Sultanate of Oman
The sultanate previously known as Muscat and Oman got its current name in 1970, when the current sultan assumed power, but its roots go back much farther than that. While the area has been inhabited by humans for at least ten thousand years, it is referred to by name shortly after 0 AD by historians such as Ptolemy. The name probably comes from the Qahtani tribe called Oman, or possibly after the Arabic adjective aamen, "a settled man". This description fits the country well, for Oman is quite a settled land, in several ways. It has a stable government, a well-developed infrastructure, good health servives and education for both sexes. Neither does it have the serious problems of Yemen and Saudi Arabia with Muslim fundamentalist groups. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, although ousting his father in an undemocratic manner, has done his best at modernising the country, and has so far been quite successfull.
Oman is a relatively large (212,000 sq km) country perching on the south-eastern tip of the Arabian peninsula. On land it borders Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, while the sea that surrounds it is the Arabian Sea. Several cities in the north, including the capital Muscat, look across the Gulf of Oman to Iran. The country holds the Musandam Peninsula, non-contiguous with the country itself, but of strategic importance as it controls the narrow Strait of Hormuz. Madha is the name of another small enclave, midway between the peninsula and the larger part of the country.
Living up to what one would expect from an Arabic country, Oman is a hot, dry land, although the coastal areas can be lush and humid during the monsoon. Average temperatures in the country are around 30º C, but alternate between 25º and 50º depending on season and area. In addition to the inevitable desert which covers over 80% of the country, it also consists of plains, mountain ranges and wadis (dried up riverbeds). The rocks hold many secrets, both minerals, such as gold, copper and chromite, and caves. The Teyq Cave, reportedly 300 million cube metres huge, is one of the biggest caverns in the world. In the ground there is, of course, oil, accounting for the wealth of the country.
The oil in Oman is not as plentiful as in other Arab countries, or as easy to produce, and so the people have had to rely on other industries as well. Of the fossile fuels, the country has recently started exporting natural gas. In order to diversify the economy, the government has also initiated the building of factories producing aluminium, fertiliser and petrochemical products. Mining for copper is another small industry. Oman also tries to attract tourism - it certainly does have some wonderful beaches.
Traditional means of living are alive and well. Fishing is important among all of the long coastline, livestock is raised in the south, and dates, limes, nuts, and vegetables are grown in the north.
Of the 2.7 million people who live in the country, about 500,000 are non-Omanis. Like the other Gulf states, Oman has imported a lot of foreign workers to do work natives can't or won't do. Unlike the countries of the West which have at least tried to integrate their immigrants, the Gulf states have given theirs few rights and planned to send them home as soon as they are replaced by natives. However, as in all the countries, the workers - mainly from India, Pakistan, and Zanzibar - have stayed on. The government is currently running a programme of "Omanisation", trying to get Omanis to take over the foreign-occupied jobs.
Omanis seem more colourful than other people of the area, especially the women, who most decidedly do not wear black. They wear bright dresses decorated with beads, embroidery or printed patterns, and their shawls are even more colourful. Men wear long robes called dishdasha, which are most often white but can also be blue, brown, black or purple. Many men also commonly sport the traditional, curved khanjar knife. This knife is of so great importance to the identity of the country that it's depicted on the national flag.
From the ancient times
The oldest human settlement found in Oman is Wattayah, a stone-age dwelling about 10,000 years old. The climate at that time must have been much more welcoming, allowing for the growth of mangrove swamps, lotus trees, sorghum, and mulberry bushes.
At the Ras Al-Hadd site from the 4th-3rd millennium BC, earthenware from various cultures has been found, suggesting trade going on even then. Some pots are from the culture of Harappa, others from the Sassanid empire, while there are also African items and porcelaine from China. The inhabitants of that are thought to have pioneered the use of bricks to make houses.
A great migration of Arabian peoples took place sometime after the beginning of the common era, or 0 AD, as the interior of the peninsula was hit by a drought. One of the migrating tribes was the Azd from Yemen. Their leader, Malik bin Fahm, went to war against the Persians who ruled Oman at the time. After a fierce struggle, he won dominance over the area.
Oman became Muslim at the time of Muhammad through the willing conversion of its leaders and not through conquest. As an important trade hub, it spread Islam further, to Persia and eastern Africa. A little over half the Omanis belong to the homegrown Ibadhi sect of Islam, but many also belong to the Sunni and Shi'a directions.
The Portuguese, eager for control of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf, invaded and occupied the country in 1508. They were expelled by Sultan bin Saif al-Yarubi in 1650, and the country began its history of independence. The country was led by elected Imams and lived in peace and prosperity until 1718, when Sultan bin Saif II died and a civil war broke out over who would succeed him. The war lasted for 18 years and weakened the country considerably. In 1738, Persian troops arrived in the country and conquered Muscat. In the end the Omanis got their act together and drove the invaders out again, under the leadership of Ahmad bin Said, deputy of Sohar.
Bin Said was now elected ruler and Imam of the country and became a popular leader. His family has ruled the country into our days. Under the Al Bu Saids, the country expanded its power until it held colonies like Zanzibar and Mombasa in East Africa, and controlled much of the coast of Iran and Baluchistan across the Persian Gulf.
Oman is a member of the UN, the WTO, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, but not OPEC. It has had close links with the United Kingdom from the 19th century onwards, to the extent that British forces helped the Sultan quench a rebellion in 1957. This later led to condemnation from the UN. Eventually the oppressive sultan Said bin Timer was overthrown by his own son, who soon afterwards opened the sealed country to the rest of the world, including its neighbours. Before then, Oman had only had diplomatic ties with the UK and India. It was not until 1987, however, that the country was opened for tourism.
Since the 1970s, relations have been strong between the sultanate and the United States. Oman served as a base for troops fighting Iraq in the Gulf War of 1991, and again when US forces made war against terrorism and the Taleban in Afghanistan.
The country's borders are not clearly defined. Its border with Saudi Arabia is disputed, difficulties with Yemen have led to armed clashes, and the two countries only achieved proper relations in 1983.
The current Sultan Qaboos has modernised the ruling system of his country to a certain degree. A new set of basic laws given in 1996 state that citizens have the right to take part in public affairs, something which is not a given in these parts of the world. The Sultan rules with the aid of an elected prime minister and a council. Any new Sultan must a member of the royal family, but must be chosen by the Ruling Family Council.
Horses and horsebreeding have long been an obsession of Omanis, who are said to study the lineage of their stallions as meticulously as they study their own. The Arab horses of Oman have been exported to India and Mauritius, and presented to state overheads like William IV and Queen Victoria.
The government of Oman has long been a protector of the country's varied wildlife, and due to several sanctuaries, species which were threatened by extinction now have a new hope of surviving. Giant sea turtles breed safely on its coast, and coral reefs are well taken care of. Nature reserves on land and strict hunting laws protect the wild goat called tahr, the Arabian oryx, wolf and leopard, the striped hyena, desert foxes, wild cats, and gazelles. Oman acts as a resting place on the migration routes of birds like the golden oriole, nightjar and white stork. The imperial and the greater spotted eagle as well as the sooty falcon also provide amazing sights in the sky.
Oman Ministry of Information