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Coordinates : 21°N 57°E / 21°N 57°E / 21; 57

Sultanate of Oman سلطنة عُمان ( Arabic ) _Salṭanat ʻUmān_

Flag National emblem

ANTHEM: نشيد السلام السلطاني "as-Salām as-Sultānī " "Sultanic Salutation"

Location of Oman in the Arabian Peninsula (Dark green)

Capital and largest city Muscat 23°36′N 58°33′E / 23.600°N 58.550°E / 23.600; 58.550

OFFICIAL LANGUAGES Arabic

RELIGION Islam

DEMONYM Omani

GOVERNMENT Unitary parliamentary absolute monarchy

• SULTAN Qaboos bin Said al Said

• PRIME MINISTER Qaboos bin Said al Said

• DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER Fahd bin Mahmoud al Said

LEGISLATURE Parliament

• UPPER HOUSE Council of State (Majlis al-Dawla)

• LOWER HOUSE Consultative Assembly (Majlis al-Shura)

ESTABLISHMENT

• THE AZD TRIBE MIGRATION 130

• AL-JULANDA 629

• IMAMATE ESTABLISHED 751

• NABHANI DYNASTY 1145

• YARUBA DYNASTY 1624

• HOUSE OF AL SAID 1744

AREA

• TOTAL 309,500 km2 (119,500 sq mi) (70th )

• WATER (%) negligible

POPULATION

• 2016 ESTIMATE 3,355,262 (135th )

• 2010 CENSUS 2,773,479

• DENSITY 13/km2 (33.7/sq mi) (216th )

GDP (PPP ) 2017 estimate

• TOTAL $189.582 billion

• PER CAPITA $46,475

GDP (NOMINAL) 2017 estimate

• TOTAL $71.325 billion

• PER CAPITA $17,485

HDI (2014) 0.793 high · 52nd

CURRENCY Rial (OMR )

TIME ZONE GST (UTC +4)

DRIVES ON THE right

CALLING CODE +968

ISO 3166 CODE OM

INTERNET TLD .om , عمان.

OMAN (/oʊˈmɑːn/ (_ listen ) oh-MAAN_ ; Arabic : عمان‎‎ _ʻumān_ pronounced ), officially the SULTANATE OF OMAN ( Arabic : سلطنة عُمان‎‎ _Salṭanat ʻUmān_), is an Arab country on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula . Holding a strategically important position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf , the country shares land borders with the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the southwest, and shares marine borders with Iran and Pakistan . The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea on the southeast and the Gulf of Oman on the northeast. The Madha and Musandam exclaves are surrounded by the UAE on their land borders, with the Strait of Hormuz (which it shares with Iran ) and Gulf of Oman forming Musandam's coastal boundaries.

From the late 17th century, the Omani Sultanate was a powerful empire , vying with Portugal and Britain for influence in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean . At its peak in the 19th century, Omani influence or control extended across the Strait of Hormuz to modern-day Iran and Pakistan , and as far south as Zanzibar (today part of Tanzania , also former capital). As its power declined in the 20th century, the sultanate came under the influence of the United Kingdom. Historically, Muscat was the principal trading port of the Persian Gulf region. Muscat was also among the most important trading ports of the Indian Ocean . Oman's official religion is Islam .

Oman is an absolute monarchy . The Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has been the hereditary leader of the country since 1970. Sultan Qaboos is the longest-serving current ruler in the Middle East, and fourth-longest current reigning monarch in the world.

Oman has modest oil reserves, ranking 25th globally . Nevertheless, in 2010 the UNDP ranked Oman as the most improved nation in the world in terms of development during the preceding 40 years. A significant portion of its economy involves tourism and trade of fish, dates, and certain agricultural produce. This sets it apart from its neighbors' largely oil-dependent economies. Oman is categorized as a high-income economy and ranks as the 74th most peaceful country in the world according to the Global Peace Index .

CONTENTS

* 1 History

* 1.1 Ancient history * 1.2 Portuguese colonization * 1.3 18th and 19th centuries * 1.4 Reign of Sultan Said (1932–1970) * 1.5 Reign of Sultan Qaboos (from 1970)

* 2 Geography

* 2.1 Climate * 2.2 Flora and fauna * 2.3 Environmental issues

* 3 Politics

* 3.1 Legal system * 3.2 Human rights * 3.3 Migrant workers * 3.4 Foreign policy * 3.5 Military * 3.6 Administrative divisions

* 4 Economy

* 4.1 Oil and gas * 4.2 Tourism

* 5 Demographics

* 5.1 Religion * 5.2 Languages * 5.3 Largest cities

* 6 Culture

* 6.1 Dress * 6.2 Music and cinema * 6.3 Media * 6.4 Food * 6.5 Sports

* 7 Education * 8 Health * 9 See also * 10 Notes * 11 References * 12 External links

