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Sultanate of Oman

Saltanat 'Uman

CAPITAL: Muscat (Masqat)

FLAG: The flag is red with a broad stripe of white at the upper fly and green at the lower fly. In the upper left corner, white crossed swords overlay a ceremonial dagger.

ANTHEM: Nashid as-Salaam as-Sutani (Sultan's National Anthem).

MONETARY UNIT: The Omani riyal (ro), established in November 1972, is a paper currency of 1,000 baizas. There are coins of 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 250, and 500 baizas, and notes of 100, 250, and 500 baizas (the last two being replaced by coins) and 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 riyals. ro1 = $2.56410 (or $1 = ro0.39) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system was adopted on 15 November 1974. The imperial and local system also are used.

HOLIDAYS: Accession of the Sultan, 23 July; National Day, 18 November; Sultan's Birthday, 19 November. Movable Muslim religious holidays include 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'Adha', and Milad an-Nabi.

TIME: 4 pm = noon GMT. Solar time also is observed.


The Sultanate of Oman is the second-largest country after Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Peninsula, with an area officially estimated at 212,460 sq km (82,031 sq mi). Comparatively, the area occupied by Oman is slightly smaller than the state of Kansas. Oman's territory includes the tip of the strategically important Ra's Musandam, which juts into the Strait of Hormuz. Oman's part of the peninsula is separated from the rest of the country by the territory of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Oman proper extends 972 km (604 mi) nesw and 513 km (319 mi) senw. It is bordered on the n by the Strait of Hormuz, on the ne by the Gulf of Oman, on the e and s by the Arabian Sea, on the sw by the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), on the w by the Ar-Rub' al-Khali (Empty Quarter) and Saudi Arabia, and on the nw by the United Arab Emirates. The total estimated boundary length is 3,466 km (2,154 mi), of which 2,092 km (1,300 mi) is coastline.


Physically, Oman, except for the Dhofar (Zufar) region, consists of three divisions: a coastal plain, a mountain range, and a plateau. The coastal plain varies in width from 16 km (10 mi) to practically nothing near Muscat, where the hills descend abruptly to the sea. The highest point, Jabal Shams, is at 2,980 meters (9,777 ft) in the Al Jabal range of the north. The plateau has an average height of about 300 m (1,000 ft) and is mostly stony and waterless, extending to the sands of the Ar-Rub' al-Khali. The coastline southward to Dhofar is barren and forbidding. From Salalah, a semicircular fertile plain extends to the foot of a steep line of hills, some 1,500 m (4,920 ft) high, and forms the edge of a stony plateau also extending to the sands of the Empty Quarter.


Annual rainfall in Muscat averages 10 cm (4 in), falling mostly in January. Dhofar is subject to the southwest monsoon, and rainfall up to 64 cm (25 in) has been recorded in the rainy season from late June to October. While the mountain areas receive more plentiful rainfall, some parts of the coast, particularly near the island of Masirah, sometimes receive no rain at all within the course of a year. The climate generally is very hot, with temperatures reaching 54°c (129°f) in the hot season, from May to October.


Desert shrub and desert grass, common to southern Arabia, are found. Vegetation is sparse in the interior plateau, which is largely gravel desert. The greater rainfall in Dhofar and the mountains makes the growth there more luxuriant. Coconut palms grow plentifully in Dhofar and frankincense grows in the hills. Oleander and varieties of acacia abound.

Indigenous mammals include the cheetah, hyena, fox, wolf, and hare. Birds include the Arabian see-see partridge, redleg chukor partridge, and Muscat bee eater. As of 2002, there were at least 56 species of mammals, 109 species of birds, and over 1,200 species of plants throughout the country.


Maintaining an adequate supply of water for agricultural and domestic use is Oman's most pressing environmental problem. The nation has only one cubic kilometer of renewable water resources, with 94% of annual withdrawals used in farming and 2% for industrial activity. Both drought and limited rainfall contribute to shortages in the nation's water supply. The nation's soil has shown increased levels of salinity. Pollution of beaches and other coastal areas by oil tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman is also a persistent problem.

In 2003, about 14% of the total land area was protected, According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 12 types of mammals, 14 species of birds, 4 types of reptiles, 18 species of fish, 1 species of invertebrate, and 6 species of plants. Decrees have been passed to protect endangered species, which include the South Arabian leopard, mountain gazelle, goitered gazelle, Arabian tahr, green sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, and olive turtle. The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The population of Oman in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 2,436,000, which placed it at number 137 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 33% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 128 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 1.8%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 2,984,000. The population density was 12 per sq km (30 per sq mi), with the greatest concentrations around Muscat and on the Batinah coast; together, these two regions have more than half the population.

The UN estimated that 76% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 3.27%. The capital city, Muscat (Masqat), had a population of 638,000 in that year. Salalah is the principal town of the south.


There is frequent movement of workers between Oman and neighboring states. In 2000 there were 682,000 migrants living in Oman, primarily foreign laborers. In 2001, foreigners were nearly 25% of the labor force. Oman declared that, by the end of 2003, cashiers, drivers, security officers, and workers in retail stores and supermarkets must be Omanis. By 2007 restaurants catering mainly to tourists would also be Omanized.

In 2004, there were 7 refugees and 24 asylum seekers. The net migration rate was an estimated 0.31 migrants per 1,000 population in 2005.


The indigenous population is predominantly Arab except on the Batinah coast, where there is significant Baluchi, Iranian, and African representation, and in Muscat and Matrah, where there are Khojas and other Indians, Baluchis, and Pakistanis. Tribal groups are estimated to number over 200.


The official language is Arabic. Urdu, Baluchi, and several Indian dialects are also spoken, especially in the cities of Muscat and Matrah. English is taught as a second language.


The state religion is Islam, with most of the population adhering to the Ibadhi or Sunni sects. Tribes in the north are mainly Sunni Muslims of the Hanbali, Shafai, and Wahhabi rites. A minority of the population is Shia Muslim. There is a small community of Indian Hindu citizens and there is reportedly a very small number of Christians. Non-Muslims, the majority of whom are noncitizen immigrant workers from South Asia, are free to worship at churches and temples, some of which are built on land donated by the Sultan.

The Basic Statute of the State allows for the freedom to practice religious rites as long as these rites do not breach public order. In practice, the government has reserved the right to place some restrictions on non-Muslim faiths. Non-Muslims may not proselytize to Muslims and non-Muslim groups may not publish religious materials within the country. Certain Muslim holidays are celebrated as national holidays.


As of 2002, there were 32,800 km (20,382 mi) of roadways, of which only 9,840 km (6,115 mi) were paved, including 550 km (342 mi) of expressways. A major 800-km (500-mi) highway links Nazwa in the north to Thamarit and Salalah in the Dhofar region. A main coastal road has been laid from Muscat to Suhar, a distance of 240 km (150 mi), and the road from Muscat to Buraymi on the United Arab Emirates border has been completed. In 2003, there were 266,325 passenger cars and 113,370 commercial vehicles registered. There are no railways or waterways in Oman.

In 2004, there were an estimated 136 airports. As of 2005, a total of six had paved runways, and there was also one heliport. Seeb International Airport, 30 km (19 mi) northwest of Muscat, is served by numerous international carriers, including Gulf Air, in which Oman holds a 20% interest. A second modern airport, at Salalah in the south, serves domestic flights. In 2003, about 2.777 million passengers were carried on scheduled international and domestic airline flights.

Mina's Qabus, near Muscat, is the main port in the north, serving international and regional shipping. Port Salalah, 1000 km (621 mi) down the cost from Muscat is the main port for the south. Opened in 1998, Port Salalah is the only port between Europe and Singapore that can accommodate the S-class ships, the world's largest class of container vessel. It is now among the top 20 container ports in the world in terms of handling capacity, and among the top 10 in terms of efficiency. All Omani crude oil is exported from Mina's al-Fahl, west of Matrah. In 2005, Oman had one merchant vessel (a passenger ship) of 1,000 GRT or more, totaling 15,430 GRT.


Oman's history can be traced to very early times. In Genesis 10:2630, the descendants of Joktan are said to have migrated as far as Sephar (now Dhofar). The area was already a commercial and seafaring center in Sumerian times, and Phoenicians probably visited the coastal region. Other groups that probably came to the area in ancient times include the Baida and Ariba, Semitic tribes from northern Arabia, now extinct; the first Himyar dynasty from Yemen, which fell to the Persians in the time of Cyrus, about 550 bc; ancient Greek navigators; and the Parthians (174136 bc).

The entire population was converted to Islam during the lifetime of Muhammad, but Oman soon becameand remains todaythe center of the Ibadhi sect, which maintained that any pious Muslim could become caliph or imam and that the imam should be elected. Omani tribes have elected their imams since the second half of the 8th century.

The first prolonged contact with Europe came in 150708, when the Portuguese overran Muscat. They maintained control until they were driven out with Persian aid in 1649. During the next 75 years, Oman conquered Mombasa, Mogadishu, the island of Zanzibar, and the Portuguese possessions in East Africa. Later it held parts of what are now Iran and Pakistan.

The first sultanate was established in Muscat about 1775. In 1798, Britain concluded its first treaty with Muscat. Sa'id bin Sultan (r.180456) became dependent on British support, and after his death his sons quarreled over his succession (the basic Ibadhi tenet having been rejected). Thus weakened by political division, Muscat lost control of the interior. In 1920, the Treaty of Seeb was signed between the sultan of Muscat and the imam of Oman, acknowledging the autonomy of the imamate of Oman under the sovereignty of the Sultan. From 1920 to 1954 there was comparative peace. On the death of the imam in 1954, Sultan Sa'id bin Taymur moved to succeed him.

That year, Sa'id concluded a new agreement with Petroleum Development (Oman) Ltd., a British-managed oil company that had the oil concession for Oman. By this agreement, the company maintained a small army, the Muscat and Oman Field Force (MOFF), raised and led by the British. In early 1955, it subdued the area up to and including the town of 'Ibri. When British troops took Buraymi, MOFF occupied the rest of Oman and expelled the rebellious new imam. By 1959 when the last of the insurgents supporting the imam were defeated, the sultan voided the office and declared the Treaty of Seeb terminated. The imam, exiled in Saudi Arabia, tried in vain to muster Arab support for his return.

Under the terms of the Anglo-French Declaration of 10 March 1962, the sultanate of Muscat was proclaimed an independent and sovereign state. Certain Arab states charged, however, that the United Kingdom was maintaining a colonial presence in the former imamate of Oman. In 1965 and repeatedly thereafter, the UN called unsuccessfully for the elimination of the British presence. Oman joined the UN late in 1971.

Meanwhile, as early as 1964, a tribal rebellion had been brewing in the Dhofar region. The rebel tribes, organized as the Dhofar Liberation Front and aided by South Yemen, later joined forces with the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arab Gulf. The insurgency was suppressed in 1975 with direct military assistance from Jordan and Iran. A treaty with Yemen defining the border was ratified in 1992.

Qaboos bin Sa'id ousted his father, Sa'id bin Taymur, on 23 July 1970 and has ruled as sultan since that time. He immediately changed the name of the country from Muscat and Oman to the Sultanate of Oman and has presided over an extensive modernization program, easing his father's harsh restrictions and opening the country to the outside world, while preserving political and military ties with the British. Oman has been a proponent of cooperation among the Gulf States. A member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), it has also sought to keep good relations with Iran. Because Oman dominates the Strait of Hormuz, which links the Gulf of Oman with the Persian Gulf, its strategic importance drew it and the United States closer together with the start of the IranIraq war in 1979. Under the terms of a pact signed in 1980, US military personnel and ships have been given access to Omani military and naval bases and are permitted to preposition military material for use in contingencies.

Oman pursues a moderate, independent foreign policy. Unlike most Arab states, it supported the Camp David accords and did not break relations with Egypt following its peace treaty with Israel. Similarly, during the Gulf War, Oman sent forces to Saudi Arabia and granted strategic facilities to the United States, but did not sever diplomatic relations with Iraq during the conflict.

In 1994 reports began appearing of arrests of critics of the Omani government. It was estimated that the Omani government detained nearly 500 such critics with points of view ranging from the Arab nationalist Ba'th movement to Islamists supporting the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood.

Through 1995 Oman was considered as having "graduated" from the ranks of under-developed nations needing World Bank loans. Its ambitious economic goals included a 10-year plan for cultivating tourism and plans to improve its infrastructure, including water desalinization. However, in 1998, the economy was adversely affected when the price of oil dropped below $10 per barrel, a 25-year low. Oman agreed with the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which Oman is not a member, to reduce global oil production by 2.1 million barrels of crude per day until April 2000 in the hope of raising oil prices to $18 per barrel. In October 1999, the Omani oil minister recommended extending oil production cuts beyond the date originally proposed. Meanwhile, Oman has sought to diversify its economic base and ease its dependence on oil. A gas liquefaction plant at Sur was slated for completion in 2000.

As of 1999, Oman held to a middle-of-the-road stance of conciliation and compromise in Middle Eastern politics. In January 1999, Oman's foreign minister met with his counterparts from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen at a closed meeting in Cairo to forge a position on the question of Iraq. Also in 1999, Oman's sultan, Qaboos bin Sa'id, signed an agreement with the president of the United Arab Emirates defining the borders between Oman and the emirate of Abu Dhabi. In October 2001, extensive Omani-British military exercises in the Omani desert coincided with the launch of strikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

During 2002 and into 2003, Oman, along with the other countries of the Persian Gulf, was confronted with the situation of a potential US-led war with Iraq. On 8 November 2002, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441, calling on Iraq to immediately disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and WMD weapons capabilities, to allow the immediate return of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and UN weapons inspectors, and to comply with all previous UN resolutions regarding the country since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. If Iraq was found to be in "material breach" of the resolution, "serious consequences" were to result. The United States and the United Kingdom began amassing troops in the region, and by the end of February 2003, the number of troops in the Persian Gulf was approximately 200,000. As of 1 February, there were 3,600 US military personnel, 100 elite British special forces, and approximately 40 aircraft in Oman. As well, a new airbase was under construction, which would have a 14,000-ft. runway. However, Oman has said it would not act in a conflict with Iraq without UN approval.

Oman's borders with all its neighbors have been demarcated. A 2002 demarcation of the Oman-UAE border was ratified in 2003, including Oman's Musandam Peninsula and Al Madhah exclave, but details were not made public.

At an Arab League summit held at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, on 1 March 2003, sharp divisions between Arab leaders on the Iraq situation emerged, particularly between Libya and Saudi Arabia. However, the leaders issued a declaration expressing "complete rejection of any aggression on Iraq," and called for continuing UN weapons inspections. It also called upon Iraq to disarm itself of WMD and the missiles needed to deliver them. At the summit, some leaders argued war was inevitable and that the countries of the region should prepare for its aftermath; some argued that war could be avoided if Iraq were to comply with weapons inspections; and a third group argued that the summit should issue an unequivocal antiwar declaration.

Since 2000 the Omani government promoted an "Omanisation" campaign to ensure jobs for citizens, to promote self-reliance in human resources, and also to reduce dependence on expatriates. Expatriates with valid work permits in the private sector were replaced or left jobs, over 130,000 between January 2003 and July 2005. This policy also resulted in the massive repatriation of guest workers whose employment visas had expired.

In May 2005 two cargo ferries carrying 1,018 Pakistanis were deported from Oman, some 40,000 Pakistanis having been deported from Oman between 2003 and 2005. In August 2005 undocumented or overstaying Filipinos in Oman were urged to return to the Philippines because of the sultanate's impending crackdown on undesirable foreigners. In October 2005 special arrangements were made for 5,700 Indian overstayers to exit Oman.

In March 2004 the Sultan appointed Oman's first female minister with portfolio and added two more women to the cabinet by year's end. These appointments were a clear indication that the government was leading by example and that the participation of women in national life was a priority. In addition, the most capable people available filled government positions.

In January 2005, nearly 100 suspected Islamists were arrested. Thirty-one Omanis were subsequently convicted of trying to overthrow the government, but were pardoned in June. This group was neither Sunni followers of Osama bin Laden nor Shiites loyal to Iran or Iraq, but preachers, Islamic scholars, university professors and government figures from the Ibadi faith. It is the sect to which Sultan Qaboos and the majority of Omani belong. The dissidents wanted a return to a strict Islamic state, the imamate, contesting the pro-Western policies of the Sultan.

In October 2005, a free trade agreement with the United States was finalized.


Oman's sultan is an absolute monarch. The sultanate has no constitution, legislature, or suffrage, until of late. In 1970, Sultan Qaboos appointed a cabinet of ministers responsible for various government departments and functions.

A state Consultative Council, established in 1981, consisted of 55 appointed representatives of government, the private sector, and regional interests. This body was replaced in 1991 by a Majlis Al-Shura, a 59-seat Consultative Council, which was seen as a first step toward popular participation in government. The Sultan expanded the membership to 80 seats after the country's first national census in 1993. The Council has no formal legislative powers but may question government ministers, and recommend changes to new laws on economic and social policy. These recommendations have led to amendments to proposed decrees.

On 6 November 1996 the Sultan decreed the country's first "basic law" which provides for citizens' basic rights in writing and a body known as the Majlis Oman (Council of Oman) that includes a new Council of State, Majlis Al-Dawla (upper chamber), and the Consultative Council, Majlis al-Shura (lower chamber). In 2000, the Consultative Council was expanded to 83 seats, and members were chosen by the vote of 175,000 government-selected electors. In January 2001, the sultan appointed 53 members of the Majlis Al-Dawla, including 5 women.

In November 2002, the sultan extended voting rights to all citizens over the age of 21, except for members of the military and security forces. Voters in Oman were previously chosen from among tribal leaders, intellectuals, and businessmen. The first elections to the Majlis al-Shura in which all citizens over the age of 21 (except for members of the military and security forces) were entitled to vote were held in October 2003. Members are elected for four-year term; the body has some limited power to propose legislation, but otherwise has only advisory powers. Little change in the political make-up of the lower house resulted from this election. The next Majlis al-Shura elections are scheduled for 2007.


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.


The nation is divided into five regions, three governates (Muscat, Musandam, Dhofar) and 59 wilayats (districts), governed by walis. Most wilayats are small in area, but can vary greatly in population. The walis is appointed by the Minister of Interior and answerable to them. The walis is responsible for local disputes, collecting taxes, and maintaining peace. The governors of Muscat, Musandam, Dhofar are appointed directly by the Sultan and hold Minister of State rank.


Shariah courts based on Islamic law administer justice, with the Central Magistrate Court at Muscat. There are four additional magistrate courts in Suhār, Şūr, Salalah, and Nizwa. Qadis, or religious judges, appointed by the sultan, function within each wilayat. Appeals from the Central Magistrate Court are made to the sultan, who exercises powers of clemency. The Shariah courts, adhering to Islamic law, equate the testimony of one man with that of two women. There is also a security court, rarely used, which handles internal security cases. A commercial dispute may be resolved at the Authority for Settlement of Commercial Disputes.

In 1996, the sultan promulgated a basic law providing for citizens' basic rights. The basic law affirms the independence of the judiciary. There are no jury trials.


Oman's armed forces, including the Royal Household troops, had 41,700 foreign and domestic active personnel in 2005. The Army had 25,000 personnel equipped with 117 main battle tanks, 37 Scorpion light tanks, 145 reconnaissance vehicles, 191 armored personnel carriers, and 233 artillery pieces. The Air Force had 4,100 personnel, and was equipped with 48 combat capable aircraft, including 36 fighter ground attack aircraft, of which 12 were used in a training capacity. The Navy numbered 4,200 active members. Major naval units included two corvettes and eight patrol/coastal combatants. Paramilitary forces consisted of the 4,000man Tribal Home Guard (Firqats) and a police coast guard of 400, which included a small police air wing. The elite Royal Household brigade, naval unit, and air unit numbered 6,400, including 2 special forces regiments. An estimated 2,000 foreigners also served in Oman's armed forces. In 2005 Oman's defense budget totaled $3.02 billion.


On 7 October 1971, Oman gained membership in the United Nations; it belongs to ESCWA and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, ILO, UNESCO, UNIDO, the World Bank, and the WHO. Oman also participates in the WTO, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the Arab Monetary Fund, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), G-77, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Arab League. Oman is a member of the Nonaligned Movement.

In environmental cooperation, is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the London Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Oman's location at the entrance to the Persian Gulf for centuries made it an entrepôt for trade, including a substantial traffic in arms and slaves. Its prosperity declined in the 19th century, when, as a result of Western dominance in Asia, traditional trade patterns and communications routes were radically changed. Oman's economy then became predominantly dependent on agriculture and fishing.

The situation changed with the discovery of oil in 1964. Production began in August 1967, and by the mid-1970s most of the economy revolved around oil. The hydrocarbons sector accounted for 77% of export earnings and government revenues in 2000. Despite diversification efforts, petroleum's share of GDP rose from 37% in 1994 to 38.2% in 1995 to 40% in 1999. In 2000, petroleum's share jumped to 49% of GDP as oil prices rose sharply from near-record lows in early 1999. As of January 2001, Oman's proven oil reserves were 5.5 billion barrels. At the estimated high production level of 959,816 barrels per day in 2001, the reserves would last another 15.7 years. The government's Oman 2020 program looks to a fundamental transformation of the economy by that time. The production of natural gas has become a significant factor of the economy. Gas reserves increased from 9.8 trillion cubic feet in 1990 to 29.3 trillion cubic feet 2001, and government predictions are that this will eventually expanded to some 40 trillion cubic feet in 1999 and are further increasing. Two major extensions of Oman's pipeline connections from gas deposits in the center of the country were completed in August 2002: a pipeline to the north coast at Sohar and a pipeline to the south coast at Salalah. With the recovery of gas prices from in the latter half of 1999, GDP grew at extraordinarily high rates of 15.6% in 1999 and 19.6% in 2000. Inflation was negligible at 0.4% in 1999 and 1.4% in 2000.

In 2004, the GDP growth rate was 0.7%, down from 2.3% in 2003, and 1.9% in 2002; in 2005, the economy expanded by an estimated 1.6%. The inflation rate has been fairly stable, and at 0.3% in 2004 it did not pose any problems to the economy, although it was not ideal for the export sector. The unemployment rate was tagged at 15%, but only a certain layer of society is affected by it. To respond to this problem, the government is trying to replace foreign expatriate workers with local workers. In 2005 work on a new liquefied gas facility progressed, but plans are made to diversify the economy for the days when Oman's natural resources will be exhausted.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Oman's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $40.1 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $13,400. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 1.9%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 0.4%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 2.8% of GDP, industry 40%, and services 57.1%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $39 million or about $15 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.2% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $45 million or about $17 per capita.

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Oman totaled $8.75 billion or about $3,368 per capita based on a GDP of $21.7 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings.

In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 22% of household consumption was spent on food, 25% on fuel, 13% on health care, and 21% on education.


The estimated workforce of Oman was 920,000 in 2002. As of 2000, the services sector accounted for 82.1% of the labor force, with industry accounting for 11.2%, agriculture 6.4%, and the remaining 0.4% in undefined occupations. As of 2004, the country's unemployment rate was estimated at 15%.

Omani law does not provide the right of union formation. The law forbids a strike for any reason. Collective bargaining is not permitted, however there exist labor-management committees in firms with more than 50 workers. These committees are not authorized to discuss conditions of employment, including hours and wages. The Labor Welfare Board provides a venue for grievances.

The minimum working age is 13, but this provision is not enforced against the employment of children in family businesses or on family farms. The minimum wage for nonprofessional workers was $260 per month in 2002. However, many classes of workers (domestic servants, farmers, government employees) are not required to receive the minimum wage and the government is not consistent in its enforcement of the minimum wage law. The private sector workweek is 40 to 45 hours long, while government officials have a 35-hour workweek.


Agriculture contributes only about 3% to GDP, but engages 37% of the economically active population, mostly at a subsistence level. The potential for expanding agriculture in Oman is good. Land use is determined primarily by the availability of water. There is extensive cultivation along the Batinah and Shumailiyah coasts; in the interior, however, cultivation is confined to areas near wadis, where water is taken off by a system of water channels (fallaj). The total area under cultivation is estimated to be about 80,000 hectares (198,000 acres).

The principal agricultural product is the date, at 238,000 tons in 2004. On the Baunah coast, groves containing some 10 million date palm trees form a strip 240-km (150-mi) long and 40-km (25-mi) wide. Fruits grown in Dhofar include bananas, mangoes, and coconuts. Citrus fruits (notably limes), nuts, melons, bananas, coconuts, alfalfa, and tobacco are also grown. Tomatoes, cabbages, eggplant, okra, and cucumbers are important winter crops. Frankincense is traditionally produced from about 8,000 trees growing wild in Dhofar. Along the Batinah coast, a wide variety of produce is grown, including fruits, wheat, rice, and durra. Agricultural exports were valued at $402 million in 2004, while agricultural imports amounted to $1.17 billion that year.


Goats, sheep, donkeys, and camels are widely raised. In 2005 there were 1,070,000 goats, 375,000 sheep, 335,000 head of cattle, 123,000 camels, and 28,500 donkeys. There is a relatively large-scale cattle-raising industry in Dhofar. Total meat production in 2005 was 43,400 tons. Oman estimates that it is 53% self-sufficient in milk production, 46% in beef, 44% in eggs, and 23% in milk. The camels of Oman are famous for their fine riding qualities.


The waters of the Gulf of Oman are rich in sardines, mackerel, shrimp, lobsters, crayfish, tuna, barracudas, groupers, and sharks. The annual catch in 2003 was 138,833 tons, mainly sardines. Fishing employs about 26,000 persons. Investment in onshore processing and refrigeration plants, harbors, and repair yards has facilitated commercial fishing development. Exports of fish products amounted to $79.9 million in 2003. The government subsidizes the cost of boats and engines to promote employment in fishing. Fish stocks and breeding patterns are studied at a research center south of Muscat. In 1996, three new fishing harbors were opened (at Bukha in Musandam, Quriyat, and Shinas), at a combined cost of ro10.3 million and with a capacity for about 1,000 small boats.


Forest coverage is less than 1%. The use of wood as the sole fuel and overgrazing by goats have depleted the forests of Oman, but the interior of the country is fairly well wooded. Oman imported $74.1 million in forest products during 2004.


Petroleum and natural gas dominated Oman's economy. Although large deposits of copper have been discovered northwest of Muscat, with other deposits also discovered at Hajl al-Safiand at Rakah, in Ibri, there was no recorded production of mined copper in 2004. However, an estimated 224,000 metric tons of smelted copper was produced from copper ore imports. In 2003, only 4 kg of gold was produced, down from an estimated 188 kg in 2002 and 603 kg in 2001. There was no recorded gold production in 2004. Nor was there any recorded silver production in 2003 or 2004. In 2000, National Mining Co. of Oman explored for copper, gold, and silver near Sohar, and the Metal Mining Agency of Japan completed exploration for copper and gold in the South Batinaha area. Output of chromium (gross weight) in 2004 was 18,575 metric tons, up from 13,000 metric tons in 2003. Sand and gravel production in 2004 was estimated at 22 million metric tons, unchanged from 2003, while marble output in 2004 totaled an estimated 140,000 metric tons. Oman in 2004 also produced, gypsum, salt, sulfur and hydraulic cement.


Oman's reserves of oil and natural gas are modest in size when compared to other countries in the Middle East. However, the country's importance to the world's oil markets lies in its geographic location overlooking the Strait of Hormuz. Oman is not a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), but is a leader in IPEC, the main independent petroleum exporter's organization.

As of 1 January 2005, Oman's proven oil reserves were estimated at 5.5 billion barrels, most of which are located in its central and northern regions. In 2003, oil production averaged an estimated 784,000 barrels per day, with crude oil accounting for 781,000 barrels per day. In that same year, domestic oil consumption was estimated at 59,000 barrels per day, allowing for net exports of 725,000 barrels per day. Oman's primary customers in 2003 were China, Japan, South Korea, India, Thailand, and Singapore. Oman's crude oil refining capacity, as of 1 January 2005, was estimated at 85,000 barrels per day.

Oman, as of 1 January 2005, had proven natural gas reserves estimated at 29.3 trillion cu ft. In 2002, natural gas production and domestic consumption were estimated at 530 billion cu ft and 231 billion cu ft, respectively.

Although more than 22 million tons of coal deposits have been found in Oman's Wadi Fisaw and Wadi Muswa areas, near the city of Sur, these deposits have yet to be developed commercially.

As of 1 January 2002, Oman's electric power capacity was estimated at 2.4 GW, which in 2002 was entirely dedicated to conventional thermal sources. Electric power output in 2002 was estimated at 9.8 billion kWh. Demand for power in 2002 came to 9.031 billion kWh.


Besides oil, industry in Oman still consists largely of small-scale food-processing enterprises. Many new industries were set up in the 1980s, including a cement plant with an annual capacity of 609,000 tons. In 1995, Oman's cement production totaled 1.4 million tons. The majority of these manufacture nonmetallic mineral products followed by wood and wood products, and fabricated metal products. The Rusail industrial estate had 81 working factories by 1996, with 15 more under construction. The $250 million Salalah Container Port opened in 1998 as a magnet for value-added manufacturing enterprises. Another $250 industrial port in the Sohar on which construction began in 1999 was expected to be operational in 2003. By the latest available estimate, industry comprised 40% of the GDP in 1999.

Industry accounted for 40% of economic output in 2005 (with oil and gas production carrying the lion share), and was bested by services with a 57.1% share. Agriculture continues to be the weakest economic sector, with just a 2.8% share in the GDP. The industrial production growth rate was only 0.9%, indicating that the sector is going through a recession period.


Most research conducted in Oman has been done at the behest of the government; agriculture, minerals, water resources, and marine sciences have drawn the most attention. Sultan Qaboos University, founded in 1985, has colleges of science, medicine, engineering, and agriculture. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 13% of college and university enrollments. The Institute of Health Sciences, under the Ministry of Health, was founded in 1982. Muscat Technical Industrial College, founded in 1984, has departments of computing and mathematics, laboratory science, and electrical, construction, and mechanical engineering. The Oman Natural History Museum, founded in 1983, includes the national herbarium and the national shell collection. All of these organizations are located in Muscat.

Oman's high technology exports in 2002 totaled $36 million, or 2% of the country's manufactured exports. For the period 1990 to 2001, Oman had four researchers for every one million people.


Though oil is the strongest basis for the Omani economy, agriculture and fishing are still very much a part of the traditional lifestyle. Most of the government's development plans are aimed at industry to support greater foreign trade, rather than to provide consumer products for the domestic market. Muscat and Matrah are the primary commercial centers. Much of the business is carried on by long-established and settled Khoja and Hindu merchants, but supermarkets and other larger retail establishments are beginning to take root.

Normal business hours are 8:30 am to 1:30 pm and 4 to 7 pm, SaturdayWednesday; banking hours are generally 8 am to noon, though some banks reopen from 4 to 6 pm. Banks and businesses close at 11:30 am on Thursday and remain closed Friday. Business hours are reduced during the Ramadan fast.

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 10,115.4 6,572.2 3,543.2
Areas nes 8,448.6 8,448.6
United Arab Emirates 468.6 1,417.9 -949.3
Iran 415.5 45.7 369.8
Saudi Arabia 134.1 224.4 -90.3
United States 83.4 409.6 -326.2
United Kingdom 78.0 371.5 -293.5
Jordan 56.6 56.6
Kuwait 41.3 34.8 6.5
Yemen 34.8 34.8
Singapore 30.9 75.6 -44.7
() data not available or not significant.


Oman runs a considerable trade surplus. Since 1967, oil has been the chief export. In 2000 Oman's major export commodities were crude petroleum (80%) and motor vehicles and parts (3.4%). Other exports included tobacco (1.2%) and apparel (1.1%). In 2000 Oman's imports were distributed among the following categories: consumer goods, 18.2%; food, 13.2%; fuels, 1.7%; industrial supplies, 20.2%; machinery, 18.4%; transportation, 25.7%; and other, 2.6%.

In 2005, exports reached $19 billion (FOBFree on Board), while imports grew to $9 billion (FOB). The bulk of exports went to China (29.5%), South Korea (17.5%), Japan (11.5%), Thailand (10.6%), and the UAE (7.2%). Imports included machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, food and live animals, and mainly came from the UAE (21.2%), Japan (16.6%), the United Kingdom (8.4%), Italy (6%), Germany (5.1%), and the United States (4.7%).


Oman's balance of payments account is dominated by crude oil export earnings, consumer and capital goods and services, imports payments, and by large outgoing remittances by foreign workers.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2001 the purchasing power parity of Oman's exports was $10.9 billion while imports totaled $5.4 billion resulting in a trade surplus of $5.5 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Oman had exports of goods totaling $11.1 billion and imports totaling $5.31 billion. The services credit totaled $349 million and debit $1.68 billion.

Exports of goods totaled $13 billion in 2004, up from $12 billion in 2003. Imports grew from $6 billion in 2003, to $8 billion in 2004. The resource balance was consequently positive, but on a downward spiral$6 billion in 2003, and $5 billion in 2004. A similar trend was registered for the current account balance, which deteriorated slightly from $880 million in 2003, to $443 million in 2004. Foreign exchange reserves (excluding gold) grew to almost $3.6 billion in 2004, covering more than five months of imports.


The Central Bank of Oman, set up in April 1975, has powers to regulate credit and is authorized to make temporary advances to the government.

Banks in Oman are generally in good financial shape because of close regulation by the Central Bank of Oman. All commercial banks in the sultanate instructed to raise their paid-up capital to ro10 million for local banks and ro3 million for foreign banks. The Central Bank of Oman advised all banks which were unable to comply with these new requirements to merge with other commercial banks. The Central Bank has been encouraging banks to merge in order to cut down on the oversupply of banking services. Banks are required to maintain a 12% level of capital adequacy and restrict consumer lending to 30% of the loan portfolio. In 2002, there were 15 local and foreign commercial banks and four specialized banks. The largest local bank is Bank Muscat, created through a merger of the former Bank Muscat and the Commercial Bank of Oman. In 2002, it had assets of $3.4 billion, deposits of $2.4 billion, and was followed in size by the National Bank of Oman, Oman International Bank, Oman Arab Bank, and Bank Dhofar Al Omani Al Fransi.

The British Bank of the Middle East (BBME) was the first foreign bank to establish itself in Oman in 1948. Today, foreign banks, in descending order of local branch asset size, include British Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, The British Bank, Bank of Baroda, Bank Saderate Iran, Bank Melli Iran, Banque Banorabe, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, and Citibank. The banking sector has been under pressure to increase its proportion of Omani staff to 90%, but the deadline for such a move has been progressively delayed. Because of the proliferation of branches concentrated in coastal areas, commercial banks now have to open two branches in the interior for every branch opened along the coast. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $1.8 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $6.8 billion.

An Omani stock market, the Muscat Securities Market (MSM), was officially established in 1988, but trading did not begin until the following year. By 2001 there were 91 companies listed on the exchange with a combined capitalization of $2.6 billion. The MSM has now established a link with the Bahrain Stock Exchange (BSE) where shares can be cross-listed. A similar agreement with Kuwait is expected. The MSM Index showed a 25.4% loss in 2001 a mere four years after posting a spectacular 141% gain in 1997. The drop-off has been attributed to speculation, over-valued offerings, the impact of the Asian financial crises, and the drop in oil prices. As of 2004, a total of 96 companies were listed on the MSM, which had a market capitalization of $6.325 billion. In 2004, the MSM 30 Index rose 23.8% from the previous year to 3,375.1.


By 1997, one national insurance firm, the Oman National Insurance Co. (SAOG), and around 17 foreign-owned firms were operating in Oman. In 2003, the value of all direct written insurance premiums totaled $257 million, of which nonlife premiums accounted for $221 million. In 1999 (the latest date for which data was available) Oman's top life insurer was Oman National Insurance Co., which had gross written life insurance premiums totaling $18.3 million. Data was not available for individual nonlife insurers.


Although Oman is a relatively small oil producer, oil revenues support 69% of government expenditures. The government owns 60% of Petroleum Development (Oman) Ltd. (PDO), the main oil company. Higher oil prices in 1997 and a 5% cut in capital spending produced a budget deficit of only $47 million, a substantial improvement over 1996. With the fall in global oil prices in 1998, however, the government's budget fell deeply into deficit, and had to be financed by loans and by drawing down the State General Reserve Fund. In anticipation of still further drops in the price of oil, the government increased a number of taxes and imposed spending cuts of between 5 and 10% on most government ministries.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Oman's central government took in revenues of approximately $14.3 billion and had expenditures of $10.6 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately $3.7 million. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 7.5% of GDP. Total external debt was $4.586 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001, the most recent year for which it had data, budgetary central government revenues were ro2,073,500 and expenditures were ro2,295,100. The value of revenues was us$5,393,000 and expenditures us$5,969,000, based on a official exchange rate for 2001 of us$1 = ro0.3845, as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 13.3%; defense, 35.3%; public order and safety, 5.9%; economic affairs, 9.2%; housing and community amenities, 6.4%; health, 6.6%; recreation, culture, and religion, 1.8%; education, 15.9%; and social protection, 5.6%.


Introduced in 1971, a corporate income tax on commercial enterprises other than individual traders remains the only tax in the country. Resident companies and those resident in countries that are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are subject to a 0% tax rate on their initial ro30,000 of income, and a 12% rate on income over that amount. Foreign company branches are taxed at a rate starting at 0% up to 30% for each of seven income levels. Companies engaged in agriculture, fishing and any other essential activity deemed by the government are exempt from income taxes. Oman has a comprehensive double taxation treaty with France.


General import duties are 5% ad valorem on the CIF (cost, insurance, and freight) value of the good. Some luxury items have a 20% duty, while alcohol, tobacco, limes and pork products have a 100% duty placed on them. There are a number of exempt goods, including many imports from GCC member states. Protective tariffs are levied seasonably on a number of fruits and vegetables.


The principal foreign investment is in the oil sector. Foreign private investment is officially encouraged in certain areassuch as industry, agriculture, and fishingthrough an initial five-year tax exemption, which may be renewed for another five years. Foreign participation in a local company cannot exceed 65% (this also applies to the sharing of profits). Companies holding commercial agencies must also have at least 51% Omani participation. In 2002, the largest foreign investor was Royal Dutch Shell Oil, which holds a 34% of the shares of the state oil company, Petroleum Development Oman, and 30% of Oman Liquid Natural Gas. Other investors in the oil industry include Occidental Petroleum, Hapex, Amoco, and Elf Aquitaine. The Sultanate does not publish estimates of inbound and out-bound investment Foreign investment in the Muscat Securities Market (MSM) has averaged 1516%, but has dropped in absolute terms. In December 1999, foreign investment in the MSM was $867.8 million. A year later this had fallen to $730.5 million, and at the end of May 2001, foreign investment in the SMS was $708.9 million.

No systematic information is available on foreign direct investment (FDI). However, it is known that Oman seeks to diversify its economic base, so it is actively seeking private foreign investors in information technology, tourism, and higher educational fields. In September 2004, total investment in listed Omani companies with foreign participation was estimated at $2.4 billion (with 9% of it being foreign investment).


Oman's economic policy operates under five-year development plans. Oman's second five-year plan (198185) suffered to some extent from the impact of declining oil prices in the early 1980s. The objectives of the third development plan (198690) were to encourage the private sector to play a larger role in the economy and to expand such areas as agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, and mining. The fourth five-year development plan (199195), aimed to achieve average annual GDP growth rates of just over 6% and the diversification of the sources of national income in order to reduce the dependence on the oil sector. The declared aim of the fifth five-year plan (19962000) was to achieve a balanced budget. The fall in oil prices to near-record lows in 1998 subverted the goal of a zero budget deficit in 2000, but rising oil prices in 2000 allowed the government to cut the deficit to only 1.5% of GDP ($301 million) in 2000. Oman's sixth five-year development plan (200105) aims at lessening dependence on government spending and employment, and at making the private the engine of growth for the economy.

