is far from clear as to where the line is between fair comment and jail time. This is an issue discussed before on Muscat Confidential here

“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."

Oman's citizens and residents have never had freedom of expression, as it has always been subject to broad, vague, ill-defined rules that make any critical statement about the government illegal. And not just illegal, but criminal.

If the report is correct, the bloggers have actually been charged with incitement to protest. As noted in the HRW article, this is even more insidious, as apparently even the law for this charge is secret.
On June 4 the public prosecutor formally charged all three with “inciting to protest,” and released al-Hana’i and al-Khorousi on bail. The public prosecution renewed al-Meqbali’s detention for an additional seven days while it researched further charges, though none have been announced. An Omani lawyer who asked not to be identified said that the charge of “incitement to protest” is a state security crime not covered under the regular Penal Code. Authorities have not made public the code enumerating crimes falling under state security and punishments associated with them.


Several of the 'activists' have started a facebook page 'Humanitarian initiative for human rights in Oman'. Check it out!

The ROP and Public Prosecution are out of their depth, holding several arrested without charge or access to legal council for 4 days, according to the HRW report. The laws are so broad and draconian that denying them the few rights they actually do have [24hrs before you should be charged and given access to a lawyer, no beatings or torture] is really stupid.
The facebook page is reporting another arrest too, this time of a photographer.

Folks, try to understand. Oman is governed as an autocracy. In fact, Oman is one of the few absolute monarchies left, the others being Saudi, Brunei, Qatar and Swaziland. HM is not bound by a constitution, he can issue any decree he wants.

You've probably noticed that all laws are "Royal Decrees", as only the Sultan can make law. You get to 'vote' but political parties are banned. And the people you elect can only make requests of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. It is a criminal offense to criticise the Government. It is a criminal offense to encourage anyone to protest. It is a criminal offense to protest without permission. It is even a criminal offense to publish the name of someone who has been convicted of a crime in public court!

You do not, and have never had, a right of free speech. You are only allowed to express yourself if what you have to say supports the Government, and doesn't offend anyone. That a statement is true is not a defense. That a statement is only of personal opinion is not a defense.

Reread that new article 26 above.

Is it any wonder The Economist just called Oman "the nicest police state in the world"?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

3 Omanis wanted by Interpol

It's been amazing to see some of the stories making it into the newspapers lately.

Times of Oman published an article asking for CCTVs in Oman's high schools to get drug dealers ‘CCTV in schools must to arrest drug peddlers’, in a story by Oman's top Journalist Saleh Al-Shaibany. The article is unusual in that it admits there is a huge drug problem in Oman:

... The problem of drug trafficking has become so serious in the Sultanate that it prompted the ROP to establish a new department last week. Records show that once youngsters get hooked up to drugs, if they don’t get help, they may even commit suicide. One of the most prevalent problems in the country is the absence of dedicated rehabilitation centres to take care of this menace widespread in the Omani society.

A recent UNICEF annual report said, “The use of drugs among adolescents, particularly girls, is of concern in Oman. There is only one rehabilitation hospital for the entire country.”

Hospital Ibn Sina is the only hospital that offers rehabilitation for drug addicts but many feel that the centre mainly offers a short-term detoxification rather than an extensive treatment. For some reason, the government recently scrapped plans to build a specialized drug rehabilitation clinic at Al Khodh, close to the Sultan Qaboos University Hospital.

“It is good to see that the ROP is setting a new department. This effort will help reduce smuggling and sale of the drugs but will not help people who have already become addicts. We need a proper rehabilitation centre on par with the international standards where an addict can get at least six-month treatment,” Khalid Al Massoudi, a father of 22-year-old drug abuser, told Times of Oman.

Massoudi said that his son was given a free sample by some people who came to his school when he was just 15 and now he has become an addict. Initially, we didn’t know but when we started noticing expensive items missing from home, including money, and behavior of my son, we realised that something must be wrong with him. Late on we came to know that he needed cash to buy drugs for his daily consumption,” Massoudi said.


Excellent reporting Saleh. Although I'd have loved a few anon interviews with these addicts in school. If any of you high school girls are reading this, send me an email in between chasing the dragon on tin-foil. Unlike your male counterparts, you probably can read and write English. I can probably really improve your music selection too.







It was also interesting to see this report on Interpol issuing international arrest warrants for 3 Omani citizens. Despite the warrants being published, Times of Oman still can't bring itself to print their names or photos.

According to the Interpol, 46-year-old A.S.S., 32-year-old H.A., and 28-year-old A.B.S.S.S. figure on list of Interpol’s ‘Most Wanted’ criminals from Oman.

According to the premier investigative agency, A.S.S., an Omani national and a resident of Muscat, is wanted in several cases of counterfeiting, forgery and fraud cases in Oman. “His height is 1.68 metres and colour of hair and colour of eyes is black,” the agency said.



It seems we can admit our high schools are plagued with drug dealers and teenage girls on Heroin, but god forbid we actually name a criminal. Bizarre.

So here are those wanted criminals, in case you spot them in the queue at Lulu:

Suspect No. 1
Photo: Interpol wanted list. Said Khamis Ayil Al Salti

Said Khamis Al Salti, DOB 01/11/1965. Wanted for counterfeiting, forgery, & fraud. AKA A.S.S.


Suspect No. 2

Photo: Interpol wanted list. Saif Sahlouf Said Al Badi

Saif Sahlouf Said Al Badi, DOB 11/10/1983. Wanted for fraud. AKA A.B.S.S.S.


