“The most improved nation in the world” as declared by UNDP in 2010, Oman has steadily developed into a moderate, progressive, and peace-loving nation under the benevolent guidance of the late Sultan Qaboos.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, 14th in a dynastic lineage, was a peacemaker and progressive, well loved by Omani people for all that he brought to the nation in 50 years as Sultan. He died just yesterday [10 January 2020], having been the longest ruler in the region — leaving behind a powerful legacy. Oman is an absolute monarchy with all power and decision-making resting with the Sultan, alongside several legislative bodies to carry out governmental functions.
Oman, with its very long coastline on the Arabian (more commonly known as ‘Persian’) Gulf and into the Indian Ocean, has a strong maritime orientation — and a corresponding openness to other nations. Called “the Switzerland of the Gulf,” Oman has attempted to maintain a neutrality and act as mediator in an area of the world known for its historical animosities.
Oman is 85% Muslim, most of whom follow Ibadi tradition (neither Shia nor Sunni); the law provides for freedom and protects against discrimination of religion. Instruction in Islam is a mandatory component of public education, though non-Muslim students are permitted to opt out and attend private schools. The government also monitors the sermons of imams who are prohibited from any political statement.
The performing arts are highly valued by Omani people; the Royal Opera House in the capital city of Muscat, opened in 2011, is widely considered one of the most beautiful in the world. Concerts, opera, ballet, and theatrical performances are all regularly on offer.
Traditional arts and handcrafts also remain highly valued among Omani people, even in ultra-modern Muscat, where a seamless blend of modernity and tradition can be observed.
The value of cultural heritage, and artistic expressions thereof, remains important to Omani people, even as they continue to modernise. An oil-rich nation bent on progress, Oman nevertheless seems in no hurry to throw away its culture — an example to other countries.
Human Rights Watch has raised questions regarding a deterioration of human rights in Oman since 2011 and the call for reform in a number of Arab nations. It is illegal to criticise the Sultan or government, and censorship of journalists is well documented; treatment of prisoners, political as well as criminal, has been noted as severe. Although a National Human Rights Commission was established in 2008, it does not function independently but answers to the government.
Owing in part to 3 centuries of British influence, Oman continues to move away from gender inequality — though there is still much room for improvement. Women and girls are increasingly educated, though less than half of women currently over age 25 have completed secondary education, and less than 1/3 of women enter the professions. The nation was first in the Gulf States to grant voting rights to women (1994), though Parliament is less than 10% female. Oman is currently ranked at 59th globally for gender issues [Gender Inequality Index].