Sunday, February 3, 2013

Social Media Leads the Way in Oman

In 2011 the Arab Spring brought protests to Oman. The protesters called for lower living costs and salary increases, according to a BBC article. Sultan Qaboos responded to the protesters by creating tens of thousands of new government jobs, raising the minimum wage, introducing cost of living allowances for public sector workers and expelling unpopular ministers. The swift response appears to have ended the protests because with their demands met, the protesters no longer had anything to protest.

However, according to the article, many Omanis believe that the populist reforms will only satisfy the people for five to ten years. This is due in larger part to the proliferation of social media.
Map of Oman

The government seems to agree because during the summer of 2012 panic over social media caused the government to prosecute and jail dozen of online activists. Clearly the government is worried about the impossibility of controlling social media.

Although, fear of government retribution is not stopping online activism. At night coffee shops become the hubs for bloggers and tweeters writing about the countries shortcomings; even though, these activists are well aware that their work is being read by the government. 

Matthew Teller, the writer of the BBC article, notes that in no time Omanis will start using social media to hold the government accountable.  

This article is important for a number of reasons. Teller argues that structural reforms are coming to the country. This is a critical observation because it suggests that the Arab Spring will be able to permeate into at least one of the Gulf States enacting substantial change. Whether or not it will trigger a domino effect in the other Gulf States remains to be seen. 

Another important aspect implied in the article is the type of conflict that is likely to arise. With the prevalence of social media, Teller suggests that change will be achieved through nonviolent civil resistance.

This according to the Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, authors of "Why Civil Resistance Works," is fantastic because "nonviolent resistance has been strategically superior." Nonviolent campaigns are beneficial for a number of reasons. They lead to a higher number of participation, are more likely to establish a democracy and are less likely to relapse into civil war. 

In the near future Oman is likely to experience its own Arab Spring. However, unlike Egypt or Libya the use of nonviolent resistance will give Oman a better chance of achieving true democratic change. While change in Egypt appeared promising the use of violence is leading to more violence. This example demonstrates the argument made by Chenoweth and Stephan that nonviolence is more successful. 

Young Omanis using social media
People, especially policymakers, should pay close attention to Oman. When protests do reignite, through the use of social media, policymakers should be prepared to help maintain access to the Internet. Sultan Qaboos, like the president of Syria did, will likely try to block access to social media sites. If this happens the likelihood of maintaining a nonviolent campaign will be difficult especially if the Omanis have no outside help.

Nonviolent conflict should be the vehicle used for regime change. Oman is preparing, through the use of social media, to do just that.   


  1. I think the prevalence of social media in today's societies and its impact is undeniable, however there is an important difference that must be underlined here. The social upheaval that some North African countries have witnessed two years ago now, is going to be hard to achieve in the Gulf region for it is different regime types that are in place in the latter. Strong monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, and such are not vulnerable the way leaders of fake democracies are. It has been proven quasi impossible to shake the authority of centuries old dynasties. One example would be the amplitude of the Arab Spring protests in Morocco (the only monarchy in North Africa), as opposed to its neighboring countries. The point concerning social media's growing central role in political protests is a solid one meanwhile, since even though there is censorship at home, more and more internet users are today exposed to the opinions and ideas of exiled and/or simply relocated nationalists and opposition members who can be influential. Indeed, it is very hard to control the content that an entire society reads online.

  2. I agree with Menjra, that social media has become a pervasive element around the world. What I find even more intriguing is that social media and its increasing accessibility within MENA, and throughout the world, may provide easier pathways in which protesters are able to voice their concerns and unhappiness. More importantly, these new accessible pathways provide a greater chance for citizens to protest in a nonviolent way rather than trying to get what they want through violent tactics. Not only is this promising because it promotes nonviolent protesting and therefore less death, and possibly destruction, but also because (as aforementioned) nonviolent protests have been seen to have greater success. With this said, by using the internet and other sources of social media it enables the protesters to make not only a national claim, but are also able to network on their concerns globally! Therefore being able to gain greater support and give better awareness to other countries.