The government's long-run development strategy is the Sultan's "Oman Vision 2020," which is designed to see the economy through the depletion of oil reserves. The emphases are on processes of "Omanization," industrialization, and privatization. One of the most successful diversification projects has been the Salalah Container Port opened in November 1998. In 2000, it handled over 500,000 FEUs (40-foot equivalency unit) and ranked among the top 10 container ports in efficiency. A new industrial port is also being built at Sohar, to be operational in 2003. In terms of developing its natural gas potential, the government took a major step n October 2000 with the inauguration of the $2.64 billion liquefied natural gas project in Sur. Other gas development projects include plans for urea fertilizer plant in Sur, an aluminum smelter in Sohar, and petrochemical plant at Salalah. An emphasis on income diversification has opened the country to foreign participation in the form of joint ventures.

The economy has recovered slightly in 2005, as a result of strong domestic demand growth. However, economic expansion rates are expected to be sluggish as long as oil production will not pick up. As soon as oil prices will increase, and imports will decrease, the economy will likely experience a healthy boom.


Oman maintains a social security system that provides old-age pensions, disability and survivorship benefits to employed citizens ages 1559 who are under a permanent work contract. This program is funded by 5% contributions from employees, 2% by the government, and 8% contribution by employers. Retirement is set at age 60 for men and age 55 for women. Work injury legislation provides disability and medical benefits for injured workers. Hospitalization and medical care are provided to workers.

Islamic precepts result in de facto discrimination against women in a number of areas, such as inheritance. Traditional views on the subordinate role of women in society lead most women to work exclusively inside the home. Land grants and housing loans are rarely given to females. Some progress is being made, however, and women have begun to enter professional areas such as medicine and communications in greater numbers. The government has made efforts to increase educational opportunities for women. Women comprise roughly half of the 5,000 students at Sultan Qaboos University, and 50% of the total student body in the public school system. Women are required to get permission from a male relative to leave the country. Domestic abuse remains within the confines of the family, and sexual abuse of domestic employees remains a problem. As of 2004, there were no governmental programs for abused women. The welfare of children is funded adequately by the government.

Human rights abuses include arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention and the mistreatment of prisoners. Human rights organizations are prohibited by law from operating in Oman, and international monitors are unable to inspect prisons.


As of 2004, there were an estimated 126 physicians, 297 nurses, 11 dentists, and 22 pharmacists per 100,000 people. It was estimated that 89% of the population had access to health care services, 39% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 92% had adequate sanitation.

Average life expectancy in 2005 was 73.13 years. Infant mortality that year was 19.51 per 1,000 live births. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 37.8 and 4 per 1,000 people. About 24% of married women (ages 15 to 49) were using contraception. The fertility rate was 4.3 children per woman living through her childbearing years.

Children up to one year old were vaccinated against tuberculosis, 96%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 99%; polio, 99%; measles, 98%; and hepatitis B, 99%. The rates for DPT and measles were, respectively, 86% and 99%. About 12% of children under five were malnourished and goiter was prevalent in 10% of school-age children.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 1,300 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 110 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


In May 1973, Sultan Qabus approved the Law of People's Housing to make housing loans to needy Omanis. By 1985, 5,300 low-income units had been built. At the 1993 census, there was a total of 344,846 housing units nationwide. At the 2003 census, the total was at 430,996 housing units. About 39.7% of all housing units were traditional Arabic houses, 23.6% were villas, 17.3% were apartments, and 4.8% were rural homes. About 13.6% of all housing units were improvised housing. The average household has eight members.

An Arabic house is a one-story, single-family detached structure consisting of several rooms with some type of central courtyard; there is generally a boundary wall surrounding the home. A villa is similar to an Arabic house in structure but contains two floors. Rural houses are also similar in shape to an Arabic house, but often without a specific courtyard or complete boundary wall and generally made of a mixture of local materials such as mud and wood. Improvised housing consists of structures made of wood, hay, palm leaves, or other such materials.

In 2003, about 98.1% of all traditional housing units had access to a public electricity network, 96.8% used gas for cooking, and 43.1% had piped drinking water. about 78.6% of all housing units were occupied. About 85.4% of all traditional units had an equipped kitchen, 91.3% had an equipped bath/shower room, and 88.5% had flush toilets. An equipped room was defined as one that is linked to piped water and a piped sewage system.


Elementary school (primary) covers a six-year course of study, which is followed by three years of preparatory school and three years of general secondary school. Academic results of the preparatory exams determine the type of secondary education the student will receive, either focusing on arts or sciences. Islamic schools offer the same courses as preparatory schools, as well as religious and Arabic studies. At the secondary level, boys may choose to attend a technical school. The academic year runs from September to June.

In 2001, about 5% of children between the ages of four and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 72% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 69% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 73% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 21:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 17:1.

In 1993, there were 252 literacy centers and 176 adult education centers. Three teachers' colleges were functioning as of 1986. The Institute of Agriculture at Nazwa became a full college by 1985. Sultan Qaboos University opened in 1986. In 2001, about 8% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 74.4%, with 82% for men and 65.4% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 4.6% of GDP.


The library at Sultan Qaboos University has 145,000 volumes, and the Muscat Technical and Industrial College has 10,000 volumes. A British Council Library of almost 8,000 volumes was founded in 1973 in Matrah. The Library of Manuscripts and Documents (1976) contains the Sultanate's most extensive collection of rare manuscripts. The Ministry of National Heritage and Culture administers the National Museum, the Oman Museum, the Qurm Museum, and the Natural History Museum, which includes the National Herbarium of Oman (a botanical garden) and the National Shell Collection. An Oil and Gas Museum opened in 1995 to chronicle the history of the industry in the nation. There is also a Children's Museum.


Postal, telephone, and telex systems are supervised by the Ministry of Posts, Telegraphs, and Telephones. By the end of 1991, the entire country was connected to a 79,000-line telephone network. In 2003, there were an estimated 84 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 2,100 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 229 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

Radio and television facilities are government owned; color television was introduced in 1974. Satellite dish owners may receive programming from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. As of 1999 there were 3 AM and 9 FM radio stations and 13 television broadcast stations, all controlled by the government. In 2003, there were an estimated 621 radios and 553 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 35 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 71 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were six secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

Newspapers and journals in Arabic include the daily Al-Wattan (2002 circulation, 32,500) and Oman Daily Newspaper (15,560) and weekly periodicals such as Al-Aquida and Al-Usra. There are two English-language newspapers: Oman Daily Observer (22,000) and Times of Oman (15,000).

A 1984 Press and Publication Law authorizes the state to censor domestic and imported foreign publications. Journalists are said to practice self-censorship to avoid harassment. Criticism of the sultan is explicitly illegal.


There is a Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Muscat. There are some professional associations in the country, including the Oman Medical Association (est. 2001). Among the social and cultural organizations are the Oman Women's Association, the Oman Cultural Club (for university graduates), the Omani National Organization for Scouts and Guides, the National Union of Oman Students, and the Omani Historical Association (open to non-Omanis). There are sports associations representing such pastimes as squash, tennis, rugby, football (soccer), and track and field.


Oman is cautiously developing tourism, which was discouraged by previous rulers. The visa is valid for one month after entry. Most large hotels have clubs that offer various recreational activities; water sports are popular, but spear fishing has been prohibited as a conservation measure.

In 2003, about 630,000 foreign visitors arrived in Oman, of whom 26% came from Europe. There were 6,473 hotel rooms with 9,809 beds and an occupancy rate of 39%. Tourism expenditure receipts totaled $372 million that year. All travelers must have a valid passport and a visa. Visas are issued upon arrival at all entry points and can be used at anytime within six months of the issue date.

The US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Muscat at $240 in 2004.


Oman's great Islamic religious leader, whose followers are called Ibadhis, was 'Abdallah bin Ibad (fl.8th century); many of his teachings are still followed in Oman. Ahmad ibn Sa'id (r.174183), founder of the present dynasty, freed Muscat from Persian rule. Sultan Qabus bin Sa'id (b.1940) has ruled Oman since his removal of Sa'id bin Taymur (191072), his father, in 1970.


Oman has no territories or colonies.


Casey-Vine, Paula. (ed.) Oman in History. London: Immel Publishers, 1995.

Chatty, Dawn. Mobile Pastoralists: Development Planning and Social Change in Oman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Clements, Frank. Oman. (rev. ed.) Santa Barbara, Calif.: Clio, 1994.

Oman and the United Arab Emirates. London: Lonely Planet, 2000.

Rabi, Uzi. The Emergence of States in a Tribal Society: Oman under Sa'id bin Taymur, 19321970. Portland, Ore.: Sussex Academic Press, 2006.

Seddon, David (ed.). A Political and Economic Dictionary of the Middle East. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

Skeet, Ian. Oman: Politics and Development. New York: St. Martin's, 1992.

Stannard, Dorothy. (ed.) Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Singapore: APA Publications, 1998.

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Sultanate of Oman

Saltanat 'Uman



The Sultanate of Oman borders the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, and the Persian Gulf and shares borders with Yemen, the United Arab Emi-rates, and Saudi Arabia. Oman has an area of 212,460 square kilometers (82,030 square miles) and a coastline that totals 2,092 kilometers (1,299 miles). Comparatively, Oman occupies an area slightly smaller than Kansas. Muscat, Oman's capital, is located on the country's northeastern coastline.


In July 2000 the population of Oman was estimated at 2,533,389, of whom 2,006,311 were Omani and 527,078 were non-Omani. Large expatriate communities (communities of foreigners who have left their own country to live and work abroad) are very common in the Gulf countries on account of the oil and services industries. In Oman many unskilled expatriates from Asia are employed to carry out menial jobs, although this community has been declining slowly since 1996. The Omani population increases on average by 2.7 percent a year and, as a result, the country has a very young population.

Some 47 percent of Omanis are under the age of 20 compared to only 4 percent who are over the age of 60. In 2000 the birth rate stood at 38.08 births per 1,000 population, while the death rate stood at 4.16 per 1,000. With a projected annual population growth rate of 3.46 percent, the population is expected to reach 3,848,217 by the year 2015.

The majority of the Omani population is Sunni Muslim, but a substantial number of peopleincluding the ruling familyfollow Ibahism, an offshoot of Shia Islam. Given Oman's long trading history, its population is a mixture of different races and even one of its most prominent mercantile families is of Hindu descent. Oman was a hub for the slave trade in the 18th and 19th century and although this practice was abolished in the 20th century, many continue to work for the families that previously owned their ancestors.

Employment in Oman is largely dependent on nationality. In the public sector , Omanis held 70 percent of the jobs in 1999, while in the private sector which contains most of the lower-paying jobs90 percent of the employees were from foreign countries. Rising unemployment in Oman has forced the government to realize that it can no longer pursue its policy of guaranteeing jobs to young Omanis entering the labor market and it is now focusing on increasing employment opportunities for Omanis in the private sector. Oman has seen a dramatic migration of people to the cities in search of better jobs; the largest proportion of the population is found in the capital city Muscat and in the larger northern towns of Suhar, Nizwa, and Sur.


Historically, Oman has been a gateway for trade between Asia and the Middle East. Its capital, Muscat, is the country's most developed city as well as the center of economic activity, thanks to its coastal location. The strategic Musandam peninsula gives Oman control over the land adjacent to the vital Strait of Hormuz, through which a majority of the world's oil passes. Oil is the most important factor in the Omani economy and it is the oil industry that is the catalyst for growth in gross domestic product (GDP). GDP growth averaged 4.4 percent between 1993 and 1996, reached 6.2 percent in 1997, and fell to 2.9 percent in 1998 due to the crash in global oil prices. Crude oil has accounted for over 30 percent of Oman's GDP since 1980. Oman differs from other Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emi-rates in that its reserves of oil are difficult to extract from the ground, limited in quantity, and predicted to run out in 17 years. Given that the oil industry is not labor intensive, the population in the Sultanate is growing rapidly, and the public sector is over-staffed, there is a serious unemployment problem in the country. However, the government has never released any unemployment statistics and no credible estimates have been made since 1995 due to international skepticism about the official population figures.

Oman is a free market economy, but the government is at present the most important factor in the economy, both as an employer and as a purchaser of goods and services. The Omani economy has been growing steadily over the last 25 years and considerable development has taken place. However, with the fluctuations in the global price of oil, an oil industry that will soon be negligible, massive investments made in infrastructure , and hence shrinking foreign exchange reserves , there is a pressing need to diversify the economy. It is especially important to expand the sources of export earnings as well as to provide jobs for a growing population. These 2 goals form the basis of Oman's policy initiatives. The government has encouraged private domestic and foreign investors to take the lead in promoting these initiatives, and a period of structural transformation from primary to manufactured exports has begun. In the late 1980s the government's commitment to economic diversification coincided with the discovery of abundant natural gas and since this time, drilling sites for both gas and oil are to be found all over the country. The Omani government has announced that it intends to implement a 5-year plan (2001-2006) in order to address these important challenges. In addition, policymakers will also have to focus on Oman's membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). This will expose the country to even more foreign competition.

Political parties in Oman are not legal, but the major trading families who control the bulk of the country's trade and industry are very powerful groups and are represented in the government. In 1998 Oman received US$509,100,000 in official development assistance, the largest portion of which came from the United Kingdom, a country with which Oman enjoys strong ties. Oman also has a good relationship with the European Union and much improved relations with the United States; its main trading partners are Japan and China. The economy's main exports are oil, live animals, animal products, textiles, base metals, and mineral products. Before the discovery of oil in the 1960s, the Omani economy was dependent on agriculture, however, in 1999 this sector accounted for 2 percent of GDP due to the lack of water supply. Nevertheless, it still employs a large number of people along the northern coast and in the south.


Oman has been ruled by the Royal Al Bu Sa'id family since the 18th century. Political parties are not allowed in the country and there are no directly elected representatives. The current sultan, Qaboos Bin Sa'id Al Sa'id, overthrew his father in a palace coup in 1970 and seized the throne. Although the family has traditionally ruled over all state affairs, the new sultan has been careful to balance tribal, ethnic, and regional interests and as a result he has placed several tribal leaders in the government. In 1991 the sultan established the 59-seat Consultative Council, or Majlis Ash-Shura, to act as a consultative body, thus allowing a limited form of political expression. The government selects council members from lists of nominees proposed by each of the 59 wilayats (regions). Nevertheless, the country is an absolute hereditary monarchy and the sultan still rules by royal decree. He can appoint and fire all council ministers as well as ministers in the defense department, the department of foreign affairs, and the department of finance.

Oman did not have a constitution until 1996, when the sultan promulgated (proclaimed) the "Basic Law" by decree. This basic law clarifies the royal succession, provides for a prime minister, bars ministers from holding interests in companies doing business with the government, establishes a bicameral legislature, and guarantees basic civil liberties for Omani citizens. The legislature has no power to overturn the sultan's wishes. Its role has been purposefully ill-defined so as to render it a fairly ineffective body. The state promises to provide health care and education for all citizens as well as maintain security through the use of the army. Basic freedoms such as freedom of the press are touched upon, however, they are not clearly defined and are still very restricted. The Omani legal system is based both on English common law and Islamic law. The ultimate authority in law remains the sultan and he has not yet accepted compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (this institution has its seat in The Hague and is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations).

The major source of government revenue does not come from taxation but from oil revenues. The only direct taxes in Oman are income tax (which ranges from 15 to 45 percent) and some regional taxes; the only indirect tax is customs duty . There are 5 percent taxes on hotel and restaurant bills, a 2 percent tax on electricity bills exceeding OR50. Oman makes no distinction between resident and non-resident companies. If a company has income from Oman that requires occasional visits to the Sultanate, the income will be considered taxable. Tax rates on non-petroleum, foreign-owned firms were lowered in October 1996 for all except those firms with greater than 90 percent foreign ownership. The nature of the relationship between the petroleum companies and the government will often govern taxation and royalties on petroleum producers. Labor law and the Oman tax law also affects a foreigner's ability to do business in Oman. There is no complete body of regulations codifying these laws and many government decisions are made on an ad hoc basis.


Due to the large-scale program of road construction carried out by the Ministry of Communications over the past 3 decades, there are now approximately 6,000 kilometers (3,720 miles) of paved roads and 24,000 kilometers (14,880 miles) of unpaved roads in Oman. In 1970 there were only 10 kilometers (6 miles) of paved roads and about 1,700 kilometers (1,054 miles) of unpaved road in the entire country. The number of licensed automobiles on the road increased from 261,627 in 1992 to 404,375 in 1998 and this increase in traffic also led to an increase in the number of road deaths from 218 in 1992 to 478 in 1998. Oman does not have a rail system.

The country's main airport, Muscat Seeb International, has a capacity of 1.3 million passengers. The

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Oman 29 598 595 0 43 2.7 21 2.87 50
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Saudi Arabia 57 321 262 N/A 31 N/A 49.6 1.17 300
Yemen 15 64 29 N/A 1 N/A 1.2 0.02 10
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

airport has been fully modernized and boasts duty-free shopping areas, impressive lounges, and large transit areas. The main runway has been extended to 3,585 meters (11,760 feet) and the passenger terminals have been expanded to handle 3,000 passengers an hour. In 1995 the total number of passengers passing through Seeb International airport amounted to 2,176,033. Salalah, the country's second airport, which was built initially as a military installation, began operating a passenger terminal in 1986 and the main runway was extended in 1992. Oman now has 6 civil airports in total at Seeb, Salalah, Sur, Masirah, Khasab, and Diba in Musandam. The country's main port is Mina Sultan Qaboos, which was completed in 1974 with a capacity to handle 2.2 million tons annually. Many improvements have since been made, including dredging the harbor entrance to a depth of 13 meters (42 feet). The second-largest port is called Mina Raysut and it is this port that serves Salalah and the Governorate of Dhofar. The construction of a third port in Suhar started in 1999 and the project is expected to cost US$250 million.

Electrical power in Oman is supplied both by the public sector and by the private sector. In 1999 the total national production amounted to 5.2 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) with consumption reaching 4.9 billion kWh. In 1999 there were 31 power stations with a total installed capacity of 1,662 megawatts. The government-owned General Telecommunications Organization (GTO) was established in 1980 and was responsible for setting up the modern telephone system throughout the country. Thirty years ago there were only 500 lines in and around the capital and international telephone calls could be made only through radio channels. As of 1998, all the telephone exchanges became digital and one can now telephone all over the world. Oman has an overall telephone capacity of 420,000 lines, both fixed and mobile, and given the widespread use of the telephone, it is estimated that Oman will need about 500,000 telephone lines by the year 2020, which will require massive investment.


The Omani economy is a diverse one with services contributing 57 percent of GDP and industry contributing approximately 40 percent. However, over the past 40 years there has been a major shift in the structure of the economy. In the 1950s and 1960s, when the oil fields had not yet been discovered, the agricultural sector drove the economy. This sector has diminished in importance since the early 1970s, representing only 3 percent of GDP in 1999, whereas the export of oil and petroleum-related products and the manufacturing of goods such as textiles has increased. The sector's output is heavily dependent upon the weather, and accurate figures on employment in agriculture remain unknown.


Prior to the discovery of oil in the 1960s, the agricultural sector was central in the Omani economy. However, in 1999 the sector contributed only 3 percent to GDP and was heavily subsidized by the government. Oman is not self-sufficient in food and in 1995 the country spent US$572 million on food and live animals. This figure rose to US$650 million in 1999. There are efforts underway to develop self-sufficiency in staple foods. The main crops grown in Oman are tomatoes, eggplant, dates, bananas, limes, and carrots. The principal agricultural area is found along the Batinah coast, in the northeast between Muscat and Diba al-Hisn, which accounts for about half the total crop area of approximately 101,000 acres. In the south, agriculture is centered on a small coastal plain that is fed by monsoon rain coming from the Indian Ocean. In spite of its small contribution to GDP, the agricultural sector is still a major employer. In 1994, the World Bank estimated that over half the Omani labor force was working in the agricultural sector. The Omani government reports that a total of 140,000 people are employed permanently in this sector and that 47,000 of these people are unpaid family workers. Agricultural employees are primarily of Omani descent.

Oman is famed for producing very high quality agricultural goods and the highest quality products are usually exported to the neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. (On 26 May 1981 an agreement was signed between the 6 conservative monarchies of the Gulf: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar to coordinate their economic, political, cultural, and security policy.) However, the agricultural farm is threatened by many problems, including outdated technology and an increase in the salinity of the water. The government has responded to these issues by investing more into the sector. Its goal is to obtain self-sufficiency in food production by improving agricultural conditions. In working to make the agricultural sector internationally competitive, the government has introduced incentives for foreign investors. These exemptions include tax reductions, utilities discounts, loans, and tariff protection. The government has also helped Omani firms in exporting their products.


