Joseph A. Kéchichian
Dr. Kéchichian is the author of "Oman and the World: The Emergence of an Independent Foreign Policy" (1995) and "Political Participation and Stability in the Sultanate of Oman" (2006).
Oratory by a head of state positions a leader in his time. Speeches occasionally alter circumstances: defining a mandate, declaring war or divulging stratagems to protect and serve a nation. While most are relegated to academic tomes or the dustbin of history, many are recalled for their erudition, foresight and, in rare circumstances, their ability to define the character of a speaker.1 Like Charles De Gaulle, who wrote that he had “a certain idea of France,” Qaboos bin Said has aimed to “restore the past glories” of the Sultanate of Oman (p.14).2 He proposed to reinvent a nation that was once a mighty empire, and his words elevated the spirit of a hapless population that had drifted from past accomplishments. Starting in 1971, Qaboos delivered 35 annual speeches defining his vision, presenting policies to the nation and setting the course for internal stability. What were the origins of these statements; how have they influenced Omani behavior; and what do they reveal about the author?
A STATISTICAL ANALYSIS
Qaboos bin Said is the only Arab leader to have created a written record through his annual “State of the Sultanate” orations to his nation.3 No other Middle Eastern head of state has gone through this ritual, itself an indication that he had given the idea some thought before acceding to the throne and, equally important, realizing its ultimate value both as a communication technique as well as a permanent record of his positions. Of course, most Arab and Muslim leaders have excelled in oratory presentations, harangues and other forms of popular interactions. Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt or Yasser Arafat of Palestine were masters of the word as they galvanized their followers. Others, including King Faysal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, mobilized millions throughout the Muslim world by delivering impromptu remarks during their travels or by advising foreign delegations on policy differences. Yet, no Arab head of state before Qaboos had engaged in a systematic annual accounting to his subjects for his decisions and actions. His presentations were widely discussed, sometimes disparaged, but always acknowledged for adding value to the Omani body politic. They were made available to Omanis in print form and, more recently, electronically on the Internet, for evaluation.
Given that the Sultanate has experienced profound sociopolitical changes during the past 35 years, Qaboos’s appraisals were not only educational, but also revelatory. Young Omanis who were not even born when their ruler acceded to the throne found food for thought as their country faced immense nation-building challenges. Most were first exposed to Qaboos’ views in school as history classes. Many empathized with the difficulties their own families, tribes or regions had endured and became aware of development projects that were catapulting the Sultanate into the modern era. Younger Omanis were given a vision of the future in a country that was open to diversity in a part of the world that was not particularly amenable to foreign ideas. The 35 speeches under review reveal a conscious long-term effort to empower Omanis, foster a climate in which the creation of wealth was possible, and provide security and stability to the nation.
Qaboos’s annual speeches between 1971 and 2006 total more than 50,000 words. They vary in length from 3,038 words to 401 words, and average around 1,500 words. The first 30 were “National Day” addresses; the last five were talks to the Council of Oman. Most were delivered in Muscat, the capital city; others in Salalah, Sohar, Nizwah, Sur and Ibri. All were in Arabic.
These presentations covered both domestic and international topics and often anticipated events or identified regional trends. Qaboos often elucidated key matters when doing so was not popular within Arab circles. As discussed below, he used the term “terrorist” in 1971, when the notion was neither well understood in the context of contemporary politics, nor accepted as an urgent concern. Still, his prose was never condescending. He obviously knew that poverty was a reality in Oman, and he did not remind his subjects of their dire condition. Rather, he proposed to implement specific programs to address their core concerns and improve their circumstances. He also did not insist on their allegiance but emphasized the patriotism. Not surprisingly, “Oman” and “country” (dawlah) were cited often, but nation (watan) was the term used most often. Certain terms, including wealth, loyalty, burden, patience, steadfast, poverty and allegiance, were used sparingly. These were essential to Qaboos’s vision, but too sensitive to unload on a traditional people. The ruler preferred to talk about action rather than rely on lofty words when it came to basic social needs.
Starting in 1971, Qaboos took pains to explain his domestic and foreign-policy principles and repeatedly explained his motives. His primary objective from 1970 was the Omani citizen, the “human individual.” His goal, Qaboos underlined, was “to ensure happiness … [and] to give the best of his talent” (p. 25). He recognized that Omanis had rights and obligations and called on each citizen to “take as much as he gives of his efforts, sweat, sincerity and loyalty to his dear land” (p. 27). Attentive to subtleties, the ruler never sought loyalty to the Crown, but underscored duty towards country. For Qaboos, land was “sacred” and people were “noble,” especially when they were ready to work for their “country’s glory, honor, progress and prosperity” (p. 41). Even if the Sultan was an absolute monarch, he was alert to his traditional and religious norms.4
In his first address to Omanis, Qaboos recognizes that the “country in the past was famous and strong” and would revive that “glorious past” to “take a respectable place in the world” (p. 8). While he never wavered from this objective, even when the going was not trouble-free, the Sultan calls on his countrymen to “bear the burdens with patience and continue our work with steadfastedness and determination” (p. 12). This is reminiscent of John F. Kennedy’s call to his fellow Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
In numerous presentations, Qaboos stresses the sense of duty in the face of major challenges to “share the burden of responsibility,” and to roll up one’s sleeves to get to work. His focus is not to simply add material gains or record social improvements, though those were certainly necessary and sorely lacking, but to do so without neglecting the country’s traditions. For the Omani monarch, prosperity, as defined in the tenth anniversary speech, means harvesting “Omani culture and the teachings” of Islam (p. 80).
Because Qaboos covered a vast amount of information in these annual presentations, especially during the first decade, when he reported on progress in various domestic and foreign fields, it is useful to decipher them under more specific categories. His major internal preoccupations were education, training, health issues, infrastructure, agriculture and industry. He also addressed the creation of wealth and the role of young Omanis in tackling domestic challenges, while defining the Sultanate’s oil policy as a burden to manage with the utmost care. Finally, the Omani leader spoke about the military’s role in ensuring domestic tranquility, largely based on the experiences of the Dhuffar War. Each of these categories deserves scrutiny.
Education and Training
With hardly any schools or teachers, education was the most difficult challenge that faced the young ruler when he assumed authority. The fact that in 1970 there were a mere three schools for 900 students spoke volumes about Sultan Said bin Taymur’s priorities. Within a year of his accession, Qaboos saw to it that 13 additional schools were established for a total of 7,000 pupils (rising to 45 institutions for 15,000 in 1972). This was not easy. Oman lacked qualified teachers, but somehow managed.5 The young ruler refers to early efforts in this field with a phrase that is often repeated: “provide education opportunities even under the shadow of trees” (p.14). Year after year, Qaboos lists significant accomplishments: new schools established, teachers hired and students enrolled. If these numbers were low in 1973 (100, 1,300 and 38,000), by 1974, after allocated funds jumped from 1 million Omani riyals (OR) ($3 million) to OR9.4 million ($20 million), a 20-fold increase, the numbers quickly rose. By 1975, there were 176 schools catering to over 50,000 students, with another 50 schools, 1,000 teachers and 10,000 new students coming on board every year that passed. Within a decade, by 1980, over 100,000 Omani children were receiving basic education.