HISTORY

Main article: History of Oman

ANCIENT HISTORY

The Achaemenid Empire at its greatest territorial extent, under the rule of Darius the Great (522 BC to 486 BC)

At Aybut Al Auwal, in the Dhofar Governorate of Oman, a site was discovered in 2011 containing more than 100 surface scatters of stone tools, belonging to a regionally specific African lithic industry –the late Nubian Complex– known previously only from the northeast and Horn of Africa . Two optically stimulated luminescence age estimates place the Arabian Nubian Complex at 106,000 years old. This supports the proposition that early human populations moved from Africa into Arabia during the Late Pleistocene .

Dereaze, located in the city of Ibri , is the oldest known human settlement in the area, dating back as many as 8,000 years to the Late Stone Age . Archaeological remains have been discovered here from the Stone Age and the Bronze Age . Findings have included stone implements, animal bones, shells and fire hearths, with the latter dating back to 7615 BC as the oldest signs of human settlement in the area. Other discoveries include hand-molded pottery bearing distinguishing pre- Bronze Age marks, heavy flint implements, pointed tools and scrapers. A grave at Al Ayn , Oman, a World Heritage site.

Sumerian tablets refer to a country called Magan or Makan, a name believed to refer to Oman's ancient copper mines. Mazoon, another name used for the region, is derived from the word _muzn_, which means heavy clouds which carry abundant water. The present-day name of the country, Oman, is believed to originate from the Arab tribes who migrated to its territory from the Uman region of Yemen . Many such tribes settled in Oman, making a living by fishing, herding or stock breeding, and many present day Omani families are able to trace their ancestral roots to other parts of Arabia.

From the 6th century BC to the arrival of Islam in the 7th century AD, Oman was controlled and/or influenced by three Persian dynasties : the Achaemenids , Parthians and Sassanids . A few scholars believe that in the 6th century BC, the Achaemenids exerted a strong degree of control over the Omani peninsula, most likely ruling from a coastal center such as Sohar . Central Oman has its own indigenous so-called Late Iron Age cultural assemblage, the Samad al-Shan .

By about 250 BC, the Parthian dynasty had brought the Persian Gulf under their control. They extended their influence as far as Oman, establishing garrisons there to exert control over the trade routes in the Persian Gulf . In the 3rd century AD, the Sassanids succeeded the Parthians and held the area until the rise of Islam, four centuries later. Omanis were among the first people to come in contact with and accept Islam . The conversion of the Omanis is usually ascribed to Amr ibn al-As , who was sent by the prophet Muhammad during the Expedition of Zaid ibn Haritha (Hisma) .

PORTUGUESE COLONIZATION

Seydi Ali Reis and his galleys taken in an ambush by Portuguese forces while trying to bring back his flotilla from Basra to Suez in August 1554

A decade after Vasco da Gama 's successful voyage around the Cape of Good Hope and to India in 1497–98, the Portuguese arrived in Oman and occupied Muscat for a 143-year period, from 1507 to 1650. Their fortress still remains. In need of an outpost to protect their sea lanes, the Portuguese built up and fortified the city, where remnants of their colonial architectural style still exist. An Ottoman fleet captured Muscat in 1552 , during the fight for control of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

The Ottoman Turks captured Muscat from the Portuguese again between 1581–88. Rebellious tribes eventually drove out the Portuguese, but were themselves pushed out about a century later, in 1741, by the leader of an Omani tribe, who began the current line of ruling sultans. Except for a brief Persian invasion in the late 1740s, Oman has been self-governing ever since.

18TH AND 19TH CENTURIES

The Sultan\'s Palace in Zanzibar , which was once Oman's capital and residence of its Sultans.

In the 1690s, Saif bin Sultan , the Imam of Oman, pressed down the Swahili Coast . A major obstacle to his progress was Fort Jesus , housing the garrison of a Portuguese settlement at Mombasa . After a two-year siege, the fort fell to bin Sultan in 1698. Thereafter the Omanis easily ejected the Portuguese from Zanzibar and from all other coastal regions north of Mozambique , with the help of the Somali . The Persians invaded Oman in 1737. They were driven out in 1749 when the Al Said dynasty came to power. It continues to rule Oman to this day.

Zanzibar was a valuable property as the main slave market of the Swahili Coast, and became an increasingly important part of the Omani empire, a fact reflected by the decision of the 19th century Imam of Muscat, Sa\'id ibn Sultan , to make it his main place of residence in 1837. Sa'id built impressive palaces and gardens in Zanzibar. Rivalry between his two sons was resolved, with the help of forceful British diplomacy, when one of them, Majid , succeeded to Zanzibar and to the many regions claimed by the family on the Swahili Coast. The other son, Thuwaini , inherited Muscat and Oman . Zanzibar influences in the Comoros archipelago in the Indian Ocean indirectly introduced Omani customs to the Comorian culture. These influences include clothing traditions and wedding ceremonies.

