Viewing cable 05MUSCAT792

05MUSCAT7922005-05-16 13:27:00 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 05 MUSCAT 000792 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/16/2015 
Classified By: Ambassador Richard L. Baltimore III. 
Reason: 1.4 (d). 
¶1. (C) Oman stands ahead of many Arab states on broad issues 
of democratic reform.  Its constitution was promulgated in 
1996 and enshrines human rights protections and judicial 
independence.  The lower house of its bicameral parliament 
(the Majlis al-Shura, or Shura Council) has been an elective 
body since 1992.  While members of the upper house (the 
Majlis al-Dawla, or State Council) are appointed by the 
Sultan, female membership has grown to 15 percent.  The World 
Bank places Oman as Number 1 among Arab states for the degree 
of government submission to the rule of law, and second only 
behind the UAE for government transparency.  Oman acceded to 
the WTO in 2000, and is expected to conclude a Free Trade 
Agreement (FTA) with the U.S. by the end of this year.  The 
Omani government has been fairly receptive to MEPI programs. 
¶2. (C) Oman nevertheless has many shortfalls regarding 
democratic reform.  Neither house of parliament enjoys 
genuine legislative powers.  Political parties are banned and 
civil society entities are limited in number and constrained 
in their activities.  There are no elective offices at the 
regional or local level.  While the FTA process is compelling 
Oman to move toward organized labor and collective 
bargaining, the nascent "workers representation committees" 
are only just getting started and lack clear guidance.  While 
private media is permitted, the press is subject to both 
governmental and self-censorship and is tightly monitored by 
the Ministry of Information. 
¶3. (SBU) The government has instituted a credible reform 
program of its legal and educational systems, but requires 
considerable technical assistance to achieve its objectives. 
Fittingly, much of our MEPI-related assistance to Oman thus 
far has targeted those critical and fertile targets of 
opportunity and deserves continued support.  We urge the 
Department not to neglect these vital programs. 
Democratic Legislature 
¶4. (C) Desired Outcome: Parliament endowed with legislative 
Diplomatic Strategy and Baseline:  We propose that the USG 
offer the government assurances of an aggressive menu of 
technical assistance and exchange opportunities in return for 
Oman's assurances that the two houses of parliament will 
acquire genuine legislative powers by the time the new 
parliament is seated in late 2007.  Since its creation in 
1992 from similar predecessor bodies, the Majlis al-Shura (or 
Shura Council, the lower house of parliament) has become 
increasingly democratic as the government expanded suffrage 
and reduced its influence over candidate registration in each 
successive election.  By 2003, the government exercised no 
undue influence over candidate registration, and suffrage was 
universal.  The State Council (upper house), has been and 
remains a fully appointed body, typically comprised of 
retired senior government officials and influential business 
and social leaders.  Since its creation in 1996, it has grown 
from 42 to 59 members, with the percentage of female members 
rising from 9 percent to the current 15 percent.  After the 
October 2003 elections, the Sultan extended the term of 
office for both houses to four years.  Since 2000, the 
International Republican Institute (IRI) conducted technical 
training for staff members of first the State Council, but 
now primarily the Majlis al-Shura.  Earlier this year, IRI 
succeeded for the first time in providing training directly 
to elected members of the Shura Council on critical reading 
of draft legislation submitted by the government. 
Programming: Building upon IRI's excellent relations with 
both Councils, we recommend a substantial increase in 
technical training for both members and professional staff. 
To provide an adequate tempo of activity, IRI (our top choice 
for implementer) should establish a permanent presence in 
Oman.  Interactions with U.S. legislative members would be an 
essential program element, possibly to include a dedicated 
relationship with a sister legislature in a U.S. state.  IRI 
has successfully involved Canada in its programs, and the 
UK's House of Commons likewise has a nascent relationship 
with the Shura Council.  The USG may be able to rely on other 
BMENA partners for assistance. 
Resource Requirements: $1-2 million, with IRI serving as 
primary technical assistance implementer supplemented with 
special International Visitor programs and possibly Fulbright 
scholars as warranted. 
-- November 2005: Based on Washington assurances of 
resources, the Omani government privately agrees to a 
timeline for imbuing the State and Shura Councils with 
genuine legislative power by no later than the start of the 
next terms of office for both houses (November 2007). 
-- December 2005: Existing USG technical assistance programs 
with both houses greatly expanded.  Consultations undertaken 
with BMENA partners for their engagement as well. 
-- April 2006: Exchange visits with U.S. legislative bodies 
begin in earnest. 
-- December 2006: Technical assistance, such as through IFES, 
begins for Oman's electoral commission. 
-- January 2007: Omani government actively begins public 
awareness campaign on expanded role of parliament, importance 
of voter responsibility. 
