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Governance

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Sultan Qabus bin Sayyid al-Sayyid/Photo HH

Contents

The Executive
Governorates and Regions
Political Representation
The Military

Introduction

Oman is a monarchy. It does not have a Constitution, but instead has a Basic Law or White Book that the government views as constitutional. The head of state is the Sultan. In November 1996, Sultan Qaboos issued a royal decree promulgating the Basic Statute which sets out the royal succession, provides for a Prime Minister, bars ministers from holding interests in companies doing business with the government, establishes a bicameral Parliament, and guarantees basic rights and responsibilities for Omani citizens.

The Sultan is the Executive. He is also Prime Minister, and Minister of Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Finance. The Legislative is formed by the bicameral Majlis Oman: the State Council (Majlis al-Dawla), appointed by the Sultan, and a Consultative Council (Majlis al-Shura), elected by the people.

In the judicial field, the civil courts are divided into four departments. Criminal courts handle cases under the penal code. Sharia (Islamic law) courts oversee personal status and family law issues. Commercial courts adjudicate business and commercial matters, and labour courts oversee labour and employment cases. There are no political parties. There is an administrative subdivision of the country into nine governorates and regions and 61 districts (wilayat).

The Executive

The chief of state is Sultan and Prime Minister Qaboos bin Said Al Said, Sultan since 23 July 1970 and Prime Minister since 23 July 1972. The monarch is both chief of state and head of government. The cabinet is appointed by the monarch. The monarchy is hereditary.

Without progeny, in 1996 Qaboos amended the Basic Law, determining that upon his decease his family should choose a male descendant of Turki bin Said, Sultan of Muscat and Oman from 1871-1888, as his successor. In case of disagreement, Qaboos has drawn up a document stating the name of his preferred choice.

Governorates and Regions

The Sultanate is divided into nine governorates and regions: the governorates Muscat, Dhofar, Musandam, and al-Buraymi, and the regions al-Batina, al-Zahira, al-Dakhiliya, al-Wusta and al-Sharqiya. Each governorate and region is ruled by a governor. The Governorate of Muscat is the most densely populated region in the Sultanate with a population of more than half a million. It is Oman’s political, economic and administrative centre. Muscat accomodates both the traditional heritage of Omani society and modern contemporary features.

The Governorate of Dhofar is in the far south and borders on the Wusta Region to the east, the Arabian Sea to the south, Yemen to the west, and Saudi Arabia to the north and north-west. The Governorate of Musandam lies in the extreme north, separated from the rest of the country by a strip of land belonging to the United Arab Emirates. It is distinguished by its strategic location, with part of it known as Ras Musandam overlooking the important international sea passage of the Strait of Hormuz. The part suitable for sea navigation falls within the territorial waters of the Sultanate, which has required Oman to shoulder a large responsibility in organizing navigation in this strait. It has become a crossing point for 90 percent of the Persian Gulf’s oil, which is shipped all over the world. The Governorate of Buraymi is situated in the north-west corner of the Sultanate, adjacent to the border with the United Arab Emirates. It has a number of historic forts and houses.

Regions

The Batina Region occupies a coastal strip along the Gulf of Oman. The Zahira Region is a semi-desert plain which slopes from the southern foot of the Hajar Mountains towards the Empty Quarter. It is separated from the Dakhiliya Region by the Kur Mountains to the east; it joins the Empty Quarter (al-Rub al-Khali) from the west and the Wusta Region from the south. The Dakhiliya Region is rich in economic and natural resources.

The Sharqiya Region forms the north-east coast of Oman and overlooks the Arabian Sea. The city of Sur is one of the regional centres and the most important of al-Sharqiya cities. It played a historical role in trade and navigation in the Indian Ocean. It was known for ship building. The Wusta Region is situated to the south of both the Dakhiliya and Zahira Regions. It includes a large central area of the Sultanate and is distinguished by having a great number of oil wells.

