Predicted to run out of petroleum by 2050, Oman will suffer from the recent 40% dive in crude oil prices. The consequent spending cuts and business closures will hurt the already beleaguered Omani working class – 80% of whom are migrants – and could incite the kinds of protests last seen during the Arab Spring. In February 2011, activists took to the street and targeted aspects of their society they deemed corrupt and unjust. Some picketed a shopping mall for two days, others tried to block the export of oil products at Sohar port. With one hand the Sultan waved in some limited political reforms, but with the other fist he smashed down on critics of the regime, six of whom were jailed for writing “provocative” blogs.
Now the elderly and childless Sultan is in ill health and there is speculation about who will succeed him. Could this be the opportunity for democratisation that Omanis have been waiting for?
(Originally published in New Internationalist, January 2015)