In 1783, Oman's Seyyid Sultan, defeated ruler of Muscat, was granted sovereignty over Gwadar . This coastal city is located in the Makran region of what is now the far southwestern corner of Pakistan , near the present-day border of Iran , at the mouth of the Gulf of Oman . After regaining control of Muscat, this sovereignty was continued via an appointed _wali _ ("governor").

The Al Hajar Mountains , of which the Jebel Akhdar is a part, separate the country into two distinct regions: the interior, known as Oman, and the coastal area dominated by the capital, Muscat. In 1913, control of the country split. The interior was ruled by Ibadite imams and the coastal areas by the sultan. Under the terms of the British-brokered Treaty of Seeb of 1920, the sultan recognised the autonomy of the interior. The Sultan of Muscat would be responsible for the external affairs of Oman.

REIGN OF SULTAN SAID (1932–1970)

Sultan Said Bin Taimur

The rule of Sultan Said bin Taimur was characterised by a feudal and isolationist approach. Imam Ghalib Al Hinai was the elected Imam of the Imamate of Oman in May 1954. Relations between the Sultan of Muscat, Said bin Taimur, and Imam Ghalib Al Hinai were ruptured over a dispute concerning the right to grant oil concessions. A subsidiary of the Iraq Petroleum Company was intensely interested in some promising geological formations near Fahud . Under the terms of the 1920 treaty of Seeb, the Sultan claimed all dealings with the oil company as his prerogative. The Imam, on the other hand, claimed that since the oil was in his territory, anything dealing with it was an internal matter. Bahla Fort.

In December 1955, Sultan Said bin Zubair sent troops of the Muscat and Oman Field Force to occupy the main centres in Oman, including Nizwa , the capital of the Imamate of Oman, and Ibri . Imam Ghalib Al Hinai and his younger brother, Talib bin Ali Al Hinai , led the Imamate of Oman in the Jebel Akhdar War against Sultan Said bin Taimur's attack on his lands. In July 1957, the Sultan's forces were withdrawing, but they were repeatedly ambushed, sustaining heavy casualties. Sultan Said bin Taimur, however, with the intervention of infantry (two companies of the Cameronians ), armoured car detachments from the British Army and RAF aircraft, was able to suppress the rebellion. Talib's forces retreated to the inaccessible Jebel Akhdar .

Colonel David Smiley , who had been seconded to organize the Sultan's Armed Forces, managed to isolate the mountain in autumn 1958 and found a route to the plateau from Wadi Bani Kharu. On 27 January 1959, they occupied the mountain in a surprise operation. Ghalib, Talib and Sulaiman managed to escape to Saudi Arabia , where the imamate's cause was promoted until the 1970s.

In 1955, the exclave coastal Makran strip acceded to Pakistan and was made a district of its Balochistan province , while Gwadar was not included in Makran then. On 8 September 1958, Pakistan purchased the Gwadar enclave from Oman for US$ 3 million. Gwadar then became a tehsil in the Makran district.

Oil reserves were discovered in 1964 and extraction began in 1967. In the Dhofar Rebellion , which began in 1965, leftist forces were pitted against government troops. As the rebellion threatened to overthrow the Sultan's rule in Dhofar , Sultan Said bin Taimur was deposed in a bloodless coup (1970) by his son Qaboos bin Said , who expanded the Sultan of Oman\'s Armed Forces , modernised the state's administration and introduced social reforms. The uprising was finally put down in 1975 with the help of forces from Iran , Jordan , Pakistan and the British Royal Air Force , army and Special Air Service .

REIGN OF SULTAN QABOOS (FROM 1970)

After deposing his father in 1970, Sultan Qaboos opened up the country, embarked on economic reforms, and followed a policy of modernisation marked by increased spending on health, education and welfare. Slavery was outlawed in 1970 as well.

In 1981 Oman became a founding member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council . Political reforms were eventually introduced. Historically, voters had been chosen from among tribal leaders, intellectuals, and businessmen. In 1997 Sultan Qaboos decreed that women could vote for, and stand for election to, the Majlis al-Shura, the Consultative Assembly of Oman . Two women were duly elected to the body.