-- October 2007: Elections to the Shura Council. 
-- November 2007: Newly empowered Shura Council and State 
Council take office. 
Consequences and Prospects: While the government may wish to 
keep defense, security and foreign policy out of the 
parliament's legislative reach in the initial stages, 
empowering a legislature to address economic and development 
agendas is consonant with our understanding of the Sultan's 
long-term vision for Oman.  Convincing the Omanis that the 
time for imbuing legislative powers is now, as opposed to 
sometime in the indeterminate future, will likely be the 
chief challenge. 
Unfettered NGOs 
¶5. (C) Desired Outcome: Government restrictions on civil 
society organizations significantly relaxed, leading to a 
rapid proliferation of new NGOs in ever-wider circles of 
Diplomatic Strategy and Baseline:  There are currently only 
14 NGOs, including 9 professional associations (e.g., 
journalists, engineers, doctors), registered with the 
Ministry of Social Development (MOSD).  Most of these 
organizations waited 3 years or more to win formal registry, 
undergoing a slow and not always transparent process under an 
Omani law that limits such organizations to a narrow band of 
activities.  The number of new NGOs grows by only 2-3 per 
year, due to a small and poorly trained staff at MOSD and 
lengthy security background checks performed by the security 
services.  The MOSD likewise oversees a network of 45 
regional chapters of the Oman Women's Association (OWA). 
Oman's Minister of Social Development is one of the 
least-experienced and youngest members of the Omani cabinet; 
though she is currently overwhelmed with her new 
responsibilities and limited support staff, she is 
intelligent and could become a powerful positive force for 
civil society development if properly groomed.  The Ministry 
of Foreign Affairs is encouraging the USG to provide the new 
minister all necessary support and assistance. 
Programming: We need a 2-3 year project built first and 
foremost around a resident American adviser who would work 
directly for MOSD, and in close coordination with an 
expatriate project manager to oversee technical assistance to 
new and existing NGOs, including the OWA chapters. 
Train-the-trainer activities would be the primary focus.  The 
growth and continuation of the MEPI Small Grants program 
would give us necessary flexibility to respond to emerging 
additional needs and reform opportunities. 
Resource Requirements: A dedicated project budget of $1-2 
million over two years, to include funding for a resident 
expatriate advisor to MOSD.  MEPI Small Grants totaling $150K 
in 2005, and $200K in 2006, with additional staff support to 
the MEPI regional office in Abu Dhabi to accommodate this 
increase in small grant activity.  We would also require 
additional International Visitor (IV) or Special IV slots, as 
well as Voluntary Visitor programs.  Embassy Muscat would 
require an additional staff position to oversee these 
-- December 2005: Expatriate adviser begins 2-year secondment 
to the Ministry of Social Development. 
-- December 2005: Number of NGOs receiving MEPI small grants 
increases to six. 
-- June 2006: Substantial revision of Omani law and 
regulations significantly reduces government's role in NGOs, 
dramatically simplifies the registration process of new NGOs. 
-- October 2006: MEPI small grants awarded to eight NGOs. 
-- December 2006: Number of registered NGOs grows to 25. 
Consequences and Prospects: Even within the context of Omani 
conservatism, the existing restrictions on civil society 
organizations are harsher than might otherwise be expected. 
The absorptive capacity of MOSD may prove the greatest 
constraint to creating new NGOs. 
Genuine Labor Unions 
¶6. (C) Desired Outcome: Workers committees function as 
genuine labor unions fully equipped to bargain collectively. 
Diplomatic Strategy and Baseline: While the Omani government 
revamped its labor law in 2003, the first union-type 
organizations (termed worker representative committees) 
permitted under the law only came into existence in late 
¶2004.  At present, there are roughly 20 committees duly 
registered by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).  While the MOM 
has assured our FTA negotiators that the committees will 
function as unions, complete with powers of collective 
bargaining, the committees and MOM seem to lack clear 
guidelines as to how this will actually happen.  This lack of 
clarity presents both challenges and stunning opportunities, 
assuming the USG can move swiftly enough to fill the void 
with our own visions of how organized labor can and should 
develop in Oman.  The worker representative committees were 
supposed to elect a national-level committee this month that 
would have, inter alia, represented Oman at international 
labor fora such as the ILO Conference in June. 
Unfortunately, the MOM cited lack of adequate preparation for 
elections as the reason for its decision on May 4 to appoint 
the national committee instead. 
