7th April 2011
1 Easton Street
WC1X 0DW, UK
Fax number: +44-20-79561157
I am an Omani, a senior citizen. I served my country as: Auditor General for more than 10 years, member of the State Council for 5 years, and member of the Consultative Commission to the Supreme Council of GCC countries (an advisory body to the heads of state of GCC countries) for 6 years. I am now retired and living on a pension. During my tenure as Auditor General I fought vehemently against corruption and some high profile figures were either convicted or removed. Enforcement of law was rigorous and I am for legitimate and reasonable demands that serve the well being of my people and my country!
I read with great apprehension your report that “Dozens of protesters in Oman were arrested in the early hours of 29 March.”; that “They are being held incommunicado, increasing the risk of torture or other ill-treatment.” and that “They may be held solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.”
You also write that “security forces are said to have arrested a number of protesters who had been camping out at the Globe Roundabout in Sohar” and that “They removed blockades” and also that “Others who had attended protests were reported to have been arrested at their homes.”
You state that Ahmed al-Shezawi and his uncle Dr. Abdul Gufar al-Shezawi, were arrested and that one of the Shezawis was beaten up at the time of arrest. You also state that Dr. al Shezawi suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. I think you will agree with me that having four children and/or being diseased are not valid reasons for not arresting lawbreakers. Perhaps Amnesty International may wish to investigate the backgrounds of the al Shezawis before accusing Omani authorities for arresting citizens arbitrarily.
You say that “…protesters had refused to move from the area in Sohar until their demands were met; they include more jobs, an end to corruption and the sacking of government officials.” I would ask: why should they and others continue their obstructive and at times destructive protest when even you admit that on 27 February, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos ordered the creation of 50,000 jobs and also ordered a payment of Rial Omani 150 to all those who are unemployed?
For your information, in addition to the fifty thousand jobs and the one hundred and fifty Rial stipend, His Majesty the Sultan, by the first week of March, had completely restructured the cabinet sacking 12 ministers including those responsible for security, finance, economy, interior affairs, commerce and industry, tourism and the police. He also ordered: a raise of the monthly remuneration to families under the umbrella of social security, the introduction of a new cost of living allowance to all employees, and a raise ranging from 10 to 50% for pensioners.
A review of the Basic Statute of the State (Oman’s constitution) is currently taking place. Many others issues in education, freedom of press, political, social and economic reas are under review but these important reforms will take some time to study, adopt rational and acceptable steps before they are fully implemented.
Other demands such as ministers to be held to account for offences they committed during their tenure will also take time to implement. Investigations need to be carried out, evidence collected and only then can a case proceed. If the Omani Government rushes on serious issues such as this and citizens are unfairly prosecuted would not your organization be the first to cry foul? If the protesters have any evidence they should strive to present such evidence to the Prosecutor General.
Reform cannot be implemented by a magic stick – it is not abracadabra and things are done. There are many issues that need to be taken into consideration otherwise anarchy will rule, investors will run away, the economy will suffer, Oman’s ratings will plummet internationally and who loses at the end? The general public of course will be the main losers!
It is not true that Oman continues to maintain “strict” restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. Any current visitor to Oman will testify that there are several protest groups visibly camped along the main road to the airport in Muscat and no one has touched them even though they are a nuisance to traffic. It is good for both your organization and the country you accuse if you do your homework well before pointing an accusing finger.
Regarding “several bloggers and journalists in recent years have been targeted, some of them detained, after criticizing the government”, this is history. Please visit these sites and see how much is said whether right or wrong: http://alharah.net/alharah/ , http://portal.s-oman.net/ , http://beyondfree.wordpress.com/
I will just list some of the demands that the protestors have made and will leave you to judge their substance and validity:
· A minimum wage of Rial Omani 500 (US$ 1,446) per month.
Comment: this is double the current rate for both the private and public sectors. Did they ask where this money will come from and what would the impact be on the country as a whole?
· An allowance of R.O. 300 (US$ 867).
Comment: An allowance of R.O. 150 (US$ 434) has been approved.
· A minimum pension of R.O. 500 (US$ 1,446).
Comment: Please note that this is equivalent to the minimum wage they demand.
· Changing grades of all teachers serving in both the private and public sector.
Comment: How and on what basis?
· Reduction of rates for electricity, water and petrol.
Comment: These are already heavily subsidized and are even cheaper than our rich neighbours in UAE. For your information the rates are: electricity is charged on a rising scale: the first 3000 units are @ R.O. 0.0100 (.029 of a US cent) per kw/hr, the next 2000 @ R.O. 0.0150, the following 2000 @ R.O. 0.0200 and after that @ R.O. 0.0250; water is charged @ .0020 for the first 5000 units and .0025 for the following units; petrol is sold at R.O. 0.126 (36.44 US Cents) per litre.
