Muscat Daily on June 12, 2019, commented on Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA as “Peace in the world’s least peaceful region (MENA) improved marginally last year, based on improvements in 11 countries.” Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA is not alone for Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE preceded it in the ranking.
Oman has been ranked fourth among the MENA countries and 69th in the world on the Global Peace Index (GPI) 2019. Oman earned 1.953 points this year.
The report has been published by the Australia-based Institute of Economics and Peace. Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top by New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, and Denmark.
Bhutan has recorded the best improvement and is now the 15th most peaceful nation in the world. According to the report, Qatar made the next best improvement. Economic strains can increase the risk of unrest by fomenting internal divisions and civil and political unrest, the report stated.
According to the report, Afghanistan is now the least peaceful country in the world, replacing Syria, which is now the second least peaceful. South Sudan, Yemen, and Iraq comprise the remaining five least peaceful countries.
Peace in the world’s least peaceful region (MENA) improved marginally last year, based on improvements in 11 countries. The regional average improved in all three GPI domains in 2019, with reductions in population displacement, political terror, terrorism, deaths from internal and external armed conflicts, military spending, and armed services personnel.
In the 2019 GPI, 86 countries improved while 76 countries deteriorated, with the global average GPI score improving by -0.09 per cent. The 2019 GPI finds that the world became more peaceful for the first time in five years, with the average level of country peacefulness improving slightly by 0.09 per cent.
Of the 23 GPI indicators, eight recorded an improvement, 12 had a deterioration, with the remaining three indicators not registering any change over the past year.
This is the thirteenth edition of the GPI, which ranks 163 independent states and territories according to their level of peacefulness.
With no details reported on the final electricity price agreed for a 500 MW solar project to be built in Oman, speculation will center on whether the victorious Saudi power company and its Kuwaiti partners have again trumped lower offers from overseas rivals. The winning ACWA says:
With big players from France, Korea, China, Spain, India, Turkey and the U.K. all having expressed an interest in developing a 500 MW solar park in Oman, the organizing body will have surprised hardly anybody by eventually settling on a winning consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power and two Kuwaiti partners.
The winner was reportedly announced late on Sunday night by Kuwait’s state-owned news agency KUNA. pv magazine has been unable to verify that decision, which was reported by news wire Reuters yesterday.
According to the Reuters report, ACWA and partners the Gulf Investment Corporation and the Alternative Energy Projects Co have landed the contract to develop the project at Ibri, 300 km west of Muscat.
Originally announced as a $500 million project, the Ibri scheme is now being reported as a $400 million plant but the commissioning date of early 2021 is unchanged.
The decision of commissioning body the Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWP) will come as a fresh snub to French energy giant EDF, which last year submitted the lowest bid for a 300 MW scheme in Saudi Arabia – SAR0.06697/kWh ($0.018) for the energy generated – only to lose out to ACWA despite the Saudi company offering a higher tariff of SAR0.08872. The Reuters report did not carry any details of final negotiated power tariffs in the Omani procurement exercise.
EDF was one of 12 bidders shortlisted by the OPWP after an initial request for expressions of interest attracted 28 enquiries from around the world. Indian state-owned utility NTPC Ltd was filtered out at the first stage but that left big solar companies including Engie, X-ELIO, Hanwha Q Cells, BP, Chint, GCL New Energy and Abengoa in the running.
The OPWP announced in November there were three consortia left standing, with ACWA and its partners joined by a group made up of Chinese manufacturing giant Jinko Solar, French oil major Total and state-owned Abu Dhabi concern Masdar; and a third bid, from Japan’s Marubeni Corp and the Oman Gas Company.
Today December 18, is Qatar National Day. UN Arabic Language Day on December 18 is observed annually; it was chosen as the date for the Arabic language as it is “the day in 1973 when the General Assembly approved Arabic as an official UN language:” Wikipedia.
The National posted an article to mark the UN Arabic Language Day on December 18, Anna Zacharias, a former journalist at The National, tells us about her time in Oman.
Last year, I left work in the UAE to study Arabic full-time in Oman. After almost two decades in the Arabian Gulf, I decided it was time.
