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April 21, 2015

OMAN & ITS SPECIAL HISTORY: Retrospect, Present, & Future?

By Kevin Anthony Stoda

How has Oman managed to mostly stay out of the Middle East debacles in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Syria while its neighbors, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE (along with Yemen) have been engulfed in fighting and in financing civil wars? Let's review the history and see if peacemakers can learn from the Oman story, which in the 1950s and 1960s saw jihadis from Saudi+Maoist and Soviet insurgencies+ other fighters here.


Back to Living on the Border of War-Torn Yemen: Retrospect, Present, & Future?

by Kevin Stoda, in Salalah, Oman

First of ALL, we citizens and residents of Salalah have learnt over the past week that not only are "non-Yemeni nationals" who are fleeing the bombings by Saudi and civil war parties in Yemen these days, but injured Yemenis are also now being admitted to Sultan Qaboos hospital--the largest hospital complex this side of Muscat. We are happy to hear that Omanis are able to assist this injured Yemenis and victims of war and are able to assist others fleeing Yemen to find passage through our local airport and seaport to elsewhere further from war.

Hospitals in and throughout the Adanregion of Yemen are already over-filled with victims of war.[The number of medical practitioners registered at the Sultanate's Ministry of Health stands at 5,444, serving in 244 healthcare institutions, including hospitals, health complexes and medical centres across the Sultanate, according to statistics issued by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI).]

Earlier this month, I wrote three articles [1, 2, 3]about how people, like me, who live next to countries, like Yemen ( a country in the midst of a full-blown war), engage each other and are experiencing lives day-to-day. Now, it is time for an update on life in Salalah City, which is situated 90 kilometers from Yemen. However, in order to understand the better the present in the Dhofar region of Oman today--we need to turn back the clock 50 years and discuss


Less than 50 years ago, there were no such hospitals in Salalah.

In the 1960s, Oman could have never have been able to offer help to its neighbors in Yemen and to stand as a buffer against war if Said bin Taimur III, who had ruled Oman and Muscat with an iron fist from the early 1930s to 1970s, had seen his policies and politics survive through the present time.

During Said bin Taimur, Omanis experienced mostly deprivations. In his article, OMAN: The Death of the Last Feudal Arab State, Chis Kutschera, described Taimur's policy on treatment of his own people simply as : "Keep the dogs hungry, they will follow you."[4]

Kutschera explained, "In this country [Oman] of more than 80.000 square miles -- the second largest Arab country east of Suez after Saudi Arabia -- with 750.000 inhabitants,the clock of history was stopped somewhere in the Middle Ages. Everything, it seemed was forbidden. The inhabitants of the coast were forbideen to travel inland, and those of the inland valleys could not go to the coast, or even from one valley to another. No one was allowed to go to Dhofar, in the extreme southwest."

Moreover, "[t]here were, in all Oman and Dhofar, three primary schools and not a single secondary school. Students who wanted to pursue their studies had to leave their country illegally and start a long life of exile in the Persian Gulf or Kuwait. It was forbidden to build new houses, or to repair the old ones; forbidden to install a lavatory or a gas stove; forbidden to cultivate new land, or to buy a car without the Sultan's permission."

In Oman,"[n]o one could smoke in the streets, go to movies or beat drums; the army used to have a band, but one day the Sultan had the instruments thrown into the sea. A few foreigners opened a club: he had it shut, "probably because it was a place where one could have fun", says one of his former victims. Three hours after sunset, the city gates were closed," adds Kutschera.

Oman, like North Korea today, was basically a hermit state; "No foreigner was allowed to visit Muscat without the Sultan's personal permission, and sailors on ships anchored at Muscat could not land. Not a single paper was printed in the country. All political life was prohibited and the prisons were full. Sultan Said was surrounded by official slaves in his palace at Salalah, where time was marked in Pavlovian fashion by a bell which rang every four hours. But one day the dogs got too hungry, and they tore the Sultan almost to death."


Long before the current Sultan Qaboos took over in a coup from his father (Said bin Taimur) in 1970s, the Sultanate of Oman and Muscat was already strongly under threat from several other similar backwards-oriented Kingdoms and ideologies, too.

First in the 1950s, Saudi Arabia had supported full-scale insurrection in several parts of Taimur's Oman. Sultan Said bin Taimur finally put down, killed or expelled most of those leaders (of such a religious rebellion) by the end of that same decade. Meanwhile, after new opposition from Yemen, the Soviet Union, and China arose in the 1960s, rumors of Saudi supported insurgencies continued to surfaced often, too. .

