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Oman’s Arab Spring

Riots in Sohar in February 2011 / Photo: Youtube

Inspired by developments in Tunisia and Egypt, Oman was the centre of a modest version of the Arab Spring. From late February 2011 onwards, Omani citizens gathered at several roundabouts in the area of Sohar to protest against rising unemployment figures, cost of living and corruption among government officials, and to demand better working conditions and salaries. On a political level the demonstrators called for greater civil and political rights, greater power for the advisory Shura Council, judiciary independence and guaranteed freedom of expression.

Generally the demonstrations, organized by young Omanis with the help of social media, were non-violent. However, in Sohar, protestors set fire to several government buildings and clashed with security forces, who used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to disperse them. One protestor was killed, dozens were arrested. This violent clash sparked demonstrations and sit-ins in other cities and towns, such as Salalah in the far south and Sur in the east, where protesters gathered around squares in support of their counterparts in Sohar. Again, the unrest was suppressed.

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 and journalists who had criticized the government’s failure to implement reforms and protect human rights. In 2012, a total of 35 activists were sentenced to prison for protesting and expressing their views on social media, according to Human Rights Watch.

Further Reading

Rising unemployment among young Omanis has led to resentment and frustration, particularly in the port city of Sohar. The newly constructed deep sea port facility did not bring the new employment opportunities that people hoped fo...
In March 2011, the Sultan took several steps in response to the protests, replacing six ministers who had been accused of corruption. The minimum wage and unemployment benefits were increased substantially.
rom the outset, the reaction of the Obama Administration to the protests was very restrained. Sultan Qaboos is a loyal US ally. The US State Department eagerly welcomed the first moves toward reform, as announced by the Sultan.

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