When I first arrived from Canada at the age 13, Arabic wasn’t offered to me at school. I was told I was too old to learn the language and I should focus on GCSE French. I didn’t mind. I only planned to stay a couple of years in the Gulf.
Years passed. I picked up what academics call Gulf Pidgin Arabic or “taxi Arabic”, a mish mash of Arabic, English, Urdu and Hindi spoken by South Asian labourers, maids and shopkeepers. I had a smattering of Emirati words from majlis sessions but no grammar on which to hang these nouns.
Occasional attempts to fill in the gaps failed. I would register in classes and drop them when teachers, unhappy with my linguistic potpourri, wanted to start from the beginning. Again.
I wanted to study a Gulf dialect in addition to Modern Standard Arabic. A friend recommended a school in Muscat.
Another friend kindly gave me a crash course before I left. He began with the same introduction to Arabic he had received decades before: “Any word in Arabic means what it is. Any word in Arabic also means the opposite.”
In our first two hours, he did not teach me grammar or new vocabulary. Instead, we flipped through his thick, old dictionary. Each Arabic word is based on a two or three letter root, and the meaning changes when this root is fitted into different patterns.
My friend guided me to a favourite, a four-page entry for the root “qbl” and its associate words: to receive, to kiss, a tribe, the Qibla and a hotel reception.
He taught me the grammar that mattered most. “Don’t worry about the dual feminine,” he told me. “Only the stuffiest people will expect you to use it.”
The fourth question on my placement test was about the dual feminine. I did something I had never done in my life – I cheated.
When asked about my education, I wrote 100 words in perfect pidgin: “Ana kalimat. Grammar mafi. Yanni fi, bas mafi ziyada.” A rough translation: “I am words. Nothing grammar. I mean, exists, but not manys.” To fellow pidgin speakers, my response was clear and powerful. Eloquent, even.
When I arrived in Muscat, they ask me to recite the alphabet. I could read but did not know the names for letters. I was placed in a class for absolute beginners. All my cheating had been for nothing. This was my first lesson in Arabic language pedagogy: Arabic is taught sequentially. It is a line dance, not a breakdance.
In most Arabic classrooms, Fusha is king. Fusha is literary Arabic, a term that includes classical Arabic and media (Modern Standard) Arabic. Most classes teach Fusha rather than the Arabic spoken and used in daily life, like Egyptian or Lebanese Arabic.
For scholars and journalists, learning literary Arabic makes sense. For people interested in travel and chit-chat, it’s like learning Latin for a trip to Europe. Will you be able to learn other Romance languages quickly after you master Latin? Yes. Is it the best way to prepare for that trip to France? Probably not.
Part of the Fusha fixation is in deference to its beauty. But it’s easier to sell Arabic classes marketed as the world’s fifth most-spoken language.
Shortly after my programme began, the American students arrived with backpacks, baseball caps and clear Fusha. They came from universities across the United States. They had beautiful handwriting and some had studied Arabic for years. They loved to talk about how difficult Arabic was. “As hard as Chinese.” I heard this at least once a day.
The new students also came with an extensive political vocabulary. They knew words like “diplomat” and “United Nations” and “draft resolution”. But in our first conversation class, many did not understand when the teacher asked whether they preferred tea or coffee.
Textbooks focus on politics at the expense of culture. This is unforgivable in a language built on social eloquence. More worrying is the reinforced association of Arabic and the Arab with violence and politics. In all my years, I’ve had exactly one conversation in Arabic about a car bomb. I’ve had about 5,793 on tea. Words for tea are not in the textbooks. Nor are words for politely refusing a third serving of mandi.
There is much talk of Arabic being at risk, of a decline in usage. Meanwhile, conversations about the best form of Arabic are still more common than discussions on how to best engage students or present Arabic in a way that reflects the diversity and warmth of contemporary Arab cultures.
The best way to preserve a language is to share it. Our teachers in Oman understood this. My teachers were poets, familiar with both high Arabic and the banter of the Gulf. Our classes were filled with frankincense, our bellies with luqaimat dumplings, our ears with verses of pre-Islamic love poetry or first hand tales of djinn. My teachers knew the truth: the only rocket students should learn about is the rocket shawarmah.
