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The History of Oman from the Present to The Past

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in the Omani capital Muscat (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP)

The “calm Sultanate” might be a good name for Oman. The Sultanate was able to make a foreign policy that enabled it to live peacefully amidst all regional political instability and fluctuations. The Sultanate was the power that once have had control over the entry of the Arab/Persian Gulf in the 18th and 19th centuries. This enabled it to play a vital role in facing the European ambitions in the Gulf area and India. In addition, the Omanis contributed to the birth of the Ibadi sect, and their influence extended to reach Zanzibar in Africa.

Fanack will dive in this section into Oman’s history from present to past. By this, we attempt to get through the conclusive events which laid out this country’s present and identity from a historian’s perspective.

Qaboos re-draws the Sultanate (2020 – 1970)

Over his 5 decades of rule, Sultan Qaboos bin Said was able to turn Oman from a small poor oil state that was torn apart by political struggles into a country that enjoys some degree of welfare.

Qaboos was keen on following neutrality policy towards a lot of the territorial and international issues. Furthermore, he made sure his country -located in a region full of conflicts and tensions- is characterized by this neutrality.

The late Sultan Qaboos remained chief of the state and the prime minister at the same time. Qaboos was the Sultan between 23 July 1970 and 10 January 2020. He became also the Prime Minister of the Sultanate on the 23rd of July 1972. He remained in total control of decision making in Oman during his rule, as he was Prime Minister, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Minister of Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Finance.

Due to not having children, Sultan Qaboos amended the basic Law. By this amendment, the royal family has to choose a male descendant of Turki bin Said, the Sultan of Muscat and Oman from 1871-1888, as the successor of Qaboos when the late dies. Qaboos has drawn up a document stating the name of his preferred choice, which was his cousin and the present Sultan – Haitham bin Tariq Al Said.

Qaboos bin Said overthrew his father Sultan Said bin Taimur. Qaboos’s more global and progressive views clashed with his father’s predilection for conservatism and isolationism of Oman. Supported by the British and by the political elite in Oman, the 30-year-old Qaboos took over after the coup d’état of 1970. After that, Qaboos exiled his father to London who died there in 1972.

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Al Said, Yaruba and Nabhani dynasties (1920 – 1154)

For several decades, revolutions broke out for various reasons until in 1920 a treaty was negotiated (Treaty of al-Seeb). The treaty gave the Imamate and the Sultanate their relative independence and the right to manage their affairs.

With the death of Said bin Sultan in 1856, Oman and Zanzibar became separated. Nevertheless, both countries continued to fall under the rule of members of the Al Bu Said. This continued even after Britain declared Zanzibar a British protectorate in 1891.

Since the late 18th century, the traditional trade network in the Indian Ocean transformed and expanded. England, France and other Western powers had firmly established anchors in the Indian Ocean region. Western capital and technology began to dominate regional trade.

In the 18th and 19th century, 80% of Muscat’s trade was with India, as Muscat controlled the passage into the Arabian/Persian Gulf. Trading was mostly in the hands of Indians in Oman.

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Portuguese control began to decline in the 17th century, partly due to competition with Persians and European powers such as the Dutch and the British. These powers came to the region to pursue their own commercial goals. Successive rulers in Oman were able to evict the Portuguese from their ports and contributed to their eventual expulsion from India and East Africa. In 1698, the last Portuguese stronghold in Mombasa fell to Omanis.

In the early 16th century, a prosperous maritime network connected the countries bordering the Arabian/Persian Gulf such as Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan with Africa, India, and the Far East. Oman was actively involved.
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Islam and what came before (750AD – 600BC)

During the life of Prophet Muhammad, Oman’s inhabitants adopted in 630 Islam. Earlier, Omanis had worshipped gods related to sun, moon, and other celestial bodies. Believers in Hinduism and Christianity were also present in the region.

Omanis became involved in creating the Ibadi sect in Basra in the mid-7th century. The doctrine spread in Oman (it was also adopted in North African countries such as Algeria and Tunisia, where pockets still exist today). Followers built a state under the leadership of their own elected religious head, the Imam. The first Ibadi Imamate was established in 750 AD under Imam al-Julanda ibn Masud. As a result, Oman gained independence from the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad.

Around the second century, the first Arab tribes entered the region. These were part of a large migratory movement coming from the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula. They arrived via the south-west of Saudi Arabia (Yemen) and the northern gateway of Tawam (al-Ain, located near the border with the United Arab Emirates) between 100 and 800 AD. At that time, Oman was under Persian rule. Persian dynasties controlled the coastal ports and parts of the interior region from at least the 6th century BC.

Excavations of settlements have offered evidence that pastoralists used to live in Oman at least 7,000 years ago. As early as the third millennium BC, inhabitants on both sides of the Gulf shared the same lifestyle and common culture. This culture is known as the Umm al-Nar culture (Mother of fire). Excavations have taken place in Oman, Umm al-Nar – an island near Abu Dhabi, and Iran.
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Further Reading

Oman's inhabitants adopted Islam during the life of the Prophet Muhammad in circa 630 CE. Earlier, Omanis had worshipped gods related to the sun, the moon, and other celestial bodies. Believers in Hinduism and Christianity were al...
Throughout history the international trade network has provided Oman's population with a supplementary source of income. This was particularly important because agriculture and pastoralism, which constituted the mainstay of the lo...
Omani ports profited from their strategic position mainly because they were located along two main routes connecting East and West: the routes through the Persian Gulf and through the Red Sea.
Throughout history, India and Africa formed the basis for Oman's intercontinental exchange. Evidence of trade links with India, Oman's major trade partner, dates back to the third millennium BCE.
In the early 16th century a prosperous maritime network connected the countries bordering the Persian Gulf such as Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan with Africa, India, and the Far East. Oman was actively involved. Circa 1490, Omani seafar...
From the late 18th century, the traditional trade network in the Indian Ocean transformed and expanded as a result of changes in the world trade network caused by the industrialization and modernization of the Western world. E...
The peaceful period in the early 20th century came to an abrupt end in the 1950s, when a new Imam had to be elected in inner Oman. This brought rival tensions which drew attention from the international community and attracted sup...
Despite limited social and political reforms announced by Sultan Qaboos in 2011, protests re-emerged in the spring of 2012 over unemployment and the slow pace of reforms. A wave of arrests targeted human rights activists, bloggers...
Oil exploration in Oman began in the late 1930s, but with little success. It was not until the beginning of the 1960s that oil was found in the interior (in Yibal, Marmul, and Fahud). However, from the 1930s, the financial situati...
Oman participates in many regional and world organizations. It was a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981. The other members, all oil producing countries, are Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the ...

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