Suspect No. 3
Photo: Interpol wanted list. Ali Hooti

Ali Hooti, DOB 06/10/79. Wanted for Crimes against humanity, Organized crime/transnational crime, Terrorism, Crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives. AKA H.A.


This is the guy wanted for the bombing in India, and apparently is Omani born, despite reports.


And finally.

Speaking of photos no-one wants to print, look how happy HM looks, arriving in Croatia.

Photo: HM Sultan Qaboos arrives in Croatia at the start of a well deserved vacation. Doesn't he look totally GQ?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

HM arrives in Croatia for well earned vacation, locals star-struck

Just a quick one: HM Sultan Qaboos has arrived in one piece in Croatia, and is safe and sound on his magnificent yacht Al Said. Happy holidays your Majesty. Here's the story breathlessly reported by The Croatian Times.
Royalty arrives in Dubrovnik Croatian Times
The Sultan of Oman, said to be worth more than the Queen, arrived in the Dalmatian tourist city of Dubrovnik yesterday (Sun), reported Croatian daily newspaper Jutarnji list. After landing at Cilipi airport in his private plane, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, 71, was transported by helicopter to his awaiting 156 metre super luxury yacht "Al Said", which has been anchored in the Dubrovnik port of Gruz for the last 3 weeks, together with its accompanying boat for logistics "Fulk Al Salamah".

The Sultan was met on his arrival in Dubrovnik by Mayor Andro Vlahusic, who wished the Sultan a pleasant stay before he boarded his super yacht, which is currently one of the top five biggest yachts in the world.
It is unknown when the Sultan will depart, however, his two yachts are due to leave Dubrovnik on 5 May. There has been talk that the Sultan of Oman is in Croatia to look at possible investment possibilities.
Croatia is struggling a bit financially. You can see why they'd love some business from the State Investment Fund. I'm sure His Majesty will be well looked after.

I wonder where his flotilla will set sail for next?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Omani terrorist arrests in UK. Plus, Government Gas contracts: When you've gott'em by the balls... Twist.

Breaking News: 3 terrorists were nabbed in the UK coming from Oman.

3 Arrested at Heathrow on Suspicions of Terrorism
By RAVI SOMAIYA
Published: April 20, 2012
LONDON — Three men have been arrested at Heathrow Airport and held on suspicion of “possessing articles and documents with intent to use them for terrorist purposes overseas,” the police said on Friday.

The suspects, residents of Britain’s second-largest city, Birmingham, were arrested Thursday night as they arrived from Oman. The police did not release their names.

The three, aged 33 to 39, were detained by officers from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit as part of a “preplanned and intelligence-led” operation, the police said, that was not mounted “in response to any immediate threat to public safety.”

They were held under Section 57 of the British Terrorism Act. That law makes it a criminal offense to possess materials that create a “reasonable suspicion” that they are “for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.”

A police spokeswoman said British officers had traveled to Oman to meet with the authorities there before making the arrests, but she declined to provide further details about the operation or to describe the articles and documents the men possessed.

Oman, a small Arab nation that borders Yemen and Saudi Arabia, has not previously figured significantly in Britain’s long struggle against homegrown groups of Islamic extremists who have roots overseas. Earlier this week the British government rearrested Abu Qatada, a Jordanian-Palestinian militant preacher accused of being one of Al Qaeda’s leaders in Europe, and said it would resume efforts to deport him.




A couple of other interesting news items over the past few days.

Potential for Shale Gas in Oman?The Ministry of Oil and Gas was touting Oman's potential for the new 'unconventional' shale gas (& oil) plays that are all the rage in the global oil market [a big 'thank you' to the good ol' USA for figuring that out for us, BTW].

It follows the recent expro on Oil and Gas held in Oman last week. Read all about it in the Oman Observer in a press release by His Excellency, Nasser bin Khamis al Jashmi, Under-Secretary, Ministry of Oil & Gas. The Government is desperate for gas, having over built LNG capacity and given away large amounts in gas contracts to stimulate associated industry in Sohar and Salalah. Oxy got the Mukhaisna oil field project mainly because it could bring gas for steam from Qatar, via its Dolphin project.

The Observer also had this cracker of a headline:

Oil and gas expo showcases OER tech[sic]

It seems the ace young Hacks reporters at the Government's news agency can't even spell the 3-letter acronym "EOR" correctly [that's Enhanced Oil Recovery chaps, EOR].


Shale Gas. Not cheap, but there could be an awful lot of it in Oman. At a price.

PDO was quoted as having a $20bln spend over the next 5 years, all of which will need to be paid from production sales. Not included in that cost is the vast amount of natural gas PDO consumes to get that oil. Steam EOR requires gas fired boilers, even if some are from secondary heat recovery units on power stations. On top of the steam, PDO consumes about 700 mega-watts of power, all of it generated by gas.

EOR and fraccing all this unconventional gas and oil is very expensive. Hell, they can't get that to pay in the USA at $3/MMBTU, and that's a country that can drill and frac holes fast and cheap.

The price of oil may well be high enough for PDO's steam and stuff to more than repay, but a market price for gas in Oman (or the region) doesn't exist!

British Gas walked on Oman's Abu Butabul gas find because the gas price was too low. BP are struggling along with the Khazzan gas field, which may pay at $2.50 in places. But in all this the price of gas is a huge issue.

