Friday, June 19, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On it goes.

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

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

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

Other references:
The Onion

Monty Python

Bill Maher

Not the 9 o’clock news

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

Start with those….

Oh, and keep those job applications coming in!


  1. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." (Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 3 Scene 2.

    Would you advertise your authorship of Muscat Confidential on your CV?

  2. Hey Sue,

    Thanks for posting the Bovis article. I like that it's more than 11 days after I noted it too here.

    On this, oh hush my dear. Sometimes I can respond when poked, surely. I'm on record with the vanity and petulance. I prefer to visualise it as flames. ;-)

    And yes. Although not in Oman. One day this may happen. No Art 61 in Croyden, at least not yet?


  3. I was under the impression that your comment on Bovis was hearsay. Accurate hearsay maybe, but you did not, as I recall, publish a reference.

    I try to deal in verifiable reports

  4. UD

    I have followed your blog for sometime and till now my hand has only ever hovered over the 'post a comment' section. Today I braved it :0)

    I thoroughly enjoy your blog and always find your posts humorous and thought provoking.


  5. I-g-nore mode 'on'. If you start counting the number of whippersnappers who have a beef with
    a) anyone who has a blog
    b) anyone who has a successful blog
    c) anyone who knows things they dont
    d) anyone who knows things they don't but should
    e) anyone who can phrase whole posts in proper language, you'd be 60 and still counting.

    Ofcourse, I over-generalize, but the tinny little insecurities of tinny little people makes for tinny little ripples that are best left to fade out and die.

    Its the whole great minds disucss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people thing.


  6. sorry if that came a bit too harsh, but I've had it upto here with these empty vessels with the most noise.

  7. Dragon- Thank you for the comedy review- HaHa. You got a lot of support in Oman Forum, but don't get smug. Please go back to what you do best- start turning over more rocks and see what comes crawling out. Abd

  8. Here in Africa I have learnt to respect other people's views, choices, cultures, religions etc. At school my kids are tought to respect other people's choices, cultures, religions etc.

    I visited the UAE early this year, I was shocked to find people intolerable of other's choices and beliefs. Well, foreigners have freedom to some extent. I however (as an Omani by origin)was subjected to abuse and disrespect by my own people simply because I chose not to be a muslim. They had a problem with the way I dress, the way I walked, the way I interacted with the opposite sex. They just had a problem with me.

    I thank my great great grandfathers for emigrating to Africa. I could loose everything but not my freedom. Here I can go to church, I can dress the way I like, I can socilise with whoever i like (men, women, black, white, brown, muslims, christians, pagans, jews) without fear. Most importantly they accept and respect me.

    My intention was to visit Oman, the land of my origin but not anymore. I would rather go to Timbaktu, I am sure it is more interesting there.

    To my Omani brothers and sisters "Welcome to South Africa"



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