H.E Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Zahir Al-Hinai
Embassy of Oman, 167 Queens Gate, London, SW7 5HE
UK's Ambassador to Oman
H.E Mr Bill Murray
British Embassy Muscat, PO Box 185, Mina Al Fahal, 116 Muscat, Muscat, Oman
Oman borders the Gulf of Oman to its north and northeast, the Arabian Sea to its east and south, Yemen to its southwest and Saudi Arabia to its east. Oman is a desert nation with rugged mountiains in its north and south and just 4.7% of its landmass designated as arable land. Its natural resources include oil and natural gas and a mining sector which includes marble and limestone.
The majority of the country’s population is situated in the north of the country, with others in the south living in and around Salalah, Oman's third largest city. Oman's population is ethnically diverse with Arabs, Baluchi, South Asians and Africans represented. Approximately 86% of the population are Muslim, 6.5% Christian, 5.5% Hindu. Less than one percent of the population is Buddhist and an even smaller number of Jews call Oman home.
The Sultanate of Oman is an absolute monarchy headed by the Sultan. The county is divided into 11 governates. It is the reputed to be the oldest independent state in the Middle East, having been declared independent in 1650.
Oman’s executive is the Sultan, who acts as both sultan and prime minister. The Sultan also appoints cabinet. The Sultan is appointed by a council made up of members of the ruling family, who choose a member of the family as successor.
Oman’s legislative is the Majlis Oman, which comprises two separate bodies, the Council of State and the Consultative Council. The Council of State is an 85-seat body that holds notable citizens appointed by the Sultan. The Consultative Council is an 86-seat body in which members are directly elected on four-year term by majority votes. The Consultative Council proposes legislation which is then reviewed by the Royal Court.
Oman may be the oldest independent country in the Middle East but this does not mean the country has had an entirely uneventful history. Far from it. Before the rule of Sultan Qaboos, one of the Middle East’s key statesmen until his death in January 2020, Oman was ruled by his father, Sultan Said bin Taimur. His time as Sultan involved various conflicts involving groups within Oman demanding the right to rule themselves.
Secession, reunification and the Dhofar Rebellion
In 1913, control of the country became split between the coastal areas, remaining under the Sultan's control, and the interior coming under the sway of the Ibadi imams. Sultan bin Taimur eventually reunited the country in 1959, but turmoil came again to Oman with the rebellion in Dhofar in south Oman. This started as a local conflict but intensified as foreign powers like the People’s Republic of China and the USSR supported the increasingly powerful for for southern secession, the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arab Gulf.
The Sultan Qaboos coup
As the situation deteriorated, Sultan Qaboos bin Said overthrew his father in 1970. It was to be a key moment in the modernisation of Oman in practically all aspects of the state. The old Sultan Said bin Taimur had been deeply conservative and increasingly isolationist. Critics accused him of holding the country back. This had been one of the forces driving the conflict.
Sultan Qaboos had a different vision of Oman to his father, which is why British officials and army officers based in Oman at the time encouraged to stage a coup. The operation itself was carried out by Arab troops to disguise British involvement. Sultan bin Taimur agreed to abdicate and was flown into exile. He spent the last two years of his life in London.
With a vision for what he wanted modern Oman to become, Sultan Qaboos focused his efforts first on ending the Dhofar rebellion (finally achieved in 1975) and then on pushing Oman blinking into the light of the international community by joining various international bodies like the Arab League, the United Nations and the GCC.
Oman's location on the Strait of Hormuz has made the country’s commitment to neutrality and diplomacy all the more notable. This was particularly the case during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. It also paved the way for other seminal geopolitical moments, including in 1994 when it welcomed, Yitzhak Rabin, the first Israeli prime minister ever to be received in a Gulf Arab state.
The 21st century
Oman was an early pioneer among its fellow Gulf state neighbours of building an economic model that would last beyond it oil reserves. As a result of its strategy, the nation has invested heavily in its tourism and renewable energy sectors. It also granted universal voting rights to all Omanis over the age of 21 in 2003.
