OMAN — THE MOST IMPROVED NATION IN THE WORLD
By Vincent Lyn
Oman officially the Sultanate of Oman is an Arab country on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Its official religion is Islam. Holding a strategically important position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the country shares land borders with the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and my birthplace Yemen the southwest coast. The oldest independent state in the Arab world, Oman is one of the more traditional countries in the Gulf Region and was, until the 1970’s.
From the late 17th century, the Omani Sultanate was a powerful empire with Portugal and the U.K. for influence in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. At its peak in the 19th century, Omani influence or control extended across the Strait of Hormuz to modern-day Iran and Pakistan and as far south as Zanzibar. When its power declined in the 20th century, the sultanate came under the influence of the United Kingdom. For over 300 years, the relations built between the two empires were based on mutual benefits. The U.K. recognized Oman’s geographical importance as a trading hub that secured their trade lanes in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean and protected their empire in the Indian sub-continent. Historically, Muscat was the principal trading port of the Persian Gulf region. Muscat was also among the most important trading ports of the Indian Ocean.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said was the hereditary leader of the country, which is an absolute monarchy from 1970 until his death on 10 January 2020. His cousin, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, was named as the country’s new ruler following his death
Oman is a member of the United Nations and the Arab League. It has sizable oil reserves, ranking 25th Globally. In 2010, the United Nations Development Programme ranked Oman as the most improved nation in the world in terms of development during the preceding 40 years A significant portion of its economy involves tourism and trade of fish, dates and certain agricultural produce. Oman is categorized as a very high-income nation and ranks as the 69th most peaceful country in the world according to the Global Peace Index.
The reign of Sultan Qaboos lasted 50 years from1970–2020. After deposing his father in 1970, Sultan Qaboos opened up the country, embarked on economic reforms, and followed a policy of modernization marked by increased spending on health, education and welfare. Slavery once a cornerstone of the country’s trade and development was outlawed in 1970. In 1981 Oman became a founding member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council. Political reforms were eventually introduced. Historically, voters had been chosen from among tribal leaders, intellectuals and businessmen. In 1997 Sultan Qaboos decreed that women could vote for, and stand for election. Shura, Two women were duly elected to the body. In 2002, voting rights were extended to all citizens over the age of 21, and the first elections to the Consultative Assembly under the new rules were held in 2003. In 2004, the Sultan appointed Oman’s first female minister. She was appointed to the post of National Authority for Industrial Craftsmanship, an office that attempts to preserve and promote Oman’s traditional crafts and stimulate industry despite these changes, there was little change to the actual political makeup of the government. The Sultan continued to rule by decree. Nearly 100 suspected Islamists were arrested in 2005 and 31 people were convicted of trying to overthrow the government. They were ultimately pardoned in June of the same year.
Inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings taking place throughout the region, protests occurred in Oman, during the early months of 2011. Although they did not call for the ousting of the regime, demonstrators demanded political reforms, improved living conditions and the creation of more jobs and in February 2011 the protests were dispersed by riot police. Sultan Qaboos reacted by promising jobs and benefits. In October 2011, elections were held to the Consultative Assembly, to which Sultan Qaboos promised greater powers. The following year, the government began a crackdown on Internet criticism. In September 2012, trials began of ‘activists’ accused of posting “abusive and provocative” criticism of the government online. Six were given jail terms of 12–18 months and fines of around $2,500 each. Qaboos died on 10 January 2020, and the government declared three days of national mourning. He was buried the next day.
Having traveled extensively throughout the Middle East but predominantly work related I had heard wonderful things about Oman. So I wanted to see for myself and so I went strictly as a tourist. Tourism in Oman has grown considerably recently, and it is expected to be one of the largest industries in the country and is the fastest growing tourism destination in the Middle East. A key issue to the tourism sector is deepening the understanding of the ecosystem and biodiversity in Oman to guarantee their protection and preservation.
Oman has one of the most diverse environments in the Middle East with various tourist attractions and is particularly well known for adventure and cultural tourism, Muscat the capital of Oman, was named the second best city to visit in the world in 2012 by the travel guide Lonely Planet. Muscat also was chosen as the Capital of Arab Tourism of 2012. In November 2019, Oman made the rule of visa upon arrival an exception and introduced the concept of e-visa for tourists from all nationalities. Outwardly, Oman shares many of the cultural characteristics of its Arab neighbors. Despite these similarities, important factors make Oman unique in the Middle East. These result as much from geography and history as from culture and economics. The relatively recent and artificial nature of the state in Oman makes it difficult to describe a national culture; however, sufficient cultural heterogeneity exists within its national boundaries to make Oman distinct from other Arab States of the Persian Gulf. Oman’s cultural diversity is greater than that of its Arab neighbors, given its historical expansion to the Swahili Coast and the Indian Ocean.
Ending on an uplifting note that is a surprise for me considering some of the dangerous locales I travel to. Oman was a breath of fresh air and ultimately a destination I would return to and tell others to go as well. I know Westerners are extremely leery of traveling to the Middle East but Oman is definitely worth it and very safe. Visiting the livestock market auction was a veritable display of camels, sheep and goats for sale. A little boy wanted to sell me a baby goat for $75. If I could I would’ve brought it home, and no, not to eat! It was way too adorable. Considering Charlotte wants a dog, how about opting for a baby goat instead?
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Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts