Thursday, May 27, 2010

And the lucky winners of free tickets to HiFM's Amer Zahr comedy night are....

Lucky Draw
Last night the draw was held for those free tickets to the great HiFM! comedy night at the Crown Plaza next week, 2nd June, starring Amer Zahr. Most people entered via email this time.

The draw was again done by the unimpeachable Ms Dragon, supervised by ISS. And the winners were:

Cath Crowley


Anne Kurian

You'll be sent an email with the details on how to collect your 2 free tickets at the door. Congratulations ladies!

Unlucky entrants can buy tickets by calling the HiFM booking line on (+968) 955-55699 but be quick as its almost sold out.

Thanks to Darren Shortt and the team at HiFM.

In other news:

Minister of Tourism at Majlis Al Shura
The Minister of Tourism was questioned by the Majlis Al Shura earlier this week in one of the regular Q&A sessions between the elected body (albeit with no real power) and Ministries. I wish someone would send me a translated transcript. From the generally factless articles in the media it seems the old 'Global recession/collapse in world tourism' was at the forefront of excuses for all the stalled projects and lower occupancy numbers. Was she quizzed about the poor Omanisation numbers or the preponderance of unsuccessful large scale ITDs? It seems her main response was promises and good intentions going forward.

The drop in the Euro against the dollar won't help either, I must admit. Oman is not a low cost destination, as anyone who's gone out to dinner at the Chedi or Bar Al Jissa Shangri La can verify. IMHO, Oman does need to broaden its tourism base to more value facilities if it wants to compete.

Anees and Blue City in the news again
Global business news organisation Bloomberg did a story on Blue City and the mess with the bonds and the court cases. "Oman’s Blue City Teeters as Bondholders Debate Future"

Some highlights from the article below. Not surprisingly, Omran is sniffing around too. LMAO. Like that's just what the project needs - the involvement of another failed property developer!

The Government clearly doesn't know what to do. Economy Minister Macki says - tellingly - that he has "nothing to do with it". At the moment it seems HH Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq al Said is swinging in the breeze.

I like the part where Blue City security guards actually follow the reporters back to their hotel after they tried to visit the site.

Anees Zedjali - the owner of the other 50% of Cyclone LLC - is obviously unable to even proactively handle the PR mess he's in. I'd have assumed the brilliant Marketing dept. could give him a positive spin to release. 'No Comment' and bullying security guards is not the best response to international financial news agencies when you're in a $900 million hole...

May 25 (Bloomberg) -- Oman’s Blue City, a $20 billion real estate project central to the country’s economic transformation, is on the brink of liquidation and its fate may hinge on talks between bondholders trying to salvage their investment.
Owners of $661.5 million worth of Blue City bonds are discussing measures to push the project ahead, including trying to reduce the number of bondholders involved, a person familiar with the talks said. A vote on liquidating the project, proposed by holding company Al Sawadi Investment & Tourism LLC, has been put on hold, the person said.

Four years after construction contracts were signed with Turkey’s Enka Insaat ve Sanayi AS and Greece’s Ellaktor SA, idle yellow cranes hover above skeletons of buildings with dark holes for windows. Security guards turned Bloomberg reporters away from the site and one followed them to a nearby hotel.

Blue City turned down requests for interviews with its executives and declined to comment for the story.

“The business model was to keep building with the purchase payments received; now there are no buyers and those that did buy are no longer paying, so there’s no cash flow,” Dubai-based Khalid Howladar, senior credit officer at Moody’s Investors Service, said in a May 5 interview.

As of November last year, only $75 million worth of sales had been made, compared with a forecast of $860 million, according to Howladar. Mohamed Ayjaz, general manager of Hamptons International in Oman, which was responsible for selling the project from 2007 to mid-2009, said about 400 of the 5,000 properties on offer had been sold.

Legal Battle
What happens next depends on what the bondholders decide as well as the outcome of a three-year legal battle between owners AAJ Holdings Company B.S.C. of Bahrain and Oman’s Cyclone LLC. Cyclone is 50 percent-owned by Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq al Said, minister of culture and heritage in Oman and a member of the royal family, according to the bond prospectus. Al Said laid the ceremonial first stone for the project in December 2007.

The dispute between Cyclone and AAJ over ownership of the project is headed for the country’s highest court. If AAJ loses, it will appeal to the London Court of International Arbitration and the ICC International Court of Arbitration in New York, Chief Executive Officer Ahmad Janahi said. Cyclone Chairman Anees al-Zadjali declined to comment when contacted on his cell phone.


About 75 percent of the holders of Class A notes in Blue City are in discussions over amending the terms of the bonds, according to the person familiar with the talks. A liquidation of the project may limit the amount that debt holders could recover. The government can buy the land back at market value if Al Sawadi fails to complete the tourism elements of the project in six years, according to the bond prospectus.

Government Silent
Officials from Oman’s government, which endorsed the 34 square-kilometer (13.1 square-mile) project and agreed to sell it land for $83.2 million, were reluctant to speak about the current state of Blue City. Essdar Capital, an investment vehicle owned by members of Abu Dhabi’s royal family, last July offered to buy Class A bonds for 57 cents and 54 cents on the dollar, according to a company filing.

Economy Minister Ahmed bin Abdulnabi Macki said on April 25 that he had “no idea” about Blue City, and has “nothing to do with it.” Asked whether the government would step in to help struggling real-estate projects, he said, “we have no plans for that purpose.”

Oman’s tourism minister, Rajiha Abdul Ameer Ali, said on May 3 that she didn’t want to talk about Blue City because “the situation is still unclear.”

Wael Lawati, CEO of Omran, the investment arm of the ministry of tourism, said one option is to re-evaluate the market that it’s targeting.

“Now it’s time to see what the Omani investor is looking for, what he’s willing to buy and at what condition and what design he prefers.”

Lawati said Omran hasn’t been told whether it will have any future role in Blue City.
“Maybe this discussion is taking place at a higher level, but we haven’t received anything in Omran’s board about preparing to enter or that our role would include that.”

Friday, May 21, 2010

Updates: 123Orion charity, Muscat Rugby club fundraiser and last chance for free tickets to Hi FM Comedy night!

A few weeks ago, local Expat band 123 Orion did a gig at the Royal Flight to raise funds for local good cause previously featured on the blog, the Creative Learning Centre. The gig was a sell-out and a great success, raising 400 rials [over US$1000] and providing great fun and entertainment for the folks. Well done 123 Orion and special thanks to Jon G.

