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Facts About Oman

Background: In 1970, QABOOS bin Said Al Said ousted his father and has ruled as sultan ever since. His extensive modernization program has opened the country to the outside world and has preserved a long-standing political and military relationship with the UK. Oman’s moderate, independent foreign policy has sought to maintain good relations with all Middle Eastern countries.
Government type: monarchy
Capital: Muscat
Currency: 1 Omani rial (RO) = 1,000 baiza

Geography of Oman

Location: Middle East, bordering the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, and Persian Gulf, between Yemen and UAE
Geographic coordinates: 21 00 N, 57 00 E
total: 212,460 sq km
land: 212,460 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Land boundaries:
total: 1,374 km
border countries: Saudi Arabia 676 km, UAE 410 km, Yemen 288 km
Coastline: 2,092 km
Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: dry desert; hot, humid along coast; hot, dry interior; strong southwest summer monsoon (May to September) in far south
Terrain: vast central desert plain, rugged mountains in north and south
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Arabian Sea 0 m
highest point: Jabal Shams 2,980 m
Natural resources: petroleum, copper, asbestos, some marble, limestone, chromium, gypsum, natural gas
Land use:
arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 5%
forests and woodland: 0%
other: 95% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 580 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: summer winds often raise large sandstorms and dust storms in interior; periodic droughts
Environment – current issues: rising soil salinity; beach pollution from oil spills; very limited natural fresh water resources
Environment – international agreements:
party to:  Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: strategic location on Musandam Peninsula adjacent to Strait of Hormuz, a vital transit point for world crude oil

People of Oman

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. Some 600,000 expatriates live in Oman, most of whom are guest workers from South Asia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Philippines.

Since 1970, the government has given 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 law school, technical college, banking institute, teachers training college, and health sciences institute. Some 200 scholarships are awarded each year for study abroad.

Population: 3,001,583 (July 2005 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years:  41.51%
15-64 years:  56.12%
65 years and over:  2.37% 
Population growth rate: 3.43% 
Birth rate: 37.96 births/1,000 population 
Death rate: 4.1 deaths/1,000 population 
Net migration rate: 0.48 migrant(s)/1,000 population 
Infant mortality rate: 22.52 deaths/1,000 live births 
Life expectancy at birth:
total population:  72.04 years
male:  69.9 years
female:  74.29 years 
Total fertility rate: 6.04 children born/woman 
noun: Omani(s)
adjective: Omani
Ethnic groups: Arab, Baluchi, South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi), African
Religions: Ibadhi Muslim 75%, Sunni Muslim, Shi’a Muslim, Hindu
Languages: Arabic (official), English, Baluchi, Urdu, Indian dialects
total population: approaching 80%

History Of Oman

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have assumed added prominence as a result of Operation Desert Shield in 1990 and the Persian Gulf War in 1991. These states share certain characteristics while simultaneously differing from one another in various respects. Islam has played a major role in each of the Persian Gulf states, although Kuwait and Bahrain reflect a greater secular influence than the other three. Moreover, the puritanical Wahhabi Sunni sect prevails in Qatar; Bahrain has a majority population of Shia, a denomination of the faith that constitutes a minority in Islam as a whole; and the people of Oman represent primarily a minor sect within Shia Islam, the Ibadi.

The beduin heritage also exerts a significant influence in all of the Persian Gulf states. In the latter half of the twentieth century, however, a sense of national identity increasingly has superseded tribal allegiance. The ruling families in the Persian Gulf states represent shaykhs of tribes that originally settled particular areas; however, governmental institutions steadily have taken over spheres that previously fell under the purview of tribal councils.

Historically, Britain exercised a protectorate at least briefly over each of the Persian Gulf states. This connection has resulted in the presence of governmental institutions established by Britain as well as strong commercial and military ties with it. Sources of military matériel and training in the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, were being provided by other countries in addition to Britain.

Because of the extensive coastlines of the Persian Gulf states, trade, fishing, shipbuilding, and, in the past, pearling have represented substantial sources of income. In the early 1990s, trade and, to a lesser extent, fishing, continued to contribute major amounts to the gross domestic product of these states.

Of the five states, Oman has the least coastal area on the Persian Gulf because its access to that waterway occurs only at the western tip of the Musandam Peninsula, separated from the remainder of Oman by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Partly as a result of this limited contact with the gulf and partly because of the mountains that cut off the interior from the coast, Oman has the most distinctive culture of the five states.

In general, the gulf has served as a major facilitator of trade and culture. The ancient civilization of Dilmun, for example, in present-day Bahrain existed as early as the fourth millennium B.C.

The Persian Gulf, however, also constitutes a ready channel for foreign conquerors. In addition to Britain, over the centuries the gulf states have known such rulers as the Greeks, Parthians, Sassanians, Iranians, and Portuguese. When England’s influence first came to the area in 1622, the Safavid shah of Iran sought England’s aid in driving the Portuguese out of the gulf.

