Omani citizen Aziz bin-Salim al-Hasani is a rare exception in the politics of the Arab world, where ambitions and public offices are often monopolized by certain groups that are born to political, tribal, or financial power. Outside these circles, dreams usually shatter on the rocks of bitter and painful reality. Aziz al-Hasani, an ordinary person, has, however, succeeded in assuming a key political position without having a place in any of the circles of power and influence. This thin young Omani, whose face was tanned by the scorching sun and who was worn out working day and night as a taxi driver has now become an elected member of parliament, called in Oman the Shura Council.
How did Aziz al-Hasani manage to make this transition from taxi driver to elected member of parliament from Bawshar, the largest province in the Governorate of Muscat? What is the story behind his success?
Aziz al-Hasani was born in 1977 to an ordinary Omani family. When he was a teenager, he became a professional footballer, playing for the Bawshar side. However, the difficulties and challenges of life forced him to make do with a secondary-school diploma and start looking for a job. This gave al-Hasani the chance to become more familiar with the issues and concerns of ordinary people in Oman. In addition to his work as a taxi driver, he served as an unofficial messenger between citizens on the one hand and officials and government departments on the other.
After leaving school, al-Hasani worked in the Ministry of Sport, but he later decided to become a taxi driver, despite the differences in social status between the position of government employee and taxi driver. Al-Hasani believed that one should not feel ashamed of work, as long as one retains his dignity and can provide for his family.
A close friend of al-Hasani said that “Aziz is a simple man, but he is sincere in his feelings towards people and his desire to help them…. He always takes the initiative to help needy families and raise funds and assistance that these families might need.”
Al-Hasani engaged very early in voluntary and charitable activities in Bawshar, but one incident years ago drew special attention to him and made him a hero in the eyes of the young people of Bawshar. Al-Hasani managed to prevent the seizure by influential people of large areas of land in Bawshar for commercial purposes. That case generated widespread reaction and echoed until it reached top officials in Oman.
Al-Hasani worked as a taxi driver transporting people from the airport to various parts of Muscat, but, in his free times, he served the people of Bawshar, conveying messages and requests of citizens to various service departments and government institutions. He also met with officials to discuss the demands of the people of Bawshar. He claimed to have carried more than 1,100 letters to various ministries and institutions and to have paid many visits to officials in all government and private offices, seeking the attention of anyone who would listen to him speak of the people’s suffering and needs. In that, he was largely successful.
These letters and messages punched al-Hasani’s ticket to the Shura Council. Every time he succeeded in delivering the citizens’ demands to those in charge in the government, he became more in touch with the people and more familiar with their concerns and felt a greater urge to provide services to citizens. He thus decided to run in the elections for Shura Council, a decision the people of Bawshar welcomed warmly.
A Dream comes True
Al-Hasani’s dream was about to materialize in 2011, when the Omanis took to the streets, calling for political and economic reform. In that year, taxi driver al-Hasani thought that his turn had come to pioneer change in his country, so he announced his plan to run for the seventh Shura Council elections, but he came fourth in the election. Al-Hasani went back to his life as taxi driver but did not give up his dream: he had to wait five more years to make his dream come true.
Al-Hasani ran again, for the eighth term of the Shura Council (October 2015) but now with more experience and a strong network. Benefitting from his experience during the earlier elections, which he had lost, he was successful this time.
Al-Hasani built his electoral team of young people from Bawshar who worked quietly and confidentially to prepare for the elections, using social-media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and other forms of persuasion to win the votes of Bawshar and other provinces. His team also put up posters on the main streets of the province.
A group of intellectuals and academics from Bawshar decided to side with al-Hasani, the simple man who aspired to become a parliamentarian. They gave him good advice and raised funds for his campaign.
The campaign team worked hard to ensure the success of their candidate, who was competing with other candidates who come from socially and financially influential families and tribes. Al-Hasani was short of funding but was successful on the social level. Al-Hasani claimed that he did not spend a single riyal of his own money on his election campaign.
Al-Hasani met with voters in “small groups not exceeding 25 people” because this made it easier for him to convince them of his political platform.
Al-Hasani, whom almost 10,000 taxi drivers in Muscat consider their representative on the Shura Council, had taken on, well before he was elected, the issue of the regulation of taxi drivers in the country, a profession that did not receive adequate attention. Al-Hasani likened taxi drivers to ambassadors, because they give visitors their first impression of the country. He is now calling for attention to the needs of taxi drivers and for helping them to regulate their profession and improve their living conditions, because, he says, the taxi driver’s profession is like any other: it requires laws to regulate it and safeguard the rights of professionals.
Al-Hasani believes that there are problems with some laws and regulations in the country. Most of the lawmakers are office workers not well acquainted with the people’s real demands, and existing laws have not kept pace with the people’s needs.
Decision-makers are calling for listening to people like al-Hasani who know the people’s core needs and problems. Al-Hasani and others like him have “the ambition and the desire for development and change.”
Al-Hasani is a different voice on the Omani Shura Council, because he does not represent a tribal entity and is not well off, unlike many other members of parliament. His origins are in the broader society, and he seeks to represent appropriately this society and his constituency because “a Shura Council member should be close to the people and duly express their demands.”
The story of Omani Aziz bin-Salim al-Hasani, who transformed himself from simple taxi driver to elected member of parliament, is only one of many similar success stories in Omani society.