Wednesday, September 25, 2013

the pendulum swings: creeping wahhabism cracks the whip via Ministry of Tourism

Ahh, the Ministry of Tourism.

The recent report on Muscat mutterings describing the crack down on bars and live music is very disturbing. This is not about tourists. Or expats who whine about moving to Do-buy. This is about the Oman government cracking down on omanis, and deciding what omanis can do in their own country. And apparently having a party with a band and dancing is verboten!

This is a clear side effect of giving more power to the religious parties representatives in the al shura. This is creeping Islamism. The rich, the wastafarians, the expats in their gated communities, they'll be fine. The tourists will get sorted.

is this the price for the defence of the Arab spring whirlwind? Less secular and independent institutions out the window, bring on the politically controlled religious police ruling by edict in the name of His Majesty. Pity.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

gas deal with Iran announced. big deal if followed through.

While the Government works to protect Omanis from the corrupting influence of having the press mentioning homosexuality, other government ministries have been more productive. The recent visit of His Majesty to the Islamic republic of Iran resulted in the signing of a deal on getting Iranian gas. The Iranian press release stated that the deal would involve 30 million cubic meters of natural gas per day. That's a significant amount. Even more interesting was that the Iranian oil minister also quoted a price, saying the deal would give Iran (a much needed) 2 billion dollars per year, sanction free. Doing some quick math then is sufficient to work out a gas price of $5.17 per MMBTU, assuming the Iranians pay for the development of the gas field.

Actually, that's the big if. Who will pay for the development, don't know. I suspect Oman will at least have to kick in loans for the infrastructure, and 'pay' for the development.

That would be a great price for Oman, and would certainly be cheaper than say, domestic shale gas. The gas would provide enough gas to support the demands of gas-hungry Petroleum Development Oman, and leave extra for re-export as LNG for Korea and Japan at more than twice the price. Win for Oman, as right now the country is 'gas short', with such demand from PDO, desalination and power generation that the country has about 20% of its LNG capacity sitting idle due to lack of gas reserveAlso a win for Iran as that's 2 billion more than they are getting now, as well as tying the 2 countries together. Also a win for the Asian customers, as demand for LNG is very high after Japan's nuclear problems, and more gas will help lower spot prices.

Friday, September 13, 2013

so, where has the absent landlord been lately? And BLUE CITY... PART 3! The missing blog post...

It's been about 3 years I guess since I left Oman. And about year since I even logged on to my accounts here at Muscat Confidential. I just, well, lost interest, and being a long way away, I had so many other things to do. Meanwhile, My inbox on my email has over 6000 spam comments. Unmoderated.

So, what has the Dragon been up to this past year? Well, Ms. Dragon and I are still very happy living in a Western country, raising little dragons and living the good life. My treasure generating capabilities are being handsomely appreciated by my new employer, and the champagne cupboard is well stocked. No-one in this country is being threatened with jail for publishing articles on human sexuality or voicing opinions on a blog.

My contacts in the Oman security services reliably inform me there is no flag on my file, so I could return to the sultanate without any nasty surprises at the airport courtesy of the Blue City lads or the ministry of information. I may well do so, as we do miss the place, and it would be great to hit the beaches and see old friends again. We'll probably wait until winter though! .

Ahh, Blue City. Google it yourself, if you don't know what I'm referring to!

original cocaine fuelled description of blue city wiki entry - what a laugh!

Blue City Part 3

Blue city was poised on the brink of success back then. Before the crash. Everything was in place. The Bahrainis had arranged the finance, almost a billion dollars borrowed from the Japanese, albeit at a cost of nearly 30 million dollars to the mysterious swiss false-Oppenheimers. The 2 oman partners, one a subeditor in his dad's newspaper, the other the nephew of the ruler of the country and a governemnt minister, had a pot of money ( at that stage about 200 million they could actually get their hands on, the rest was all locked up in strange trust accounts administered by bank melon ny) that should have been enough to build around 30% of the original plan. All they had to do was sell the houses and apartments, build a marina and several hotels, and use that money to build it as they went.The real estate market was hot, and they were all going to make a killing. Billions of dollars. Snapped up by eager buyers from everywhere. They'd nabbed the land for a song via an inside deal. For less than a 100 million [on paper $85million was paid to the government for all the land, plus the partners kept about 4 hectares of prime stuff for them selves, seperate from blue city, btw. I suspect they probably bought the stuff with a post dated cheque that was paid by the loan anyhow], they had bought gorgeous, beach front land for what would later be officially appraised at over a billion dollars.


only one problem. As the local partners had no fucking clue about how to do a mega-real estate development with dodgy financing, design a plan that made sense and the whole legal pile of paper required to get the rating to allow stupid Japanese Bankers to invest other people's money.