Taking stock of 25 years of progress in 1995, Qaboos returns to his earlier emphasis on the human being as the ultimate source of “power, the instrument and the ultimate aim of national development” (p. 234). As in other countries with limited natural resources, the Omani head of state understood that the government must care for its citizens at this most basic level, to develop skills and provide a majority with the technological tools for domestic and international challenges. He accepted that Omanis possessed “innate abilities” that required care and concluded that providing such assistance was one of the state’s fundamental responsibilities. Although Qaboos and his government sorely needed qualified Omanis to fill technical positions, it soon became apparent that the country would also require expatriates — men and, over time, women — to form the backbone of an emerging workforce. Still, Muscat embarked on a vocational training program as early as 1972 to avoid dependence on foreign labor for unskilled work. Towards that end, the first 70 young Omani men were recruited to undergo vocational training; dozens were sent to neighboring Arab countries for basic social-services training. The ruler revisited the critical vocational-training question in 1992 to encourage all Omanis to add their capabilities to the workforce. It was “a national duty, even at the most basic levels,” he declared, to create thousands of working opportunities that did not require advanced degrees (p. 193).
Over time, however, Qaboos appreciated the need for more sophisticated and technical training that could only be delivered following intensive education at the university level. He announced in 1980 the creation of a national university, originally expected to be located in Nizwah, the historic education capital of Oman (p. 80). An imposing facility, known as the Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), was inaugurated on November 9, 1986, when the monarch invited his “daughters and sons” to assume their responsibilities and “work wholeheartedly” to acquire desirable scientific degrees.6 Though ultimately located in the Al Khod valley near the capital, the venue presented no impediment; thousands flocked to enroll. More recently, and with full government approval, several private colleges and institutes have been established to meet a growing demand, although the country’s premier center for higher learning retains the highest standards for admission and graduation.
Even more significant than the lack of educational opportunities was Oman’s health deficit, the result of poverty and neglect. A mere 10 dispensaries and nine health centers in 1970 served a population of around 750,000, spread over a geographical area as large as Britain. Within a year, Muscat funded the establishment of 12 new hospitals and increased the number of dispensaries to 25 by 1972. Lacking physicians (12 for the entire country in 1970), Muscat turned overseas to fill its requirements, but quickly established a school for nurses, to meet growing local needs (p. 15).
Year after year through most of the 1970s, Qaboos proudly reported on the progress made in establishing new hospitals, clinics and health centers. In 1973, he listed 16 hospitals and 55 clinics with 67 physicians and 10 specialists (p. 20). A year later, he listed 90 hospitals and health units with 1,200 beds (there were 12 beds in 1970) (p. 27). These early construction projects were quickly supplemented with a massive immunization program to control and prevent infectious diseases. By 1977, even the country’s most remote locations were equipped with basic health facilities, as the 24-bed hospital on Masirah Island attested (p. 61). If Qaboos stopped his annual reports of recent additions after 1980, he nevertheless was proud to announce in 1988 that the new Royal Hospital and the Teaching Hospital at Sultan Qaboos University would ensure an unprecedented level of available care (p. 133).
Isolated for so long from the rest of the world, the sultanate was devoid of modern basic infrastructure, which severely limited the movement of goods and services. Construction of roads, ports and airports — a visible legacy today that will outlive Qaboos — was tackled with vengeance. Construction projects throughout Oman started shortly after 1970. First, the government funded the building of roads: Muscat-Sohar on the coast, SoharKhaturat-Malaha, and Nizwah-Seeb were started in 1973 and completed two years later (p. 20). The roads between Bidbid and Sur, Musanah and Rostaq, and Sohar and Al-Buraimi were all laid down in 1974 (p. 27). Second, Muscat funded the development of three ports: Mutrah (near the capital), Raysut (near Salalah)7 and Sur (jutting out into the Indian Ocean). Third, a brand-new airport was started at Seeb in 1972 to replace the old British airstrip near Bayt al-Falaj closer to the city. Although a seafaring nation with a 2,092-kilometer coastline, Oman was linked to the rest of the world by Seeb Airport, as several bilateral air transportation accords were signed with Britain, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan (p. 15). When the airport opened in 1972, four flights landed each day on average; that figure would reach 148, with five million passengers per year in 2006.8 Immediately after these basic projects were finished, Muscat authorized the creation of an industrial complex, starting in 1973 with a cement factory with a million-ton capacity (p. 20). This was the first major industrial undertaking in a very long time.
Oman was also in need of public housing, and one of the first new departments established was that of Land Affairs, which would eventually become the Ministry of Housing, Electricity and Water. Starting in 1971, the Land Affairs Department quickly initiated a sustained effort to allocate 760 residential and 35 commercial plots within the capital area. Naturally, a planned effort necessitated careful apportioning, with choice vistas reserved for leading families, but, over the years, every Omani who wished to avail himself of a residential dwelling managed to receive one (p. 15). Low-income housing was not neglected either; the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor initiated various schemes to meet the need. By 1975, the government had allocated resources in its first five-year plan to finance the construction of 500 houses in Muscat and Mutrah, 500 in Nizwah, Sohar and Sur, and 500 in Salalah and Buraimi, all for low-income Omanis. In addition, thousands of plots of land were demarcated and distributed on a hardship basis (p. 41). These building efforts could not develop without water and electricity. Oman slowly emerged from the dark, as an electrical grid was painstakingly erected on its coasts, wadis and mountains. By 1974, electricity had reached 36 megawatts, and by 1977, Omani power stations were producing 77 megawatts of power. Approximately 6 million gallons of fresh water were also distributed that year (pp. 27, 40).
As gargantuan efforts were deployed to improve basic living conditions, Qaboos and his advisers realized that Oman needed serious multi-year planning and, towards that end, adopted five-year plans. These stressed self-reliance and diversification and, as funds were allocated to specific projects, coordination was introduced to avoid duplication and waste. Targeted sectors received special attention as the economy’s building blocks were assembled to satisfy a new economic agenda.9 More important, these plans ensured that resources and projects were distributed throughout the Sultanate rather than being concentrated in the capital city, even if the Muscat-Ruwi-Seeb area’s population growth merited a disproportionately higher share. Still, what was valuable in these plans was the methodical approach of ministries and specialized agencies to encourage growth. As frequently discussed by the ruler, they concentrated on the development of human and natural resources and, over time, forged a partnership between the public and private sectors.
It was within successive five-year plans that the agriculture sector received special attention. Qaboos declared 1988 the “Year of Agriculture” to encourage this vital sector of the national economy, which, along with fisheries, employed the largest number of Omanis. There was a requirement to focus “on the exploitation of [Oman’s] rich land resources and the traditional abilities of … people” but, because he was not satisfied with initial results, Qaboos extended this focus for another year (1989) (p. 140). He stressed the need for “additional dams, maintenance of the aflaj [plural of falaj, the country’s extensive irrigation system] and wells, and the role of Agricultural Guidance Centers in the service of farmers” (p. 141). Inasmuch as agriculture was a principal consumer of scarce water, Qaboos called for the promotion of strict efforts at prudent water conservation. He declared that this “national wealth” be “used economically,” relying on modern irrigation methods. Realistically, the ruler extended his plan over a 10-year period, aware that long-term investments were required to bring the sector up to standards as well as to sustain it.
He revisited the sultanate’s water situation in 1991, when he declared: “Of all the gifts with which God has blessed us, water is the greatest. It must be cherished and husbanded” (p. 182). “If extravagance is forbidden by Islam,” he continued, “it is even more applicable to water.” Conservation became a cause célèbre in the Sultanate long before industrialized countries mobilized to preserve scarce water resources, amid a re-awakened interest in the protection of the environment. Qaboos frequently discussed water shortages as well as preservation, reminding Omanis of their responsibilities towards their land.