In 2002, voting rights were extended to all citizens over the age of 21, and the first elections to the Consultative Assembly under the new rules were held in 2003. In 2004, the Sultan appointed Oman's first female minister with portfolio, Sheikha Aisha bint Khalfan bin Jameel al-Sayabiyah. She was appointed to the post of National Authority for Industrial Craftsmanship, an office that attempts to preserve and promote Oman's traditional crafts and stimulate industry. Despite these changes, there was little change to the actual political makeup of the government. The Sultan continued to rule by decree. Nearly 100 suspected Islamists were arrested in 2005 and 31 people were convicted of trying to overthrow the government. They were ultimately pardoned in June of the same year.

Inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings taking place throughout the region, protests also occurred in Oman during the early months of 2011. Although they did not call for the ousting of the regime, demonstrators demanded political reforms, improved living conditions, and the creation of more jobs. They were dispersed by riot police in February 2011. Sultan Qaboos reacted by promising jobs and benefits. In October 2011, elections were held to the Consultative Assembly, to which Sultan Qaboos promised greater powers. The following year, the government began a crackdown on Internet criticism. In September 2012, trials began of 'activists' accused of posting "abusive and provocative" criticism of the government online. Six were given jail terms of 12–18 months and fines of around $2,500 each.

GEOGRAPHY

The coast of Sur, Oman . Wadi Shab

Oman lies between latitudes 16° and 28° N , and longitudes 52° and 60° E . A vast gravel desert plain covers most of central Oman, with mountain ranges along the north ( Al Hajar Mountains ) and southeast coast (Qara or Dhofar Mountains ), where the country's main cities are also located: the capital city Muscat , Sohar and Sur in the north, and Salalah in the south. Oman's climate is hot and dry in the interior and humid along the coast. During past epochs, Oman was covered by ocean, witnessed by the large numbers of fossilized shells existing in areas of the desert away from the modern coastline. An Omani desert landscape.

The peninsula of Musandam (Musandem) exclave , which has a strategic location on the Strait of Hormuz , is separated from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates . The series of small towns known collectively as Dibba are the gateway to the Musandam peninsula on land and the fishing villages of Musandam by sea, with boats available for hire at Khasab for trips into the Musandam peninsula by sea. Oman's other exclave, inside UAE territory, known as Madha , located halfway between the Musandam Peninsula and the main body of Oman, is part of the Musandam governorate, covering approximately 75 km2 (29 sq mi). Madha's boundary was settled in 1969, with the north-east corner of Madha barely 10 m (32.8 ft) from the Fujairah road. Within the Madha exclave is a UAE enclave called Nahwa , belonging to the Emirate of Sharjah. Situated about 8 km (5 mi) along a dirt track west of the town of New Madha, consisting of about forty houses with a clinic and telephone exchange. The central desert of Oman is an important source of meteorites for scientific analysis.

CLIMATE

Main article: Climate of Oman

Like the rest of the Persian Gulf, Oman generally has one of the hottest climates in the world — with summer temperatures in Muscat and northern Oman averaging 30 °C (86.0 °F) to 40 °C (104.0 °F). Oman receives little rainfall , with annual rainfall in Muscat averaging 100 mm (3.9 in), falling mostly in January. In the south, the Dhofar Mountains area near Salalah has a tropical-like climate and receives seasonal rainfall from late June to late September as a result of monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean, leaving the summer air saturated with cool moisture and heavy fog. Summer temperatures in Salalah range from 20 °C (68.0 °F) to 30 °C (86.0 °F) — relatively cool compared to northern Oman.

The mountain areas receive more rainfall, and annual rainfall on the higher parts of the Jabal Akhdar probably exceeds 400 mm (15.7 in). Low temperatures in the mountainous areas result in snow cover once every few years. 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 around 50 °C (122.0 °F) (peak) in the hot season, from May to September.

FLORA AND FAUNA

See also: Wildlife of Oman Nakhal palm tree farms in Oman's Batina Region . The Arabian humpback whales off Dhofar

Desert shrub and desert grass, common to southern Arabia, are found in Oman, but vegetation is sparse in the interior plateau, which is largely gravel desert. The greater monsoon rainfall in Dhofar and the mountains makes the growth there more luxuriant during summer; coconut palms grow plentifully in the coastal plains of Dhofar and frankincense is produced in the hills, with abundant oleander and varieties of acacia . The Al Hajar Mountains are a distinct ecoregion , the highest points in eastern Arabia with wildlife including the Arabian tahr .

Indigenous mammals include the leopard , hyena , fox, wolf , hare, oryx, and ibex . Birds include the vulture, eagle, stork, bustard, Arabian partridge, bee eater, falcon, and sunbird. In 2001, Oman had nine endangered species of mammals, five endangered types of birds, and nineteen threatened plant species . Decrees have been passed to protect endangered species, including the Arabian leopard , Arabian oryx , mountain gazelle , goitered gazelle , Arabian tahr , green sea turtle , hawksbill turtle , and olive ridley turtle . However, the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary is the first site ever to be deleted from UNESCO 's World Heritage List, due to the government's decision to reduce the site to 10% of its former size so that the remainder could be opened to oil prospectors. Osprey in Yiti Beach, Oman

In recent years, Oman has become one of newer hot spots for whale watching , highlighting the critically endangered Arabian humpback whale , the most isolated and only non-migratory population in the world, sperm whales , and pygmy blue whales .

