UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MUSCAT 001524
STATE FOR NEA/ARPI, NEA/PPD, NEA/P, IIP/G/NEA
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO SOCI MU
SUBJECT: OMAN ONLINE: DEMOCRACY AND IRRESPONSIBILITY
REF: MUSCAT 1499
Â¶1. Summary: The Omani Internet message board "al-Sablah" is the
liveliest and most comprehensive Arabic-language forum for
political and social discourse in the country, touching on issues
and personalities rarely addressed in the conventional media.
While not totally free, nor wholly reflective of Omani public
opinion, this popular site nevertheless offers a worthwhile
window into the hot topics and unvarnished views of the day.
This edition of Oman Online contains the following topics:
-- Omani Democracy
-- Irresponsibility In The Private Sector
-- Appeal For Freedom Of Expression
-- Approval For Private Television And Radio Stations
Wanted: Prime Minister
Â¶2. Representative government took center stage in al-Sablah when
a member posed the question, "How far has democracy reached in
the Sultanate of Oman? The Majlis al-Shura (Consultative
Council) has limited powers, the Majlis al-Dawla (State Council)
is merely a form of early retirement, and there are no political
parties." Most respondents agreed with the tone of the topic's
author. "The government prohibits opposition groups and
political gatherings, and has even put a ban on the press," noted
one observer. Another contributed, "There is a fear that if the
ministers allow civil society to develop, the people will soon
call for the ministers to be changed." One gloomy participant
wrote, "By the way, huge budgets are being allocated to the
Majlis Oman - so at the end of the day, not only do the people
lose democracy, but they lose their money as well."
Â¶3. This popular topic (3,628 hits, 1,075 responses) provoked
others to ask, "Why don't we have a genuine Prime Minister in
Oman?" The vast majority of respondents agreed that establishing
a true PM would be a boon for the Omani government. However,
others lamented that "We have been calling for such an official
for years. do you see anybody in that position yet?"
The Irresponsibility Of Youth
Â¶4. A new topic that generated 1,335 hits and 44 responses dwelt
on the perceived irresponsibility of young Omanis working in the
private sector. "Unfortunately, many of these young workers are
not disciplined and always looking to get out of their duties,"
complained the author. Many readers agreed: "The productivity of
these young Omanis is far less than the expatriate employees, and
they do not work faithfully or honestly. They are always coming
up with new justifications for taking leave."
Â¶5. Some blamed the phenomenon on the government's "Omanization"
policy of setting quotas for Omani employees in the private
sector. "Private sector institutions accept uneducated and
unqualified people because they are obliged to satisfy the
Omanization quotas from the Ministry of Manpower," declared one
writer. Others sought out additional targets: "The Ministry of
Higher Education bears full responsibility for this predicament
when it blocks the path of education for these youths, and will
not help them continue their studies."
Â¶6. One of the al-Sablah message board supervisors penned a letter
of appeal to a number of royal family members, urging them to
increase the freedom of expression for Omani citizens. "Your
Excellencies, the most important type of freedom is the freedom
of speech," began the letter. "The recent incidents of arrests
and mistreatment - including that of Taybah al-Ma'wali - are
evidence of the shameful state of freedom in the Sultanate, which
will result in a retarded generation incapable of constructive
criticism." Attracting 1,700 hits and 45 responses, the letter
received broad support from al-Sablah members.
Channeling The Discontent
Â¶7. The news that the Ministry of Information approved
applications on October 10 for a private television station and
two private radio stations was greeted with a mixture of hope and
suspicion among al-Sablah members. "Maybe these new channels
will mask the defects of our current stations, and we hope that
serious intellectuals and innovators will play a greater role in
these channels," wrote one contributor. Others (out of 233 hits
and 14 responses) expressed skepticism that the channels would
offer anything new. One individual wrote, "I hope one of the
radio stations broadcasts the Qu'ran and Islamic lectures. We
have gotten bored of the Sultanate's only radio station, which
only plays music all day long."