so they had, right from the start a partner, who did everything except get the land. A Bahraini who was already delivering highly leveraged developments in Bahrain. To get him to arrange the deal, with no money on their part, they had had to give him majority control and ownership. The Bahraini's had 70% of the shares. So the local investors essentially locked him out, literally, by not letting him into the building. They bought off paid the existing CEO a cool million I'm told, to hold his nose and do what he was told. They then recruited a good american real estate guy with a record in the UAE. They didnt sell many properties, because by the time they had redesigned everything, renegotiated contracts, restaffed the place, built themselves a 2 million dollar sales office, contractor camp, and were just about out of money to keep up the payments to the contractor.... the financial crisis hit. If only they hadnt delayed those crucial 2 years and pissed away all the money. Ooops. Meanwhile, before the shit hit the fan, they sued in the courts for 100% ownership of the project over some bizarre technicality, wasting more time. Upheld at first, overturned on appeal, but the case finally returned to them in the supreme court. (Wink wink. ) , And Mr Editor, with zero experience in real estate, took over operational control of Blue City. Living it up large as the genius who who build this new city. All fired up on his own marketing and ego. He was a friend of michael jackson, dont you know. And his marketing person from italy was very very high performing im told, even if her salary was 7000 rials a month. Thats about 250000 dollars a year tax free, plus expenses. As the Bahraini company had done the master plan, with south African contractors who hadn't been paid either, they could keep the plan, it wasn't grand enough and it made their legal case untenable if they kept the original plans, tainted as they were by being done by the Bahraini s. thus the new team under the guidance of the paperboy Chairman and CEO proceeded to spend the remaining cash like no tomorrow. They did a whole new redesign, by a renowned company (Norman Foster, no less). They commissioned golf courses, travelled far and wide ( business class for the plebs, first for the principals), paid mediocre expats vast salaries, paid to win so-called awards for design and their grandious plans for a new capital. It would require vast government infrastructure investments, but hey, I'm sure one of the owners could handle that.

And Blue City, as we all said it would, went bust. The poor loss making Japanese bankers were bought out by the omani government investment fund at about 65cents in the dollar via a shell UAE company fronting the deal (more huge fees to middlemen), for the secured notes that would have enabled the bondholders to foreclose on the land. The half constructed hotels and apartment buildings are left surrounded by barren wasteland. The people who paid a deposit for apartments I presume were bailed out on the quiet by the government, and perhaps the government at least collected on the insurance and escrow funds, and nobody said anything. No front page articles in the week. All that happened is basically a couple of totally inexperienced Oman businessmen blew around 1% of the countries GDP on a megalomaniacal exploitative real estate deal that they totally screwed up due to their exceptional incompetence, greed and hubris. When they went spectacularly bankrupt, then they were rescued by the government, off the official books via the sovereign wealth fund, spending 500 million dollars to rebuy a piece of land they had owned before and had sold for 85 million. Blue city declared bankruptcy and the contractor left the country. All the expats were slowly sacked, most without what they were promised. It was a total cockup. Costing the country about a half a billion. And it was all wasted. Pissed away. By a well connected pair of amateurs who managed to borrow vast amounts under the aegis of the Royal Family, and got so gready the couldn't stand the idea of only making around 300 - 600 million for basically nothing. They had to have it all. Ah well. And nobody went to jail, because if youve got that sort of wasta, well, then the government bails you out on the sly with the public's money.

so that's alright then.

and that folks, was Blue City, part 3. Finally.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wow. It's a little strange to be back. But seeing Oman back in the international news over the 'The Outsiders' homosexuality cover story in The Week, and the not surprising news that the Government shut them down and are prosecuting the editor and journalist under Omans draconian press laws, prompted me to reactivate Muscat Confidential.

My old post from 2010, where I published an interview with a gay expat living in Oman - here's the link exclusive interview being gay in Oman - has being getting a lot of traffic lately, as searches prompted by the article find it. Looking back at that post now I'm still proud of it. It holds true today.

I was frankly amazed when I read about The Week publishing something on being gay. OK, not what I would call a very good story, starting out by essentially inferring the gentleman was somehow made gay by being molested as an 8 year old. But I quibble. It was a very brave thing to put on the cover. Given the tremendous homophobic feelings in public Oman society, the editor must have know what a shit-storm it would generate. I hope it was deliberate.

Oman is far from alone in having anti-homosexual laws, let's face it. (Russia anyone?) But I do wish people would look at the science, which clearly shows that being sexually attracted to the same gender is fixed at birth. Which makes sense, because in this world who would choose to be gay? But as with all bigotry, be it a hatred of skin colour, or gender, or race, or even being say, a Muslim in the West, this too is rooted in fear of the unknown and ignorance. Try being gay in most places in this world, and you're in for a bad time in the public sphere.

So while I think criminalisation of what 2 consenting adults do with each other in private is always a dumb idea in my opinion, this is about reporting, not where someone sticks their dick. If the Sultan of Oman wants to make such sexual acts criminal, i guess His Majesty is entitled to do so, with laws being inhumane and unenforceable not being a problem with Oman's laws in other areas either. But to criminalise a news report on what is actually real, something that is true, well, that's really stupid. I didn't realise pandering to the ignorant and the bigoted was the 'for public consumption' official Ministry of information policy.
Blindfolds all round when it comes to homosexuality in The Sultanate I guess. No change there.
For goodness sake, let's not allow reality to impinge on our newspapers. We might have to face reality. And talk about it rationally. Never really a strong suit of Oman society.

Enforcement of our strong cultural traditions of intellectual denial and the defence of ignorance continue unabated. Business as usual.

So that's alright then.