OMAN DID NOT ESCAPE THE TIDAL wave of protests sweeping across the Middle East region but no country handled the calls for reform more positively or decisively.
Following demonstrations in Salalah and, later, further north in Sohar, Sultan Qaboos, who has led the transformation of the Sultanate from sleepy 1970s desert backwater to the vibrant global player it is today, met with a delegation of pro-reformists, listened to their grievances and took action within hours.
Demonstrators wanted to see certain elderly statesmen removed from government office and replaced by younger 'new brooms'; their wishes were met. Calls for increased investment in education and training to help aid unemployment in the country swiftly led to a series of financial initiatives, including an increase in unemployment benefit and significant government reforms. And, perhaps most importantly of all, investigations into the causes of dissent are ongoing and promise to be thorough.
One long-term Muscat resident told 7he Middle East: "Some of the demonstrators' demands were realistic, they called for an end to administrative and financial corruption in the public and private sector, and where the two overlap. They want more jobs, higher wages and lower prices for basic commodities such as water and electricity. But other requests, for example, those calling for the cancelling of all personal and housing loans, seemed a bit ambitious and rather diminished the whole ethos behind the protests."
Oman's strength is in great part due to its stable leadership. Over the 40 years of Sultan Qaboos bin Said's reign, the country's oil revenues, which currently provide 76% of state revenues, have been strategically employed to develop a comprehensive infrastructure including homes, roads, airports, ports, schools, hospitals, hotels and a number of thriving industrial zones.
The country was able to weather the global downturn and subsequent slump in oil prices during 2008/2009 and with 2011 marking the first year of the country's Eighth Five-Year Plan, the stage is set for further economic consolidation and development.
Although not blessed with the same vast quantities of hydrocarbon reserves as some of its neighbours, Oman has worked tirelessly to maximise the impact of its oil revenue on development and progress. Since 1970, when the country boasted little in the way of an established infrastructure, Oman has...