UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MUSCAT 001746
STATE FOR NEA/ARPI, NEA/PPD, NEA/P, IIP/G/NEA
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO SOCI MU
SUBJECT: OMAN ONLINE: BARBARIANS, BAD SHOWS, BIG BROTHER, AND
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:
-- Al-Zarqawi's Statement To Al-Jazeera
-- Oman's National Day Celebrations
-- Al-Sablah Surveillance
-- Expatriate Supervisors
A Terrorist Loses Support
Â¶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."
Â¶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
Â¶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
Â¶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."
Â¶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?
Â¶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
Â¶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."
Â¶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