Rising Oman and Expectations from New Sultan Haitham
| Virendra Kumar Gaur, Former IG, BSF - 18 Jan 2020

Late Sultan Qaboos bin Said strengthened Oman's Armed Forces, modernized the state administration, sacked corrupt ministers and introduced social reforms. The insurgency was crushed with the help of forces from friendly countries. Needless to say, Qaboos maintained strong armed forces and equipped them with modern weapons and training. After Sultan Qaboos bin Said's demise, Oman has sworn in Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, former culture minister, as the country's new ruler on January 11. He is the well experienced and visionary leader and expected to lead the nation to new heights.

By Virendra Kumar Gaur

The Yacht of Sultan was parked in the sea bay. It was hardly half a km from our location. At about 11 PM we moved on beautifully laid and profusely lit multi-lane roads to see old Oman. The fort, walls, gateways and several artifacts are well preserved. A floating bridge connected small ship sized yacht. Peace and tranquility had drawn many people. Some strolled while others sat facing yacht. Colorful blooming flowers added to the beauty of the environment.

Little did we know then that Sultan was preparing Togo. That night he died and his 50 years long rule ended. It was a period of revolutionary yet peaceful transition from poverty to affluence.

A backward poor country has what all a modern country can dream of. Its local currency is far stronger than dollar, pound and euro currency. Old-time slum looking colonies, camel and donkeys have been replaced by modern buildings and sophisticated and ultramodern cars and other modes of transport.

Qaboos bin Said al Said ousted his father, Sa'id bin Taimur, in the 1970 coup. The deposed Sultan later died in exile in London. Al Said’s rule also lasted on 10 Jan2020 with his demise due to cancer.

The new Sultan firmly handled the 1975 insurgency inspired by the communists. The country was suffering from endemic disease, illiteracy, and poverty.

One of the new Sultan's first measures was to abolish many of his father's harsh restrictions, which had caused thousands of Omanis to leave the country, and to offer amnesty to opponents of the previous régime. Many returned to Oman. He also abolished slavery.

New Sultan launched a major development program to upgrade educational and health facilities, build a modern infrastructure, and develop the country's natural resources.

Oman has 1000 state schools. Six and a half lakh students are enrolled. Adult literacy is around 86 percent and enrolment at the school level is nearly 98 percent. There are two universities and about a dozen colleges. However, technical education falls well short of the required numbers.

Oil reserves were discovered in 1964 and extraction began in 1967. In 1975 the Dhofar Rebellion, the pro-Soviet forces were pitted against government troops. The rebellion threatened to overthrow the Sultan's rule in Dhofar.

Qaboos strengthened Oman's Armed Forces, modernized the state administration, sacked corrupt ministers and introduced social reforms. The insurgency was crushed with the help of forces from friendly countries. Needless to say Qaboos maintained  strong armed forces and equipped them with modern weapons and training.

Oman's military and security expenditure as a percentage of GDP in 2015 was 16.5 percent, making it the world's highest rate in that year. Oman's on-average military spending as a percentage of GDP between 2016 and 2018 was around 10 percent, while the world's average during the same period was 2.2 percent.

Oman's military manpower stood at about 44,000 in 2006, (army 25,000, navy 4,200 and air force 4,000). The Royal Household maintained 5,000 Guards, 1,000 in Special Forces, 150 sailors in the Royal Yacht fleet, and 250 pilots and ground personnel in the Royal Flight squadrons. Oman also maintains a modestly sized paramilitary force of 4,400 men.

Oman has a limited number of tanks (6 M60A1, 73 M60A3 and 38 Challenger 2 main battle tanks, as well as 37 aging Scorpion light tanks.)

The Royal Air Force of Oman has approximately 4,000 men, 36 combat aircrafts including 20 aging Jaguars, 12 Hawk Mk 203s, 4 Hawk Mk 103s, and 12 PC-9 turboprop trainers.

