Sultanate of Oman
Area: About 309,500 sq. km. (about the size of
New Mexico). 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
Cities: Capital--Muscat. Other cities--Salalah
Nizwa, Sohar, Sur.
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 (2003 census figures.): 2.33 million.
Annual growth rate (2003 est.): 1.9%.
Ethnic groups: Arab, Baluchi, East African (Zanzabari),
South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi).
Religions: Ibadhi; Sunni Muslim, Shia Muslim,
Languages: Arabic (official), English, Baluchi,
Urdu, Swahili, Hindi and Indian dialects.
Education: Literacy--approx. 80% (total
Health (2003): Infant mortality rate--20.26/1,000.
Work force (920,000): Agriculture and fishing--50%.
Constitution: On November 6, 1996, Sultan Qaboos
issued a royal decree promulgating the Basic
Statute which clarifies the royal succession,
provides for a prime minister, bars ministers
from holding interests in companies doing
business with the government, establishes a
bicameral parliament, and guarantees basic
rights and responsibilities for Omani citizens.
Legislative--Majlis Oman (bicameral: State
Council and Consultative Council). Judicial--Magistrate
courts handle criminal cases; Shari'a (Islamic
law) courts oversee family law.
Political parties: None.
Suffrage: Universal adult.
Administrative subdivisions: Eight
administrative regions--Muscat Governorate, Al
Batinah, Musandam Governorate, Al Dhahirah, Al
Dakhliya, Al Shariqiya, Al Wusta, Dhofar
Governorate. There are 59 districts (wilayats).
GDP (2004): $24.8 billion.
Per capita GDP: $10,136.
Natural resources: Oil, natural gas, copper,
marble, limestone, gypsum, chromium.
Agriculture and fisheries: (2.1% of GDP).
Agriculture: Products--dates, bananas,
mangoes, alfalfa, other fruits and vegetables.
Fisheries--Kingfish, tuna, other fish,
shrimp, lobster, abalone.
Industry: Types--crude petroleum (not
including gas liquids) about 775,000 barrels per
day; construction, petroleum refinery, copper
mines and smelter, cement and various light
Trade (2002): Exports--$11.7 billion.
Major markets--Japan (22.1%), China (15.2%),
Thailand (12.6%), South Korea (19.9%), U.A.E.
(9.4%). Imports--$5.7 billion: machinery,
transportation equipment, manufactured goods,
food, livestock, lubricants. Major suppliers--U.A.E.
27.6%, Japan 16.7%, U.K. 7.4%, U.S. 6.9%,
About 55% of the population lives in Muscat and
the Batinah coastal plain northwest of the
capital; about 215,000 live in the Dhofar
(southern) region, and about 30,000 live in the
remote Musandam Peninsula on the Strait of
Hormuz. Some 560,000 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 250 full and partial scholarships are
awarded each year for study abroad.
Nineteen private colleges and universities
exist currently, with several more in the
planning stages. A select few of these private
institutions offer four-year degrees, while the
remainder provide two-year post-secondary
diplomas. Since 1999, the government has
embarked on reforms in higher education designed
to meet the needs of a growing population, only
a small percentage of which are currently
admitted to higher education institutions.
Oman adopted Islam in the seventh century A.D.,
during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad.
Ibadhism, a form of Islam distinct from Shiaism
and the "Orthodox" schools of Sunnism, became
the dominant religious sect in Oman by the
eighth century A.D. Oman is the only country in
the Islamic world with a majority Ibadhi
population. Ibadhism is known for its "moderate
conservatism." One distinguishing feature of
Ibadhism is the choice of ruler by communal
consensus and consent.
Contact with Europe was established in 1508,
when the Portuguese conquered parts of Oman's
coastal region. Portugal's influence
predominated for more than a century.
Fortifications built during the Portuguese
occupation can still be seen at Muscat.
