Country Guides - News and Background Notes
flag
map

Oman

män´, officially Sultanate of Oman, independent sultanate (2005 est. pop. 3,002,000), c.82,000 sq mi (212,380 sq km), SE Arabian peninsula, on the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. It was formerly known as Muscat and Oman. It is bordered on the west by Yemen and Saudi Arabia and on the north by the United Arab Emirates, which separates the major portion of the sultanate from a small area on the Strait of Hormuz. The capital and largest city is Muscat. For administrative purposes, the country is divided into six regions and two governorates.

Land and People

For the most part, Oman comprises a narrow coastal plain backed by hill ranges and an interior desert plateau. The highest point is Jebel Sham (c.9,900 ft/3,018 m). In the extreme north, dates, limes, nuts, and vegetables are cultivated, and in the southwest there is an abundance of cattle and other livestock. Fishing is an important industry. The major product, however, is oil, which was discovered in Oman in 1964 and first exported in 1967. Natural gas production and small copper mines developed in the early 1980s and are a part of Oman's growing industries. The inhabitants are mostly Arabs; there are also minorities of Pakistanis, Indians, Africans, Baluchis, and migrant workers of varied ethnicities.

History

Much of the coast of Oman was controlled by Portugal from 1508 to 1659, when the Ottoman Empire took possession. The Ottoman Turks were driven out in 1741 by Ahmad ibn Said of Yemen, who founded the present royal line. In the late 18th cent., Oman began its close ties with Great Britain, which still continue. In the early 19th cent., Oman was the most powerful state in Arabia, controlling Zanzibar and much of the coast of Iran and Baluchistan. Zanzibar was lost in 1856, and the last Omani hold on the Baluchistan coast, Gwadar, was ceded to Pakistan in 1958. The sultan of Oman has had frequent clashes with the imam (leader) of the interior ethnic groups. In 1957 the groups revolted but were suppressed with British aid. Several Arab countries supporting the imam charged in the 1960s that the sultan's regime was oppressive and that the British were exercising colonial influence in Oman.

In 1965 the United Nations called for the elimination of British influence in Oman. In 1970, Sultan Said ibn Timer was deposed by his son, Qabus bin Said, who promised to use oil revenues for modernization. Rebel activity continued, however, particularly in Dhofar, in the south, where a Chinese-aided liberation front was strong. Oman joined the United Nations and the Arab League in 1971, but it did not become part of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). In 1981, Oman joined Persian Gulf nations and Saudi Arabia in founding the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and has since sought to promote ties among the participating nations.

Relations between Oman and the United States have been close since the 1970s. However, Oman did not establish full diplomatic relations with its neighbor Southern Yemen until 1983 and with the Soviet Union until 1985. As a result of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in Aug., 1990, Oman opened its bases to international coalition forces against Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In 1996 the sultan issued a decree promulgating a new basic law that clarifies the royal succession, provides for a bicameral advisory council with some limited legislative powers and a prime minister, and guarantees basic civil liberties for Omani citizens. Military bases in Oman were used (2001) by U.S. forces involved in ground raids against Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. In 2003 the lower house of the advisory council was freely elected for the first time.

Country background notes: The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia Copyright © , Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. Except as otherwise permitted by written agreement, the following are prohibited: copying substantial portions or the entirety of the work in machine readable form, making multiple printouts thereof, and other uses of the work inconsisten with U.S. and applicable foreign copyright related laws.
© The Washington Post Company