Photo: Members of band 123 Orion presenting their cheque for 400 rials to the Manager of the Creative Learning Center. Great Job!

Meanwhile, the 'A ruckin' good time' comedy show at Muscat Rugby Club on May 13th was also a hit, and raised loads of cash (over 900 rials!) for the local rugby team. Well done to Mr. & Mrs. Sythe who organised the event. Mr Sythe is a local blogger and author of Muscat Mutterings. Muscat Confidential reader Delirious in the Desert won 2 free tickets to the event and sent this review:

Local comedy show fundraiser big hit at Muscat Rugby Club
All in all it was a great event and fun was had by all - it was well coordinated and sounds like the Rugby boys will get almost a full strip for next season :)
My hubby and I missed the first 3 comedians (we had friends who arrived in town that night from Abu Dhabi and their plane was delayed, so our dinner plans were pushed back).

We did hear that 2 of the first 3 people were awesome, but Mr Sythe would be better versed to speak on their performances...

However, the first comedian after the break was FANTASTIC - an Omani/British guy from Qantab who rocked the house with his jokes about his flight attendant days, as well as growing up in a fishing village /multi-cultural household / and the challenges of explaining traditions like Christmas & The Tooth Fairy to his Omani friends. He had the audience in hysterics and was sent off stage with a round of applause!

The next guy was a Kenyan with a strong American accent, and bless him - he struggled through his performance due to a lack of audience reaction, but nevertheless he finished his set and held his head high. All credit to him though, he approached people after the show and requested feedback - although I wasn't game enough to be honest with him since I immediately thought of the old Jack Nicholson quote "You can't handle the truth" from that Tom Cruise movie!

The final comedian was hilarious and had a huge presence on stage, quite literally. He was an big Omani guy dressed in a rusty coloured dishdasha and matching kumar, joking about sports, sex and cars...quite the line-up. He was a real character and had everyone laughing and cringing at the same time!!!

Overall it was a good night had by all, judging from my sore cheeks and head the next day. Our friends from Abu Dhabi had a good time too and commented that it was the best amateur comedy night they had been too in ages.

Cheers for the tickets!!!

More free stuff! HiFM Comedy
There's more comedy on its way, and you still can enter the draw for one of 2 pairs of free tickets to comedian Amer Zahr, playing on Wednesday, 2nd June at the Crown Plaza.

Either place a comment on this post (with a means of contact and remember it's public) or email undercover(dot)dragon(at)gmail(dot)com, and you are in to win. The draw will be held at midnight, Wednesday 26th May. Enter now!!!

You can also buy tickets by calling the HiFM booking line on (+968) 955-55699

Amer, already a feature on ABC network's "Politically Incorrect" show, is so funny he's just been given his own sitcom vehicle on US TV this season. So for 15 rials a ticket it's a bargain.

And lastly,
Omani Legal Eagle BlueChi, currently on a work experience programme in the US Congress, had the bad luck to get assigned to Congressman Mark Souder for the Legislative Fellowship Program he's on.

Mr Souder, a right-wing 'Family values' Christian Republican, was forced to resign last week after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a staff member!! See BlueChi's blog here. I'm told BlueChi was live tweeting the event as it happened.

The most unusual thing about the event that it was a female member of his staff... Blue Chi is definitely getting a real tour of US politics!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Part 2 of Muscat Confidential's exclusive interview with The United States Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman.

The second part of our interview with Dr. Richard J. Schmierer, U.S. Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman. (Part one is here).

Muscat Confidential Interviews:
Dr. Richard J. Schmierer, U.S. Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman
May 16, 2010


Undercover Dragon: What is your advice to Omanis who are considering studying in the USA? It is rumoured that it is more difficult for Muslims to get visas these days, and that the environment within the States for people from the Middle East is increasingly unsympathetic.

Richard J. Schmierer: I have to disagree just a little here. It’s actually getting easier and easier for Omanis to travel to the United States – we have one of the highest visa-issuance rates in the world here, and the vast majority of visas for Omanis are not only approved, but approved in two business days.

In terms of students, we’ve just gotten the figures for international students in the U.S. for 2008-09, and it was a record year: over 670,000 international students in total, with the number from the Middle East up 17% over 2007-08.

As a destination, I would suggest that the U.S. is one of the best – if not the best – place for a student to go. We have over 4,000 accredited colleges and universities. For a student with ambition and academic ability, there is almost certainly a school that’s an excellent match. Many American colleges and universities are actively seeking students from this part of the world, and many are putting together very attractive financial packages for high-achieving applicants. AMIDEAST, on behalf of the Embassy, runs an excellent program here called EducationUSA that advises on study in the U.S.

UD: Why doesn't the US Embassy host more social events? The British Embassy seem to be better at that - maybe you should think about upping your game?

RJS: I’m pleased that our British and other diplomatic colleagues host social and cultural activities here in Oman; we at the American Embassy are also quite active in this area.

Our approach to such activities may be a little different from some of our fellow embassies, in the way we engage local audiences. We had the public blues concert last month, for example, with about 500 attending (and thanks again for your help in getting the word out), but we also sent the band out to play for students at a primary school and at a private college outside Muscat, where both the students and the musicians had a fantastic time.

I’ve hosted some wonderful events that I’ve found to be great learning experiences – with Omani young people, for example, or with aspiring entrepreneurs – but they tend to be smaller, more private events. We had a marvelous evening with local leaders earlier this year when I visited Masirah Island, and I’m looking forward to hosting more events as I travel within Oman.

Of course, we do host some larger gatherings as well – our annual national-day reception in February, for example, opens the Embassy garden up to 600 or so of our closest friends.

UD: How do you think the USA can best help Oman, and the GCC region, to achieve their development goals?

RJS: I think we can keep doing the kinds of things we have been in recent years: work together, listen respectfully to each other’s priorities, and conduct activities that help bring people together. More and more, we are looking for innovative ways to connect people and organizations in the U.S. with those from Oman and the region. There is a great deal of interest and goodwill on both sides in support of such engagement.

UD: Is Barack Obama planning to meet with His Majesty?

RJS: A presidential visit – or a visit by His Majesty to Washington – would be a wonderful thing. I have a feeling that they would very much enjoy each other’s company; they’re both remarkable people. To be candid, though, there are currently no plans for such a meeting.

