Oman strikes forward with overdue reforms

Jan 15, 2021

The Middle East’s solely sultanate has moved a step additional into nearer conformity with its neighbors’ political methods by designating its first crown prince, the ruler’s oldest son.

Bloomberg columnist Bobby Ghosh had beforehand stated that Oman had “strangest system of royal succession conceived in modern times” — the earlier sultan, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, had named a cousin as his successor in a sealed envelope opened after Qaboos’ dying a yr in the past. Qaboos had no youngsters or brothers. Now, Dhi Yazan Bin Haitham, the oldest son of Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, is the crown prince.

Calls for political adjustments, extra transparency, financial reforms and ending the impunity of corrupt officers have been the primary calls for of Omanis who took to the streets in 2011 in a uncommon wave of demonstrations throughout which safety forces killed two stone-throwing protesters.

Hours after the violence, Qaboos acted swiftly to stop additional protests and introduced the creation of 50,000 authorities jobs, raised pay for nationwide employees, and, for these eligible, elevated pensions and retirement advantages. Activists now characterize these measures as “temporary fixes” that failed to handle the crux of the sturctural points underlying Oman’s financial difficulties.  

“This was not an economic reform. The aim was to have less trouble with young people, taking them from the street to a job that does not cause troubles,” Omani journalist and researcher Rafiah Al Talei informed Al-Monitor. “Our leadership was not serious about solving the real problems,” stated a former protester who was ordered throughout his detention by Oman’s safety company Internal Security Service to cease questioning state insurance policies.

The activist, who requested to not be recognized, stated Omanis “live in denial,” blinded by their profound respect for Qaboos, who revolutionized the lives of Omanis all through his half-century-long reign. He overthrew his father in 1970 in a cold coup d’etat and devoted the remainder of his life to modernizing what as soon as resembled a medieval state.

Constitutional monarchy

Just a few weeks after the dying of the broadly revered autocrat, the COVID-19 pandemic uncovered longstanding weaknesses within the Omani economic system, wiping out world oil demand that was anticipated to account for half of the federal government revenues in 2020.

Haitham introduced a sequence of financial reforms to deal with document fiscal deficits and authorities debt. It consists of slimming down the Omani administration, restructuring state-owned entities, implementing a repeatedly delayed 5% value-added tax and eradicating electrical energy and water subsidies for large customers.

Next yr, Oman plans to introduce an revenue tax on excessive earners, a measure as soon as unimaginable in a area identified for providing income-tax-free salaries.

Those who protested in 2011 salute Haitham’s dedication to hold out long-delayed financial reforms, however want the ruler would go a step additional. “We want the separation of powers,” stated Mohammed Al Fazari, an Omani activist exiled within the UK. 

The sultan holds most govt, legislative and judicial powers, political events are banned and broad legal guidelines limit the rights to freedom of meeting and association. Fazari stated he “cannot see anything” that might pressure the ruler to self-limit his energy, “unless he really believes that would be best for Oman and has an intention to do so.”

Some Omani intellectuals say they thought Haitham would possibly proclaim a parliamentary monarchy as the brand new political type of the nation to “honor his father.” The latter served as a main minister from 1970 to 1971 and favoured a constitutional monarchy.

In August, Haitham gave up the international, protection and monetary affairs portfolios, signaling the tip of an excessive focus of powers that characterised the Qaboos period. These adjustments are “a clear example of the state’s commitment to work to develop the political system,” a diplomatic supply on the Omani Embassy in Washington informed Al-Monitor.

However, the Majlis al-Shura, the nation’s elected consultative council established in 1991 by Qaboos, lacks legislative energy and acts “more like a consultant to the sultan” than an actual parliament, stated human rights activist Ismail Al Muqbali.

“Oman was set up to be ruled by a one-man show,” he informed Al-Monitor.

Talei stated the 49% participation charge within the 2019 Majlis al-Shura elections signifies individuals have “no hope” that the one physique representing the general public on the nationwide degree might change one thing substantial of their lives.

“They ‘cancel’ you culturally”

The COVID-19 financial disaster is “drawing the features of the future of Oman,” within the phrases of Talei, but, residents have little say about their future as they continue to be largely excluded from decision-making processes. Muqbali requires a public debate in order that financial savings generated by austerity measures are “not be spent on luxury things or buying new weapons.”

Activists interviewed by Al-Monitor famous enhancements in freedom of speech because the 2011 protests and the emergence of social networks, providing a novel house for Omani residents to query the efficiency of high-ranking officers, together with Cabinet ministers.

In Washington, the Omani Embassy stated freedom of opinion and expression “within the capacity of the law” is assured by Article 29 of the Basic Law of the State.

However, the safety equipment is accused by human rights organizations of utilizing harassment and short-term detentions to intimidate peaceable authorities critics.

“The Internal Security Services cannot prevent people from using social media, but they use pro-government propaganda bots to cast doubt on you. They ‘cancel you culturally,’ so whenever you speak up, nobody will believe you anymore,” Fazari stated.

As Oman enters a brand new period of its historical past, activists name on Haitham to differentiate himself from his predecessor by supporting a politically lively society pushed by the worth of crucial considering that’s required to diversify the native economic system away from oil.

Prominent Omani educational Abdullah Baabood stated in a tweet that gradual adjustments within the nature of the rentier state and the social welfare system necessitate “a serious change” within the social contract to “avoid a new episode” of the protests that shook the sultanate in 2011.