Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Transparency: The Need of the Moment

You can't stop people from writing online. It's easy to regulate the press because 1) the press needs big expensive machines to print newspapers. 2) they need trucks to distribute. 3) they need shops to sell their papers. 4) they need advertisers to pay for all the above. 5) they are a business, and hence they need to make money. The government subsidizes the press both directly and indirectly. The newspaper owners would rather make money than be on the government's bad side, hence there is no freedom of press in Oman. In fact, even if the government allowed the press to write anything they want the will probably still self-censor themselves. They're not stupid to bite the hand that feeds them.

When it comes to the internet though, none of the above applies. People will say what they want and nothing will stop them. If the government shuts down, people will find somewhere new to write. They will write in blogs. They will write in other forums. They will keep writing.

The main problem with was that people used it for negative criticism more than anything else and they spread a lot of gossip most of which was untrue. Its administrators and moderators were extremely lax and allowed a lot of crap to flourish. More than that, it was obvious that the most active members of that forum had an agenda. They were obviously overly religious hard core ibadhi imamites, they doubted everything the government did, and for the most part they were quite racist to many of the Omani ethnic groups (in fact my family was attacked once for no reason at all). They believe that all the government's officials are corrupt. They named names and rarely ever backed it with evidence. Every single time the government announced a new project, you could bet there would be a new topic on Sablat Al Arab about it claiming that the minister behind it was making millions out of it. Who knows, it could be true, but where are the facts? Like it or not, Oman has a reputation for having a government where a lot of ministers have conflicted interest and benefit financially from infrastructure projects.

The way to counter this would be more transparency from the government, not shutting down an online forum. The average Omani is financially strapped. Unemployment is soaring and is probably in double digits but we don't know because the government never announces any negative statistics. Over 40,000 students graduate from high school every year and most of them don't go into higher education because there are no places for them. The country is in the middle of it's second biggest economic boom. The biggest since the 70's. Billions are being spent everywhere. People are getting rich, and yet the average Omani sees no benefit. Salaries have not been increased in 20 years. Do you blame them that they think every single high government official is corrupt?

Transparency. That's the need of the moment. It's been a week since the closure of and yet I haven't seen anything about it in the press. Forget the press, we know that they'll never report about something about this, but where is the Ministry of Information? Have they not learned anything from last year's arrests whose coverage they totally mismanaged? Couldn't they have issued some sort of press release at least admitting that the government are questioning the four administrators of and giving a brief explanation of the reason?

Saturday, November 25, 2006 under the government's investigation

Sabla busted

We've always known that it was only a matter of time until the internet clampdown would reaches Oman. It was never a matter of if, but how and when. Well, mark it down, folks, the when has just happened and now we wait to know the why.

Oman's most popular website, the controversial Arabic online forum known as Sablat Al Arab, has been closed down pending an investigation by the public prosecutor's office.

A message from the site's owner has been posted on the site simply stating the following:

رسالة إدارية
السبلة مغلقة بسبب تحقيقات جارية مع الادعاء العام
أشكر لجميع الأخوة تضامنهم معنا وقد خرجت من زنزانة السجن المظلمة اليوم مساءا
تحياتي .. سعيد الراشدي

The question is what was it that finally brought things to this? Sabla has always been controversial and it's been running for about 7 years now. In fact, I'd say that Sablat Al Arab has lost a lot of its past urgency and heat. It's simply not what it used to be and is no longer the first site that Omanis go to find out the latest rumors of what's happening in the country. I wonder what was the straw that broke the camel's back?

Said Al Rashidi has always been brave being the public face of a forum in which the biggest agitators all work behind aliases. I hope he comes out of this unharmed.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Two Months

I had my stupid car accident on September 15th and I only got it back today!

I am so disgusted with the whole situation that I can't be bothered to write the whole story. To cut it short:

- I tried to sue the company that owned the wheel loader that tried to make pancake out of my car and was told that Omani law doesn't allow me to sue the company since they have insurance. So long as they are insured and the insurance agreed to repair my car the only claim I have is against the insurance company.

- I wanted to sue the insurance company because they refused to fix my car for 30 days. According to Omani law if you get in an accident the liable party's insurance company has to fix your car within 30 days. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a lawyer who was willing to take the case because they get more business from insurance companies and they wouldn't want to jeopardize that income stream (I'd be lying if I said that I tried very hard though, I went to a couple legal firms and then gave up in disgust).

- Al Ahlia Insurance is the worst insurance company in Oman. Period. If, God forbid, I ever get in an accident again, I will first ask the driver who s/he is insured with and if it's Al Ahlia I will take the blame for the accident even if it wasn't my fault rather than deal with these assholes again. The estimates for fixing my car were as high as 4000 rials and yet their claims department kept saying that the garages are trying to rip off the insurance company. They even brought in two garages from Wadi Kabir who no one has heard off and made them give bogus estimates of RO. 1400. These estimates were given without even inspecting the car. They only looked at pictures in the insurance company's offices and then wrote the estimate without listing parts or work to be done at all. The insurance company said that since there are two parties willing to repair the car for that amount the insurance company will not pay anything higher. I took the matter all the way up to their top management and nothing happened. The dude joked around, tried to sweet talk me and then walked me out of his office without committing to a single thing. I finally gave up and accepted to pay the difference if they transfer the LPO either Abu Hani or El Sukry, since at least these two garages have a reputation for being good at fixing German cars. I ended up having to pay 500 rials out of my pocket to get the car fixed and repainted at Abu Hani.

- After driving a Land Cruiser for 2 months I felt constrained and claustrophobic after driving my car home today from the garage. I parked it home and went out in the Land Cruiser again.

- I gotta say the car's looking good in it's fresh paint and brand new halo head lamps.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Environment Society of Oman - Job Vacancies

ESO job ad

ESO is the only environmental NGO in Oman. It is a young organization which has only been in existence for two years. It is now time for ESO to shift from being entirely volunteer run to a professionally managed organization. If you know anyone who's interested in taking up this extremely rewarding challenge, please get the word around. The second job is for Omanis only, but the full time manager is for anyone who fits the profile. The applicants need not necessarily be in Oman.