Thursday, August 29, 2013

Controversial 'sexual orientation' in Oman article published by 'the Week'

“It is not hard to find men to date here in Oman if you know where to look,” said Haitham ('The Outsiders', the Week)

The article, The Outsiders' published by 'the Week' on August 29, 2013 gives a very revealing and descriptive recount of the 'gay' scene here in the Sultanante. I find it surprising such an article was published here due to the social and cultural norms.

However, feedback on local Omani forums have mostly decried the article with some asking to shut down 'the Week' and to deport the author. Others have said the article was shockingly offensive, that it is marketing such behaviors to Omanis, and for god to forgive the journalist.  Everyone seems to be talking about it. The Majlis Shura has now picked up the matter.

The head of the Majlis Sura twitted, 'Thanks to the Sheaikh (previous Tweeter for his comments) and that the Media Committee at Majlis Assura will handle it. We thank you for your attention."

See Article Text Below. (It seems it may be blocked online but circulating in print. Please read on only for mature readers not easily offended by such issues and used to free speech.)


When Haitham (name changed on request) had his first same-sex encounter with his cousin, he was only about eight years old. It was only a few fleeting moments on a camping trip with some family members close to his native village just outside Muscat. “But those few moments continued to haunt my memory for the longest time,” said the 23 year old.

He spent the next nine years of his life wondering about that night and the recurring feelings he tried hard to bury under his externally happy demeanour. “I did not know what to make of it. My friends and I shared many passions like cars and football. But I just couldn’t share their enthusiasm for the opposite sex and that was eating away at my insides. I couldn’t talk to anyone about the fact that I, in fact, liked men.”

That was the last encounter Haitham had till he turned 17 years old when he started activ-ely seeking others like him. “Till then I thought there was something wrong with me. But then I could tell there were other people that I met and knew who were definitely going through the same thing. We never talked about it since it would be absolutely unimaginable to do that but it gave me heart that I wasn’t alone,” he said. His cousin went on to get married and Haitham said, that experience, to him was merely a sexual encounter. “Since there weren’t any girls around, he fooled around with me. But that chance encounter helped me eventually recognise who I was.”

Elena, an expatriate feels Oman is very different from any other country in the Middle East. “And this has a lot to do with the tolerance that this country shows in comparison with countries like Saudi Arabia or even the UAE,” she explained. She is relatively new to Oman and she had her reservations when she was offered a job in this country. “When I was thinking about moving here, part of me wanted to make the move for my career while the other half was very sceptical about how I would cope with my sexuality in a conservative Islamic country like Oman. After all, you hear horror stories coming out of countries like Saudi Arabia.” But she did some research that put her at ease. “I was told by several people who had been here and I did my own research on the Internet and found out that life wasn’t that hard for people of different sexual orientations in Oman.”

This paints a picture of a country very different from the one known to most of the world. As an Islamic nation, the sultanate is steeped in tradition and religion. “It is not hard to find men to date here in Oman if you know where to look,” said Haitham. He curren-tly lives in Muscat and prefers dating expatriates. “I dated two Omani men close by my village but people started gossiping and I didn’t want my family to be embarrassed. After all, every one in Oman knows someone who knows someone. If I date expatriates, it eliminates that risk.”

Haitham is not the only one to be worried about his sexuality and the repercussions of people finding out about his sexual preference. “I know a lot of men who are married and have children but lead double lives. I don’t know if their wives know that they also see other men. Coming out is often seen as a very Western concept and is not realistic in a society like Oman,” he said. Even Haitham has to keep up appearances. “I cannot be perceived to be different and so I also send flirty text messages and pretend to be interested in girls.”

For an expatriate like Jason, being gay in Oman is not a problem as long as he is discreet about it. “Back home I could be myself, but I have to recognise the realities on the ground here,” he said. He likes to date Arab men because that, to him, is a guarantee of discretion. “They usually have appearances to keep up and so it is in their interest to keep it discreet. Elena talked about communicating through eye contact. “There is this game gay people play with their eyes – they know what is happening between them and it’s a quiet nod of acknowledgement. This happens the world over and you see it just as often here in Oman as well, even if the women are covered.”  

