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Sultanate of Oman

Culture and modernity

  • General

    The Sultanate of Oman on the Arabian Peninsula is rich in a most magnificent and varied natural environment. The relief of the Hajjar mountains is carved out by sublime wadis (rivers flowing in canyons). Its coastline faces the Indian Ocean, with a peninsula to the north, the Musandam, "the fjords of Arabia". It is the country of the desert: the Wahiba, located in the east, and the Rub Al Khali, one of the largest deserts in the world.

    - Head of state : His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tariq
    - Capital : Muscat
    - Area : 309,500 km
    - Religion : Islam
    - Arabic is the official language
    - Currency : Omani rial (OMR) (1 Omr = approximately 2,40€)
  • Geography

    The Sultanate of Oman, located in the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula.

    Divided into 6 distinct geographical regions, the Sultanate of Oman extends from the Strait of Hormuz in the north to the southern border with Yemen in the Dhofar region. On the sea side, Oman is bordered by the Arabian Sea and the Arabian Sea.

    On the land side, Oman faces the empty quarter of Saudi Arabia. The climate is typically hot and dry; summer begins in April and lasts until October, with temperatures reaching 53 degrees Celsius in the interior of Oman. The Dhofar region, however, receives more rainfall due to the monsoon season between June and September.
    The coastal plain is fertile alluvial soil, well watered by the southwest monsoon. Forested mountain ranges, rising to about 1,500 metres, form a crescent behind a long, narrow coastal plain, on which the provincial capital of Salalah is located. Behind the mountains, gravel plains gradually merge northwards into the Rub al-Khali.

  • Climate & Flora

    The climate is hot and dry inland and hot and humid along the coast. Summer temperatures in the capital Muscat and other coastal areas often rise to 43°, with high humidity; winters are mild, with lows around 17°.

    Temperatures are similar in the interior, although they are more moderate at higher altitudes. Dhofar is dominated by the summer monsoon, making Salaah's climate more temperate than that of northern Oman. Rainfall throughout the country is minimal, averaging only 100 mm per year, although rainfall in the mountains is higher.

    Due to the low rainfall, vegetation is sparse, except where there is irrigation, which is provided by an ancient system of water channels known as aflaj (singular : falaj ). The canals are often underground and originate in wells near the bases of the mountains.
    Acacia trees form most of the little natural vegetation that exists and the soil is extremely rocky; plant species are protected in nature reserves. The government also protects rare animal species, such as the Arabian oryx, Arabian leopard, mountain goat and loggerhead turtle. Oman's birdlife is extraordinarily diverse and includes species such as the glossy ibis, Egyptian vulture, Barbary falcon and Socotra cormorant.

  • Culture

    Cultural life.

    Oman is a tribal society, although tribal influence is gradually diminishing. Its predominantly Muslim ibaḍi population observes social customs that, while still conservative by Western standards, are considerably less strict than those in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Women in particular have enjoyed relatively more freedom in Oman than elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula.

    Mealtime is the focus of most social gatherings. The typical Omani meal consists of rice, spiced lamb or fish, dates and coffee or tea. Incense, especially frankincense, is burnt at the end of the meal.

    Omani craftsmen are renowned for woodcarving, weaving, pottery, goldsmithing and the making of daggers and swords. Their handicrafts are among the many items that can be found in the souk, or market, of Muscat, a thriving centre of folk culture. The Ministry of National Heritage and Culture is responsible for preserving historic buildings, excavating archaeological sites and supporting traditional crafts such as weaving and silver and gold jewellery making. It also promotes Omani literature and has printed an encyclopedia of Omani heritage.

    The Museum of Oman (founded in 1974), located outside Muscat, is the country's main cultural repository; it tells the history of the country and includes exhibitions on Islam. The history of the Omani military is the focus of the Armed Forces Museum (1988). Other institutions include the National Museum (1978), the Natural History Museum (1983), the Children's Museum (1990) and Bait Nadir, a converted 18th-century residence that now houses Omani art and traditional artifacts, including jewellery, silverware, pottery and woodcarvings. The Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra was formed in the late 1980s and has performed with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra; it is one of the few national orchestras in the Middle East.

  • Society

    Oman is governed by a monarchy (sultanate) with two advisory bodies. The sultan is the head of state, and, although he also acts as the prime minister, he may appoint one if he chooses. The sultan is assisted by a Council of Ministers (Majlis al-Wuzara), the members of which he typically appoints from among Muscat merchants, informal representatives of interior tribes, and Dhofaris.

    The Consultative Assembly, formed by the sultan in 1981, was replaced in 1991 by a Consultative Council (Majlis al-Shura), members of which were at first appointed and later elected from several dozen districts (wilayat); women from a few constituencies were given the right to serve on the council. In 1996 the sultan announced the establishment of the Basic Law of the State, the country’s first written constitution, which outlined a new system of government that included a bicameral legislature, the Council of Oman. In addition, it clarified the succession process and extended the right to serve to all Omani women. The Council of Oman consists of the Consultative Council as its lower chamber and, as the upper chamber, a new Council of State (Majlis al-Dawlah).

    More than half of Oman’s population is Arab. However, large numbers of ethnic Baloch-who migrated to Oman from Iran and Pakistan over the past several centuries-live near the coast in Al-Baṭinah. The Muscat-Maṭraḥ urban area has long been home to significant numbers of ethnic Persians and to merchants of South Asian ancestry, some of whom also live along Al-Baṭinah. Notable among the latter are the Liwatiyyah, who originally came from Sindh (now in Pakistan) but have lived in Oman for centuries.

    Several large Arab groups predominate along the coastal plain of Dhofar. The mountain dwellers of Dhofar are known as jibalis , or "mountain people". They are ethnically distinct from the coastal Arabs and are considered descendants of the highlanders of Yemen .

    The population of Oman is primarily urban (84.5%) but has a number of traditional rural settlements(15.5%). These are typically located near the foothills of the Ḥajar Mountains, where the aflaj provide irrigation. In addition to small villages, a number of sizable towns, including Nizwā, Bahla, Izki, and Ibri, are found on the inland, or southwestern, side of the Western Ḥajar. Approximately one-fourth of the population lives in Al-Baṭinah. Al-Rustaq, Awabi, and Nakhl are principal settlements on Al-Baṭinah’s side of the Western Ḥajar.

    Oman has one of the highest birth rates among the Persian Gulf states; this birth rate—combined with a relatively low death rate—has given the country a rate of natural increase that well exceeds the world average. Life expectancy averages about 75 years.

    Oman is a rural and agricultural country, and fishing and foreign trade are important to coastal populations. Oil revenues account for about three quarters of government income.
    In anticipation of the eventual depletion of oil reserves, the government in 1996 initiated a plan for the post-oil era that focused on developing the country’s natural gas resources to fuel domestic industry and for export in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG).