Oman has, through immigration from Africa, a prehistoric heritage of more than 100,000 years. The history of present-day Oman has followed somewhat different lines, with early Arab influence in the southwestern part of the country, and a greater Persian influence in the northeast. The country was soon subject to Persian rule, later to be Arabized also through the introduction of Islam from the 6th century – to be controlled again by Persian dynasties.
Oman was never formally colonized, but Portugal set up several trading stations and took control of parts of the country in the 16th century. Later, the Sultan entered into Muscat’s friendship agreements with Britain, which gave him and the country British protection – and the British considerable influence – until the 1950s.
As a leading maritime nation in the region, Oman was on its way to establishing its own empire around the Indian Ocean, taking control of trade both in present-day Iran and Persia as well as along the coast of East Africa, including Zanzibar, which became a seat of the Omani Sultan.
Until 1970, Oman was a closed country, with a ruler who opposed modernization, but was deposed in a palace coup that opened the country to the outside world. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Oman. Subsequently, Oman has pursued an open, western-oriented policy, and implemented a degree of political liberalization, even though the country remains an absolute monarchy.
- Countryaah: Check to see the location of Oman on the world map. Also covers major mountains, rivers and lakes in Oman.
Oman has probably been inhabited for around 10,000 years. Finds of stone implements testify to human presence for more than 100,000 years – after immigration from Africa. The oldest proven settlement dates from approximately 7615 BCE, and several finds have been made from the older Stone Age and the Bronze Age. Several painted animal figures and hunting motifs have also been carved into the mountains.
The area was formerly known by its Sumerian name Magan (or Makan), a name associated with ancient copper mines. Another ancient name is Mesoun, derived from ‘muzn’ which means plenty of running water, while today’s name Oman is supposed to originate from the Uman region of Yemen – and is brought to the area by immigrant Arab tribes.
Parts of today’s Oman were part of the Persian Empire from around 563 BCE. to the seventh century. Arab immigration started in the first century, with one group from southern Arabia (quahtan) and another (nizar) from the north. The area was one of the first to convert to Islam after an envoy from the Prophet Muhammad, Amr ibn al-As, in 630 met Oman’s two rulers, Jaifar and ‘Abd, and invited them to join the new religion. Omanis from the al-Azd clan transitioned to the ibadi doctrine of Islam and formed in the 700s their own imamat – a separate Islamic state formation ruled by an elected leader, an imam. In the longer term, this led to a political divide between the hinterland and the Sultanate in and around Muscat. The introduction of Islam united Oman politically, with the Imam as both political and religious leader. Oman was then engaged in the wars that followed the death of the Prophet, as well as in the Islamic conquest of present-day Iraq and Iran – and then in spreading Islam along the coast of East Africa. In the first centuries after the introduction of Islam was Oman ruled by several foreign dynasties: Omayyad (661-750), ABBA pages (750-967), qaramiterne (931-934), buyidene (967-1053) and the Seljuks (1053 to 1154).
With some exceptions, Oman was far from physically cut off from the rest of the Arab world because of the desert, which helped to promote shipping. In the Middle Ages, Omani seafarers sailed from the port city of Suhar across the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean, to Persia – and in the 15th century to India and China, and the country became a center of commerce in the Middle East and the Gulf of Persia.(The Arabian Gulf). When the Portuguese came to Oman in 1507, on their way to India, there were busy trading towns in Qalhat, Quryat, Muscat and Suhar. The Portuguese captured and robbed Muscat, and soon controlled the entire coast, followed by British and Dutch traders. The Ottoman Navy took control of parts of the Gulf coast in 1522. In 1650, during the Omani Yaruba dynasty (1624–1744), the Portuguese were driven out of Oman, and a flourishing period began: the Ottomans conquered several Portuguese settlements in the Gulf and along the eastern coast. The African coast, like Mogadishu, Mombasa and Zanzibar. The Fortifications of the Portuguese Fort Jesus in Mombasa fell after Omani siege in 1698, after which Omani forces expelled the Portuguese from Zanzibar and the coast of Mozambique.
In the first half of the 1700s, the boom was broken by civil war, which enabled Persian invasion in 1737, and a weakening of the Imam’s power. In 1749, Ahman ibn al-Said came to power after expelling the Persians, laying the groundwork for the dynasty that still governs Oman: the al-Busaidi dynasty. Under him, Oman underwent a new boom in the economy and trade. The first friendship and protection agreement with the United Kingdom was signed in 1798; in the following century new agreements were signed, including with the United States, France and the Netherlands.