Industry and Tourism
If agriculture was an early priority, the monarch was advised to look into other areas of economic development as well, including industry, even if the country lacked both know-how and manpower. As 1991 was designated the “Year of Industry,” Qaboos opened his annual speech with a detailed assessment of the Sultanate’s industrial policy. He emphasized that the goal was to gain self-reliance: “A strong industry capable of performing its national role in social progress and prosperity, is a necessary strategy” (p. 181). While maintaining careful attention to the environment, he called for the adoption of new technologies to boost industrial output. When his original goals were not met in a single year, he extended the Year of Industry through 1992, to further encourage government officers to launch appropriate schemes.
With a limited population and natural limits to agricultural and industrial production, Muscat opted to boost the tourism industry in 1999, when the ruler singled it out as a sector worthy of expansion and support. He declared that tourism had “great potential for growth and for making an effective contribution to economic diversification, since [Oman] possesse[d] splendid touristic assets such as its historic heritage, natural beauty, perfect environment, folklore and traditional industries,” all enjoying full security (p. 267).
Creation of Wealth
Qaboos believed that Omanis should participate in the creation of wealth and, starting in 1972, offered incentives for private concerns to purchase shares in various state schemes. The country’s first cement factory, for example, started operating in 1973 and Omanis could purchase shares in it. By 1991, the Year of Industry, Qaboos’s views had evolved: wealth was not to be pursued just for its own sake — owning shares in a company — but to encourage active citizen participation (p. 182). A decade earlier, Qaboos had identified self-reliance as an objective for Omanis, as they planned for the future.
For the first time, he uttered the critical words that dependence on a single source of income (oil) ought to be reduced, and he vowed to pursue sound industrial policies (p. 79). He referred to work as a “noble” effort that made “life positive and useful,” warning Omanis that they would “never be able to reduce … dependence on foreign labor in most of the unskilled professions unless,” they “show[ed] interest and capacity to take over” (pp. 127-128). At one point, Qaboos even used the term “Omanization,” as calling for the steady replacement by national labor of foreign workers (p. 142). Year after year, he implored youth not to “disdain” any profession. “No matter what the work is” he declared in 1988, Omanis must “be truly devoted to proving their excellence and demonstrate their worthiness” (p. 142). Nothing could be shunned and no Omani who respected himself would refuse an opportunity, no matter how limited.
Qaboos bluntly declared in 1989: “Our people must never be ashamed to carry out” manual labor, because such work was honorable. Moreover, he phrased his assessment as a duty in the service of country, stating: “It is shameful to permit false pride to provide an excuse that such work is beneath one” (p. 149). Even if heavy-handed, the admonition from the “guardian” was honest, for Omanization would only occur when Omanis dirtied their hands. The honesty of the message paid off, albeit gradually, as Qaboos painstakingly created a link between work and welfare.
The Sultan revisited Omanization in 1992, beseeching the private sector to exert more energy in serving Oman’s national interest (p. 193). Likewise, he admonished Omani youth not to waste their energies waiting for a government position, because so many more opportunities existed in the private sector. “Your country calls upon you to perform your duty with faith and discipline,” he told his listeners. Oman is a “society that is used to hard work and it is not our style to be lazy or negligent, but to responsibly and honestly carry out our obligations” (p. 193). Even more forcefully, he admonished his subjects not to “depend on others, no matter how close,” and opt instead for discipline and work. “The true Muslim must be a productive force in the service of society,” concluded the monarch (p. 194).
To channel the government’s collective outlook on economic matters, the Sultanate drafted a new plan in 1995, Vision 20/20, to prepare for the post-oil period. Qaboos repeatedly called on his subjects to look at themselves as the solution and not to be afraid of change:
As you know, we aim, guided by this vision, to prepare ourselves for the twenty-first century in enabling the Omani economy to achieve its strategic evolution. Thus our economy will no longer be dependent on government expenditure, oil resources and foreign workers, but it will enter a better and more comprehensive phase, based on private initiative, nationally trained workers, and sustainable established resources. This will result, with God’s permission, and in a definite period, in improving the standard of living of Omani citizens, in guaranteeing their welfare, wherever they are, based upon this vigorous development in every field (p. 243).
From the early 1980s, the ruler focused on young Omanis. He understood that the country’s welfare depended on his ability to harvest their energies. Towards that end, 1983 was declared “Omani Youth Year,” as was 1993 a decade later. Qaboos dedicated his “work to bring up [Omani] young people and provide them with the inherent strength of the knowledge that [the monarch] cared for them” (p. 100). He called on young Omanis to prepare themselves “in the educational and cultural fields and to set an example in shouldering the responsibilities of the future.” Nothing would be achieved “without hard work and dedication,” he reminded them. He further warned of “fanaticism, intolerance, … disregard and disrespect for the rule of law.” If Omanis were to avoid violence and oppression, he concluded in 1983, it was imperative that they use their “imagination, expectation and hope … to carry out their national obligations” (p. 101). It was vintage Qaboos, relying on the bully pulpit to elevate the discourse.
In 1993, when the year-long effort was repeated, Qaboos aimed to “provide a clarion call to all responsible members of government and the private sector to pay more attention to the needs of [the] Omani people” (p. 201). He concluded that youth represented the hope of the nation. While this was not a discovery, he sensitized a largely traditional and paternalistic society to alter its ways and welcome innovation. He invited those who applied for leadership positions, especially within the private sector, to include young Omanis in their blueprints for socioeconomic success. Remarkably, this message was uttered even as he called on young Omanis to “roll up their sleeves with the utmost energy,” and insisted that in a partnership, those with the most should give the most (p. 202).
The second objective of Vision 20/20 was to gradually reduce the government’s dependence on oil income. Aware of its vital role as the single most important source of income for the state, and without joining the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) or its Arab counterpart, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), Qaboos nevertheless agreed to “follow a sound oil policy in conjunction with a united Arab oil policy” (p. 28). Time and again, he reiterated that the Sultanate’s “resources belong[ed] to its people,” as Muscat gradually purchased Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) assets to gain firm control over this intrinsic source of wealth (p. 43). By 1975, the government had acquired 60 percent of all PDO assets, and by 1999, 100 percent.
In his 1995 Jubilee address, Qaboos underlined why Omanis should not depend on oil income to meet their needs:
Oil is a finite resource, and its age is limited. Therefore, it is necessary not to depend on it solely to finance development. From the beginning, we have stressed this truth, and our efforts have been notably successful. However, oil is still the main resource, and the fluctuation of its price is of great concern to everyone. Thus there is no other course but to diversify the sources of our national income more widely, in order to make oil revenues only a minor element of this income. This leads us to call upon all citizens to save, invest, pursue business interests, develop industry, tourism and agriculture, and utilize mineral resources, fisheries, livestock and other sources of revenue. It is essential that the Omani private sector be more active, roll up its sleeves and prove its efficiency and ability to compete. The governmental administrative system must react to, and co-operate with, the private sector. It must not allow bureaucracy and routine to hinder its good performance (p. 235).
