U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: OMAN, DECEMBER 1994
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: Sultanate of Oman
Area: 212,457 sq. km. (82,030 sq. mi.); about the size of
Colorado. It is bordered on the north by the United Arab
Emirates (U.A.E.), on the northwest by Saudi Arabia, and on
the southwest by the Republic of Yemen. The Omani coastline
stretches 2,092 km.
Cities: Capital--Muscat. Other cities--Matrah, Ruwi,
Nizwa, Salalah, Sohar.
Terrain: Mountains, plains, and arid plateau.
Climate: Hot, humid along the coast; hot, dry in the
interior; summer monsoon in far south.
Nationality: Noun--Oman. Adjective--Omani.
Population: 1.6 million (1993).
Annual growth rate: 3.6% (est.).
Ethnic groups: Arab, Baluchi, East African (Zanzabari),
South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi).
Religions: Ibadhi and Sunni Muslim: 95%, Shia Muslim,
Languages: Arabic (official), English, Baluchi, Urdu, Hindi
and Indian dialects.
Education: Literacy--41% ( est.).
Health: Infant mortality rate (est.)--
33/1,000. Life expectancy --66 years.
Work force: 750,000. Agriculture and fishing--50%.
Branches: Executive--sultan. Legislative--Majlis Ash-Shura
(Consultative Council). Judicial--civil courts handle
criminal cases; Shari'a (Islamic law) courts oversee family
Political parties: None.
Administrative subdivisions: eight administrative regions:
Muscat, Al-Batinah, Musandam, A'Dhahirah, A'Dakhliya,
A'Shariqiya, Al Wusta, Dhofar Governorate. There are 59
GDP (1992): $11.6 billion.
Per capita GDP: $5,800.
Natural resources: Oil, natural gas, copper, marble,
limestone, gypsum, chromium. Agriculture and fisheries:
(3.66% of GDP).
Agriculture: Products--dates, limes, bananas, mangoes,
alfalfa, other fruits and vegetables. Fisheries-- Kingfish,
tuna, other fish, shrimp, lobster, abalone.
Industry: Types--crude petroleum over 750,000 b/d;
construction, petroleum refinery, copper mines and smelter,
cement and various light industries.
Trade (1992): Exports--$5.5 billion; Oil--83%. Major
markets--Japan (35%), South Korea (21%), Singapore (7%),
U.S. (6%), Taiwan (4%). Imports-- $3.6 billion: machinery,
transportation equipment, manufactured goods, food,
livestock, lubricants. Major suppliers--Japan 21%, U.A.E.
20%, U.K. 10%, U.S. 7%.
Exchange rate (1994): 38 Rials= U.S.$1.
About 50% of the population lives in Muscat and the Batinah
coastal plain northwest of the capital; about 200,000 live
in the Dhofar (southern) region, and about 30,000 live in
the remote Musandam peninsula on the Strait of Hormuz. At
least 550,000 expatriates live in Oman, of whom about
455,000 are guest workers from South Asia, Egypt, Jordan,
and the Philippines.
Since 1970, the government has given especially high
priority to education to develop a domestic work force,
which the government considers a vital factor in the
country's economic and social progress. In 1986, Oman's
first university, Sultan Qaboos University, opened. Other
post-secondary institutions include a technical college,
banking institute, teachers training college, and health
sciences institute. As many as 200 scholarships are
awarded each year for study abroad.
Muscat and Oman (as the country was called before 1970) was
converted to Islam in the seventh century A.D., during the
lifetime of Muhammad. Ibadhism, a form of Islam tracing its
roots to the Kharijite movement, became the dominant
religious sect in Oman by the eighth century. Contact with
Europe was established in 1508, when the Portuguese
conquered parts of the coastal region. Portugal's influence
predominated for more than a century, with only a short
interruption by the Turks. Fortifications built during the
Portuguese occupation can still be seen at Muscat.
After the Portuguese were expelled in 1650 and while
resisting Persian attempts to establish hegemony, Muscat and
Oman extended its conquests to Zanzibar (now part of
Tanzania), other parts of the eastern coast of Africa, and
portions of the southern Arabian peninsula. During this
period, political leadership shifted from the Ibadhi imams,
who were elected religious leaders, to hereditary sultans
who established their capital in Muscat. The Muscat rulers
established trading posts on the Persian coast (now Iran)
and also exercised a measure of control over the Makran
coast (now Pakistan) of mainland Asia. By the early 19th
century, Muscat and Oman was the most powerful state in
Arabia and on the East African coast.