Zanzibar was important to the slave trade of the time, which in East Africa was run by Arabs. The island had the region’s largest slave market, and Omani traders settled to develop both slave trade and plantation operations. Omanians were involved in the slave trade as early as the tenth century. The importance of Zanzibar was emphasized by the fact that Sultan Said ibn Sultan made the island its headquarters in 1832, which was also part of the attempt to salvage the remnants of Oman’s commercial interests in East Africa. In the 1840s, the Omani fleet utilized the monsoon winds in the Indian Ocean to establish a triangle trade between Africa (spices, slaves, gems and ivory), India (finished goods and textiles) and Oman (dates and incense).
At the death of Sultan Said, the Omani Empire encompassed the entire northwest Indian Ocean, from Mozambique to Baluchistan. Oman’s financial interests, especially in East Africa, were threatened when Britain banned slavery, and after Said’s death in 1856, the empire was greatly weakened after being split between two sons, one of whom gained control of Zanzibar and other East African possessions, the other of Muscat and Oman, from 1861. With that, the Omani dynasty of Zanzibar also removed more and more from Muscat. From the second half of the 19th century, Muscat and Zanzibar were separate political entities, but with extensive trade. While Oman remained independent, Zanzibar became a British protectorate and paid an annual fee to Muscat.
The history of the Dhofar region in the south is vastly different from the rest of the country. This area was controlled by ancient Southern Arabian kingdoms from the first century, and subject to Oman only in 1829. The area was known in the earliest times for the production of incense.
Contradictions between the Imamate Oman and the Sultanate of Muscat came to the surface several times, including through attacks on Muscat and Matrah in 1895 and 1915. In 1913, the Sheikhs of the interior chose a new Imam, who called for jihad (holy war) against the Sultan in Muscat and his British allies, but suffered defeat during the attack on Muscat in 1915. Following mediation by the British government in India, the al-Sib agreement between the Imamate and the Sultanate was signed in 1920. Thus, the Sultanate acknowledged domestic autonomy, but did not grant independence. The tribes inland committed themselves to refraining from military attacks on the Sultanate and to respecting free trade. The agreement initiated a longer period of arms permits, while also strengthening the British influence over a divided country. The self-government of the Imamate was managed from the Imam’s seat in Nizwa; the real power lay with the tribal leaders. This situation lasted until 1954 when the imam since 1920, Muhammad al-Khalili, died. His successor, Imam Ghalib bin Ali al-Hinai, with the support of Saudi Arabia, tried to create a state of his own, which led to clashes between the forces of the Imam and Sultan Said bin Taimur, who came to power in 1932 – was beaten down by British military intervention.
One of the reasons for the uprising was the right to dispose of areas with possible oil deposits, where the Imamat granted exploration permits in the area of the disputed Buraimi oasis, which Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi also claimed. In doing so, Britain felt its interests in Oman were threatened by a Saudi alliance with US oil capital. This led to the UK choosing a tougher line and going to military intervention. This happened after the rebellion was first defeated by the Sultan’s forces in 1955, but in 1957 the Imamate was again declared established. The last rebels surrendered in 1959, and the last leaders of the imamat sought refuge in Saudi Arabia, where they created an imamat in exile, originally supported by the Arab League, and with offices in Baghdad and Cairo. Sultan Said’s victory over Imam Ghalib is considered a turning point in recent Omani history – with the coast’s victory over the interior, made possible through the Sultanate’s long alliance with the United Kingdom. As a result of the war, the al-Sib treaty was abolished and the Imamate Oman wound up; the hinterland was integrated into the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman.
The Sultan made several agreements with the United Kingdom. A protection agreement of 1891 gave Oman de facto, if not formal, status as a British protectorate. New agreements from 1939 and 1951 further provided the basis for, among other things, military assistance.
In 1958, Oman sold its possession Gwadar to Pakistan. In 1964, Zanzibar was lost as a result of the revolution there, whereby the island became an independent state – and the Omani population of around 5,000 was largely detained and banished from the country. Their properties were seized and hundreds more were killed. The last Sultan of Zanzibar, Sayyid Jamshid bin Abdullah bin Khalifah bin Harib (1963-1964) fled to the United Kingdom. The Omanis from Zanzibar were scattered throughout much of the Arab world, but were especially wanted after 1970 to return to Oman to take part in the modernization of the country, where they form their own social group.
