I thought I would publish the content of my interview with the TOO here as well, if only because I really enjoyed answering the questions, and thinking about the answers. Although I didn't feature much in the actual article,it was a neat project, and I'm really proud of the Journalist who wrote it. I would imagine it took some balls to convince the guys in charge to even touch the subject of blogging. The second and final installment in the series was published in today's TOO. Please excuse any grammatical or spelling errors, they are entirely mine.
1) As someone who has lived in places that afford more freedom than Oman, how do you reconcile to the lack of freedom of expression here? I was born in Saudi, and spent most of my childhood listening to my mom describe the kind of restrictions on expression that existed in Saudi in the 70's. Moving here, it was a pleasant surprise to see that the personal freedom of expression, while severely constrained, is nowhere near as bad as Saudi. That said there is a lot of room for improvement, and I think the government is failing massively in helping to grow a truly free press, or a truly free society where people can think and say what they want. I find the recent arrests trials and questionings of journalists and forum moderators here to be extremely worrying, as well as the blatantly cowardly self censorship that the press applies to itself in Oman. I worry that as dissenting voices continue to be silenced, and as people grow more and more accustomed to never hearing anything Bad about the country that we will end up living in a real world parable where the emperor really does have no clothes, and nobody is willing to get up there and say it.
2) You're extremely balanced and mostly objective in your view of things that you decide to discuss and critique. Thanks. I really try hard, but often my own bias shines through. It's important to be somewhat objective, or the message one is trying to communicate will fall on deaf, hostile ears.
3) How long have you lived in Oman? Almost my entire adult life.
4) Are you completely unrestrained in your blog? Or do you exercise caution so as to not offend anyone? I am completely unconstrained in my Blog. I can write whatever I feel like. I do exercise some self censorship, in that there are some stories that would only cause trouble if given publicity. I recently chose not to post on an issue being stirred up in Muscat that was very similar to the Sudanese Teddy Bear Named Mohammed Saga. There were a bunch of attention seeking religious nut-jobs with their Wizzars in a knot over something completely innocuous. As much as I wanted to name and shame them and tell the wider community what a bunch of overzealous fanatics they were, it would only achieve giving them the attention they desperately craved, while potentially blowing up a story that was better off remaining buried, for the sake of the country, and the people involved.
5) Have you ever gotten into trouble because of any entry? No, although sometimes my mom or dad are surprised by some of the stuff I write. Mom will call me and say "Sweetheart, I love you, but don't think you should be putting things like that on your blog..."
6) How do Omanis respond to your posts? Generally very positively. I have had one veiled death threat, and the occasional Nasty-Gram but that's about it. What is interesting is that the posts which have generated the most Hate Mail were the ones where I used the relative death toll in Palestine and compared it to the death toll on the roads here, and another series where I talked about Human Trafficking and Prostitution in Oman. I got massively flamed via email for it. Like, are we all so coddled that we cannot even talk about the blatantly obvious, and the blatantly true, in honest terms, using numbers and figures? It's worth pointing out that the vast majority of my Hate Mail comes from Western Expatriates living here. Some of those women really hate me.
7) Is your blog a place for venting or do you use it to bring about some change, however minimal. Mostly it's for venting. I sincerely wish my Blog had the power to change big things here, and maybe someday it will. I think Blogging in Oman is important because it has the opportunity to shine light on subjects that the Print and broadcast media cannot. Some good examples were the leaking of the documents from the ministry of education showing the various kids of Wastafarians were getting Scholarships to study overseas, although they did not earn them. Another good Example was the publicizing of how the Mimister of Tourisim (Ex PDO board of directors) obtained the land on which she is building her new house, and the attempted Land Grab going on right now between the MOT and the Capital Area Yacht club. I think the government needs to know they are being watched, and that a lot of people are tired of the corruption and opaque way that business is done here. Every minister and undersecretary in the country should have the following tattooed across their heads after they are appointed. "Just because you are important, does not mean that your failures cannot be criticized, and your decisions questioned"
8) How has your experience been within the blogosphere here in Oman? It's a generally supportive group, we try to fact-check for one another, and publicize important issues when they are blogged about elsewhere. It's still the domain of the Upper Middle class, Young, Western-Educated Omani, with a significant number of blogs written by overseas Expatriates. I'm excited to see a lot of recent growth in local blogging, both in English and Arabic.
9) Are you firmly anonymous or do people mostly know who you are? I'm Semi-anonymous. I change locations and other facts to obscure my identity from complete strangers, but if you were a personal acquaintance and you read my blog, you would know almost immediately it was me.
10) Have you seen any tangible fallouts of what you've posted any time? Good Question. Not much, The story about the flooded and wrecked US spec cars being imported over here and resold as New was a good one, that I think helped protect some local buyers. The ting I posted about the tecent Nawras Twitter Fail may have significant fall out for the guy who was managing the account. I hope that some of the people in higher positions read these blogs and are more careful where opaque decisions are concerned. I would like to think I have helped the Omani Blogging community to be a little bolder in what they choose to publish, but maybe that's just arrogance on my part.
11) Do you speak/read arabic? Really Badly. The guy who created Google Translate should win a Nobel Prize.
12) When you began, did you have any ambitions for the blog? I wanted to try and keep my Sanity intact after giving birth to my youngest daughter.
13) Have you met them? One episode of Psychiatric counselling aside, yes.
14) How important, or not, is The Other Oman to you? It's not that important. It's just a way to pass the time