With 2,092 kilometers (1,297 miles) of coastline running from the mouth of the Gulf in the north to the border with Yemen in the south, Oman has very rich fishing potential which has yet to be fully developed. There is a 200-mile exclusive economic zone which extends from Oman out to sea and over 150 species of fish and crustaceans have been identified in Omani waters ranging from tuna and crayfish to lobster and shrimp. Large amounts of lobsters are caught off the Masirah islands and off the coast of Dhofar, and they are exported to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates where they are in great demand. In 1998, approximately 26,940 Omanis were employed in the fishing industry and a total of 116,780 tons of fish were caught. The number of fish caught per annum has been slowly declining over the past 20 years due to pollution and the depletion of fish stocks. In response to this, the Omani government has put restrictions on the amount of fish catches. Lobster may now be harvested only twice a year. The annual fish catch remains at over 100,000 tons per year, and efforts to produce value-added , manufactured fish products are underway. Processing and packaging for export are key concerns, as is the use of better technology at sea.


Oman's position in a semi-arid climatic zone results in the serious problem of water scarcity. The government has been pursuing programs of improved water efficiency and water resource development and some far-reaching legislation has been passed through the government. In 1999 there were 48 dams all over the country that collect rainwater as well as a major project underway to decrease water consumption through the use of water-saving devices on taps. The government has also initiated a plan for the supply of water to Muscat up until 2010 that involves extending the existing pipelines. Two additional reservoirs have been built around Muscat at a cost of US$3 million.



Similar to many of the Gulf countries, the Omani industrial sector makes up a large proportion of GDP, accounting for 40 percent of it in 1999. However, Oman is not a typical Persian Gulf oil producer due to its small, scattered oil fields and, as a result, production costs are much higher per barrel than those in other GCC countries. The average Omani oil field produces one-tenth the volume per well that Saudi Arabia or Iran produce. Oil was not discovered in commercial amounts until 1962, much later than most oil-producing Gulf states. Oman is not a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). (OPEC is an international organization of 11 developing countries which are heavily reliant on oil revenues as their main source of income. The current members are Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.) However, in the past Oman has cut production in co-operation with OPEC in an attempt to raise prices. Oman's oil production has wavered between 910,000 barrels a day (b/d) and 890,000 b/d since April 1999. The Omani government has announced a new 5-year plan which is to run from 2001 to 2005 and which aims to increase production to 1 million b/d. The bulk of Oman's 5.28 billion barrels in proven reserves is situated in the north and in the center of the country. In the north the largest fields are Yibal, Natih, Fahud, al-Huwaisah, and Lekhwair. The largest field is Yibal, producing 180,000 b/d and, together, these fields produce half of the total Omani oil production. The crude oil produced in the north is mainly light or medium crude and is found alongside natural gas. The oil fields further south tend to produce heavier crude and are usually not associated with natural gas.

With oil reserves amounting to 5.28 billion barrels, Oman has a further 17-year supply of oil if it continues to produce at 910,000 b/d. Since the discovery of oil, the oil and gas industry has been the catalyst of growth for the Omani economy, contributing approximately 37 percent to GDP each year and as much as 55 percent of GDP up until the early 1980s. In addition, oil provides 75.3 percent of state revenues. The oil industry is largely run by Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) which has a government majority ownership. PDO controls 90 percent of the country's output. Shell owns 34 percent of the company and operates the majority of Oman's large fields. In 1999, Oman exported 95.8 million barrels of oil to Japan, 65.6 million barrels to Thailand, 55.9 million barrels to South Korea, and 39.4 million barrels to China.


The gas sector in Oman is considered to be the cornerstone of the government's economic growth strategy and great efforts have been made to turn natural gas into a thriving export industry. There are abundant gas reserves in Oman and 1999 estimates put the proven reserves at 29.28 trillion cubic feet (tcf). The government has projected that by the year 2002 natural gas will contribute 15 percent of GDP. Most of the gas reserves are located in areas that are controlled by PDO. Oman has entered into a number of projects with overseas companies such as Gulfstream resources of Canada and Neste Oy of Finland to develop, explore, and produce natural gas in the northern part of the country.


Following the discovery of large gas deposits, attention moved away from the manufacturing industry and in 1999, manufacturing contributed 5 percent to GDP. Most of the country's industrial enterprises are involved in light industry. Existing companies manufacture soft drinks, textiles, perfume, and cement. The sector grew by 3 percent between 1994 and 1998, but it relies heavily on skilled expatriate labor and therefore does not contribute much to the creation of local jobs.



Evidence of Oman's rich cultural and architectural heritage can be seen in its hundreds of historic sites and its many beautiful beaches. The country's varied geography and range of climatic conditions give it enormous potential in the tourism industry, a sector which is still very undeveloped. Given Oman's current unemployment problem, combined with the thousands of young Omanis entering the workforce every year, the expansion of the tourism sector could create much-needed jobs. The government initiated a 15-year tourism plan in 1990, easing visa restrictions in order to open up the country to more tourists, and very quickly the number of visitors rose from 290,000 in 1994 to 503,000 in 1999.

In 2000, tourism represented less than 1 percent of GDP even though there was an 11 percent increase in the number of visitors between 1988 and 1992. In 1994 there were only 37 hotels in Oman and in 2000 there were 89. The government has made an attempt to attract visitors from the Gulf region, signing an agreement with Dubai whereby nationals of both countries can easily obtain visas. However, the government's plan is to attract affluent European visitors to the country who are happy to take supervised coach tours instead of exploring the country on their own. Government concerns about local sensitivities as well as the continuing high tax on alcohol serve as major constraints to the growth of this potentially lucrative industry.


The Omani government has made serious attempts to ensure the stability of the banking sector and in 2000 there were 16 commercial banks in the country, of which 9 were branches of foreign banks. In addition to the commercial banks, the government has set up 2 credit institutions that provide small loans for Omani citizens. The Omani Housing Bank provides loans to finance the construction of homes and the Oman Development Bank provides general microcredit . The Central Bank of Oman places restrictions on the amount of foreign exchange that banks are allowed to lend and invest and in addition sets the total amount of capital to be held by local banks at US$26 million and by foreign banks at US$9 million.

Oman's stock exchange was established in 1989 and is called the Muscat Securities Market (MSM). There are over 100 banks and companies listed on the exchange with a current capitalization of over US$2 billion. In 1999 Oman was included in the International Finance Corporation's emerging market index and the government has made concerted efforts to make the stock market more transparent and more regulated. Electronic trading was introduced in 1999 as well as a regulatory agency called the Capital Markets Authority (CMA).


In 1999, Oman's exports amounted to US$7.2 billion and its imports were valued at US$5.4 billion. The country's principal export is oil and in 1999 the commodity accounted for 76 percent of all exports. In the 1980s, however, oil accounted for over 90 percent but its share has declined due to the falling price of crude oil. The second major export in Oman is re-exports which totaled US$1.3 billion in 1999. Given that the Omani economy is not very diversified, the smallest proportion of exports is non-oil exports such as foodstuffs and animal products. These accounted for 35 percent of total non-oil Omani exports in 1999. In 1999 the principle importer of Omani crude oil was Japan. Japan imported a total of 95.8 million barrels followed by Thailand, which imported 65.6 million barrels.

Oman has slowly increased its production of crude oil and as a result the country has enjoyed trade surpluses throughout the last decade even though it has increased its imports. Nevertheless, the size of these surpluses varies considerably from year to year due to the world prices of crude oil. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 the price of oil increased substantially and that year Oman's trade surplus amounted to US$2.9 billion. However, when world oil prices fell drastically in 1998, Oman's surplus fell to just US$291 million. In 1993 the

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Oman
Exports Imports
1975 1.044 .765
1980 2.386 1.732
1985 4.705 3.153
1990 5.508 2.681
1995 5.962 4.248
1998 N/A 5.682
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

surplus stood at US$1.3 billion and in 1996 the rise in the price of crude oil pushed it up to US$3 billion.

Over the past 30 years, Oman has come to rely more and more on imports because it has a very small industrial sector and an agricultural sector that is unable to meet the demand for the variety and quantity of food that the middle-and upper-class Omanis desire. Imports of food amounted to 14 percent of the total value of imports in 1999. The bulk of imports come from the United Arab Emirates and Japan, representing 26.3 percent and 15.8 percent of all imports, respectively. Major Omani imports include food and live animals, beverages and tobacco, crude materials, and minerals. In 1999, Oman's imports totaled US$4.67 billion. Oman's main trading partners are Japan, China, Thailand, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

In October 2000 the General Council of the World Trade Organization approved Omani membership and in November Oman became the 139th member. Prior to its accession, Oman had to make several changes in order to conform to WTO's membership rules. Not only did the authorities have to agree upon a custom duty ceiling, allow foreign firms with under 70 percent foreign ownership to be taxed the same rates as Omani firms, but also it had to establish intellectual property rights. The consequence of this new membership will open up the Omani markets further and expose local companies to increased competition. By 2003, Oman is required to allow fully foreign-owned computer companies, banks, and insurance companies to operate within the country.


Due to the small size of the Omani economy, the country's monetary policy is quite straightforward. The goal of the Omani Central Bank is to maintain a stable riyal so that the economy can function competitively abroad. The riyal has been pegged to the dollar since 1973. In 1986 the riyal was devalued by 10.2 percent and since then it has been stable at about US$2.60 to 1 riyal.

Exchange rates: Oman
Omani riyals per US$1
2001 0.3845
2000 0.3845
1999 0.3845
1998 0.3845
1997 0.3845
1996 0.3845
Note: Currency rates have been fixed since 1986.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

All the money flowing into the economy is regulated by the Central Bank of Oman. The central bank also regulates the commercial banks through a variety of measures.


In 1970 Oman initiated a comprehensive sustainable development program and it was among one of the first developing countries to place a real emphasis on the social sector. The program was called Oman 2020 and, since its inception, it has achieved some of the fastest-ever recorded growth in the history of human development. In 1970 there was no formal education system in place apart from 3 primary schools in Muscat that had a maximum capacity of 900 boys. By the end of 1994, 920 schools had opened all over the country and approximately 450,000 students were enrolled in formal education of whom about 50 percent were girls. In 1999, 70 percent of all Omani children attended primary school. In addition to the improvements in education, there have been far-reaching improvements in life expectancy and infant mortality. Life expectancy has increased by 24 years from 47 in 1970 to 71 in 1997, and infant mortality has been reduced 10 times over from more than 215 per 1,000 live births to less than 18 in 1997.

Before the development program began, there were many health problems that were prevalent in Oman due to the poverty and the lack of education. One of the most serious diseases that afflicted more than half of all Omani school children was trachoma, a disease that leads to blindness. This disease is spread through the bite of a blackfly, which breeds in fast-flowing rivers and streams. When the fly bites, it deposits the larvae of a parasitic worm which moves rapidly through the body, causing severe eyesight damage and possible blindness when it enters the eyes. This disease has now been totally wiped out. Additional gains in social and health conditions have led to improvements in the sanitation system; almost three-quarters of all houses have clean running water and toilets that flush. The vast majority of homes have electric light, electricity, and gas with which to cook. The government provides pensions for the elderly and the disabled as well as widows, orphans,

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Oman 3,516 3,509 5,607 5,581 N/A
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Saudi Arabia 9,658 11,553 7,437 7,100 6,516
Yemen N/A N/A N/A 266 254
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Oman 22 8 25 13 21 5 7
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Saudi Arabia N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Yemen 25 5 26 3 5 5 31
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

and divorced women. This massive investment in human capital was made possible by the revenues that the state collected from the oil industry. Without this income it is unlikely that Oman would have made such ground-breaking progress in achieving better standards of living for a large part of its population.

Although Oman serves as a good example for other less-developed countries, there is still much room for improvement due to the high income inequality. The female literacy rate is still less than half that of the male literacy rate, and the total fertility rate (the number of children the average woman will have in her lifetime) is 6.9, one of the highest in the world.


Oman is heavily dependent on expatriate labor with an expatriate community of 527,078 and a total labor force of 650,000. Expatriate workers send large amounts of their wages back home, and in 1997 these earnings amounted to US$1.5 billion or 9.5 percent of GDP. Foreign labor mostly comes from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and in most cases these expatriates perform menial and physical jobs. In some cases they have managerial jobs. There are an estimated 30,000 young Omanis entering the workforce every year, and the government has realized that it can no longer provide jobs for the entire workforce. To this end, it has been pursuing a policy of "Omanization" whereby expatriate labor is slowly replaced by Omani labor. Foreigners are not allowed to work in agriculture or public relations, nor are they allowed to be Arabic typists, guards, or technical assistants unless the employer can show that no Omanis are capable of filling the position. Taxi drivers and fishermen must be Omani. In 1994 Oman joined the International Labor Organization (ILO). (This is a UN agency that seeks the promotion of social justice and human and labor rights.) As a consequence, Oman must follow international standards covering a wide range of issues in the world of work, including certain basic human rights, the abolition of forced labor, the elimination of discrimination in employment, the employment of women, and the employment of children.

Oman's labor code lays out basic workers' rights and in 1998 the minimum wage was raised by the government and set at US$260 (100 riyals) per month plus US$52 (20 riyals) for transport costs and housing costs. However, the minimum wage does not apply to all occupations such as small businesses that employ fewer than 5 people, domestic servants, dependent family members working in a family business, and some manual labor jobs. The government has been reluctant to enforce the minimum wage for foreign workers employed in menial jobs. In contrast, the foreign workers who are highly skilled and in managerial positions are often paid much more than their Omani counterparts. The working week is 5 days in the public sector and 5 and a half days in the private sector. Non-Omanis working in construction, retail , in the personal service outlets, or in the petroleum fields usually work a 7-day week.

Foreign men and women employed in manual labor or as domestic servants have made official complaints in the past about employers withholding salaries and inhumane treatment. In many cases the government has been unhelpful or undertaken investigative procedures that have been detrimental to the employee concerned, which clearly goes directly against the principles of the International Labor Organization. Employers who mistreat their foreign domestic servants are not always held accountable for their actions and several foreign women working in Oman have been forced to contact their governments' embassies to seek shelter and escape from abuse.


1921. Treaty of Sib is signed, which marks the British takeover of the government of Oman. A council of Ministers governs with British advisers and the British take control of customs revenue. Also during this time, new Western strategic interests develop in Oman in the form of air routes and oil prospecting.

1951. British recognize Oman as an independent state.

1962. Oil is discovered.

1967. Oil production starts.

1970. Sultan Sa'id is overthrown by his own son, Qa-boos Bin Sa'id, in a palace coup. Sultan Qaboos liberalizes the political system, and starts many development projects. Oman is plagued by civil war.

1980. Military agreement signed with the United States which reflects the Western strategic interest in Oman for the planning of rapid deployment force capabilities to secure Western access to gulf oil.

1981. Oman forms the Gulf Cooperation. This agreement is signed between the 6 conservative monarchies of the Gulf: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emi-rates, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar to coordinate their economic, political, cultural, and security policy.

1991. Sultan Qaboos expands and restructures Oman's consultative council.

1994. Oman joins the International Labor Organization (ILO).

1999. Oman is included in the International Finance Corporation's emerging market index. Electronic trading is introduced.

2000. Oman becomes a member of the World Trade Organization.


Oman looks to the future with both pessimism and optimism. The pessimism comes from the certainty that the country's major source of revenueoilwill run out before the year 2020. Oil accounted for the great majority of Oman's exports and GDP ever since it was discovered in the early 1960s. The oil boom had a widespread impact on the economy: it allowed Oman to provide jobs for many of its people in the public sector, it allowed the country to import labor to perform the least wanted jobs in the economy, and it allowed Oman to avoid developing other industries. With the coming decline of the oil economy, Oman must seek alternative means for economic development.

Fortunately, Oman's government has taken a number of steps to ease the country into new economic patterns. The government plans to develop the production of its natural gas and other non-oil energy-based industries. Its 4 previous 5-year plans have been successful and the current 5-year plan focuses on the private sector as the catalyst for non-petroleum economic growth. The government is moving ahead with privatization of its utilities, the development of a body of commercial law to facilitate foreign investment, and increased budgetary outlays. However, Oman will have to continue to liberalize its markets in conjunction with its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Managing the transition from an oil-based to a more diversified economy will not be easy. Even though Oman has a reputation for stability and cooperation, the country's future success is likely to depend on the wisdom and political will of the country's leaders.


Oman has no territories or colonies.


Chatty, Dawn. Mobile Pastoralists: Development Planning and Social Change in Oman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Oman, 2000. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000.

International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999. Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, 1999.

Skeet, Ian. Oman: Politics and Development. London: Macmillan, 1992.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000: Oman. <>. Accessed February 2001.

U.S Department of State. FY 2000 Country Commercial Guide: Oman. < guides/2000/nea/index.html>. Accessed February 2001.

World Bank. World Development Report 2000/2001: Attacking Poverty. <>. Accessed February 2001.

Salamander Davoudi




Omani riyal (OR). One OR equals 1,000 baiza. Coins are in denominations of 500, 250, 200, 100, 50, 25, 10, and 5 baiza. Paper currency comes in denominations of OR50, 20, 10, 5, and 1, as well as 500, 250, 200, and 100 baiza.


Petroleum, re-exports, fish, metals, and textiles.


Machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, food, livestock, and lubricants.


US$19.6 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$7.63 billion (f.o.b., 1997 est.). Imports: US$5.682 billion (f.o.b., 1997 est.).

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Sultanate of Oman

Major City:

Other Cities:
Matrah, Salālah


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated July 1994. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


OMAN , known as Muscat and Oman before 1970, was once the most powerful of all the Arabian states. At the beginning of the 19th century, it controlled Zanzibar and much of the coast of Persia and Baluchistan, and it was only in 1958 that the last of its vast holdings, the town of Gwadar, was ceded to Pakistan. It does, however, maintain control of the Strait of Hormuz, through which flows much of the oil for the West.

The early history of Oman is obscure, but it is known that it was one of the first countries converted to Islam by Amir ibn al-As in the seventh century, during the lifetime of Mohammed (or Muhammad). In 1508, the Portuguese conquered parts of Oman's coastal region, and that country's influence dominated the sultanate for more than a century (with a short interruption of Turkish seizure). Oman today is an absolute monarchy, which has survived periods of insurgency and tribal revolt, and which is intent on developing its economy and upgrading its social and educational standards. It maintains close relations with Great Britain, and is a reliable ally of the United States.



The Muscat (Masqat) capital/commercial area (including the cities of Ruwi and Qurum), with an estimated population of 635,000, consists of a series of towns and neighborhoods strung along the Gulf of Oman for more than 50 miles. Only one of these is old Muscat, the original seat of government and still the site of one of the sultan's palaces.

Old Muscat lies between the sea and stark, brown cliffs that rise to a height of 1,500 feet. The harbor is dominated by Forts Mirani and Jalali, built by the Portuguese in the 15th and 16th centuries. The winding streets and the wall surrounding the old city have retained much of their medieval style and flavor.

About three miles from Muscat is Oman's retail commercial center, the city of Matrah. It is also the site of the country's major seaport, Port Mina Qaboos.

Just beyond Matrah is Ruwi Valley. Because of Muscat's limited land area, most government ministries and commercial enterprises have established themselves here. This section also has become the site of much residential construction.

The expansion of the capital area in recent years has brought rapid development to places beyond Ruwi as well. The suburbs of Qurum and Madinat Qaboos are becoming important residential areas. Many ministries are located in the latter.

Despite new road construction and the opening of a limited-access highway from Qurum to Matrah, congestion is a problem in the capital area and, during peak hours, traffic often slows or comes to a halt.


Numerous grocery stores in Oman offer a reasonably wide range of products, although seasonal variations and occasional shortages occur. Quality and freshness are generally below U.S. standards; food is relatively expensive.


Cotton summer clothing can be worn throughout the year. However, blends of cotton and polyester retain heat, and are comfortable only in the cooler season. One or two outfits for occasional cool winter evenings are recommended.