In 1996, Qaboos spoke of Oman’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project in Sur, where export terminals were under construction. He perceived this sector as adding income to the treasury that would allow critical disbursements where needed (p. 244). He alerted his citizens, however, that oil income was nothing to pin a country’s hopes on. Two years later, in 1998, he concluded that it was “not wise, nor good policy, to be dependent on oil as a sole resource to finance” Oman’s development (p. 258). This message was repeated on numerous occasions to sensitize Omanis to the promotion of the private sector as capitalism was further promoted to create wealth for the welfare of the majority.
When oil prices recovered somewhat towards the end of the twentieth century, the Omani ruler warned his subjects “not to rely on this recent improvement in oil prices,” but to stand with him “to follow prudent financial and economic policies, the most important of which are reduction of expenditures, and guidance and awareness in order to encourage saving” (p. 266). He cautioned Omanis not to fall into the trap of consumerism but to develop a savings philosophy for rainy days.
If the Omani ruler’s words encouraged his subjects to believe in themselves and excel, his carefully tailored prose was almost always supplemented with unwavering support for members of the armed forces. He knew they stood by him to defend Omanis as well as the Sultanate and to preserve its system of government. Qaboos singled out the military in every speech — the only group to be so honored — not only because of his own military training but also because he understood that the security services guaranteed Oman’s legitimacy. Starting in 1972, Qaboos identified the armed forces as the backbone of the nation, calling on Omanis to “appreciate sacrifices made to preserve unity and defend the country from all foes” (p. 14). Year after year, he saluted their heroism and loyalty in the Dhuffar war. In 1975, he celebrated that victory by recognizing achievements on the battlefield that “recorded with honor and pride true heroism and sacrifice” (p. 33).
In 1977, Qaboos delivered his speech in Salalah, and first addressed the heroism of the military in winning the war and gradually pacifying the Dhuffar Province. He was confident that the sacred duty of the military to defend Islam, preserve Oman’s freedom, and protect its people was in good hands (p. 58). At the tenth anniversary he vowed “to always remember” the armed forces’ “defiant resolution in the face of the enemy, their willingness to give their lives in the defense of the country” (p. 179). A year later he cautioned those who would “contemplate aggression against” the Sultanate to “know that they would be met by a nation in arms” (p. 90). Starting in 1983, the monarch introduced a subtle nuance in his customary praise of the armed forces. True that the Sultanate enjoyed a great many friendly allies that were ready to rush to its assistance, he intoned, yet it was up to the Omani military “first and foremost [to] rely upon” itself. At a time when over-the-horizon schemes were frequently discussed at the highest levels in the Arab Gulf governments, which wished to avail themselves of the support of Western military forces, the Omani leader’s emphasis was particularly sharp. Qaboos understood that real security could only be had when one relied on oneself. “To do otherwise,” declared the battle-tested ruler, “would be the grossest folly” (p. 104).
The long Dhuffar War, which mobilized Omanis for close to two decades, shaped Qaboos’s military views. “We have brothers and sons there who are being subjected to coercion, terrorism and danger — a result of being dominated by alien elements; that is to say, by opportunists, mercenaries and atheists” (p. 12). The use of the word terrorism (irhab) was itself remarkably foresighted, given the dramatic developments that unfolded several decades later (p. 24).10 Inasmuch as he perceived the uprising against his father’s (and his own) government as coordinated efforts to topple the monarch, Qaboos affirmed that the Dhuffar Province was worth a full-fledged campaign: it was an integral part of the Sultanate. In 1971, he declared that he was ready to “pay a high price” and “sacrifice lives” to restore security and peace in the area (p. 12, Arabic version). A year later he affirmed that Omanis were “waging a sacred and armed battle against the enemy of Islam and the country, supported by Marxist Aden” (p. 17, Arabic version). An avowed anti-communist, Qaboos did not shy away from tackling the largest threat to the Sultanate and, in 1972, underlined that “active international communism” was “working [in Aden] to achieve its ambition in the Arab Peninsula to transform it into a huge Communist camp” (p.17, Arabic version). In 1973, he warned of “strange winds” blowing in the region, from those who had “sold themselves to the devil,” and cautioned against factionalism.11 Again in 1973, he identified how his firqats, the armed groups that were formed in 1972 to fight “against the terrorism of the communist gangs in the mountains of Dhuffar,” were determined to prevail (p. 19, Arabic version). He added a religious dimension to the struggle, declaring that Omanis were waging a war “against atheism,” “a sacred duty” that Islam imposed.
Still, even in 1973, he extended a hand to those who were willing and ready to express their loyalty to Oman. Qaboos was willing to forgive, while vowing to remain steadfast against those who opted for confrontation. In an interesting twist, he associated the need to safeguard Oman’s “honor” against subversives and communists (p. 20, Arabic version). He devoted a good deal of attention to the war in his 1974 speech, placing Oman’s sacrifice in the Dhuffar confrontation within the “Arab sphere of the battle,” comparing enemies that plot to “undermine religion, wealth and national prestige.” He displayed confidence in his government to defeat the enemy, as “the terrorists … began to loose faith in their masters, who drove them into launching their terrorism against innocent people” (p. 25, Arabic version).
“Communism knows no religion,” he pronounced. “We fight the enemies of God because they deny the existence of God and do not recognize his teachings that call for brotherhood, love and peace” (p. 23, Arabic version). Among the 35 annual speeches, only one, the fifth, was devoted to a single subject: Oman’s struggle against communist subversion.12 Qaboos reiterated his determination to oppose communists in the Dhuffar and throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, linking his logic to Quranic exhortations to oppose unbelievers. This particular address closed with an admonition to watch for hypocrites who pretended to be what they were not (p. 35, Arabic version).
The Omani ruler identified an unbridled Soviet expansionism as a genuine threat on November 18, 1979. That speech, delivered less than a month before the invasion of Afghanistan, was prescient (p. 72, Arabic version). In 1981, Qaboos went further, declaring that in Afghanistan Muslims raised “their voices” and insisted on their rights by maintaining a “tenacious opposition to the Soviet invaders of their homeland … which should command the respect and admiration of the whole Islamic people” (p. 89, Arabic version).
When Qaboos used the word terrorism in 1971, the context was the uprising in the Dhuffar and the communist support that extended through the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. In 1994, however, the Omani ruler warned about religious extremism, after an Islamist challenge to the regime, especially as its protagonists included members of the Sultanate’s intellectual community.13 Left unattended, he argued, extremism threatened society as a whole: “Extremism, under whatever guise, fanaticism of whatever kind, factionalism of whatever persuasion would be hateful poisonous plants in the soil of [the] country that will not be allowed to flourish” (p. 210, Arabic version). For Qaboos, Islam was suitably equipped to adapt to modernity, and while he acknowledged a lapse in recent times, he nevertheless called on his brethren to “renew and revise [their] thinking to nip fanaticism in its cocoon.” The latter, he opined, was “based on a lack of knowledge among Muslim youth about the correct facts of their religion” (p. 210, Arabic version).
