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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 08:37 | SYDNEY
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 08:37 | SYDNEY

Sultan of Oman: Exception to the rulers

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4 March 2011 15:12

Not all autocratic rulers in the Arab world are necessarily bad, or even disliked. Besides, in the Arab world, one man's autocrat is another's strong, wise, consultative ruler. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in my favourite Arab country, Oman. This piece gives some idea of the ability of one man to develop a country for the good.

I have always liked Oman; strikingly beautiful in places, outward looking to an extent that few other Arab states are (possibly as a result of its history as a colonial power), diplomatically nimble enough to be friend to nearly everyone, a Gulf state that has built national infrastructure such as healthcare and education, and one that has handled the nationalisation of its workforce effectively. Although possessing both oil and gas reserves, Oman has never had the enormous wealth of its Saudi or Emirati neighbours but has used its wealth more wisely.

It was therefore surprising to see the current wave of popular protest spreading to the Sultanate, and that two protesters had been killed. The disputes were largely about economic issues, and the Government threw cash at the problem to appease the protesters (in an example of a social media counter-attack, the Government announced its decision to raise monthly unemployment payments by text message).  

The discontent, violent but relatively short-lived as it was, raises two questions. Firstly, for the Sultan, who is 71 and in good health, it raises the perennial question of Oman's political future. The Sultan has not nominated a successor and his popular and effective rule will be virtually impossible to replicate, so political reforms should be undertaken while he is in a position of strength. The recent protests will not cause political reforms immediately, but they may remind the Sultan of his mortality and the need to take action to preserve his legacy. 

Second, and more interestingly, rather than giving voice to popular discontent and enabling the mobilisation of an oppressed and long-silent majority, could social media have generated confrontation where dialogue may have been more appropriate' 

Photo courtesy of Oman's Ministry of Information.

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