Although more items are becoming available locally, do not expect to buy needed clothing here, especially shoes. Some Americans have been successful in locating local tailors, but get recommendations before trying one.

Westerners find that lightweight slacks with shirt and tie (skirts and blouses for women), or single-knit safari suits are appropriate for office wear. Lightweight suits are needed for some business events or evening wear.

Women wear caftans, street-length cotton skirts, dresses, or dressy slacks to social functions in the evenings. The caftans and skirts are also recommended for souk shopping or beach cover-up, and simple cotton versions may be purchased locally at reasonable prices. Only a limited supply of appropriate foot-wear is available. Children's clothing, particularly shoes and swimwear, is in extremely short supply.

Omani men commonly wear a long straight robe called a dishdasha, usually white but sometimes pastel. For ceremonial occasions, the dishdasha is worn with a decorated belt adorned in front with a large, curved knife in an ornate, silver sheath called a khanjar. Affluent Omanis wear the dishdasha with a gold-trimmed black robe called a bisht. The head covering is either a small, embroidered cap or a loosely wound turban (musarr or emama ).

The women of Oman generally wear brightly patterned blouses and pantaloons, covered by long, head-to-toe black capes. Some of them wear the traditional face veil, but most use no face covering. A face mask, common to women of the Batinah coast, is rarely seen in the capital area. Jewelry, usually silver, is worn in profusion.

A few Omani social customs involving dress include swimwear being worn only at hotel pools; women should wear skirts of reasonable length and avoid shorts, sundresses, and sleeveless outfits; and men should wear slacks and shirt to work and in public, never shorts or shirtless.

Supplies & Services

Most toiletries, cosmetics, nonprescription drugs, and household and entertainment items are available. However, specific brand names may not be available.

Several women's hair stylists and a few barbers are satisfactory. One or two dry cleaners do acceptable work, but shoe repair facilities are limited. The cost of services generally compares to, or exceeds, U.S. prices.


The American British Academy, founded in 1987, is a coeducational day school sponsored by the American Embassy. Grades are from pre-kindergarten to grade 12.

The curriculum is designed to meet the needs of both British and American academic programs. The school offers the International Baccalaureate program, which is recognized in many countries for university entrance.

Several private English-speaking nursery schools accept children from three years of age. Space is limited and the schools usually have waiting lists, but most parents have been able to place their children in a satisfactory school.


With the exception of outings sponsored by the Historical Association, few organized touring and sight-seeing activities are available in Oman. However, the country's interesting archaeological, historical, scenic, and cultural sights appeal to photographers and artists. Many towns have fortresses in excellent condition. Interesting sights within a day's drive of Muscat include the ancient capitals of Rustaq, Nizwa, and Sohar. Colorful Arab bazaars, called souks, are found in all but the smallest villages.

Four first-class local hotels have swimming pool facilities open to nonresidents for a yearly fee. Among other facilities offered at the hotels are lighted tennis courts and air-conditioned squash courts. One hotel has a bowling alley, another has six; some have a sports club with an equipped gym and a sauna.

Soccer and field hockey are the only organized sports which Omanis regularly play. The most popular form of recreation is water sports. Swimming, snorkeling, water-skiing, windsurfing, and skin diving are available. Collectors are rewarded with an abundance of beautiful sea shells. Many beaches lie along the coast, and others are accessible by boat.

Oman offers both deep-sea and surf fishing. The sea abounds in a wide variety of fish, both large and small.

Camping and hiking are also popular; the hot weather eliminates the need for tents, particularly if mosquito netting is used.


Europeans and Americans frequent restaurants at the airport and at the large hotels. There also are numerous Indian restaurants as well as two Chinese, an Italian, a French, and a few Arab restaurants where Westerners meet. The hotels often provide entertainment and music for dancing.

Local movie theaters feature Indian films. Omani television has one or two English programs a week, and occasionally presents an English film.

The American Women's Club meets monthly, offering a wide range of social activities to its members. An amateur drama group occasionally produces plays, and the Muscat Singers give concerts.

For the American and European community in Muscat, the main social activity informal dinners or gatherings, primarily with other members of the non-Omani community, as well as taking advantage of the "specials" frequently offered at the major hotels. Omanis attend both formal and informal gatherings, but most Omani men are not accompanied by their wives.

The Department of Tourism is part of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The mailing address is P.O. Box 550, Muscat, Oman.


MATRAH (also spelled Mutrah and Muttrah), just west of Muscat on the Gulf of Oman, is the country's principal port and commercial center. There is an important fish market in the city, and shipbuilding is significant. Caravans to the interior begin here, carrying commodities such as fruits and fish. Oman's oil terminal is located three miles outside of town; the city opened its modern port facilities in the late 1970s. The population is more than 129,000.

SALĀLAH is the trading hub of the Dhofar area in the south, about 80 miles east of the border with the Republic of Yemen. The explorer Marco Polo (1254-1324) depicted Salālah as a prosperous city in the 13th century. It had been renowned since ancient times for its frankincense. The sultan of Oman took over the vicinity in the 1800s. Government construction has included a hotel and a hospital. A paved road links the city to the north; there also is an international airport, completed in 1978. The population in Salālah is approximately 10,000.


Geography and Climate

Oman occupies the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered on the north by the United Arab Emirates, on the northwest by Saudi Arabia, on the southwest by the Republic of Yemen, and on the southeast by the Gulf of Oman. With an area of slightly more than 100,000 square miles, it is about the size of Colorado.

Oman has three distinct topographical features. The first consists of two flat, relatively fertile coastal strips up to 20 miles wideone in the north stretching from Muscat to the border with the U.A.E. (United Arab Emirates), and one surrounding the southern coastal town of Salālah. The second feature includes two mountainous regionsone in the north, with elevations ranging from several hundred feet to the craggy peaks of Jebel Akhdar at 10,000 feet, and the other bordering the Salālah plain in the south. Both are deeply scarred throughout with dry stream beds called wadis. The third feature is sandy wasteland, mainly in the Rub'Al Khali (the Empty Quarter) along the border with Saudi Arabia; this area is almost devoid of inhabitants.

Oman's climate is one of the hottest in the world. Temperatures reach 130°F in summer months, from April to September, and rarely drop below 65°F in the cooler season, from October to March. Rainfall averages only four or five inches annually, and occurs from December to March or April. Nevertheless, humidity averages 65 to 80%. Summer monsoons create a more tropical climate in the south.


Oman's population numbers over two million, of whom 1.6 million are Omanis. Omanis are a people of two dominant ethnic stocksthe Qahtan, immigrants from southern Arabia, and the Nizar, from the north. Its long history of trading, and its former colonies on the coasts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent have produced a population of extraordinary range and diversity. Arabs predominate, but communities from India and Pakistan also inhabit Oman.

Arabic is the official and most widely spoken language, but Hindi, Urdu, Swahili, and local dialects are also used. English is spoken by many officials in the Omani Government and by the majority of merchants dealing with the expatriate community.

Most Omanis are Ibadhi or Sunni Muslims, and there is a small but influential Shi'a minority. There is also a small Hindu population.

More than 50% of the population is engaged in fishing or subsistence farming. Literacy is about 35%.

Omanis are reserved, but friendly. They have a strong sense of hospitality and often share coffee, tea, dates, or halwa (a sweet, honey-colored dessert) with guests. Although many Omanis observe prohibitions against alcohol and tobacco, they are seldom offended by their offer. Most abstain from eating pork.

A number of social customs are observed in Oman including using only the right hand when eating, never asking questions concerning another's family members, always dressing in modest attire, and never allowing the sole of the foot to be exposed towards a host. It is polite to accept the refreshments offered to visitors, which is a national custom.


The Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said, is an absolute monarch who rules with the aid of his ministers. The sultanate has no constitution, legislature, or legal political parties, although an appointed Consultative Council was formed in October 1981, and in 1991 he replaced that body with one whose members were nominated by traditional leaders from each district of the country.

Except for decrees from the sultan and recently established police and commercial courts, the legal system is based almost exclusively on the Shari'ah (The Koranic laws and oral teaching of Muhammad). Jurisdiction is exercised by qadis (men versed in the religious code). Petty courts have been established to deal with minor matters such as traffic offenses. In less populated areas and among the Bedouin, tribal custom often is the only law, although a system of primary courts is making inroads into the interior. In 1987, a "flying court" service was initiated to serve these isolated areas.

For administrative purposes, the country is divided into wilayats (districts). These are presided over by walis (governors), appointed by the minister of the interior, who oversees all administrative tasks in the area and provides the main link between the people and the central government.

Oman is one of the Gulf region's most stable countries and Sultan Qaboos has proven an able and popular monarch. While maintaining a low profile during the Persian Gulf War, the country allowed Western military organizations use of its air bases.

Oman became a member of the United Nations in 1971. The country is also a member of the Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council, World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and several other international bodies.

The flag of the Sultanate of Oman is red, white, and green. The vertical red band on the staff is embossed with a white emblem consisting of a sheathed dagger superimposed on crossed swords, and the rest of the flag has horizontal bands of white and green divided by a red stripe.

Arts, Science, Education

The Omanis have long been renowned for their craftsmanship in everything from silver-and goldsmithing to boatbuilding. Oman is perhaps most famous for its national symbol, the khanjar an ornate, curved dagger embossed in silver and still worn in the interior and on special occasions. Other handicrafts include weaving, pottery, and boat-building, with the famous Omani dhows still being handmade in Sur.

Traditional art forms such as singing and dancing are seen mostly in the interior. Western culture has made inroads, mostly in the capital area, but Islamic and Omani culture and customs still prevail.

Oman has greatly stressed the importance of scientific and technical advance, especially since the accession of Sultan Qaboos in 1970. In 1986, Sultan Qaboos University opened its doors to both men and women students. There are five colleges within the university: Education and Islamic Sciences, Agriculture, Engineering, Science and Medicine, and Arts. It boasts modern facilities and a highly qualified staff, including American and European professors. Many Omanis also go abroad each year to further their education, often to the U.K. or U.S.

Education is not compulsory. Students may start primary school at six years of age and finish at age 12. Six years of secondary education follows. Less than 25 years ago, Oman had 16 primary and no secondary schools. By 1998, there were 411 primary schools with about 313,000 students. Teachers are primarily Egyptian, Jordanian, and Sudanese.

Commerce and Industry

Although Oman is a relatively small oil producer at 850,000 barrels of crude per day, oil revenues account for 90% of the nation's total export revenues, and 77% of total government revenues (2000 est.). Oman was the last of the Arab Gulf states to become a major producer of oil for export; it is also not a member of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), but has complied with OPEC policies.

However, analysts have predicted that Oman's oil reserves will last for only about 18 years. With this in mind, the government hopes to diversify its economy by developing natural gas sales.

Since the accession of Sultan Qaboos in 1970, Oman has concentrated on development of an infrastructure. The country now has an excellent highway system, modern airports at Seeb and Salālah, and deep-water ports at Mina Qaboos and Raysut. Large industrial projects underway include a copper mining and smelting operation, an oil refinery, and cement plants. An industrial zone at Rusail will be the showcase for a variety of new light industries. At the same time, the government is seeking to develop the agriculture and fisheries sectors, from which about 60% of the Omani population still derive their livelihood.

Oman's prosperity was originally concentrated in the area surrounding Muscat, but an increasing number of government services are available to the inhabitants of the interior. Virtually everything in the Omani economy is imported. The U.S. trade relationship is minor. The United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates are Oman's most important import sources; major export destinations are Japan and South Korea.

Like other countries in the region, Oman relies on imported labor to carry out its development plans. The expatriate work force is estimated at over 400,000. The majority of foreign nationals in Oman work in construction, trade, or agriculture; and the majority of expatriates are Indian or Pakistan nationals. The government has made a substantial investment in education and as a result Omanis are now employed in occupations once held only by expatriates.

In recent years, the government has attempted to diversify the economy and to emphasize private industry. Because of its limited population (and therefore a small market for goods), the intent is for industry to provide materials for export. A number of incentives have been provided by the government and foreign investment is being encouraged. While there continue to be large numbers of British and subcontinental technical advisers and managers, some Americans are finding positions in both the government and the private sector.

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry can be reached at P.O. Box 550, Muscat; the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, at P.O. Box 4400, Ruwi, Muscat.


Oman's major general-cargo port is the 1.5-million-ton capacity Port Mina Qaboos, located in Matrah. Although Oman does not receive direct service from American shipping lines, it does receive regularly scheduled foreign-flag service from the U.S. east coast. Port Mina Qaboos has far less congestion than other ports in the Gulf.

Seeb International Airport is served by 18 international carriers. British Airways, Kuwait Airways, UTA, Pakistan International, Air India, Saudia, Gulf Air, MEA, KLM, Air Lanka, Thai International, Sudan Airways, Biman Bangladesh, Air Tanzania, Egyptair, Kenya Airways, Royal Jordanian, and TWA provide service to many major cities. British Airways and Gulf Air provide direct flights to London. The other carriers connect Muscat with Africa, Asia, and major Middle East cities. Connecting service is available from New York and Washington, DC on Gulf Air and TWA. An international airport also is located at Salālah. Gulf Air and Oman Aviation operate daily domestic routes to serve other towns in the country. Permission to fly to Salālah must be obtained from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Bus service is available for the 25-mile trip from Muscat to Seeb Airport, and to Sohar, Nizwa, Rustaq, and several other towns in the interior. The bus trip from Muscat to Salālah takes about 12 hours.

There are taxis at the airport and at the larger hotels in Muscat. Finding an unengaged taxi at other locations in the city can be difficult. Fares are generally high; there are no meters so fares should be negotiated in advance. Most taxi drivers do not speak English. Omanis and third-country workers reduce the cost by sharing taxis with other riders.

Local bus service is available, but public transportation routes operate only along major thoroughfares and none go into the area where most Americans and Europeans live. Fares are based on distance traveled. Women seldom use local buses. Visitors should not use the bus system.

Cars may be rented by the day or week. Both an international and valid national driver's license are necessary.

Private cars provide the only practical and dependable means of transportation within the country. Because the city is spread out over a large area and public transportation is inadequate, a car is a necessity. Air conditioning is a necessity.

Oman's more than 3,000 miles of paved roads include four roads from the capital area to the U.A.E. (United Arab Emirates) border, and others to Nizwa, Ibra, Rustaq, Salālah, Sur, and other interior towns. An additional 750 miles of graded roads may be traveled by standard passenger cars, but all other roads and trails require four-wheel-drive or high-wheel-base vehicles. Driving is on the right. Right-hand-drive vehicles are not allowed to be registered. There is no railway system here.


International telephone and telegraph facilities are available, although delays occur. International direct dialing is available. The local telephone system is quite good. Depending on the area, new subscribers may wait up to three months for telephone installation. Telex service is available at major hotels and at the Public Telex Office in Ruwi. Fax is widely used in place of mail service.

International airmail is generally reliable, and arrives in five to eight days from the U.S. However, newspapers and magazines are subject to censorshipmainly to restrict entry of pornography and items considered politically offensiveand may take considerably longer for delivery.

The local FM radio station broadcasts in English from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Standard broadcast-band reception is limited mostly to nearby Arab countries broadcasting in Arabic, but also includes about six hours a day in English from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in London, relayed from Masirah Island in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Oman. A shortwave receiver is the only way of ensuring regular Voice of America (VOA) or other English-language reception. A wide range of receivers may be bought locally.

Television programs, most of them in color, are aired from 3:00 p.m. to about 11 p.m., but often run beyond midnight. Most programming is in Arabic, although a few American TV programs and one movie with Arabic subtitles are shown weekly on an irregular basis. A 15-minute English-language news program airs daily at 8 p.m.

English-language periodicals that are regularly available a few days after publication are Time, Newsweek, The Economist, Events, and Middle East International. London daily newspapers, such as the Express and the Times, are available in Oman about three to four days after publication. The International Herald Tribune arrives between one and three days after publication.

The Oman Daily Observer and the weekly Times of Oman (both in English) can be bought at newsstands. Also available is the daily Khaleej Times from the U.A.E.

Health and Medicine

Most resident Americans in Muscat use Al Khoula Hospital (surgical/maternity) or Al Nahdha Hospital (medical) for emergencies or for simple treatment. Those with serious ailments usually go for treatment in Europe. The Royal Hospital has recently opened and is available for obstetrical/maternity care, as well as other types of treatments. There are several private clinics (one staffed with Swedish physicians, a second with British) that resident Americans also use for medical care.

For minor problems or treatment, Oman has several qualified physicians with advanced training in the U.S. or in the United Kingdom. These doctors, however, have long hours and a heavy work load in the Omani Government hospitals, and are not always available.

Some local medical facilities that have modern equipment often lack qualified personnel. Hygiene, in many cases, is inadequate. Oman's dental facilities generally fall below U.S. standards. However, Oman has two qualified dental facilities: a French facility that provides routine care and a British facility that provides care comparable to U.S. standards. Orthodontic care and oral surgery are available.

Oman's sanitation level is low by American standards. Incidence of bacillary dysentery, infectious hepatitis, and intestinal worms exists, although the frequency has diminished sharply in recent years, especially in the capital area.

Malaria exists; there is a 5% chance of contracting malaria in the capital area; 20% in other areas of Oman.

Many Omanis also suffer from poliomyelitis, meningococcal infection, trachoma and tuberculosis. Dust conditions aggravate respiratory ailments. Typhoid is still common.

Oman has no municipal sewage system, and the roughly constructed septic tanks are a constant threat of contamination to the water supply. Garbage is collected regularly from open cubicles in various locations throughout Muscat. Flies are somewhat controlled by periodic spraying. Mosquitoes and other insects, especially cockroaches, are common, as are rats in some areas.

Americans are strongly advised to maintain inoculation schedules for typhoid, tetanus, and poliomyelitis prevention. Gamma globulin also is recommended. Malaria suppressants (Chloroquine) should be started two weeks before arrival, and continued for the duration of the stay and for four weeks after departure, and ending with a final two week course of Primaquine. Drinking water should be filtered and boiled, and uncooked vegetables and fruits soaked in water containing bleach or Milton (available locally). Close supervision of domestics' hygiene and kitchen routines is necessary.

Sanitation standards at the leading restaurants catering to expatriates, and in the restaurants of major hotels, appear to be adequate.

Most drugs are available locally, but often not the American equivalent. A six-month supply of regularly prescribed medication is advised for long-term visitors.


Passage, Customs and Duties

A valid passport and visa are required. Omani embassies and consulates issue two-year, multiple-entry tourist and/or business visas to qualified American citizens. "No objection certificates" for entry into Oman may also be arranged through an Omani sponsor. Certain categories of visitors may qualify to obtain a visa upon arrival at a port of entry. Evidence of yellow fever immunization is required if the traveler enters from an infected area. For further information on entry requirements, contact the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, 2535 Belmont Road N.W., Washington, D.C., telephone (202) 387-1980, 1981 or 1982.

Travelers entering Oman may not carry with them, or bring into the country in accompanied baggage, firearms, ammunition, or pornography; all are subject to seizure if found. No more than one bottle of liquor is permitted per non-Muslim adult. Unaccompanied baggage and shipments of household goods are subject to inspection. Books, videotapes, and audiotapes may be reviewed prior to being released to the owner. A copy of the packing list is required to clear effects through customs. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements.

Omani employers often ask that expatriate employees deposit their passports with the company as a condition of employment. Although customary, this practice is not required by Omani law. The U.S. Embassy in Muscat advises Americans to exercise caution in agreeing to employer confiscation of passports, since this operates as a restraint on travel and could give undue leverage to the employer in a dispute.

U.S. citizens living in or visiting Oman are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy and obtain updated information on travel and security within Oman. The U.S. Embassy in Oman is located on Jameat A'Duwal Al Arabiya Street, Al Khuwair area, in the capital city of Muscat, P.O. Box 202, Medinat Al Sultan Qaboos 115, Sultanate of Oman, telephone (968) 698-989, fax (968) 699-189. The Embassy's e-mail address is, and its web site can be visited at


Pets entering Oman require an import permit from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Department of Animal Health, before shipment. Forms may be obtained from the Ministry through one's sponsor and must be submitted with a copy of the pet's rabies vaccination record and a health certificate. Vaccination against rabies is required no less than one month and no more than six months before the travel date. There are additional vaccination requirements for dogs and cats less than 30 days old. A second health certificate dated 48 hours before the pet travels is also required. Pets may be subjected to a six-month quarantine, although this is usually not required when importing the pet from a rabies-free country. Pets must be manifested as cargo on an airway bill when transported by air.

