aside PRIMER ON MIDDLE EAST, PART XV / OMAN

oman-map GREAT ONE

Oman is the is the oldest independent state located in the SE coast of the Arabian Peninsula, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Oman’s neighboring countries are the United Arab Emirates to the NW; Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the SW. It shares its waters with Iran and Pakistan. There is the Arabian Sea on the southeast and the Gulf of Oman on the northeast. Oman expulsed the Portuguese in 1650 to become a monarchy with the title of Sultanate of Oman. In 1999, Oman and its neighbor, United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed a border agreement defining most of their disputed common frontier.The capital city is Muscat. About 75% of Omani citizens, who compose almost 70% of the country’s total population, are Ibadhi Muslims; the Omani government does not keep statistics on religious affiliation. According to a 2013 UN study, immigrants make up just over 30% of the total population.

The Chief of State, Sultan and Prime Minister QABOOS bin Said Al-Said has served his country since 1970, being both chief of state and head of government as well as its monarch. He is the one who appoints the country’s cabinet. For transfer of power, Minister QABOOS does not have an heir. It is the Ruling Family Council which determines a successor from the sultan’s extended family; if the Council cannot form a consensus within 3 days of the sultan’s death or incapacitation, the Defense Council will relay a predetermined heir as chosen by the sultan. This has become a concern when in 2015, the Sultan spent 8 months in Germany for medical care.
Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said (R) walks with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani upon Rouhani's arrival in Muscat March 12, 2014. REUTERS/Sultan Al Hasani (OMAN - Tags: POLITICS ROYALS) - RTR3GQAH
Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said (R) walks with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani upon Rouhani’s arrival in Muscat March 12, 2014. REUTERS/Sultan Al Hasani (OMAN )

AL MONITOR has written an article on this subject, which was posted on 1/25/15 by Bruce Riedel, titled, “After Qaboos, who will be Oman’s next sultan? The following are some excerpts:

“The death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia turns the focus of succession speculation in Arabia to the Sultanate of Oman.  Sultan Qaboos, the longest-serving ruler in the Middle East, has been in Germany for unspecified health reasons since last summer. While the Saudi succession was transparent, Oman’s is opaque.”

MUSCAT, OMAN
MUSCAT, OMAN

“Qaboos was born on Nov. 18, 1940, in Salalah, the capital of Oman’s western province of Dhofar, which borders on Yemen. He is the 14th-generation descendant of the founder of the Al Bu Sa’idi dynasty that created the sultanate in the 1600s after expelling the Portuguese from Muscat. He was educated in India and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, then spent a year with the British Army of the Rhine in Germany. When he returned home to Salalah, his father kept him isolated and under virtual house arrest in the palace. The father was notoriously averse to any modernization of the country.”

“Qaboos came to power in July 1970 in a coup orchestrated by British intelligence using army officers seconded to the Omani army. British officers took control of the palace, lightly wounded the sultan in a short gunfight and then Qaboos’ father was flown out of the country on a Royal Air Force jet, never to return. London was convinced regime change was essential because the country was in a civil war with a communist insurgency backed by the Soviets and their then proxy, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. The country had only 10 kilometers (six miles) of modern roads, virtually no education or health infrastructure and seemed about to become the next Arab monarchy to collapse.”

MUSCAT, OMAN
MUSCAT, OMAN

“With British encouragement, Qaboos asked the Shah of Iran and King Hussein  of Jordan for help. The Iranians sent a regiment of troops and the Jordanians sent advisers. The communist insurgency in Dhofar was defeated and many of its leaders defected to the new government. Qaboos modernized the country, established a parliament and created one of the most stable and well-governed countries in the Middle East. Oman had a miniature version of the Arab Spring in 2011, during which the Sultan ordered further reforms to answer calls for change, and demonstrations petered out. The majority of Oman’s 4 million residents have never known any ruler except Qaboos.”

“While maintaining special ties to the United Kingdom, Qaboos has also been a close ally of the United States. Oman was the staging base for the ill-fated American hostage rescue mission in 1980 to get the American diplomats home from Iran. Oman participated in Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait. Later Oman became a useful intermediary for sending messages from Washington to Tehran. Most recently, Oman has hosted secret talks between the US and Iran on Iran’s nuclear program.”

MUSCAT, OMAN
MUSCAT, OMAN

The following excerpts are from the CIA’s World Factbook about Oman:

“The inhabitants of the area of Oman have long prospered on Indian Ocean trade. In the late 18th century, a newly established sultanate in Muscat signed the first in a series of friendship treaties with Britain. Over time, Oman’s dependence on British political and military advisors increased, but it never became a British colony. In 1970, QABOOS bin Said Al-Said overthrew his father, and has since ruled as sultan, but he has never designated a successor. His extensive modernization program has opened the country to the outside world while preserving the longstanding close ties with the UK. Oman’s moderate, independent foreign policy has sought to maintain good relations with all Middle Eastern countries.”
“Inspired by the popular uprisings that swept the Middle East and North Africa beginning in January 2011, some Omanis began staging marches, demonstrations, and sit-ins calling mostly for more jobs and economic benefits and an end to corruption. In response to those protester demands, QABOOS in 2011 pledged to implement economic and political reforms, such as granting legislative and regulatory powers to the Majlis al-Shura and introducing unemployment benefits. Additionally, in August 2012, the Sultan announced a royal directive mandating the speedy implementation of a national job creation plan for thousands of public and private sector jobs. As part of the government’s efforts to decentralize authority and allow greater citizen participation in local governance, Oman successfully conducted its first municipal council elections in December 2012. “
MUSCAT, OMAN
MUSCAT, OMAN
“Oman is heavily dependent on dwindling oil resources, which generates 77% of government revenue. It is using enhanced oil recovery techniques to boost production. Muscat has actively pursued a development plan that focuses on diversification, industrialization, and privatization, with the objective of reducing the oil sector’s contribution to GDP from 46% to 9% by 2020. Muscat also is focused on creating more jobs to employ the rising numbers of Omanis entering the workforce. Tourism and gas-based industries are key components of the government’s diversification strategy. However, increases in social welfare benefits, particularly since the Arab Spring, have challenged the government’s ability to effectively balance its budget as oil prices decline.”
Muscat-Dhow-Roundabout
Muscat-Dhow-Roundabout
BBC NEWS OVERVIEW/ PROFILE ON OMAN:

“Oman under Sultan Said bin Taimur, who came to power in 1932, experienced decades of international isolation, a society run along feudal lines and internal rebellion.”

