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PART III. Case study: The sultanate of Oman

Fred Scholz

1. An introduction to the new developments in the sultanate of Oman with reference to mobile population groups

A Short Description of the Sultanate of Oman

The Sultanate of Oman in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula includes the traditional heartland of the country, Muscat and Oman, the southern province Dhofar, which was annexed in 1879, and the peninsula of Musandam, an exclave which is separated from the rest of Oman by the 90-km-wide Emirate of Fujairah (fig. 16). Oman, which has an area of 300,000 km2, lies within the region influenced by monsoon climate but is nevertheless to be numbered with the countries within the Old World Arid Zone. Rainfall amounts of less than 50 mm per year are typical of the interior and on the coast between 120 and 150 mm; only in the high mountains in the north (up to 3,100 m) and in the south (up to 1,600 m does the precipitation exceed 300 mm. In general, however, precipitation felts very irregularly and over a very small area. It usually occurs in the form of short, heavy showers, and the water scarcely seeps into the ground as much is lost as surface run-off. What ground moisture there is evaporates as a result of the high temperatures. The average temperature in June is between 34 and 38 C.

About 15 per cent of the land's surface is covered by mountains with almost no vegetation. About 65 per cent comprises the wide gravel plains of wadis which extend from the mountains or desert to the sea and have thorn and dry savannah vegetation. The remaining area is a broad desert. Less than 1 per cent of the land's total area (about 36,000 ha) is taken up by oases and can be cultivated intensively. Date palms represent the main type of growth in northern Oman. In the southern province, Dhofar, the coconut palm is dominant. In addition, papayas, bananas, and lemons are grown in oases throughout the country, and grains, fodder, and vegetables of all kinds are planted beneath the trees. Irrigation water comes in most cases from underground falaj systems or from wells. The largest part of the country's surface is unsuitable for agriculture but is the home of a mobile, animal-breeding population.

FIG, 16. The Arabian Peninsula

Only the bedouins and shawawi (mountain nomads) are able to exploit the sparse and extensive pasture with their camel, sheep, goat and, in Dhofar, cattle herds. Until 1970 the country was more or less isolated from the outside world and without signs of change but the young Sultan Qaboos, who came to power by way of a bloodless palace revolt on 23 July 1970, introduced policies directed at the modernization of the country.

Goals and Measures Adopted for the Development of the Country

The policies of the new Omani government had three major goals:

  1. the rapid elimination of the backwardness of the country caused by its isolation under Sultan Said;
  2. the development of an economy that spans the whole country and is independent of oil exports;
  3. the creation of an Omani national consciousness.

Obstacles in the way of these goals included the deeply embedded tribal structures; the lack of direct contact between sultan and tribal leaders; the independence of tribal heads within their own territories and in relations with the Sultan of Muscat; and the lack of willingness on the part of the tribal leaders to accept the policies of the new sultan which were aimed at mediating among all sectors of the population and the government.

To achieve its aims, the government introduced many measures which affected the tribal leaders and the tribes. These included the development of a nation-wide infrastructure and an administrative system that operates across tribal borders, and the development of a national economy. The success of these measures has been very limited; economic development has been concentrated on the area surrounding Muscat. The successful development of the educational and health programmes is shown in table 21.

These governmental policies applied to the entire country and for the nomadic tribal population they presented a set of possibilities in which they could choose to become involved. Measures specifically affecting the tribal population included the appointment of tribal leaders loyal to the sultan to highly paid government positions and the granting of land to the lowliest tribal members. Land distribution had been formerly the privilege of heads of tribes and the sheikh; the new system was a method of bringing the tribal population into direct contact with a new government. Soldiers for the Omani army were now recruited from a wider range, above all from the Omani tribes of the mountains and deserts, whereas formerly the army had been made up chiefly of enlisted Baluchis from the coastal region. Moreover, foreign firms were henceforth to give preference to Omani natives for all jobs which they were capable of doing. And, in an attempt to create an Omani national consciousness, a quasi-military salute was introduced in the schools, to be given daily as homage to the sultan.

Among the policies affecting labour were the following. a. A minimum wage, adjusted to the cost-of-living index, regardless of job qualification was introduced. b. Employment preference was to he given to workers from tribes in whose areas a project was being carried out. (This was applied especially to road construction firms and oil companies, but as of 1976 any Omani can take a job anywhere in the country.) c. Labourers were hired through the sheikh, not directly by the company. (The sheikh was then paid the wage and, after deducting an amount, he paid the workers; this right of the sheikhs was invalidated in 1976, but in some tribes the practice continues.)

Measures were adopted by the government for Dhofar and geared to the situation there. These include, in addition to the extremely expensive military activities against "leftist" infiltration from the People's Democratic Republic of


  1. the payment of a premium for giving up weapons and for the enlistment of former opponents of the sultan into his military service;
  2. numerous concessions to youths (e.g., the granting of lightweight motorcycles, the opening of cinemas, the employment of pupils for wages by foreign firms during school vacations) designed to keep them from participating in guerilla activities in the hinterlands;

TABLE 21. Development of the Educational and Health Care Systems in Oman

  1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977
Schools 3 16 41 68 111 176 207 257
Pupils 900 6,941 15,332 24,481 35,565 49,229 55,752 75,000
Hospitals and clinics 2 28 47 52 55 64 _ 69

Sources: SYB 1976; V.B. No. 7, 814/78.

c. the establishment of an aid service in the areas of education, medicine, nutrition, and agriculture adapted to the needs of the mountain population; and d. supply centres set up in the hinterlands, making foodstuffs and medical services available locally.

In contrast to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, therefore, there is no concerted strategy for integrating the nomadic population into modern developments in Oman. Nor are there direct moves by the government in the form of projects, such as compulsory settlement and land grants, as in neighbouring countries. There are two projects and these are in the planning stages. They are the settlement projects at Tanam and Haima, which will be discussed at greater length below.

Planning Organizations

In order to implement the 1970 decision to develop the country quickly, an administration was most necessary. But suitable people could not be found and the appropriate institutions could not be created instantly. Until the establishment of the Development Council, an organization which has been co-ordinating and organizing the country's development since 1974, there were many different phases of planning, and the country paid dearly for its experience. The government's course of action is sketched briefly below and reveals the efforts to achieve effective planning.

After Sultan Qaboos had taken over the government, the Development Board that had been created during his predecessor's last years in office was dissolved and replaced by:

..... the "Department of Planning and Development" and an independent "Tender Board" were formed. Thereafter a temporary "Planning Council" was created which was renamed (1972) as the "Supreme Council for Economic Planning and Development." The Centre for Economic Planning and Development was attached to this Supreme Council. [TFYOP 1976.]

Because there was no functional government structure during the first few years after 1970, the various planning institutions had responsibility both for planning and implementation. Misunderstandings and omissions were thus unavoidable. In order to improve efficiency the General Development Organization was created by the sultan's decree in 1973 and was raised to the level of a ministry the same year (Ministry of Development). This ministry was responsible for the entire development plan and had both planning and implementation responsibilities. As far as economic development was concerned, its responsibility extended only as far as there was no ministry responsible for a particular sector: agriculture, irrigation, fishing, mining, oil, trade, industry.

As early as 1974, however, the necessity of separating executive and planning became clear. As a result of this separation of functions, the Ministry of Development was dissolved and several new ministries were created. All cultural, economic, and political sectors were thus finally represented by a ministry, and a government that was clearly structured and capable of effective work was established. The organizational structure of the government in the Sultanate is shown in figure 17.

With this clear division of the government into subiectoriented ministries having their own budgets, the preconditions for effective development in Oman were established. This development originated in the individual ministries and was co-ordinated by the Development Council created in 1974 by sultan's decree. In the Development Council, which is under the chairmanship of Sultan Qaboos, seven ministries (cf. fig. 17) are represented together with the Under Secretary for Financial Affairs. The Development Council has a Technical Secretariat which is headed by a Secretary General and an Under Secretary for Planning. The duties of the Development Council were laid down by law in 1975:

First:Second: Council for Financial Affairs. To discuss the establish an annual development budget and to refer this budget to the
Third: To set and approve priorities for development
projects submitted by ministries and government
departments before they are implemented,
with a view to ensuring conformity
with the approved priorities, and to achieving
complementarily and consistency of projects
in terms of time and substance.
Fourth: To set priorities to requests for consultant
studies submitted by government ministries
and departments and to authorize them before
any commitment is made.
Fifth: To lay down general rules and terms for extending
Government "loans" and "participation"
which are to be approved by the council
for inclusion in the annual development
Sixth: To approve privileges proposed by the minister
concerned, in accordance with the law for the Protection of Developing Industry 4/74, if the proposed privileges include any monopolistic rights or concessions.
Seventh: government departments, in so far as the
implementation of the development plan is concerned.
Eighth: To receive from ministries and government
departments follow-up progress reports on
the implementation of projects and consultant studies.
Ninth: To issue an annual follow-up report on the
implementation of the development plan.
Tenth: Any other business assigned to the Council
by His Majesty the Sultan. [TFYDP 1976]