· Abolition of a border toll (a negligible amount of US$ 5.8.)
· A blanket cancellation of bank debts for all citizens.
Comment: This is for whoever has taken any loan for any reason should not pay back the loan?
· A fund for marriage expenses for citizens.
· Approval for Islamic banks.
· To build hospitals in two provinces of Shinas and Liwa.
Comment: This is regardless of viability and even though there are health centers in the said provinces that deal with the sick and a major referral hospital is close by in Sohar.
· Building low cost housing for low income groups.
Comment: The scheme is being implemented as part of the five year plans. Please bear in mind that Oman enjoys one of the highest home ownerships in he world.
· Abolition of land fee paid for plots allocated by the government.
· Subsidizing basic items and price control.
· Approval for the establishment of trade unions.
· Loan facilities in banks.
Comment: Loans are easily and readily available provided the loan is for a valid purpose and the borrower can meet repayment criteria.
· Appoint female teachers in their localities.
Comment: This would be impossible to implement because there will not be available open vacancies for all unless appointments are regardless of whether or not vacancies are available.
· Combating corruption.
· Transparency in financial matters related to government.
· Transparency of state audit reports.
· Establishment of a proper parliament.
· Constitutional monarchy.
· Separation of powers: administrative, legislative and judiciary.
Some of the charges such as border fee were introduced when the government was looking for alternative income to supplement income from oil.
I have used the Central Bank rate for dollar conversion which is R.O 0.34574 for a US Dollar.
It is evident from the above list that there are a few demands which are excellent and they serve the nation’s well being but will take some time for them to be studied and mplemented properly. However, there are other demands that the government, no matter how willing it is, cannot simply afford to implement them.
It needs to be borne in mind that a change of people in positions does not necessarily end up in improvements in competence and output. The emphasis must be on building the right institutions, adopting the right systems, proper selection of competent and honest public servants, proper application of rule of law and proper accountability. Good governance is what matters most.
These demands cannot be achieved by blocking roads, preventing people from going to work, burning public and private properties, robbing shops, causing public mayhem and this is what the mob in Sohar did. They were also forcing drivers out of cars and ompelling them to join the protest against their will, threatening them and even demanding money to compensate them for being off work. Does this amount to peaceful freedom of expression?
These were not peaceful demonstrators with legitimate demands. They were not “solely exercising their right to freedom of expression peacefully”; they were violent agitators.
Those who were and still are expressing their right to demonstrate in a civilized way and peacefully in Salalah, Muscat and other places have not been touched or questioned.
For your information Oman has set many world records in the past 40 years. Just to give you a few examples: Oman has been rated by the UN index as the most improved nation in last 40 years: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/oman-mostimproved-nation-in-last-30-years-un-index-says/article1785592/, in health care Oman ranks number 8 in the WHO ranking well above Netherlands, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada and USA: http://thepatientfactor.com/canadian-health-careinformation/world-health-organizations-ranking-of-the-worlds-health-systems/ Oman’s Index of Investor is equivalent to that of Germany at 5.0 compared with 4.8 for the MENA region.
Oman is blessed with a benevolent leader who believes in “never create an enemy” policy. This is evident in both his external and internal policies. He has not only forgiven those who plotted or fought against him but has made them part of the productive society of Oman: those who were involved in the Dhofar guerilla war were pardoned and some even became ministers, those who plotted in the mid 1990s were pardoned and most were reinstated in their jobs and so were those who were found guilty by a court of law in the early 2000s.
Torture is, therefore, not part of this government’s culture. If there are any incidents of torture—which I doubt—these can only be attributed to individuals and I am sure those who present evidence will receive justice. However, if a lawbreaker resists arrest and a scuffle ensues then there is bound to be some bruises – even a simple fight between brothers or husband and wife can end up with a black eye but that does not mean torture. Does it?
Amnesty International is a very important organization that is concerned with the rights of the oppressed and the victimized and therefore, its reputation is of utmost importance. I would urge it to adequately examine and investigate what is brought to it as grievances after which it may exercise whatever it deems fit.
As a Muslim, an upright individual who strongly believes in justice I would remind those who seek justice the teachings of the Qur’an in which His Almighty warns us that:
O ye who believe! If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance for what ye have done. Q: 49:6
O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is wellacquainted with all that ye do. Q: 4:135
O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do. Q: 5:8
Justice demands that both sides are heard before any judgment is passed. I would urge Amnesty International to address the proper authorities to ascertain the truth before publicizing issues on its website.
If I can be of any assistance please do not hesitate to communicate with me.
Mohammed Al Mahruqy
Note the above letter was sent to comment on Amnesty International document on oman on this link http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE20/001/2011/en/5ed2274a-305c-4eb9-b58b-73268684e5b6/mde200012011en.html