UD: How has the election of Barack Obama changed the USA's foreign policy to the Middle East and Oman?

RJS: The President’s Cairo speech last June laid out new directions in a way that was both idealistic and very practical. It means more cooperation, more engagement in areas like entrepreneurship, science, and technology, and a renewed commitment to support peace across the region. In many ways, that speech has become a blueprint for the way forward, and we’re already seeing some very encouraging results.

UD: What mistakes has the USA made recently in its relationship with the GCC region, and what are you doing about it? Does it frustrate you that the USA seems to be blamed for the regions' woes, and is often vilified in segments of the media; yet many 'ordinary' Middle Eastern people love to visit and live in the USA? (and usually seem to have relatives there!)

RJS: I do think that that U.S. sometimes gets an outsize share of both blame and expectations when it comes to regional issues. It’s understandable, I suppose – we’re an easy target.

I’m very glad that people from the region are eager to visit the U.S. and to be engaged with America and Americans; they are very welcome in our country. I’m likewise pleased that the reverse is increasingly true – that we’re seeing more and more Americans who want to know more about this part of the world. Arabic, for example, is the fastest-growing second language being taught in the U.S. now, and here in Oman we’re seeing more and more programs that bring Americans out to study and to teach, both through the U.S. government and privately.

UD: Can you list some specific examples of how is the USA trying to engage more positively with ordinary people in the region?

RJS: That could turn into a very long list indeed. Here in Oman, for example, we have programs like the English Access Microscholarship Program, which provides two years of intensive English to some 280 deserving students across the country who wouldn’t otherwise get that level of training. We have a program called Youth Exchange and Study, YES, which sends high-school students to the U.S. for one school year, where they live and study in American communities. Last year, for the first time, we brought American students to Oman to do the same thing for one semester, and we’ll be doing more of that in the future.

More and more, we’re trying to reach out to younger people, to new audiences like aspiring entrepreneurs, and to do cooperative programming that’s tailored specifically to meet local needs.

One of the broadest and I think most useful ways we’re reaching out is online, through efforts like, which provides a huge range of information – in English, Arabic, and many other languages – directly to anyone with access to the Internet.

UD: Last year the US State Dept. annual report to Congress on Human Trafficking originally rated Oman "Tier 3", but following protests from the Omani Government this was changed to "Tier 2 Watch List". What happened?

RJS: Actually, it wasn’t protests that moved Oman off Tier 3, but positive, concrete efforts here in Oman to combat trafficking.

TIP – trafficking in persons – is an issue that the American people and the American Congress take very seriously. We work with countries all over the world to encourage best practices and active efforts to help stem this truly terrible assault on human dignity, and we’re required by the Congress to report annually on what each country achieves (we carry out the same kinds of reporting, although through other mechanisms, on ourselves, by the way).

Oman has a lot to be proud of in regard to its work combating trafficking in recent years, and I think our annual TIP report reflects that. By the way, Oman is Tier 2, not Tier 2 Watch List.

UD: Why doesn't the US Embassy allow its citizens to marry at the embassy?

RJS: That’s a complicated question. What it boils down to is that in the United States, marriage isn’t a matter for the federal government (of which the Embassy is a part, falling under the U.S. Department of State), but rather for each of our individual states, which we represent only indirectly, so it isn’t one of the services we can provide to American citizens overseas.

UD: Anything you would like to say to the readers of Muscat Confidential?

RJS: I’m tempted to say: don’t believe everything you read on the Internet! What I will say is that I think the development of outlets like this blog, and the other fascinating English and Arabic blogs now active in Oman, are really changing the way people communicate and share ideas. I’m glad to have the chance to be part of that.

UD: Any advice for Muscat Confidential?

RJS: I wouldn’t presume to advise the dean of Oman’s English bloggers – except perhaps to make sure you quote me accurately. Our Public Affairs staff is fierce, and you wouldn’t want to get on their bad side…

I hope that you and other bloggers, in English and Arabic, will keep up the good work of reflecting on the world around you, thoughtfully, responsibly, and in ways that help your readers and contributors think about their own experiences.

UD: Thank you for answering my questions, Your Excellency.

**Disclaimer: This interview was conducted via email in early May 2010 with the kind assistance of Mr. Daniel M. Pattarini, Assistant Public Affairs Officer with the US State Department, Muscat. The interview was concluded on May 16th, 2010 and is unedited from the original.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Muscat Confidential exclusive: An interview with The United States Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman.

Readers, a special treat for you here at Muscat Confidential this week.

An exclusive official interview with Dr. Richard J. Schmierer, The United States of America's Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Sultanate of Oman.

Dr. Schmierer graciously consented to answer my questions about the Embassy, Oman, the Free Trade agreement, US Foreign policy in the region, Israel, Iran, and many other issues. He did not give a "no comment" to any question, even the one about if there is a meeting planned between His Majesty Sultan Qaboos and Barack Obama, US President.

The interview was quite extensive and wide ranging, and I asked a lot of questions, so I'm publishing it in two parts.

The questions and answers are totally unedited and in the order that they were asked. His Excellency's official biography is at the bottom of this first post, if you're interested.

File Photo: Dr. Richard J. Schmierer, US Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman.

Muscat Confidential Interviews:
Dr. Richard J. Schmierer,
U.S. Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman
May 16, 2010


The rule was no cameras, no mobile phones. After passing through the large concrete blocks outside the entrance, the polite security screening and with the metallic buzz of the electric lock on the steel door still fading in my ears, I couldn't help but notice the sign "Keep off the grass" on the patch of green between me and the imposing entrance to the US Embassy in Shatti, Muscat.

I stayed off the grass.

Initial security may have been Omani staffers, but the clean cut and noticeably armed Marine inside the heavy glass door certainly wasn't. I was ushered through into a suitably dignified library and promptly commenced my private interview** with Dr. Richard J. Schmierer, the current U.S. Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman.

Undercover Dragon: Thank you for granting Muscat Confidential an interview, Your Excellency. This is a bit of a 'first' for the blog, and I'm told this is also your first blog interview.

Richard J. Schmierer: Before we start, a quick word of thanks for the chance to reach out to your readers – I know that lots of people, Omanis and expatriates, regularly check in here. If nothing else, the great audience that came out for our blues concert last month, many of whom apparently read about it here, convinced me of that!

UD: What is the mission of the US Embassy in Oman?

RJS: Like all embassies, our primary role is twofold: to manage the bilateral relationship between our two countries, and to provide services to American citizens visiting and living here.

