Viewing cable 04MUSCAT2112

04MUSCAT21122004-12-05 03:26:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Muscat
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MUSCAT 002112 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/30/2009 
REF: A. MUSCAT 2030 
     ¶B. MUSCAT 1993 
     ¶C. MUSCAT 1991 
Classified By: Ambassador Richard L. Baltimore, III. 
Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d). 
¶1. INR/B - please see biographic notes, para 9. 
¶2. (C) A rising mid-level Omani commerce official recently 
described the rapid decline of the Omani textile industry, 
her experiences within the government, the ill-timed 
departure of the Commerce Under Secretary, and her positive 
experience visiting the United States on an International 
Visitor Program.  Exuding confidence and energy, she laments 
the lack of younger leadership at all levels of government in 
Oman.  End Summary. 
Cutting Her Teeth in Industry, Textiles 
¶3. (C) During the course of an hour-long courtesy call, 
Econoff discussed various issues relating to bilateral trade 
and ministerial intrigue with Sheikha Khalfan al-Masheikhi, 
Director of the Industrial Development Department at the 
Ministry of Commerce and Industry.  Having worked her way 
through the ranks of her ministry for the better part of a 
decade, she gained valuable experience in dealing with local 
businesses and the economics of regulation.  She recalled one 
instance where she was proud of having recommended that a 
dairy factory be shut down due to lack of hygiene only to 
realize how she could of imposed fines and given the factory 
a timetable to implement changes before pulling the plug. 
¶4. (C) She now maintains responsibility for the textile 
sector in Oman, which she claims has been devastated by 
increasing costs and global competition.  Of 33 textile 
factories in the 1990s, only 15-16 are still operating.  She 
blames the high cost imposed by Omanization as the cause for 
the decline in competitiveness.  In discussions with her 
counterparts at the Ministry of Manpower, she was rebuffed in 
a proposal to mandate only 15 percent Omanization for the 
textile sector; instead, Manpower officials sought an 
increase to 45 percent.  She claims that U.S. free trade 
agreements with Bahrain, Jordan, and Morocco are cutting 
deeply into Omani competitiveness in the garment industry 
with their reduction in tariffs, a claim that we have heard 
from other contacts in the business community.   One of her 
overarching goals is for the Sultanate to adopt a written, 
transparent competition policy in line with WTO standards, 
which would allow Omani industry to compete without 
abandoning its multilateral commitments. 
Protege of Former Under Secretary 
¶5. (C) Ms. al-Masheikhi clearly misses Ali al-Sunaidi, her 
former colleague and mentor who departed his post as Under 
Secretary of Commerce and Industry when he was named Minister 
of Sports Affairs in October (ref A).  Al-Masheikhi claims 
that al-Sunaidi's departure was ill-timed and represents a 
"waste of talent," given the many economic challenges facing 
Oman.  In her view, he would have been much better suited to 
take the helm at the Ministry of Manpower, or even the 
Commerce Ministry itself. 
Red Tape Woes 
¶6. (C) Al-Masheikhi scorns the "old-school" bureaucrats 
prevalent in the Omani government, who work out of routine 
instead of evincing duty or a sense of improving Oman.  She 
gives the older generation tremendous credit for "building 
Oman in just 34 years," but she firmly believes it is time 
for the younger, Internet-savvy generation to take the reins. 
 Al-Masheihki claims that the current DG of Industry, Dr. 
Hamad al-Dhahab, fits the "old school" mold, and that the 
best "new minds" are occupying only marginal positions in the 
ministry and the government.  Even simple ideas take 
tremendous energy and initiative to succeed, such as her own 
"Business Umbrella," a workshop series designed to foster 
leadership skills among budding entrepreneurs from across the 
Sultanate.  She completely revamped the program, which had 
been started by a predecessor but had languished from 
neglect.  Today, all invitations for the Business Umbrella 
are delivered electronically, and al-Masheikhi has succeeded 
in organizing major teambuilding exercises across the 
country.  Still, she constantly faces scrutiny from superiors 
who question her unorthodox style.  In one instance, she 
tried to help a low-income woman from the Dhofar region 
package and market her incense on the margins of a 
conference, earning her a slap on the wrist for doing 
something outside of normal "procedures." 
