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Opposition groups


Polity: Traditional monarchy
Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 5
Status: Not Free
Economy: Capitalist-statist
Population: 2,600,000
PPP: $13,356
Life Expectancy: 73
Religious Groups: Ibadi Muslim (75 percent,) Sunni Muslim, Shi’a Muslim, Hindu (25 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Arab, Baluchi, South Asian, African
Capital: Muscat
Ten Year Ratings Timeline (Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Status):


Brief Overview

Oman continues to make steady progress in diversifying its economy and attracting foreign investment, preparing for the day when its modest oil reserves run out. The political reform process took a minor leap forward with the announcement that elections to the Consultative Council next year will be held on the basis of universal suffrage.

Although the reforms are a step forward for Oman, many in the country and abroad remain worried about the country’s political future. While Qaboos is regarded by most as a capable and benevolent leader, he has no sons, which leaves Oman without an heir apparent. As the sultan advances in age, this political question mark may prove to be an impediment in attracting international investment.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Omanis cannot change their government democratically. The sultan has absolute power and rules by decree. There are no formal democratic institutions, and political parties are illegal. Citizens may petition the government indirectly through their local governors to redress grievances or may appeal directly to the sultan during his annual three-week tour of the country.

While police are not required to obtain warrants prior to making arrests and do not always respect legal procedures for pretrial detention, arbitrary arrests and detentions are rare. Security forces have reportedly abused detainees in the past, but the practice was not widespread.

The judiciary is subordinate to the sultan, who appoints all judges and has the final say on all rulings. Magistrate courts handle misdemeanors and criminal cases, while Sharia (Islamic law) courts handle personal status cases involving divorce and inheritance. A state security court handles criminal cases as deemed necessary by the government. Security court defendants may not have counsel present and proceedings are not made public. Defendants in national security or serious felony trials may not appeal.

Freedom of expression is very limited. All broadcast media are government owned and offer only official views, though satellite dishes are widely available, which gives citizens access to foreign broadcasts. While there are many privately owned print publications, the government subsidizes their operating costs, discouraging critical reporting on most major domestic issues. Laws prohibit criticism of the sultan and provide for censorship of all domestic and imported publications, though journalists normally practice self-censorship.

All public gatherings must be government approved, though this rule is not strictly enforced. Several pro-Palestinian demonstrations were held peacefully in 2002. All associations must be registered with the government, and independent political groups and human rights organizations do not exist.

There are no labor or trade unions in Oman, and strikes are illegal. The government sets guidelines for private sector wages and employment conditions. Complaints about working conditions can be referred to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, and the government Labor Welfare Board arbitrates disputes.

Islam is the state religion. Most Omanis are Ibadi or Sunni Muslims, but there is a small Shi’a minority, as well as largely foreign Christian and Hindu communities. All are allowed to worship freely, though mosque sermons are monitored by the government for political content.

Sharia courts favor men in inheritance and divorce cases, and a woman must have the permission of a male relative to travel abroad. Although traditional social pressures keep many women from working or taking part in public life, some have come to occupy important positions in commerce, industry, and other sectors. Women hold around 30 percent of civil service positions and enjoy equal educational opportunities. Female genital mutilation is practiced in some rural areas.