Monday, March 18, 2013

Oman and the Arab Spring

Oman, like many other countries in the Middle East, saw demonstrations during the Arab Spring. Even though the protests were not as big as the ones in Egypt or as violent as the protests in Syria, Oman still saw large protests and incurred several deaths.

According to an article by Al-Jazeera, during the Oman protests in 2011 two people died after police fired rubber-coated bullets at the anti-government protesters in Sohar. About 2,000 people demonstrated in Sohar demanding political reforms.

Angry protesters in Sohar set a government building on fire and looted a supermarket. Sohar was not the only city to experience protests. The capital city Muscat and the resort town of Salalah in the south also saw protests.

The protests in Sohar prompted Oman's Leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, to introduce mild political reforms. He gave orders for the provision of 50,000 jobs and unemployment benefits worth $400 a month, according to Al-Jazeera. The leader also created a committee to examine whether or not the Shura council should receive some legislative powers instead of being purely advisory. On top of that, Sultan Qaboos reshuffled his cabinet.

Sultan Qaboos has been in power for 40 years.
However, some protesters, according to the article, were not satisfied by the concessions.

Most protesters never called for the removal of Sultan Qaboos. Instead they called for the government to combat corruption, curb the rising cost of living, raise salaries and provide greater media freedoms. Overall, the article makes it appear that many of the demonstrators emphasized their loyalty to their ruler while protesting for government reform.

This sets Oman apart from other countries that experienced the Arab Spring because Oman's conflict did not escalate to the call for the removal of Sultan Qaboos.

The case of Oman is a good example of indirect diffusion. Sultan Qaboos, instead of enacting violence against the vast majority of his citizens, like Assad in Syria, chose to give into some of the demands of the protesters. This made many protesters feel satisfied and satisfied people are unlikely to protest.

The idea of diffusion comes from Stephen Saideman in his article "When Conflict Spreads: Arab Spring and the Limits of Diffusion." Even though Saideman does not discuss indirect diffusion in Oman, he would probably agree that indirect diffusion occurred in Oman on the side of the state.

Oman is a monarchy and does not have to explain its legitimacy but this does not mean that the state cannot learn from the mistakes of Mubarak and bin Ali. Sultan Qaboos, unlike the former leaders in Tunisia and Egypt did not make the mistake of offering concessions too late. When he saw the protests in Sohar escalate he quickly made concessions and the protest movement lost many supporters. Had he not been able to learn from other Arab Spring countries he might not be in power today.   

When Oman is thought of, it is often viewed as a tranquil, sedate country. The protests demonstrate that perhaps Oman is not as peaceful as it appears. Whether or not the government concessions will continue to pacify the population is uncertain. Omani citizens who oppose the government have seen how effective protests can be in other countries because of indirect diffusion this could potentially ignite future protests.


  1. I find it interesting that the Sultan did give out some concessions, and it makes me wonder if it was a calculated decision on his part because of what he saw was going on in the region as a whole. That's why I definitely like your point about indirect diffusion. Additionally, I think it would help to look deeper into the ethnic/religious makeup of Oman to see whether the relatively modest requests made by the protesters (they aren't calling for the removal for the Sultan!) can be traced to a more homogenous population. However, as some of their demands go unmet I could definitely see an escalation in their demands and by the government's response to the protests in the near future, especially with the overall "air of uncertainty" in the region as a whole about what's going to happen next--especially with their neighbor Yemen.

  2. The masses are quelled by the concessions for now but this could be a form of salami tactics. Also, oversight must be taken to make sure that the reforms are being carried out appropriately and are achieving its desired results. This is a way to effectively combat corruption unless the members responsible for the oversight are corrupt also.

    A monarchy may rely on its heritage as a form of legitimacy, however if it cannot make good on its promises to the people it will be seen as ineffective. If the people do not acknowledge the government as effective, they may then call for a regime change.

    The Sultan must make good on his promises to avoid revolt and overthrow.