Except for a period when Persia conquered
parts of Oman, Oman has been an independent
nation. After the Portuguese were expelled in
1650 and while resisting Persian attempts to
establish hegemony, the Sultan of Oman extended
his conquests to Zanzibar, 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 and also exercised a
measure of control over the Makran coast (now
Pakistan). By the early 19th century, Oman was
the most powerful state in Arabia and had a
major presence on the East African coast.
Oman was the object of Franco-British rivalry
throughout the 18th century. During the 19th
century, Oman and the United Kingdom concluded
several treaties of friendship and commerce. In
1908, the British entered into an agreement of
friendship. Their traditional association was
confirmed in 1951 through a new treaty of
friendship, commerce, and navigation by which
the United Kingdom recognized the Sultanate of
Oman as a fully independent state.
When Sultan Sa'id bin Sultan Al-Busaid died
in 1856, his sons quarreled over his succession.
As a result of this struggle, the Omani
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 1964.
During the late 19th and early to mid-20th
centuries, the sultan in Muscat faced rebellion
by members of the Ibadhi sect residing in the
interior of Oman, centered around the town of
Nizwa, who wanted to be ruled exclusively by
their religious leader, the Imam of Oman. This
conflict was resolved temporarily by the Treaty
of Seeb in 1920, which granted the imam
autonomous rule in the interior, while
recognizing the sovereignty of the sultan
Following the discovery of oil in the
interior, the conflict flared up again in 1954,
when the new imam led a sporadic 5-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 eliminated the office of the imam. In
the early 1960s, the imam, exiled to Saudi
Arabia, obtained support from his hosts 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 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
Gulf states, while continuing the guerrilla war
With the help of British advisors, Sultan
Qaboos bin Sa'id assumed power on July 23, 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 to 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 natural resources.
In an effort to end 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
the U.K., Iran, and Jordan. By early 1975, the
guerrillas were confined to a 50 square
kilometer (20-sq. mi.) area near the Yemen
border and shortly thereafter were defeated. As
the war drew to a close, civil action programs
were given priority throughout Dhofar and helped
win the allegiance of the people. The PFLO
threat diminished further with the establishment
of diplomatic relations in October 1983 between
South Yemen and Oman, and South Yemen
subsequently lessened 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
Since his accession in 1970, Sultan Qaboos
has balanced tribal, regional, and ethnic
interests in composing the national
administration. The Council of Ministers, which
functions as a cabinet, consists of 30 ministers
(but only 28 ministries), all directly appointed
by Qaboos. The bicameral Majlis Oman’s mandate
is to review legislation pertaining to economic
development and social services prior to its
becoming law. The elected Majlis al-Shura
(Consultative Council) may request ministers to
appear before it. In early 2003, Sultan Qaboos
declared universal suffrage for the October 2003
Majlis al-Shura elections. Two women were
elected to sit with 81 male colleagues in those
elections, which were observed to be free and
fair. Roughly 194,000 Omani men and women, or
74% of registered voters, participated in the
elections. Since 2003, Sultan Qaboos has also
expanded the Majlis al-Dawla, or State Council,
to 59 members from 53, including nine women. The
State Council acts as the upper chamber in
Oman's bicameral representative body.
In November 1996, Sultan Qaboos presented his
people with the "Basic Statute of the State,"
Oman's first written "constitution." It
guarantees various rights within the framework
of Shariah and customary law. It partially
resuscitated long dormant conflict-of-interest
measures by banning cabinet ministers from being
officers of public shareholding firms. Perhaps
most importantly, the Basic Statute provides
rules for the royal succession.