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

Drought and limited rainfall contribute to shortages in the nation's water supply. Maintaining an adequate supply of water for agricultural and domestic use is one of Oman's most pressing environmental problems, with limited renewable water resources . 94% of available water is used in farming and 2% for industrial activity, with the majority sourced from fossil water in the desert areas and spring water in hills and mountains.

Drinking water is available throughout Oman, either piped or delivered. The soil in coastal plains, such as Salalah, have shown increased levels of salinity, due to over exploitation of ground water and encroachment by seawater on the water table. Pollution of beaches and other coastal areas by oil tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman is also a persistent concern.

Local and national entities have noted unethical treatment of animals in Oman. In particular, stray dogs (and to a lesser extent, stray cats) are often the victims of torture, abuse or neglect. Currently, the only approved method of decreasing the stray dog population is shooting by police officers. Because of Islamic misgivings towards dogs , dogs are often stoned or beaten to death by neighborhood teens or adults. The Oman government has refused to implement a spay and neuter program or create any animal shelters in the country. Cats, while seen as more acceptable than dogs, are viewed as pests and frequently die of starvation or illness.

POLITICS

Main articles: Politics of Oman and Human rights in Oman The Sultan's Al Alam Palace in Old Muscat.

Oman is an absolute monarchy in which all legislative, executive, and judiciary power ultimately rests in the hands of the hereditary Sultan. Freedom House has routinely rated the country "Not Free".

Sultan Qaboos is the head of state and also directly controls the foreign affairs and defence portfolios. The sultan has absolute power and issues laws by decree . Sultan Qaboos is the longest-serving ruler in the Middle East.

LEGAL SYSTEM

Oman is an absolute monarchy ruled by Sultan Qaboos. The judiciary branch is subordinate to the Sultan. According to Oman's constitution, Sharia law is one of the sources of legislation. Sharia court departments within the civil court system are responsible for family-law matters, such as divorce and inheritance.

Oman has no system of checks and balances, and thus no separation of powers . All power is concentrated in the Sultan, who is also chief of staff of the armed forces, Minister of Defence, Minister of Foreign Affairs and chairman of the Central Bank. All legislation since 1970 has been promulgated through royal decrees, including the 1996 Basic Law. The Sultan appoints judges, and can grant pardons and commute sentences. The Sultan's authority is inviolable and the Sultan expects total subordination to his will.

The administration of justice is highly personalized, with limited due process protections, especially in political and security-related cases. The Basic Statute of the State is supposedly the cornerstone of the Omani legal system and it operates as a constitution for the country. The Basic Statute was issued in 1996 and thus far has only been amended once, in 2011, in response to protests .

Though Oman’s legal code theoretically protects civil liberties and personal freedoms, both are regularly ignored by the regime. Women and children face legal discrimination in many areas. Women are excluded from certain state benefits, such as housing loans, and are refused equal rights under the personal status law. Women also experience restrictions on their self-determination in respect to health and reproductive rights. Qaboos bin Said al Said

The National Human Rights Commission, established in 2008, is not independent from the regime. It is chaired by the former deputy inspector general of Police and Customs and its members are appointed by royal decree. In June 2012, one of its members requested that she be relieved of her duties because she disagreed with a statement made by the Commission justifying the arrest of intellectuals and bloggers and the restriction of freedom of expression in the name of respect for “the principles of religion and customs of the country”.

Since the beginning of the “Omani Spring” in January 2011, a number of serious violations of civil rights have been reported, amounting to a critical deterioration of the human rights situation. Prisons are not accessible to independent monitors. Members of the independent Omani Group of Human Rights have been harassed, arrested and sentenced to jail. There have been numerous testimonies of torture and other inhumane forms of punishment perpetrated by security forces on protesters and detainees. The detainees were all peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly. Although authorities must obtain court orders to hold suspects in pre-trial detention, they do not regularly follow these procedures. The penal code was amended in October 2011 to allow the arrest and detention of individuals without an arrest warrant from public prosecutors.