Programming: In conjunction with BMENA partners and the ILO, 
the USG (USTR, DOL, DRL and NEA/PI) should identify technical 
assistance contractor(s) who could provide soup-to-nuts 
advice and training to both workers committees and the MOM on 
how to craft and implement essential legal frameworks for 
genuine labor unions.  Partner institutions could include the 
AFL-CIO, the Solidarity Center, the ILO regional office in 
Beirut, and unions in other Arab FTA states such as Jordan 
and Bahrain.  Heavy emphasis should be placed on examples 
from a variety of nations, to give the Omanis maximum 
flexibility in arriving at a framework most appropriate for 
the Sultanate.  The USG and allies would need to maintain 
steady engagement at the political level to encourage Oman's 
follow-through on its stated commitments. 
Resource Requirements: NEA/PI budgets for technical 
assistance in the labor field should be augmented 
substantially, particularly as more states follow the example 
of Oman and other states in concluding Free Trade Agreements 
with the U.S.  Assuming substantial resources can be provided 
for labor technical assistance, the Department may have to 
consider establishing dedicated labor officers in our 
embassies in FTA partner states like Oman (or, more broadly, 
within the GCC). 
-- September 2005: Start of first labor workshops and 
technical assistance to the Manpower Ministry. 
-- January 2006: Number of registered workers representative 
committees grows to 50. 
-- May 2006: Dedicated training provided to the members of 
the Omani delegation to the ILO Conference. 
-- October 2006: All necessary implementing regulations for 
genuine labor organizations brought into force. 
-- May 2007: Elections among all workers committees for the 
new National Committee. 
Consequences and Prospects: If not managed properly, 
aggressive labor unions lacking adequate regulation could 
prove a break on Oman's recent impressive growth rates and 
possibly damage the investment climate for U.S. companies. 
Given Oman's paucity of experience, however, there are 
excellent prospects for USG influence in this field should 
resources be provided. 
Free Press 
¶7. (C) Desired Outcome: Abolition of the Ministry of 
Information and full privatization of the media by 2007. 
Diplomatic Strategy and Baseline: The Ministry of Information 
(MOI) enforces censorship of all print and electronic media 
inside Oman, and directly owns or manages numerous 
publications and broadcast entities.  Since its inception, 
the MOI has been under conservative leadership that fosters a 
climate hostile to open discourse of political, economic and 
social issues.  While the government is promoting 
privatization of key economic sectors, it has shown no 
indication thus far of following Kuwait's example of 
abolishing the ministry, and has purposely excluded the media 
from our market access requests in the FTA negotiations.  A 
high-level and concerted effort to engage reform elements 
within the Omani government (and perhaps more broadly within 
the GCC) will be required to win philosophical acceptance of 
removing the government from direct oversight of the media. 
If Oman's political buy-in to this strategy could be achieved 
by mid-2006, and adequate technical assistance (per below) be 
provided, the MOI could conceivably be liquidated as early as 
late 2007. 
Programming: First and foremost, we would require USG 
engagement to introduce and win support for this desired 
outcome, concentrating on the government's key economic 
decision-makers, the Foreign Ministry, and ultimately the 
Sultan himself.  We would then propose technical assistance 
programs to advise the government on legislative means of 
ensuring legitimate government oversight (decency standards, 
transparent licensing requirements, and modern libel and 
defamation laws) and means for establishing press offices 
within individual government institutions that would serve 
the important purpose of publicizing government activities. 
We would encourage exchange visits by concerned government 
officials to other Arab and non-Arab states that have evolved 
away from information ministries, as well as to such USG 
institutions as the FCC. 
Resource Requirements: While exchange programs and technical 
assistance could easily be provided under existing contracts 
and USG programs, we would recommend a dedicated budget 
(approximately $250K) for this program.  Efficiencies could 
be realized if this strategy were adopted more broadly within 
the region or among sub-regional entities (e.g., the GCC). 
-- December 2005: Oman government agrees privately to agenda 
for abolishing the MOI and privatizing media. 
-- March 2006: Intensive technical assistance underway for 
legal, structural reforms. 
-- June 2006: Government publicizes intention to privatize 
all media holdings, forms working group to plan dissolution 
of the MOI. 
-- December 2006: Legitimate government oversight functions 
transferred to technical agencies; new laws implemented to 
reform censorship standards; government ministries establish 
indigenous press offices. 
-- March 2007: Government-owned media enterprises totally 
-- June 2007: Ministry of Information formally abolished. 
Consequences and Prospects: In a country known for its 
moderation and relative liberalism, the government's attitude 
thus far to the media is one of its most regressive.  Certain 
vested interests within the government may strongly resist 
efforts to loosen its stranglehold on the media, but once the 
philosophical hurdle is removed, progress will come quickly. 
A liberalized media may generate more vocal opposition of USG 
policies and economic reforms, but it will likewise serve as 
a bulwark for transparency and democratization.