Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bits & Pieces

(1) I'm depressed because my favorite English bloggers have all left. Muscat Confidential, Muscat Jet Driver, Other Oman, Reality in Oman, Sleepless in Salalah, etc. Why?! At least Andy , Sultanate Social , Muscat Mutterings and Angry in Oman are still around. Yes, it's official, Angry in Oman is back :)
(2) Monsoon in Dhofar is officially gone. If you drive deep enough into the mountains you may spot a few tufts of lush green here and there, but rest assured they won't be there for long. I'd give it a couple of days before the camels find them. However, that doesn't mean tourist season is over! October marks the beginning of Salalah's more 'Western' tourist season. From October-February we get thousands of tourists from Europe who arrive by plane (direct from Sweden/Germany,etc) or on cruise ships. Yesterday I was in Al Haffa Souk buying bukhoor/frankincense (a task my mother has been nagging me about for the past week) when I was shoved to the side by what looked like a bulldog in a tank top wanting to get a look at the bukhoor display. An elderly German woman with very very very short hair, lots of rolls (as in stomach rolls) and a tiny tank top. Why on earth would you wear something like that when you're so overweight? She was loud, rude, smoking, and very inappropriately dressed. Just the kind of tourist I HATE seeing in Salalah.
(3) Don't get me wrong, I love Oman and I love the Sultan, but something has been bothering me lately. National Day preparations. If you haven't already noticed, most schools in Salalah start the school day at 7 a.m and end at 11 a.m. Yes, eleven. For the ENTIRE semester. Why? Because they're busy in the afternoons practicing their dance routines for the 40th national day dance/event/operetta (?) which evidently they're being paid to do. Wtf? The 'event' is scheduled to be held in Salalah on November 28th or 29th. Furthermore, each kid participating will get 10 extra marks added to every single subject he/she is taking in school. So 10% of your total grade this semester is free if you dance for the Sultan on National Day. I'm an extremely loyal citizen but I just don't understand and I never will. Thousands of children are going to miss out on hundreds of hours of school this semester for a petty reason. Is education that unimportant? Last year they missed out on most of the first semester due to H1N1 and this year they didn't even START till late September because of Ramadhan/Eid. Furthermore, thousands of grown men are taking time off work to practice their traditional dances again for Nationanl Day, but that will be performed in Muscat for His Majesty (and the Queen?). What do you think?
(4) His Majesty Sultan Qaboos left Salalah a couple of weeks ago after a few months here in the rain. He actually drove out of Salalah, so the roads were shut for most of the day and citizens lined up on both sides of the highway and slaughtered animals out of loyalty. I heard there were over 100 dead animals being slaughtered ON the highway for His Majesty as he drove by. Yikes. I pray that many poor families benefited from all that meat.
(5) I went out to the Marriot in Mirbat on Friday morning for brunch. It was a nice (long) drive out and the food was nice, but we were practically the only people there. My nephews and brother had the pool all to themselves. It was wonderful being the only visible customers at the hotel, but it makes you wonder how they make their money?
(6) I'll be flying up to Muscat for a week (finally, a break from this town) during mid-November for shall we say 'educational' purposes. I'm tempted to catch up with some bloggers while I'm there. I was priviledged to meet up with several of the bloggers mentioned in the first paragraph of this post for dinner a few moons ago and am beginning to think that blogger get-togethers may not be so bad after all. As long as there's a collective agreement to protect the identity of all bloggers present. Email me if you'd like to grab a cup of coffee, and I 'may' consider it :)
(7) Tom Millward, a South African, is planning to bike around Oman (3000 km!) over the next three months to support local children with special needs. I'll tip my hat to you Sir for your efforts. Why aren't there more OMANIS out there doing stuff like this? If he's biking through your town, make sure to show some support. If you're a local business or are interested in donating money to the cause and sponsoring part of his trip, call him 00 968 9828 9916 or email him
(8) Does anyone know of any charitable organizations in Salalah that accept children's clothes/shoes/bags, etc? My nephews' have about 6 suitcases full of old clothes that are of good quality and should be given to people who need them. I have no idea how to get them to the right people. Help?
(9) If you hear of any interesting bits of news/events from Salalah (or the rest of Oman), do send me an email at and I'll be more than hapy to blog about it. Thanks Shushue for the information about Tom Millward!
Have a great day!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What Oman Can Teach Us

