Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Protests in Salalah: Time to go home?

Yes, believe it or not I’m discussing the protests … again. It seems inappropriate to write about anything else when all anyone talks about these days are the sit-ins and strikes that have erupted throughout the Sultanate in the past couple of months. For Dhofar, it all started on February 25th with a small group of men clutching a banner and marching through central Salalah to the Governor of Dhofar's headquarters. Their long letter of demands was delivered to His Majesty the Sultan almost immediately afterwards, and since then we've witnessed a steady stream of royal decrees and major announcements. His Majesty's response to the situation has been nothing short of remarkable.
However, nearly seven weeks later the same group of men in central Salalah is still there and the same dusty banner listing their demands remains tightly fastened to the Governor's main gates. Delegations of Ministers, senior government officials, and tribal sheikhs have come and gone but all attempts to end the sit-in have failed. What was formerly known as the governor's parking lot has become the centre for nearly all social and political activity in Salalah. In fact, it's beginning to resemble a communal picnic. In the evenings people from all walks of life gather at the square to participate in the political debates. Every Friday the square witnesses several thousand supporters who come from all over Dhofar to pray with the protesters and listen to the widely anticipated Friday sermon, given by the one of the local Imams who has joined the sit-in. Judging by the crowd that was there a couple of nights ago, it doesn't look like they're going anywhere anytime soon.
On the one hand, I don't blame the protesters. For years our politically immature nation has been kept silent by the unwritten rules that everyone understood but didn't necessarily agree with. Challenging the status-quo was a definite no-no, and many Omanis in the towns and villages outside the capital felt they were being sidelined. However, thanks to recent events in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, the greatest achievement for Omanis so far has been freedom of speech. Over the past two months, Omanis have been busy releasing all their bottled up frustrations and anger. I'm sure the exercise has been quite healthy for us as a nation. Once the novelty has worn off, I suppose we'll all calm down and go home, but I hate to think how long it will take.
On the other hand, I'm beginning to feel that the situation has been dragging on for too long. At first the idea of our own little revolution seemed terribly exciting, especially to those of us who weren't alive at the time of the Dhofar Insurgency in the 1960s and 70s. However, as the weeks go by I can't help but wonder why the sit-in continues? It's worth noting that there has been no violence at all in Dhofar, and definitely no ROP or military presence. However, despite the peacefulness of the situation, I don't see how camping out in a parking lot for seven weeks is going to push the government any harder. The people's demands are being addressed and their voices have definitely been heard, so perhaps it's time to go home?
There's no denying the fact that we have the protesters to thank for the major changes that have taken place in Oman in the past few weeks. For example, without them those 50,000 citizens may still be without jobs, and all those families on welfare would still be living on next to nothing. We're definitely proud of what they have achieved. However, it's time to realize that although all the demands may not be met immediately, we have gained so much more in recent weeks. We can start playing a larger role by being proactive and realizing that protesting isn't the only way to get what we want. I can think of plenty of other ways. How about hard work?
Finally, it's important to emphasize again and again that the situation in Oman is most certainly not a continuation of the protests in other parts of the Middle East. All we are asking for is a few policy changes. My prediction is that things may calm down if His Majesty addresses the nation directly. Omanis may have lost faith in the government, but we will forever be loyal to our Sultan. I have no idea where all this is heading, but I am extremely optimistic about the future of this country. Oman has indeed has been a shining example of how to protest peacefully. We have a long journey ahead of us but with hard work and the right attitude, anything is possible


  1. Lucid insights as always. The penultimate paragraph deserves looking into. The evolution of "Freedom Square" shows that people crave a forum to participate in. Particularly during student protests it was clear that the "shebab" are hungry for exciting events to channel their youthful energy and ideals. How will Salalah step up to making this possible constructively?

