Thursday, January 27, 2011

Muscat Confidential plugged by Times of Oman, and an update on 123Orion's charity gig

Sorry folks, I've been a very busy Dragon of late, jetting around a lot and focused on earning treasure for my new employer.

So it was very nice to see Muscat Confidential mentioned in a recent Times of Oman article on Omani blogging by my favorite Omani journo, Saleh Al Shaibany (thanks for the tips S & MM).

However, among websites that has really caught up the interests of many surfers is
The web is hosted by an individual who said on his website that he once was an expatriate working as a government consultant. The site posts controversial topics alleged to have happened in the country.
“The muscatconfidential site posts news that cannot be confirmed and it has a wide following by expatriates. However, Omanis do write to this site to express their own views,” Al Rawahi said.

The article nicely skirts the issue on the use of VPNs in Oman. Until a few months ago yes, there was a lot of VPN (virtual private network) use in Oman, for all the reasons Saleh mentioned (VOIP, access to USA sites that demand a USA IP location, relatively anonymous internet usage), and the ones he didn't mention (tunneling through Omantel's porn sensitive websites filter). But since then, Omantel and Nawras have upgraded the filter (thanks Siemens IT geeks!!) and blocked all VPNs as far as I could tell. If anyone has a working one, email the details?

The recent events in Egypt and Tunisia (and Iran earlier) also highlight the huge problem this new world of the internet poses for the autocratic regime. When you're used to censoring the news and public communications, restricting the power of association, issuing licenses for anything to do with civil society, listening into all telephone calls (and don't forget locking up your unmarried daughters away from potential suitors), how the hell do you control the 'net, smart phones, twitter, facebook, blogs, forums, encrypted skype and blackberrys, all powered by an instantaneous global news cycle fueled by camera phones and a gazillion citizen reporters? Hosni Mubarak is trying to figure that out right now...

I'm not convinced restricting the use of VPN in Oman is addressing the root of the problem.

In other news
The recent 123Orion charity gig raised over 500 rials [US$1250] for Dar Al Atta's "Let's Read" program. Great job Jon G & the team! Lucky reader Scarlet Pimpernel scored 2 free tickets and reported a great time was had by all.

Photo: 123Orion rocking out at the Royal Flight club last week. (courtesy of 123Orion guitarist Jon G)

Love the bubble machine.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

And the winner is.... the 2 free tickets to 123Orion

The event organised by 123Orion is now SOLD OUT folks.

But, that won't affect a lucky... Scarlet Pimpernel, who won the draw performed by Ms Dragon to the 2 free tickets. An email with your tickets is on its way SP.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

We're not sleepy folks!

Nice link sent by 'Anon' to the report on the peaceful protest in Oman a few days ago.

The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
About 2,000 Omanis demonstrate demanding higher wages and stop rising prices
By: The Associated Press
Posted: 01/17/2011 12:44 PM | Comments: 1

MUSCAT, Oman - About 2,000 Omanis have staged a rare protest demanding higher wages and salaries and a curb to rising prices and the high cost of living.
The demonstration Monday, a rarity in the sleepy sultanate, was called for by the civil society groups and publicized on websites.
Protesters gathered in the district housing most government ministries under close watch by police. The demonstration ended peacefully.
One demonstrator said the march was a request to Sultan Qaboos to personally intervene against the greed of the merchants and raise government employees salaries including those in the police and the army. He refused to give his name fearing of government reprisal.
Banners held by the demonstrators read "no to high prices" and "no to the merchant greed."

and the great comment:

POSTED BY: jduester
JANUARY 18, 2011 AT 8:31 AM
To describe Oman as a "sleepy sultanate" is highly offensive and does not do credit to one of Arabia's oldest and foremost nation states. Oman has a highly educated population and its government displays a skillful and mature regional policy. I am utterly dismayed at this pejorative language and a considerable lack of professionalism by an AP writer.

Hmmm. Highly offensive is lot of offense. Especially as there are only two words quoted that are "offensive", and one of those is just a plain fact: Oman is a Sultanate.

So its official: We're not sleepy.

Remember, [Thanks Observer!] even England also saw large public protests over taxes and Gov spending cuts recently. There's not necessarily any connection to Tunisia at all.