The Development Council's responsibility was limited to the planning and guidance of economic development, as is clearly recognizable from the text of the law. Executive functions, on the other hand, remained with the individual ministries. All the planning decisions were made in the different governmental institutions and in the Development Council with its seat in the Capital Area. The individual ministries that were directly involved in development set up offices in all the important towns, i.e., in the settlements chosen as central places, in order to implement the measures that had been planned. These centres were usually the seats of the Walis.

It was not only at this lowest level of the administration that appropriate personnel was initially lacking. Even during the first deliberations concerning a possible development concept for Oman, the government was dependent on foreign experts. These specialists, functioning in part as advisers, were without doubt usually highly qualified; they had, however, no local experience, no knowledge of the society and of the geography of Oman. Thus, they followed principles that were based on the pattern of western industrialized countries. An attempt was made to apply the theoretical concept of development put forth by these experts, which was known in the literature as "modernization" or "westernization." This concept was sometimes applied without consideration of local conditions and without questioning whether an alternative course of development more appropriate to Oman was available. But in this respect, much has changed since 1970. The government has gained in experience, can choose the experts and consultants it still needs, and can have alternative concepts drawn up in particular cases. Furthermore, since 1974 the Central Bank has been an additional institution through which expenditures for development can be controlled.

TABLE 22. Omani Government Income from the Oil Sector

  1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 Estimated annual average, 1976 - 1980
Oil exports
(millions of barrels)
20.9 88.2 119.2 121.3 107.4 102.8 107.0 105.8 124.6 113.8
Government oil revenue (millions of Omani rials*) 1.9 25.5 38.5 44.4 47.7 49.3 60.6 291.5 369.8 447.2

Sources: SYB 1976; TFYDP 1976.
* One Omani rial = approximately US$2.90.

Planning Base

The basis of all planning is a sufficient supply of funds. The financial basis for realizing the necessary and expensive development programme is represented primarily by the government oil revenue which is made up of royalties and taxes. In 1967, the first tanker was loaded with Omani oil and since that time Oman has experienced a continuous growth in oil income (table 22).

The jump in income between 1973 and 1974 is striking. In addition to the rise in the price of crude oil on the world market, the new conditions governing Omani participation in the oil companies are responsible for this rise. This will be discussed in greater detail below.

Other government income, insofar as it was not absorbed by the defense budget for the Dhofar war, was very modest, and was also used for development. This income includes revenues from the export of agricultural products and from customs duties that are imposed on certain imports. Oman has also found financial support for its development plans in friendly Arab governments, in Europe, and in America. This support grew only after 1974 when it was recognized abroad that Oman cannot be compared with the small, rich oil-producing countries: It is a relatively large country with a limited and widely scattered population, a more expensive type of development to be pursued, and an income from oil deliveries that is not sufficient to cover the costs of this development.

Taking out credit naturally means being in debt to the countries supplying credit. But debts also mean dependence

The foreign debts of Oman, however, have remained within reasonable limits since they were placed under the control of the Central Bank.

Sufficient financing and the availability of specialists and workers are not the only prerequisites for the development plans. Fundamental to such planning are statistics concerning the size of the population, the amount of arable land available, and the number of settlements as well as maps of different scales and air photographs.

Up to now, the information concerning the size of Oman's population has been based only on estimates and a census cannot be taken over night. Numerous preparations must be made, personnel must be trained, the country must be divided into census districts, houses must be numbered, streets and residential areas must be listed, and questionnaires must be prepared. Preliminary work has been carried out successfully and it should be possible to conduct a census in the near future. Oman would then be the second Arab country, following Kuwait, with exact information concerning the size, age, and racial composition of its population. This will put the government's plans on a firm foundation, and help for Oman's population will be more carefully directed and more effective than it has been so far.

Exact maps are a primary prerequisite for the census, for the development of the infrastructure, and for the development of agriculture. Oman is fortunate in being able to draw on maps that were prepared in part by Great Britain. Topographical maps are available at scales of 1 :50,000, 1:100,000 1:250,000, and 1:1,000,000. In addition, air photographic coverage of the entire country has been obtained.

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