mercredi 4 décembre 2013

OMAN IS A SPECIAL ARAB COUNTRY : RECOMMENDATIONS FROM A JEWISH TRAVELLER

WHY DO I TRAVEL TO OMAN
WHY IS IT SO SPECIAL

When I sent emails from Salalah, Oman on a recent stopover there, a good friend of mine asked: Why do you visit Arab Countries like Oman?
My own brother, Eliyahu, will not come with me to Malaysia, why visit a country that wouldn't let our relatives (in this case Israelis) visit?
(Malaysia has no resident Jewish population; a retired Tamil labourer and his family are caring for the Iraqi Jewish cemetery in Penang!)


First of all, I am very sensitive to the insults heaped upon Jews by Moslems, directly and indirectly in various parts of the world. There is a video circulating, in which on a Public Transport Bus in Paris, a group of young Arab men are shouting Allahu Akbar, and Death to the Jews!
I want to remind you that it did not happen in Iran but in Paris, France in 2013! I would be afraid to walk to the lovely synagogue in Malmo, Sweden because of the threat of young moslems and their collaborators against the Jewish worshippers!

But at the same time, we cannot put the entire Moslem population of the world, the benign nounou from Mali who likes her bacon or the Bangladeshi slave in Malaysia or Qatar. For these people it is us Jewish people who should feel the greatest of sympathy and work towards their liberation  since it was not that long time we were treated, herded, murdered for just being Jewish.
(almost the entire jewish community of Thessaloniki or Salonica were murdered by Nazis. They had escaped the Inquisition in Spain 440 years earlier)
I am reminded of a quip from the Professor of Kidney Transplantation at Medical School. When asked where he as born, he replied
I was born in Saudi Arabia, but had had the sense to escape very early. I also occasionally feel about the place where I was born which was not Moslem at the time of my birth but later came under Moslem Semi-Dictatorship which would never allow me citizenship, not that I want it, of that particular country. I can also say: I saw the light very early in my life and left at the age of 2 ½ for a better upbringing!
I always want to keep an open mind, however difficult it is becoming in Europe now crowded with anti Semitic chants and the gullible Asians imitating their Sunni Brothers from the desert. I want to pray tribute to my friends from school in Sweden, Hadi al-khalaf from Bahrain in particular who taught me that friendship can transcend the vitriolic of the day!
So it is a pleasure for me to write about Oman, an Arab country in the volatile Middle East where greater peace and tranquillity exists than many countries in Asia!


Oman had been in my mental horizon ever since I can remember, since it is the only one of two legitimate Sultanates in the World. I was on holiday with my parents in the other one, Brunei, when my father, olav ha shalom, may have alerted me to this fact. Sultan of Ternate or Sultan of Jogjakarta do not count, because Sultans of Brunei and Oman are hereditary rulers and both have oil reserves and both are moderate even though Oman is less conservative in its approach to Islam than the converted Malays of Brunei.

I arrived at Oman from Zanzibar, literally and figuratively. The Sultanate was one of the poorest in the region and the riches of Zanzibar which attracted them, moved their capital to that lush island in the Indian Ocean. To this day, the cultural and genetic exchange between Zanzibaris and Omanis are apparent everywhere. The Stone Town of Zanzibar is full of ornate doors which will not be out of place in Nizwa in Oman and Omanis accept without problems the miscegenation with non Arabs that happened for decades in the island and most of the Omani-Zanzibaris and their descendants now make Oman their home, while maintaining a strong link to their ancestral past.

This also must have set the foundation for tolerance of the other that is not usually found in any of the Arab countries and most Moslem countries of the world.
The other factor for the tolerance and acceptance of the Other might lie in the fact that Omanis follow Ibadi Islam rejected by other Arabs are heretic and shunned by Shias. So for centuries they had known isolation and oppression, the common fate of Asian immigrant workers in the other Gulf States.
There is no doubt the open mindedness of British educated Sultan Qaboos is evident everywhere, He took over the Country, at that time one of the least developed countries in the region from his father who was under the influence of his advisors and deemed incompetent. Today he is universally revered and has brought Oman a general prosperity and modernity without loosing its cultural links with the past and history.
The improvements in Oman since the ascension of Sultan Qaboos is impressive indeed!

