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Oman is the oldest independent state in the Arab world- at its peak in the 19th century the Omani Empire stretched down the east African coast and vied with Portugal and Britain for influence in the Gulf and Indian Ocean. Most Omanis follow the Ibadi sect of Islam – the only remaining expression of Kharijism, which was created as a result of one of the first schisms within the religion.
Under Sultan Said bin Taimur (ruled 1932-1970) was very isolated, run along feudal lines with internal rebellion. After deposing his father in 1970, Sultan Qaboos Bin Said opened up the country, embarked on economic reforms and boosted spending on health, education and welfare. He has moved to increase popular participation in decision making. There is little religious violence. But protests in 2011 demanding reforms were dispersed by riot police, and the government began a crackdown on Internet criticism the following year.
Oman is heavily dependent on oil; but compared to its neighbours Oman is a modest producer. Agriculture and fishing are important sources of income. A diversification drive includes tourism (see the many You Tube promotion videos). Oman’s attractions include a largely-untouched coastline, mountains, deserts and the burgeoning capital Muscat, with its forts, palaces and old walled city. The focus is on modern art and architecture building on the traditional appearance, rather than the futuristic high-rise architecture of many other countries in the Gulf. Oman is developing the health sector. A policy of Omanisation aims to replace expatriate workers with locals.
Oman has a strategically important position at the mouth of the Gulf. It is a long-standing US ally, not least because of its steady relations with Iran. There is a free trade agreement between the two countries.
Research: The gloss of You Tube
Oman – behind the gloss
The general assessment of Sultan Qaboos is positive – the main question being how his achievements can be continued, and who might succeed him.
But there are reports of critics being tortured.