“After deposing his father in 1970, Sultan Qaboos Bin Said opened up the country, embarked on economic reforms and boosted spending on health, education and welfare.”

MUSCAT, OMAN BUSINESS DISTRICT
MUSCAT, OMAN BUSINESS DISTRICT

“Tourism, another source of revenue, is on the rise. Oman’s attractions include a largely-untouched coastline, mountains, deserts and the burgeoning capital Muscat, with its forts, palaces and old walled city.”

“Most Omanis follow the Ibadi sect of Islam – the only remaining expression of Kharijism, which was created as a result of one of the first schisms within the religion.”

“The country has so far been spared the militant Islamist violence that has plagued some of its neighbors.”

“It has long been a useful Arab ally to Washington, not least because of its steady relations with Iran.”

MUSCAT, OMAN
MUSCAT, OMAN

“Oman has not been immune from the groundswell of political dissent in the region. Protests in 2011 demanding reforms were dispersed by riot police, and the government began a crackdown on Internet criticism the following year.”

“As with other Gulf nations, oil is the mainstay of the economy, providing a large chunk of GDP, but compared to its neighbors Oman is a modest producer. Agriculture and fishing are important sources of income.”

OMAN
OMAN

The following cliff notes on  Oman are from 11/2014 Middle East section of BBC NEWS:

Al Bu Said dynasty/ Recent history

1650 – Portuguese sack Muscat and capture the Omani coast; they are driven out in 1650.

1749 – Persians are driven out. The Al Bu Said dynasty comes to power, and continues to rule to this day.

1800s-1900s – Omani empire expands to include Zanzibar and

1913 – Control of the country splits. The interior is ruled by Ibadite imams and the coastal areas by the sultan. Under a British-brokered agreement in 1920 the sultan recognizes the autonomy of the interior.

1954 onwards – Clashes resume between imamite forces, seeking an independent state in the interior, and those of the sultan.

Sultan Qaboos
Sultan Qaboos

1959 – Sultan Said bin Taimur regains control of the interior. His rule is characterized by a feudal and isolationist approach.

1964 – Oil reserves are discovered; extraction begins in 1967.

1965-75 – Rebellion in the southern region of Dhofar in which leftist forces are pitted against government troops. The uprising is finally put down with the help of soldiers from Jordan and Iran.

Coup

1970 – The sultan is overthrown by his son in a bloodless coup. Sultan Qaboos bin Said begins a liberalization and modernization program.

1981 – Oman is a founding member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

Sultan Qaboos
Sultan Qaboos

1997 – Sultan Qaboos decrees that women can stand for election to – and vote for – the majlis al-shura or Consultative Council. Two women are duly elected to the body.

1999 – Oman and neighboring United Arab Emirates (UAE) sign a border agreement defining most of their disputed common frontier.

2001 October – Large-scale British-Omani military exercises in the Omani desert coincide with the launch of strikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

THE PELOTON IN MUSCAT ON STAGE SIX OF THE 2011 TOUR OF OMAN
THE PELOTON IN MUSCAT ON STAGE SIX OF THE 2011 TOUR OF OMAN

2002 November – Sultan Qaboos extends voting rights to all citizens over the age of 21. Voters were previously chosen from among tribal leaders, intellectuals and businessmen.

2003 October – First elections to the Consultative Council, the majlis al-shura, in which all citizens over the age of 21 can vote. There is little change to the political make-up of the house.

2004 March – Sultan appoints Oman’s first female minister with portfolio.

2005 January – Nearly 100 suspected Islamists are arrested; 31 Omanis are subsequently convicted of trying to overthrow the government but are pardoned in June.

2006 January – Oman and the US sign a free trade deal. The agreement is approved by the US Congress and Senate in June and July.

2007 June – Cyclone Gonu, the strongest storm to hit the Gulf for decades, kills more than 50 people and disrupts oil production.

OMAN
OMAN

Oman’s Arabian Oryx sanctuary becomes the first site to be removed from UNESCO’s World Heritage list after the rare species dwindled and the government cut the park size by 90%.

2009 June – A cargo vessel is hijacked by suspected Somali pirates off Oman – apparently the first such attack in the area.

2011 February – Protesters demand jobs and political reform. One demonstrator is shot dead by police. Sultan Qaboos reacts by promising jobs and benefits.

2011 October – Elections to the Consultative Council, or Majlis al-Shura. which Sultan Qaboos has promised greater powers since the unrest inspired by the Arab Spring.

2012 September – Trials begin of activists accused of posting “abusive and provocative” criticism of the government online, amid reports of a crackdown on protests over unemployment and lack of democracy. Six are given jail terms of 12-18 months and fines of about $2,500 each.

2013 March – Sultan Qaboos pardons around 30 people, including online activists and protesters.

2014 May – Former Omani commerce minister Mohammed al-Khusaibi sentenced to three years in prison for corruption.

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