The Omani legislature is the bicameral Council of Oman , consisting of an upper chamber, the Council of State (Majlis ad-Dawlah) and a lower chamber, the Consultative Council (Majlis ash-Shoura). Political parties are banned. The upper chamber has 71 members, appointed by the Sultan from among prominent Omanis; it has only advisory powers. The 84 members of the Consultative Council are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms, but the Sultan makes the final selections and can negotiate the election results. The members are appointed for three-year terms, which may be renewed once. The last elections were held on October 2011 . Oman's national anthem, _ As-Salam as-Sultani _ is dedicated to Sultan Qaboos.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Main article: Human rights in Oman

Oman is an absolute monarchy by male primogeniture . The present Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said is the hereditary leader of the country since 1970.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Oman. The practice of torture is widespread in Oman state penal institutions and has become the state's typical reaction to independent political expression. Torture methods in use in Oman include mock execution , beating, hooding , solitary confinement, subjection to extremes of temperature and to constant noise, abuse and humiliation. There have been numerous reports of torture and other inhumane forms of punishment perpetrated by Omani security forces on protesters and detainees. Several prisoners detained in 2012 complained of sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures, and solitary confinement. Omani authorities kept Sultan al-Saadi, a social media activist, in solitary confinement, denied him access to his lawyer and family, forced him to wear a black bag over his head whenever he left his cell, including when using the restroom, and told him his family had “forsaken” him and asked for him to be imprisoned.

The Omani government decides who can or cannot be a journalist and this permission can be withdrawn at any time. Censorship and self-censorship are a constant factor. Omanis have limited access to political information through the media. Access to news and information can be problematic: journalists have to be content with news compiled by the official news agency on some issues. Through a decree by the Sultan, the government has now extended its control over the media to blogs and other websites. Omanis cannot hold a public meeting without the government's approval. Omanis who want to set up a non-governmental organisation of any kind need a licence. To get a licence, they have to demonstrate that the organisation is "for legitimate objectives" and not "inimical to the social order". The Omani government does not permit the formation of independent civil society associations.

The law prohibits criticism of the Sultan and government in any form or medium. Oman's police do not need search warrants in order to enter people's homes. The law does not provide citizens with the right to change their government. The Sultan retains ultimate authority on all foreign and domestic issues. Government officials are not subject to financial disclosure laws. Libel laws and concerns for national security have been used to suppress criticism of government figures and politically objectionable views. Publication of books is limited and the government restricts their importation and distribution, as with other media products.

Merely mentioning the existence of such restrictions can land Omanis in trouble. In 2009, a web publisher was fined and given a suspended jail sentence for revealing that a supposedly live TV programme was actually pre-recorded in order to eliminate any criticisms of the government.

Faced with so many restrictions, Omanis have resorted to unconventional methods for expressing their views. Omanis sometimes use donkeys to express their views. Writing about Gulf rulers in 2001, Dale Eickelman observed: "Only in Oman has the occasional donkey… been used as a mobile billboard to express anti-regime sentiments. There is no way in which police can maintain dignity in seizing and destroying a donkey on whose flank a political message has been inscribed."

Omani citizens need government permission to marry foreigners. The Ministry of Interior requires Omani citizens to obtain permission to marry foreigners (except nationals of GCC countries); permission is not automatically granted. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may result in denial of entry for the foreign spouse at the border and preclude children from claiming citizenship rights. It also may result in a bar from government employment and a fine of 2,000 rials ($5,200).

In August 2014, The Omani writer and human rights defender Mohammed Alfazari , the founder and editor-in-chief of the e-magazine Mowatin “Citizen”, disappeared after going to the police station in the Al-Qurum district of Muscat. His whereabouts and condition remain unknown. The Omani government denies his detention and refuses to disclose information about his whereabouts. On 17 July 2015 Al Fazari left Oman seeking political asylum in UK after a travel ban was issued against him without providing any reasons and after his official documents including his national ID and passport were confiscated for more than 8 months. There were more reports of politically motivated disappearances in the country. In 2012, armed security forces arrested Sultan al-Saadi, a social media activist. According to reports, authorities detained him at an unknown location for one month for comments he posted online critical of the government. Authorities previously arrested al-Saadi in 2011 for participating in protests and again in 2012 for posting comments online deemed insulting to Sultan Qaboos. In May 2012 security forces detained Ismael al-Meqbali, Habiba al-Hinai, and Yaqoub al-Kharusi, human rights activists who were visiting striking oil workers. Authorities released al-Hinai and al-Kharusi shortly after their detention but did not inform al-Meqbali’s friends and family of his whereabouts for weeks. Authorities pardoned al-Meqbali in March. In December 2013, a Yemeni national disappeared in Oman after he was arrested at a checkpoint in Dhofar Governorate. Omani authorities refuse to acknowledge his detention. His whereabouts and condition remain unknown.