It has one squadron of 12 F-16C/D aircraft. The Royal Navy of Oman has its headquartered at Seeb and bases at Ahwi, Ghanam Island, Musandam, and Salalah. In 2006, Oman had 10 surface combat vessels. These included two 1,450-ton Qahir class corvettes and 8 ocean-going patrol boats. The Omani Navy had one 2,500-ton Nasr al Bahr class LSL (240 troops, 7 tanks) with a helicopter deck. It was the 23rd largest arms importer from 2012 to 2016

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 too, the Majlis al-Shura, the Consultative Assembly of Oman. 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. 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. They were dispersed by riot police in February 2011. 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. Qaboos died on 10 January 2020.

Away from Muscat

On 14 Jan 2020, we drove 100 km beyond the Muscat town area. A few KM from the town the landscape began to change. The area is dotted with tiny to high hill ranges. Beautiful multilane highways pass through uneven terrain of hills that remain unexplored for their enormous mineral wealth of iron, gypsum, limestone, variety of hard and soft stones. There is plentiful of marble.

For agriculture, there are small farms of dates. Desert flora and fauna of tiny bushes and small trees like Keekar are found all over. The government has done a splendid job of creating an extensive network of roads, power supply, drinking water supply, communication towers, POL-pumps. Highways are smooth where the minimum driving speed of 100 to 120 km per hour is mandatory. There are cameras fixed linked to the internet to monitor speed. There were small and large villages, industries and small date farmhouses but no cultivation. Four five small flocks of goat and sheep on a stretch were the only animal wealth we could see. No cattle, camels or horses were visible. Of course, there were a few stray donkeys. Village dwellings are usually double storied. Beyond Muscat, there were no multistory buildings.

The vast ranges of rising hills are without any habitation. People live in the valley/plains. Villages are small clusters of newly built dwellings. Externally the buildings are painted with a white or cream color.   They are made of steel, cement, and concrete. Almost every village has a small mosque. Village type hats/ markets were conspicuous by absence. Each village has a water and power supply. Road connectivity is good. People don’t seem to rear cattle and camels. The villages gave the appearance of affluence. Many villagers have new cars. You do not notice any tractor, trolley or truck in the villages.

No police patrols the busy highways. The incidence of accidents is mostly negligible. The drivers are well trained, unlike other Asian countries. They minutely observe traffic- rules, wait for fast-moving vehicles at junctions before entering highways. No body blows horn. The drivers automatically give way to speeding vehicles.

30 km before Fins beach black-blue waters of the Arabian Sea appeared close to the highway.  The sea was quiet. Waves were gentle. Sea birds hovered over sea beach, dived and flew away seconds later. High rise mountain chain to the south was devoid of vegetation. People enjoying a holiday on sea beach sat quietly. There was no noise or ear-shattering music. Long sea beach was clean and peaceful.

There is a tourist attraction of Hanlyat Najm (Sink Hole) Park. The sinkhole is a site of a small meteor fall. The fall made a deep hole of around 75mtr radius and nearly 100 ft deep. It has been developed into a green tourist spot. People are allowed to jump and swim in the sinkhole if they wear a life jacket.

There was a notice at the entrance. It read-     

Dear Visitors,

Please dress yourself modestly while roaming the park. Visitors dressed immodestly are prohibited to enter.

Several questions haunted my mind. Since agriculture accounts for only lesser than 2 percent of GDP how does the rural population survive without income from cultivation, dairy farming, poultry, and cattle rearing.

There is no cottage industry, rural area based industry or any other trade how do people make both ends meet. Someone answered. The Sultan provided extensive monetary aid to one and all. Land for building houses by Omanis is provided by the government free. Main government revenue comes from OIL, Gas, and TOURISM. People are contented and happy. The local population does not go for menial jobs, labor or hard fieldwork. They dress, eat, live and survive well. The government has catered for almost all their basic requirements.

After Sultan Qaboos bin Said's demise, Oman has reportedly named Haitham bin Tariq Al Said as the country's new ruler on January 11. Sultan Haitham's announcement came after the authorities reportedly opened a letter by Sultan Qaboos bin Said who wrote the name of his successor. He was the former culture minister and was sworn in as the ruling family council. He is well experienced and visionary leader and expected to lead the nation to new heights.

(The writer Mr. VK Gaur is former IG, BSF and has written more than 50 books on the issues related to Defence, Strategy and Internal security.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Indian Observer Post and Indian Observer Post does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Image credit - Dira International / Twitter / Oman Observer / Outward Bound Oman / Mice Finder / Oman Air

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