Friday, June 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

Starting with…

Government and The Law.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Basic Law, examples

Oman guartantees all Omani people and lawful residents free speech and freedom of expression. It's in The Basic Law, issued in 1996. Here, read it: Here's a sample.

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

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

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

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

And we make it perfectly illegal like this - just one tiny excellent example of Omani law in action from the new Publications Law:
Decree amends publication law
Mon, 10 October 2011

It is prohibited to publish anything which may prejudice the safety of the state or its internal or external security - MUSCAT —
His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has issued Royal Decree No 95/2011 amending some provisions of the Law of Publications and Publishing. Article 1 stipulates that Article 26 of the said Publications and Publishing Law shall be replaced with the following text:
“Article 26: It is prohibited to publish anything which may prejudice the safety of the state or its internal or external security or all that relates to military and security apparatuses, their bylaws and internal regulations, any documents or information or news or official secret communications, either by publication through visual, audio or print media or through the Internet or any means of the information technology unless a permission is obtained from the competent authority.
It is also prohibited to publish the wordings of the agreements and treaties concluded by the government before they are published in the official gazette. Article 2: The Decree comes into force from the day following its date of publishing in the gazette. — ONA

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, June 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 22, 2012

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

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

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

“Article 26: It is prohibited to publish anything which may prejudice the safety of the state or its internal or external security or all that relates to military and security apparatuses, their bylaws and internal regulations, any documents or information or news or official secret communications, either by publication through visual, audio or print media or through the Internet or any means of the information technology unless a permission is obtained from the competent authority.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reread that new article 26 above.

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