Oman Governance - al-Sawadi Fort
al-Sawadi Fort, near Muscat
Oman Governance - Omani Desert
The Omani desert
Oman Governance - Dhow Musandam
Traditional dhow near Musandam
Oman Governance - Bilad Sayt
The oasis village of Bilad Sayt

Oman Governance - Oasis Desert
Oasis in the Omani desert
Oman Governance - Fishing Dhofar
Fishing in Dhofar
Oman Governance - al-Mudayrib
The village of al-Mudayrib
Oman Governance - Wadi Shab
Wadi Shab

Political Representation

Oman is an absolute monarchy ruled by the Sultan and the government appointed by him. Political parties and politically motivated associations are prohibited. In November 1996, Sultan Qaboos issued a royal decree promulgating a Basic Law. The government considers the Basic Law to be constitutional. Among other things, it established a bicameral legislature. The legislative branch consists of the State Council (Majlis al-Dawla, or Upper Chamber) with 71 seats, and the Consultative Council (Majlis al-Shura, or Lower Chamber) with 84 seats. The members of the State Council are appointed by the monarch and have advisory power only. This applies to the members of the Consultative Council, who are elected by popular vote to serve a four-year term. The suffrage is universal for all citizens aged 21 or older. Members of the military and security forces are not allowed to vote.

Candidates for the Consultative Council compete individually for the seats. Despite the ban on political parties and thus on parliamentary groups within the Consultative Council, there are lobby groups based on shared interests. However, they only have very limited power in influencing national policy. The Consultative Council cannot initiate any legislation.

During the elections in October 2007, none of the twenty female candidates were elected. Elections for the Shura Council were renewed on 25 October 2015. Of the 56 women candidates, only one won a sit.

The Military

The ExecutiveSultan Qaboos is the commander-in-chief of the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF), comprising the Royal Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. While in absolute terms, the military expenditure increased from 2.81 billion USD in 1990 to 9.25 billion in 2013, relative to Oman’s GDP it declined from 16.5 percent of GDP in 1990 to 11.3 percent in 2013. Compared to other countries in the region, Oman spends the most on its military relative to GDP (Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute).

Active military personnel
(all volunteer, no conscription)

  • Army 25,000
  • Navy 4,500
  • Air Force 5,000

Weaponry about 80 British Challenger 2 and American M-60 tanks, circa 250 other armoured vehicles.

Surface combatants two corvettes, four fast attack craft, patrol vessels.

Combat aircraft 22 Jaguars, 12 F-16s, lightly armed Hawk trainers and a dozen counter-insurgency aircraft.

Armed forces

With about 40,000 active personnel the Omani Armed Forces are relatively large, a fact which can be attributed to the rebellious episode in the Dhofar region in the 1960s and 1970s. In the end, the insurgency was crushed with the help of the British and, notably, of the Shah of Iran’s troops. British military assistance to the Omani Armed Forces has remained substantial ever since.

Its army is organized into one armoured and two infantry brigades, two armoured regiments, one armoured reconnaissance regiment, eight infantry regiments, one infantry reconnaissance regiment, one airborne regiment, four artillery regiments, an air defence regiment, and a field engineer regiment. The army also consists of some independent company-sized formations, including the Musandam Security Force. The Royal Household has an additional 6,400 troops including two special forces regiments of 1,000 men each, and a 5,000 man Royal Guard Brigade.

The quality of the Omani Air Force was boosted by the squadron equipped modern F-16 fighter-bombers that entered service in 2005. In July 2009, Lockheed-Martin signed a contract to equip these aircraft with a precision targeting pod, a further strengthening of its capabilities. For support and training the Omani Air Force relies heavily on the substantial presence of the United States Air Force (USAF) on Omani bases. Airfields near the capital Muscat, near al-Sib (Seeb) and Thumrait and on the island of Masira have housed variable USAF contingents, including, presumably, long-range bombers such as the B-1 and B-52, and manned and unmanned reconnaisance planes. Oman was one of the major staging points for the air operations over Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Omani Navy is relatively large, which can be explained by the strategic location and the relatively long coastline. The navy has been further strengthened with the arrival of three large, helicopter-capable corvettes that were ordered in 2006 in the United Kingdom.

Oman is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a pact in which Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar participate. GCC was established in 1981 in order to stimulate security and economic cooperation. The latter has made more headway than the military cooperation, although in 1991 a mixed GCC unit helped coalition troops in liberating Iraqi occupied Kuwait.