Currency, Banking and Weights and Measures

The unit of currency is the Omani rial, divided into 1,000 baizas. The rial is pegged to the American dollar. American and American-affiliated banks include Citibank, Grindley's (Citibank), National Bank of Oman (Bank of America), and the Bank of Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait (Chemical Bank).

The metric system of weights and measures is used. Highway signs are in both Arabic and English, and give distances and speeds in kilometers.

The time in Oman is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus four.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Nov. 18 National Day

Nov. 19 Birthday of HM Sultan Qaboos

Id al-Adha*

Hijra New Year*

Mawlid an Nabi*

Lailat al Miraj*


Id al Fitr*

*variable, based on the Islamic calendar


The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Akehurst, John. We Won a War: The Campaign in Oman 1965-75. London: Michael Russell, 1982.

Allen, Calvin H. Oman: the Modernization of the Sultanate. London: Croom Helm, 1987.

Barth, Fredrich. Sohar: Culture and Society in an Omani Town. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.

Clements, F.A. Oman: The Reborn Land. London: Longman, 1980.

Cottrell, Alvin J., ed. The Persian Gulf States. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1980.

Fenelon, K.G. The United Arab Emirates. 2nd ed. London: Longman, 1976.

Fiennes, Ranulph. Where Soldiers Fear To Tread. London: Hodder Stoughton, 1975.

Graz, Liesl. The Omanis: Sentinels of the Gulf. New York: Longman, 1982.

Hawley, Donald. Oman and Its Renaissance. London: Stacey International, 1977.

Landen, Robert G. Oman Since 1856. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967.

Miles, S.B. The Countries and Tribes of the Persian Gulf. 3rd ed. London: Frank Cass, 1966.

Peterson, J.E. Oman in the Twentieth Century. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1978.

Skeet, Ian. Muscat and Oman, the End of an Era. London: Faber & Faber, 1985.

Thesiger, Wilfred. Arabian Sands. New York: Penguin Books, 1976.

Townsend, John. Oman: The Making of a Modern State. London: Croom Helm, 1977.

Ward, Philip. Travels in Oman: on the Track of the Early Explorers. Cambridge: Oleander Press, 1986.

Wikan, U. Behind the Veil in Arabia: Women in Oman. London: John Hopkins Press, 1982.

Wilkinson, John C. The Imamate Tradition of Oman. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Sultanate of Oman
Region: Middle East
Population: 2,533,389
Language(s): Arabic, English, Baluchi, Urdu
Literacy Rate: 80%
Number of Primary Schools: 411
Compulsory Schooling: 6 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 4.5%
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 313,516
  Secondary: 217,246
  Higher: 16,032
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 76%
  Secondary: 67%
  Higher: 8%
Teachers: Primary: 12,052
  Secondary: 12,436
  Higher: 1,307
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 26:1
  Secondary: 18:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 74%
  Secondary: 66%
  Higher: 7%

History & Background

Located in the Middle East, Oman, officially known as the Sultanate of Oman, borders Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. Its bordering waterways include the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, and the Persian Gulf. Oman is 82,030 square miles (1,374 kilometers) large. Its capital and largest city is Muscat.

Oman has a mixture of ethnic groups including people of Arab, Baluchi, South Asian, and African decent. Its official language is Arabic, but English, Indian dialects, Baluchi, and Urdu are spoken as well. Its primary religion is Islam.

Oman gained its independence during its expulsion of the Portuguese in 1650. Its government is a monarchy, and the legal system is based on a combination of English common law and Islamic law. Although Oman is an independent state under the sultan, it has been under British protection since the early nineteenth century.

Even though it is an active member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Oman's borders were once sealed to the outside world, with Muscat's gates closing shut at sunset. In 1970, however, things changed drastically; Sultan Qabus bin Said overthrew his father, Sultan Sa'id ibn Timur, as the sultan and began to use money that came from the oil surplus to build schools, houses, roads, and improve the environment. The young sultan also made health and education free.

Educational SystemOverview

In 1970 there were only three official (governmentrun) schools in the country of Oman, with slightly more than 900 pupils. In fact, these three schools were reserved for boys that were personally chosen by the former sultan. In addition to these official schools, there was a religious institute with an enrollment of about 50 boys, three private schools for Hyderabadis (Indians), and one U.S. missionary school for 50 girls. Schools were, and continue to be, segregated by gender in Oman; the exception to this is rural schools where a lack of facility space requires gender-mixed schools.

In contrast to small enrollments and a few schools in 1970, by 1998 there were more than 950 government schools, 84 private schools, 192 adult education schools, and 228 literacy centers. In addition to these educational facilities, a special school for children with hearing impairments and a special school for children with intellectual impairments were established in the 1980s. However, by 1998, a special school for children with visual impairments had not yet been established, resulting in many of these students being sent to neighboring countries to get an education.

In 1970 the adult illiteracy rate, according to the Europa World Yearbook 2000, was at a high of 80 percent. By 1994, under the leadership of Sultan Qabus, who made the expansion of the school system a national priority, government education expenditures rose to 4.5 percent of GNP and had grown to represent 15.5 percent of all government expenditures. By 1995 adult illiteracy had dropped to 36 percent, and government literacy centers had been successful in helping to correct illiteracy problem. By 2000 the illiteracy rate had dropped further nearing about 20 percent.

Preprimary & Primary Education

In 1993, there were no government established nursery schools. As Oman's society continues to develop and grow, more women are entering the workplace, thus creating a growing need for government-supported nursery schools. Although there were some nongovernmental schools, the government had not taken steps in that area. Part of this can be explained by Omani culture, which supports children being cared for by their parents or extended family members. However, since more Omani women are continuing their education and pursuing professional roles, added nursery schools will be useful.

Overall, education in Oman is based on a 6-3-3 system, which means six years of primary education, three years of preparatory education, and three years of secondary education. Primary education begins at age six and continues for six years. Primary education is not compulsory, however, despite it not being compulsory, there are a growing number of Omani children who are attending due to a widespread support of education. At the primary level, students learn basic skills. Primary education enrollment was 76 percent of all relevant age-group children in 1997. Once children successfully complete primary education, they are promoted to their first grade of the preparatory level.

Secondary Education

Following primary education, pupils who successfully complete that level advance to the next level of education, which is divided into two equal parts called preparatory and secondary education, lasting a total of six years. The first preparatory schools were established in 1972. One was designated for boys and one for girls. Preparatory schools often share facilities with either a primary or secondary school. At the preparatory level, students may choose from four specific options: general education, health sciences, military studies, or vocational training. At the end of preparatory education, students take a national examination. If they successfully pass it, they are enrolled in secondary education. However, if they do not pass, they are not eligible to re-enroll as regular students.

The first secondary school opened during the 1973-1974 academic year with an enrollment of 25 students. By 1985, there were more than 12,000 secondary students in Oman. Although secondary education levels still have lower enrollments than primary education (67 percent enrollment), this rate has been growing. Secondary education has two options, general education, which prepares pupils for the university, or a vocational education, which prepares pupils for careers. General education provides one year of basic academic subjects and two years in the humanities or sciences. The specialized vocational education includes basic academic subjects, but emphasizes Islamic, commercial, agricultural, industrial, or teacher training.

During the 1998-1999 academic school year, a new system was initiated, which consisted of ten years of basic education and two years of secondary education. This was introduced to 17 schools with the intent of gradually implementing this change throughout the country.

Higher Education

Oman's first university, Sultan Qaboos University, was founded in 1985 and opened in 1986. Its academic year begins in September and ends in May. The university is made up of five colleges: Education and Islamic Sciences, Science, Medicine, Agriculture, and Engineering. In 1998 there were more than 6,000 students attending the university. In addition to Sultan Qaboos University, the Europa World Yearbook 2000 identified eight teacher-training colleges, eight Islamic colleges, and nine vocational institutesincluding institutes for health sciences, banking, and technical institutes. There have also been great gains in the area of adult literacy, and education centers have been established.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Oman's education system is governed by the Council for Education, which is chaired by the sultan and operated by the Ministry of Education and Youth. With continued government support, the total number of pupils in state education had grown from 909 pupils in 1970 to 528,400 between 1995-1996, with 24,100 teachers to instruct them in 965 schools. By 1997 there were 967 schools identified at the primary, preparatory, and secondary levels, not including 106 private kindergartens and schools regulated by the Ministry of Education. Plans were initiated in 1997 to further develop technical, agricultural, and artistic/craft training at the intermediate and secondary levels.

The state has endeavored to make education available to all by providing free public education and encouraging the growth of private educational programs. Despite all of these government endeavors, education is not compulsory, which ultimately impacts the national literacy rate. Even though Oman's literacy rate is much better than many countries, the literacy rate would be expected to grow even more with a compulsory education system.

Teaching Profession

Training for Omani primary level teachers was first initiated in 1976. From there, training for preparatory and secondary education teachers was established. By 1984, the intermediate colleges for male and female teachers were established; intermediate colleges accept secondary education graduates and train them to be teachers, focusing on developing well-rounded teachers who have both scientific and educational backgrounds and an ability to be leaders in their communities.

By the mid-1980s the government began to put a greater emphasis on teacher training to reduce its dependency on foreign staff. In 1980-1981 only 11 percent of the teaching staff were native Omanis. Although this number has increased since then, having indigenous Omani teachers continues to be a national agenda.


Oman has made great growth in its general educational arena and literacy improvements; however, growth in technological supports that facilitate educational advances have been slowerthe type and amount of instructional technology that teachers receive varies greatly. Even at the higher education levels, the most common instructional media used by many teachers and a large portion of student teachers has been chalkboards, followed by lectures, printed materials, and the use of textbooks. The use of computer tools, including software and Internet sources has not been fully accessed, understood, or used. The use of more media in the Omani education system is still needed. In 1999, Oman had only one Internet service provider, which minimized the amount of global resources that pupils could receive and access.

In addition to the need for more technological and Internet resources, Oman is in greater need of library resources at all levels of the education system, including national. Library resources and facilities have been limited in content and sparsely populated.

As a whole, the educational system in Oman has improved tremendously under Sultan Qabus. The literacy rate has greatly improved, national resources have made educational support a priority, and teacher training has sought to better prepare teachers and to solicit more indigenous teachers from Oman. With added improvements in the area of technological resources, library expansion, and government nursery care, Oman's educational system will only grow stronger.


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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Sultanate of Oman
Region (Map name): Middle East
Population: 2,533,389
Language(s): Arabic, English,Baluchi, Urdu
Literacy rate: 80%

Oman (Uman ) is situated in the southeastern portion of the Arabian Peninsula next to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is an independent sultanate (Sultanat Uman ) that has considerably upgraded its economic and social situation through various developments since a 1970 peaceful coup established Qa-boos bin Said al Said as sultan in place of his father. In light of its interest in technological progress and its historical relationship with Great Britain, Oman utilizes Western advisors in an attempt to provide itself with a buffer against its larger, better funded and historically aggressive neighbors.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by law in Article 31 of Oman's Basic Statute. However, the exact wording leaves room for interpretations that can be antithetical to a free press, i.e., matter "leading to discord, harming the State's security or abusing human dignity or rights is prohibited."

There are six daily newspapers, four in Arabic and two in English. Those printed in Arabic are: Khaleej Times, Oman Daily Newspaper (with a circulation of 15,560), Ash-Shabibah, and Al-Watan (The Nation, 32,500). Those published in English are: The Oman Daily Observer (22,000;) and the Times of Oman (15,000).

There are approximately 20 periodicals published in the sultanate, a number of them by sections of the government. They include: Jund Oman (Soldiers of Oman, a monthly magazine of the Ministry of Defence), Al-Ghorfa (Oman Commerce, a bi-monthly with a circulation of 10,500 and published by Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry), Al-Omaniya (Omani Woman, a monthly with a circulation of 10,500), Oman Today (a bimonthly with a circulation of 20,000 that covers leisure and sports), Al-'Akidah (The Faith, a weekly with a circulation of 10,000 covering politics), Al-Mazari' (Farms, a weekly journal of the ministries of Agriculture and Fish-eries, and of Petroleum and Minerals).

Radio and television are overseen by the Ministry of Information. A director general of Radio and Television reports to the Minister of Information. The director general is responsible for complete oversight of operations. Radio and television media are entirely government funded; advertising is prohibited.

Radio Sultanate of Oman and Radio Salalah were both founded in 1970. Radio development was especially important to Oman in the 1970s to counteract anti-Omani propaganda being broadcast from Marxist South Yemen. In 2000 there were approximately 1.4 million radios in the country being broadcast to from three AM, nine FM, and two shortwave stations, and typically receiving broadcasts in Arabic, English and Dhofari. While Oman has no particular aspersions to become a broadcasting powerhouse in the region, programming is available in a few ways to outsiders. Those interested can listen to Omani radio utilizing either an Omani satellite channel on ARABSAT or via the Internet. In the future broadcasts may also be available on Egypt's NILESAT. INTELSAT also is available to Oman.

Omani television is as prevalent as radio, with about 1.4 million television sets reported in 2000. There are stations operating in both Muscat and Salalah, with 117 other television transmitters, many of them solar powered, throughout the country. The nodes of this network are connected by satellite. Local programming in Oman has the potential for greater influence than in some of the other Arab region states because the positioning of major cities in the state does not conflict with any other broadcast signals; there is no competition. The competition present comes from home videos and satellite television signals (satellite dish ownership is legally sanctioned). Omani state television imports less Western programming than some other Gulf states and tends to emphasize regionally contextual programming concerning faith, history, politics, social life and the like.

The British Broadcasting Company utilizes Masirah Island off the coast of Oman for a medium-wave relay station to boost the signal for its Arabic, Farsi, Hindi, Pashtu, English and Urdu programming. The eventual plan is to move the relay station from the island to the Omani mainland. All of this is suggests an historical and continuing relationship between Oman and Great Britain.

Oman began Internet service in 1997 and recently boasted 50,000 users. Reporters Sans Frontieres notes that while the Internet has been a positive move for Oman, Web sites at times are blocked by OmanTelecommunications (OmanTel) since they are perceived as incompatible with Islam and/or too Westernized. Due to the government's wish to maintain control over this medium, there remains one Internet service provider for the entire country.


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Clint B. Thomas Baldwin

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arabian peninsula sultanate formerly known as muscat and oman.

Oman, officially the Sultanate of Oman since 1970, extends some 1,000 miles along the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula, on the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. Approximately 118,000 square miles, it has a population of 2,018,074 (1993 census). Oman's long-disputed southern border with Yemen and its western borders with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the maritime northern border with Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, have all been largely negotiated and demarcated.

Physically, Oman in divided into three regions: Ruʾus al-Jibal, Oman Proper, and Dhufar. The Ruʾus al-Jibal exclave is separated from Oman by a 50-mile corridor of United Arab Emirates territory and is the mountainous tip of the Musandam Peninsula. Oman Proper, including Masira and the Daymaniyat Islands, is characterized by a narrow coastal plain (Batina), a parallel mountain chain (Jabal Hajar) anchored by Jabal al-Akhdar, and along its western limits, a dry gravel plain (al-Dhahira) that blends into the Rub al-Khali desert. Additional desert and gravel plains (Sharqiyya and Wusta) extend to the south. Dhufar, including the Halaniyat (Khuriya Muriyah) Islands, also has parallel regions of a coastal plain, the Qara Mountains, and interior desert. The overall climate is hot, with summer temperatures reaching 120° F; dry inland, the coast is extremely humid. The climate of Dhufar is moderated by summer monsoon rains.

Oman's population is 80 percent Omani Arab, plus a significant South Asian expatriate community. Arabic is the predominant language, but English is used widely. Oman is unique because Ibadi Islam, characterized by its adherence to the principle of an elected religious leader called an imam, is the majority faith. Other Muslims include large Sunni and small Shiʿite minorities, and a small Hindu community. The Muscat capital area, an amalgam of several formerly separate coastal towns adjacent to Muscat, is the major urban center, with 550,000 people. Other cities are Salala, Nizwa, and Suhar.

Oman's modern history began in 1749 when Ahmad ibn Saʿid (17491783), founder of its present Al Bu Saʿid dynasty, restored Omani independence from Persian invaders and gained election as imam. Ahmad successfully balanced tribal and religious support while encouraging maritime and commercial expansion, but his successors devoted greater attention to external affairs and abandoned claims to the imamate. Saʿid ibn Sultan Al Bu Saʿid (18041856) established the antecedent of today's sultanate by utilizing Muscat as the base for expansion in the Persian (Arabian) Gulf and East Africa to form the western Indian Ocean's leading maritime state. But this proto-sultanate was considered illegitimate by Omanis committed to the imamate ideal. Periodic interventions by the Saʿudis aggravated the internal instability, and Saʿid often ran afoul of his British allies' efforts to suppress both the slave trade and piracy, the latter a consequence of Saʿid's expansionism. With his options in Arabia thwarted, Saʿid made Zanzibar his principal residence in the 1830s. Following Saʿid's death in 1856, the British recognized separate Al Bu Saʿid sultanates in Muscat and Zanzibar. Long-simmering Omani opposition to political conditions peaked with the election of Azzan ibn Qays (18681871), leader of an Al Bu Saʿid cadet branch, as imam, and the unification of Oman under his rule. The British government utilized gunship diplomacy to overthrow the imamate and restore the sultanate. Muscat became a thinly veiled British protectorate. Support for the imamate remained strong and continued to grow as a consequence of the disruptive influences of economic globalization in the late nineteenth century. In the early twentieth century the imamate reappeared in Oman's interior but failed to overthrow the British-defended sultanate. In 1920 the rival Omani governments signed the so-called Treaty of Sib and regularized the conditions under which they coexisted for the next thirty-five years. Saʿid ibn Taymur Al Bu Saʿid (19321970) signaled Muscat's revival by diminishing British influence, suppressing the imamate, and reuniting Oman in 1957, then initiating exploitation of its oil resources. But his opposition to socioeconomic development led to widespread disaffection, a rebellion in Dhufar, and greater dependence on the British. In July 1970 Qabus (also Qaboos) ibn Saʿid deposed his father. The new sultan ended Oman's long diplomatic isolation, suppressed the insurgency in Dhufar, and launched political and economic reforms.

Oman's political system has evolved from autocracy to nascent democratic system during the past thirty years. The Basic Law of 1996 defines the political system, which has two consultative bodiesan elected Majlis al-Shura and an appointed Council of State. There are no political parties. The sultan continues to be the source of all law. An independent judiciary system was implemented in 2001. In principle, women have full political rights, and they do serve in both consultative bodies and senior government positions.

Until the early 1970s Omanis subsisted upon an agricultural and fishing economy. Oil exports began in 1967 and funded modest economic development under Saʿid ibn Taymur. Those efforts accelerated greatly under Qabus after 1970. Modernized agriculture, livestock, and fishery practices still support about 50 percent of the population, but service jobs (35%) in both the public and private sector have increased dramatically. Industry and commerce (15%) provide other livelihoods. Production of petroleum products, both crude oil and natural gas, dominates the economy, accounting for 70 percent of state revenues and 90 percent of exports, mostly to East Asia. Oman also exports copper and chromite, some industrial goods (mostly clothing), and food products, and it imports machinery, transport, and consumer goods, mainly from Japan, Britain, the United Arab Emirates, and South Asia. Since 1970 the government has developed a comprehensive communication and transportation infrastructure and provided modern education through university level and healthcare facilities for the Omani people.

see also al bu saʿid family and tribe of oman; al bu saʿid, qabus ibn saʿid; al bu saʿid, saʿid ibn taymur; dhufar; majles al-shura; muscat; sib, treaty of (1920); zanzibar.


Allen, Calvin H., Jr., and Rigsbee, W. Lynn. Oman under Qaboos: From Coup to Constitution, 19701996. London: Frank Cass, 2000.

Anthony, John Duke. Historical and Cultural Dictionary of the Sultanate of Oman and the Emirates of Eastern Arabia. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1976.