The northern tip of Oman, called the Musandam
Peninsula, is strategically located on the
Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the Gulf, 35
miles directly opposite Iran. Oman is concerned
with regional stability and security, given
tensions in the region, the proximity of Iran
and Iraq, and the potential threat of political
Islam. Oman maintained its diplomatic relations
with Iraq throughout the Gulf War while
supporting the UN allies by sending a contingent
of troops to join coalition forces and by
opening up to prepositioning of weapons and
supplies. In addition, since 1980 Oman and the
U.S. have been parties to a military cooperation
agreement, which was revised and renewed in
2000. Oman also has long been an active
participant in efforts to achieve Middle East
Following the terrorist attacks on the United
States in September 2001, the Omani Government
at all levels pledged and provided impressive
support to the U.S.-led coalition against
terrorism. Oman is a signatory of most
UN-sponsored anti-terrorism treaties.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Sultan Qaboos bin Sa'id 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 Al Bu Said. Sultan Qaboos is a direct
descendant of the 19th century ruler, Sa'id bin
Sultan, who first opened relations with the
United States in 1833. The Sultanate has neither
political parties nor legislature, although the
bicameral representative bodies provide the
government with advice.
Oman's judicial system traditionally has been
based on the Shari'a--the Quranic laws and the
oral teachings of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.
Traditionally, Shari'a courts fell under the
jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, Awqaf,
and Islamic Affairs. Oman's first criminal code
was not enacted until 1974.
In 1999, royal decrees placed the entire
court system--magistrates, commercial, Shari'a
and civil courts--under the financial
supervision of the Ministry of Justice, though
the 1996 Basic Law ensures the independence of
the judiciary. An independent Office of the
Public Prosecutor also has been created
(formerly a part of the Royal Oman Police), as
has a supreme court. Regional court complexes
are envisioned to house the various courts,
including the courts of first instance for
criminal cases and Shariah cases (family law and
Administratively, the country is divided into
59 districts (wilayats), presided over by
appointed executives (walis) responsible for
settling local disputes, collecting taxes, and
maintaining peace. Most wilayats are small in
area, but can vary considerably in population.
The 59 wilayats are divided into eight regions.
Three of those regions (Muscat, Dhofar, and
Musandam) have been accorded a special status as
governorates. The governors of those three
regions are appointed directly by the Sultan and
hold Minister of State rank. Walis, however, are
appointed by the Minister of Interior.
In November 1991, Sultan Qaboos established
the Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council),
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. Since then, reforms have permitted
Omanis to freely run for office in contested
elections featuring universal adult suffrage.
The Consultative 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 also may be
summoned before the Majlis to respond to
representatives' questions. It has no authority
in the areas of foreign affairs, defense,
security, and finances.
Although Oman enjoys a high degree of
internal stability, regional tensions in the
aftermath of the Persian Gulf war, the Iran-Iraq
war, and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi
Freedom continue to necessitate large defense
expenditures. In 2005, Oman allocated $2.98
billion for defense--about 28.6% of its total
budget. Oman maintains a small but professional
and 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.
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 bilateral
relations. Oman's borders with all neighbors are
demarcated, including a 2002 demarcation of the
Oman-U.A.E. border that was ratified in 2003.
Principal Government Officials
Sultan, Prime Minister, and Minister of Defense,
Foreign Affairs, and Finance--Qaboos bin Sa'id
Minister of Palace Office Affairs--Ali bin Majid
Minister of State Responsible for Foreign
Affairs--Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah
Minister of National Economy--Ahmad bin Abd al-Nabi
Minister of Legal Affairs--Mohammed bin Ali bin
Minister of State Responsible for Defense--Badr
bin Saud bin Harib al-Busaidi
Ambassador to the United States--Hunaina Sultan
Permanent Representative to the UN--Fuad bin
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
turned almost exclusively to agriculture, camel
and goat herding, fishing, and traditional
handicrafts. Today, oil and gas fuel the
economy, and revenues from petroleum products
have enabled Oman's dramatic development over
the past 35 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)--of which Oman is not
a member--and production levels again reached
600,000 b/d by mid-1987, which helped increase
revenues. By 2000, production had climbed to
more than 900,000 b/d; however, it declined to
roughly 775,000 b/d in 2005.
Natural gas reserves, which will increasingly
provide the fuel for power generation and
desalination, stand at 24 trillion cubic feet. A
liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing plant
located in Sur was opened in 2000, with
production capacity of 6.6 million tons per year
(tons/yr), as well as unsubstantial gas liquids,
including condensates. The completion of the
plant’s expansion in December 2005 has increased
capacity to 10.3 million tons/yr.
