Is Trouble Simmering in Oman?
Suddenly ‘democracy’ seems to be the catchword for the people in the Arab and African world. The ruled want it desperately while the rulers hate the very mention of it. What happened in Tunisia and Egypt is also happening Yemen, Libya and Bahrain, to name a few.
The local citizenry is on the boil. They want rights and they want their voices to be heard. No longer are they willing to be mute spectators living on the promises and crumbs thrown their way by their ruling class. Lack of job opportunities worthy of their educational qualifications, poverty, rampant corruption and the ostentatious lifestyle of the rulers are giving rise to their seething anger. Individual dissent is impotent but the collective dissent has the force to make a change and this is what is happening.
The unprecedented protests in Sohar, an industrial town of Oman, in which many were reported killed, have observers worried. Will Egypt repeat in Oman? Just a spark is enough to ignite an uprising, as it happened in Tunisia and Egypt. Oman has seen some peaceful protests in the past, so what happened in Sohar was no surprise but the level of violence was.
However, an important difference between Oman and other larger Arab nations is that the Omani ruler, Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said is a genuinely popular monarch. His people are not calling for a change in the regime but their demands are for more jobs, controlling the ever increasing food prices and bringing to book some allegedly corrupt members of the government. One notable difference also, is that there is no sectarian divide unlike Bahrain.
To prevent the situation from becoming uncontrollable, due to the reported deaths of some protesters, the US has advised restraint, to engage in dialogue to find an amicable solution and commit to a road map for reforms.
Oman has long been a valuable ally of the US and what road Muscat will take towards ending the impasse and whether they will pay heed to the US advice will remain to be seen in the days to come.