Meanwhile, Maoist communism took hold in southern Yemen after the Yemeni Caliphate was thrown over in 1962. I should add, "[i]n Yemen, the communist movement grew out of the radical wing of the National Liberation Front (NLF) of South Yemen (Aden), which had challenged British rule. The British dominated the south and eastern part of Yemen after capturing the port of Aden in 1839. Until 1937, Yemen was ruled as part of British India. In that year, Aden was made a crown colony, with the remaining land designated as the east Aden and west Aden protectorates. In 1965, the British set up a semi-autonomous Federation of South Arabia which joined together most of the tribal states within the protectorates with the Aden colony. This was done to help stave off the triumph of the National Liberation Front, a leftist anti-colonial organization."

In 1965, "two rival nationalist groups--the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY) and the NLF--launched an uprising against British colonial rule, compelling British rule to end. In 1967, in the face of mounting violence, British troops began withdrawing and the federation they set up collapsed. Later that year the NLF eliminated its FLOSY rivals and declared South Arabia, including Aden, independent on November 30, 1967, subsequently naming the new state the People's Republic of South Yemen."

By the way, most older Omanis today [in 2015] still refer to the south and eastern half of of Yemen as "Adan", which is basically where the Peoples of Republic of South Yemen was located till 1990.

Outside of Oman, a third group of living-in-exile-citizens of Oman were growing up in both Eastern and Western Europe during the Cold War, but both groups--whether trained and reared in the pro-capitalist West or in the communist East--looke forward to the day when they could return to their homeland and finally build a modern Oman. Naturally, the lives of these Omanis were vastly different sets of experiences than those of their own people, family, and tribes back in their homeland.

One major example of the internationally educated Omanis seeking to return home in some distant dreamlike Omani future was Sultan Taimur's own younger brother, Tariq. Alas, in 1966 when the last major assassination of Sultan Taimur occurred, Tariq bin Taimur, self-exiled for several years, only launched belatedly "a movement aimed at overthrowing Sultan Said and restoring democracy. Born of a Turkish mother, married to a German, speaking five languages fluently, Tariq had friends in the Western embassies in Kuwait and Beirut, and was thinking of raising a mercenary force to remove Said from power. So trouble was brewing."meanwhile a full-scale war was under way in the Dhofar region of Oman, where Salalah was still the capital of the Sultanate.


Kutschera has called the Dhofar Insurgency or the last Omani civil war of 1962-1976 , the country of Oman's "Dirty War". In Dhofar, the Marxist rebels of the Liberation Front of Dhofar virtually controlled the hills, mountains and even the small coastal villages. The Sultan controlled nothing but Salalah, which had become an entrenched camp. Until 1972 no reporter was permitted to visit the region or the conflict.

In the early 1960s the Iraqis began to back and train the Sultan's enemies leading to the supporting of the communists who eventually took over all of the mountains of Dhofar, which surrounded the capital of Muscat and Oman. American marine analyst, Steven A Cheney, has written the following concerning this period of Omani history in his The Insurgency in Oman 1962-1975:

"In 1962 a semblance of organization emerged among the insurgents. The Dhofar Charitable Association (DCA) was established, ostensively as a cover for the Dhofar Libera- tion Front (DLF). The DLF was associated with the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM), a Nasserist organization that had branches in virtually every Arab state. The ANM was proving to be a particularly effective organization, having sponsored successful revolutions in the Yemens. However, their expressed goal was to defeat British imperialism3 without any ties to an Imam. Two other groups, the Dhofar Benevolent Society (DBS) and the Dhofari Soldiers Organization (DSO), were beginning to form. Both operated underground in the vicinity of Salalah until early 1965, when a shipment of men and arms from Iraq and Kuwait was intercepted by the Iranians. As a conse- quence, many of the insurgents in Oman were captured, and those remaining fled to the mountains. They met at Wadi at Kabir on June 1, 1965, to solidify the leadership of the DLF and prepare plans for an extended campaign. That meeting was declared the "First Congress" and produced a proclamation demanding the liberating of this country (Dhofar) from the rule of the despotic Al Bu Said Sultan whose dynasty has been identitied with the hordes of tne British imperialist occupation.... This people (Dhofaris) have long and bitterly suffered from dispersion, unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and disease.... The DLF also issued a three point manifesto stating, a. The poor classes, the farmers, workers, soldiers and revolutionary intellectuals will form the backbone of the organization. b. The imperialist presence will be destroyed in all its forms--military, economic and political. c. The (hireling) regime under its ruler, Said bin Taimur, will be destroyed.