UD: How did you get to become The United States Ambassador? Are you a career diplomat or a 'political' appointee?

RJS: As Ambassador, I serve at the pleasure of the president, following confirmation by the Senate. I’m a career Foreign Service Officer; this is my thirtieth year as a diplomat.

UD: What does the United States think about the relationship between Oman and Iran?

RJS: It seems very much a part of the Sultanate’s consistent foreign policy over the years of maintaining good relations with all of its neighbors, and more broadly with the world in general.

UD: People are often encouraged by Middle Eastern media to see the United States as being responsible for the Palestinian crisis and that the US back Israel no matter what (even when they continued to build settlements). Can you demonstrate specifically how the United States is not in the pocket of AIPAC and Israel?

RJS: The U.S., of course, is a representative democracy, and our elected officials do listen to their constituents, many of whom feel strongly that Israel is an important ally. Support for Israel is part of our foreign policy. At the same time, though, I think that our support for the Palestinians has been equally clear.

Our position is straightforward: We support a two-state solution, with Israelis and Palestinians co-existing peacefully and with mutual security. We believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.

The successful effort to launch indirect talks between the parties is the most recent sign of our resolve.

UD: The United States has long had a foreign policy of support for democracy and human rights. How does the US square this with their continuing support (economically and politically) for non-democratic governments in the region with a tremendously poor human rights record, or extremely questionable democratic credentials, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or the UAE?

RJS: Every nation, and the United States is no exception, crafts its foreign policy to pursue its ideals as well as its national interests.

In this region, especially, we see that the mechanisms for citizens to participate in public life and influence their societies and their governments take many forms. Our efforts and commitment all relate to the desire to strengthen accountable and responsive governance.

One reason that our Middle East Partnership Initiative has been so successful – including in the countries you mention – is that we’re connecting more and more with grassroots partners who are working toward this goal in a positive way within their own cultural framework. In Oman, for instance, there are people who are building on the country’s long and deep traditions of consultation and consensus, which can be very empowering for ordinary people.

UD: Isn't current US policy in practice essentially a continuation of Kissinger's Real-Politik?

RJS: Which was based on Bismarck’s Realpolitik, which was based on…

I think you can stretch out historical analogies until they’re not all that useful. American foreign policy is based on the evolving reality of the world around us – in the context of consistent values, which include peace, stability, respect for human rights, and others – and the best interests of the American people.

UD: Muscat Confidential has always promoted the position that freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of association are far more fundamental and important to attaining the core principals of human rights and democracy than the mere act of balloting or casting votes (as recent events in Iran demonstrate, in my opinion). Do you have any opinion on the relative importance to the USA of freedom of speech, and a free press, vs voting (but where there is severe repression of the press)?

RJS: I think that these are interconnected issues. They’re certainly issues that different countries – even countries with which we have excellent relationships, like Oman – handle quite differently. In the United States, from our earliest days we have had a strong commitment to freedom of speech; some might say that we’ve promoted freedom of speech at the expense of other considerations, such as respect for authority, public decency, etc.

The freedoms enshrined in our Constitution – freedom of speech, of assembly, etc. – are at the very heart of our ideas about government, and in general I think Americans agree that they are worthwhile and underpin a system that works quite well.

You make a good point: an informed citizenry is important to an effective electoral process. The balance of freedoms is important: it’s no use assembling if you can’t speak freely; it’s less useful to speak freely if you have no impact on governance. And, as your question suggests, the process of electing leaders is enhanced to the extent that such a process takes place in a robust information environment.

UD: What foreign aid does the US supply to Oman?

RJS: Foreign assistance in our system comes primarily from the U.S. Agency for International Development -- USAID -- which is not active in Oman. That said, we do carry out various kinds of other cooperation – educational and professional exchanges, for example, like the Fulbright Program or the Humphrey Fellowships. The Middle East Partnership Initiative has a small-grants program that local organizations have taken advantage of, as well as larger programs that are usually regional in nature. Those programs do things like provide American private-sector expertise in areas such as developing small- and medium-sized businesses or supporting Oman’s own work in improving educational administration.

UD: How has the Free Trade Agreement impacted trade between Oman and the US? Can you give us some specific examples of the types of changes and new businesses that have come about? How can an Oman-based business make best use of the FTA to start businesses or boost profits? What advice would you give to Omani business men and women about how to export to the USA?

RJS: The FTA has set the stage for significant increase in future trade, not least because of the ways that reaching the agreement spurred advances in Oman’s commercial law, intellectual property law, and government procurement process, all of which helped create a more conducive trade and investment environment for businesses in the U.S. and Oman.

As it happened, the FTA came into effect in January 2009, just as the global economic crisis took hold in the region and internationally. As a result, we have not yet seen the immediate results that we would like to have seen. Even so, our bilateral trade reached a healthy $2 billion last year and is set to continue to grow.

Over the past several months, we have noticed a marked increase in the number of Omani and American businesses looking to take advantage of the FTA, the cause of which isn’t just the economic turnaround. Private-sector businesspeople are increasingly looking to introduce to Oman companies that are considering opening a Middle East office and to publicize opportunities available here to the business community in the U.S. Such private-sector activities are a welcome development – they indicate that the Omani economy is seen as increasingly welcome to new business.

The Embassy also plays a vital role in advising companies considering entering the Omani market. Sectors in which we have recently seen an increased interest include tourism and renewable energy.

As for advice? I think the best thing that Omanis interested in doing business in the U.S. can do is to make sure they have the information they need to make solid decisions. Online, sites like, the FTA homepage, and our Commercial Section’s homepage can be good places to start. Of course, our Commercial section is always eager to assist on such matters.

Coming in Part Two:
Advice for Omani's wanting to get a visa or study in the USA; Why you and I don't seem to get invited to the US Embassy to party; Barack Obama and His Majesty: will there be a meeting?; America's new foreign policy in the region - the impact of the Obama administration; the official view on the infamous Human Trafficking report and Oman's Tier 3 rating; getting married at the Embassy; and a friendly word to Muscat Confidential's readers and other bloggers!

**Disclaimer: Not really, this scene setting above is totally imaginary. The interview did NOT take place at the US Embassy but was conducted via email in early May 2010 with the assistance of Mr. Daniel M. Pattarini, the talented Assistant Public Affairs Officer with the US State Department, Muscat. The interview was concluded on May 16th, 2010 and is unedited from the original.


