So I go away and not only do we potentially have a big storm headed to little old Muscat, but the BBB (Ban Booze Brigade) have started their rumbling again. I'm also unhappy to report that for the second time in less than a year, BA have managed to lose my suitcase, asshats!
Right, so the storm - currently is some 900km's off shore and the running prediction at the moment is thunderstorms this Saturday and Sunday coming.... with tomorrow being the decider if the storms going to really hit Muscat, or just a thunderstorm in the last part of the weekend. I highly recommend the Oman Meteorology fb page for updates on local weather.
Earlier this week, as you all know already, the Shura put forward a proposal for the banning of alcohol in the Sultanate - or at least the tightening of alcohol laws. Lots of people are obviously upset by this, me too, but before I start writing my comments on all of this, I want to precede my comments by this:
This is democracy in action. The Shura are the elected council of the citizens of Oman, this is what the majority of Omani citizens want, and above all, people should acknowledge and respect that.
But I am going to make a few observations"
1. Tourism is the Sultanates currently stated growth market, with Omran busily building hotels all over the Sultanate. Tourism with no alcohol would severely limit Oman's potential, simply by ruling out a large number of potential tourists who may be put off by the "dryness" of the country. It doesn't take much to change a tourists mind, they are a fickle bunch.
2. The Sultanate is currently spending RO 45M per year (on average) on alcohol related diseases. The linked article on the ToO (that bastion of excellent journalism) then goes on to state that there is an increase of 4% per year in diagnosis of alcohol related diseases, yet conveniently forgets to comment that the population of Oman is expanding by much more than 5% per year (5.1% in 2010, 7.6% 2011, 9.1% in 2012 - source) so really alcoholic related diseases, relatively, have been fewer and fewer on a per 1000 people basis in recent years. Add to this, the fact that Oman levies a 100% tax on alcohol - I wonder what the tax revenues are on this, and how that impacts the annual medical bill. How much does the Sultanate spend on smoking related illnesses, and how are shisha joints still allowed to operate, practically immune to the smoking laws of Muscat Governate - because it's socially acceptable I'm guessing.
3. The grand mufti is stating that the law of the land is Islam, and that by allowing alcohol this is against the general concept of Islam - true, but it's also a part of the law of Oman that no particular religious group may impact others - I'm paraphrasing here but thats why we have churches here, and that's why only card-carrying infidels (in the non-military sector) can purchase alcohol from shops to take home. I completely agree and encourage a ramp up in policing and prosecuting the bootleggers.
4. I completely agree that currently anyone who is of age can walk into a bar in Oman, and order a drink and then consume it, and then have another one. How can this be stopped? Not very easily, unless you make alcohol consumption for non-Muslims only - eg - you are required to present your ID at the point of purchase. The big problem with this is, let's say you are from the Philippines, but you are not a Muslim, but your passport makes no comment on your religion. The solution to this is, the Shura are only really concerned with their people, and so, if you are Omani - no booze for you. Of course what probably is the desire of the Shura is to just dry out Oman totally - but this will have a detrimental impact on tourism revenues, and jobs in the tourism sector.
5. By drying out Oman, for those expatriates who work here, it'd become a defacto hardship location once more, and the days of higher salaries than those to be had in Dubai would be seen once more - or should be. Can Oman afford that? Do they care? Probably and probably not, in that order.
6. A reason for pushing the no booze by the BBB is to reduce car accidents here in Oman - the reasoning being that people are shitfaced and having car accidents. No doubt about that, but how many accidents are caused by generally bad driving, poor enforcement, and uneducated drivers. Personally I'd say ban all Lexus from the roads and you'll see a 50% drop in accidents!
All in all, I have to say that if booze is banned here in Oman, I think my time here will come to an end once my current Contract expires. There's plenty of work across the border in the UAE, for higher salaries, and the quality of life there, for a beer swilling infidel like me, would be significantly better - and I don't just mean because of beer, I mean infrastructure, schooling, transit & transportation links, work environment, customer service. Oman, especially Muscat, has it's magic in it's geography.
But what I mean by my time here coming to an end is, my primary work here is building hotels. I certainly do other projects, mosques, education, government and military, but the lions share is currently leisure - hotels. Moreover, if alcohol was to be banned, this was not something I signed up for when moving to Oman (specifically over moving to Saudi for more money) and so is the case for many of my expatriate friends right here in Oman - I'm sure after a year cycle we'd be pretty hard up for friends as many others would chose to leave as well. For the record, I've home-brewed before, and have everything I need should I want to again, it's not hard and the results are good.
For one, I hope the rules are adjusted in such a way that it won't impact my quality of life in the Sultanate, time will tell I guess.