Dhofari Gucci has mixed feelings. It's great news about the release of the activists/idiots who spent a few months behind bars for illegal gathering and lese majesty (you need to distinguish between activists/idiots because some distinguished activists are in prison along with a group of idiots who insulted the wrong person online for no particular reason). Although I'm happy about the royal pardon by His Majesty two days ago, I'm unhappy about the fact that royal pardon is not justice. What is justice? I wasn't in favor of the arrests in the first place (and this is my personal conviction) and the appeals failed, so is a royal pardon the answer?
Hundreds of prisoners are released every year on 'royal pardon' during Eids and on National Day usually. We don't know who they are or what their crimes were. Does this speak well for Oman's justice system?
The activists in prison broke the law but is the law relevant? Some new laws were developed and announced last year days before the arrests were made (dozens of bloggers, activists, poets, etc). Defining freedom of speech and the line between hate speech/breaking the law/freedom of speech is blurry.
I know my thoughts are all over the place, but there is something bothering me about this whole affair. If you can pinpoint it and articulate in a nice neat sentence, post it in the comments.
In all cases, congratulations to all those released. Freedom is fragile.
Incredible that eight Omani pactivists (behind bars for 'illegal' gathering) were freed from prsion yesterday on bail after months of detention. The main trigger for their release appears to be the royal opera house protests because if the government doesn't throw the 50 or so protesters behind bars, then what right does it have to keep others behind bars for 'illegal gathering'. I remind you that this is all aftermath of the Arab Spring.
Another interesting piece of info is that one of the Omanis convicted of lese majeste is having every string pulled on their behalf at this very moment to revoke the sentence. More details later if and when the right tribal strings are pulled (or not). At this stage, analyzing the efforts wouldn't be smart. I'm not saying pulling the Wasta card is a good idea right now, but it will be interesting to see if it work.
Over the last few months, several Omani government officials have been questioned over accusations of abusing power or embezzlement of public funds. The list includes former ministers, former undersecretaries and some senior officials who are still in office. Court procedures, still ongoing, are being closely watched by the public with anticipation and great expectations. The outcome of these court procedures will set precedence and bolster the much talked-about Rule of Law "if and only if the accused were convicted and properly sentenced." This comment, fraught with contradiction, reflects lessons learned from the past 40 years of governance in Oman and a new vision. This trend came at the awakening of the 2011 Omani spring, which brought in a new perspective toward transparency and anti-corruption measures in the Sultanate of Oman.
Holders of public offices in Oman often felt in the past that they were shielded from public scrutiny or legal prosecution. This false feeling was synthesized by a lack of retribution, where culprits of corruption were left untouched or, even worse, in some cases seemed to have been rewarded, which made them the new "role models" of success. These "role models" encouraged further corruption and created a rupture in confidence and trust between the administration and people. This consequently led to a growing sense of apathy toward public funds and expediency. In turn, corruption became rampant among government officials, both senior and junior. The situation was further compounded with more "role models" being created and rewarded.
However, this no longer seems to be the case. The State Audit Institution (renamed State Financial and Administrative Audit Institution), as mandated by the 2011 events and its new law and organizational structure promulgated in 2012, has been very active in identifying white collar crimes and presenting them to the Office of Prosecutor General as evidence of unlawful transactions. The list includes allocation of very large plots of lands in several strategic locations to undeserving or unworthy recipients, changing the land zoning and use in the process. The list also includes stealing from the public "till" and amending public records to cover the misappropriation of public funds. Not all details have been announced by the press, however, all are receiving public hearings. Details of such violations are becoming more accessible if not available.
Under the new law, the State Audit’s expanded remit includes the financial and administrative audit. It also includes presenting evidence to the Prosecutor General Office, which in effect represents the public and initiates legal prosecution for crimes committed against public interests or funds, whether the culprits are ordinary citizens or government officials. This covers all government officials as well as officers and directors in government-owned companies or where the government owns a minimum of 40% of the company’s shares.
Also, under the new law, these government officials, including formerly exempted ministers, are required by law to file a form declaring their assets and wealth. Though this is the first time they are obliged by law to report such data, which was deemed, until 2011 Omani Spring, very personal and privileged information, they are required by law now to have the declaration filed in on an annual basis. Moreover, this whole process is kept under public scrutiny which keeps track of all development, thanks to social media and smart phones. It is worth noting here that according to last year’s amendments to the Basic Law of the State, the State Audit is obliged by law to present a copy of its annual report of findings to the Majlis Shura (the elected chamber of the bi-cameral council of Oman), which in turn will debate and discuss it publicly.
