Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ramadhan: Day 2

Good Morning Everyone & Ramadhan Kareem to all my readers, regardless of what you believe in. Today is day two of the holy month of fasting and I'm feeling great. The first few days of Ramadhan are usually a little rough because it takes time for the body to get used to having no food or drink from sunrise to sunset, but so far it's been good for me, Al Hamdulillah. I've been preparing myself mentally and physically for a week.

Ramadhan is my favorite time of the year. I had a discussion with a Christian friend of mine recently who still couldn't get his head around the idea of fasting and why we 'chose' to torture our bodies for a month. He didn't see how anyone could possibly gain from fasting for a month. I don't see it as torture. It's a form of discipline and spiritual cleansing provided you do it the right way. The first few days are a little rough then slowly you feel lighter and your thoughts are clearer and you feel happier. It's like going to a meditation retreat in an ashram. (sleeping half the day and then stuffing your face all night isn't really fasting in my opinion. You're not going to feel any difference. In fact, you'll just feel ill and heavy most of the time).

Fasting in a Muslim community is also a wonderful thing. When the entire region is fasting together, it makes a huge difference. It feels special. People make an extra effort to go to the mosque for all prayers, to spend time with the family, to pray and read the Quran, etc. It's hard to describe.

Many of the tourists left Salalah over the weekend and the Salalah Tourism Festival ended with a bang on Wednesday. The mountains are looking beautiful. Now it's time for the locals to enjoy Khareef!

Anyway, a little update on the online activists (new label) situation.... here's the Human Rights Watch report from July 21st, and Amnesty International's Report from July 17th. How embarassing.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Referring to my post from July 16th, I've calmed down a little bit and am not so furious. I still think it's pretty stupid to insult His Majesty in public in Oman at this time. However, after seeing the photos of the detainees on the evening news and in the newspaper and after watching half the population of Salalah exchange Muna's photo, I feel ill. Was it really necessary to publish her photo? Why should a young college student who was a little naive on her Facebook page be treated like a drug dealer or murderer? (those are the only cases when Oman will publish a photo as far as I know). Her poor family.  

And something else.... His Majesty the Sultan has been out of the country since late April on his Euro-tour and he returned safely this afternoon as far as I know via Qatar. This is just me thinking out loud, but do you think he's aware of all that's been going on? I'm referring to all the 'details'. I don't feel this is his personal battle against all who insult him. In fact, I don't think he cares personally. He is loved and respected by everyone. I keep comparing him in my head to the Queen Elizabeth. She is loved by many many many people worldwide, not just in England. If some idiot chose to exercise his freedom of expression by insulting her, I don't think it would be a big deal. Why is Oman so uptight about this? 

Why is this a big deal? Why has this become a big deal? Having foolishly published photos of all these detained poets and writers and university students in local newspapers and on television, I feel locals have gone from being furious at the detainees to being furious at the government. ESPECIALLY in Salalah. Things are going to get messy. I feel it. I see it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

More Jail Sentences. More stupidity.

