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Nakhal Fort, one of the best-preserved forts in Oman.

Contents

Prehistory

Antiquity

Asia in 600 A.D., showing the Sassanid Empire.

Achaemenid (6th to 4th century B.C.), an Iranian dynasty, controlled and/or influenced the Omani peninsula. This influential control was most likely exerted from a coastal center such as Sohar.[1]

From the third century B.C. to the arrival of Islam in the seventh century A.D., Oman was controlled by two other Iranian dynasties, the Parthians and the Sassanids. During this period Oman's administrative name was Mazun.[1] By about 250 B.C., the Parthian dynasty brought the Persian Gulf under their control and extended their influence as far as Oman. Because they needed to control the Persian Gulf trade route, the Parthians established garrisons in Oman. In the third century A.D., the Sasanids succeeded the Parthians and held area until the rise of Islam four centuries later. This agricultural and military contact gave people exposure to Persian culture, as reflected in certain irrigation techniques still used in Oman.[2]

Early Islamic period

The Age of the Caliphs      Prophet Mohammad, 622-632      Patriarchal Caliphate, 632-661      Umayyad Caliphate, 661-750

Oman adopted Islam in the 7th century A.D., during the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad. Ibadism became the dominant religious sect in Oman by the 8th century A.D. Oman is the only country in the Islamic world with a majority Ibadi population. Ibadhism is known for its "moderate conservatism." One distinguishing feature of Ibadism is the choice of ruler by communal consensus and consent.

Until 1970 the political title for the nation's rulers was "Sultan of Muscat and Oman", implying two historically irreconcilable political cultures: the coastal tradition, the more cosmopolitan, secular, Muscat tradition of the coast ruled by the sultan; and the interior tradition of insularity, tribal in origin and ruled by an imam according to the ideological tenets of Ibadism. The more cosmopolitan has been the ascending political culture since the founding of the Al Said dynasty in 1744, although the imamate tradition has found intermittent expression.[3]

Several millennia ago, Arab tribes migrated eastward to Oman, coinciding with the increasing presence in the region of peoples from present-day Iran. In the sixth century, Arabs succeeded in repelling encroachments of these ethnic groups; the conversion of Arab tribes to Islam in the seventh century resulted in the displacement of the settlers from Iran. The introduction of Ibadism vested power in the imam, the leader nominated by the ulema.[3] The imam's position was confirmed when the imam—having gained the allegiance of the tribal sheiks—received the bay'ah (oath of allegiance) from the public.

In 751 Ibadi Muslims, a moderate branch of the Kharijites, established an imamate in Oman. Despite interruptions, the Ibadi imamate survived until the mid-20th century.[4]

But Oman was nonetheless conquered by several foreign powers; Oman was controlled by the Qarmatians between 931-932 and then again between 933-934. Between 967 and 1053, Oman was part of the domain of the Iranian Buyyids, and between 1053 and 1154, Oman was part of the Great Seljuk empire. In 1154, the indigenous Nabhani dynasty took control of Oman, and the Nabhani kings ruled Oman until 1470, with an interruption of 37 years between 1406 and 1443.

Muscat was taken by the Portuguese on 1 April 1515, and was held until 26 January 1650, although the Ottomans controlled Muscat between 1550-1551 and 1581-1588. In about the year 1600, Nabhani rule was temporarily restored to Oman, although that lasted only to 1624, when fifth imamate, which is also known as the Yarubid Imamate. The Yarubid Imamate, recaptured Muscat from the Portuguese in 1650 after a colonial presence on the northeastern coast of Oman dating to 1508. The Yarubid dynasty expanded, acquiring former Portuguese colonies in East Africa and engaging in the slave trade. By 1719 dynastic succession led to the nomination of Saif ibn Sultan II. His candidacy prompted a rivalry among the ulama and a civil war between the two major tribes, the Hinawi and the Ghafiri, with the Ghafiri supporting Saif ibn Sultan II. He assumed power in 1748 after the leaders of both factions had been killed in battle, but the rivalry continued, with the factionalization working in favor of the Iranians, who occupied Muscat and Sohar in 1743.[3]

The Iranians had occupied the coast before—indeed the coast was often the possession of various empires. These empires brought order to the religious and ethnic diversity of the population of this cosmopolitan region. Yet the intervention on behalf of an unpopular dynasty brought about a revolt. The leader of the revolt, Ahmad ibn Said al Said, was elected sultan of Muscat upon the expulsion of the Persians. The position of Sultan of Muscat would remain in the possession of the Al Said clan even when the imamate of Oman remained out of reach.