Qaboos used his annual speeches to highlight Oman’s Arab identity and underscore its links to the ummah. He considered such unity to be the Sultanate’s destiny. He frequently praised fellow leaders who expressed support and identified major issues that affected Omani ties with key powers. Occasionally, he thanked a leader by name, including the late King Hussein of Jordan, first in 1977 for assisting Oman in the Dhuffar war and again in 1984, after Amman restored diplomatic relations with Cairo (p. 104, Arabic version). He commended him once again in 1994 for his unrelenting efforts to reach a peace settlement with Israel, and calling on him to “take steps on the Syrian and Lebanese side to bring about a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights and Southern Lebanon” (p. 21, Arabic version). In 1985, in a rare reference to superpowers enmeshed in yet another episode of the Cold War, the Omani monarch singled out U.S. President Ronald Reagan and First Secretary of the Soviet Union Mikhael Gorbachev as the two met on November 19 to reduce international tensions and foster détente (p. 118, Arabic version). Qaboos expressed his esteem for Saudi Arabia in 1979, acknowledging its generous financial assistance in the early 1970s and recognizing King Fahd’s leadership in 1990 as the Saudi authorized the deployment of over a half million foreign troops on its soil to help liberate Kuwait (p. 176, Arabic version). The Omani ruler commended Afghanistan and Chad in 1981 for standing up to Soviet occupation and for opposing foreign expansionism. He referred to the crises in Lebanon on four separate occasions — 1988, 1989, 1994 and 1995 — as he called for reconciliation among warring factions (p. 89, Arabic version).14
The Arab-Israeli Conflict
Of all the international issues that preoccupied Qaboos, however, the one that stood out was the Palestinian problem. He rejected ambiguity on this core Arab question. Although his views evolved over the years, he maintained that lack of justice for the Palestinians was the paramount reason that a permanent settlement had not been reached.
After the landmark 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Qaboos focused on two aspects of the conflict: territorial issues and the suffering imposed of the Palestinians. In his 1974 address, he was proud that Oman had stood with Arab forces that “humbled the arrogance of the Zionist enemy” when they “crossed the barriers into victory,” which was a reference to the Egyptian army’s significant breach of the so-called Bar-Lev fortification in the Sinai (p. 24, Arabic version). A determined ally of Anwar Sadat, Qaboos digested the Egyptian accomplishment in terms of divine grace, quoting scripture: “If you support God, He will support you and strengthen your position” [Sura 47:7] (p. 24, Arabic version).15 Yet the Omani also welcomed the 1978 Camp David accords and the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, even if he considered it only “a first step.” What was necessary, he said, was a “complete redress of the wrongs and suffering that ha[ve] been inflicted on the Palestinian people” (p. 72, Arabic version). In 1985, he affirmed that it was
vital to overcome the present stagnant situation, which is conducive to Israeli attempts to perpetuate the present situation. We support the Jordanian-Palestinian endeavors and all Arab and international endeavors to seek a permanent and honorable peace. We call on all international forces friendly to Israel to accept their responsibilities and exert their full influence to put an end to Israeli intransigence, so as to provide an opportunity for positive progress towards reaching a solution which will restore the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and guarantee justice and peace for all (p. 116, Arabic version).
In 1989, he flatly called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, but he saw merit in the 1993 Oslo accords between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Qaboos expressed the desire to witness “a comprehensive and just peace between the Arabs and the Israelis, a peace which secures the rights and interests of all” (p. 203, Arabic version). If he expressed impatience in 1992 with indifference to Palestinian agony, he insisted that Omanis, like all Arabs, were “awaiting the outcome of the Middle East peace negotiations, and we call for the swift alleviation of the plight of the suffering of the Palestinian people” (p. 197, Arabic version). He pointed to his “solidarity” with “Arab brothers” and was proud that “the people of Oman showed a genuine spirit in standing against Zionist aggression, [to] support the Arab fight in restoring all Arab territories which the enemy has occupied by force, treachery and terrorism”(p. 21, Arabic version). Yet in 1994, Qaboos welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to Muscat to discuss regional developments in the aftermath of the Oslo accords.16 He repeated the call to create a “sovereign, viable Palestinian state” in 2003, and again in 2004 (p. 302; p. 305, Arabic version).
Gulf Security and the Gulf Cooperation Council
In one of his most colorful presentations, Qaboos tackled the super-sensitive Gulf security dilemma in 1979, when regional tensions were high and both Iran and Iraq were poised for war:
No doubt you have heard a lot about the Strait of Hormuz, which as you know is part of our national waters and one of the most important sea lanes of the world, through which passes a huge proportion of the world’s oil supplies. Should the present instability in the Middle East result in an interruption of this flow, the results would be disastrous; not only would immense hardship be caused to millions of people, but the economies of many countries, countries whose own strength and stability is indispensable to the defense of freedom, would be gravely damaged. Oman is pledged to defend the right of all peaceful shipping to pass through this Strait. This is not only our duty under international law, it is also our duty to humanity and to our friends in the free world. Should the Strait be exposed to danger, Oman will not hesitate to act in defense of our national sovereignty and the safety of international navigation. We believe it is the responsibility of all countries that are beneficiaries of this traffic, oil producers and consumers alike, to contribute to the protection of this vital waterway against the dangers of terrorism or other forms of aggression, and urge them to do so. Oman does not call for the intervention of foreign forces for this purpose; given the means, the Sultanate is fully capable of undertaking necessary measures, but the means must be provided (pp. 72-73, Arabic version).
This declaration clarified that the Sultanate was determined to keep all traffic lanes that crossed its territorial waters open, and was asking friendly countries to provide it with the military wherewithal for such a task. In anticipation of a defense agreement that would be signed with the United States in 1980, he further identified the protection of the waterway as a joint goal.
This experience and the complex negotiations over the Facilities Access Agreement prompted Qaboos to propose serious cooperative initiatives to his fellow Arab Gulf monarchs. Although Kuwait was the initiator of talks that led to the 1981 creation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), many of the preparatory meetings were held in Muscat under close Omani guidance. In fact, during one of these preliminary foreign-ministers sessions in 1976, Qaboos underscored Oman’s strategic location and its commitment to defend the Arabian Peninsula (p. 55, Arabic version). By 1977, the Omani ruler had elevated the security of the entire Gulf region to fall within Omani national-security policy, acknowledging that it was “vital” that the states of the region “assume responsibility for [their] own security” (p. 59, Arabic version). He devoted a good portion of his 1979 speech to the defense of the Straits of Hormuz and to the establishment of Soviet and Cuban military bases in South Yemen. While he rejected all foreign bases in the Indian Ocean area, he nevertheless called for material assistance to defend critical waterways, the jugular veins of industrialized economies. Frustrated with lackluster responses from fellow conservative Arab Gulf monarchies, he chastised his “brothers” to help Oman preserve the stability of the area. That is why, Qaboos underlined, Oman “had no other choice than to seek the assistance of those who w[ould] provide … the means to defend” itself (p. 81, Arabic version).
Of course, he meant the United States and the 1980 Facilities Access Agreement, which effectively aligned the Sultanate with Western preferences more forcefully than at any previous time. Although he perceived Oman in the developing world’s orbit, Qaboos nevertheless insisted that self-preservation was an even higher obligation. He considered the 1981 creation of the GCC “a positive achievement of the efforts of its member-states for the prosperity of the region and its people,” and hoped that various accords would “contribute to the creation of a better climate for Arab solidarity,” aware of “foreign attempts to divide” them (pp. 88-89, Arabic version). Increasingly, he saw the GCC as a fundamental source of political and economic strength, while retaining Oman’s exclusive national-security interests.