So, to update you on the latest campaign against bloggers in Oman, I just received an SMS update (SABQ Service) from the government with the following info: "Mohammed Al Badi, Mohammed Al Habsi, Abdullah Al Siyabi, Talib Al Abri, Abdullah Al Arimi and Muna Hardan are handed one-year prison sentences and a fine of 1000 OMR for defamation and violating the laws of information technology".
It's official. A Dhofari girl is involved and her sentence is not just one year, but 18 months. Before activists and human rights organizations get all excited and start calling for the release of these so-called  'human rights defenders', surely the government should reveal what exactly were their crimes? If they're going to publish full names and photos (tomorrow's newspaper), surely a little detail would be useful?  As far as I know, Muna was continuously defaming and insulting His Majesty and the Omani people online under the nickname "Dhofari Rose". As much as I love freedom of speech, I think she was pretty stupid given the current circumstances of freedom of expression in Oman. (in my head: WHAT WAS SHE THINKING, DAMMIT?!)  
Every person who publicly and continuously defames His Majesty is asking for trouble. Regardless of what she thinks (and thinking out loud in Oman can get you into serious trouble), she knows what the current situation is in Oman, and she knew what was coming. I'm not saying I like the current situation, but I believe in being sensible and choosing your battles wisely.
Defaming for the sake of defaming isn't going to help anyone. What was her cause? Did she have one? Were her accusations based on fact? What's going to happen now? She's the first woman ever in Dhofar to be publicly sentenced. Is her tribe going to interfere? Is Wasta going to play a vital role in getting her bailed out? She's a naive little university student, not an activist.
My only criticism of the government in this case would be the exaggerated unnecessary prison sentences (six months for holding a poster that sort-of criticizes the Sultan?!), publishing photos of the detainees in prison uniform, and withholding information. If you're trying to teach people a lesson, share details. What rules did these bloggers break? What are the new limitations? The rest of us would like to know. His Majesty is off limits, but what else? I'm not interested in being plucked out of my home in the middle of the night for a post I wrote two years ago. Must I go through every single blog post and review? I don't want to see more people end up in jail for speaking their minds.
Choose your battles wisely. Oman is not a free country.. Dhofari Gucci is not happy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


So... two guys get sentenced to jail for 'insulting' His Majesty the Sultan. The first guy, Hamoud Al Rashdi (a writer) was sentenced to six months and a fine of 200 OMR). The second guy, Hamad Al Kharousi (a poet) apparently wrote a poem insulting the character of His Majesty and was sentenced to ONE FRIGGIN YEAR in jail and a fine of 200 OMR. Given the current situation in Oman, that was pretty stupid in my opinion (writing the poem, not the court ruling to any confused readers) Both are out on bail. Another group of 'activists' are awaiting their trial.

Question: both are being referred to by international human rights organizations as 'Human rights defenders'. I'm not familiar with either of them. If you know anything about their human rights activism (?), do share. I'm interested.

To be honest guys, there's plenty to write about from Salalah these days. I should be doing some festival coverage and updating you on all the interesting events, lectures, conferences and concerts. Unfortunately, the campaign of intimidation against anyone with an opinion in Oman has me feeling rather low. There is no such thing as 'complete freedom of speech' but we can get close. Oman is definitely nowhere near there. And to be honest, I think it's the wrong time to pick on bloggers and activists in Oman. The situation in the Middle East is unstable and all eyes are on the Arab states that have not flipped. Oman is pretty stable but we're not immune to anything.

I am deeply loyal to His Majesty but I also believe in basic human rights. I'm trying to understand this whole situation from the government's point of view and then from the perspective of all the activists and who want a different Oman. I can almost understand both sides. Unfortunately, I don't think the recent chain of events is going to work.

So, onto a little Salalah news: apparently two or three young women were also detained briefly for their 'negative' writings online? FROM SALALAH? HOLY SHIT. Not sure how this one will play out. I know who they are.

Frankincense Ice Cream obsession: you may now taste Trygve's wonderful ice creams at Ittina Cafe in Iteen. Drive past the festival in the direction of the mountains and once you get to the roundabout with all the small restaurants and barbecue stands, turn right and drive up the hill. The restaurant is at the top of that hill. It has a nice family section and you can get yourself a good hookah fix there as well.

Rain: it rained for a couple of days then dried up for about a week, then started raining again a couple of days ago. That's probably added to my depression.

Late night reading:  herehere, here, and Amnesty International's semi-biased action plan here.

Gucci is not happy.


Thursday, July 5, 2012


I will blog in a day or two. I'm a little stressed and worried about the recent arrests/freedom of speech issues. Some developments on that front in Salalah involving females. I've received a few threatening hints from random anonymous individuals and through my family as well, so I'm laying a little low. Sucks to be opinionated in Oman right now! (not that I've ever said anything that would jeopardize national security I don't think ....?).

Sigh - Gucci