Britain did not play a major role, however, until the early nineteenth century. At that time, attacks on British shipping by the Al Qasimi of the present-day UAE became so serious that Britain asked the assistance of the ruler of Oman in ending the attacks. In consequence, Britain in 1820 initiated treaties or truces with the various rulers of the area, giving rise to the term Trucial Coast.

The boundaries of the Persian Gulf states were considered relatively unimportant until the discovery of oil in Bahrain in 1932 caused other gulf countries to define their geographic limits. Britain’s 1968 announcement that in 1971 it would abandon its protectorate commitments east of the Suez Canal accelerated the independence of the states. Oman had maintained its independence in principle since 1650. Kuwait, with the most advanced institutions–primarily because of its oil wealth–had declared its independence in 1961. Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE followed suit in 1971. In the face of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, all of the Persian Gulf states experienced fears for their security. These apprehensions led to their formation, together with Saudi Arabia, of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in May 1981.

Oman is the only one of the Persian Gulf states whose ruler bears the title of sultan instead of shaykh. Until 1970 the ruler was known as the sultan of Muscat (the coastal area) and Oman (the rugged interior imamate), reflecting the diverse parts of the country. To Ibadi Muslims, the political ruler is also the imam; the title sultan, taken from Ottoman usage, indicates a Muslim ruling sovereign combining religious and political connotations.

The present sultan, Qabus ibn Said Al Said, began his rule in 1970 and immediately started emphasizing economic development and modernization. Such an emphasis was essential because Oman’s oil, first produced commercially in 1967, had a relatively limited production span; 1992 estimates projected seventeen more years of output at the 1992 production rate. National development plans, therefore, have focused on reducing the dependence on oil and on confronting problems occasioned by the dramatic rural-to-urban population shift, the accompanying social transformation, and the large number of foreign workers, all in the interests of promoting stability. Oman never has had a census, but in 1992, for planning purposes, the government estimated the population at 2 million persons (the actual figure may be closer to 1.5 million), of whom about 500,000 were foreigners. The latter constituted approximately 55 percent of the labor force.

Oman faces a number of problems. The government must attempt to provide adequate housing and utilities, especially water; stimulate agriculture to increase food production; and discourage urban migration. Specific development goals include establishing new industries and industrial estates; training indigenous personnel; developing minerals other than oil; encouraging agriculture, fishing, and tourism; increasing privatization of state-controlled enterprises; and diminishing regional imbalances, particularly in the Dhofar region.

On coming to power, Qabus ibn Said confronted the rebellion in the Dhofar region, which had began in 1964. To counter the revolt, he concentrated on establishing development projects in this neglected area of the country and on improving the transportation and communications infrastructure. With the assistance of Iran, Jordan, and several gulf states, he also took military action to repress the rebellion. The sultan was aided in these efforts by the fact that the bureaucracy and major posts were largely in the hands of ruling family members. Leading government posts contined to be in the hands of ruling family members into the 1990s. For example, in early 1994 the sultan also served as prime minister, minister of defense, minister of finance, minister of foreign affairs, and chairman of the central bank. Other members of the ruling family served as deputy prime minister for legal affairs, deputy prime minister for security and defense, and minister of national heritage and culture. Still other ruling family members served as special advisers and as governors of the capital and of the Dhofar region. Close cooperation occurs between the ruling family and the merchants; tribal shaykhs now play a lesser role. Following the example of other gulf states, in 1991 Qabus ibn Said created the Consultative Council, which has representatives from the forty- one wilayat, or governorates, but no government officials, in contrast to the State Consultative Council, established in 1981, which the new council replaced.

In the area of foreign relations, Oman has been closely aligned with Britain and the United States; it first signed a military accord with the latter in 1980. This “facilities access” agreement was most recently renewed in 1990. In the region, Oman has sought to play an independent, nonconfrontational role. In late October 1992, Oman ended a twenty-five-year border dispute with Yemen by signing a border-delineation agreement; it also concluded a border agreement with Saudi Arabia as a result of which Oman began demarcating the boundary between the two countries. Moreover, Oman has acted as mediator between the United States and Iran and between Britain and Iran. Meanwhile, Oman has been increasing its arms purchases and building up its armed forces.

Oman’s purchase of military matériel is consonant with the general pattern of Persian Gulf states, which have been spending heavily on military equipment since at least the early 1980s, primarily to compensate for their limited manpower. In most instances, women are not included in the armed forces. Lacking domestic arms production capability, the gulf states mainly need aircraft, air defense missile systems, early warning systems, and small missile attack craft, as well as main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers. The gulf countries recognize the potential threats they face, particularly from Iraq and possibly from Iran. In addition, they have experienced the need to counter domestic insurgencies, protect their ruling families and oil installations, and possibly use military force in pursuing claims to disputed territory. A partial solution to their defense needs lay in the formation of the GCC in 1981.