Muscat and Oman was the object of Franco-British rivalry
throughout the 18th century. The British developed the
stronger position in 1908 through an agreement of
friendship. During the 19th century, Muscat and Oman and
the United Kingdom concluded several treaties of friendship
and commerce. Their traditional association was confirmed
in 1951 through a new treaty of friendship, commerce, and
navigation by which the United Kingdom recognized the
sultanate as a fully independent state.
When Sultan Sa'id Sayyid died in 1856, his sons quarreled
over his succession. As a result of this struggle, the
empire--through the mediation of the British Government
under the "Canning Award"--was divided in 1861 into two
separate principalities--Zanzibar, with its East African
dependencies, and Muscat and Oman. Zanzibar paid an annual
subsidy to Muscat and Oman until its independence in early
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the sultan in
Muscat faced rebellion by members of the Ibadhi sect
residing in the interior who wanted to be ruled exclusively
by their religious leader, the Imam of Oman. This conflict
was resolved temporarily by the Treaty of Seeb, which
granted the imam autonomous rule in the interior, while
recognizing the nominal sovereignty of the sultan.
The conflict flared up again in 1954, when the new imam led
a sporadic five-year rebellion against the sultan's efforts
to extend government control into the interior. The
insurgents were defeated in 1959 with British help. The
sultan then terminated the Treaty of Seeb and voided the
office of the imam. In the early-1960s, the exiled imam
obtained support from Saudi Arabia and other Arab
governments, but this support ended in the 1980s.
In 1964, a separatist revolt began in Dhofar Province.
Aided by communist and leftist governments such as the
former South Yemen (People's Democratic Republic of Yemen),
the rebels formed the Dhofar Liberation Front, which later
merged with the Marxist-dominated Popular Front for the
Liberation of Oman and the Arab Gulf (PFLOAG). The PFLOAG's
declared intention was to overthrow all traditional Arab
Gulf regimes in the Persian Gulf.
In mid-1974, PFLOAG shortened its name to the Popular Front
for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO) and embarked on a
political rather than a military approach to gain power in
the other Persian Gulf states, while continuing the
guerrilla war in Dhofar.
Sultan Qaboos bin Sa'id assumed power on July 24, 1970, in a
palace coup directed against his father, Sa'id bin Taymur,
who later died in exile in London. The new sultan was
confronted with insurgency in a country plagued by endemic
disease, illiteracy, and poverty.
One of the new sultan's first measures was to abolish many
of his father's harsh restrictions, which had caused
thousands of Omanis to leave the country, and offer amnesty
to opponents of the previous regime, many of whom returned
to Oman. He also established a modern government structure;
and launched a major development program to upgrade
educational and health facilities, build a modern
infrastructure, and develop the country's resources.
In an effort to curb the Dhofar insurgency, Sultan Qaboos
expanded and re-equipped the armed forces and granted
amnesty to all surrendered rebels while vigorously
prosecuting the war in Dhofar. He obtained direct military
support from Iran and Jordan. By early-1975, the guerrillas
were confined to a 50-square-kilometer (20-sq.-mi.) area and
shortly thereafter were defeated. As the war drew to a
close, civil action programs were given increasing priority
throughout the province and since then have become major
elements in winning the allegiance of the people. The PFLO
threat appeared to diminish further with the establishment
of diplomatic relations in October 1983 between South Yemen
and Oman, and South Yemen's subsequent diminution of
propaganda and subversive activities against Oman. In late-
1987, Oman opened an embassy in Aden, South Yemen, and
appointed its first resident ambassador to the country.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Sultan Qaboos bin Sa'id, the monarch, rules with the aid of
his ministers. His dynasty, the Al Sa'id, was founded about
250 years ago by Imam Ahmed bin Sa'id. The sultan is a
direct descendant of the 19th-century ruler, Sa'id bin
Sultan. The sultanate has no constitution, Western-style
legislature, or legal political parties.
