In Oman, a young female editor exemplifies new boldness
Kawkab al-Balushi, a bold student newspaper editor, wants to challenge authority – but disagrees with the divergent approach of some of her more rebellious peers who just 'want a Blackberry,' she says.
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She’s already battled resistance from her university to publish a student magazine, continuing to churn out glossy editions after an official reprimand for having started without permission.
By 30, she plans to hold public office on the country’s only elected council. By 32, she will become a minister, she says, helping to run this quiet sultanate that has experienced unprecedented civil unrest in the past month.
Like nearly everyone in the modern, relatively wealthy Gulf nation, Ms. Balushi professes a deep, unflinching devotion to Oman’s leader of 40 years, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said.
But she’s also emblematic of a new willingness here to challenge authority after years of public silence. Whereas other Arab revolutions have solidified around a single demand or set of demands, the revolutionary development here may be that Omanis are asking for anything at all – even if they are not unified on what they want or the best way to achieve it.
'They aren't asking for democracy. They want a Blackberry.'
As about 20 male students gathered in the campus quad of Sohar University recently to demonstrate outside the library, Balushi, dressed in a black abaya and a lime-green head scarf, clucks her tongue in disapproval.
“If I were His Majesty, I’d feel so insulted,” she says. “This doesn’t solve anything.”
She also describes how rebellious attitudes have spread to the classroom, recalling a recent incident when students began chatting on their mobile phones in the middle of a lecture and challenging the Canadian teacher in Arabic.
“These demonstrations had a bad effect on everyone,” says Balushi. “They are being rude to everyone. They aren’t asking for freedom and democracy. They want a Blackberry.”
Her reaction to the demonstrations in her country, which so far have been mostly peaceful, highlight the challenges both for those pushing for change and for a government that has responded with unprecedented concessions only to be met with new demands, more strikes, more demonstrations, more protest.
Significant issues, such as government reform and citizenship rights, are getting lost in the noise. It is generally accepted, however, that whatever is happening in Oman, there is no turning back.
“It’s a matter of the pressure building, of people feeling, ‘If we can’t do it now, when can we?' ” says Brenda Bickett, a librarian at Georgetown University who lived in Oman in the late 1980s and visits periodically. “It’s just a sense that, ‘We’re going to do this and see what happens.’ ”