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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘Oman’ Category

No Exception for Oman

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By Iman Said

After Cyclone Gonu

Just like the Gonu and Phet cyclones that hit the Sultanate in the last two years, corruption has united the Omani people once again. The protests that have spread all over the country turned into a huge campaign to ‘clean’ the country.

Yesterday I saw people holding placards on which they had written names of some of the corrupt officials in high positions. They were protesting peacefully and no riot police were involved. I felt very proud of the space of freedom that we have established in our beloved Oman. That is what I want for my country. That is what I want for my fellow countrymen.

Public opinion has been fluctuating because of what the Omani TV describes as vandalism. People came out with new slogans now: “No corruption…No vandalism”. However, one can never ignore the greater picture; a picture of Omani citizens expressing themselves with no fear.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 2, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Oman

Tagged with ,

Report from Oman

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By Iman Said

I did not see this coming, though I am fully aware of the unemployment rate, high prices, low salaries, lack of freedom of speech and corruption that has been flowing in the veins of the Sultanate. Omani people have watched the uprisings in the Arab world, and they have learned a valuable lesson from the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. The power of the people is so great that it can change the unbearable reality. According to the Oman News Agency, what happened yesterday and what is happening today all over Oman is a type of ‘vandalism’ though the protestors were chanting: “selmeyyah” (peaceful protests) all the time.

Let’s start from the very beginning. About 300 protestors gathered on Saturday in the Globe roundabout in Suhar, or what is known now as the ‘Reform Square’, to demand more political and economic reforms. This comes after the decrees issued by the Sultan and which did not meet the protestors’ demands for change. The result was that the police arrested 41 people to spread fear among the others. Of course that did not happen. The protestors were more determined to continue with their peaceful protests.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 27, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Posted in Oman

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Oman Again

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To break up the winter I spent most of January visiting my brother-in-law and friends in Oman, where I used to live, and my sisters in Doha, Qatar.

Since Hamad bin Khalifa Aal Thani deposed his corrupt father, Qatar’s powerful oil and gas economy has expanded and diversified. The state follows an interesting and idiosyncratic foreign policy. It hosts the largest American miltary base in the Gulf, and it also hosts – against American and Arab objections – al-Jazeera. In terms of the regional ‘Resistance Front versus US-client’ dialectic, Qatar stands in the middle, and in 2008 it helped negotiate a Lebanese compromise between the two sides. Wahhabism is influential (my five-year-old niece wants to attend ballet classes, but ballet classes are banned because the costume is considered unIslamic – even for five-year-old girls in a man-free environment), yet women can vote and drive.

Overall, I don’t much like the place. I had a good time with my family, ate some fine meals, went to a book fair. But there’s a bad power game going on in Qatar. Nobody is smiling. I met some very pleasant Qataris – the staff in the excellent Islamic Art Museum, some men in a bowling alley, a retired pearl diver – but I also noticed many refusing to descend from their cars at the grocery shop. (Arabs often expect take-away food to be brought to the car, but not groceries.) Expatriates form a majority of the population. As elsewhere in the Gulf, expatriate wage and class status can be mapped reasonably smoothly onto ethnicity, with white Westerners on top, followed by Lebanese, then other Arabs, then Indonesians, Pakistanis and Indians. Expatriates don’t have citizenship rights, although the infrastructure depends on them. Many contemporary Qataris, in contrast to their proud grandfathers, are obese. The city is one of close walls. The surrounding desert is flat, pale, and begrimed by industry.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 15, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Oman, Qatar, Travel

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Enemies of Free Speech

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Gaza policemen check their organs

Gaza policemen check their organs

Remember the Islamophobic cartoons published by the neo-con Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten? The controversy rumbled on from 2005 into 2006, and involved angry demonstrations, embassy-burnings (in countries where you can’t look at an embassy without a government permit), deaths, boycotts, and campaigns of support to counteract the boycotts. Although I found the cartoons deeply offensive, and not in the least related to free speech or constructive debate, I was more upset by the responses of some Muslims.

