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The Omani authorities arrested over 10 people, including in the past two weeks in what is the most serious crackdown on activism in the Sultanate.

 

Foreign news organisations reported that the activists arrested included blogger Hassan Rukaishi, authors Hammoud al-Rashedi and Nabhan al-Hanashi and poet Hamad al-Kharusi. Local activists wrote on a Facebook page of the Omani Group for Human Rights that three of them were being held by the police's "special section", but gave no further details. "The arrests come after the general prosecution threatened to take appropriate legal action against defamatory writings or anyone making incitement calls under the pretext of freedom of expression," the group added.

 

There were limited information from the authorities except that the arrests were made on suspicion of incitement. An official statement said that there were "growing participations and negative writings on discussion forums, social networking websites and mobile applications". "These writings include libels, spreading rumours, provoking sit-ins and strikes. Such writings are against values and morals of the Omani society, principles of the freedom of expression”.

 

Omani media have reported that workers have walked out in recent weeks in the oil, health and education sectors to press for better pay and living conditions.

 

June 9, 2012

 

 

Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk


 

The apprehension of the bloggers is the most serious visible step taken by the Omani authorities against protesters.

 

The most serious long-term political challenge facing Oman is succession of the Sultan, who is heirless. The protests are not directed at this particular issue. They are mainly economic in nature. Oman, unlike the other GCC states With the start of the Arab Spring, Oman witnessed a number of protests. Unlike any other GCC state, those were mainly calling for economic reform, job creations and against alleged corruption. The Sultan responded by instigating reforms, the cabinet reshuffle, introducing an unemployment and other social benefits and promises of creating tens of thousands of jobs. However, there has been increasing local unrest that the reform promises have not yielded what the protesters demanded.

 

Despite severe media censorship, reports of relatively small protests in various cities during the past fortnights filtered through. The arrested bloggers are accused by the authorities of inciting those protests. Indications however are that the ineffectiveness of the reforms are causing simmering but widespread public rejection. The recent crack down therefore has two implications. Firstly, it is an indication and confirmation of a widespread anxiety amongst the local population. Secondly, they indicate a heavy handed approach is to be taken by the regime in the event of further protests.

 

The overall conclusion therefore is an increase of short and medium term risk of unrest, that will also likely lead to political implications.

 

The figure below shows the current GDP make-up of Oman. The government is attempting to diversify this away from oil, as means to local job creation: