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The Omani Spring: Towards the Break of a New Dawn?

[Arab Reform Initiative logo. From] [Arab Reform Initiative logo. From]

[The following is the latest from the Arab Reform Initiative on Oman.]

From February to mid-May 2011, an intense wave of protests swept the sultanate of Oman. As a result, the country has undergone changes on many levels: political, social, and economic. It is striking that in contrast to the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, these protests did not call for the fall of the regime but were restricted to demands for social justice, improved living standards, political and constitutional reforms to fight corruption, guaranteed public freedoms, and the division of powers. This paper examines the reasons behind these protests and the progress of the movement from February until 14 May when the Omani authorities forcefully dispersed demonstrators outside the Shura Council.

The Sultanate of Oman is currently ruled by Sultan Qaboos of Oman, who, according to the constitution, is the President of State and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Since 23 July 1972, he has also been the Prime Minister, and he has the power to appoint and dismiss ministers and judges, pass legislation, sign treaties and declare a general state of emergency. The Council of Oman, that consists of two parliamentary chambers and should play the legislative authority, has limited powers that are mainly restricted to playing an advisory role. Oman’s influential specialized councils, such as the Defence Council, Financial Affairs and Energy Resources Council  and the Supreme Judicial Council, are headed by the Sultan alone. The government also has a divergent security apparatus that is legendary in the collective memory of Omanis since the Dhofar revolution, and also has a “special division” and “unit for special missions” in the police forces, which implement whatever the government orders. These security forces played a pivotal role during the protests.

To understand the protest movement, a general overview of four key elements of the current situation in Oman is necessary.

1. Social  and  Economic  Situation: Considerable achievements were made by the sultanate in growing Oman's economy and its development. Oman has been thus listed among the top ten countries worldwide for development in the past forty years in the fields of health, education and income according to the 2010 United Nations Human Development Report. However, economic development has not provided a solution to other problems associated with social justice and democracy. 

2. Education: Statistics from the Ministry of Education show that thirty-two percent of Omanis aged between fifteen and seventeen years were not enrolled in schools in 2007, and that half of those students who finished high school did not have the opportunity to continue their studies into higher education.

3. Employment: Approximately thirty-eight percent  of  Oman’s unemployed are young people, and of these, the majority (eighty-five percent) have never previously been employed. Only twenty-five percent of employed young people are female. The issue of  unemployment is a source of great tension among the Omani youth and women.

4. Political participation: Over the past four decades, great restrictions were placed on political activity and participation in public affairs. The  prohibition  on  student associations and the absence of any criticism of the regime in the media meant that true political awareness was lacking in Oman. In any society, ignoring or belittling the people’s problems by the regime can only lead to an explosion in the end. This is exactly what happened in Oman with the dawn of the Arab Spring. The Arab revolutions that have developed are fundamentally “social revolutions” and have revived people’s hopes against autocratic regimes, championing the freedom and dignity of the Arab citizen in face of the prevailing model of the Arab police state.

[Click here to read the full Arab Reform Initiative report.] 


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