After the Arab-Israel war ended in late 1967, Cheney notes, the Dhofar insurgency became much more international and a communist takeover of the country loomed larger--as the tribal leaders were marginalized within the ranks of the insurgent military ranks.It is at this juncture that the insurgency began to take on an international flavor. The indigenous tribesmen lost out as a controlling faction. Communist leanings trended to stronger ties with the new revolutionary regime in South Yemen, and garnered support from the Peoples Republic of China, Iraq, and radical Palestinian organizations. After liaison was made with the Soviet Union, several young leaders attended school there.10 The situation was not dissimilar to that faced by South Vietnam. A friendly communist government immediately bordering the country provided profuse supplies and safe havens for guerrillas."

Considering that Maoists in China of the mid-1960s were on a turn-back-the-clock binge, i.e. which has been misnamed a"cultural revolution", it is doubtful whether Oman could ever have become a well-developing nation if those types of communists had been successful in taking over Oman. In short, in many ways, the Cultural Revolution in China from 1966 through the 1970s was extremely anti-intellectual and downplayed technical achievements and performances--this was exactly the opposite of what Omanis would want to see from governmental leadership in the coming decades. In short, even though either (1) the Maoists or (2) the Saudi backed (and religiously oriented) forces in Dhofar and other Omani regions might have offered a better future for the peoples of Oman in contrast to the ongoing Taimur regime. However, the religious extremists and the Maoists in the end were not likely to educate their citizens better nor as well to provide as much health care as the Omanis have received over the past 4 decades under the current Sultan. [7]


A few weeks prior to the Omani military initiated Sultan Qaboos Coup of the 23rd of July, 1970s, "most observers in the Persian Gulf and Beirut thought the fall of Sultan Said [of Muscat and Oman] was only a matter of time: 'When the oil revenues reach 50 million ($120 million) the British will remove him and put a Tariq in power', said one well-placed source in Abu Dhabi last June. Said bin Taimur was the sick man of Arabia; intervention was imminent, and Tariq [the brother of the Sultan] was thought of as the surgeon."

"Why did the British choose to let Qabus' coup succeed [instead]?" asks Kutschera "Was it, as a British diplomat in Muscat had the audacity to say, because 'it (British policy) is not to interfere with the local affairs of the natives'? Or, as other say, was it because Tariq was too involved abroad or because of his idea of democracy, which would give the Sultan a largely honorary role? Or did the new Sultan really impose himself?"

In retrospect, the coup of 1970s simply had perfect timing. It came at a juncture when Taimur would have likely had to flee anyway. He simply had no one left in the kingdom who supported him.

However, just as important as timing seems to have been the ability of the young Sultan Qaboos to convey the message to his own people and to the British forces who eventually backed him (during the last years of the insurgency in Dhofar) that he was in charge.

Likewise, J. E. Petersen writes that at the same time as the coup occurred, most Dhofaris in the mountains were becoming angrier and angrier with the hardline Soviet and Maoist leadership. "Most Dhufaris were won over by a combination of the obvious commitment of the new regime [under Sultan Qaboos] to development and a better life, and mistakes by the front's hardline leadership in its sometimes brutal suppression of Islam and tribalism.

Kutschera adds the decisiveness of the young Sultan was also important, so that within only "four days after the coup of Salalah, the outside world learned that Tariq [the brother of the Sultan] was only to be prime minister and that Qabus would succeed his father to become the eighth sultan of a dynasty which has been in power since 1749. His first decision was to call himself Sultan of Oman -- and not of Oman and Muscat, phraseology which summon[ed]up the country's everlasting division. His second decision was to visit Muscat, where his father had not been seen since 1958."

Next, the new Sultan indicated that he would respect the tribes much more than his father and the communist internationalists had. He indicated that through these federalist and traditional approaches to governmental decision making that he would not force the country into a fast march towards democracy but instead seek first to develop the countries schools, health care and welfare systems. In order to achieve the aims of becoming a more socialist and just state, however, the Sultan quickly offered alignment and agreements with investors on major infrastructure projects around the country using most of the countries oil money and by creating new developmental financing and investing opportunities.

In an interview given shortly after taking over Oman in 1970, Sultan Qaboos explained, "I am a man with one foot in my country -- backwards as it is, with its tribal customs, its life dominated by Islam -- and the other in the 20th century. I must be very careful to keep my balance".

It has, in fact, been reflective of the Sultan's abilities that he is a great multi-tasker and that he is inclined to find balancing points where others have failed. For example, Oman has maintained a good set of relations with Iran while supporting the Gulf Cooperation Council in many ways. It has stayed out of neighboring wars even as others, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have demanded it join. During this time of peace, Oman moved from last (or nearly last) on the developmental indexes to being a mid-range nation in just over 3 decades. [8]

"The old tribal structures were alive and powerful in Oman as nowhere else in Arabia. In order to establish a new state Qaboos first had to peacefully unite the tribes, put an end to ancient feuds and persuade the leaders of the individual groupings to hand over their traditional powers to the Omani state and to actively cooperate in the building up of the new country -- a difficult task for a young ruler if ever there was one."

