Sunday, November 16, 2008

Oman: right out of 1001 Arabian Nights

Where am I?  - Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman

Who's in charge?  Sultan Qabos bin Said al Said (  By Middle Eastern standards, he's a very enlightened ruler who has had great success in developing the country despite much lower oil revenues than the nearby UAE and Saudi Arabia.  He has been divorced twice, doesn't have an heir, loves Western classical music and lives a very secretive life.  Expats and Wikipedia suggest he is gay; his subjects deny it.  He is currently building one of the largest opera houses in the Middle East.

Where am I staying: Muscat Intercon --

What do I think?  It truly doesn't get much more exotic than Oman?  The Imams are now calling the faithful to prayer and I'm sure I've already seen Ali Baba, Sinbad, Aladdin, Scheherazadah and Ibin bin Saud roaming the streets or peering down from some of the many forts throughout the Sultanant. By Muslim standards, it is a very tolerant place -- one can get a drink after 6 in the hotel bar and there are several churches, although apparently no synagogues.

What have I been up to?  Working most of the time and spending the weekend (Thursday/Friday) touring and in conversation with Sauod, my guide.   


1) Incredible forts, perhaps the most of any country outside Europe, which I had not expected --
The two most impressive ones I saw were: Fort Nakhl --
and Fort Rustaq --

Fort Nakhl - Oman
2) Vast acres of date palms -- Oman has hundreds of date sorts, considered to be among the best in the world and the country's most important export.  I'm not generally a big fan of dates but I really do like some of the ones I've tasted here;

3) High, rugged mountains in the Sultanat's interior.

4) The city of Muscat which is a picturesque blend of old Arabic and modern buildings, walls, forts, and mosques.

4) Extensive conversations with Sauod, my tour guide: some of his surprising, often unsoliticited comments follow:

Within the first hour we were together he told me that he is not very religious, even though he prays 5 times on most days, goes to Mosque on Fridays and follows most normal Islamic practices (I sensed he was much more willing to admit this to an "infidel" than to a fellow Muslim).  And He  admitted that the pressure to conform is tremendous in this part of the world.  He said that he occasionally drinks wine or smokes socially but without the knowledge of his wife or children who are religious and would be very dissappointed.  He envies Westerners who he believes have an easier time blending religious and secular life.  He believes in Allah but thinks Christians and Jews are as likely to go to heaven as Muslims. But he doesn't like Zionists! 

As is very common in the Arabic world, his wife is the daughter of his mother's sister. He wanted to marry her from the time they were children and did so at his initiative and not because his parents told him to.  He worries alot about his oldest son who is a nice boy but has no goals or ambition. He doesn't worry much about his daughters.

He thinks it would be much easier in the West to be friends with ones children when they grow up.  He says Muslim men must continue to play the father role when their children are adults and have a tremendous fear of showing their real selves or any weakness.  He admitted that there is quite alot of hypocrisy in Muslim society (as there is in the West).

He enjoys the company of Westerners but detests George Bush.

Addendum: 8 March 2011:  An interesting article in today's New York Times about the Sultan

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