A week before his fifteenth anniversary speech, Qaboos hosted the sixth GCC summit, where critical regional issues — led by the bloody Iran-Iraq War — preoccupied Arabian Peninsula rulers. It was not surprising that he opened his annual address with a particularly strong reference to the GCC, an ideal avenue to regional security. Qaboos called on both belligerents to accept Islamic mediation “to reach a permanent settlement guaranteeing the rights of both parties,” and regretted that the belligerents were entrenched in their narrow views (p. 116, Arabic version). If, in 1987, he expressed his “sorrow” at the ongoing war, by 1988, he “welcome[d] the courageous and wise step taken by the leaders of Iraq and Iran to begin direct negotiations to settle their dispute by peaceful means” (p. 143, Arabic version).
As much as the Iran-Iraq War concerned Oman, the August 1, 1990, Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait devastated Qaboos as he reaffirmed “the necessity to reach a peaceful settlement to the Gulf crisis, based on international resolutions and to return the State of Kuwait to its legal authority” (p. 176, Arabic version). Muscat was on record, and thus committed, to the military liberation effort that started a few weeks later.
Without gloating, Qaboos simply noted in 1991 that “the Sultanate ha[d] performed its duties” towards the deliverance of Kuwait and congratulated the Al Sabah leadership and their people “on the resumption of normal life,” but he carefully linked this key event to necessary progress on the Arab-Israeli front. Even as he praised the Madrid Peace conference, he underlined the need to solve the Palestinian Question and end an “occupation [that lasted] for almost half-a-century” (p. 184-185, Arabic version). While his choice of words included “all States of the region,” meaning with Israel, Qaboos differentiated the power of an established sovereign entity with “the legitimate rights of the struggling Palestinian people.” In his view, a clear linkage existed between the Gulf and the Levant, even if that linkage was routinely denied by major powers with narrower objectives. Oman was committed to the GCC to guarantee stability and security, but was not willing to forgo other obligations, especially those owed to the downtrodden. Existing linkages notwithstanding, Qaboos cautioned his countrymen and all Arabs to appreciate the value of Gulf energy resources to the major industrialized powers, and warned them about potential actions the latter might take to defend their perceived interests. GCC states must be careful “not to provoke the international community,” announced Qaboos in 1996, “either by threatening its interests or by interfering in the affairs of others, no matter for what reasons” (p. 246, Arabic version). This was one of the most cogent descriptions of large power influences on GCC rulers and how delicate the relationships were within the international community. It was also vintage Qaboos, alerting his countrymen to the pressures on GCC governments, and the wise steps required by savvy rulers to withstand them. In 2004, after the American-led occupation of Iraq had toppled the Saddam Hussein regime, Qaboos called for “security and stability” in Mesopotamia (p. 305, Arabic version). Remarkably, this was all he opted to state in public about the U.S. invasion, although Omanis demonstrated against the American intervention.
Omani leaders looked towards Asia as often as they looked to the Arab world and Western countries. In 1996, Muscat became a founding member of the Economic Bloc of Indian Ocean countries to facilitate commercial exchanges and economic integration, promote tourism, encourage direct investments, develop human resources and share technology. Qaboos acknowledged that “the Indian Ocean ha[d] always been the main gateway for Omanis, who explored its shores and traveled beyond as they established long-term ties” (p. 245, Arabic version).
A VISION FOR OMAN
Taking stock of six years of accomplishment, Qaboos asked in 1976 what the future held for his country. He answered that it would be bright with promise, provided Omanis remained steadfast in their determination to work together and cherish their freedoms (p. 53, Arabic version). He renewed his own pledge to dedicate his life to the service of his “dear people and country.” On the tenth anniversary, the ruler underlined that Omanis “were poor in everything except in the[ir] strength,” relied on their “traditions” and on their “determination to succeed in spite of all obstacles.” He listed what was lacking and reiterated how faith allowed Omanis to overcome shortfalls. Confident, he reminded his subjects that they would not fail, and that their hardships “were not in vain” (p. 78, Arabic version).
Qaboos acknowledged that his vision for the Sultanate “was very clear from the beginning,” which helped him “to formulate ideas for the building of a new society, … authentic … with its own methods of thought.” The monarch affirmed that he did not mimic anyone or any system of government and, assessing his record in 1998, expressed satisfaction that sound planning protected the country “from the folly of irrational decisions” (p. 257, Arabic version).
Maturation of Views
If the first few speeches were an attempt to report on the progress that the Sultanate had achieved in education, health and many other areas of concern to Omanis, a maturation process was clearly detected in later years as the monarch’s self-assurance grew. Three years into his accession, the ruler had spoken of a reinvigorated “nation” that would surely take its “place in Oman’s history” (p. 19, Arabic version). He commended Omani determination and drive and exhibited a willingness to forgive that was nothing short of revolutionary. In 1974, he stressed that the Sultanate expected all of its citizens “to be loyal and obedient to her cause” because his aim was “to forget the past,” and to forge a new nation with all available talent (p. 27-28, Arabic version). “A modern state,” declared the ruler, was possible without neglecting Oman’s “glorious heritage” (p. 203, Arabic version). He was confident that the combination of the sultanate’s traditions with various modernizing initiatives was an agenda worth promoting.
Starting in 2001, Qaboos changed the date of his annual address, from November 18 to the gathering of the Council of Oman. In 2001, the address was delivered on September 25, in 2002 on November 4, in 2003 on October 21, in 2004 on October 12, and in 2005 on October 1. This was a significant switch, because the annual “State of the Sultanate” on November 18 celebrated his accession to the throne and was a time for reflection. After 2001, the process was institutionalized; the sovereign appeared in front of Oman’s representatives, including those who were popularly elected. Speaking to such a gathering sent a powerful message, for it acknowledged a social maturation and acceptance of sophisticated political mechanisms, even if these were still not fully developed. Often portrayed as a traditional potentate, Qaboos demonstrated that, on the contrary, he was an architect of political emancipation in a part of the world lacking both. If he covered similar topics as in his earlier speeches, he nevertheless spoke to Omanis through institutions and representatives that supplemented his annual tours of the sultanate.
In one of the few personal remarks in the 35 annual speeches under analysis, Qaboos discussed how the renewal of ideas applied to him as well as to others, and how he was careful to avoid falling into the trap of acquired power (p. 208, Arabic version). Speaking at Nizwah, the historical “home of great leaders and the sanctuary of intellectuals, scholars, poets and men of literature,” he emphasized intrinsic values (p. 207, Arabic version):
We have maintained and preserved our identity and intellectual inheritance, and we have adopted every means for development and modernization. It has been very clear to us that our heritage is not only represented by forts, castles and ancient buildings, but by spiritual customs and traditions, by science, art and literature, transmitted by one generation to another. The real preservation of heritage will not be accomplished unless we understand this, and cherish it (p. 208, Arabic version).
Qaboos celebrated his jubilee, 25 years on the throne in 1995, proud that his rule delivered Omanis “from the bondage of isolation, ignorance and backwardness” (p. 233, Arabic version). He thanked God for having bestowed on him “a great armory of knowledge, skill and experience, which [was] acquired through hard work and practice.” He also stated that it was critical to apply this reservoir of intelligence with “wisdom and competence, to ensure … future success” (p. 234, Arabic version).
The Strength of Institutions
As an early objective, the ruler of Oman committed his reign to “establish just, democratic rule [hukm dimuqrati] … within the framework of [the] Omani Arab reality, the customs and traditions of [the] community, and the teachings of Islam, which always light our path” (p. 12; p. 24, Arabic version). He did not make false promises to pursue a parliamentary democracy when it was not possible to do so, but recognized that a participatory form of government was a long-term objective compatible with Islamic teachings. As identified by an astute observer, the principles of consultation and free elections for leaders, which would be akin to consensus and contract in contemporary traditions, were practices of genuine democracy. According to Hussein Ghubash, the Ibadhi Imama “may be held to be the longest democratic experience in the history of mankind.”17 It was clear that Ibadhi leaders, from the Grand Mufti to local shaikhs, were fully meshed in the nation-building fabric of Omani society — another illustration of the compatibility between Islam and democracy.