If only the MONE Ministry of National Economy [now defunct] hadn't gaven away loads of gas Oman's gas to Industrialists at dirt cheap rates! $0.77 per MMBTU to the Indians (and yourselves with a carried 50%) for fertiliser; same $0.80 deal for the Wizard of Oz to make Methanol. Even more generous - non-inflating fixed price contracts too! [see the laments of MC passem]

Thus Oman, with no extra conventional gas and rising internal demand to meet power and water requirements, has 20% shut-in capacity in it's 3 LNG export trains as a result. And Japan is gagging for LNG right now. Oman needs more gas* to liquify and send to the Japanese. But looking for the stuff is expensive. And gas supplies are tight. You can't shut the lights off in Muscat. What to do?

The Minister and his undersecretary suggest Foreign Oil companies come in to Oman and invest risk capital to explore for these shale gas and oil deposits, outside the patch of the dominant player (& majority Omani Government owned) PDO and their infamous and productive 'Block 6' concession (The gas is owned 100% by the Government, by the way). After all, there may be opportunities for these companies to strike it rich if the gas price is high enough, and Oman keeps its promises on tax and other fiscal terms. And Oman would get the gas it craves.

Sounds good! Where do I sign?

* Technical Factoid. Selling Natural Gas is different to oil. Most gas is effectively sold 'in the ground' over a long time period. If Oman could be sure of getting more gas from somewhere else in the future, they could 'swap' this new gas for already developed and sold existing gas. Thus the new gas could be immediately sold using existing capacity for the LNG projects and from PDO, plus that would increase oil [condensate] production as an added bonus!

In Other News
It was reported yeaterday that The Ministry of Oil and Gas has decided to break its gas supply contract with their Indian partners in the Oman Fertiliser Plant, Oman India Fertiliser Company (OMIFCO), a joint venture firm between Oman's state-owned Oman Oil Co (OCC) and Indian co-operative firms KRIBHCO and IFFCO. This is a business originally designed as a way to convert cheap, really cheap, gas into Urea for export to India, and to stimulate nearby business and infrastructure. [for reference, $0.80 per MMBTU is about $5/bbl oil equiv.]

The Urea plant & port has already been built and is working, but any extra gas supplies implied as an option in the Gas Supply contract were quickly cancelled after comissioning.

Since then, Oman has now threatened to turn off the taps altogether unless the Indains agree to pay a lot more for the gas - from $0.77 (constant, no inflation) to $3.00 with inflation added every year. Not withstanding the contract signed by the Government to supply long term gas. Surprise!


Photo: The Minister of Oil and Gas renegotiates a Sovereign Omani Non-renegotiable long-term Gas Supply contract. Go ahead, make his day.


As reported in the The Indian Express


Oman cuts gas price to $1.5 per mmBtu, but with riders
New Delhi, Tue Apr 17 2012, 16:33 hrs

Oman has halved the price at which it will sell natural gas to an Indian fertiliser plant in the Gulf nation to USD 1.5 per mmBtu but has added an annual escalation clause.

Oman, which had previously proposed to raise rates of gas sold to OMIFCO's urea manufacturing facility at Sur to USD 3 per million British thermal unit instead of present price of USD 0.77 per mmBtu, has revised its offer to charge USD 1.5 per mmBtu, sources in know of the development said.

The Gulf nation has also set a rider that gas price would be hiked by USD 0.5 every year till it reaches USD 3 per mmBtu.

Oman India Fertiliser Company (OMIFCO), a joint venture firm between Oman's state-owned Oman Oil Co (OCC) and Indian co-operative firms KRIBHCO and IFFCO, produces about 2 million tonnes of urea a year at Sur for exports to India

Oman had contracted to selling gas to the plant at USD 0.77 per million British thermal unit for 15 years beginning 2005 but mid-way decided to hike rates to USD 3 per mmBtu from January 1, 2012 citing firming up of prices in global market.

"Oman has agreed to cut the price to USD 1.5 per mmBtu from January 1, 2012 and under the new mechanism the rate would be USD 1.5 per mmBtu from January 1, 2012, and then the price would be increased by USD 0.5 per year till it reaches USD 3 per mmBtu," sources said.

Fertiliser Ministry has also proposed to the Cabinet to accept the price increase by Oman as it is much lower than the global rates of natural gas.

"We have sent a proposal to the Cabinet that the hike in gas price be accepted," a senior Fertiliser Ministry official had said.

The Ministry argues that even at USD 3 per mmBtu, the gas supplied by Oman is cheaper than alternative fuel sources. Long term gas supplies in the international market are no less than USD 18 per mmBtu.

The official said Cabinet, which may consider the proposal as early as this week, would decide if India should drag Oman to arbitration for breach of signed gas supply contract.

The ministry believes that Oman may snap gas supplies to the plant once arbitration is initiated the OMIFCO would have to buy fuel from international market during pendency of the suit. IFFCO and KRIBHCO holds a stake of 25 per cent each in OMIFCO, while the rest is with Oman Oil Company.

"We are against the proposal of taking the matter to the International Arbitration Tribunal in London, as this could lead to disruption of supply from Oman," the official said.

OMIFCO ships around two million tonnes of urea, which is its entire production, to India under an agreement the country has with the Oman government.



The Indians initially choked, so the Omanis gave them a special discount for a couple of years, while still immediately doubling the price.

Ouch!

I wonder why the Indians didn't get the contract entered as a Royal Decree, which would make it more difficult to renege upon.