Thoughts on Tourism, Women as Ministers 
¶7. (C) Al-Masheihki also spoke about her recent disagreements 
with actions to spur tourism in Oman.  The extensive 
renovation of forts and other historical sites in the 
Sultanate gall her most.  "Why are they restoring things to 
make them look new?  Why not make small improvements or 
preventive maintenance, and then let people come see history, 
like they do in Egypt and other places?" she laments.  She 
believes that the Wahiba Sands (a popular desert destination 
some 180 km southeast of Muscat) could be enhanced greatly by 
bringing people to see traditional handicraft markets run by 
women in Sharqiyah.  As for promoting tourism from abroad, 
al-Masheikhi insists that institutions such as OCIPED (Omani 
Center for Investment Promotion and Export Development) have 
not fulfilled their mission to effectively market Oman 
overseas.  Sounding off on the recent promotion of several 
women to ministerial rank, al-Masheikhi criticized the idea 
of putting female ministers in place who lack the background 
or experience for their jobs.  She is concerned that they are 
being set up for failure, which will provide fodder for the 
critics who claim women cannot handle ministerial jobs. 
(Comment: This remark appears mostly directed at the 
surprising October elevation of the young college literature 
professor Dr. Sharifah al-Yahyai to the post of Minister of 
Social Development - refs B and C.  End comment.) 
IV Program: Broadening Her Horizons 
¶8. (SBU) Sheihka al-Masheikhi credits her International 
Visitor experience with providing a close-up look at American 
society.  From August to September 2004, Ms. al-Masheikhi 
participated in a program entitled "Young Economic & Business 
Leaders: Enhancing Leadership Potential." She noted with 
interest the difference between Texas, where people seemed to 
take a genuine interest in her background and her modest 
Islamic dress, and Washington, DC, where she claimed people 
were absorbed with their work and seemed in a perpetual 
hurry.  She enjoyed seeing rural America, which she compared 
to the Omani interior in terms of lifestyle and pace of life, 
and she sincerely hopes to pursue a Masters or Ph.D. program 
at the University of Texas should the opportunity present 
Biographic Notes 
¶9. (SBU) Sheikha Khalfan al-Masheikhi was born in 1969 in 
Ibra, located in the eastern Sharqiyah region of Oman.  She 
currently serves as Director of the Industrial Planning 
Department of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry 
(1998-present).  Previous positions in the Ministry include 
stints as Planning Researcher (1997-98); Acting Section Head, 
Chemical & Petroleum Products Specification Department 
(1994-97); and Chemical Specification Specialist (1994).  A 
graduate of public schools, she went on to a distinguished 
academic career at Sultan Qaboos University, where she 
received her BA in Science (Chemistry major, Physics and 
Mathematics minor) in 1993.  She has participated in numerous 
workshops, including two sponsored by the WTO (2000, 2003). 
She has two daughters and possesses extremely strong English 
skills.  Her mother comes from the prominent al-Harthy tribe 
in Sharqiyah. 
¶10. (SBU) In her nominating cable for the International 
Visitor program, her current work is outlined: "Ms. 
Al-Masheikhi conducts training programs for Omani 
entrepreneurs in Oman and abroad, leading Omani business 
delegations on international visits to learn new industrial 
management techniques to apply in Oman.  Ms. Al-Masheikhi 
also provides advisory services to entrepreneurs on 
initiating new businesses, licensing, registration, and 
business incentives.  Ms. al-Masheikhi also plans and 
implements the annual industrial promotion plan, and monitors 
and manages the agreement between the Sultanate of Oman and 
the U.S. on garment exports.  In addition, she drafts and 
edits television programs that promote Omani products under 
the theme, 'Our First Choice, Omani Products.'" 
¶11. (C) Al-Masheikhi has no problem speaking her mind, and 
she obviously brings energy and ambition to her decidedly 
non-descript mid-level job.  Her comments about a 
generational divide within the Commerce Ministry have been 
echoed in other government institutions as well.  With the 
transfer of Ali al-Sunaidi out of the Commerce Ministry, we 
will seek to cultivate relationships with proactive and 
dynamic figures such as al-Masheikhi as we move forward 
briskly in our economic engagement with Oman.