Any pic links?
Update: Youtube [Thanx Al]:

Picture from an American student hunger strike in 2005 kimthewolf

From The Gulf News

Though the ministry area was deserted when the protest was held at government department as the staff work only up to 2.30pm. the main Sultan Qaboos Highway saw a huge traffic jam of office goers from the private sector heading home. The curious drivers slowed down the traffic, triggering congestion.
"I could see a huge crowd in the ministry area and the traffic was crawling," an expatriate, who wished not to be named, told Gulf News.
Most participants in the protest were reluctant to be quoted as they were government employees. However, some said they protested against low salaries and soaring prices.
The police kept track of the protesters even as some joggers continued with their routine. The police did not interfere and the protest ended as peacefully as it had started.
The Royal Oman Police (ROP) had no comment to make when Gulf News contacted for details about the protest.
This is not the first time such peaceful protest was held in Oman. Recently some young graduates led a delegation to the Education Ministry, demanding teaching jobs.
Meanwhile, social media was abuzz with the news about the protest.

Be Quick - Free tickets to 123Orion's Charity bash for Dar Al Atta'a Let's Read! Campaign

Muscat Confidential is pleased to offer 2 free tickets to a lucky reader to attend 123Orion's Charity bash on 20th January at the Royal Flight [directly opposite the airport]!

Usual rules apply: post a comment (with a way to contact you), or send me an email, before 7pm on the 19th of Jan, and you'll be in to win!

You get 2 entry tickets, those 4 free drinks, food, and get your groove on to 3 bands - free.

And I can tell you the charitable contribution is going towards the Dar Al Atta'a Let's Read! Campaign.

The Dar Al Atta'a Let's Read! Campaign, formed in February 2007, aims to promote reading as a fun and enjoyable activity. We focus on encouraging children to read. We believe that reading is a key, not only to qualifications and a successful career, but also to knowledge and understanding of ourselves, of others and of the world in which we live. Reading promotes empathy and tolerance towards others by broadening our horizons. Curling up with a good book also gives us a great opportunity to relax and take time out from our stressful lives.

Our Let's Read! Campaign achieves its aims in a variety of ways. We initiate book drives, readathons and writing competitions in schools and we find volunteers to read stories to children.
We hold monthly used book sales so that adults and children can buy good books at reasonable prices and we hold regular events such as Let's Read! 'Big Book' Days full of fun, hands on, literacy activities and story telling sessions by local and international authors.

With the money we raise from our book sales and events, we buy books in the Arabic language for our projects. These include creating libraries in schools and playrooms and reading areas in hospitals.

Our latest project is to improve libraries for a small schools and nurseries outside the capital area. With your help, the Let's Read! campaign can raise the funds necessary to equip the libraries with books, shelving, furniture, computers and white boards.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Events in Tunisia ignored by the Omani Press?

I find the deafening silence of the Omani mainstream English media on the implications of revolution in Tunisia extremely interesting. It must, however, have been topic no.1 in the social media in the Sultanate, esp. Twitter. The Observer had just a snippet of news here, but it comes across as bare minimum reportage.

The FT had a nice analysis here.

Arab leaders around the region seem mesmerized by the rapid change in sentiment among the Tunisians. The similarities to Oman (and many other Arab states) are clear. For now, Oman is still able to boost the economy sufficiently, and the current Sultan enjoys enviable popular support. But as youth unemployment continues to rise (and it is already worryingly high), and population growth exceeds (by far) the combined rise in net oil and gas export receipts, the pressure is on. Libya is already showing signs of strain, and Eqypt must be extra worried.

The Tunisia experience is also providing lessons for the populace too: Tunisia appears to be descending into chaos quite rapidly, with looting, violence and degeneration of civil order. Not the best way to complete a transition of governance structure.

But all I've seen in the Omani on-line press is the story of some Omani students in Tunisia who can't get to the ATM and were running out of food.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Great party on 20th Jan - 123Orion & friends gig at Royal Flight

A great way to kick off the New Year folks. Local band 123Orion are doing another of their charity gigs at the Royal Flight on 20th January - the "Winter Warmer", with cracking home-made soup & sandwiches.

You get an entry ticket prize and 4 (yes, 4) free drinks (with or without alcohol as required), food, and 3 bands - all for the sum of 7 Riyals per ticket. The ticket also includes the charitable contribution as usual. The band tells me the Charity is yet to be clarified, but it's to do with running pre-school care in the villages of Oman, so a good cause.

Their last charity gig in April last year was great. I attended and had a blast. Must admit, 123Orion remind me somewhat of famous trippy band Jefferson Airplane:


In other news: New ROP Plane crash lands at Muscat Airport
Anyone got any phone-cam footage of the crash landing a few days ago at Muscat Airport of the brand new ROP Embraer plane? I'm told HE Macki and the head of the ROP were on board for the VIP first flight. No reports of any serious injuries, but the undercarriage collapsed on landing apparently.

It forced the closure of the airport for a couple of hours while the badly damaged plane was removed from the runway.


Here's the pic of the new ROP plane on the runway. A bit of an Oh-no moment...

I wonder who the pilot was?