Time to go home?

April 12, 2011

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 25 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 activities 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 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 the 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 born 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.

However, it’s time to realise 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 realising 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 emphasise 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 been a shining example of how to protest peacefully. We have a long journey ahead, but with hard work and the right attitude, anything is possible.