The Persian Gulf War brought with it, however, the realization that the GCC was inadequate to provide the gulf states with the defense they required. As a result, most of the states sought defense agreements with the United States, Britain, France, and Russia, more or less in that order. Concurrently, the gulf countries have endeavored to improve the caliber and training of their armed forces and the interoperability of military equipment through joint military exercises both within the GCC framework and with Western powers. The United States has sought to complement GCC collective security efforts and has stated that it does not intend to station forces permanently in the region.

At a November 1993 meeting, GCC defense ministers made plans to expand the Saudi-based Peninsula Shield forces, a rapid deployment force, to 25,000. The force is to have units from each GCC state, a unified command, and a rotating chairmanship. The ministers also agreed to spend up to US$5 billion to purchase three or four more AWACS aircraft to supplement the five the Saudi air force already has and to create a headquarters in Saudi Arabia for GCC defense purposes. The UAE reportedly considered the proposed force increase insufficient; furthermore, Oman sought a force of 100,000 members.

In addition to these efforts, directed at the military aspects of national security, declining oil revenues for many of the states and internal sectarian divisions also have led the gulf countries to institute domestic efforts to strengthen their national security. Such efforts entail measures to increase the role of citizens in an advisory governmental capacity, to allow greater freedom of the press, to promote economic development through diversification and incentives for foreign investment, and to develop infrastructure projects that will increase the standard of living for more sectors of the population, thereby eliminating sources of discord. The ruling families hope that such steps will promote stability, counter the possible appeal of radical Islam, and ultimately strengthen the position of the ruling families in some form of limited constitutional monarchy.

Oman Economy

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 turned almost exclusively to 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 30 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, 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 depletion of recoverable reserves. From 1981 to 1986, Oman compensated for declining oil prices by increasing production levels to 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-2000, production had climbed to more than 900,000 b/d where they remain. Oman is not a member of OPEC.

Natural gas reserves, which will increasingly provide the fuel for power generation and desalination, stand at 18 trillion cubic feet. An LNG processing plant located in Sur was opened in 2000, with production capacity of 6.6 million tons/YR, as well as unsubstantial gas liquids, including condensates.

Oman does not have the immense oil resources of some of its neighbors. Nevertheless, in recent years, it has found more oil than it has produced, and total proven reserves rose to more than 5 billion barrels by the mid-1990s. Oman’s complex geology makes exploration and production an expensive challenge. Recent improvements in technology, however, have enhanced recovery.

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 totaled $34 million in 2000.

The government is undertaking many development projects to modernize the economy, improve the standard of living, and become a more active player in the global marketplace. Oman became a member of the World Trade Organization in October 2000, and continues to amend its financial and commercial practices to conform to international standards. 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. The newly opened (1999), largescale modern container port at 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 economy, in the early 1980s, 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 showcases the country’s modest light industries. Marble, limestone, and gypsum may prove commercially viable in the future.

The Omani Government is implementing its sixth 5-year plan, launched in 2000, 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 “Omanization” of the labor force, particularly in banking, hotels, and municipally sponsored shops benefiting from government subsidies. Currently, efforts are underway to liberalize investment opportunities in order to attract foreign capital.

Some of the largest budgetary outlays are in the areas of health services and basic education. The number of schools, hospitals, and clinics has risen exponentially since the accession of Sultan Qaboos in 1970.

GDP: purchasing power parity – $19.6 billion (2000 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 4.6% (2000 est.)
GDP – per capita: purchasing power parity – $7,700 (2000 est.)
GDP – composition by sector:
agriculture: 3%
industry: 40%
services: 57% (1999 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): -0.8% (2000 est.)
Labor force: 850,000 (1997 est.)
revenues: $3.9 billion
expenditures: $5.6 billion (1999 est.)
Industries: crude oil production and refining, natural gas production, construction, cement, copper
Industrial production growth rate: 4% (2000 est.)
Electricity – production: 8.63 billion kWh (1999)
Electricity – production by source:
fossil fuel: 100%
hydro: 0%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (1999)
Electricity – consumption: 8.026 billion kWh (1999)
Agriculture – products: dates, limes, bananas, alfalfa, vegetables; camels, cattle; fish
Exports: $11.1 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.)
Exports – commodities: petroleum, reexports, fish, metals, textiles
Exports – partners: Japan 27%, China 12%, Thailand 18%, UAE 12%, South Korea 12%, US (1999)
Imports: $4.5 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.)
Imports – commodities: machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, food, livestock, lubricants
Imports – partners: UAE 26% (largely reexports), Japan 16%, UK 9%, Italy 7%, Germany 6%, US (1999)
Debt – external: $4.5 billion (2000 est.)
Economic aid – recipient: $76.4 million (1995)
Currency: Omani rial (OMR)

Map Of Oman