The National Human Rights Commission, established in 2008, is not independent from the regime. It is chaired by the former deputy inspector general of Police and Customs and its members are appointed by royal decree. In June 2012, one of its members requested that she be relieved of her duties because she disagreed with a statement made by the Commission justifying the arrest of intellectuals and bloggers and the restriction of freedom of expression in the name of respect for “the principles of religion and customs of the country”.

Since the beginning of the “Omani Spring” in January 2011, a number of serious violations of civil rights has been reported, amounting to a critical deterioration of the human rights situation. Prisons are inaccessible to independent monitors. Members of the independent Omani Group of Human Rights have been harassed, arrested and sentenced to jail. There have been numerous testimonies of torture and other inhumane forms of punishment perpetrated by security forces on protesters and detainees. The detainees were all peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly. Although authorities must obtain court orders to hold suspects in pre-trial detention, they do not regularly do this. The penal code was amended in October 2011 to allow the arrest and detention of individuals without an arrest warrant from public prosecutors.

In January 2014, Omani intelligence agents arrested a Bahraini actor and handed him over to the Bahraini authorities on the same day of his arrest. The actor has been subjected to a forced disappearance , his whereabouts and condition remain unknown.

MIGRANT WORKERS

Main article: Migrant workers in the Gulf region

The plight of domestic workers in Oman is a taboo subject. In 2011, the Philippines government determined that out of all the countries in the Middle East, only Oman and Israel qualify as safe for Filipino migrants. In 2012, it was reported that every 6 days, an Indian migrant in Oman commits suicide. There has been a campaign urging authorities to check the migrant suicide rate. In the 2014 Global Slavery Index , Oman is ranked #45 due to 26,000 people in slavery . The descendants of servant tribes and slaves are victims of widespread discrimination. Oman was one of the last countries to abolish slavery in 1970.

FOREIGN POLICY

Main article: Foreign relations of Oman U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Sultan Qaboos in Muscat, May 2013

Since 1970, Oman has pursued a moderate foreign policy, and has expanded its diplomatic relations dramatically. Oman is among the very few Arab countries that have maintained friendly ties with Iran . WikiLeaks disclosed US diplomatic cables which state that Oman helped free British sailors captured by Iran's navy in 2007. The same cables also portray the Omani government as wishing to maintain cordial relations with Iran, and as having consistently resisted US diplomatic pressure to adopt a sterner stance.

MILITARY

Main article: Sultan of Oman\'s Armed Forces The Khareef-class corvette , Al-Shamikh.

Oman's military manpower totalled 44,100 in 2006, including 25,000 men in the army, 4,200 sailors in the navy, and an air force with 4,100 personnel. The Royal Household maintained 5,000 Guards, 1,000 in Special Forces, 150 sailors in the Royal Yacht fleet, and 250 pilots and ground personnel in the Royal Flight squadrons. Oman also maintains a modestly sized paramilitary force of 4,400 men.

The Royal Army of Oman had 25,000 active personnel in 2006, plus a small contingent of Royal Household troops. Despite a comparative large military spending, it has been relatively slow to modernize its forces. Oman has a relatively limited number of tanks, including 6 M60A1 , 73 M60A3 , and 38 Challenger 2 main battle tanks, as well as 37 aging Scorpion light tanks.

The Royal Air Force of Oman has approximately 4,100 men, with only 36 combat aircraft and no armed helicopters. Combat aircraft include 20 aging Jaguars , 12 Hawk Mk 203s, 4 Hawk Mk 103s, and 12 PC-9 turboprop trainers with a limited combat capability. It has one squadron of 12 F-16C/D aircraft. Oman also has 4 A202-18 Bravos , and 8 MFI-17B Mushshaqs .

The Royal Navy of Oman had 4,200 men in 2000, and is headquartered at Seeb . It has bases at Ahwi, Ghanam Island, Mussandam and Salalah . In 2006, Oman had 10 surface combat vessels. These included two 1,450-ton Qahir class corvettes , and 8 ocean-going patrol boats . The Omani Navy had one 2,500-ton Nasr al Bahr class LSL (240 troops, 7 tanks) with a helicopter deck. Oman also had at least four landing craft . Oman ordered three Khareef-class corvettes from the VT Group for £400 million in 2007. They are being built at Portsmouth . In 2010 Oman spent US$4.074 billion on military expenditures, 8.5% of the gross domestic product. The sultanate has a long history of association with the British military and defence industry. According to SIPRI , Oman was the 23rd largest arms importer from 2012-2016.

ADMINISTRATIVE DIVISIONS

Main article: Regions and governorates of Oman

The Sultanate is administratively divided into eleven governorates. Governorates are, in turn, divided into 60 wilayats .

* Ad Dakhiliyah * Ad Dhahirah * Al Batinah North * Al Batinah South * Al Buraimi * Al Wusta * Ash Sharqiyah North * Ash Sharqiyah South * Dhofar * Muscat * Musandam

ECONOMY

Main article: Economy of Oman A proportional representation of Oman's exports. Muscat Securities Market .