The Al Said clan became a royal dynasty when Ahmad ibn Said Al Said was elected imam following the expulsion of the Iranians from Muscat in 1744. Like its predecessors, Al Said dynastic rule has been characterized by a history of internecine family struggle, fratricide, and usurpation. Apart from threats within the ruling family, there was the omnipresent challenge from the independent tribes of the interior who rejected the authority of the sultan, recognizing the imam as the sole legitimate leader and pressing, by resort to arms, for the restoration of the imamate.[3]

Schisms within the ruling family were apparent before Ahmad ibn Said's death in 1783 and were later manifest with the division of the family into two main lines, the Sultan ibn Ahmad Al Said (r. 1792-1806) line controlling the maritime state, with nominal control over the entire country; and the Qais branch, with authority over the Al Batinah and Ar Rustaq areas. During the period of Sultan Said ibn Sultan Al Said's rule (1806-56), Oman cultivated its East African colonies, profiting from the slave trade. As a regional commercial power in the nineteenth century, Oman held territories on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of East Africa, the area along the coast of East Africa known as Zanj including Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, and until 1958 in Gwadar (in present-day Pakistan) on the coast of the Arabian Sea. But when the British declared slavery illegal in the mid-1800s, the sultanate's fortunes reversed. The economy collapsed, and many Omani families migrated to Zanzibar. The population of Muscat fell from 55,000 to 8,000 between the 1850s and 1870s.[3] Most of the overseas possessions were seized by the United Kingdom and by 1850 Oman was an isolated and poor area of the world.

Late 19th and early 20th centuries

When Sultan Sa'id bin Sultan Al-Busaid died in 1856, his sons quarreled over the succession. As a result of this struggle, the empire—through the mediation of the British Government under the Canning Award—was divided in 1861 into two separate principalities: Zanzibar (with its East African dependencies), and Muscat and Oman.

The death of Sa'id bin Sultan in 1856 prompted a further division: the descendants of the late sultan ruled Muscat and Oman (Thuwaini ibn Said Al Said, r. 1856-66) and Zanzibar (Mayid ibn Said Al Said, r. 1856-70); the Qais branch intermittently allied itself with the ulama to restore imamate legitimacy. In 1868 Azzam ibn Qais Al Said (r. 1868-71) emerged as self-declared imam. Although a significant number of Hinawi tribes recognized him as imam, the public neither elected him nor acclaimed him as such.[3]

Imam Azzan understood that to unify the country a strong, central authority had to be established with control over the interior tribes of Oman. His rule was jeopardized by the British, who interpreted his policy of bringing the interior tribes under the central government as a move against their established order. In resorting to military means to unify Muscat and Oman, Imam Azzam alienated members of the Ghafiri tribes, who revolted in the 1870-71 period. The British gave Imam Azzam's rival, Turki ibn Said Al Said, financial and political support. Turki ibn Said succeeded in defeating the forces of Imam Azzam, who was killed in battle outside Matrah in January 1871.[3]

Muscat and Oman was the object of Franco-British rivalry throughout the 18th century. During the 19th century, Muscat and Oman and the United Kingdom concluded several treaties of friendship and commerce. In 1908 the British entered into an agreement of friendship. Their traditional association was confirmed in 1951 through a new treaty of friendship, commerce, and navigation by which the United Kingdom recognized the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman as a fully independent state.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the sultan in Muscat faced rebellion by members of the Ibadi sect residing in the interior of Oman, centered around the town of Nizwa, who wanted to be ruled exclusively by their religious leader, the Imam of Oman. This conflict was resolved temporarily by the Treaty of Seeb, which granted the imam autonomous rule in the interior Imamate of Oman, while recognising the nominal sovereignty of the sultan elsewhere.

The conflict flared up again in 1954, when the new imam led a sporadic 5-year rebellion against the sultan's efforts to extend government control into the interior. The insurgents were defeated in 1959 with British help. The sultan then terminated the Treaty of Seeb and eliminated the office of the imam. In the early 1960s, the imam, exiled to Saudi Arabia, obtained support from his hosts and other Arab governments, but this support ended in the 1980s. Zanzibar paid an annual subsidy to Muscat and Oman until its independence in early 1964.