Everyone's been talking about Nicholas Kristof's article 'What Oman Can Teach Us' that was published in the New York Times last week. I'm always ecstatic when I read something positive written about Oman by a non-Omani and I'm happy about the article. However, I felt that he was just banking on emotions to sell the story. The article lacks depth. What do you think?
October 13, 2010
What Oman Can Teach Us

By Nicholas D. Kristof -
As the United States relies on firepower to try to crush extremism in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, it might instead consider the lesson of the remarkable Arab country of Oman. Just 40 years ago, Oman was one of the most hidebound societies in the world. There was no television, and radios were banned as the work of the devil. There were no Omani diplomats abroad, and the sultan kept his country in almost complete isolation.
Oman, a country about the size of Kansas, had just six miles of paved road, and the majority of the population was illiterate and fiercely tribal. The country had a measly three schools serving 909 pupils — all boys in primary grades. Not one girl in Oman was in school. Oman’s capital city, Muscat, nestled among rocky hills in the desert of the Arabian Peninsula, was surrounded by a traditional wall. At dusk, the authorities would fire a cannon and then close the city’s gates for the night. Anyone seen walking outside without a torch at night was subject to being shot.
Oman was historically similar to its neighbor, Yemen, which now has become an incubator for Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. But, in 1970, Oman left that fundamentalist track: the sultan’s son deposed his father and started a stunning modernization built around education for boys and girls alike. Visit Oman today, and it is a contemporary country with highways, sleek new airports, satellite TV dishes and a range of public and private universities. Children start studying English and computers in the first grade. Boys and girls alike are expected to finish high school at least.
It’s peaceful and pro-Western, without the widespread fundamentalism and terrorism that afflict Yemen. Granted, Yemen may be the most beautiful country in the Arab world, but my hunch is that many of the young Westerners who study Arabic there will end up relocating to Oman because of the tranquility here. It’s particularly striking how the role of women has been transformed. One 18-year-old university student I spoke to, Rihab Ahmed al-Rhabi, told me (in fluent English) of her interest in entrepreneurship. She also told me, affectionately, about her grandmother who is illiterate, was married at age 9 and bore 10 children.
As for Ms. Rhabi, she mentioned that she doesn’t want to bog herself down with a husband anytime soon. Otherwise, what if her husband didn’t want her to study abroad? And when she does eventually marry, she mused, one child would be about right. Ms. Rhabi was a member of the Omani all-girls team that won the gold medal in an entrepreneurship competition across the Arab world last year. The contest was organized by Injaz, a superb organization that goes into schools around the Arab world to train young people in starting and running small businesses.
The stand-out young entrepreneurs in Oman today are mostly female: 9 of the 11 finalists in this year’s Oman entrepreneurship contest were all-girl teams. The winning team bowled me over. The members started as high school juniors by forming a company to publish children’s picture books in Arabic. They raised capital, conducted market research, designed and wrote the books and oversaw marketing and distribution. “We’re now looking at publishing e-books,” explained Ameera Tariq, a high school senior and a member of the board of directors of the team’s book company. Maybe one of the customers for a future electronic picture book will be her grandmother, who was married at the age of 12 and has never learned to read.
In short, one of the lessons of Oman is that one of the best and most cost-effective ways to tame extremism is to promote education for all. Many researchers have found links between rising education and reduced conflict.
One study published in 2006, for example, suggested that a doubling of primary school enrollment in a poor country was associated with halving the risk of civil war. Another found that raising the average educational attainment in a country by a single grade could significantly reduce the risk of conflict.
Sorry if this emphasis on education sounds like a cliché. It’s widely acknowledged in theory, and President Obama pledged as a candidate that he would start a $2 billion global education fund. But nothing has come of it. Instead, he’s spending 50 times as much this year alone on American troops in Afghanistan — even though military solutions don’t have as good a record in trouble spots as education does.
The pattern seems widespread: Everybody gives lip service to education, but nobody funds it.
For me, the lesson of Oman has to do with my next stops on this trip: Afghanistan and Pakistan. If we want to see them recast as peaceful societies, then let’s try investing less in bombs and more in schools.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Rania from Sleepless in Salalah is Ok. Do not panic. She may not be back for a while, but nevertheless, she's ok :)