Oman's Basic Statute of the State expresses in Article 11 that the "national economy is based on justice and the principles of a free economy ." By regional standards, Oman has a relatively diversified economy, but remains dependent on oil exports. Tourism is the fastest-growing industry in Oman. Other sources of income, agriculture and industry, are small in comparison and account for less than 1% of the country's exports, but diversification is seen as a priority by the government. Agriculture, often subsistence in its character, produces dates , limes , grains , and vegetables, but with less than 1% of the country under cultivation , Oman is likely to remain a net importer of food.

Since a slump in oil prices in 1998, Oman has made active plans to diversify its economy and is placing a greater emphasis on other areas of industry, namely tourism and infrastructure. Metkore Alloys is due to build a world-class 1,650,000-tonnes-per-annum capacity ferro-chrome smelter in Oman with an envisaged investment of $80 million.

A free-trade agreement with the United States took effect 1 January 2009, eliminated tariff barriers on all consumer and industrial products, and also provided strong protections for foreign businesses investing in Oman. Tourism , another source of Oman's revenue, is on the rise. A popular event is The Khareef Festival held in Salalah , Dhofar , which is 1,200 km from the capital city of Muscat, during the monsoon season (August) and is similar to Muscat Festival. During this latter event the mountains surrounding Salalah are popular with tourists as a result of the cool weather and lush greenery, rarely found anywhere else in Oman.

Oman's foreign workers send an estimated US$30 billion annually to their home states in Asia and Africa, more than half of them earning a monthly wage of less than US$400. The largest foreign community is from the south Indian states of Kerala , Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and from Maharashtra , Gujarat and the Punjab , representing more than half of entire workforce in Oman. Salaries for overseas workers are known to be less than for Omani nationals, though still from two to five times higher than for the equivalent job in India .

The Oman Ferries Company maintains the two diesel-powered, high-speed, car ferries – Shinas and Hormouz. The ferries are used for travel between Muscat and Khasab . Khasab is strategically located in Musandam on the southern tip of the Strait of Hormuz and is controlled by Oman. Mainland Oman is separated by a small strip of UAE territory from Musandam.

OIL AND GAS

Petrochemical tanks in Sohar .

Oman's proved reserves of petroleum total about 5.5 billion barrels, 25th largest in the world. Oil is extracted and processed by Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), with proven oil reserves holding approximately steady, although oil production has been declining. The Ministry of Oil and Gas is responsible for all oil and gas infrastructure and projects in Oman. Following the 1970s energy crisis , Oman doubled their oil output between 1979 and 1985.

Between 2000 and 2007, production fell by more than 26%, from 972,000 to 714,800 barrels per day . Production has recovered to 816,000 barrels in 2009, and 930,000 barrels per day in 2012. Oman's natural gas reserves are estimated at 849.5 billion cubic meters, ranking 28th in the world, and production in 2008 was about 24 billion cubic meters per year.

TOURISM

Main article: Tourism in Oman Wahiba Sands Bustan Palace

Tourism in Oman has grown considerably recently, and it is expected to be one of the largest industries in the country. The World Travel "> , Oman's population is over 4 million, with 2.23 million Omani nationals and 1.76 million expatriates. The total fertility rate in 2011 was estimated at 3.70. Oman has a very young population, with 43 percent of its inhabitants under the age of 15. Nearly 50 percent of the population lives in Muscat and the Batinah coastal plain northwest of the capital. Omani people are predominantly Arab , Baluchi , South Asian (Indian , Pakistani , Sri Lankan , Bangladeshi ), and African ethnic groups.

Omani society is largely tribal and encompasses three major identities: that of the tribe, the Ibadi faith, and maritime trade. The first two identities are closely tied to tradition and are especially prevalent in the interior of the country, owing to lengthy periods of isolation. The third identity pertains mostly to Muscat and the coastal areas of Oman, and is reflected by business, trade , and the diverse origins of many Omanis, who trace their roots to Baloch, Al-Lawatia , Persia , and historical Omani Zanzibar . Consequently, the third identity is generally seen to be more open and tolerant towards others, and is often in tension with the more traditional and insular identities of the interior.

RELIGION

Main article: Islam in Oman Further information: Freedom of religion in Oman Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Religion in Oman (2010) Islam (85.9%) Christianity (6.5%) Hinduism (5.5%) Others (1%) Buddhism (0.8%) Unaffiliated (0.2%) Judaism (0.1%)

Islam (official; majority are Sunni and less Shia) 85.9%, Christian 6.5%, Hindu 5.5%, Buddhist 0.8%, Jewish

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