It's also a bit sad the way the Indian press headlines the article as a victory for India (Gas Price halves!). They are getting screwed.


Meh. Yanni. Whallah. What to do? We have no gas! Sorry.


If I were some of the other big industrial gas users: Vail [steel plant - needs lotsa gas], or The Wizard of Oz [2 Methanol plants - needs lotsa clean gas], or Alcoa [Aluminium plant - lotsa gas!], I'd be pretty damn nervous right now. Maybe time to do some lobbying and hire some lawyers.


Is this the start of a resource nationalism trend by stealth? Is the Government's policy to negotiate long term contracts in bad faith?





It does not encourage Foreign investors to bring the capital and expertise into Oman, when the agreed and signed legal, fiscal and contractual terms are held at the whim of the Government.

The business environment is bad enough. Oman's courts are already a minefield for outsiders. Employment law is a micro-managing mess biased toward the Oligarchs. Education is poor. And wasta is a huge tax on SMEs. Infrastructure isn't everything.

Is this what happen's when HM goes on vacation?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

HM Looks to Europe for some travelling, and Oman Cavalry set to dazzle at Queen Liz's big bash

It was nice to hear from one of my sources that HM will be visiting Europe - the Royal yacht Al Said is currently awaiting instruction in the beautiful port of Dubrovnic, stocked 24/7 with fresh chocolates and flowers no doubt. Al SAID, at 155m long, is so big it travels with a dedicated support vessel FULK AL SALAMAH, just 137m long.

The arrival of the 3rd largest private yacht in the world was enjoyed by the enthusiastic 'Boat Spotters'. Here's a nice video, in case you haven't seen Al Said.




(See youtube)

It's nice to see HM give the boats some use. He last visited Croatia in 2003 and brough along a whole retenue. He was expected to arrive by plane a couple of weeks ago, as reported on 30th March when the boat arrived in port.

Not only is the cruise season and tourist season well and truly open in Dubrovnik but it also seems today that the luxury yacht season is opening. This morning in Gru┼ż harbour the private yacht of one of the richest men in the world arrived. “Al Said” is the third largest yacht in the world and owned by the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said al Said. The 71 year-old sultan owns five yachts in total and Al Said is the largest measuring 155 metres and holding a crew of 140 and up to 65 guests. It is believed that the sultan will arrive tomorrow by private jet but the purpose of his visit is still unknown.



And what is cooler than to visit Europe with your own floating 7 star hotel. He deserves a good bit of R&R too. Having seen off the challenges of the Arab Spring and the Sohar & Salalah protests, new Majlis underway, new set of Government Ministers, and with Iran in talks, it's a great time for a vacation.

Also, I wonder if HM sees parallels between Croatia and Oman? The scenery is very 'Omani' around Dubrovnik. And there are similar issues of tribalism, tourism, competitiveness, unemployment, currency, & powerful neighbours. How to get Omani's more involved working in the services sector would be some good research. Croatia would love to get some of that State Investment Fund, so there will probably be deals afoot.

Of course one big reason for the trip to Europe will be for His Majesty to attend Queen Elizabeth's massive Diamond Jubilee celebration party.

It's at Windsor Castle from 10th - 13th May, in case you didn't get your invite yet. Everybody who's anybody will be there, Daaaarling!

"The World Comes To Windsor" will celebrate 60 years of the Queen's rule.


Oman will be helping the celebrations with it's own contribution to the pagent: A Passion for Tradition.

A Passion for Tradition by The Royal Cavalry of Oman.The Royal Cavalry and The Mounted Band will be performing along with The Royal Guard of Oman with 100 pure bred Arabian Horses, two drum horses and a Hanoverian ridden by the Conductor.


Awesome. Oman gets to represent the Middle East. Take that Dubai.

Photo: His Majesty Sultan Qaboos will be contributing a special Oman Cavalry & hoursemanship turn for Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee extravaganza next month.


MeanwhileIt will be interesting to see the fate of the unnamed unlicensed driver who killed 2 women in Marbella. Anyone have the details?

Muscat: A young man, driving without a licence, killed two people as death toll from road accidents last week reached 14.

The speeding driver ran over three women after losing control of control his vehicle in the residential neighbourhood of Mabella in Seeb district on Wednesday.

Two women died on the spot while the third is battling for her life at a hospital in Muscat. The driver escaped with minor injuries, Royal Oman Police (ROP) said on Saturday

"Five people were killed in Muscat last in road accidents as the countrywide count rose to 14," a spokesperson for the ROP's Public Relations Department said.



And yes, I know some of you are still waiting for Part 3. It's coming along. I'm a very busy Dragon right now!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Oman Government powerless to stop continuing carnage on roads. And who's the lucky winner of tickets to Snow Patrol?

Photo: Multiple deaths in Oman are a daily occurance. [Oman Observer]

Amid the continual boosterism to Oman's tourism sector that abounds in the press of late, the recent tragic death of 7 people in a head-on crash made even the international news.

Six Indians, Omani killed in road accident (Khaleej Times)
5 March 2012MUSCAT - Seven people — six Indians and an Omani — were killed in a horrific road accident in Bahla, near Nizwa in the interior Dhakhliya governorate, on Sunday.

Another Omani sustained serious injuries in the head-on collision between two pick-up vans and was taken to hospital, police said. He was in intensive care in critical condition. One of the vehicles caught fire due to the impact of the crash.



By my calculations if you drive on Oman's roads you have on average a roughly 0.1% chance of dying, every year. Of course, the actual odds for a young Omani male must be much, much higher I'd guess.