  2. Thank you Susan for your beautifully written article.
    I disagree with a number of points though. My first question is what are the “greatest [s] achievement” that Omanis have accomplished so far? “Freedom of speech” as you kindly mentioned. Great! But what guarantee do you have that this ‘freedom’ will not soon be suppressed? Oman had ‘freedoms’ during the 1970s but then things took another shape. To this moment, Laws govern ‘information’ have not yet changed, have they? Secondly, yes Security presence in Salala might not be widely visible, but security is still there as it has been since the end of Dhufar war in the 70s. Additionally heavy security existence is elsewhere in Oman , just observe, for instance, the social internet websites and you will learn that we are still far from ‘freedom’ of expression and speech. Thirdly, in terms of political change, there is nothing so far. I mean it, NOTHING. Even the Majestic decree to empower the two majlis, has not been implemented! In fact, the announced committee for this purpose has not even met! So no go-home please! There is long way to go Susan before educated people like yourself encourage the public to go home. Thanks again, I really enjoyed reading your article and I will continue following your blog.

  3. >Oman has indeed has been a shining example of how to protest peacefully

    I am not that sure that kidnappings and beatings amount to
    a 'peaceful protest' (or at least can be considered a peaceful reaction from the part of the authorities). See:


    >All we are asking for is a few policy changes

    Alright then... Perhaps your rulers and absolute monarchs will bestow a couple of 'favours' upon you.
    Will throw a few bones at the dog which in its turn will gratefully cuddle at the generous master's feet.
    You don't get it, do you? You are all 'subjects' in Oman, that is 'semi-slaves' that have to show absolute obedience, allegiance to your supremo, who can do absolutely anything what he wishes with you, including beating you up.
    The only more or less free Omanis are the half nomadic tribesmen who still cling on in the mountainous area of Dhofar. Only these proud tribesmen still have the guts to live their lives independently from the Sultan's overpowering and overreaching influence that requires total submission to him and to his whims.

  4. Having lived in Salalah, it seems to me like a diwaniya (a social club for men where they chat about everything) which is a change from the coffee shops. Let them sit until the khareef.

  5. The heat will be the end of them...

  6. Thanks Susan for your regular updates on the progress of chance in Dhofar & Oman. InshaAllah much positive comes of these silent protests in Dhofar.

    There is two aspects that id like to ask about... "women & children's rights in Oman" & "Charity Organisations becoming legal."

    I will say this with anonymity, my view is this... There are far too many women suffering in Oman due to the lack of education in certain areas, also women are lacking rights in courts of law, having witnessed a woman loosing all of her children within a 15 minute time period, she walked out of the court childless and crying.. i dont understand how H.E Qaboos allows this. Id like to ask him myself in person. The Second part of my comment..relating to Charity Orgs working in Oman, they have been banned as reported by Human Rights Watch and other professional human rights orgs..Islam tells us that charity begins at home and spreads futher to others around us who need support in various aspets of life, be it a widow needing a home, orphans needings support for their education, their food, their clothes etc etc.
    Why again i ask ?? Why has Charity Orgs been banned.. does H.E think this really helps the people of Oman.

    Last but not least id like to mention "pensions" 200RO is not sufficant for a elderly man and his wife who still have children dependant on them for food, school needs, clothing etc etc.
    When will H.E start to understand that the bigger a family is and the more children that are popped out, the longer people will be taking care of their dependants and alot of families force their eldest son or eldest daughter to cough up their saleries in order to care for the entire family and therefore causing the eldest child and his family to be dragged into debt and credit card collection ( yani when one card is maxed out from bills, another one is collected in another bank and maxed out also..the cycle goes on.)

    This is not aimed at you Susan..im used using your blog to express freely what has been kept inside of me for the last 4 years from my time being with a local family.

    Ash shadu ana la ilaha illa Allah, ash shadu ana Mohammeder Rasool Allah ( said in true dhofrai accent.)

    Ya Allah help our children to live a brighter future & have their rights as per Islam not as per the desires of man.Ameen