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Oman bans popular chat app Clubhouse

The audio-only phone application is popular throughout the Middle East but could face further restrictions.
<<enter caption here>> at  on November 5, 2016 in Muscat, Oman.

Oman has banned the audio-chat phone application Clubhouse. The popular mobile app, which features unfiltered and relatively unregulated conversations, recently came into wide use throughout the Middle East. 

The sultanate’s telecommunications authorities confirmed they cut off access to the popular mobile app, The Associated Press reported on Monday. 

Clubhouse is an audio-only smartphone application where users can join and speak in “rooms” with anyone else using the app. Anyone can start a room and then name other moderators to it, and the moderators of a room regulate who can speak and when. Clubhouse says it temporarily records conversations in case an incident is reported. Users cannot record the conversations through the app, nor can they find the rooms once the discussions are finished. These features make Clubhouse a less regulated social media platform than its Silicon Valley competitors. 

At present, Clubhouse is invitation-only and also only available for iPhones.

Oman’s telecommunications regulator told The Associated Press that the state has “forbidden the app because it was operating without the proper license.” It us unclear whether the the ban is permanent. Omani users had trouble accessing Clubhouse in recent days and used virtual private networks to do so.

Clubhouse is used throughout the Middle East. In Turkey, its conversations on politics are popular among young people. This month, a Turkish diplomat fielded questions for hours in a room about Turkey’s policies in the Arab world, touching on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Kurdish-led autonomous region in neighboring northeast Syria. 

Clubhouse is also popular in Iraq and there are many conversations in Iraqi Arabic rather than the formal Arabic used on television in Iraq and other countries. Palestinians, Syrians and others are also well represented. 

Other countries in the region may follow Oman’s lead in curbing access. The Iraqi Parliament debated banning Clubhouse last month, the Kurdish news outlet in Iraq Rudaw reported.