excavations have recently shown that much of the evolution in Oman
predates the Arab period. The region welcomed Islam during the lifetime
of the Prophet.
During the 18 th and 19 th centuries, the sultans of Muscat were
often powerful figures in Arabia
and East Africa, who often came into conflict with the colonial
powers in the region, predominantly the Portuguese, who first settled
in the 16 th century, in an attempt to protect their eastern trade
Close ties have
been preserved with Britain since 1798, when a treaty of friendship
was concluded. The country was known as Muscat and Oman until the
remains strong but the number of British advisers occupying key
positions in Omani government departments, considerable during the
early days of the present regime, headed by the hereditary ruler,
Sultan Qaboos, has steadily declined and is now limited to a handful
of advisers in key posts.
During the early years of his reign, which began in 1970, Sultan Qaboos’ overruling priority was to deal with
an insurgency in the western part of his kingdom, conducted by the
Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO) with the backing
of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen,
since unified with North Yemen).
The defeat of the insurgents served to increase
both domestic and foreign pressure on Qaboos to launch democratic
reforms. A series of incremental measures have been introduced to
modernise and liberalise this previous autocratic regime. 2 consultative
assemblies, the Majlis as Shura (which evolved from the old Consultative
Assembly) and the more recently formed Majlis al Dawlah, were originally
groomed to assume the functions of a bicameral parliament at the
turn of the millennium.
This has not happened, nor is it probable to do so for the foreseeable
future. The 2 Majlis have some influence over domestic
affairs, and the franchise that elects them has been steadily expanded
to include all men and women over the age of 21, but no say in foreign
and defence matters.
The most recent poll for the Majlis
as Shura in November 2003 registered little change in its make up,
no formal political parties are allowed but supporters of the Sultan
are in the majority.
Relations with Oman’s
immediate neighbours have been cordial, mainly with Yemen, since
the end of the PFLO insurgency and the unification of Yemen itself.
In recent years, Omani concerns have been focused further afield.
In 1981, Oman was a founder member of the Gulf Co operation Council
and has played a leading role in promoting its growing involvement
in regional security issues. Oman’s strategic importance to
the West has been underlined throughout the last 2 decades as it
has been used as a staging post for Anglo-American military, naval
and air operations during the Iran-Iraq War, the counter-invasion
of Kuwait and, in more recent times, both the assaults on Afghanistan
In 1994, Oman was the 1st Gulf state to establish official relations with Israel. Since 1998, it has also
developed good relations with Iran, now extending as far as mutual
security co operation in the Gulf.