More Perspective on Oman

Matt’s last post detailed the very different experiences of Qatar and Oman in 2011, while arguing that the end result would be enhanced prestige for both regimes. Just this morning, Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel posted a dispatch from Ra’id Zuhair Al-Jamali, who offers many more details on unrest in Oman (Read: “Oman, Kind of Not Quiet?” ). Very interesting is a key distinction drawn by Al-Jamali:

Previous Omani reforms have typically responded to major external challenges. The Shura council was founded at the end of a year of intense world scrutiny bearing upon Saudi Arabia and the GCC consequent to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Female inclusion could be seen as another proactive move, partially to stem the spread of Islamist currents of the 1990s. Post 9/11, a different set of acute outside pressures resulted in further overtures, proactive and reactive: non-opposition of benign Western reform agendas, symbolism of a 100-fold increase in base of possible voters in 2003 versus 1991, acquiescence to a regionally assertive United States on free trade. As these external pressures subsided, so did the reforms. The events of 2011 are a departure from the past as the first sustained, significant pressure from within. It remains unclear whether genuine pluralism can evolve within a domineering power structure, and more critically whether a democratic transition can be managed whilst preparing society for the post-oil terra incognita. At least if the exceptional number of Royal Decrees is any indicator, clearly some kind of shift is taking place.

It’s also worth noting that Oman’s protests saw a resurgence in September when the regime cracked down on popular media sources and jailed a well-known blogger. Demonstrations remain modest, but again, for Oman, they are remarkable given the country’s reputation as the “sleepy Sultanate.”

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