Friday, 6 June 2008


Modernisation and development are happening at break-neck speed in Oman. In 1960, the country did not have electricity, proper roads, cars, television or any of the
gadgets of modern living.Then, with the discovery of oil, and later natural gas, things started to move.The current Sultan came to the throne after ousting his own father.

The old man had tried to stop all modernization, but with British military help, was swept aside. Oman was then set on a course of development which it has followed ever since. Modern hospitals appeared and the average life expectancy rose by fifteen years. A new road system now covers the country. New buildings shot up everywhere. Omanis exchanged their donkeys for fast Japanese and American cars. Changes which took place over centuries in other countries were accomplished in a few decades in Oman.The whole process of change was telescoped. The country was a fascinating mixture of the old and the new - a gleaming Mercedes would pass someone driving a donkey cart on the street. A brand-new BMW would be washed from water drawn from the centuries-old falaj water system, which derived its water from mountain streams.

Nasir explained to me that everyone in Oman was pleased with the material well being that the oil had brought. Life was much easier now with mod cons such as washing machines and refrigerators. Mobile telephones made communication easier. Cars and good roads meant people could get around more easily .Free universal health care was a tremendous boon – the average life expectancy had risen by fifteen years. Everything was easier and more convenient than in the old days.Nobody wanted to go back to those. However, he was much more wary when discussing social values.He liked the God-fearing, communal, traditional nature of Omani society and wanted it preserved. Women should continue performing their traditional role as well , and should know their place.Education was good but Omani life should not lose that sense of innocence , the strength of family and community ties that characterized it.He was proud,he said of ‘the positive values’ of Omani society which had to be cherished.We should be aware ,he said,of the negative aspects of progress and Western influence.To many Arabs,the West can appear godless, uncaring and materialistic .

ภาพจาก Bugbog

Thursday, 5 June 2008


Sometimes we would go to the small town cinema. Action movies starring Schwarzenegger, Stallone or Bruce Willis were the usual fare. James Bond was a particular favourite.Many of my students were absolutely convinced that James Bond’s lifestyle typified that of the average Englishman such as myself.Their naivety was incredible.When I said that it was a shame that people did not watch Arabic films, Nasir vehemently disagreed. Action movies were much more entertaining, he said. When we had dinner in a cheap Indian restaurant ,nicknamed ‘a greasy spoon’, the television showed WWF American wrestling.I found this a ridiculous circus act and so did Nasir ,but it was popular enough among ordinary people for Omani television to continue featuring it.American ‘junk food ’ outlets were making their mark too. In 1985, MacDonald’s, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut and KFC were well established in the capital area. By the nineties, they were expanding inland. Young Arabs liked the glitz and the glamour –the ‘greasy spoons’ simply could not compete.

On satellite TV , beamed in from America , there was a special show called ‘The Las Vegas Grind’ .It was the highlight of Friday evening in Oman.It featured scantily –clad and large-bosomed white girls dancing to disco music with men (mainly black) round a hotel swimming pool. I found it rather corny and unsophisticated, but for Omanis it was all very naughty and lascivious. The Arab world is extremely prudish in matters of dress and frowns upon activities like dancing. This TV material was for Omanis, the forbidden fruit. These programmes were very popular with young Omani males.In common with young men everywhere , they like looking at well-endowed , scantily clad girls dancing .However ,their culture and religion tell them that all this is wrong and sinful,the work of the devil. They are being pulled in two directions at once.

ภาพจาก lonely planet


Luxury shopping malls, based on the American pattern, sprouted up everywhere. They all seemed to follow the same pattern, selling expensive French perfumes, Italian clothes, and fancy watches. Youngsters would go there, not to buy but to gawk at the luxuries and to meet friends. I remember an elderly Bedouin woman examining a Braun hair-dryer imported from Germany... A woman who had always dried her hair with a piece of cloth was being induced to buy a fancy, foreign gadget. It was the advent of consumerism in the country as people were being seduced into buying expensive, imported consumer goods.Omanis took to computers and mobile phones like ducks to water.In addition, they began to travel abroad. Many military men did courses in Britain and students went to British universities. Many went to the Far East, notably Thailand for their holidays.They imbibed new ideas, observed different lifestyles and saw different political systems.

About this time too, I started visiting Fanja and Nasir Mansour.Nasir was a young fellow of twenty-eight who taught English in a local school. He lived in Fanja, a small and unremarkable town which nestled at the foot of a small mountain. His English was fluent and we became fast friends. Over the next eleven years, I used visit him on average once a week. I got to know his family and friends and developed a great affection for this small town and its people. We discussed ideas, the changes that were overtaking Oman and local people’s opinions of them.

ภาพจาก Ministry of Information Sultanate of Oman

Tuesday, 3 June 2008


Only Palestine mattered.Omani TV, in common with the other Arab networks, showed night after night the harsh treatment meted out on Palestinians by the Israeli army.They showed families being evicted from their houses at gunpoint, then showed these houses being demolished. Palestinian children throwing stones were fired on by Israeli soldiers and Palestinian women were constantly harassed.It was certainly one-sided.However,one began to understand the visceral hatred that exists between Arab and Jew , as well as the strong bonds of kinship that exist among all Arabs , enabling them to identify totally with the plight of the Palestinians.

As we entered the nineties, it all began to change.In 1991, Iraq invaded Kuwait and British and American soldiers were out on the streets of Oman.The country was a forward base for the liberation of Kuwait , and was in the world spotlight. There was a tense atmosphere as war approached. Speculation was rife as to whether Oman would be invaded too.We learned that nurses in the nearby hospital were doing courses on treating the victims of chemical warfare. Oman’s rulers were pro-Western, and sent soldiers to fight Iraq, but this certainly did not apply to everybody.Many secretly admired Saddam for having the guts to defy the West,and said it was wrong for Muslims to fight fellow Muslims.Then came the internet and satellite television.Suddenly, it seemed Oman was connected to the outside world. Omanis watched CNN or the BBC and were exposed for the first time to highly sophisticated news channels.The government agency OMANTEL attempted to censor material, but could not exert total control. A lot got through.

ภาพ Al Nakhal Fort, with Hajar Mountains in background

ถ่ายโดย Chris Mellor
ภาพจาก Lonely Planet