The influence of the Arab/Omani spring cannot go unnoticed in this context. In 1983, Oman promulgated its first consolidated law on avoiding conflict of interest and protecting public funds. However, the law was never effectively put to use. In fact, a major embezzlement scandal emerged shortly after, in 1985. The high-level personnel involved were simply removed from office and left to enjoy their accumulated wealth. This was not the first or last time such treatment took place vis-à-vis high-level officials misappropriating public funds.
Conflict of interest became a very hot issue once again upon the promulgation of the Basic Law of the State in 1996. However, it was soon to wither away. What became evident to the populace is that such laws are often ignored. What people were made to believe is that these laws lacked political will and that they were made for public consumption only and not for real implementation. People even joked about the resilience of established commercial interests cross-fertilized with vested political interests.
This move of the State Audit must be read in tandem with the spirit of the Arab/Omani spring of 2011, which was largely ignited by economic disparity fueled by blatantly rising levels of corruption and its manifestations across the board. Calls during the 2011 sit-ins and subsequent public discussions focused on reforms curbing the rising corruption and prosecuting the responsible public officials. Evidence and examples of corruption and the means to discover and curb such behavior were the subject of public discourse, lectures and discussions.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and social media have helped promote this knowledge and discourse. The citizenry found in the ICT and social media an avenue to get information on officials and transactions and to report violations and evidence of such violations. In fact, the State Audit has developed an electronic system whereby members of the public can report directly incidence of white collar crimes. The system is not perfect yet, but has proven to have had a good impact on government transparency and public accountability.
A significant outcome of this trend will be, hopefully, greater confidence in the reforms embarked upon after the 2011 unrests, which in due course might restore faith in the aging absolute monarchical system.
Ahmed Ali M. al-Mukhaini is an independent researcher in political developments, human rights and dialogue, and the former assistant secretary-general for the Shura Council in Oman.
This is a minor non-Dhofari rant about the Muscat Royal Opera House incident on February 27th. In case you haven't been following the news, a member of Jason Moran &The Bandwagon (a Muslim member, that is) recited verses from the Quran during the performance. Obviously the guy misjudged and OBVIOUSLY he didn't intend to insult Islam.
Anyway, Omanis have been on fire and there are social media campaigns to boycott the Royal Opera House altogether. The ROHM issued an apology on February 28th as follows:
"The Royal Opera House Muscat expresses its deep regret over the incident that took place during the performance of Jason Moran and the Bandwagon yesterday evening where one of the band members recited verses of the Quran during the performance.
The Royal Opera House Muscat’s mission to is showcase the world’s heritage and enforce an example of peaceful coexistence and intellectual affinity and understanding amongst all nations and peoples through its diverse events in a civilized manner far from religious conflicts and dogmas. This is what is agreed with all visiting artists and groups. The incident that took place yesterday evening is therefore a violation of this agreement. Following an inquiry, it became clear to the management of the Royal Opera House Muscat that the band member who recited verses of Al Fatiha during the performance is a Muslim who did so in expression of his love for his religion, and with the intention of pleasing the audience being in an Islamic country, and confirmed that his actions were in no way intended to ridicule or mock, or cause offense. The band has expressed its regret over the incident and stressed that it was the action of one member and does not represent the band. It should also be noted that the said band member’s role in the performance secondary and was not the prime attraction.
The Royal Opera House Muscat deplores the incident regardless of its source and issues an apology to the audience who witnessed the incident which came as a surprise to the organizers. The Royal Opera House Muscat does not accept such actions and confirms that it will be taking legal action regarding the incident".
The fuss and rage I have seen on Facebook and WhatsApp is ridiculous (in my opinion). What bothers me the most about us Arabs is that we get offended by anything and everything. We tend to make mountains out of mole-holes in cases like this one. Obviously it was a mistake, the guy had no intention of offending, and for heaven's sake GROW UP.
I know many of you might not agree with me, but I honestly believe the world needs more tolerance, and Islam is about tolerance.
Dhofar is the Southern province in the Sultanate of Oman. Salalah is the capital city of Dhofar (in fact, the only main city). Our little corner of the world is unique in many ways. If you look at the labels at the bottom right of this page and check out some of my older posts, you'll know why. As a Dhofari, I have insider's input. If you read my posts (old and new), you'll begin to appreciate (if not already) the richness of our amazing little world. Salalah is very special, and very different. Tribes, nature, mystery, magic, jinn, you name it. If you're wondering why I'm fluent in English, it's because I spent several years studying abroad. However, I am a Salalah girl through and through. I do not blog as often as I used to because my life is insane, but don't give up on me. I do write. I've been writing for EIGHT years! I have a lot of positive (and rather amusing) things to write about. Many of my posts revolve around women. I do not aim to only criticize the society in Salalah or the way of life. I am proud of who we are and how we live. I only intend to tell it as it is.