Anna Zacharias is a former journalist at The National.
MUSCATDAILY.com produced on November 23rd, 2016, this article written by Maryam Khan on the occasion of the country’s National Day on how the Omanis preferring to explore Oman this holiday of 4 days, despite or because of their current difficult times, do manage to take advantage of the natural beautiful spots of their country.
The same media reported that Oman budget shortfall crossed the US$11 mark and spending declined 8% and that the Oman Government’s total income fell 26% as net oil revenue dropped 42% and gas revenue 6%, whilst the country’s daily average oil output rise was 2.8% and total oil exports during the January-October period increased 4.2% to 268.7mn barrels in 2016 from 257.9mn barrels in the same period of 2015. Meanwhile, the Muscat Securities Market (MSM) 30 climbs 0.5% on hopes of an OPEC oil deal at their forthcoming meet in Vienne by end of this month.
Muscat – As the National Day holiday begins on Wednesday, most of the citizens and residents are gearing up to explore the sultanate over the long weekend.
Emran S, a resident in Muscat said, “We were planning to visit Musandam. However, the flights are full and the ferry service to Khasab has been called off due to inclement weather conditions. So we had to cancel the plan. Most of the hotels and resorts at popular tourist spots in Oman are almost booked. We will be considering some other options or else we might just find a nice place to camp and barbecue.”
As it’s just a four-day holiday, people prefer to stay in Oman and explore options. Some of the top travel options are Jebel Shams, Jebel Akhdar, Musandam and Salalah.
Ahmed Belushi, a citizen said, “We are planning to spend time at Sharqiyah Sands and camp under the stars. Hopefully, weather will be fine. There cannot be better way to celebrate Oman’s National Day than admiring its natural beauty.”
He added, “Such breaks are always welcome as they provide some respite from daily work. We’ll have more time to spend with our family and friends.”
Gurmeet Singh, another resident of Muscat said that he will visiting UAE to make the most of this short break. “We will be visiting UAE to spend time with my family members. We have got the visas. Short holidays are an opportunity to travel to a close-by place and reconnect with people you have been waiting to meet.”
Meanwhile, travel agents said that business is weak due to the present economic situation.
A leading travel agent said, “We are not busy this holiday as people aren’t spending much on travel. “We are getting queries for destinations like Sri Lanka, Thailand and Jordan, for which we have packages ranging from RO300 to RO360. We do not have a lot of bookings though.”
Riyaz Kuttery, chief operating officer of Mezoon Travel, said, “Many people are clubbing their annual holidays with the four-day break. Most of them are either travelling to the GCC countries or back to their home countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka etc.”
Another travel agent said, “Business is low as people are preferring to stay in Oman. Economic situation is tight so people are on a saving mode. They are not ready to splurge on a holiday.”
According to Moody’s Investors Service in the GCC, after their rating actions on 26 GCC banks declared that “A combination of lower growth, higher debt levels and smaller domestic and external buffers leave the Kingdom less well positioned to weather future shocks.” Reuters reported late last week that Saudi Arabia and two of its neighbours had their debt ratings cut by a notch by Moody’s.
The downgrade of Saudi Arabia’s was on its long-term issuer ratings with however a stable outlook. That of Oman’s on its credit rating whereas that of Bahrain’s was aligned with junk.
The Gulf economies that rely heavily on the revenues from oil exports to finance large-scale infrastructure projects so are having difficulties due to the collapse in energy prices. Most of these countries however, are planning to counter through the introduction of measures, certain never heard of before. These such as cutting spending, raising taxes, reducing subsidies, drawing on their accumulated foreign reserves and issuing debt are believed to be effective within the year. the impact of these measures have yet to be appraised and made known.
in the meantime, the oil revenues slump has brought Saudi Arabia’s budget deficit to nearly $100 billion last year with its reserves held mainly in America dropped by more than $155 billion.
