Fanack Home / Oman / Past to Present / The rule of Sultan Qaboos

The rule of Sultan Qaboos

Sultan Said bin Taymur with his son Qaboos, who would force his father into exile in 1970

The Dhofar rebellion led to a bloodless palace coup in July 1970, when Sultan Said bin Taymur was overthrown by his son, Qaboos bin Said. Qaboos, born in Salalah in November 1940, had partly been educated in Great Britain, where he studied first at a private college from 1958 onwards and subsequently at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. As an officer in the British army he served for a short time in the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1965, after advanced studies in London and a world tour, he was called home and placed in isolation in the palace in Salalah.

Qaboos‘ more cosmopolitan 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 then 30 year-old Qaboos assumed power after the coup d’état of 1970. His father went into exile in London, where he died in 1972.

Sultan Qaboos inherited a country that was plagued by illiteracy, poverty and a lack of adequate social infrastructure such as education and health care. He also was immediately confronted with the continuing fierce rebellion in Dhofar. With the involvement of British troops and equipment, armed units from Jordan and Iran, and financial backing by Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, the Dhofar rebellion was finally put down in 1975.

Qaboos’ rule as an enlightened autocrat signalled the beginning of the transformation of Oman into a modern state. The Sultan established a modern structure of government, launched fundamental changes in education and health care, built a modern infrastructure and developed the country’s important oil and gas resources. He is considered the most popular leader in the Arab world by far. Omani political culture is characterized by respect for patriarchal  leadership, an overall acceptance of the current form of government and the legitimacy of the nation-state. However, it appears from time to time that the Omani citizens aspire to greater political participation. Despite all his reforms, the Sultan does not seem inclined to introduce major changes to the current system.

Recent developments

Sultan Qaboos on a billboard in Muscat / Photo Fanack

Although Oman was always considered a politically stable country, the country witnessed unrest and protests, starting in January 2011, when demonstraters  protested 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.Some also carried banners with slogans supporting the Sultan. In February and March, protesters also gathered at the Globe Roundabout in Sohar, holding up the traffic and demanding a ‘real parliament’. The protests soon spread to other cities such as Haima. The police and army have broken up the protest camps and arrested an unknown number of persons. There have also been a number of deaths following the protests.

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.

The uprising in Oman has forced authorities to compromise on transparency and accountability in governance. All in all, Sultan Qaboos has responded to the protests with more substantial reforms than other Gulf monarchs. One explanation for his exceptional stance is that all authority is concentrated in the Sultan’s hands; moreover, he is not constrained by frictions within the ruling family. Yet, renewed protests were a sign that limited political and social reforms have not satisfied Omanis. The Sultan has managed to avoid further crisis, but at a price: continued repression of activists and further restrictions in freedom of expression and assembly.

Further Reading

Little is known about Oman's pre-Islamic past, but it is clear from recent archaeological discoveries and research that ...
The Sultanate was the power that once have had control over the entry of the Arab/Persian Gulf in the 18th and 19th cent...
Before the GCC summit in Kuwait in December 2013, Oman’s minister of foreign affairs, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, ma...

We would like to ask you something …

Fanack is an independent media organisation, not funded by any state or any interest group, that distributes in the Middle East and the wider world unbiased analysis and background information, based on facts, about the Middle East and North Africa.

The website grew rapidly in breadth and depth and today forms a rich and valuable source of information on 21 countries, from Morocco to Oman and from Iran to Yemen, both in Arabic and English. We currently reach six million readers annually and growing fast.

In order to guarantee the impartiality of information on the Chronicle, articles are published without by-lines. This also allows correspondents to write more freely about sensitive or controversial issues in their country. All articles are fact-checked before publication to ensure that content is accurate, current and unbiased.

To run such a website is very expensive. With a small donation, you can make a huge impact. And it only takes a minute. Thank you.