Oman -- Geography --
Official name: Sultanate of Oman
Capital city: Muscat
Official language: Arabic
Official religion: Islam
Monetary unit: Rial Omani (RO)
Population: 2,845,000 (2009)
Total area: 309,500 sq km
Geographical Location: The Sultanate of Oman is an Arab country in southwest Asia on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It borders the United Arab Emirates on the northwest, Saudi Arabia on the west and Yemen on the southwest.
Administrative divisions: divided into 9 regions, which are further sub-divided into fifty-nine districts (wilayats)
Oman -- History --
From the 6th century BC to the arrival of Islam in the 7th century AD, Oman was controlled and/or influenced by three Persian dynasties. By about 250 B.C. the Parthian dynasty brought the Persian Gulf under their control and extended their influence as far as Oman. Because they needed to control the Persian Gulf trade route, the Parthians established garrisons in Oman. In the third century A.D. the Sasanids succeeded the Parthians and held the area until the rise of Islam four centuries later. After that, Oman was ruled by Umayyads between 661-750, Abbasids between 750-931, 932-933 and 934-967, Qarmatians between 931-932 and between 933-934, Buyids between 967-1053, Seljuks of Kirman between 1053-1154.
Muscat, the capital of the geographical area known as Oman, was occupied by the Portuguese from 1508 to 1648. The Portuguese occupied Muscat for a 140-year period 1508–1648, arriving a decade after Vasco da Gama discovered the seaway to India. In need of an outpost to protect their sea lanes, the Europeans built up and fortified the city, where remnants of their colonial architectural style still remain. Then it fell to Ottoman Turks, but in 1741, Ahmad ibn Sa'id forced them out, and the descendants of Sultan Ahmad rule Oman today.
Thereafter the Omanis easily ejected the Portuguese from Zanzibar and from all other coastal regions north of Mozambique. Zanzibar was a valuable property as the main slave market of the east African coast, and became an increasingly important part of the Omani empire, a fact reflected by the decision of the greatest 19th century sultan of Oman, Sa'id ibn Sultan, to make it from 1837 his main place of residence. Sa'id built impressive palaces and gardens in Zanzibar. He improved the island's economy by introducing cloves, sugar and indigo though at the same time he accepted a financial loss in cooperating with British attempts to end Zanzibar's slave trade.
In 1997, Sultan Qabus granted women the right to be elected to the country's consultative body, the Shura Council (Majlis al-Shura). In 2003, the sultan extended voting rights to everyone over 21; previously, voters were selected from among the elite, and only about a quarter of the population was allowed to vote. In 2006, Oman and the U.S. signed a free-trade deal.
Oman -- Economy --
Oman is a rural, agricultural country, and fishing and overseas trading are important to the population. Oil in commercial quantities was discovered in Oman in 1964 and was first exported in 1967. Subsequently the production and export of petroleum rapidly came to dominate the country’s economy. Oil revenues have grown to represent roughly two-fifths of gross domestic product (GDP) and almost three-fourths of the government’s income.
Omani citizens enjoy good living standards, but the future is uncertain with Oman's limited oil reserves. The other sources of income, agriculture and local industries, are small in comparison and count for less than 1% of the country's exports. Agriculture, often subsistence in its character, produces dates, limes, grains and vegetables. Less than 1% of the country is under cultivation but, in general, food has to be imported. Industries contribute only with 4%, but there are governmental plans to increase this.
In recent years, proven oil reserves have been holding approximately steady, although oil production has been decreasing. Oman has other mineral resources including copper, asbestos and marble, but this is little exploited.
The industrial sector is a cornerstone of the Sultanate’s long-term (1996-2020) development strategy. Industry is one of the main sectors involved in diversifying the sources of national income and reducing dependence on oil. Oman also sought to diversify and privatize its economy in addition to implementing its policy of Omanization. By the end of the 1990s, the privatization plan had advanced further than those in the other states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. The Seventh Five-Year Development Plan creates the conditions for an attractive investment climate. Under its strategy for the industrial sector the government also aims to develop the information technology and telecommunications industries.
Oman -- Culture --
The Omani culture has its roots firmly in the Islamic religion. Oman developed its own particular form of Islam, called Ibadhism, after its founder, Abdullah ibn Ibadh who lived during the 7th century AD. Not all Omanis are Ibadhis, however: there are also Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. Omanis are not only tolerant of the beliefs of different Muslim divisions, they are also tolerant towards believers of other faiths, who are allowed to practise their religion in churches and temples. All Muslims are obliged to fast during Ramadhan. For around 29 to 30 days, each Islamic year, Muslims refrain from smoking, eating and drinking during the hours of fasting (from sunrise to sunset).
Oman is a tribal society, although tribal influence is gradually declining. Its predominantly Ibāḍī Muslim population observes social customs that - though still conservative by Western standards – are markedly less strict than those of neighbouring Saudi Arabia. The consumption of alcoholic beverages, for instance, is illegal for Omani citizens but is permissible for visitors in licensed dining establishments. Women in particular have enjoyed relatively more freedom in Oman than elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula. Мost Omani women - particularly those in rural areas - dress in a conservative, time-honoured fashion. Traditional attire for women, although varying slightly from region to region, is characterized by brightly coloured fabrics and jeweled adornments and consists of a dress (thawb) over loose-fitting slacks (sirwāl). A long, flowing scarf known as a liḥāf covers the head. Similarly, most Omani men wear a traditional woven cotton robe, and male headgear consists of a light turban of cotton or wool, known as a muzzar. Many men continue to carry a short, broad, curved, and often highly ornate dagger which is worn tucked in the front waistband.
Mealtime serves as the centre of most social gatherings. The typical Omani meal consists of rice, spiced lamb or fish, dates, and coffee or tea. Incense—notably frankincense, which is native to Oman—is burned at the end of the meal.
Omani artisans are renowned for woodcarving, weaving, and silver- and goldsmithing and for the manufacture of daggers and swords. Their handiworks are among the many items that may be found at the souk, or market, of Muscat. The Ministry of National Heritage and Culture is charged with preserving historic buildings, excavating archaeological sites, and supporting such traditional crafts as weaving and the crafting of silver and gold jewelry. It also promotes Omani literature and has printed an encyclopaedia of Omani heritage.
Camel racing is a popular traditional sport. Bedouin still train most of the camels used for the races, which take place on racetracks and on makeshift courses in the open desert. Arabian horses have long been bred in the country, and racing is a popular spectator sport. Falconry is practiced by the wealthy elite. More-modern activities include sandsurfing and waterskiing; football (soccer) and rugby are also widely played. Oman made its first Olympic appearance at the 1984 Summer Games, but the country has not competed at the Winter Games.
Oman -- Political system, law and government --
Oman is a monarchy and chief of state and government is the hereditary sultān, Qaboos bin Said Al Said who appoints a cabinet called the "Diwans" to assist him. In the early 1990s, the sultan instituted an elected advisory council, the Majlis ash-Shura, though few Omanis were eligible to vote. Universal suffrage for those over 21 was instituted on 4 October 2003. The country today has three women ministers - Minister of Higher Education, Minister of Social Development and Minister of Tourism. There are no legal political parties nor, at present, any active opposition movement. As more and more young Omanis return from education abroad, it seems likely that the traditional, tribal-based political system will have to be adjusted. A State Consultative Council, established in 1981, consisted of 55 appointed representatives of government, the private sector, and regional interests.