Middle East

Oman, formally called the Sultanate of Oman, is situated on the south-eastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Remains have been found there going back 8,000 years to the late Stone Age and the land was mentioned in ancient Sumerian tablets. From the sixth century BC until the seventh century AD it was under Persian control until the arrival of Islam. The population was amongst the earliest of Moslems and was the ruled by a series of Islamic dynasties.

The Portuguese arrived in 1508 and occupied Muscat until 1648 and, following a brief further period of Persian control, the present dynasty claim they have ruled the country since 1744. Omani commercial interests stretched widely across the region reaching as far as Comoros and including Zanzibar and Gwadur, on the Pakistani coast, which was not ceded to Pakistan until 1958.

Oman has had a unique relationship with Britain, being neither a colony nor a formal protectorate, but which was based on a series of treaties starting in 1798, when the first one was signed with the East India Company. Further treaties followed in 1839 and 1891 which resulted in Oman being guided in her foreign relations by Britain, a situation that was partially modified in 1951.

There was also military assistance as over the Buraimi Oasis dispute between what became the United Arab Emirates and Oman, backed by Britain, and Saudi Arabia, supported by the United States, in the nineteen-fifties. This dispute was finally settled after full independence.

The country formerly had a semi-official division in that the interior was partially run by the Imam of Oman, Ghali bin Ali Al Hinai, while the Sultan of Muscat, Said bin Tamur, controlled the coastal area. The discovery of oil led to tensions and then civil war. The Sultan finally overcame the Imam, assisted by the British, including the SAS, in 1959. However, there followed a further rebellion in Dhofar in 1962, adjacent to what is now the Yemen, which had support from China and left-wing and Arab nationalist forces , which was defeated in 1975 with help from Iran, Pakistan and the British, again the SAS and also the RAF.

Concern had been growing over the rule of the Sultan, who had been on the throne since 1932, and, who, despite travelling more widely in his country than any previous ruler, was increasingly a barrier to reform who kept his country closed to external influences. In 1970 he was removed swiftly in a coup, backed by the British, and bundled off to live out his days in the Dorchester Hotel in London. Asked years later about these events Edward Heath, the British Prime Minister at the time of the coup, was reported to have said that this story “will not be told in our lifetime”. The Sultan’s successor was his son, the Sandhurst-trained Qaboos bin Said, who had once worked at Suffolk County Council. He changed the name of the country from Muscat and Oman to Oman. It was at this time that the full independence of Oman was acknowledged by the international community.

The Sultan had established a cabinet called the Diwans and then an elected Council called the Consultative Assembly of Oman. Both these bodies were advisory. In 2011 there were riots as part of the Arab Spring caused by a variety of issues. The Sultan has now granted the assembly or parliament legislative powers to ask parliamentary questions, propose legislation, and suggest changes to regulation. Draft legislation has to be submitted to the Sultan.

The Parliament is bicameral and consists of the Majlis al-Dowla (Majlis A’Dawla) or Upper House which has 71 seats, is appointed by the Sultan, and is advisory, and the Majlis al-Shura (Majlis A’Shura) or Lower House which has 84 members elected by popular vote for four years. It was elected in October 2011 with the next elections due in October 2015. In the last elections 3 prominent figures from the 2011 protests and one woman were elected. There are no legal political parties.

There is a State Consultative Council, established in 1981, with 55 appointed representatives drawn from the government, private sector and regional interests.

The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Oman at joint 64th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 45 (where 100 is least corrupt).