Ambassador of the United States of America To the Sultanate of Oman

Richard J. Schmierer was sworn in as Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman on August 20, 2009, after being confirmed by the United States Senate on July 10, 2009. He previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Department of State's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from June 2008 through July 2009.

Ambassador Schmierer is a career Foreign Service Officer and a member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-Counselor. He began his diplomatic career in 1980, with assignments in Bonn, Frankfurt, and Hamburg, Germany, through 1984. He then served a three-year assignment at the American Consulate General in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (1985-88). From 1988 through 1992, Ambassador Schmierer served at the headquarters of the U.S. Information Agency, and then from 1992 through 1996 at the U.S. Embassy in Bonn, Germany. He returned to Saudi Arabia in 1997, where he served as Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh until 2000.

From 2000 through 2004, Ambassador Schmierer was Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, followed by an assignment as Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 2004 to 2005. He taught at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, from 2005 to 2007, during which time he published a book entitled "Iraq: Policy and Perceptions." From June 2007 through June 2008 Ambassador Schmierer served as the head of the Office of Iraq Affairs at the U.S. State Department.

Ambassador Schmierer holds a B.A. degree from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, along with Masters and Doctoral degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is married to Sandra J. Schmierer, also a long-time employee of the U.S. State Department. They have three grown children.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Oh yes - more free giveaways to fantastic comedy! Amer Zahr show 2nd June!!! And another burger joint opens.

Lucky, lucky readers.

What with the on-going tales of drugs, burglary, ever increasing road deaths, unemployment, animal abuse, Ministry of X (place your favorite Ministry here) self-serving incompetence, power shortages, and damn hot weather arriving earlier than ever, who doesn't need a good laugh?

So Muscat Confidential has another free giveaway to see awesome comedy for you. 2 pairs of free tickets to comedian Amer Zahr, playing on Wednesday, 2nd June at the Crown Plaza.

Big thanks to Darren Shortt from Hi! FM for fronting the tickets. (those photos just keep giving and giving - don't worry Darren, the negatives are safe)

So, how do you win those tickets? Well... its the usual deal.

Either place a comment on this post (with a means of contact and remember it's public) or email undercover(dot)dragon(at)gmail(dot)com, and you are in to win. The draw will be held on Wednesday 26th May. Regular readers will know that our draws are based on military spec encryption, drawn under the peerless authority of Ms. Dragon and a very good friend from the senior branches of His Majesty's ISS.

Each pair of tickets is only worth 30 rials [US$75], so even if you don't win I think it's a bargain to go and buy a pair. After all, how much is a good laugh (the best aphrodisiac yet discovered gents) worth?

I may even attend...

You have to be in to win.

In other news,

Burger King Oman finally returned this week, at a petrol station on a motorway in Qurm. Hmmm. Salubrious. Cars were backed up pretty much all the way to Ruwi. Yes, demand for high fat high salt industrial fast-prepared edible American franchise crap quality cuisine is almost unlimited here in the Sultanate, especially amongst the discerning, genetically-diabetic-prone youth. There's just sooo much to do of an evening!

Photo: Yum yum. It may have taken them 18 months or so to get a license, but here it is! Burger King returns. Pic ripped from local blogger me of mine RASHAD NSOULI.

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

The story as to why their license took so long to get is still to emerge. Any readers with an insight there?

And do they actually employ any Omanis? You know, the ones who's unemployment I keep hearing about?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

An independent assessment of Blue City: Broker analysis

As the 'debate' continues in the comments section of a previous post on Blue City and amidst the various claims and counter claims, I thought it timely to post this independent assessment of the project by emerging markets specialist BCP Securities, a fully licensed U.S. investment bank headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut. They did the analysis to provide information to clients (and potential clients) who want to trade the bonds.

I think readers will find it pretty consistent with the story you've been getting from Muscat Confidential over the years. Enjoy!

The original Blue City Phases as planned. 'Phase zero' (just building a hotel, a few villas and apartments plus an 18 hole golf course) was ommitted...

Blue City: What Happened?

On April 21st a story broke that former majority owner, AAJH, of the stalled Blue City project had found a new partner in Qatari investment company Bin Muhanna Holding Group. The two firms announced their aim to “restore confidence in the project” and approach investors to revive it and realize development objectives.

Blue City was meant to be Oman's biggest real estate undertaking. USD 925bn was raised in a November 2006 multi tranche bond issue for the project’s first phase, however the project crashed on the back of dismal sales and the bonds defaulted. A restructuring offer remains elusive and the company says it has “no reasonable expectation to meet debt payments when due.”

Prior to the default the minority (Omani) shareholder edged out the majority (Bahraini) partner. The Omanis brought USD 879.1mn in equity in the form of land (according to a CBRE valuation) to the deal and the Bahrainis brought USD 100mn of equity and made the USD 925mn bond raising possible. They also would provide much of the design and development. Yet the Omanis (Cyclone) had only a 30% share of the project while the Bahrainis (AAJH) had a 70% share. Months after the bond issuance minority holder Cyclone brought suit against majority holder AAJH of illegally acquiring the majority stake from third parties. It lost that case but appealed and won an injunction against AAJH. Cyclone is believed to have benefited from an influential owner (a Royal Minister holds 50% of Cyclone). The dispute is now in the Omani Supreme Court and a decision is impending.

The inclusion of the new Qatari partner has added upside to the bonds. It makes revival of the project possible through the financial and legal leverage of the Qatari partner. The Chairman of Bin Muhanna Holding Group, Dr. Najeeb Bin Mohammed al Noaimi, is both a former Qatari Minister of Justice and a defense attorney for Saddam Hussein. He has a reputation for championing various legal causes in the Arab world. If his presence causes an AAJH victory in court then the project would benefit from better management and new capital.

If the Omanis win the Supreme Court case then their claim stands, but they might still consider reconciliation. In exchange for Qatari capital and Bahraini know how the Omanis might restart the project after a renegotiated shareholding. Ownership shares might converge towards 50/50 instead of 70/30.

Downside for the bonds stems from an Omani victory, no reconciliation, and a failure of the bond insurance policy to pay out (the current concern). Recovery will also decrease according to tranche seniority and be minimal for the C & D tranches. INSOL, an association of turnaround lawyers and accountants, states that the average recovery rate in MENA bankruptcies is 30% as opposed to 55-60% in developed countries What will mitigate that here is whether an insurance policy on the first tranche is still in good force.