Interesting ... Omanis keep guessing over successor

By Peter Shaw-Smith
Published: October 5, 2010 04:36 - Financial Times
Of all the Gulf states Oman is the most individualistic. Set outside the Straits of Hormuz, the country looks over the Indian Ocean to east Africa and beyond. Unlike its peers, the sultanate is not a member of the Opec oil cartel and has said explicitly that it will not join a single Gulf currency.
Nor does the sultanate have the same hydrocarbon reserves as its neighbours.
With a population of 3.1m, 1.5m of them expatriates, Oman’s reserves stand at only 5.5bn barrels, according to US Energy Information Administration. This is a fraction of the oil available to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Next month, the sultanate celebrates its 40th national day. The date marks the assumption of power of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who unseated his father in 1970.
With Qaboos now in his 70th year, thoughts are turning to who will eventually take his place. Here, too, the sultanate is following its own idiosyncratic path.
According to Article 5 of The White Book, Oman’s basic law, Qaboos’ successor must be a male descendant of Turki bin Said Sultan, sultan of Muscat and Oman from 1871-88. But it is unclear exactly who this will be.
In 1996, Qaboos, who has no children and is in good health, amended the constitution so that his Albusaidy family should choose a successor when he dies.
In the event of a family dispute, Qaboos has left a letter that names his preferred choice. One copy is lodged in Muscat, the capital, and a second rests in Salalah in Dhofar in the south.
“The succession is one of the great unknown questions of the day,” says a partner at an international law firm with offices in Muscat.
“There are stories that there is a name in the envelope. Whatever happens, there’s a vacuum – and questions about how smooth the transition will be.”
Qaboos, who in addition to being prime minister holds the portfolios of foreign affairs, defence and finance and is governor of the central bank, has deliberately obfuscated the succession issue and has little interest in showing his hand at this stage, court-watchers believe.
He is known to hate speculation about the succession on the grounds that he is in good health.
Michael Field, an author and Gulf specialist, says: “The trouble is that foreigners don’t know enough about the country, so they obsess about the succession. Locals are far less worried.”
Nonetheless, speculation focuses on the sons of Prince Tarik bin Taimur Al-Said, an uncle of Qaboos and a former prime minister who died in 1980.
JE Peterson, a US academic, identifies three of Tarik bin Taimur’s sons as the most likely candidates: Asa’ad, 56, Shihab, 55, and Haitham, 54. Asa’ad is the Sultan’s personal representative, while Shihab, a personal adviser, was head of the navy until 2004. Haitham is minister of heritage and culture.
Although no one in Muscat speaks about the family’s business affairs, Haitham bin Tarik’s involvement in the stalled Blue City project may be unfavourably perceived.
According to the project’s website, he owns 50 per cent of Cyclone LLC, the local partner in the botched $15bn real estate scheme.
Mr Peterson doubts this will ultimately mean very much. “I don’t think it does irreparable harm to his standing, which is based on his lineage and position more than commerce.
“His chances really depend, I think, on his relations with his brothers.”
There is, though, a fourth candidate. Fahd bin Mahmood, believed to be 66, is currently Oman’s deputy prime minister and is in effect number two in Oman’s existing power structure.
“Fahd bin Mahmood is very much a dark horse,” Mr Peterson says.
Joseph Kéchichian, fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, identifies the same four names as likely successors. “These four [cousins of Qaboos] are valid options [over] the next decade. With time, Fahd’s putative candidacy diminishes, as a consequence of age,” he says.
Then, Mr Kéchichian says, Qaboos may contemplate the next generation, led by Taimur bin Asa’ad bin Tarik, born in the 1980s, who married into a family from Dhofar, from where Qaboos’ mother came. (Note from Nadia: he married Salma, daughter of Sheikh Mustahil Al Mashani, the Sultan's Uncle on his mother's side - from Salalah)
The issue of Dhofar is sensitive, because it was the scene of a separatist uprising in the 1960s and 1970s and was also the target of a sustained campaign of communist agitprop and incursion from neighbouring Yemen.
For four years, Qaboos himself was kept under house arrest in Salalah by his own father.
Much of the disaffection of Dhofaris, which the communists were able to exploit, was attributed to severe neglect of the region by Qaboos’ father.
Since Qaboos took power the government has been acutely conscious of the need to provide education and healthcare for all.
“There were two kilometres of metalled roads when he (Qaboos) came to power,” says the manager of an Omani-European joint venture. “Omanis don’t benchmark themselves against other GCC states. They are independent-minded and very sovereign,” he says.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