About 1 in a thousand people in Oman are killed per year (note, you have to correct official figures for children and deaths reported post the scene). How's that for an Oman cultural experience, tourists? Maybe we could sell guided tours from the cruise liners to go see a few genuine Omani funerals?

But never fear, The Council of Ministers are aware of the problem folks.


Oman urges people to abide by traffic rules (Khaleej Times)
5 March 2012 MUSCAT - The unabated rise in traffic deaths and injuries has prompted Oman’s cabinet to appeal for cooperation among all sections of the society to address the grave issue.

Expressing its “deep sorrow” over mounting road accidents, the Council of Ministers, at a meeting here, called upon “everyone to abide by traffic rules and regulations to save the lives of citizens, expatriates and visitors.”

It underlined the importance of participation by the public and private sectors in an annual competition the country organises to spread awareness about traffic safety and to “enhance the culture of safe use of roads and means of transportation.”
...





Ahh yes, the ever popular 'King Canute' method of fixing a problem*.

In this case they are using the mild version of Canute - just tell people to "obey the rules and drive carefully please". The 'Advanced Canute' - seen elsewhere in Omani government - would make it illegal to die on the roads, along with signs along roads warning people that if they die it's their own fault.

Hey, a conference to discuss the problem would be awesome. Maybe an International conference. And an investigation and a report from the relevant departments, naturally. And some posters, and events to educate the public.

None of this will work.

The nice thing about this problem is that it's very hard to not count dead bodies. In the short-term, if you have the money, the King Canute method works against unemployment, for instance. But as more people die on the roads the bodies can't be swept under the carpet**. Oman is going to either have to get serious about it, or admit the failings of current policy. Unless high road deaths are the secret official policy - afterall, it helps lower the unemployment rate, increases GDP per person, and is good for increasing the car sales of Bahwan et al.

If only the outcome of other aspects of Government policy were so transparent.



Meanwhile,
HM re-re-shuffles cabinet of Ministers
Royal Decree No 11/ 2012 appoints Ali bin Masoud bin Ali al Sunaidy as Minister of Commerce and Industry; Shaikh Saad bin Mohammed bin Said al Mardhouf al Saadi as Minister of Sports Affairs; Shaikh Abdulmalik bin Abdullah bin Ali al Khalili as Minister of Justice; Sayyid Mohammed bin Sultan bin Hamoud al Busaidy as Minister of State and Governor of Dhofar; Ahmed bin Nasser bin Hamad al Mehrzi as Minister of Tourism; and Dr Abdulmunim bin Mansour bin Said al Hasani as Minister of Information.


Interesting. We only just had a new Minister of Tourism appointed. Soon I'll publish an investigative report on the goings on at the Ministry of Tourism and it's development arm, OMRAN. I wonder if the replacement is related?

More interesting was the formation of a new super "Supreme Judicial Council", reporting to HM directly and with all decisions needing HM approval, to administer the courts seperately from the Ministry of Justice. This helps to increase the independence of the bench, and finally separates the Government department responsible for prosecution from that of administering justice. That's great news.


Contest for Snow Patrol tickets - Winner!!
Our competition for the free 'pit pass' tickets to see Snow Patrol was won by "Al", who will be at the front seeing the awesome band's first Middle East gig. Thanks to HiFM and Alive Oman.




Al dodged the security, and Mission Impossible-style sent me some great pics of the scene at Blue City in Al Sawadi. This will get me on to finishing part 3 of the saga, as long anticipated! (But if you still have any pics, or are driving past Al Sawadi resort, send them to me! Just give date and if you want photo credit or not.)

There are still a few tickets I think for the show on Sunday the 11th March at the InterCon gardens. But you'd better be quick. You can get them from the Bose store in Qurum, Al Ghazal Pub at the InterCon, or the MQ box office for Alive Oman. They cost RO 25 or RO 50 for the Fan Pit.


* This common metaphor is a bit unfair to ol' Canute. He was trying to show his fawning staff that he was not almighty, so he instructed the tide back, and thus demonstrated he was powerless.

** As blogged about ad nauseum, the ROP do their best to make the number as small as they can already, by only reporting those killed at the scene, and not counting later deaths in hospital nor counting children.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

We don't need no edukation! Riots & multiple Arson attempts in Omani high schools

Oman's students are revolting. Oh yes, protests have broken out at schools across the Batna coast. Some schools were closed by the ROP, and there were multiple arson attacks - one successful. As the newspaper Times of Oman, Anees Al Zedjali's much admired throbbing organ of the Omani 4th Estate, put it here, the crimes were committed by "miscreants" [I love the olde worlde English the expat staff at ToO use, especially when the thesaurus comes out!]

Photo: Widespread school protests in Oman are leading to acts of Arson.



Arson in Al Khoud school
Seeb: Unidentified miscreants yesterday morning set ablaze some classrooms in an Al Khoud school, located in the wilayat of Seeb.

Sources said that the culprits set the classroom afire with the help of tyres.

This incident follows a wave of protests that has lashed some schools in some regions of Oman following the high failure rates in the examinations and discontinuation of the previous promotion policy by the Ministry of Education.

Investigations are on to nab the culprits, a spokesman from the Royal Oman Police said.



And it's great to see it being reported, again in ToO. The kids are upset that they actually have to pass exams, and are blaming the teachers. How the arson helps their cause, I don't know.


Omani Student's are demanding to pass their exams, 'or else'.