Blue City bond holders are supposedly secured by 25sq km of the project area, which was valued by CB Richard Ellis at USD 879.1mn in 2006. However this land was gifted by Oman to the project and it is improbable that Oman would hand over this real estate to bond holders. Hence we exclude it from a recovery valuation. There is also a series of cash reserves outside Oman and in the custody of the Security Trustee, the Bank of New York, and theoretically this cash should be available security to Bond holders.

The A1 tranche’s principal is completely (but not unconditionally) insured by Axis Capital, who refused to provide figures but stated on its 4Q09 conference call that it was comfortable its reserving provision for the Blue City project would be sufficient to bring finality to its involvement in the bonds. On the 25th March 2010 downgrade of the A1 tranche Moody’s stated there was a breach of warranty of the credit insurance policy. It is unclear if the insurance policy is still in force but Axis has seemingly provisioned for a loss and so we assume a recovery where Axis makes good on half of the insurance.

With these considerations in mind: the security land is off limits, the cash reserves are in good form under Bank of New York’s custody, a 3 year recovery process, and yields of 25% the A1, A3, B1, C, and D tranches have present value recovery values of 51, 28, 14, 0, and 0. The price of the bonds should go higher than recovery in the case of the project’s revival.

In conclusion we believe the recent developments bode positively for the bonds but we would not recommend going beyond the A1 tranche as there is still substantial risk in a recovery situation. The expected recovery of the bonds should be best for the A1 tranche with value hinging on the size of the payout for the insurance policy and the integrity of the cash reserves at BoNY.

This document is for information purposes only. Under no circumstances should this document be used or considered as an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy the securities or other instruments mentioned in it. The information in this document has been obtained from sources believed reliable, but BCP Securities LLC makes no representations concerning the truth or accuracy of the content or substance of this report, or of the future market value of any securities, notes, or private claims mentioned within. Opinions expressed herein constitute our opinion as of the date published and are subject to change without notice, and BCP Securities LLC makes no representations that it will endeavor to update its analysis upon any change of circumstances. All views expressed accurately reflect the research analyst’s personal views about the subject, securities and/or issuers and no part of the research analyst’s compensation was, is, or will be directly or indirectly related to the specific recommendations or views expressed by the research analyst. The products mentioned in this document may not be eligible for sale in some states or countries. BCP Securities LLC, its affiliated companies, and/or its officers, directors, or shareholders, may from time to time have long or short positions in the financial instruments of the company mentioned in this document, or may serve in an advisory capacity with respect to such instruments.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ministry of Tourism & Marina Bandar Rowdha management cripple Commercial Tourist Operators

Yes, while the sole hope for Oman's economy keeping up with the ballooning population and getting away from hydrocarbons is obviously SMEs (small to medium size enterprises), the increasingly incompetent Ministry of Tourism appear to have missed the memo.

Photo: The Marina Bandar Al Rowdha, Muscat. Great facility. Its management decided to kill off what few struggling Omani Tourist Operators there are.

The Marina Bandar Al Rowdha, the only decent wet marina in Oman right now and mainly owned by the Ministry of Tourism (plus the omni-present mega-conglomerate Zawawi Trading) have just decided to double the rents charged for large commercial tourist & charter boat operations based out of MBR.

A large dhow operation is now being charged 10,000 rials for a berth [USD$26,000], up from an already not inconsiderable 5,000 rials. Indeed, other tourist ports in Oman like Sur, Khasab and Sohar, charge nothing from similar outfits, and many of their staff are not even Omani, while in Muscat a vast majority are Omani locals. A similar place in Europe would be 50% of this, and this is hardly the Adriatic or Med.

Nice one team! What with the booming crippled tourism industry hit by the global recession and the relatively high prices compared to our tourist competitors, you'd have thought a subsidy would be more appropriate.

But no. One can only assume that with the Management of Marina Bandar Al Rowdha struggling to make a profit (despite being pretty full), and the collapse of the cunning plan to force the next-door Capital Area Yacht Club members to move there (oh, and requisition their land too), the commercial boats were a soft target as they can't go anywhere else.

For now. There is hope that they could move to Bar Al Jissa or The Wave later, but that could be a long time coming and the Marina Bandar Al Rowdha will probably set the bar.

Mr Saleem Q. Al Zawawi, Chairman of Marina Bandar Al Rowdha, and with vast experience successfully running an international standard Marina business, clearly is not a supporter of the plucky and predominantly Omani water-based tourist businesses operating from his establishment. These businesses are all pretty new, have very high Omanisation numbers, and were already struggling. His short-sighted decision could only have been made with the support of the Ministry of Tourism, who one might think actually knew something about the tourism industry and were tasked with supporting it. LMAOFOFL.

Score: Wasta - 1, Omani SMEs - 0

How unusual.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

More Crime and Punishment in the UAE - What assholes

In today's Gulf Snooze News today, 2 articles that really underscore the attitude of the law and authorities in the UAE to crime and Nationality. [thanks for pointing it out Z!]

Before following the link, can you match the crime with the punishment?

Case 1: 150 rial theft
Some Indian workers stole & sold 150 rials [US$400] worth of scrap metal.

Case 2: Aggravated Rape
An Emirati raped an American in her home.

Sentence A: 6 months in jail. Sentence B: 12 months in jail.
Which crime got which punishment?




Tough call? Not for the good judges in the UAE, and I'm sure not for you either.

The two Indians in Case 1 got 12 months & deportation.

The deadbeat Emirati rapist got 6 months.
6 lousy months. I can only hope some of the vast numbers of Indians in the jail rape him repeatedly while punching him hard across the head every single day he's inside serving his time.

The UAE maintains its current Muscat Confidential Rating: "Best Avoided"... The entire place is insane. And if you're an Expat, no matter how important, you're disposable. Building high rise gleaming towers on the back of slaves clearly doesn't impart civilisation.

Here are the stories.

Case 1: A year in prison, followed by deportation

Gulf News May 6th 2010.
Dubai: Two workers have been jailed after a court convicted them yesterday of stealing one tonne of iron scrap from the company where they worked, and trying to sell it for Dh1,500.
The Dubai Court of First Instance sentenced each of the Indian workers to one year in jail after Presiding Judge Fahmi Mounir pronounced them guilty of theft.
Prosecutors accused the two accused, 23-year-old S.M. and 34-year-old M.R., of stealing the iron scrap.
According to the chargesheet, prosecutors accused S.M. with forging a company document which permitted him to sell the iron scrap.
When the two suspects appeared in court, S.M. pleaded guilty and M.R. denied his charges.
According to yesterday's judgment, the defendants will be deported after the completion of their sentence.