The cartoons were a media provocation, and should have been combatted through intelligent use of the media. The outpouring of Muslim anger at a West which insulted Muslims after slaughtering them was certainly understandable, but was aimed at the wrong target. I lived in Oman at the time, where the state-appointed Mufti as well as editorials in the state-controlled press encouraged people to boycott Danish goods. The supermarkets put up signs announcing that they no longer stocked Danish goods (although an English friend assured me that Danish bacon was still on sale in the foreigners-only pork room of one supermarket). Meanwhile the shelves groaned under American products, and Oman continued to stock  British and American military bases. American planes were incinerating Iraqi Muslims in their mosques at the time. The cartoon fuss seemed very much to be an organised distraction from more serious issues.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

August 26, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Leaving Oman

with 11 comments

(This was published in the National newspaper)

Wadi SahtanAllow me to make a few generalisations, which will be as unfair as generalisations always are.

There are two kinds of Arab country. On the one hand, those with a vast and living history and a social life that makes London feel cold and dead, but where the people contend with too much political and economic pressure to be more than occasionally happy. And on the other, those countries with the comforts and ease provided by the oil economy, but so culturally dislocated, so alienated from themselves, that you feel Year Zero was declared when the oil started flowing. The kind of place where expats drink too much.

Oman, which I left last week, has in some measure the advantages of both kinds of country, perhaps just the right measure, and I love it. I call it my favourite Arab country, which is a high honour with me.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 30, 2008 at 11:23 am

Posted in Oman

Gonu

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The first I heard of it was the Monday evening when a friend called to say that his son’s birthday party had been postponed due to the hurricane warning. Hurricane warning? Five minutes later my brother-in-law called about it too. You’ll forgive me for not taking it too seriously. For a start, we’re not in a hurricane zone. There has never before been a cyclone (as Indian Ocean hurricanes are called) in the Arabian Sea. There have been a few tropical storms, but they fail to make headway into the dry and dusty Gulf. Secondly, Oman had cried wolf a month previously when an Indian holy man predicted a storm and a tidal wave which would destroy the Qurm area. He said disaster would strike on a Wednesday, and a hysteria – which made the expatriate population chuckle – rapidly spread, so that children were kept home from school and more than a few workers failed to go to work. Nothing happened, of course. Except that the Indian holy man was imprisoned for starting the panic.

But there it was on the Omani TV station. Warnings to stock up on drinking water and then to stay indoors. Anyone within two kilometres of the sea should find a safe place further inland. On Tuesday morning I saw satellite images of Cyclone Gonu on the internet. It was huge, a swirl spreading its arms between the Iranian and Omani coastlines, with a defined eye. It had been upgraded to a category five cyclone. That’s as strong as a cyclone can get. Hurricane Katrina was a category five. A category five makes trees, rocks and cars dance in the heavens. A category five knocks down buildings. I bought a lot of candles and water, and taped up the windows. When I’d taped the windows, I shielded them with wardrobes and upended beds.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 16, 2007 at 5:52 pm

Posted in Oman

Tagged with

Unsustainable Development

with 3 comments

I recently spent a weekend in Oman’s ash-Sharqiyya region – the easternmost part of the Arab world – collecting wind-polished rocks in the desert, sleeping on an isolated beach (a turtle crawled up the sand to bury its eggs before dawn), and passing through small coastal villages.

This area remains – for a short time still – unspoilt. Although the inhabitants of the Sharqiyya enjoy the basic amenities which modernisation can and should provide – sanitation, electricity, health services – the state’s footprint is soft in the sand. I saw no sign of police. Institutional buildings are few and far between. The corporations have not yet arrived. None of the fast food outlets and coffee factories that homogenise the globe from the tropics to the tundra. So the settlements are handsome. The doors of the simplest houses are carved and patterned wood. Recent building may have been done with breeze blocks, but it’s been finished with mud.

The region wobbles on the edge of misnamed ‘development.’ It would be unwise in this water-scarce area to install flush toilets, but there will be worse. Emirati money is buying up the shoreline. Painted rocks mark the outlines of future residential complexes and hotels. I prayed as I passed that these were markers of dreams that would remain unfulfilled.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 1, 2007 at 5:59 am

Posted in History, Oman

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