Oman's judicial system traditionally has been based on the
Shari'a--the Koranic laws and the oral teachings of the
Islamic Prophet Muhammad. The Shari'a courts fall under the
jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, Awqaf, and Islamic
Affairs. Oman's first criminal code was not enacted until
1974. The current structure of the criminal court system
was established in 1984 and consists of a magistrate court
in the capital and four additional magistrate courts in
Sohar, Sur, Salalah, and Nizwa. In the less-populated areas
and among the nomadic bedouin, tribal custom often is the
Administratively, the populated regions are divided into
numerous districts (wilayats) presided over by governors
(walis) responsible for settling local disputes, collecting
taxes, and maintaining peace. Most wilayats are small; an
exception is the wilayat of Dhofar, which comprises the
whole province. The wali of Dhofar is an important
government figure, holding cabinet rank, while other walis
operate under the guidance of the ministry of interior.
In November 1991, Sultan Qaboos established the Majlis ash-
Shura (Council of Deliberation/Consultation), which replaced
the 10-year-old State Consultative Council, in an effort to
systematize and broaden public participation in government.
Representatives were chosen in the following manner: Local
caucuses in each of the 59 districts sent forward the names
of three nominees, whose credentials were reviewed by a
cabinet committee. These names were then forwarded to the
sultan, who made the final selection. The Council serves as
a conduit of information between the people and the
government ministries. It is empowered to review drafts of
economic and social legislation prepared by service
ministries, such as communications and housing, and to
provide recommendations. Service ministers may also be
summoned before the Majlis to respond to representatives'
questions. It has no authority in the areas of foreign
affairs, defense, security, and finances.
After North and South Yemen merged in May 1990, Oman settled
its border disputes with the new Republic of Yemen on
October 1, 1992. The two neighbors have cooperative
Although Oman enjoys a high degree of internal stability,
regional tensions in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war
and the Iran-Iraq war continue to necessitate large defense
expenditures. In 1992, Oman budgeted $1.73 billion for
defense--about 15% of its GDP. Oman maintains a small but
effective military, supplied mainly with British equipment
in addition to items from the United States, France, and
other countries. British officers, on loan or on contract
to the sultanate, help staff the armed forces, although a
program of "Omanization" has steadily increased the
proportion of Omani officers over the past several years.
Principal Government Officials
Sultan, Prime Minister, and Minister of Defense, Foreign
Affairs, and Finance--Qaboos bin Sa'id Al Said
Minister of Palace Office Affairs--Ali bin Majid Mamari
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs--Yusif bin Alawi bin
Deputy Prime Minister for Financial and Economic Affairs--
Qais bin Abd al-Munim al-Zawawi
Deputy Prime Minister for Legal Affairs--Fahd bin Mahmud Al
Deputy Prime Minister for Security and Defense--Fahar bin
Taymur Al Sa'id
Ambassador to the U.S.--Ahmed bin Mohammad al-Rasbi
Permanent Representative to the UN--Salim al-Khusaybi
Oman maintains an embassy in the United States at 2535
Belmont Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-387-1980).
When Oman declined as an entrepot for arms and slaves in the
mid-19th century, much of its former prosperity was lost,
and the economy relied almost exclusively on agriculture,
camel and goat herding, fishing, and traditional
handicrafts. Today, oil fuels the economy and revenues from
petroleum products have enabled Oman's dramatic development
over the past 20 years.
Oil was first discovered in the interior near Fahud in the
western desert in 1964. Petroleum Development (Oman) Ltd.
(PDO) began production in August 1967. The Omani Government
owns 60% of PDO production, and foreign interests own
40% (Royal Dutch Shell owns 34%; the remaining 6% is owned
by Compagnie Francaise des Petroles [Total] and Partex). In
1976, Oman's oil production rose to 366,000 barrels per day
(b/d) but declined gradually to about 285,000 b/d in late
1980 due to the slow depletion of recoverable reserves.
From 1981 to 1986, Oman was able to compensate for declining
oil prices by increasing its production levels, which
reached 600,000 b/d. With the collapse of oil prices in
1986, however, revenues dropped dramatically. Production
was cut back temporarily in coordination with the
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and
production levels again reached 600,000 b/d by mid-1987,
which helped increase revenues. By mid-1993, production had
climbed to more than 750,000 b/d but falling oil prices may
necessitate further adjustment. Oman is not a member of
OPEC but is a leader of Independent Petroleum Exporting
Oman does not have the immense oil resources of some of its
neighbors. Nevertheless, recently, it has found more oil
than it has produced, and total proven reserves rose from
2.9 billion barrels in January 1982 to 4.6 billion barrels
by the end of 1992. The outlook for additions to reserves
is promising, although Oman's complex geology makes
exploration and production a challenge. Recent improvements
in technology, however, have enhanced recovery. Natural gas
reserves, which will increasingly provide the fuel for power
generation and desalination, stand at 17 trillion cubic
feet. Studies are currently underway to supply export of
gas for liquefied natural gas after processing in Oman.
