Oman - Politics
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The Sultanate of Oman is a hereditary monarchy with a population of 2.7 million, including approximately 816,000 nonnationals. Sultan Qaboos Al-Said has ruled since 1970. The sultan has sole authority to enact laws through royal decree, although ministries draft laws and citizens provide input through a Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council).
Oman experienced a series of relatively peaceful public protests throughout the spring of 2011, with demonstrators demanding economic and political reforms. There were lengthy sit-ins in the three largest cities, including some significant acts of civil disobedience. One man died and several were injured when security forces clashed with disorderly protesters in the city of Sohar on February 27. On April 1, another man died under similar circumstances. Security forces arrested and detained hundreds of demonstrators throughout the country for illegal weapons possession, arson, destruction of property, vandalism, and blocking roads. There was one reported incident, which may have been politically motivated, of two human rights activists kidnapped and beaten by unknown persons.
Protesters took to the streets Saturday 26 February 2011 demanding more jobs, higher salaries and democratic reforms in the Gulf state, where ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said has been in power since 1970. Anti-government protests are rare in Oman, which is the latest Arab nation to be hit by a wave of pro-democracy uprisings that have ousted the autocratic leaders of Egypt and Tunisia in recent weeks. Sultan Qaboos pledged to create 50,000 government jobs and provide a monthly benefit of $390 to the unemployed. A protest in Sohar on Sunday 27 February 2011 turned violent, with demonstrators setting fire to a police station and other buildings, prompting police to fire tear gas and rubber bullets. Oman's government said one person died, but witnesses said several people were killed by police firing live bullets. Omani forces dispersed demonstrators who were blocking the road to a port in the northern industrial city of Sohar on Tuesday 01 March 2011. Tanks were deployed, and at lesat one person was injured when security forces fired warning shots into the air. The rare demonstrations in the normally peaceful sultanate also spread to the capital, Muscat.
Politically motivated violence is virtually unknown in Oman. Since October 2000, there have been some orderly, peaceful demonstrations, notably during Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip in December 2008-January 2009. The Omani government, which must approve all demonstrations, keeps a watchful eye on these few events and maintains effective control of the participants.
Oman has not been exposed to a significant internal threat since the defeat of the Dhofari insurgents in 1975. Tribal dissension, a factor in the past, is considered unlikely to recur because most tribal chiefs and leading families share the advantages of rising oil income. The foreign labor force is large--estimated at 58 percent of the working population--and most foreign workers are Indians and Pakistanis who are not politically active. A few observers foresee an internal power struggle over the succession because Sultan Qabus ibn Said has no designated successor, but others believe that the country is stable enough to avoid strife over the selection of a new ruler. Torture, mistreatment, and cruel punishment are not systematically practiced, nor are they countenanced by Omani authorities. The traditional punishments authorized by Islamic law, such as amputation and stoning, are not imposed.
The law does not provide citizens with the right to change their government. The sultan retains ultimate authority on all foreign and domestic issues. The law does not provide for political parties. In early 2003, Sultan Qaboos declared universal suffrage for the October 2003 Majlis al-Shura elections. Two women were elected to sit with 81 male colleagues in those elections, which were observed to be free and fair. Roughly 194,000 Omani men and women, or 74% of registered voters, participated in the elections.
Elections were held again in 2007. More than 60 percent of almost 400,000 registered voters participated in these elections for the Consultative Council, which has no formal legislative powers but provides a mechanism for citizen input into the establishment of laws. Electoral commissions reviewed potential candidates against a set of educational and character criteria before allowing candidates' names on the ballot. There were no notable or widespread allegations of fraud or improper government interference in the voting process. Although the government did not permit independent monitoring of the elections, the Ministry of Information invited foreign journalists to cover the voting in several locations throughout the country.
There were 14 women in the 154-seat Council of Oman, which includes the Consultative Council and the State Council, whose members are appointed by the sultan. There were four appointed female ministers, three of whom served in the 32-member cabinet. The Council of Oman and the Cabinet of Ministers were composed of representatives from a variety of linguistic, religious, racial, and other backgrounds.
On 15 October 2011, approximately 60 percent of 518,000 registered voters participated in elections for the Consultative Council. Electoral commissions reviewed potential candidates against a set of objective educational and character criteria (high school education, no criminal history or mental illness) before allowing candidates’ names on the ballot. The Ministry of Interior closely monitored campaign materials and events. There were no notable or widespread allegations of fraud or improper government interference in the voting process. The government did not allow independent monitoring of the elections. There were 16 women on the 154-seat Council of Oman with one newly elected female member. There were two appointed female ministers, both of whom served in the 29-member cabinet. Women had difficulties participating equally in political life due to conservative social constraints, especially in rural areas.
The law provides for limited freedom of speech and of the press. The government generally abridged these rights in practice. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship. The law prohibits criticism of the sultan in any form or medium; "material that leads to public discord, violates the security of the state, or abuses a person's dignity or his rights"; "messages of any form that violate public order and morals or are harmful to a person's safety"; and "defamation of character." Courts have interpreted these laws to mean it is illegal to insult any public official.
There are seven privately owned newspapers in the country, four in Arabic and three in English. Editorials generally were consistent with the government's views, although authorities tolerated limited criticism regarding domestic and foreign affairs, including GCC policies, which the country participated in determining. In addition, there were two state-owned newspapers and more than 30 state-owned and privately owned magazines in circulation. The government owned four radio stations and two television stations and licensed one privately owned satellite-based television station, none of which generally broadcast politically controversial material.
The government recognizes workers' rights to form unions and a general federation to represent unions in regional and international fora. Members of the armed forces, public security institutions, government employees, and domestic workers are prohibited from forming or joining unions. Workers have the right to strike. They must give employers three weeks' notice of intent to strike. Some government control over union activities remained. The law prohibits accepting grants or financial assistance from any source without the MOM's prior approval. The government also requires unions to register. The law prohibits unions among civil servants and most essential services, thus preventing strikes as well. Any worker in the country who feels his or her rights have been violated can lodge a complaint with the MOM. The MOM investigated complaints and responded appropriately.
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