Monday, December 6, 2010

Oman Civilization

Inhabited by Bedouin tribes as early as third millennium BC, Oman was acutely under-developed until the discovery of oil and natural gas in the early 1970s.

Archaeological excavations have recently shown that much of Oman’s civilization predates the Arab period. The region embraced Islam during the lifetime of Mohammed in the seventh century AD.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the sultans of Muscat were powerful figures in Arabia and East Africa, who often came into conflict with the colonial powers in the region, particularly the Portuguese, who first settled here in the 16th century. Close ties have been maintained with Britain since 1798, when a treaty of friendship was concluded.

British influence remains strong but the number of British advisers occupying key positions in the Omani government, headed by the hereditary ruler Sultan Qaboos, has steadily declined and is now limited to a handful of advisors.

During the early years of the Sultan’s reign, which began in 1970, his top priority was to deal with an insurgency in the western part of his kingdom, conducted by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO) with the backing of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen.

The defeat of the insurgents served to increase both domestic and foreign pressure on Sultan Qaboos to introduce democratic reforms. A series of incremental measures have been introduced to modernise and liberalize this previously autocratic regime.

Two consultative assemblies, the Majlis as-Shura and the Majlis al-Dawlah, were originally groomed to assume the functions of a bicameral parliament at the turn of the millennium. This has not happened, nor is it likely to do so in the foreseeable future.

The two Majlis have some influence over domestic affairs, but no say in foreign and defence matters. Recently the franchise that elects them has been steadily expanding to include men and women over the age of 21. The most recent poll for the Majlis as-Shura in November 2003 registered little change in its make-up: no formal political parties are allowed but supporters of the Sultan are in the majority.

Relations with Oman’s immediate neighbours have been cordial, especially with Yemen, since the end of the PFLO insurgency and the unification of Yemen itself. In recent years, Omani concerns have been focused further a field. In 1981, Oman was a founding member of the Gulf Co-operation Council and has played a leading role in promoting its increasing involvement in regional security issues. The country holds strategic military importance to the West and has maintained friendly relations during the last two decades.

In 1994, Oman was the first Gulf state to establish official relations with Israel. Since 1998, it has also developed good relations with Iran, now extending as far as mutual security co-operation in the Gulf.

Oman has major oil trades with Japan, Korea (Rep), Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

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