Gulf News May 6th 2010.
Dubai: A jobless man has been jailed for six months after a court convicted him of having sex with an American woman, who claimed he raped her.
The Dubai Court of First Instance sentenced the 22-year-old Emirati to six months in jail after he denied that he raped the 26-year-old American woman and claimed he had consensual sex with her.
Prosecutors said the jobless Emirati secretly walked behind the woman while she was opening her house door, then he gagged her and forced her into the flat where he beat and raped her on her bed.
The Public Prosecution charged the Emirati, M.K., with raping the woman, who works in sales, after assaulting her.
An Emirati police officer testified that the incident happened in the woman's flat in the International City. "I headed to the location and found the woman in a hysterical condition and her face was bruised… she alleged that she met M.K. one month prior to the incident in a pub. She claimed that on the day of the incident he dropped her home and she took the elevator."
The officer said the woman claimed M.K. surprised her from behind, pushed her into the flat and subsequently raped her.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

And the lucky winner is.... Plus more on Blue City

Sorry for the lack of posts this week dear Reader, I've been a busy Dragon; lots of knights to slay, maidens to ravish, treasure to hoard, you know how it is. Work work work.

First, the draw for the winner of 2 free tickets to the Muscat Rugby club fund raiser, a comedy night featuring up to a dozen comedians on Thursday May 13th and held at the Muscat rugby club near the ABA school in Al Khuwair.

The draw was held under the usual supervision of Ms Dragon and a very senior member of the Internal Security Service on Monday evening. And the winner was...

"Delirious in the Desert"

Congrats DITD! Enjoy. I've been promised a review and pics. The rest of you, there are still tickets available.

Blue City
Well connected fan Ibrahim made a great comment on the last Blue City story, and I'm reposting here, because this information is accurate and hard to find.

Dear UD,

Your blog is hugely popular. Your accurate and authentic information is sincerely appreciated. Let me add some more data on the blue city project. Hopefully those maroons who messed should wake up. Its about time His Majesty Qaboos asks Anees to shut up and get out of the project. Enough of wasta boss.

Issuer = Blue City Investment 1 Limited (Commercial Registration No. WK163178) incorporated in Cayman Islands for the purpose of issuing Class A, B, C & D Notes worth US$ 925 Million. Borrower = Blue City Company 1 SAOC (Commercial Registration No. 1/83627/7) incorporated in Oman.

On 7th November 2006 Blue City 1 SAOC signed Intercompany Loan Agreement and received US$ 921,400,960 as follows: Class A1/Class A2/Class A3/Class A4 – 658,982,625; Class B – 142,200,630; Class C – 50,217,705 and Class D – 70,000,000.

There were many PARTIES to the transaction. Namely, (1) The Bank of New York as Offshore Security Trustee (2) Bank Muscat SAOG as Onshore Security Trustee (3) Bear Stearns Bank Plc as Class A guarantor (4) The Bank of New York as Offshore Account bank (5) Bank Muscat SAOG as Onshore Account bank. Bear, Stearns International Limited were the arranger and Oppenheimer (Samuel Grossmann) as the brokers.

Clifford Chance drafted all agreements and Iain Morpeth is the man in-charge. The Intercompany Loan agreement contains a number of representations, covenants and events of default which are subject to a Material Adverse Effect qualification. Project documents specified are: Development agreement, Construction contract, construction security, construction contract guarantee, land transfer agreements, Works agreement, Balance of Work agreement, Additional Works Agreement, etc.

Government of Oman represented by its ministers (Tourism, National Economy and Commerce & Industry) have signed & ratified agreements, why are these ministries keeping silent?

If the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission of the USA) can take on Goldman Sachs for fraud, why spare Blue City? US$ 50 Million was held in the Blue City 1 SAOC’s Bank Muscat account as escrow, where is that money?

US$ 20 Million was escrowed for the purchase of Al Sawadi Beach Resort Hotel and of the associated usufruct, where is that money?

Blocked escrowed for the company was US$ 105,417,358, where is this money?

US$ 440,588,374 was the total initial mandatory deposit that was made with the issuer (Blue City Investment 1 Limited, Cayman Island). Where is the audited financials for Blue City 1 SAOC and Blue City Investment 1 Limited???

Can somebody from Blue City 1 SAOC answer?

Here, here Ibrahim. And not even a press release in the Times of Oman explaining the total normality of the bankruptcy, global crisis, just look at Dubai, etc etc etc. How peculiar!

As for those bonds, you might be interested to know the latest market prices*, as advised by a trusted source in a GCC National Bank treasury outfit. Pricing of a $100 Blue City Bond as of the 27/4/2010 was:

Secured tranch Class(A1) $35.55
Secured tranch Class(A2) $30.50
Subordinate tranch Class (B1) $25.35
Subordinate tranch Class (C) $20.35
Subordinate tranch Class (D) $10.40

Bare in mind that the tranch A1 was priced at closure at $98.50 and reached once upon a time to the whereabouts of $120!

Wow. Way to destroy value ASIT team!

The secured A1 & A2 bonds seem to have a very small spread against the absolute D class junk, given they are supposedly fully secured on billions of dollars worth of 25km2 of Al Sawadi land. This can only reflect the way the market is currently pricing the competency and trustworthiness of the people behind Blue City, or they'd instead, IMHO, be up around 70-80 cents (just compare with unsecured Dubai Holdings bonds recently).

*This is just for information and is not a recommendation for people to act upon or invest. Muscat Confidential does not provide investment advice. Readers are strongly advised to always obtain advice from their own legal and financial advisors before making any financial commitments that would require them to pour good money after bad.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

123 Orion gig raises 400 rials for Creative Learning Center! Plus details of another event promoting Cancer awareness at the Al Bustan, May 6th

One of the features of 'the Expat life' is how people get together to entertain themselves more often than they would back in the real world. There's more of a community than in your average big city.

I'm happy to report the sell-out gig on Thursday night by band 123 Orion raised 400 rials (~US$1000) for local good cause the Creative Learning Center.