Qaboos used his annual speeches to announce the establishment of various institutions. In 1972, for example, he revealed the formation of a Council for Economy and Development, followed by a Higher Council of Economic Development in 1974 (p. 15; p. 28, Arabic version). Year after year, various additions were made, as the ruler explained changes in ministries and their responsibilities toward the citizenry. For example, in 1975, he discussed the various departments within the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (then a single unit), to eliminate improvisation and pursue clearly defined trade policies. If the trade volume was a mere 8 million riyals [less than $20 million] in 1970, it shot up to 3.6 billion riyals [about US $12 billion] in 1974, phenomenal growth (p. 42, Arabic version).
In 1980, Qaboos announced the establishment of the State Consultative Council, which he conceived of as forming “the framework of a joint effort between … government and citizens in all development fields” (p. 88, Arabic version). Celebrating his twentieth anniversary on the throne, Qaboos announced on November 18, 1980, the establishment of a Majlis al-Shurah (Consultative Council), with representatives from all 59 governorates (p. 174, Arabic version). It was, as he put it, “a further step on the road of participation which will serve the aspirations and ambitions of the citizens throughout Oman.” The Majlis was a qualitative addition to previous efforts.
Pleased with the steady institutional progress in the Sultanate that “contribut[ed] to the making of national State decisions,” Qaboos announced in 1996 that he had “decided to take further steps to enlarge the area of consultation … with the establishment of a new … State Council.” Coming immediately after the Basic Statute of the State, which was akin to a Constitution, the newly appointed Upper House consisted of senior Omani political figures. According to Qaboos, the Basic Statute “provided the blueprint for the system of governance, the principles for the direction of policies, public rights and duties, and the responsibilities and authority of the Head of State, the Cabinet and the Judiciary” (p. 246, Arabic version). This constitutional initiative imparted the basis of stability, a huge leap in purely political terms in a monarchy.
Elaborating on the Basic Statute’s provision that the law’s supremacy shall be the basis of governance in the Sultanate, Qaboos stressed that such a provision necessitated the organizing of the judiciary (p. 250, Arabic version). Courts and legal procedures would be further developed, he declared, and in 2003 informed the Council of State that “from the very beginning, it was [his] wish to see Oman embark upon its own enterprise in the field of democratic action in which its citizens built, brick by brick, on firm foundations based on the realities of Omani life and the conditions of the age in which we live” (p. 300, Arabic version). His step-bystep approach resulted in the right to vote for all Omanis above 21 in 2000. These initiatives were revolutionary by Arab Gulf standards, as the Sultanate adopted the legitimizing instruments of governance.
The Omani Man
For the better part of 35 years, Qaboos believed in training his cadres, not only young men and women receiving basic or advanced education, but also tribal shaikhs and other administrators, who were expected to shoulder additional burdens of authority. Towards that end he initiated a program to train 20 walis (governors) and deputy walis in 1975, to impart skills in administrative concepts and improve local representation (p. 44, Arabic version). This first experiment was followed by successive batches of high-ranking officials who gained the type of professional education previously accumulated through years of trial and error. A Home Affairs Department, which eventually became the Ministry of Interior, coordinated with the growing number of municipalities, starting in the mid-1970s, on hygiene in markets and homes, as the installation of indoor plumbing was accelerated, which, in turn, required more sophisticated waste management. Numerous other programs requiring sophisticated administrative techniques were routinely bestowed on traditional cadres.
Always proud of his fellow citizens, Qaboos deepened his appreciation of the Omani, who possessed a “vibrant energy and active spirit that c[ould] carry him forward to the furthest horizons.” Even if part of an annual pep talk, it was nevertheless rewarding for citizens to hear a head of state declare that “nothing c[ould] deter” an Omani, as he instilled pride in accomplishments and hope in capabilities (p. 208, Arabic version). Speaking at Sur, Oman’s historic seafaring capital, Qaboos declared in 1996 that his people added value to mankind by reaching out to others, developing healthy trade contacts, and fostering a culture of openness. He further reminded young Omanis that their challenge to withstand globalization’s storms was no different from the risks faced by their forefathers when they took to the high seas. In the past, Qaboos recapitulated to his subjects, Omanis had achieved much through “diligence, hard work, patience, persistence and sustained effort.” This generation, he continued, “was called upon to believe … that productive work, no matter how [trivial], [wa]s a key element in the structure of the nation,” and that each was mandated to do his share (p. 242, Arabic version). Omanis who regularly heard their head of state express such positive views of their innate capabilities could not but find solace in their struggles, even if few reaped quick benefits.
Invocations and Religious Views
Beyond the opening of the Holy Quran, which all Muslim leaders invoke in their pronouncements, the 35 State of the Sultanate speeches implored God to help the ruler and illuminate his people. Qaboos peppered his texts with quotations from scripture, beseeching the Lord for assistance, giving thanks for His bounty, and seeking solace in His guiding wisdom (pp. 236-237, Arabic version). The monarch referred to the Omani renewal under his leadership as a modern Renaissance and, recent criticisms notwithstanding, was reluctant to take exclusive credit. If he identified himself with the abrupt break he had made with his father, he nevertheless called on Omanis to judge for themselves. Speaking in Salalah in 1997, he acknowledged that significant gains in all fields of life had been achieved, but underlined this declaration with an “as you know and see,” inviting Omanis to bear witness to what the 1970 change of leadership had actually meant (p. 249, Arabic version). Qaboos acknowledged that whatever was accomplished was the hard work of Omanis, and he encouraged them to “go ahead, with God’s blessing, for your own prosperity” (p. 250, Arabic version)!
Qaboos delivered one of his shortest speeches in 2000 to celebrate his thirtieth anniversary on the throne, praising the armed forces and greeting Omanis, satisfied that his rule was peaceful as well as prosperous for all (pp. 288-289, Arabic version).
Qaboos sprinkled all of his 35 presentations with Quranic verses, carefully underlining the Omani understanding of faith as the backbone of society. He rejected atheism (and communism) and opposed Godless ideologies; such was a requirement of the believer. He frequently quoted the word of God, beseeching his brethren to appreciate their ruler’s motivation in undertaking specific policies, combining faith with rationality. Time and again, the ruler emphasized the Omani people’s attachment to, and pride in, Islam and support for the work of the Ministry of Awqaf (endowment) and Islamic Affairs (pp.43-44). In this context, and in another illustration of Qaboos’ tolerance and pragmatism, it is important to note that the Ministry of Awqaf formally changed its title in 1996 from Shuun Islamiyyah [Islamic affairs] to Shuun Diniyyah [religious affairs].18
As early as 1975, Muscat established a Ministry of Justice, with deed-registration, litigation and rulings departments. While true to sharia law in religious affairs, the government demonstrated foresight, as circumstances necessitated a separation between criminal and social justice. A Court of Appeals was also created to improve transparency. If the 1996 Basic Statute called for the implementation of a separate judiciary, a precedent was set in 1975, when the putative separation between legislative authority and the executive occurred, necessitating the empowerment of individuals to adjudicate disputes. In 1975, when it was almost nonexistent, the principle was specifically articulated, in recognition of its intrinsic value to such separation (p. 45, Arabic version). The monarch also realized that laws required trained judges to interpret them. Towards that end and as early as 1977, Qaboos identified the necessity to educate “those who [we]re to be the future religious leaders of our country….Their training must enable them to understand the pressures and problems of modern life in order that they may exercise their leadership in a constructive and effective manner,” he declared. Moreover, he ordered a “review of the work of the Islamic Center at Wattayah,” to improve “curricula, notably the inclusion of secular subjects, which w[ould] produce mature teachers of Islam, familiar with the ways of modern society and well qualified to provide our people — and especially our young people — with the moral and spiritual guidance they must have” (p. 60, Arabic version). This was revolutionary: the ruler was calling for an update of an age-old training institution long before sectarianism and extremism settled in contemporary Muslim societies.