High failure rate leads to protests in schools

Muscat: Students of some schools in the Sultanate launched protests against the high rate of failure in the examinations for Grades 10 and 11, citing the abolition of the earlier promotion system for this.

Some schools reportedly also witnessed acts of arson following the protests that occurred last week.

Scores of students gathered at Moosa bin Nadeer School in Al Hail area and went on a protest in the morning protesting the high failure rate in the school compared to other Muscat schools. The students blamed “unqualified” teachers for their failure in the examinations.
...



The Majlis had a meeting about Education a couple of days ago. As with all Majlis reporting, there is zero information about their discussion, problems, goals, progress, actions, et al.

Majlis panel meets to find solutions to education snags

Majlis panel meets to find solutions to education snags
Muscat: The Education and Culture Committee of the Majlis Al Shura yesterday held its meeting under the chair of Khalid bin Hilal Al-Nabhani, head of the Committee.

During the meeting, members reviewed the suggestions sent to the committee by citizens and took appropriate decisions.

They also discussed a number of educational issues and the problems facing government and private educational institutions and sought to find solutions to overcome these issues.



Excellent. Good to see the problem is in safe hands, and that plans are in place! This does not bode well for Oman's education system. There are already huge issues with teachers allowing plagiarism and rampant cheating. The schools in general churn out poorly educated & unmotivated students. English is terrible. The cirriculum is based on repetition and rote.

But at least they can line up at the 'job seekers' office later on and get $400 a month. Or 'supervise' an Indian worker.

In the same edition, Editor in Chief Essa Al Zedjali raves about the 1 Omani who just got a patent in Spain for an energy invention (which is good news, I agree), and goes on to claim this indicates how Omani education is soaring, and heralds an intellectual renaissance in the Sultanate. [Note, I'm advised all of the Opinion pieces are actually written by the (Indian) senior Editor, and then tweaked by Essa. LOL]



...
Sheikh Hilal is a product of this Blessed Renaissance — an empowered and unfettered mind and a child of liberalism ushered by the visionary ruler, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Einstein said: “All of science is nothing more than refinement of everyday thinking.”

The uninterrupted run of peace and modernisation of the past 41 years of Omani Renaissance has indeed helped many brilliant Omani minds to refine their everyday thinking. Sheikh Hilal has proved the paradigm true.

A brilliant mind, hard working and competent to his core, Sheikh Hilal has proved our yet another conviction. Given the right ambience, opportunity and encouragement, Omanis too are competent enough to prove their worth in every conceivable field of human activities, especially in science and technology. Sheikh Hilal is the brightest testimony of the fact that Renaissance has been a benign movement and the country is indeed moving along the right track of modernisation.
...






Looking at the photos of the protestors, I can see they all look like the sort of bright talented hard working young minds that will be generating patents, creating world dominating businesses and being nominated for Nobel prizes.


Hey, at least we're better than Yemen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Free Concert Tickets & blogger Muawiya Al Rawahi 'released'

Thanks to our friends at HiFM, I have 2 free tickets for some lucky reader of Muscat Confidential to see the incredible Snow Patrol next month! It's not just ol' Muscat Mutterer that gives you free stuff you know!



SNOW PATROL TO PERFORM LIVE IN MUSCAT
- Alive Entertainment & HiFM present award-winning band live on 11 March 2012
- Tickets from RO 25

Alive Entertainment, in collaboration with HiFM, today announced that best-selling international indie rock band, Snow Patrol, will be performing live in Muscat for one night only on 11 March at the Intercontinental Hotel Gardens.

This is the first time in Muscat and in the Gulf for the band, which has performed for live audiences across the world. The five-piece band originally hails from Northern Ireland and has seen international success with their era-defining hits. The band will showcase material from their current album Fallen Empires, as well as performing their hits from their acclaimed albums Final Straw, Eyes Open and A Hundred Million Suns.

With demand for tickets expected to be high, register your interest online at www.hifmradio.com where you’ll be kept informed of ticket release dates. On the night, fans can get up close to the action in the fan pit for RO 50 per person, or be part of the fantastic atmosphere with a general admission ticket at RO 25.

Gordon Mackenzie, managing director, Alive Entertainment, said:
“We are so excited to be bringing Snow Patrol to Muscat for the first time. Quite simply they are an amazing live act: they will be performing all their best-known hits plus material from their new album Fallen Empires. This is sure to be one concert you don’t want to miss.

Darren Shortt, Station Manager, HIFM, said:
“This is a great event that will certainly rock the capital. With James Blunt and Snow Patrol in Muscat so far in 2012, it’s set to be an awesome year for gigs!”



Muscat will be rockin' out on March 11th. And YOU can be a part of it! Simply win those 2 free tickets. Note they are not just tickets to the show, but they also get you and a friend into the VIP 'Fan Pit' right in front of the stage, together valued at 100 R.O.! [That's US$260 folks]

OK. So how do I enter to win the free VIP tickets?
All you have to do is send me some decent photo's of Blue Ruins City in Al Sawadi. The first reader to send me some good pics will win the free tickets! Please make sure to let me know if you want photo credit, and any photos may end up published here on Muscat Confidential. What are you waiting for? Get snapping!!


meanwhile, in other news:
It appears the previous post's story on blogger Muawiya Al Rawahi's 'arrest' is somewhat resolved: he's out of where ever he was, and it seems he was not arrested at all! Read the nice report from Gulf News.