Kechichian, Joseph A. Oman and the World: The Emergence of an Independent Foreign Policy. Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1995.

Landen, Robert G. Oman since 1856: Disruptive Modernization in a Traditional Arab Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967.

Peterson, J. E. Oman in the Twentieth Century: Political Foundations of an Emerging State. London: Croon Helm, 1978.

Wilkinson, John C. The Imamate Tradition of Oman. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

robert g. landen
updated by calvin h. allen, jr.

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Official name: Sultanate of Oman

Area: 212,460 square kilometers (82,031 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Jabal Sham (3,035 meters/9,957 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 4 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 972 kilometers (604 miles) from northeast to southwest; 513 kilometers (319 miles) from southeast to northwest

Land boundaries: 1,374 kilometers (854 miles) total boundary length; Yemen 288 kilometers (179 miles); Saudi Arabia 676 kilometers (420 miles); United Arab Emirates 410 kilometers (255 miles)

Coastline: 2,092 kilometers (1,300 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


The sultanate of Oman is located in the extreme southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula and is the second-largest country on the peninsula. It includes a small enclave at the tip of the Musandam Peninsula, on the Strait of Hormuz, that is separated from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates. With an area of 212,460 square kilometers (82,031 square miles), Oman is nearly as large as the state of Kansas.


Oman has no territories or dependencies.


Oman's climate is arid subtropical. The climate differs somewhat from one region to another, however. The interior is generally very hot, with temperatures reaching 54°C (129°F) in the hot season from May to October. The coastal areas are hot and humid from April to October. The prevailing summer wind, the Gharbi, makes the heat more oppressive. In the south, the Dhofar (Zufar) region has a more moderate climate.

Average annual precipitation is 5 to 10 centimeters (2 to 4 inches), depending on the region and the prevailing summer wind. While the mountain areas receive more plentiful rainfall, some parts of the coast, particularly those areas near the island of Maşīrah, sometimes receive no rain at all. Yearly rainfall totals of up to 64 centimeters (25 inches) have been recorded in the rainy season from late June to October. An unusual feature of Oman's weather is that part of the eastern coast regularly has dense fog.


Oman has a diverse topography with a number of different regions and subregions. The major regions are the narrow Al Bātinah coastal plain to the north, bordering the Gulf of Oman; the Al Hajar mountain range that stretches south-eastward paralleling the northern coast; an interior plateau that stretches southwestward toward the desert; the Rub'al Khālī desert, which Oman shares with Saudi Arabia and Yemen; the barren plain of Jalaan, which borders the Arabian Sea on the east; and the southern Dhofar region, which includes both mountainous highlands and a fertile coastal strip that constitutes the southernmost part of Oman. In addition, Oman encompasses an isolated strip of land at the tip of the Musandem Peninsula.


Oman borders the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman, the latter of which separates the Arabian Peninsula from the rest of the Middle East.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Inlets (khors ) in the Al Bātinah plain often have stands of mangroves. An extremely rugged area exists where two inlets, the Elphin-stone and Malcom, cut into the coastline south of the Strait of Hormuz.

Islands and Archipelagos

Along the Arabian Sea coastline and separated from it by about 16 kilometers (10 miles) is the barren and virtually uninhabited island of Maşīrah,

Coastal Features

The northern coastline is smooth, while the shore along the Arabian Sea is more jagged and indented, forming several bays and capes (including the Ra's al Hadd, which separates the Gulf of Oman from the Arabian Sea) and the Gulf of Maşīrah near Maşīrah Island.


There are no lakes in Oman, but the country has two large areas of salt flats, one in the west-central region and another opposite Maşīrah Island, off the eastern coast.


There are no perennial rivers in Oman. A small number of wadis (shallow watercourses) are found in the Al Hajar Mountains and their foothills, however.


Situated mainly in Saudi Arabia but occupying a portion of western Oman, the Rub'al Khālī, or Empty Quarter, is one of the largest sand deserts in the world and one of the driest places on earth. The Wahiba Sands, in Oman's interior, are the largest areas of lithified (changed into solid rock) sand dunes in the world. Its surface dunes can reach heights of 100 meters (328 feet).


The Al Bātinah coastal plain to the north, scored along its length by wadis, is cultivated with the aid of irrigation. The sandy plain of Jalaan to the east is barren and inhospitable, while the narrow coastal strip of the Dhofar region in the south is lush and fertile. The valleys and foothills immediately south of the Al Hajar Mountains are considered the country's heartland.


The Al Hajar (the Rock) Mountainsthe highest in the eastern part of the Arabian peninsulaform two ranges: the Hajar al-Gharbi, or Western Hajar, and the Hajar al-Shargi, or Eastern Hajar. They are divided by the Wadi Sanā'il, a valley that forms the traditional route between Masqat and the interior. The general elevation is about 4,000 feet (1,219 meters). In the southern Dhofar region, a semicircular band of mountains rises to around 1,500 meters (5,000 feet).


There are many caverns in Oman. One of the largest in the world, Teyq Cave, is 250 meters (820 feet) deep and 300 cubic meters (10,595 cubic feet) in volume.


The foothills of the Al Hajar Mountains in the north give way to a plateau with an average height of about 300 meters (1,000 feet). It is mostly stony and waterless, arable only at oases, extending to the sands of the Rub'al Khālī Desert. In the central part of Oman, in the Al-Wusta region, this plateau narrows to the Jiddat al-Harāsīs, bordered by the Rub'al Khālī desert to the west and the plain of Jalaan to the east.


There are three forts in Muscat that have remained essentially unchanged since the 1580s.



Chatty, Dawn. Mobile Pastoralists: Development Planning and Social Change in Oman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Kay, Shirley. Enchanting Oman. Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Motivate Publishing, 1988.

Newcombe, Ozzie. The Heritage of Oman: A Celebration in Photographs. Reading, Berkshire, U.K.: Garnet Publishing, 1995.

Oman: People & Heritage. Oman: Oman Daily Observer, 1994.

Web Sites

Middle East & Islamic Studies Collection. (accessed March 10, 2003).

Ministry of Information: Sultanate of Oman. (accessed March 10, 2003).

Natural History of Oman & Arabia. (accessed May 10, 2003).

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Oman (ōmän´), officially Sultanate of Oman, independent sultanate (2005 est. pop. 3,002,000), c.82,000 sq mi (212,380 sq km), SE Arabian peninsula, on the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. It is bordered on the west by Yemen and Saudi Arabia and on the north by the United Arab Emirates, which separates the major portion of the sultanate from a small area on the Strait of Hormuz. The capital and largest city is Muscat.

Land and People

For the most part, Oman comprises a narrow coastal plain backed by hill ranges and an interior desert plateau. The highest point is Jebel Sham (c.9,900 ft/3,018 m).The inhabitants are mostly Arabs; there are also minorities of Baluchis, South Asians, East Africans, and migrant workers of varied ethnicities. About 75% are Ibadhi Muslims; the rest are mostly Sunni or Shiite Muslims or Hindus. Arabic is the official language; English, Baluchi, and Urdu are also spoken.


In the extreme north, dates, limes, nuts, bananas, alfalfa, and vegetables are cultivated, and in the southwest there is an abundance of camels, cattle and other livestock. Fishing is an important industry. The major product, however, is oil, which was discovered in Oman in 1964 and first exported in 1967. Crude oil is produced and refined; other industrial products include natural gas, copper, steel, chemicals, and optic fiber. Petroleum, reexported goods, fish, metals, and textiles are important exports; imports include machinery and transportation equipment, manufactured goods, foods, livestock, and lubricants. Oman has a large trade surplus. The main trading partners are Japan, the United Arab Emirates, China, and South Korea.


Oman does not have a constitution, but the Basic Law, which was promulgated by royal decree in 1996, is considered by the government to be a constitution. The monarch is both head of state and head of government. The bicameral legislature consists of the 58-seat Majlis al-Dawla, or upper house, whose members are appointed by the monarch, and the 84-seat Majlis al-Shura, or lower house, whose members are popularly elected to serve four-year terms. Though its influence was increased in 2011, the legislature is mainly an advisory body. Administratively, the country is divided into five regions and four governorates.


Ancient settlements in Oman, initially associated with nomads, date back to c.6000 BC Beginning in the 6th cent. BC and for roughly a millenium thereafter, much of coastal Oman was dominated by Persia (under the Achaemenids and Sassanids) and Parthia. Sumhuram, ruins in S Oman near modern Salalah, was founded (late 1st cent. BC) as a port in the frankincense trade and was closely linked to ancient Sheba. In the 6th cent. AD the region converted to Islam, and was successively controlled by the Umayyads, Abbasids, Karmathians, Buyids, and Seljuk Turks. Much of the coast of Oman was controlled by Portugal from 1508 to 1659, when the Ottoman Empire took possession. The Ottoman Turks were driven out in 1741 by Ahmad ibn Said of Yemen, who founded the present royal line.

In the late 18th cent., Oman began its close ties with Great Britain, which still continue. In the early 19th cent., Oman was the most powerful state in Arabia, controlling Zanzibar and much of the coast of Iran and Baluchistan. Zanzibar was lost in 1856, and the last Omani hold on the Baluchistan coast, Gwadar, was ceded to Pakistan in 1958. The sultan of Oman has had frequent clashes with the imam (leader) of the interior ethnic groups. In 1957 the groups revolted but were suppressed with British aid. Several Arab countries supporting the imam charged in the 1960s that the sultan's regime was oppressive and that the British were exercising colonial influence in Oman.

In 1965 the United Nations called for the elimination of British influence in Oman. In 1970, Sultan Said ibn Timer was deposed by his son, Qabus bin Said, who promised to use oil revenues for modernization. Rebel activity continued until the mid-1970s, however, particularly in Dhofar, in the south, where a Chinese-aided liberation front was strong. Oman joined the United Nations and the Arab League in 1971, but it did not become part of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). In 1981, Oman joined Persian Gulf nations and Saudi Arabia in founding the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and has since sought to promote ties among the participating nations.

Relations between Oman and the United States have been close since the 1970s. However, Oman did not establish full diplomatic relations with its neighbor Southern Yemen until 1983 and with the Soviet Union until 1985. As a result of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in Aug., 1990, Oman opened its bases to international coalition forces against Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In 1996 the sultan issued a decree promulgating a new basic law that established a procedure for choosing the royal successor, provided for a bicameral advisory council with some limited legislative powers and a prime minister, and guaranteed basic civil liberties for Omani citizens. Military bases in Oman were used (2001) by U.S. forces involved in ground raids against Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. In 2003 the lower house of the advisory council was freely elected for the first time. In the first half of 2011, Oman, like many other Arab nations, experienced antigovernment protests; in response, the sultan offered some economic concessions and political reforms, but dissent and discontent, in the form of strikes and protests, continued to fester on a small scale.


See P. Risso, Oman and Muscat (1986); C. H. Allen, Jr., Oman (1986); D. Hawley, ed., Oman and Its Renaissance (4th ed. 1987); J. C. Wilkinson, The Imamate Tradition of Oman (1987); M. Valeri, Oman: Politics and Society in the Qaboos State (2009, repr. 2014); A. R. Takriti, Monsoon Revolution: Republicans, Sultans, and Empires in Oman, 1965–1976 (2013).

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212,460sq km (82,278sq mi)



capital (population):

Muscat (776,300)


Monarchy with a consultative council

ethnic groups:

Omani Arab 74%, Pakistani 21%


Arabic (official)


Islam 86%, Hinduism 13%


Omani rial = 100 baizas

Sultanate on the se corner of the Arabian peninsula, sw Asia; the capital is Muscat.

Land and climate

Oman is 95% desert. On the Gulf of Oman coast lies the fertile plain of Al Batinah, and the city of Muscat. The plain is backed by the Al Hajar mountains, which rise, at Jebel Sham, to 3019m (9905ft). In the s lies part of the barren and rocky Rub' al Khali desert (‘Empty Quarter’). The sultanate also includes the tip of the Musandam Peninsula, overlooking the strategic Strait of Hormuz, and separated from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates. Oman has a hot tropical climate. In Muscat, summer temperatures rise to 47°C (117°F). Parts of the n mountains have an average annual rainfall of 400mm (16in), but most of Oman has less than 125mm (5in). Date palms grow on the coastal plain and around desert oases. Grassy pasture occurs on the Al Hajar mountains and on the s coast.

History and Politics

In ancient times, Oman was an important trading area on the main route between The Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Islam was introduced in the 7th century ad, and Muslim culture remains a unifying force. In 1507, the Portuguese captured several seaports in Oman, including Muscat. Portugal controlled maritime trade until expelled by the Ottomans in 1659. Oman set up trading posts in East Africa, including Zanzibar in 1698 and, until the 1860s, was the dominant Arabian power. The al-Said family have ruled Oman since taking power in 1741. During the 20th century, the sultanate was often in conflict with religious leaders (imams) of the Ibahdi sect, who sought a more theocratic society. British colonial interference and economic inequality led to popular rebellions in the 1950s and 1960s. Insurrectionist forces continued to control much of s Oman. In 1970, Sultan Said bin Taimur was deposed by his son, Qaboos bin Said. In 1971, Oman joined the UN and the Arab League. Qaboos bin Said initiated the modernization of health, education, and social welfare services. Despite the extension of free education, 65% of the population remained illiterate by 1992. In 1981, Oman was a founder member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Ties with the UK and the USA remain strong. Oman allowed coalition forces to use its military bases during the Gulf War (1991).


Oman is an upper-middle-income developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$7700). Oil production dominates the economy. Oil was first discovered in 1964, and now accounts for more than 90% of exports. The industry attracts many migrant workers. Oil refining and the processing of copper are among Oman's few manufacturing industries. Agriculture supports 50% of the workforce. Major crops include alfalfa, bananas, coconuts, dates, limes, and tobacco. Some farmers raise camels and cattle. Fishing, especially for sardines, is also important, but Oman is reliant on food imports.

Political map

Physical map


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Culture Name


Alternative Names

Various peoples in Oman use regional names such as Dhofari, which identifies them as being from the southern region of Oman, or Zanzibari, which identifies them as having close links with East Africa and at one time Zanzibar.


Identification. Although Oman has existed as a distinct nation for several thousand years, the modern statethe Sultanate of Omanis a creation of the last two centuries. The traditional territorial concept of Oman was altered in this period by the independence of the northwestern part of Oman as the United Arab Emirates and the absorption into the sultanate of the southern region of Dhofar. Although the names of both Oman and Dhofar are clearly of great antiquity, their original meanings and sources are uncertain. While most northern Omanis share a common Arab, Muslim, and tribal culture, the people of Dhofar remain culturally distinct and often feel culturally closer to neighboring regions in Yemen to the west.

Location and Geography. The Omani culture owes much to the geography of the country. The cultural heartland lies in the interior, in the valleys of the mountainous backbone which parallels the coastal plains and the interior plains. Seas to the north and east and deserts to west and south have served to isolate the country from the outside world. At the same time, Oman's presence on the Indian Ocean has fostered a long maritime tradition which has enriched the culture through the settlement of many Baluchis (the Indo-Iranian people of Baluchistan) along the northern coast and the interaction with East African cultures. Traditionally, Oman's capital was located in the interior but Muscat (Masqat), now the principal seaport, has served as the capital since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Northern Oman is separated from southern Dhofar by several hundred miles of desert, which results in the cultural distinctiveness of the Dhofaris.

Demography. Oman's only census (1993) revealed a total population of 2 million, of which 1.5 million were Omanis. There were 175,000 residents of Dhofar. Census figures were not broken down into ethnic or linguistic categories, although it can be estimated that several hundred thousand Omanis were of Baluchi origin. About half the Omani population belongs to the Ibadi sect of Islam and a similar number belong to mainstream Sunni Islam. There are several small communities of Shia Muslims. Population growth is estimated at nearly 4 percent per year.

Linguistic Affiliation. Arabic is the principal language spoken by Omanis, who have spoken it since the immigration of Arab tribes nearly two millennia ago. The Omani dialect generally is close to modern standard Arabic, although coastal dialects employ a number of loanwords from Baluchi, Persian, Urdu and Gujarati (two Indo-Aryan languages), and even Portuguese. The mountain peoples of Dhofar, as well as several small nomadic groups in the desert between Dhofar and northern Oman, speak a variety of unique South Arabian languages that are not mutually intelligible with modern Arabic. Minority groups speak Arabic as well as their own languages at home, and English is widely spoken as a second language.

Symbolism. The national symbol employs a pair of crossed khanjars, the traditional daggers that all Omani men wore until recently (and still wear on formal occasions). This symbol is integrated into the national flag and appears in nearly all government logos.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Oman has a very long history and was known as Magan to ancient Persian and Mesopotamian civilizations and was an important producer of copper and ornamental stone. The Arab tribes in Oman adopted Islam during the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad (c.570632) and forced the Persian colonizers to leave. Since then, Oman has generally remained an independent Arab and Ibadi/Sunni Muslim entity.

National Identity. The Omani national identity has evolved from its predominant Arab language and culture, its tribal organization, and Islam. Oman withstood attempts by classical Islamic empires to subdue the country, and the Portuguese invasion of the sixteenth century was confined to coastal ports and was terminated by national Omani resistance in the mid-seventeenth century.

Ethnic Relations. Although the dominant cultural group in Oman is Arab and Ibadi/Sunni Muslim, the culture has been very tolerant of other groups. Ethnic, sectarian, or linguistic conflict rarely occurs in Oman although tribal disputes are not unknown.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

The contemporary urban character of Omani culture has strong ties to Indian Mogul architectural style. This is manifested in the seafront whitewashed two- and occasionally three-story residential buildings that line the road along the harbor of Matrah (Muscat's sister city). It is also seen in the style of some mosques and minarets with their slim and ornate shapes, as well as in public buildings such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Qurm. Other contemporary constructions are more eclectic in style.

Earlier architectural styles found in the towns and interior cities of Oman, such as Nizwa, Ibri, Ibra, and Bahla, reflected a pared down and simpler cultural expression and use of space that was consistent with Ibadism, a relatively austere form of Islam.

Private residences reflect the culture's concern for gendered space. Most Omani homes have formal rooms for men and their visitors, while women generally socialize in each other's private quarters. When people meet to mark various rites of passage, such as births, marriages, and deaths, the celebrations are marked by clear gendered space. It is women who visit other women on the occasion of a birth in a family. Marriage rituals entail elaborate celebrations for women only, for men only, and, when space is open, with segregated sitting areas. Deaths are similarly marked by gendered use of space, with only men attending the actual burial of a body.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Omani cuisine revolves around rice. The morning meal is not significant, often consisting of bread or leftovers from the day before, and tea. The main meal of the day is in early to mid-afternoon. It is generally a large dish of rice with a thin sauce often based on tomato or tomato paste and meat or fish. Pork does not exist in the Omani diet as it is prohibited by Islam. The evening meal is generally very light, sometimes consisting only of fruit or bread and tea. The influence of Indian cooking is very strong. A variety of Indian restaurants are found throughout the country. In the capital area, there are a number of Western fast-food establishments, as well as a variety of French, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese restaurants.

Food Customs and Ceremonial Occasions. Dates, fresh or dried, are important to the diet and to the ritual of hospitality. Equally important is helwa, a sweet confection based on clarified butter, honey, and spices. Both are served to guests with strong, bitter, and often cardamom-scented coffee. During Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, Omanis refrain from eating or drinking between sunrise and sunset. They break their fast with coffee and dates followed shortly thereafter by a ritual meal, often shared with family and close friends, of elaborate foods heavy in oils and spices.

Basic Economy. A large percentage of Omanis live in rural areas and many others own land and property in the countryside even though they live and work in the towns. Many of those in the countryside are self-sufficient farmers and fishermen. Livestock production is the basis of agricultural activity in the center and south of Oman, with fishing along Oman's long coastline coming a close second. Nearly one-third of Omani's nonoil exports come from agriculture and fisheries. Oman imports more than half the vegetables and dairy products it needs and just under half the beef, eggs, and mutton.

Land Tenure and Property. All land is officially owned by the state. Some land has been recognized as privately held and in the late twentieth century the government pursued a policy of providing all Omanis with private parcels of land for residences and farms. Shared property rights or land use rights are held by custom and are generally tribal in origin. Hence much of the interior semiarid and arid lands are used by nomadic pastoral tribes. Although their territory is no longer recognized as theirs by the state, it remains uncontested by local inhabitants and other tribes.