Jason and Haitham’s desire for discretion can be understood because to risk upsetting the sex-ual status quo in this country can often lead to serious legal and social ramifications. Same-sex relations are forbidden by Article 223 of the Omani Penal Code of 1974 and transgressions enough to constitute a ‘public nuisance’ can result in a prison term anywhere from six months to three years. But for Harry, it is the social repercussions that are more real.

“In Oman, you can live life the way you want to and as long as you don’t draw too much attention to yourself, you won’t be bothered by the law. But walking down the street is a whole different story,” he said. He dresses flamboyantly and occasionally wears make up. “I live in Al Khuwayr and try walking down there without someone yelling something obscene and rude from their cars. It is hurtful and although it happens all the time and I try to ignore it, it still upsets me just as much as the first time it happened.”

Dr Gerald D’Costa is a clinical psychiatrist working in Badr al Sama’a hospital in Ruwi and sees a number of patients who come to him because they are conflicted about their sexual orientation. “They buckle under societal, familial and religious pressures,” he explained. “Many of them come here looking for a cure or treatment. They think there is something wrong with their bodies, why they are feeling these things. They want so desperately to be like people they consider ‘normal’ that they cannot reconcile their own feelings with any sense of normality.”

But Gerald is still glad that his patients choose to speak with someone about what they are feeling. “Sadly that is only the tip of the iceberg. According to international statistics, six to ten per cent of any population in any country is gay and that would be a reasonable assumption for Oman as well. And if that is the case, it is a real shame that all these other people who are having trouble understanding what they are feeling are just not seeking any kind of help.”

He feels there is no need for youngsters like Haitham to feel alone. “I do understand that people are reticent about speaking to another individual about something so private. But now, they can connect with other people, just like them and seek solace in their experiences even if they are halfway across the globe. You can become part of online communities and groups of people like yourself, listen to other people, ask questions anonymously and realise you are not alone,” Gerald added.


  1. They're gonna take down this newspaper

  2. I cannot believe all the controversy - most Omanis do not read The Week or any English press. I think the campaign against The Week has been orchestrated by a few individuals. The Omanis I know thinks it's a disgrace and an embarrassment for the country, especially since it has been widely reported on the BBC and other networks.

    1. First off, LOADS of Omanis read English news papers and magazines. Second, the article was written by an OMANI journalist. Third, yes many Omanis have indeed viewed the article in a negative manner however, there are a number of Omanis -yes OMANIS- who view the article as a mere description of the reality and that freedom of press should be taken into account! Us Omanis would really appreciate that you don't generalize and make ignorant comments based on the handful of locals you are acquainted with!

    2. Thank all for their comments. For factual clarity and not about the local opinions, the journalist is Indian. He twittered to everyone to check out his article, but later cancelled his twitter account after the controversy. There are numerous images of his tweet and photo around Omani social forums. Today, on ONA (Oman News Agency), a statement was put out that the Ministry of Information referred the editor and journalist to the public prosecution.

  3. I don't think the article itself encourages people to "be gay" so I just feel the controversy becomes such because ppl don't like to think about it: ESPECIALLY 8 YEAR OLDS.

  4. You need to go to the top to get to the bottom of this affair, and the waves it has caused a well-respected local publication for stating nothing other than the truth.
    Alan Duncan, the openly gay UK MP, proposed to his male partner whilst on holiday in Oman as a guest of the Oman Government,... all rather rich and hypocritical, isn't it?

  5. My parents live in Oman. I had nearly plucked up the courage to come out to them when this happened. Now they're considering moving to Abu Dhabi. I'm trying to convince them to move somewhere that religion doesn't play a part in determining the rights of individuals, but it's not going well. It looks like I won't be coming out to them until I can afford to support them and they don't have to work anymore.

  6. PublishDeleteSpam50
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    I hope the voice of this journalist is not silenced. SILENCE is a dangerous thing. In (Edit) a boy was raped and all the OMANIS were very secretive and silent on the issue. An ARAB friend of mine told me and she said: "We mustn't talk about you-know-what?" I said: "About the boy who was raped in (Edit) a few months ago?" She was aghast. Why do people want to hide these things I do not know. All societies have issues with illegal things. Sweeping these things under the carpet doesn't make the problem go away.

  7. So sad that a culture's growth can be stunted by tradition and religious nonsense. When will people realize that religion is the true root of all evil? The examples of how it divides people, and causes wars are too numerous to mention. Maybe one day those in the middle east will wake up, stop living in the past and embrace the future.