Oman did experience some protests in the Arab Spring in 2011, but the demands of the protestors focused more on securing greater economic and political rights from the existing state. There was never a meaningful desire by protestors to overthrow either the government or the Sultan. After Sultan Qaboos announced a variety of economic (focusing on the creation of new jobs) and political measures (expanding the role of the elected Consultative Council) protests were largely quelled and there have been few significant demonstrations since.
Oman has in the past years established itself as an international mediator. It played a crucial role in the secret discussions that led to the Iran Nuclear Deal. It has also played mediating roles in the Yemen conflict and the Gulf Cooperation Council involving Qatar’s ostracism.
Sultan Qaboos died in January 2020. His successor, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, was named as Sultan the day later.
Omani citizens represent approximately 56.4% of the population and are overwhelming Muslim (Ibadi and Sunni sects each constitute about 45% and Shia about 5%); Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists account for roughly 5% of Omani citizens. There is a constitution which instated in 1996 and amended in 2011.
Ibadi Islam is the majority Islam in the country. It is a branch of Islam that finds its origins before the major Sunni-Shia split. The Ibadis disagree on certain issues with both Sunni and Shia Muslims. For example, they reject the Sunni belief that leader of the Muslim world, or Caliph, should be descended from the Prophet Muhammad's Quraysh tribe and nor do they agree with the Shia that the Mahdi will appear at the end of times to rid the world of injustice and evil.
The exclave of Madha
A curiosity of Oman is that Madha, a small portion of the country, is separated from the rest of Oman and lies across the border with the United Arab Emirates and within the UAE territory - and, to be more precise, within the Emirate of Sharjah.
Madha is both an exclave and an enclave because it is both outside Oman and surrounded on all sides by UAE territory. It is reached from the Fujairah - Khor Fakkan Road. Fewer than 3,000 Madhanis live in Madha, which, although quite undeveloped, boasts an airstrip and a bank.
To complicate matters further, Madha itself contains a UAE enclave, the village of Al Nawha! Once in the UAE, there are no border crossings between the various territories.
Start of Arab domination and spread of Islam
Ibadiyah Islamic sect begins ruling through a series of imams
Portuguese sack Muscat and seize the Omani coast
INDEPENDENCE: Omanis drive out Portuguese and Oman becomes the earliest independent Arab nation
Persians invade Oman but are driven out of the country. The Al Busaid dynasty comes to power, the family which continues to rule to this day
Britain signs an “assistance” treaty with Oman, starting a relationship of subtle but powerful influence.
Omani empire expands across the Red Sea to include Zanzibar and Mombassa on the east coast of Africa
The country splits with the coastal areas under the control of the Sultan and the interior run by Ibadite Islams
Under an agreement brokered by the UK, the Sultan recognises the autonomy of the interior
OMAN REUNIFICATION: Sultan Said bin Taimur gains control of the interior
Oil reserves are discovered, with extraction starting in 1967
CIVIL WAR: There is a 13 year insurgency led by the Marxist-Leninist Dhofar Liberation Front in the Dhofar province of southern Oman
COUP: The ultra-conservative Sultan Said bin Taimur is overthrown in a bloodless coup by his son, Sultan Qaboos, who would go on to end civil conflict and direct the country in a more liberal direction
REBELLION ENDS: The rebellion is quelled with help initially by the British and then by Iranian and Jordanian soldiers
Oman signs a economic and intergovernmental agreement with 5 other Gulf nations to form the Gulf Cooperation Council
Sultan Qaboos gives women the right to vote and to stand for office. Two women are elected
The Sultan extends voting to all those above the age of 21, rather than the custom of choosing them from tribal, intellectual or business leaders
A protester is shot by police during demonstrations advocating for political reform and more jobs. In response the Sultan promises more jobs and benefits, and grants the council greater powers
The Sultan pardons 30 people, including protesters and online activists
A court in Oman closes Azamn, a national newspaper, and jails the editor after the paper published articles about allegations of judicial corruption
QATAR BOYCOTT: Qatar starts to bypass shipping and other restrictions, imposed by neighbouring countries for travel across land, sea, and air, by using Omani ports
Sultan Qaboos dies, and is succeeded by his cousin Sultan Haitham bin Tariq