In 1958, Sultan Said moved his seat to Salalah, the capital of Dhofar, which he administered as a separate area. Inspired by the revolution in Yemen, a civil war broke out in Dhofar in 1965 when the rebel group Dhofar Liberation Front (DLF) demanded secession. The group was later known as Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO) and Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Ara bian Gulf (PFLOAG). The radical group received support from China, the Soviet Union, South Yemen and Iraq, and resorted to weapons against the conservative sultan. The war lasted until the end of 1975, when the insurgency was fought off with military aid UK, Pakistan, Jordan and Iran. In 1970, there were fears that the uprising would spread to northern Oman, which contributed to Britain being behind the palace coup that same year.
The riots in Dhofar contributed to the palace coup in 1970, when the seated sultan, Said bin Taimur, was deposed by his son Qaboos bin Said. The change of power was supported by both the United Kingdom and other Gulf rulers, as well as the Shah of Iran – all of whom feared a revolutionary spread in the region. The coup meant not only an escalation of the war against the Dhofar rebels, but a modernization of the Omani community, and with it the better integration of Oman as a state. Like other Gulf countries, Oman has welcomed a large number of guest workers, but a deliberate “reorganization policy” – to get Omanis to occupy as many public positions as possible – has reduced the proportion. At the same time, Oman welcomes foreign investment and players, among other things to help establish a broader business base, in preparation for a time with less oil revenues.
From being a closed and backward country, Sultan Qaboos Oman opened to the outside world and embarked on a social and economic modernization program, including investments in health and education, and facilitating business activities – all based on the rising revenues from oil exports from the end of the 1960s. The search for oil began in the 1920s, but the first successful drilling took place in 1962; Commercial extraction began in 1967 through the company Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), with Shell as its principal owner, before the Omani state took over the majority in 1974. Oil production reached a peak in 2000, then plummeting in line with dwindling reserves. At the same time, the extraction of gas has increased. Liquid natural gas production began in 2000. Lower oil prices in the 2010s led to falling revenues for Oman,
In the political field, Qaboos first took a cautious course, but later also initiated political reforms, primarily by gradually expanding the right to vote – until it became general from 2003. However, democracy has not been introduced; The Sultan is still a monotone and has retained his unlimited power. The two bodies that constitute a form of national assembly, Majlis al-Shura and Majlis al-Dawla, are both advisory only. While the former, established in 1990, is elected (from 2000), the members of the other are appointed by the sultan. Together they constitute a Majlis Oman – a supreme council for the Sultan. The first women became members of Majlis al-Shura in 1995, after women were accepted into the council the previous year.
Oman has not written a constitution, and political parties are not allowed. Groupings with particular political influence are the ruling family, the tribes, the trading post and foreign advisers. Traditionally, tribal leaders have had a great influence, but this has diminished as local governance structures are established. British advisers have traditionally had considerable influence, also – until 1984 – by holding top positions in the Omani defense. Among the trading families are several of the most influential roots in India and Pakistan, as well as from Zanzibar. People with roots from Oman’s past in Zanzibar have later been given a dominant role in the central administration.
In 1994, several members of an underground Islamist group were arrested, and in the 1990s there was growing fear that militant Islamic groups would become active in Oman as well. This has not happened, even in the 2000s, when several groups grew up in both the Arab world and the Arabian peninsula. Authorities accused a group in 2005 of planning to restore the Ibadi imamate.
During the Arab Spring, there were also riots in Oman in 2011 – with demonstrations aimed at the strong centralization of power around the Sultan and widespread corruption, with demands for economic reform and political freedom. The protesters, on the other hand, did not challenge the sultan himself. The protests were particularly expressed in Suhar and Salalah, as well as in Muscat from February to May 2011. Clashes were reported, and at least one was reported killed. The authorities organized demonstrations in support of themselves, and set up a state human rights organization. To curb the protests, Sultan Qaboos announced increasing subsidies and minimum wages, as well as unemployment benefits, and that 50,000 new public sector jobs should be created. To fund the measures, Oman sought financial support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies through the Gulf Council (GCC). Oman supported GCC’s military intervention during the Bahrain uprising in 2011. The Sultan also promised greater influence to the elected council, with a new election in the fall of 2011, and ousted twelve members of government. In 2012, the authorities arrested several activists who, through social media, had criticized the authorities’ failure to follow up on the promised reforms.
After the Arab Spring, political stability in Oman has continued. The greatest uncertainty has been linked to the development of Sultan Qaboos. Until he died in January 2020, he was for a long time seriously ill, with no heirs, and without having appointed any successor. At his death, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said was inducted as a new sultan after being appointed by the royal family. Sultan Haitham is the cousin of Sultan Qaboos and grandson of Sultan Taimur bin Feisal who ruled from 1913 to 1932, and previously served as Minister of Culture and Diplomat, among others.