In 1994, Qaboos took a major step at this level with the establishment of a College of Jurisprudence and Law to equip the country with uniform religious legal training rather than multicultural efforts that confused far more than they elucidated. Parallel to this, to encourage the empowerment of an independent judiciary, he proposed the creation of a Higher Institution in Nizwah to train university graduates in jurisprudence to become officers of various courts. The diploma that graduates earned certified them as “members of the Judiciary” (p. 209, Arabic version). These individuals were empowered to apply shariah law when necessary and nonreligious regulations when applicable, both adapted to contemporary conditions and norms.
“When one is young,” declared Qaboos, “one must think and plan with ambition for the future.” He called on young Omanis to use their imagination, have high “expectation and hope,” without wasting any time in carrying out “their national obligations” (p. 101, Arabic version). His statement that “work is noble, and it makes life positive and useful. Moreover, it is a sacred duty of the citizen towards the motherland,” will surely beremembered for a very long time (p. 127, Arabic version). But, because the Sultanate of Oman was a modest oil producer, the Omani monarch’s caution to his subjects that they not grow dependent on its income echoed even louder. “It is not wise, nor good policy, to be dependent on oil as a sole resource to inance our development,” declared Qaboos (p. 258, Arabic version). These were not the types of speeches that conservative Arab Gulf monarchs uttered, and it is to the Omani leader’s credit that he honestly addressed a fundamental concern.
Qaboos bin Said has mobilized his people. History may also well recall his vigilance: “Extremism, under whatever guise, fanaticism of whatever kind, factionalism of whatever persuasion would be hateful, poisonous plants in the soil of our country which will not be allowed to flourish” (p. 210, Arabic version).
1 Simon Sebag Montefiore, Introduction to Speeches That Changed the World: The Stories and Transcripts of the Moments That Made History (London: Smith Davies Publishing Ltd., 2005).
2 The opening sentence of De Gaulle’s war memoirs reads as follows: “Toute ma vie, je me suis fait une certaine idée de la France” [All my life I have had a certain idea of France]. See Charles De Gaulle, Mémoires de Guerre: L'Appel 1940-1942 (Paris: Plon, 1954), p. 1. In 1972, Qaboos opened his annual address with these words: “Our principal aim is to restore the past glories of our country.” See “Speech of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said on the Occasion of the 2nd National Day, November 18, 1972,” in Ministry of Information, The Royal Speeches of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, 1970-2005 (Muscat, 2005). His Majesty’s annual speeches are available in print in various languages. They are also readily accessible online at the Ministry of Information web page. See http://www.omanet.om/english/hmsq/hmsq3.asp?cat=hmsq for English text, and http://www.omanet.om/arabic/hmsq/hmsq11.asp?cat=hmsq&subcat=hmsq2 for Arabic. Hereafter, page references in text refer to English version unless otherwise noted.
3 Between 1970 and 1999, the speeches were officially designated as His Majesty’s “National Day” addresses and were delivered on November 18 to celebrate the transformation that occurred on that day in 1970. Starting in 2000, both the date and venue changed, as the speech was delivered at the opening ceremony of the Council of Oman meeting, at various times during the year. Although a thirtieth anniversary allocution was made on November 18, 2000, Qaboos preferred to speak to the Majlis Oman, the premier institutional forum of the Sultanate. It is partly for this reason that the term “State of the Sultanate” is used in this essay. The reference is to the sum total of the ruler's annual reports because of a gradual evolution.
4 Hussein Ghubash, Oman — The Islamic Democratic Tradition, translated from the French by Mary Turton, (Routledge, 2006), pp. 2-12. For a critical background study, see Humayd Ibn Rustaq, Al-Fath al-Mubin fi Sirat al-Bu Saidiyyin [History of the Imams and Sayyids of Oman] (Muscat, 1856, 1977). Also available in English under an Anglicized author’s name as Salil-Ibn Razik, History of the Imams and Seyyids of Oman, translated by the Reverend George Percy Badger (Hakluyt Society, 1871; reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, 2004).
5 Detailed education data is available in several publications with up-to-date figures spanning the 1970-2004 period. See Sultanate of Oman, Educational Statistical Yearbook, Issue 34 (Academic Year 2003-2004) (Muscat: Ministry of Education, September 2004). See also Sultanate of Oman, Education in the Sultanate of Oman: Preparing Our Students for Tomorrow (Muscat: Ministry of Education, 2004); and Sultanate of Oman, The Renaissance of Education in the Sultanate of Oman: The Fulfillment of a Promise (Muscat: Ministry of Education, 2002).
6 When the university opened its doors in 1986, it was equipped with six colleges: medicine, engineering, sciences, agriculture, education and Islamic studies. A College of Arts was added in 1987, followed by a College of Commerce and Economics in 1993. Add details.
7 In 1996, the Raysut port started a major expansion, with the addition of international container facilities.
8 Statistics from the Oman Airports Management Company web site at http://www.omanairports.com/seeb_trafficstatistics.asp.
9 Joseph A. Kéchichian, Political Participation and Stability in the Sultanate of Oman (Dubai: Gulf Research Center, 2006), pp. 57-73, especially, pp. 68-70.
10 “Khitab Sahib al-Jalalah bi Munasabat al-’Id al-Watani Oula, 23 July 1971” [Speech of His Majesty on the Occasion of the occasion of the 1st National Day, 23 July 1971,” in Ministry of Information, Khutab Wa Kalimat Hadrat Sahib al-Jalalah al-Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Muazam, 1970-1990 [The Royal Speeches of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, 1970-1990] (Muscat, Oman, 1990).
11 Ibid., p. 19.
12 In 1975, Qaboos delivered two speeches within eight days, the second one (19 November 1975) “addressed to the People,” perhaps to illustrate major foreign-policy interests from internal concerns that dealt primarily with development details.
13 Kéchichian, op. cit., pp. 28-34.
14 For the references on Lebanon, see pp. 143, 151, 211 and 235.
15 Another translation of this verse reads: “Believers, if you help God, God will help you and make you strong,” in The Koran, translated with notes by N. J. Dawood (Penguin Books, 1999), p. 357.
16 Joseph A. Kéchichian, Oman and the World: The Emergence of an Independent Foreign Policy (RAND, 1995), pp 253-55.
17 Hussein Ghubash, p. 6.
18 This was a subtle yet significant alteration whose message was unmistakable. Today, the ministry’s formal title is Wazirat al-Awkaf wal-Shuun Diniyyah [Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs].
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