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!

- 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?


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!