Viewing cable 05MUSCAT1746

05MUSCAT17462005-11-22 20:16:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Muscat
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A 
¶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: 
-- Al-Zarqawi's Statement To Al-Jazeera 
-- Oman's National Day Celebrations 
-- Al-Sablah Surveillance 
-- Expatriate Supervisors 
End summary. 
A Terrorist Loses Support 
¶2. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's statement to al-Jazeera regarding his 
intentions to kill "Israelis rather than Jordanians" in the 
November 9 Amman hotel bombings created a stir among al-Sablah 
members, many of whom previously had supported acts of 
"resistance" against U.S. and Western military forces in Iraq. 
Out of 645 hits and 29 responses, fully 90% blasted the terrorist 
leader and his tactics.  "He is a liar and a criminal," wrote one 
member.  Another continued, "I swear, this terrorist is a liar 
and a hypocrite.  His hands are polluted with the blood of 
innocents, much more so than the American invaders."  Other 
responses were sharper:  "Go to hell, you coward barbarian.  Go 
to the dustbin of history." 
¶3. One participant suggested, "Al-Zarqawi and other members of al- 
Qaeda are used as scapegoats for every terrorist act in the 
region, and the media go along with this."  This suggestion was 
quickly shouted down:  "The victims of the bombings were most 
Jordanian wedding guests, not Israelis.  Does al-Zarqawi think we 
are so nave to believe what he says?  Can he bring back the 
innocent lives he took, simply by saying, `Sorry, I didn't mean 
The Show Must Go On 
¶4. One element of Oman's National Day celebrations, marking the 
thirty-fifth anniversary of Sultan Qaboos' accession to the 
throne, prompted a mix of emotions among al-Sablah readers. 
Commenting on a student festival that was held at a Muscat 
stadium on November 20, more than 200 message board visitors 
complained about the poor quality of the performance.  "How could 
the Ministry of Education present the Sultan with such a bad 
show?" wondered one participant.  Others appeared angered by this 
particular part of the festival: "This was really a 
disappointment.  What we saw in the 1970's and 1980's was even 
better than this, and that time we were working with much more 
limited budgets." 
¶5. The majority of complaints focused on the "foreign" feel of 
the student parade, pointing out that the trainer hailed from 
Egypt.  "There was nothing in the show that portrayed Omani 
traditions or values.  There were only Egyptian voices and 
music."  Widespread among al-Sablah members was the belief that 
"the large amounts of money earmarked for this festival must have 
found their way into somebody's pocket, rather than being put 
towards the actual performances." 
¶6. A November 21 military parade, on the other hand, generated 
150 positive responses out of 2,172 viewers.  "It was an 
excellent performance where all the police and military forces 
showed a high degree of discipline and superior preparation," 
reported one observer.  "And this is not surprising," continued 
another, "because the military parade was the result of purely 
Omani organizers and trainers, down to the last musical note." 
Kudos also poured in for the first public performance by the all- 
female Royal Oman Police band in another event, the tattoo: "We 
are proud of these sixty policewomen, who played their 
instruments fabulously and exceeded all our expectations," 
exclaimed an enthusiast. 
Do You Have The Feeling We Are Being Watched? 
¶7. Although dormant for many months, the allegation that Omani 
security forces regularly monitor the al-Sablah message board 
resurfaced when one participant noticed that "a lot of active 
members have recently disappeared mysteriously from the 
chatroom."  Another writer commented, "The contributor known as 
`Thoughtful Voice' was an active member, until one day he posted 
that he had been summoned by investigators.  He then decided to 
leave the forum after giving his farewell message."  Others 
praised the openness of the message board, noting that "this 
place has hosted many sectors of the Omani intelligentsia, such 
as journalists, freelance writers, and even officials using 
pseudonyms."  On balance, roughly half of the 37 respondents felt 
that the message board was being monitored by the internal 
security services, while the other half felt free to post 
whatever they wanted. 
Excoriating The Expats 
¶8. A woman's plea for help to prominent Omani businessman Saud 
Bahwan on the Internet message board turned into an argument 
regarding expatriate Indian employees in the Sultanate.  The 
woman, an employee of one of Bahwan's companies, was allegedly 
prevented from moving to a different wilayat (province) by her 
supervisor, an Indian national.  More than 7,000 al-Sablah 
members viewed the topic, and many of the 133 respondents fired 
off missives such as "Indian supervisors always complain about 
Omani absenteeism, laziness, and carelessness," and "Indian 
supervisors constantly give poor evaluations to their Omani 
employees, even though investigations have proved these Omanis 
were model workers." 
¶9. Bahwan, a well-known philanthropist, was himself alternately 
criticized and defended by forum members.  "Saud Bahwan is one of 
the more decent and respected figures in Oman.  He is renowned 
for his willingness to help anybody who knocks at his door," 
volunteered one writer.  But another noted, "Bahwan should hire 
more Omanis and fewer Indians in his companies.  Sure, he does a 
lot of charity work, but his hiring policies hurt a lot of Omani 
families economically."