Agriculture and fishing are the traditional way of life in
Oman. Dates and limes, grown extensively in the Batinah
coastal plain and the highlands, make up most of the
country's agricultural exports. Coconut palms, wheat, and
bananas also are grown, and cattle are raised in Dhofar.
Other areas grow cereals and forage crops. Poultry
production is steadily rising. Fish and shellfish exports
reached $35 million in 1991.
The government is undertaking many development projects to
modernize the economy and improve the standard of living.
Increases in agriculture and especially fish production are
believed possible with the application of modern technology.
The Muscat capital area has both an international airport at
Seeb and a deepwater port at Mina Qaboos. An airport in
Salalah, capital of the Dhofar Governate, and a seaport at
nearby Raysut were recently completed. A national road
network includes a $400-million highway linking the northern
and southern regions. In an effort to diversify, the
government built a $200-million copper mining and refining
plant at Sohar. Other large industrial projects include an
80,000 b/d oil refinery and two cement factories. An
industrial zone at Rusayl is the showcase of the country's
modest light industries. Marble, lime-stone, and gypsum may
prove commercially valuable in the future.
Some of the largest budgetary outlays are in the areas of
health services and basic education. The number of schools
rose from three in 1970 to more than 840 by 1993, while
hospital and clinic beds increased during this period from
12 to 4,355.
The subsequent drop in oil prices over the 1980s, combined
with rapidly growing recurrent outlays and ambitious
spending programs for development and defense usually have
created budget deficits every year (except 1990) since 1982.
Economic growth surged in Oman in 1992. This was the direct
result of the improvement in Oman's oil sector, which
experienced higher prices and an increased production level.
The other key sector of the economy, government spending, is
directly driven by the amount of oil revenues the government
The economic outlook for the remainder of the 1990s is good,
although falling oil prices once again will require budget
cutbacks. The Omani Government is continuing to pursue its
fourth five-year plan, launched in 1991, to reduce its
dependence on oil and expatriate labor. The plan focuses on
income diversification, job creation for Omanis in the
private sector, and development of Oman's interior.
Government programs offer soft loans and propose the
building of new industrial estates in population centers
outside the capital area. The government is giving greater
emphasis to the "Omanization" of the labor force,
particularly in sectors such as banking, hotels, and
municipally-sponsored shops benefiting from government
subsidies. Currently, efforts are underway to liberalize
investment opportunities in order to attract foreign
U.S. firms face a small and highly competitive market
dominated by trade with Japan and Britain and re-exports
from the United Arab Emirates. The sale of U.S. products
also is hampered by higher transportation costs and the lack
of familiarity with Oman on the part of U.S. exporters.
However, the traditional U.S. market in Oman, oil field
supplies and services, should grow as the country's major
oil producer continues a major expansion of fields and
Except for a brief period of Persian rule, the Omanis have
remained independent since 1650. Under its previous ruler,
Oman had limited contacts with the outside world, including
neighboring Arab states. When Sultan Qaboos assumed power in
1970, only two countries, the United Kingdom and India,
maintained a diplomatic presence in the country. A special
treaty relationship permitted the United Kingdom close
involvement in Oman's civil and military affairs. Ties with
the United Kingdom have remained friendly under Sultan
Oman pursues a moderate foreign policy. It supported the
Camp David accords and was one of three Arab League states,
along with Somalia and Sudan, that did not break relations
with Egypt after the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace
Treaty in 1979. Oman supports the current Middle East peace
initiatives, as it did those in 1983. In April 1994, Oman
hosted the plenary meeting of the water working group of the
peace process, the first Gulf state to do so During the
Persian Gulf crisis, Oman assisted the UN coalition effort.
Oman has developed close ties to its neighbors; it joined
the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council when it was
established in 1980.