His Majesty's Speech

Opening lines of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said's speech in Salalah yesterday morning at the opening of the annual session of the Council of Oman.
"Dear Citizens ... our gathering in the city of Salalah today as we prepare to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Reniassance has undeniable symbolic significance because it was from Dhofar that Oman's modern Reniassance began and it was there that the first steps were taken towards the achievement of its hopes. And here we are today, in this splendid land, celebrating the 40th anniversary of its progress, during the course of which its achievements in many fields are plain for all to see and have changed the face of life in Oman, enabling it to assume a position of eminence at both regional and international levels" ~ October 4, 2010.
The speech was nice, but predictable. No big news as many expected. Perhaps November 18?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Council of Oman Meeting 2010

Been too busy to write. More weddings. Monsoon is officially over but the mountains are still green. We had some rain this week, but only in the mountains. Salalah is crammed with police officers and army officers this week as His Majesty is conducting the 2010 Oman Council Meeting in Salalah this morning. Two hours from now.
The Oman Council (Shura Council + State Council people) will discuss current issues in Oman. His Majesty will give his annual speech. Since it's his 40th year as Sultan, people are expecting a different speech this year. I took the day off work to watch Oman TV and hear what he'll say. Omanis are expecting big 'news' in this speech. However, I'm pretty sure if he had big news, he'd save it for 40th National Day on November 18th. We'll wait and see..
Source: Oman - H.M the Sultan to Preside Tomorrow over the Annual Convening of the Council of Oman
His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said will preside tomorrow (Monday) over the annual convening of the Council of Oman at Al Hisn Hall in Hay Al Shati in Salalah.During the convening of the Council of Oman, the Country's Monarch will deliver a Royal speech in which he will review the work and development progress in the Sultanate, it's features at present and it's wide horizons during the forthcoming period to achieve the objectives drawn by His Majesty for the Omani modern renaissance as a sustainable development solid tracks and steps, as well as, with growing achievements that accomplish welfare and enhance security and stability to this beloved country and it's faithful people.The annual convening of the Council of Oman will be attended by their highnesses, the chairmen of the State Council and Majlis A'Shura, ministers, advisers, commanders of the Sultan's Armed Forces and Royal Oman Police, honourable members of the State Council and members of the Majlis A'Shura, heads of diplomatic missions accredited to the Sultanate, Sheikhs, dignitaries editors-in-chief of Oman News Agency (ONA) and local newspapers, as well as, a number of editors-in-chief of newspapers and media representatives of the sisterly and friendly countries.