"I promise you to proceed forthwith in the process of creating a modern government. My first act will be the immediate abolition of all the unnecessary restrictions on your lives and activities.
"My people, I will proceed as quickly as possible to transform your life into a prosperous one with a bright future. Every one of you must play his part towards this goal. Our country in the past was famous and strong. If we work in unity and cooperation we will regenerate that glorious past and we will take a respectable place in the world.
"I call upon you to continue living as usual. I will be arriving in Muscat in the coming days and then I will let you know of my future plans.
"My people, I and my new government will work to achieve our general objective.
"My people, my brothers, yesterday it was complete darkness and with the help of God, tomorrow will be a new dawn on Muscat, Oman and its people.
"God bless us all and may He grant our efforts
success."
And so began the reign of Sultan Qaboos on 23 July 1970.
The gains made in the country are impressive, from no roads to paved highways that connect various towns in the Sultanate. Modern airports of which the new Salalah airport would be up to International Standards connecting Dhofar directly to the world.
I have visited Oman three times, twice in the last two years. 

On my first visit, which was not that long ago, I had to get a visa from the Omani Embassy in Washington DC and when the flight arrived from Zanzibar at 3 AM, the immigration officer was quite puzzled.
Purpose of your visit?
I said, Tourism
How can it be, we don't have tourists here!
A poor doctor attached to the airport had to be woken up and brought to the airport so that he could verify that I was a doctor!
Now it is visa on arrival for Australian citizens, 5 OMR (1 omr is about 2.6 usd).
It is also common to see Omanis working along side the contract workers from Asia! A sight not often seen in other Gulf countries.
I saw Omani drivers, bus boys at the hotels, shop assistants, and airline agents.
(Bellboys at Marriott Beach Resort at Mirbat,two Bangladeshis and one Omani)
Without exception they were friendly. On my recent visit I was in Muscat, Salalah and Mirbat and at each place I was greeted with great enthusiasm.
Omani government wish to decrease their reliance on expatriate workers and has an active programme to do so.
Unlike Qatar, Abu Dhabi or Dubai where western expatriates are differentially treated in professions, I could sense that the professionals from non-European countries such as Doctors from India or Pakistan were not subordinated. Unlike the other Gulf States, where the majority of the residents are expatriates from Europe or workers from Asia; only ¼ of Omani population is from other countries. Plus the plurality of Oman is seen in its languages: Arab, Baloochi, languages unrelated to Arabic such as Jibali still spoken in the Dhofar region in addition to various ancient tongues such as Bedu.

To this pleasant mixture is added the smiles of Bangladeshis, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Indians, Burmese, Philippines and Indonesians.
It was no surprise to me when I received a call from Muscat this morning from my good friend HP of Bogor. He was visiting Muscat for a few days.
Without doubt, Oman has exceeded all expectations, he exuded. Both Malaysia and Indonesia has lessons to be learned here, he added
This morning, he continued, at the Shangri La hotel the receptionist was from Myanmar who told me: I was a worker in Malaysia and I couldn't take it, so I left early and I came here and I am so happy here!
 (the great Chinese Navigator and Admiral of the Seas, Zheng He/Cheng Ho visited a spot not far from the beach above)

On a recent stay at Hilton Hotel in Salalah, I could sense the happiness of the staff. They were happy to be there, because they were being treated well by the Omanis and the guests. The GM was from Egypt and there were all other nationalities and I talked to many of them and not a single one complained. How unusual, I thought having seen the misery of the domestic workers in Singapore and Malaysia. Yes citizens of those countries could take a lesson in tolerance and friendliness from the Omanis! Instead of complaining about Immigrants taking jobs away as they are doing in Singapore, be grateful for the presence of the workers who are helping you live a better life, so share your good fortune with them a little bit.

It is this aspect of the general welfare of the contract workers that makes me want to go back to Oman more often since it says volumes about the generosity and kindness of the hosts, the Omani people.
Hospitality is a key characteristic of Omani culture and my friend Joe recounted the enormous feast of a dinner his Omani friend had laid out for him in his home in Muscat: Zanzibari and Omani dishes

Now you know I am already looking forward to my next trip to Oman!
The gentle and friendly nature of the Omani people that is manifested in general friendliness including the friendliest contract workers in the Gulf (or Malaysia or Singapore)!
One other thing I am looking forward is to welcome Omani students coming to Cuba to study Medicine as well as Cuban doctors coming to Oman to work as Specialists in their hospital for shorter and longer terms. Cuba has already such an agreement with Saudi Arabia.

As I was leaving Muscat airport, I stopped by to chat a south East Asian looking shop assistant who was wearing a hijab, naturally assuming her to be from Indonesia. I recognized her name to be Filipina and during our conversation, she told me that, she converted to Islam after she came to Oman, because she felt respected as a woman and treated well! Is there a better recommendation!
I also noticed that all workers at the Hilton Salalah Hotel Front Desk used the expression, Inshallah, whether they were Moslems or not! Of course, in Malaysia that would constitute a crime against the religion by the infidels!