Eventually, the current Majlis system of governance and authority in the land has opened up the most lasting peace in modern Middle East history, i.e. for the Omanis and their nation. "The Majlis system is of primary significance for the modern Omani state because it represents a form of democratic direct representation due to its nearness to the people. Everyone with a problem has the right to speak directly to his sheikh. He will then bring the matter before the next higher tribal council. In this way the problem is passed through a hierarchy of Majlis to the level at which justice can be dispensed. The supreme sovereign, the Sultan, is the ultimate guarantor of this hierarchical system. This is also the key to understanding how a loosely coupled confederation of tribal areas could be united into a national state. It is not for nothing that the political organisation of modern Oman contains elements of this traditional Majlis system."[9]

In short, the sultan (and his sultanate of Oman) for over 40 years has been able to act as sort of a director or fiddler on a roof--balancing all kinds of forces and remaining largely neutral in many affairs of state in the region and around the world. When Sultan Qaboos passes, the people of Oman no longer expect another civil war--but simply anticipate further progress in terms of each citizen's quality of life, health, education, and welfare.

These are things that many neighboring Yemenis can only dream about.


[1]What's it like living next door to War-Torn Yemen? (Part 1): Remain Empathetic & Function as Though Nothing Will Change

[2]What's it like living next door to War-Torn Yemen? (Part 2): More on Empathy, Life & Pilgrimage

[3] What's it like living next door to War-Torn Yemen? (Part 3): More on Empathy & Reflections

[4] Kutschera, Chis, OMAN: The Death of the Last Feudal Arab State, 1970.htm .

[5] The Sickle and the Minaret: Communist Successor Parties in Yemen and Afghanistan After the Cold War,

[6] Steven A Cheney, The Insurgency in Oman 1962-1975, .

[7] However, a Soviet-inspired communist effort might have more success in the short run, some thought, because many of the Omanis in exile over the prior decades had studied in East European and Russian universities. On the other hand, these sort of leaders were more likely to have been seen as outsiders by their own people. This is why the Sultan turned first to the tribes to rebuild the Sultanates' friendship to its own people.

[8] The following history might be insightful to readers. This was written in 1995--only 20 years after the country's first 5-year plan.

"In 1975, Oman initiated the first of four five-year plans that have depended to a large extent on the price and production level of petroleum. At present, since Oman is finding new reserves at almost the same rate that old ones are being depleted, the government's goal is to maintain the present production level of 800,000 barrels per day for the rest of this century.

The extraordinary building and beautification program in Oman's capital and its suburbs was made possible largely by the increase in the price of oil in the late 1970s. New ministries, shopping malls and residential villas sparkle white in the sun in an almost continuous strip from Bustan, east of Muscat, to Seeb, the site of a brand new international airport more than 20 miles to the west. At present, with the price of oil stagnant and delineated in a sinking dollar, Oman has less money to spend on such beautification, but it nevertheless has undertaken major regional expansion and beautification in towns throughout the country.

Having accomplished most of its infrastructure-building goals in its first quarter century, Oman's government will concentrate in its upcoming five-year plan on 'Omanization,' inducing the private sector as well as the government to find jobs for the growing annual number of graduates from Oman's schools. It also is focusing on environmental protection, on encouraging Omanis to save more of their incomes and thereby reduce the need for foreign investment, on freshwater conservation and production, and on dealing with its extremely high birthrate through education."

In the last two decades the large population growth has been called into question and their have been some major social and economic debacles--including issues of corruption. In short, at times Oman has stumbled a bit over the last two decades but its population growth is slowing too. This means responsibility for family planning is being made at the individual level and more citizens want responsible growth and planning in all aspects of their social and economic lives.

[9] The other Side of Omani Life: Tribal Society in Oman,

Submitters Website:

Submitters Bio:

KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global issues.

"I am from Kansas so I also use the pseudonym 'Kansas' and 'alone' when I write and publish.- I-keep two blogs--one with BLOGGER and one with WORDPRESS.- My writings range from reviews to editorials or to travel observations.- I also make recommendations related to policy--having both a-strong background in teaching foreign languages and degrees in teaching in history and the social sciences.--As a Midwesterner, I also write on religion and living out ones faith whether it be as a Christian, Muslim or Buddhist perspective."

On my own home page, I also provide information for language learners and travelers,-