Moody’s by the way expects these reserves to still reduce more until 2019 to $460 billion. It also estimates the Saudi budget deficit to average 9.5% of its GDP each year between 2016 and 2020.
As mentioned above, Reuters published a number of articles on this story. We are reproducing excerpts of 2 of the most illustrative of the happening.
Moody’s Investors Service cut its debt ratings for Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain on Saturday while assigning negative outlooks to three neighboring states, as low oil prices continue to undermine government finances in the region.
The rating agency downgraded Saudi Arabia’s long-term issuer rating by one notch to A1 but gave the kingdom a stable outlook, saying sweeping economic reforms announced by the government last month might stabilize the state budget.
In late April, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman revealed Saudi Arabia’s biggest policy shake-up in decades, including tax rises, an efficiency drive and plans to give a bigger role to the private sector.
“The government has ambitious and comprehensive plans to diversify both the economy and its balance sheet which, if even partly successful, should stabilize its credit profile and which could, if achieved, offer a route back to a higher rating level over time,” Moody’s said.
However, the agency said it was still uncertain how Saudi Arabia would fund a massive budget deficit averaging 9.5 percent of gross domestic product between 2016 and 2020, which would require total financing of $324 billion.
“It is not yet clear how this cumulative financing need will be met: while Saudi Arabia’s low levels of government debt at 5.8 percent of GDP in 2015 provide fiscal space, no medium-term funding strategy has yet been announced,” Moody’s said.
The agency downgraded Oman by one notch to Baa1 with a stable outlook, and cut Bahrain by one notch to Ba2, deeper in junk territory, with a negative outlook. Both countries lack the huge financial and oil reserves of their wealthy neighbors.
While Bahrain can expect support from its ally Saudi Arabia in a crisis, it is likely to find it increasingly hard to borrow in the international markets, particularly since it will be competing for money with its neighbors, Moody’s said.
“The further deterioration in the government’s balance sheet, combined with increased external debt issuance from other countries in the region, will lower the supply of external funding, thereby heightening the risk that finance is obtainable only at much less affordable rates for Bahrain, or potentially reduced amounts.”
Moody’s also confirmed the Aa2 ratings of the United Arab Emirates and its biggest member, Abu Dhabi, but assigned a negative outlook to them.
The UAE has been more proactive than its neighbors in restraining spending and reforming its finances in an environment of low oil prices, but Moody’s said the government’s policies to cut its budget deficit were still not clear.
Moody confirmed the Aa2 ratings of Kuwait and Qatar but gave both of them a negative outlook.
(Reporting by Andrew Torchia; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
Stock markets in the Gulf look set to rise on Sunday, shrugging off Moody’s decision to cut its outlook for the debt ratings of several Gulf states, after oil prices rallied further on Friday.
Saudi Arabia’s Aa3 rating was placed on review for a possible downgrade, Moody’s said late on Friday; the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar were also put on review, while Bahrain’s rating was cut to junk.
But investors may view this as a belated reaction to old news; more important is that Brent crude jumped 4 percent on Friday to near $39 a barrel. This is likely to strengthen sentiment that oil prices have finally bottomed and that Gulf economies will not face further negative surprises.
“This is not really new news,” a Jeddah-based analyst said of the Moody’s ratings. “I believe the bottoming of oil prices will outweigh the negative impact of the cut in outlook to negative.”
Last week bourses in the Gulf were lifted by higher volumes in small and mid-sized stocks that are largely favoured by local traders. Riyadh’s and Dubai’s indexes each rose 4 percent last week, although in Dubai most turnover was concentrated in volatile builder Arabtec, which soared 42 percent last week in speculative trade.
Short-term technicals have also turned positive for Gulf markets, with Saudi Arabia triggering a bullish right triangle by breaking its January peak last week, and Dubai confirming a reverse head & shoulders pattern.
Although Egypt’s index rose for the first time in four days on Thursday, most stocks were sluggish as investors remain hesitant to buy the market because of a possible interest rate hike, after bond yields rose, and a weakening currency in the black market, which has increased speculation about a possible devaluation. (Reporting by Celine Aswad; Editing by Andrew Torchia)