Commercial Activities. Agriculture and fishing are the traditional economic activities in Oman. Dates and limes, make up most of the country's exports. Coconut palms, wheat, and bananas are also grown. Cattle are raised in Dhofar. Fish and shellfish exports create a steady income of roughly $40 million (U.S.).

Major Industries. Oman is an oil-producing nation and revenues from petroleum products have been the backbone of Oman's dramatic development over the last three decades of the twentieth century. But oil resources are not extensive and natural gas reserves are becoming more prominent, with liquified natural gas exports expected to provide significant new income in the early twenty-first century.

Trade. After oil, petroleum, and liquified gas, fish and shellfish account for the majority of Oman's export trade. The fish and shellfish are sold mainly to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, although some of this fresh product finds its way in refrigerated trucks further north. Dates and limes are also exported.

Division of Labor. Both men and women engage in agricultural activities: men work the date gardens, while women tend to the fields of wheat, barley, and alfalfa. Men go out in fishing boats or dive from the shore, while women often mend fishing nets. Children take on domestic agricultural and fishing tasks at an early age, nine being a common age for starting. The elderly are greatly respected and are often relieved from any physical work, but their opinions and ideas are eagerly sought by the middle-aged and young.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Omani culture does not have a caste system, but it does operate in a hierarchy based on family connections (tribal ties), relative wealth, and religious education. At the top of the pyramid is the sultan and his immediate family, the Al-Sa'id. This is followed by a large tribal group, the Al-Bu Sa'id. Prior to the discovery of oil in the country, the wealthiest group (class) was arguably made up of the merchant families, many of them Indian in origin, language, and culture; a particular Omani community, mainly of Hyderabadi origin, also accumulated some wealth through trade in foodstuffs. Certain families and tribes had built reputations for religious learning and mediation skills, and they often represented the government in the interior of the country. In the late twentieth century, wealth spread somewhat and a few more Omani families joined the ranks of the extremely wealthy. Oman has a small but growing middle class while the vast majority of its population outside of the capital area are engaged in subsistence agriculture, fishing, or animal husbandry.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Dress in Omani culture is a "badge," one highly visible and prominent marker of ethnic identity. Among Omani nationals, dress is finely tuned to reflect each person's region of origin or ethnic background. Women's clothing and, in particular, the choice of face covering and head cloth advertises membership in a particular tribal, ethnic, or language group. Men's clothing, consisting of a long, ankle-length shirt (locally called a thawb or dishdashah ), is also amenable to the expression of tribal and regional belonging through variations in the style of the collars and sleeves. Head covering is required of men as well as women.

Political Life

Government. Oman is a sultanate (a type of monarchy) with a sultan as the head of state and head of government. His position is hereditary within the Al Bu Sa'id family. There are few checks on the power of the sultan and his decrees form the basis of law. He appoints a council of ministers and can dismiss ministers without reason. There is no prime minister.

Leadership and Political Officials. Senior members of the sultan's family routinely receive important government positions. More distant members of the family serve as ministers, other government officials, and the equivalent of governors throughout the country. Other ministers and senior government officials are chosen by merit and family or tribal connections; Muscat merchant families are overrepresented. There are no political parties and a limited electorate chooses candidates for the Majlis al-Shura, an indirectly elected consultative council dealing with social issues.

Social Problems and Control. The legal system is derived from a combination of Western and Arab civil codes with the Shari'ah (Islamic law) used in family matters such as marriage and inheritance. The Royal Oman Police covers the entire country and is responsible for traffic, criminal investigation, firefighting, the coast guard, and immigration. Crime is infrequent although the capital area has seen a modest increase in burglaries and there is some drug and alcohol abuse. Civil disobedience is unknown and there is complete respect for the law and state institutions.

Military Activity. The armed forces of Oman were created to counter several insurrections beginning in the 1950s. Since the mid-1970s, however, there has been no unrest in Oman and the security forces are geared to protect against potential external threats. Oman continues to maintain a relatively large military establishment in part to provide employment for its people.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Social welfare is still basically a family and kin network business. The old, the handicapped, the disabled, and the disadvantaged are looked after by a network of relatives. Since the 1970s, the government has worked hard to establish a social welfare service to promote stability and security for families in a rapidly changing social environment. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor, and Vocational Training takes responsibility for making monthly payments to the elderly, the widowed, the divorced, and the disabled. Special attention has been given to training the mildly disabled, especially the young, through special government centers.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Organizations

Oman has very few nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Perhaps as a reflection of security concerns, it remains very difficult to acquire formal government recognition of NGO status. The first NGO to be created in Oman in the 1970s, the Omani Women's Association, was integrated into the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor in the early 1980s. The Association for the Welfare of Handicapped Children, which was founded in 1990, runs a number of centers for the care and rehabilitation of disabled children and has acquired a semiofficial status. The Oman Charitable Organization (also known as the Oman Benevolent Society), was created in the late 1990s by royal decree to provide assistance to the needy. Other NGOs include sports clubs, literary associations, and university cultural centers.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Gender roles are shaped by the demands of the economic realities of peoples' lives. In the desert interior of the country, women contribute very actively to economic activities associated with livestock raising and have significant social and political power. In the agricultural oasis settlements, the economic role of women is not as active and this is reflected in reduced social and political power. Women's roles in religion reflect the formal restrictions of Islam. In urban centers and towns, however, many women serve as teachers in Islamic pre-schools, the kuttaib.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Women have significant authority within the family unit and make strong contributions toward family decisions regarding various rites of passage. Outside the kin group, however, women have little authority or privilege. From the early 1990s, the government has made great efforts to include women in government. Women were nominated to run for election to the consultative council in 1997, with two obtaining seats, and several speeches of the sultan emphasized the importance of integrating women into public life.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriages are normally arranged. The preferred marriage is to a cousin. First choice is to a patrilateral cousin, and second choice is to a matrilateral cousin. Even the well-educated elite of the country, university medical students, express a preference for their families to arrange marriages for them. Love matches are very infrequent, as marriage is viewed more as a contract between two families with the major aim being to produce offspring for the next generation. In polygamous households (more common among the wealthy, but not restricted to them), the first wife tends to be a close cousin and the second wife a younger, less-close relative. In the past, men tended to take on additional wivesIslam permits up to fourbut in recent years, men have tended to divorce first wives and remarry, often leaving divorced women destitute and reliant on the government for support.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit is generally an extended three-generation nuclear family; residence is usually patrilocal, with the husband's family. Although many nuclear family units reside in single residences, individual family members keep in constant contact with each other through either daily visits or regular telephone calls. It is not unusual to find families of eight, nine or ten persons living in one household. The eldest male has the greatest authority in the family while an elderly female usually takes responsibility for allocating tasks within the household.

Inheritance. The rules of inheritance are entirely governed by the Shari'ah (Islamic law), which lays down the percentage of an estate that each relative may inherit. In descending order of shares, this moves from the direct descendants (sons, wives, daughters, and husbands) to cousins and more distant relatives. These rules apply to fixed property and capital. In the interior among the pastoral tribes, women often pass on their share of certain large livestock (camels) to brothers or sons, in exchange for informal welfare security in their old age.

Kin Groups. Omani culture is organized around the kin group as a large extended family or tribe inhabiting a particular valley or set of hamlets. There are also dispersed kin groups, the pastoral tribes, who move around with their livestock in search of grazing land in a territory normally regarded as theirs to use. Life revolves around the kin group in the interior of the country, while in the urban centers the extended family or tribe is the hub and locus of much activity and networking.


Infant Care. Omanis do not separate the infant or child from family rhythm or routine. The newborn child remains exclusively with her or his mother for the first forty days after birth. After that the infant sleeps, eats, and plays at her side, and is nursed on demand for two years. Infants are not offered particular stimulation, but soothed and calmed and encouraged to watch rather than interact.

Child Rearing and Education. After the age of two, Omani children are encouraged to behave like miniature adults, taking on duties or hospitality toward guests at a very young age. They are only reprimanded, ever mildly, occasionally with a tap across the back of the legs. They are socialized to look to their peer group. Punishment for unusual or unacceptable behavior is often offered as: "What would your friends say?" Girls are circumcised with little ceremony at or just after birth and boys are circumcised in later childhood with some celebration of their entering an age of "reason."

Primary education for both boys and girls is encouraged. In the later intermediary and high school years, however, attendance by girls, particularly in rural areas, declines, largely due to a persistent pattern of early marriage. Many boys also leave school before the end of their secondary education in order to seek jobs, thus contributing to a large low-skill sector of the workforce. The government also operates a number of vocational training institutes.

Higher Education. In 1986, Oman opened its first university. Built upon a combination of American and English models of higher education, the first colleges were of medicine, engineering, science, Islamic studies and education, and agriculture. In the 1990s, several more colleges were opened including a faculty of commerce and economics and a faculty of Shari'ah and law. Enrollment in the university is nearly equally split between male and female students. It was only in 1993 that, under pressure from elements in the private sector and the government, the university administration decided to deny women admission to two colleges, engineering and agriculture. In the late 1990s, the government sanctioned several private colleges that emphasized business curricula.


Omanis are very polite and formal in public. Upon meeting, formulaic greetings must be exchanged before a discussion can ensue. To do otherwise would be considered rude. Although men and women may interact in public, their contact should always be chaperoned or in the open. Even educated elite women often find it necessary to be chaperoned by a male relative at public events, parties, or receptions. Omanis tend to stand close to one another as Arabs do, and it is common for friends and relatives of the same sex to hold hands. Two or more men or women entering a doorway at the same time always try to persuade the others to enter first, although a man always invites a woman to enter first. On the other hand, forming lines in shops, banks, and other public places is not a cultural trait, although women invariably are encouraged to go first.


Religious Beliefs. Nearly all Omanis are Muslim, divided nearly equally into Sunnis and Ibadis with a small percentage of Shia. A few families of Indian origin are Hindu but there are no Omani Christians or Jews. Omanis tend to be careful in their observance of religious obligations. Most carry out the prescribed five prayers per day and many men go to nearby mosques to perform them. Most Omanis observe the dawn-to-dusk fasting required during the Islamic month of Ramadan, and it is against the law to eat, drink, or smoke in public during daylight hours in Ramadan. In addition to formal religious beliefs and practices, superstitions are common and some folk rituals are practiced.

Religious Practitioners. There is little formal religious hierarchy. The government appoints the mufti who serves as the country's highest Islamic authority. Traditional religious educators, known as sheikhs, are trained by the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs and teach in Koranic schools throughout the country. Religious judges (qadi ) are appointed by the state to serve in Shari'ah courts. There are also religious healers (mutawi' ) whose services are called upon by the population, often to deal with mental illnesses.

Rituals and Holy Places. All Omani Muslims are obliged to fast during Ramadan. One of the pillars of Islam, this period of abstinence lasts twenty-nine or thirty days. This month is also one of celebration and prayer and is followed by two important festivals, one immediately after the period of fasting, Eid-il-Fitr, and one sixty-six days later, Eid -il Adha. Many Omanis undertake the hajj, or pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca (in Saudi Arabia), if they are physically and financially able. Because of the austerity of Ibadi Islam, there are no specific holy places in northern Oman; there are, however, some venerated tombs of "saints" in Dhofar.

Death and the Afterlife. Omanis are pragmatic when it comes to dealing with sickness. They will try modern medicine but if that fails will turn to traditional healers. Traditional herbalists, bonesetters, and exorcists have a thriving practice, especially in the interior of the country. Many look to the cold and hot properties of foods for curing sickness (a common practice in Islamic belief). Spirit possession, often among women, is addressed through zar, or exorcism, ceremonies, which frequently involve the community in the curative process.

Secular Celebrations

National Day takes place on 18 November, the birthday of the sultan, Qabus ibn Sa'id. This is the principal nonreligious celebration of the year and includes a major pageant, a profusion of fireworks around the country, and the sultan's annual policy speech. Armed Forces Day (11 December) is the occasion for a large banquet hosted by the sultan for his officers, senior government officials, and the diplomatic corps. The Islamic, but not the Christian, New Year's Day is an official holiday.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The government provides some limited assistance for the arts through subsidies to such organizations as the Omani Arts Society. Most artists, however, either hold full-time jobs or come from well-to-do families.

Literature. In the past, literature was confined to religious treatises and histories. Like other Arabs, Omanis gave great importance to oral traditions, including poetry and an emphasis on genealogical roots. The Ministry of Information has sought to revive these traditions through folk programs on radio and television. In the last decades of the twentieth century, a small number of authors published works of fiction and poetry.

Graphic Arts. Traditional Omani handicrafts are in decline although periodic attempts are made to encourage their production. Notable handmade products include silver and gold jewelry, woven baskets, goat- and camel-hair rugs, swords and khanjars (daggers), and large pottery water jugs. Drawing, painting, and photography have become popular forms of expression in educated circles, although artists still tend to avoid representation of the human form as per Islamic convention.

Performance Arts. Local instrumental and vocal music is very popular, as are songs from other Arab countries. Traditional performers still provide songs and dances at events such as marriages. The Ministry of National Heritage and Culture maintains a small national theater. Arab entertainers are well known throughout the country and many educated Omanis enjoy Western performance arts.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Physical sciences, particularly earth sciences such as geology and hydrology, are popular subjects for study and research in Oman's university and in a number of government ministries. The social sciences, however, are not as well represented. Economics and sociology are taught at the university, but anthropology, political science, and psychology are not.


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The people of Oman are called Omanis. On the northern coast, there are groups of Baluchi, Iranian, and African people. In Muscat and Matrah, there are Indians, Baluchis, and Pakistanis. Tribal groups are estimated to number over 200.

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OmanAbadan, Abidjan, Amman, Antoine, Arne, Aswan, Avon, Azerbaijan, Baltistan, Baluchistan, Bantustan, barn, Bhutan, Dagestan, darn, dewan, Farne, guan, Hahn, Hanuman, Hindustan, Huascarán, Iban, Iran, Isfahan, Juan, Kazakhstan, khan, Koran, Kurdistan, Kurgan, Kyrgyzstan, macédoine, Mahon, maidan, Marne, Michoacán, Oman, Pakistan, pan, Pathan, Qumran, Rajasthan, Shan, Siân, Sichuan, skarn, soutane, Sudan, Tai'an, t'ai chi ch'uan, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Taklimakan, tarn, Tatarstan, Tehran, Tenochtitlán, Turkestan, Turkmenistan, tzigane, Uzbekistan, Vientiane, yarn, Yinchuan, yuan, Yucatán •Autobahn • Lindisfarne •Bildungsroman • Nisan • Khoisan •Afghanistan • bhagwan • Karajan •Alabaman, Amman, Ammon, Drammen, gammon, Mammon, salmon •Bradman, Caedmon, madman, madmen •flagman, flagmen •trackman, trackmen •hangman, hangmen •chapman, chapmen •cragsman, cragsmen •cracksman, cracksmen, Flaxman •batsman, batsmen •batman, batmen •Tasman •clansman, clansmen, Klansman, Klansmen, landsman, landsmen •backgammon •barman, barmen, Brahman, Carman, Carmen, shaman, Sharman, Tutankhamencraftsman, craftsmen, draftsman, draftsmen, draughtsman, draughtsmen, raftsman, raftsmen •marksman, marksmen •atman •guardsman, guardsmen •leman, Lemmon, lemon, Yemenheadman, headmen, Stedman •Beckmann •bellman, bellmen, Hellman •gentleman, gentlemen •penman, penmen •Helpmann •pressman, pressmen •freshman, freshmen •Welshman, Welshmen •Frenchman, Frenchmen, henchman, henchmen •desman •headsman, headsmen •helmsman, helmsmen •lensman, lensmen •airman, airmen, chairman, chairmen •Bremen, caiman, Damon, Eamon, layman, laymen, stamen •railman, railmen •brakesman, brakesmen •statesman, statesmen •tradesman, tradesmen •salesman, salesmen •gamesman, gamesmen •plainsman, plainsmen •railwayman, railwaymen •highwayman, highwaymen •cacodemon, daemon, demon, Freeman, freemen, Philemon, Riemann, Schliemann, seaman, seamen, semen •Friedman •liegeman, liegemen •Eastman, policeman, policemen •beadsman, beadsmen, seedsman, seedsmen •fieldsman, fieldsmen •wheelsman, wheelsmen •persimmon, Rimmon •pitchman, pitchmen •Bridgman • milkman • Hillman •signalman, signalmen •Lippmann •pitman, pitmen, Whitman •guildsman, guildsmen •kinsman, kinsmen •Betjeman • regimen •clergyman, clergymen •tallyman, tallymen •talisman •Englishman, Englishmen •businessman, businessmen •Cornishman, Cornishmen •journeyman, journeymen •cavalryman, cavalrymen •ferryman, ferrymen •vestryman, vestrymen •dairyman, dairymen •Irishman, Irishmen •quarryman, quarrymen •Orangeman, Orangemen •congressman, congressmen •countryman, countrymen •infantryman, infantrymen •nurseryman, nurserymen •liveryman, liverymen •midshipman, midshipmen •harvestman, harvestmen •serviceman, servicemen •Hyman, Simon •Eichmann •rifleman, riflemen •Feynman, lineman, linemen •Weismann • Wiseman •tribesman, tribesmen •linesman, linesmen •exciseman, excisemen •common, Roscommon •watchman, watchmen •Godman, hodman, hodmen •Hoffman •frogman, frogmen •stockman, stockmen •dolman, dolmen •Scotsman, Scotsmen, yachtsman, yachtsmen •Boltzmann • Cotman •bondsman, bondsmen •Bormann, doorman, doormen, foreman, foremen, Mormon, Norman, storeman, storemen •Kauffmann • Walkman •horseman, horsemen, Norseman, Norsemen •sportsman, sportsmen •oarsman, oarsmen, outdoorsman, outdoorsmen •swordsman •longshoreman, longshoremen •bowmen, cowman, cowmen, ploughman (US plowman), ploughmen (US plowmen) •councilman, councilmen •Hauptmann • Housman •groundsman, groundsmen, roundsman, roundsmen, townsman, townsmen •warehouseman, warehousemen •Bowman, Oklahoman, Oman, omen, Roman, showman, showmen, yeoman, yeomen •coachman, coachmen •Coleman, Goldman •nobleman, noblemen •postman, postmen •spokesman, spokesmen •boatman, boatmen •lifeboatman, lifeboatmen •dragoman •crewman, crewmen, energumen, human, ichneumon, Newman, numen, Schumann, subhuman, Trueman •woman •woodman, woodmen •bookman, bookmen •Pullman •Bushman, Bushmen •footman, footmen •woodsman, woodsmen •ombudsman, ombudsmen •clanswoman •backwoodsman, backwoodsmen •charwoman •craftswoman, draughtswoman •gentlewoman • Welshwoman •Frenchwoman •airwoman, chairwoman •laywoman • stateswoman •saleswoman • policewoman •kinswoman • Englishwoman •businesswoman • Irishwoman •congresswoman • countrywoman •jurywoman • servicewoman •tribeswoman •Scotswoman, yachtswoman •forewoman • horsewoman •sportswoman • oarswoman •townswoman • spokeswoman •Dutchwoman • frontierswoman •alderwoman • anchorwoman •washerwoman • Ulsterwoman •churchwoman • acumen • summon •Dutchman, Dutchmen •gunman, gunmen •busman, busmen, dustman, dustmen •huntsman, huntsmen •Newcomen • Layamon •privateersman, privateersmen, steersman, steersmen •frontiersman, frontiersmen •fireman • Dobermann • lumbermen •abdomen • Omdurman •alderman, aldermen •Turkoman •cellarman, cellarmen, telamon •cyclamen •Highlandman, Highlandmen •Solomon • trawlerman • cinnamon •Chinaman, Chinamen •trencherman, trenchermen •fisherman, fishermen, militiaman, militiamen •washerman, washermen •ottoman •waterman, watermen •Ulsterman, Ulstermen •Burman, firman, German, Herman, sermon, Sherman •churchman, churchmen •turfman, turfmen •Bergman •kirkman, kirkmen, workman, workmen •Perelman •herdsman, herdsmen

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