Arab Unrest Spreads to Gulf State Oman

The small Persian Gulf state of Oman has not been able to escape the anti-government protests rocking the Arab world.

The unrest rocking the Middle East has spread to the small Gulf state of Oman where at least one protester was killed in confrontations with police. Despite promises from the regime to hire more public-sector workers and provide additional benefits for the unemployed, people took to the streets in the port city of Sohar for the third day on Monday.

Demonstrators in Sohar have blocked access routes to the port and industrial areas, prompting foreign staff to seek shelter in the nearby capital of Muscat.

No additional clashes between civilians and security forces have been reported. There were reports of attacks on property over the weekend but committees have been organized by protesters to protect buildings and handle traffic.

Oman is not a major oil producer but a significant share of the world’s oil shipping passes through the Strait of Hormuz, along the Omani coast. The country belongs to the Gulf Cooperation Council and is closely aligned to Saudi Arabia and its alliance with the United States.

America has been arming the Persian Gulf states in recent years to deter Iranian assertiveness in the region. It has hosted three American air force prepositioning sites since the early 1980s with support equipment for 26,000 personnel as well as the required equipment and fuel to maintain three air bases. In 2006, Oman and the United States signed a free-trade agreement.

Despite the country’s dependence on the oil trade, the Omani government has worked to streamline regulation to attract foreign investment. Corruption is perceived as rampant however while judicial rulings can be subject to political interference.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has ruled for over forty years and maintains a tight grip on all affairs of government. Parliament is largely powerless. Universal suffrage was not instituted until 2003.

Oman is a small country with just three million inhabitants but unemployment is high at 15 percent.

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, crown prince William Alexander and his wife were scheduled to visit Oman early next month. The Sohar Industrial Port Company, which has developed the harbor facilities, is joint venture in which the port of Rotterdam has 50 percent ownership.