A New Oman

March 15, 2011

Believe it or not, the peaceful sit-in that started in Salalah on February 25 is still happening. Every morning for the past three weeks, I’ve had to drive through throngs of sleeping protesters and placards demanding an end to corruption in order to get to my office.

Meanwhile, a plethora of smaller peaceful protests have erupted at many major institutions in Salalah including the university and colleges. As for the rest of Oman, every major organisation seems to be on strike, and every day I hear of yet another sit-in happening at some ministry or the other.

Many of the demands seem perfectly logical to me, while others completely contradict the idea of a ‘new’ Oman. The protest situation may have gotten a little out of hand, but who can blame us? For the first time in decades, we’ve been allowed to criticise the way this country is run.

Discovering that the government will tolerate our protests is unbelievable, but I suppose with recent events in the Middle East they have no other choice. Once the thrill of staging protests wears off, hopefully things will calm down… but then what?

Oman’s ‘revolution’ (the only possible word that can describe the situation) is all anyone talks about these days. Every day more Royal decrees are issued announcing jobs, benefits, and wage increases. A dozen ministers have been replaced, committees have been set up, and new policies are being formulated. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said’s response to the voice of the people has been remarkable.

It may be hard to outsiders to understand the deep respect that Omanis have for him but rest assured that we do genuinely love our Sultan. Our loyalty is not part of any government choreography as may have been the case in other Middle Eastern nations. He has undoubtedly guided our country wisely, and the past 40 years have been extremely prosperous for Oman.

However, it’s time for reform; and by reform, I do not just mean the government. Omanis believe that His Majesty the Sultan can transform this country from its present state into a democratic country, but I can’t help wondering if Omanis are ready? With freedom comes responsibility.

We as individuals have to start by slowly changing our lifestyle, attitude towards work, and start taking responsibility for our own lives. We’ve gotten used to being spoon-fed by our paternalistic government for the past four decades and this has resulted in us expecting the government to solve all our problems. Many Omanis are either too proud or too lazy to take on menial jobs.

 I’m against issuing a monthly allowance for the unemployed, and I’m also against forgiving all private debt and housing loans. Most Omanis are in debt over huge mansions and fancy cars that they don’t even need. If we want the government to help us, we have to help ourselves first.

Problems aside, I feel the need to echo fellow columnist Riyadh’s sentiments; the greatest achievement so far has been the freedom of speech. That in itself makes every protest worthwhile. In the past few weeks, we’ve broken boundaries that many of us never knew existed. The fact that I’m able to write these very words today is incredible. For the past 18 months I have been practising self censorship with every column that gets published.

 For years, media publications in this country had no credibility, and Omanis would head to Internet forums for ‘real’ news. Quite often, websites revealing such news would be inaccessible. In recent weeks, however, Facebook groups covering the protests have not been blocked, nor have the endless discussions on local blogs and Internet forums. Twitter is on fire and the hundreds of videos uploaded onto YouTube are accessible to all.

There’s no denying the fact that we’ve had 40 prosperous years. The old system definitely had its virtues, but that era is over now. I think we’re ready now to open new page and try something different. These have truly been significant times here in the sultanate and the major changes aren’t even over yet. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

As a young Omani woman, I don’t know how to react to these changes or what to think. In fact, I don’t think anyone knows really. The only thing I know for sure is that Oman will never be the same again, and it sure is exciting to be here to witness it!