And I'm told by a several reliable sources that the evening was a big hit with everyone: the fish and chips (with paper wrapping) was excellent, as was the band, the vibe, and the venue. Muscat Daily even sent a photographer (perhaps all is forgiven? I'm sure Mohanna will add a generous contribution to the final tally to the charity in return for the free column inches...)

Next time Erich, you may need to think about a bigger venue! Or at least more often than once a year.

Well done to the members of 123 Orion and their friends and fans. Some kids who need help will be better off as a direct result of your generosity.

123 Orion in action at the Royal Flight club! photo credit Mairi Thomas

123 Orion Mayday gig for charity

Muscat-based band, 123 Orion, celebrated May Day by playing a gig to raise funds for a local charity at the Royal Flight on Thursday 29 April. This is the third year that the rock group, under the stage names Blind Boy McBracken (David MacDonald); Erich Sarbolis (Jon Goodliffe); Hawk Timimi (Omar Khammas), Muffin Burt (Jenni Eden); Steed Scotia (Stephen Monteith); Titus Chump (Max Goodliffe); Vanya Helsingborg (Tess Goodliffe) and Ziggy Gibson (Liz MacDonald) have played their unique mix of original songs and cover versions to an enthusiastic public. The band have been together, with a varying line up, since 2004 and have played in a number of different venues as well as outside gigs in the desert and on the beach in Tiwi.

“Our original songs have been inspired by living in Oman; themes of the sea and seafaring folk travelling to Zanzibar as well as the events of our own personal lives such as in the song ‘Garden of Eden’” explained Vanya, one of the lead singers.

This year’s event was raising funds for the charity Creative Learning Center who offer creative learning activities for disabled children in Oman. A raffle held at the gig included an opportunity to win works by local artist Jenni Eden and photographer Mairi Thomas as well as exciting kitchen appliances such as a lean grill and a free descaling at Hawk’s dental surgery!

“Although we all have our daytime activities whether as teachers, technicians or dentists, we love the opportunity to play music – even better when we have a chance to raise money for charity and excite our audiences” added Vanya.

123 Orion are currently working on an album of original songs, ‘Into Orbit', which they plan to release at the end of 2010.

Don't forget to register for the free tickets to the comedy gig at Muscat Rugby Club. Just comment on the post or (even better) send me an email. The draw is tomorrow!

And finally, there is another charity gig picked up by the organisers of my facebook fan page: the Omanternity SpringFest 2010! A live music event on May 6th organized by for the benefit of the National Association for Cancer Awareness. The association aims to increase awareness about cancerous diseases in the Sultanate of Oman.

When : May 6th, 2010
Time : 3:00 PM onwards
Where : Seblat Al-Bustan, Al-Bustan Palace Muscat
Tickets : 4 Rials per person, tickets will be available in limited supply at door, bazar currency available on day.
Benefiting : The National Association for Cancer Awareness

Live Music: (Confirmed Bands :Verse 6, Attention, The Dead Beats, Fuse)
Charity Bazar: Various participants will be exhibiting items for sale including foodstuff, clothing items and other things.
Raffle Draw : Including a Samsung 32″ LCD TV,

Saturday, May 1, 2010

HH Sayyid Taimur calls out the Ministry of Manpower, and another awesome Muscat Confidential Promo

First, news.

A big Muscat Confidential thumbs up to HH Sayyid Tariq bin Shabib bin Taimur, Chairman of the National Hospitality Institute (a private training outfit for the hospitality industry in Oman), who was in the business section of today's Muscat Daily (they don't have a website, so I can't give you a link) pointing out how useless the Ministry of Manpower are. Despite having loads of training places available, lots of potential Omani trainees, and hundreds of potential jobs, the MoM just couldn't be arsed to assign the trainees or even pay their outstanding bills with NHI.

He even lists the things he's about the get action on via "... other Ministries concerned and authorities in Government" [read: Ministry of National Economy, MoF, and HM]. He is quoted as saying:

" NHI is...requesting the following solutions:

- pay NHI all outstanding debt immediately, for all work successfully completed;
- remove the conflict of interest [MoM run Oman Tourism College, a competitor];
- change the chronic processes for trainee allocation and payment; and
- quantify and confirm the scale of the [training] opportunity."

Nice one.

I do have a suggestion, Your Majesty**. How about appointing HH Sayyid as Minister of Manpower? He seems to have his shit together and the ability to apply common sense proposals based on a sensible appoach to achieve desired results, a fundamental ability we have all noted seems curiously missing from the skillset of the MoM incumbent...

HH is totally correct: there are a mountain of jobs in the local hospitality industry the new generation of Omanis could excel at, and that should pay a lot more than 300 rials a month too. The Ministry of Manpower instead of training Omanis for actual jobs we need and paying their bills, seem to want to focus on arresting and deporting poor down trodden part-time housemaids, construction labourers and gardeners, presumably to reinforce the natural monopolies of the industrial manpower giants like BEC and OHI. I wonder why?

HH also, demonstrably, has huge balls. I don't recall a member of the Royal Family taking on a Ministry before in a public press conference.

More please HH. So far, you've certainly made a fan of Undercover Dragon.

And in another exclusive promotion for our lucky readers, friend of Muscat Confidential and promising local blogger Mr Sythe of Muscat Mutterings has returned the favour* by offering a pair of free tickets to the upcoming comedy night on Thursday May 13th ("a ruckin good time" - getit?) in aid of the rugby players at Muscat Rugby Club.

Free tickets to Muscat Rugby Club's Comedy bash next Thursday night, 13th May!

It sounds like a totally fun bash. Muscat needs as much comedy as it can get (and not the Ministry of Manpower kind).

The Muscat Rugby Team could also do with a few corporate sponsors too, btw, as the management of the rugby club don't seem to be financially able*** to fully support, er, the people who actually play rugby. Interested? Contact Mr Sythe at mrsythe(at)gmail(dot)com

Usual deal: Put your entry in the comments section or email me at undercover(dot)dragon(at)gmail(dot)com, along with a way to contact you. The draw will be held this Monday evening (that's 2 days away folks), so get in quick!

An update on the Jefferson Starship-esque 123 Orion band's Charity gig, held at Royal Flight over the weekend in aid of the Creative learning Center tomorrow, BTW... I heard it was pretty good.

* He won 2 free tickets to Tom Jones from here a while ago.

** I do fantasize about HM being a reader, must admit... if only...

*** post-posting edit/clarification at the request of Mr Sythe.