For many years, Oman avoided relations with communist
countries because of the communist support connection to the
insurgency in Dhofar. Recently, however, Oman has undertaken
diplomatic initiatives in the Central Asian republics,
particularly in Kazakhstan, where it is involved in a joint
oil pipeline project. In addition, Oman maintains a low-key
relationship with Iran, its northern neighbor, and the two
countries regularly exchange delegations. Oman is an active
member in international and regional organizations, notably
the Arab League. Oman is a temporary member of the UN
Security Council for 1994-95.
The United States has maintained relations with the
sultanate since the early years of American independence. A
treaty of friendship and navigation, one of the first
agreements of its kind with an Arab state, was concluded
between the United States and Muscat in 1833. This treaty
was replaced by the treaty of amity, economic relations, and
Consular Rights signed at Salalah on December 20, 1958.
A U.S. Consulate was maintained in Muscat from 1880 until
1915. Thereafter, U.S. interests in Oman were handled by
U.S. diplomats resident in other countries. In 1972, the
U.S. ambassador in Kuwait was accredited also as the first
U.S. ambassador to Oman, and the U.S. embassy, headed by a
resident charge d'affaires, was opened. The first resident
U.S. ambassador took up his post in July 1974. The Oman
embassy was opened in Washington, DC, in 1973.
U.S.-Omani relations were strengthened in 1980 by the
conclusion of two important agreements. One provided access
to Omani military facilities by U.S. forces under agreed
upon conditions. The other agreement established a Joint
Commission for Economic and Technical Cooperation, located
in Muscat, to provide U.S. economic assistance to Oman. A
Peace Corps program, which assisted Oman mainly in the
fields of health and education, was initiated in 1973 and
phased out in 1983. A team from the Federal Aviation
Administration worked with Oman's Civil Aviation Department
on a reimbursable basis but was phased out in 1992.
In April 1983, Sultan Qaboos made a state visit to the
United States. Vice President Bush visited Oman in 1984 and
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--David J. Dunford
Deputy Chief of Mission--Elizabeth McKune
Chief, Political/Economic Section--Roberta L. Chew
Economic/Commercial Officer--Richard M. Eason
Public Affairs Officer--Matthew Lussenhop
The address of the U.S. embassy in Oman is P.O. Box 202,
Postal Code No. 115, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman. Telephone:
(011) (968) 698-989, 699-094. FAX: (011)(968) 604-316.
Visas and Customs: A visa or a "No Objection Certificate"
is required of U.S. citizens for entry, and sponsorship by a
resident of Oman is normally necessary. Visa application
may be made at the Omani Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Application for a No Objection Certificate can be made only
by the traveler's sponsor in Oman. Customs regulations
prohibit importation of liquor, firearms, or pornographic
material. Incoming baggage may be inspected, including
Climate and Clothing: Wear summer clothing almost year
round, but bring a sweater for the cool winter evenings.
Because of cultural sensitivities, conservative dress is
advised--no sleeveless tops, short skirts, shorts, or tight-
fitting clothing for women. Men should only wear tank tops
or shorts when engaged in athletic activity.
Health: Basic, modern care and most medicines are
available. Typhoid and gamma globulin shots are recommended,
as well as up-to-date tetanus and polio. Take malaria
suppressants. Tapwater, including ice, is not reliable.
Telecommunications: Telephone service is available in the
capital area, in Salalah, and several other towns.
Telegraphic and telex service is available; telefax and
mobile telephones are also available. Oman is nine hours
ahead of eastern standard time.
Transportation: Flights are available from several regional
and European cities to the international airport at Seeb,
about 42 km. (26 mi.) west of Muscat. Taxis can be rented
for the ride or by the day. Rental cars also are readily
available. Driving is on the right.
Hotel Accommodations: There are several international-class
hotels in the Muscat area, but they often are heavily booked
during the cooler months (October-March), and reservations
should be made well ahead of travel. The Omani Government
promotes limited tourism. Tourists who wish to visit Oman
must be sponsored; hotels may arrange visas and sponsorship.
Contact your hotel for further information. Business people
are welcome under proper sponsorship.
Published by the U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -
- Washington, DC
December 1994 -- Editor: Peter Freeman -- Managing Editor:
Peter A. Knecht
Department of State Publication 8070
Background Notes series -- This material is in the public
domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of
this source is appreciated.
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.
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