Map of Oman. (Grolier Interactive Inc.)
Copyright © 2002 Grolier Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Sultanate of Oman is the official name of the country.
Location: Southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.
Area: 82,030 sq mi (212,457 km2).
Population: 2,000,000 (estimate).
Capital and Largest City: Muscat.
Major Language(s): Arabic (official).
Major Religious Group(s): Muslim.
Government: Sultanate. Head of state and government sultan. He is advised by a consultative council (Majlis al-Shoura).
Chief Products: Agricultural—Oil, dates, wheat, coconuts, livestock.
Monetary Unit: Omani riyal (1 riyal = 1,000 baiza).
The Sultanate of Oman (formerly Muscat and Oman) has been called one of “the least known and least visited places on earth.” For many years its rulers resisted outside influences and discouraged change. But the discovery of oil and the coming to power of a new sultan helped to end its isolation.
The People and the Economy
Most Omanis are Arabs. The non-Arab population is largely of Iranian, Indian, and Pakistani ancestry. Most of the people are Muslims. The chief cities are Muscat, the capital and largest city, and Matrah, both located on the coast of the Gulf of Oman.
Until oil was discovered in the 1960’s, most Omanis farmed and raised livestock. Dates, coconuts, fruits, and grains are the chief crops. But oil now dominates the economy and is by far the leading export. Because many people have left the land for jobs in the oil industry, Oman must now import food.
Oman lies in a wide curve along the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. There are two main fertile regions—the Batina, a narrow coastal plain in the northeast, and the Dhofar area in the south. The interior of Oman consists largely of mountains and desert. The climate is dry and hot, with temperatures reaching as high as 130°F (54°C). Only a few areas are suitable for farming.
History and Government
Little is known of Oman’s early history. Its first contact with the West came in the 1500’s, when the Portuguese conquered parts of the coast. The Omanis expelled them a century later and began to build their own empire. By the 1800’s, Oman was the most powerful state on the Arabian Peninsula, with colonies in Africa and other parts of Asia, the last of which it held until recent times. It also developed a special relationship with Britain that continues today.
Oman has been ruled by a single dynasty, or royal family, since 1749. The sultan governs as an absolute monarch. The legal system is based on Islamic law (Sharia) as well as local custom.
The present sultan, Qabus ibn Said, came to power in 1970 and began a program of modernization and economic development. He also changed the country’s name from Muscat and Oman to Oman. He is advised by a consultative council, established in 1991. Oman’s world importance has increased because of its oil and its location on major sea routes from the Middle East oil fields.
Reviewed by Majid Khadduri
Johns Hopkins University