Muscat: Controversial Omani blogger Muawiyah Al Rawahi was released on Monday night after a 10-day detention.

"Yes I am out and in good health," Al Rawahi told Gulf News over telephone on Tuesday night. In reply to a question, he said that he is not yet ready to say anything. "I am just out, give me some time and I will talk all about it," he said, adding that he had gone to the security agencies on his own and was not captured as is being speculated on the social media and micro-blogging site Twitter.

He refused to talk any further about his detention or release.

Since his release, Al Rawahi has posted two posts in Arabic in which he has apologised for his earlier post that may have hurt people. He stressed in his post that he was not apologising under any duress. "I regret that I let down many [people], and I regret that I let down myself," he wrote.
...



Muawiyah, aka 'Sid', left a comment on the previous post too. There is some disagreement between him and pro-Government forum commentator "Mti" about whether or not Oman has freedom of speech or not. As Mti points out, 'freedom of speech' is covered by the Basic Law of Oman:

Freedom of speech [or freedom of expressing oneself in any mode] is enshrined in the basic law. In fact it is on of the tenets. Using it constructively is one thing, abusing it is another. There is always a line drawn not be crossed [it is something embeded in the Arabic culture not to trample on others dignity] in expressing oneself. The issue at hand is the delusional individual wrote posts that insulted others. Society just ignored him for what he is and for what he wrote.

"Article (31) Freedom of the press, printing and publication is guaranteed in accordance with the conditions and circumstances defined by the Law. It is prohibited to print or publish material that leads to public discord, violates the security of the State or abuses a person’s dignity and his rights." [blog comment, Mti]



I've posted about this before. Article 31 is typical Omani double-speak legislation, purporting to make something 'legal' while simultaneously making the actual thing effectively illegal, in this case by constraining the 'right' of free speech to be allowed only if it's legal, and insulting people or criticising the Government is illegal.

Thus, the so-called right to speak freely in Oman is subject to those broad qualifications above, and if you are not allowed to be offensive (to anybody) that is not, IMHO, 'free speech' at all. Almost anything of interest will offend somebody. It is intrinsic to true free speech that you have the right to offend. The right to free speech is, after all, only an issue in the first place when people say things somebody finds offensive.

In the case of Oman, you are free to say anything you like only as long as everyone agrees with you (including the Government). That is not free speech.

On this issue I think people should start with 'On Liberty' by British Philosopher John Stuart Mill. One of his main arguments deals directly with the illogicality of restrictions as contained within Oman's Article 31 and the rather vague 'something embedded in the Arabic culture' argument of Mti.

Photo: John Stuart Mill, 19th Century English Philosopher, demonstrated the fallacy of commentator Mti's arguments against free speech back in 1859.

To quote Wikipedia:
On Liberty involves an impassioned defense of free speech. Mill argues that free discourse is a necessary condition for intellectual and social progress. We can never be sure, he contends, that a silenced opinion does not contain some element of the truth. He also argues that allowing people to air false opinions is productive for two reasons. First, individuals are more likely to abandon erroneous beliefs if they are engaged in an open exchange of ideas. Second, by forcing other individuals to re-examine and re-affirm their beliefs in the process of debate, these beliefs are kept from declining into mere dogma. It is not enough for Mill that one simply has an unexamined belief that happens to be true; one must understand why the belief in question is the true one.
...

Perhaps the most memorable point made by Mill in this work, and his basis for liberty, is that "over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign". Mill is compelled to make this assertion in opposition to what he calls the "tyranny of the majority", wherein through control of etiquette and morality, society is an unelected power that can do horrific things. Mill's work could be considered a reaction to this social control by the majority and his advocacy of individual decision-making over the self. The famous Harm Principle, or the principle of liberty, is also articulated in this work: the state or any other social body has no right to coerce or restrict the individual unless the individual causes harm to others, crucially, the individual's own physical or moral harm is not justification for constriction of their liberty.
...

It is important to emphasise that Mill did not consider giving offence to constitute "harm"; an action could not be restricted because it violated the conventions or morals of a given society.


I think the anti-free speech high horse brigade in Oman's circles of bureaucratic power could start by reading some decent 19th Century philosophy.

And is Mti himself in breach of Article 31 by calling Sid "delusional"? Isn't that an insult, and therefore illegal?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Another Omani blogger arrested & imprisoned as a reminder there is no free speech in Oman. Plus 123 Orion gig pics!

Postscript correction: It is reported that the blogger was not arrested, at least not for blogging, but may have been taken to Oman's Psychiatric Hospital instead for evaluation.


>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Oman continues its increasingly common habit of imprisoning journalists and bloggers. The latest victim is blogger Muawiya Al Rawahi, as reported last week by Global Voices On-line and also by the lovely Dhofari Gucci. He was interviewed earlier by Global Voices here.



Photo: Imprisoned Omani blogger Muawiya Alrawahi. Photo by Jillian C York (taken from Global Voices)


Al Rawahi's #1 crime was criticising His Majesty, and HM's response to the protests last year, in a recent post (now removed from his site, but available from the Google cache spiders here).

Now, Muawiya has always been pretty out-there, with often somewhat rambling posts (unfortunately for us English speakers mainly in Arabic) about his unhappiness, work problems, religious doubts, sex, corruption, wasta, alcohol, & the Omani Government. But his forthright writing about his thoughts and ideas are a breath of fresh air in Oman, a land where maintaining 'face' and civility are of prime import. Muawiya was never afraid to tell it how he saw it. And he wrote what looks to me (via google translate!) like some half-decent Arabic poetry. Lately he started to refer to himself as 'Sid' Rawahi.