Oman does not have the immense oil resources
of some of its neighbors. Total proven reserves
are about 4.8 billion barrels. 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, 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 $104.7 million in
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. Both
bilaterally and regional through the Gulf
Cooperation Council, Oman is pursuing free trade
agreements with a number of key trading
partners, including the U.S.
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
large-scale modern container port at Salalah,
capital of the Dhofar Governorate, continues to
operate at near-capacity levels, and the
government in early 2004 approved a project
worth over $250 million to add two berths and
extend the breakwater at the port. Port
expansion is underway at Mina Qaboos, and a
large industrial and container port is under
construction in Sohar. 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 underway or being considered
include an 80,000 b/d oil refinery, a large
petrochemical complex, fertilizer and methanol
plants, an aluminum smelter, and two cement
factories. Industrial zones at Rusayl, Sohar,
and several other locations showcase the
country's modest light industries. Marble,
limestone, and gypsum may prove commercially
viable in the future.
The Omani Government will implement its
seventh 5-year plan beginning in 2006. In its
efforts to reduce its dependence on oil and
expatriate labor, the government projects
significant increases in spending on industrial
and tourism-related projects to foster 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.
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 wells.
Major new U.S. investments in oil production,
industry and tourism projects in 2005 totaled
several billion dollars. Moreover, negotiations
on the U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement (FTA) were
successfully concluded in October 2005; the FTA
was signed in January 2006 and awaits
ratification and implementation. Once
implemented, the FTA should provide further
impetus to bilateral trade and investment.
When Sultan Qaboos assumed power in 1970, Oman
had limited contacts with the outside world,
including neighboring Arab states. 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 very close under Sultan
Since 1970, Oman has pursued a moderate
foreign policy and expanded its diplomatic
relations dramatically. It supported the 1979
Camp David accords and was one of three Arab
League states, along with Somalia and Sudan,
which did not break relations with Egypt after
the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty
in 1979. During the Iran-Iraq war, Oman
maintained diplomatic relations with both sides
while strongly backing UN Security Council
resolutions calling for an end to the war. Oman
has developed close ties to its neighbors; it
joined the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council
when it was established in 1980.
Oman has traditionally supported 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. From 1996-2000,
Oman and Israel exchanged trade offices. Oman
closed the Israeli Trade Office in October 2000
in the wake of public demonstrations against
Israel at the start of the second intifada.
During the Cold War period, Oman avoided
relations with communist countries because of
the communist support for the insurgency in
Dhofar. In recent years, 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 good relations with
Iran, and the two countries regularly exchange
delegations. Oman is an active member in
international and regional organizations,
notably the Arab League and the GCC.
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 deepened 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. The Joint Commission continued in
existence until the mid-1990s. 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 March 2005, the U.S. and Oman launched
negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement that were
successfully concluded in October. The FTA was
signed on January 19, 2006, and is pending
In 1974 and April 1983, Sultan Qaboos made
state visits to the United States. Vice
President George H. Bush visited Oman in 1984
and 1986, and President Clinton visited briefly
in March 2000. Vice President Cheney visited
Oman in 2002 and 2005.
Principal U.S. Officials
L. Baltimore III
Deputy Chief of Mission--William R. Stewart
Chief, Political/Economic Section--Michael
Economic/Commercial Officer--Brian Grimm
Acting Public Affairs Officer--Cynthia
Consular Chief--Bryce Isham
Please visit the Embassy’s Internet website
http://oman.usembassy.gov for more
The international mailing address of the
Embassy in Oman is:
P.O. Box 202, Postal Code No. 115, Muscat,
Sultanate of Oman.
The APO address is:
American Embassy, Muscat
Unit 73000, (General)
APO AE 09890
Tel: (011) (968) 24-698-989, 24-699-094. FAX:
(011) (968) 24-696-928.