In 1964, a separatist revolt began in Dhofar province. Aided by Communist and leftist governments such as the former South Yemen (People's Democratic Republic of Yemen), the rebels formed the Dhofar Liberation Front, which later merged with the Marxist-dominated Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arab Gulf (PFLOAG). The PFLOAG's declared intention was to overthrow all traditional Persian Gulf régimes. In mid-1974, the Bahrain branch of the PFLOAG was established as a separate organisation and the Omani branch changed its name to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO), while continuing the Dhofar Rebellion.

1970s

In 1970, Qaboos bin Said Al Said ousted his father, Sa'id bin Taymur, who later died in exile in London. Al Said has ruled as sultan ever since. The new sultan confronted insurgency in a country plagued by endemic disease, illiteracy, and poverty. One of the new sultan's first measures was to abolish many of his father's harsh restrictions, which had caused thousands of Omanis to leave the country, and to offer amnesty to opponents of the previous régime, many of whom returned to Oman. He also established a modern government structure and launched a major development programme to upgrade educational and health facilities, build a modern infrastructure, and develop the country's natural resources.

In an effort to curb the Dhofar insurgency, Sultan Qaboos expanded and re-equipped the armed forces and granted amnesty to all surrendering rebels while vigorously prosecuting the war in Dhofar. He obtained direct military support from the UK, Iran, and Jordan. By early 1975, the guerrillas were confined to a 50-square-kilometer (20-square-mile) area near the Yemeni border and shortly thereafter were defeated. As the war drew to a close, civil action programs were given priority throughout Dhofar and helped win the allegiance of the people. The PFLO threat diminished further with the establishment of diplomatic relations in October 1983 between South Yemen and Oman, and South Yemen subsequently lessened propaganda and subversive activities against Oman. In late 1987 Oman opened an embassy in Aden, South Yemen, and appointed its first resident ambassador to the country.

Since his accession in 1970, Sultan Qaboos has balanced tribal, regional, and ethnic interests in composing the national administration. The Council of Ministers, which functions as a cabinet, consists of 26 ministers, all directly appointed by Qaboos. The Majlis Al-Shura (Consultative Council) has the mandate of reviewing legislation pertaining to economic development and social services prior to its becoming law. The Majlis Al-Shura may request ministers to appear before it.

1990s

In November 1996, Sultan Qaboos presented his people with the "Basic Statutes of the State," Oman's first written "constitution". It guarantees various rights within the framework of Qur'anic and customary law. It partially resuscitated long dormant conflict-of-interest measures by banning cabinet ministers from being officers of public shareholding firms. Perhaps most importantly, the Basic Statutes provide rules for setting Sultan Qaboos' succession.

Oman occupies a strategic location on the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, 35 miles (56 km) directly opposite Iran. Oman has concerns with regional stability and security, given tensions in the region, the proximity of Iran and Iraq, and the potential threat of political Islam. Oman maintained its diplomatic relations with Iraq throughout the Gulf War while supporting the United Nations allies by sending a contingent of troops to join coalition forces and by opening up to pre-positioning of weapons and supplies.

2000s

In September 2000, about 100,000 Omani men and women elected 83 candidates, including two women, to seats in the Majlis Al-Shura. In December 2000, Sultan Qaboos appointed the 48-member Majlis Al Dowla, or State Council, including five women, which acts as the upper chamber in Oman's bicameral representative body.

Al Said's extensive modernization program has opened the country to the outside world and has preserved a long-standing political and military relationship with the United Kingdom, the United States, and others. Oman's moderate, independent foreign policy has sought to maintain good relations with all Middle Eastern countries.

Rulers of Oman

Standard of the Sultan of Oman.png

References

  1. ^ a b The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East - Page 186 by Eric M. Meyers
  2. ^ Bahrain By Federal Research Division, page 7
  3. ^ a b c d e f g A Country Study: Oman, chapter 6 Oman - Government and Politics, section: Historical Patterns of Governance. US Library of Congress, 1993. Retrieved 2006-10-28
  4. ^ http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761561099_7/Oman.html#s28 Fourth line down from the top of the history section: "In 751 Ibadi Muslims, a moderate branch of the Kharijites, established an imamate in Oman. Despite interruptions, the Ibadi imamate survived until the mid-20th century.". Archived 2009-10-31.

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