He's posted critical comments before, but as we all know here in The Sultanate of Oman, explicit speech against Oman's system of Government and especially anything critical of His Majesty, are totally verboten. Especially following the protests last year.

Hence his arrest and imprisonment. He has not yet faced trial as far as I know, but in Oman there is no habeas corpus. And his post could obviously be considered potentially illegal under Omani Law (as is almost any critical posting that mentions the Government or HM, the law is so broad and draconian), so his detention would be found OK under Habeas Corpus even if Oman had such a legal principal.

The confirmation by the Omani Court of Appeal of the 5 month prison terms given to the journalists convicted of insulting the Justice Minister doesn't make it look good for someone convicted of similar offenses against HM Sultan Qaboos...

It's a pity US journalist Judith Miller, who was granted an unusual 4 hr interview with HM last month (you can read her post about it here), didn't seem to ask him about such practices. Afterall, it's no secret that Oman is not a democracy, but an autocratic Absolute Monarchy.

Instead she focused on the on-going situation with Iran and Syria. HM supposedly said he didn't think Iran was pursuing a nuke, which is something that's difficult to believe he actually thinks, but with tensions high HM is wisely trying his best to calm things down. More on that later.

This blog is a big believer in free speech. In fact, I think it's more important in a true democratic sense than the right to vote. And as Muawiya is quoted as saying:
"the issue we don’t discuss is the issue we won’t solve"


Here here. So best wishes to you Sid. I trust you are at least being well treated by the boys in ISS and that you'll be released soon. I'm hoping you'll just be given a good talking to and released with a warning.


In other news
The gig at Royal Flight by local rockers 123 Orion was a great success. The event was a sell-out and a good time was had by all, abbeted by the cheap drinks at Royal Flight. And they raised a tremendous RO.705 [~US$1800] for their charity cause - this year the Sindbad mobile library.


Photo: Psychedelic band 123 Orion rock the house.


Well done to all involved, including new support band Iznogoud, who I presume have a French connection.


Photo: Support band Iznogoud at the Royal Flight


Their annual Winter Warmer Bash would be well worth supporting on the strength of 'any excuse for a good party', but to also raise so much money for a good cause makes it extra terrific (& thanks for the pics Jon G!)


Photo: The crowd enjoying the buzz at 123 Orion's Winter Warmer. Wish I could have been there


US moving troops into Oman? Israel keeps threatening to attack Iranian Nuclear sites.
Why would HM give a rare interview right now, his first big chat to an American reporter since 1997?

Iran.

There are reports by right-wing Israeli news site DEBKA of significant US Troop movements into Masirah Island over the past few weeks, along with defensive military preparations in Eastern Saudi.

...Tehran too is gearing up for conflict: The Iranian Guards Ground Forces chief Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour Saturday, Feb. 4 announced the start of a three-week exercise in southern Iran and the Strait of Hormuz under conditions of war. debkafile: The "exercise" is in fact an Iranian military buildup ahead of a possible American or Israel attack.

debkafile's military sources report a steady flow of many thousands of US troops for some weeks to two strategic islands within reach of Iran, Oman's Masirah just south of the Strait of Hormuz and Socotra, between Yemen and the Horn of Africa. (DEBKA-Net-Weekly 526 of Jan. 27 was the first world publication to reveal the massive concentration of American might on the two islands.)

This concentration was held by the White House as sufficiently urgent to relent on its refusal to admit the ousted Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Salah to America for medical treatment. He won permission in exchange for his consent to the Socotra military buildup.

...

Our military sources report that the Saudis this week wound up their own intensive preparations for war. Large forces are now deployed around Saudi oil fields, pipelines and export facilities in the eastern provinces opposite the Persian Gulf, backed by anti-missile Patriot PAC-3 batteries. American, British and French fighter-bombers have been landing at Saudi air bases to safeguard the capital, Riyadh.
...”


So it seems HM's interview was aimed at helping to cool down the rhetoric on Iran. HM admitted he passed onto the Iranians US warnings of a robust response to any attempt to close the Straits of Hormuz.

... He disclosed that Oman, at America's "hint" for assistance, had recently conveyed to the highest levels of the Iranian government a warning about the adverse potential consequences of closing the Strait of Hormuz. How precisely that message was conveyed -- "we have our ways and means," he said -- he would not disclose. But he added that he believes the message was clearly received.

"No one will block the Strait of Hormuz," Qaboos asserted.
...


Well, certainly not for very long, not with 3 US aircraft carrier groups around.

With some of the largest reserves of natural gas in the world, if electricity is what the Iranians want, good old gas turbine-driven power stations would be the cheapest and fastest way to get electrical power. Nuclear is expensive, slow, antagonistic and dangerous, and doesn't make any sense if all you really want is electricity. Everything points to a secret nuke programme.

Fingers crossed there will be a peaceful resolution to this, but in my opinion Iran seems determined to not back down. And if there's military action, remember Oman's US bases will be a target for Iranian retaliation.


Lastly - An Appeal for assistance.
I'm trying to finish the long overdue Blue City Part 3, I really am, but I need some pics of what it looks like at Al Sawadi these days. So, any readers who happen to be passing the Blue City site, please take a few moments to drive by and email a few photos to me? Please state approximate date taken and what the picture is showing. And let me know if you want photo credit or not!