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Oman - History

archaeologists have shown that civilisation flourished in the area of modern day Oman at least 5,000 years ago and probably before, albeit under a series of names, the best known being Majan or Megan, and Mezoun. Sumerian tablets refer to a country called Magan, a name thought to refer to Oman’s ancient copper mines. Mezoun is derived from the word “muzn”, which means abundant flowing water. The name of the country by today, Oman, is believed to originate from the Arab tribes who migrated to its territory from the Uman region of Yemen. Many tribes settled in Oman making a living by fishing, herding or stock breeding and many present day Omani families are able to trace their ancestral routes to other parts of Arabia.

Oman was home to a civilisation which went back in time continuously to the pre-Islamic Age. Throughout the Islamic age itself, Oman enjoyed a cultural expansion on a par with the other Islamic lands, with which it communicated through trade and navigation. The Omanis were among the first people to embrace Islam voluntarily In around 630 AD when the Prophet Muhammed sent his envoy Amr ibn Al As to meet Jaifar and ‘Abd, the joint rulers of Oman at that time - to invite them to accept the faith. In accepting Islam, Oman became an Ibadhi state, ruled by an elected leader, the Imam.

During the early years of the Islamic mission Oman played a major role in the Wars of Apostasy that occurred after the death of Muhammad and also took part in the great Islamic conquests by land and sea in Iraq, Persia and beyond. However, its most prominent role in this respect was through its extensive trading and seafaring activities in East Africa, particularly during the19th century, when it propagated Islam in many of East Africa’s coastal regions, and certain areas of Central Africa. Omanis also carried the message of Islam with them to China and the Asian ports.

By the Middle Ages, Oman had established itself as a prosperous seafaring nation, sending dhows from its great port at Sohar to trade with merchants in far flung destinations. It seems likely that at this time Sohar was one of the largest and most important cities in the Arab world.

Oman adopted Islam in the seventh century AD, during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. Ibadhism, a form of Islam distinct from Shiaism and the "Orthodox" schools of Sunnism, became the dominant religious sect in Oman by the eighth century AD. Oman is the only country in the Islamic world with a majority Ibadhi population. Ibadhism is known for its "moderate conservatism." One distinguishing feature of Ibadhism is the choice of ruler by communal consensus and consent.

Contact with Europe was established in 1508, when the Portuguese conquered parts of Oman's coastal region. In the early 16th century the powerful Portugese trading empire sought to extend its influence and reduce Oman’s control over the thriving Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean routes. Portugese troops invaded Oman and captured some of the coastal areas by 1515, occupying them for up to 150 years before being defeated by Sultan bin Saif Al Ya’rubi in 1650. Portugal's influence had predominated for more than a century. Fortifications built during the Portuguese occupation can still be seen at Muscat.

During the Ya’ruba period (1624 – 1744) Oman entered an era of prosperity at home and abroad, and many of the Sultanate’s historic buildings and forts date from this time. However, expansion ended when civil war erupted between rival Omani tribes over the election of a new Imam. Persian forces seized the opportunity to invade and some coastal areas found themselves under foreign occupation once again.

Except for a period when Persia conquered parts of Oman, Oman has been an independent nation. After the Portuguese were expelled in 1650 and while resisting Persian attempts to establish hegemony, the Sultan of Oman extended his conquests to Zanzibar, other parts of the eastern coast of Africa, and portions of the southern Arabian Peninsula. During this period, political leadership shifted from the Ibadhi imams, who were elected religious leaders, to hereditary sultans who established their capital in Muscat. The Muscat rulers established trading posts on the Persian coast and also exercised a measure of control over the Makran coast (now Pakistan). By the early 19th century, Oman was the most powerful state in Arabia and had a major presence on the East African coast.

Oman was the object of Franco-British rivalry throughout the 18th century. During the 19th century, Oman and the United Kingdom concluded several treaties of friendship and commerce. In 1908, the British entered into an agreement of friendship. Their traditional association was confirmed in 1951 through a new treaty of friendship, commerce, and navigation by which the United Kingdom recognized the Sultanate of Oman as a fully independent state.

When Sultan Sa'id bin Sultan Al-Busaid died in 1856, his sons quarreled over his succession. As a result of this struggle, the Omani empire -- through the mediation of the British Government under the "Canning Award"--was divided in 1861 into two separate principalities -- Zanzibar, with its East African dependencies, and Muscat and Oman. Zanzibar paid an annual subsidy to Muscat and Oman until its independence in early 1964.

In the early part of the 20th century, Oman entered a period of decline and isolation. During the late 19th and early to mid-20th centuries, the sultan in Muscat faced a rebellion by members of the Ibadhi sect residing in the interior of Oman, centered around the town of Nizwa, who wanted to be ruled exclusively by their religious leader, the Imam of Oman. This conflict was resolved temporarily by the Treaty of Seeb in 1920, which granted the imam autonomous rule in the interior, while recognizing the sovereignty of the sultan elsewhere.

The search for oil began in the 1920s when the D’Arcy Exploration Company, a subsidiary of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, conducted a geological survey that proved unsuccessful. Following the discovery of oil in the interior, the conflict flared up again in 1954, when the new imam led a sporadic 5-year rebellion against the sultan's efforts to extend government control into the interior. The insurgents were defeated in 1959 with British help. The sultan then terminated the Treaty of Seeb and eliminated the office of the imam.

The Second World War and other events interrupted exploration until 1962 when the first successful well was drilled at Yibal, followed by other wells at Natih and Fahud. Oil production on a commercial scale began in 1967. In the early 1960s, the imam, exiled to Saudi Arabia, obtained support from his hosts and other Arab governments, but this support ended in the 1980s.

In 1964, a separatist revolt began in Dhofar Province. Aided by communist and leftist governments such as the former South Yemen (People's Democratic Republic of Yemen), the rebels formed the Dhofar Liberation Front, which later merged with the Marxist-dominated Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arab Gulf (PFLOAG). The PFLOAG's declared intention was to overthrow all traditional Arab Gulf regimes. In mid-1974, PFLOAG shortened its name to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO) and embarked on a political rather than a military approach to gain power in the other Gulf states, while continuing the guerrilla war in Dhofar.

When Sultan Qaboos came to power in 1970, Oman was almost as far removed from the modern, prosperous 21st century state as it is possible to get. The country had only a few basic roads, a tiny number of schools and little in the way of medical care; its people were poor and disadvantaged. Many of Oman’s wealthy and educated had left the country to seek their fortunes abroad. One of the first challenges His Majesty faced was to reverse this “brain drain”, to encourage expatriate Omanis to return home and throw their weight behind the creation of a strong, educated, unified nation. This they did with enthusiasm, helping to build and develop the thriving, vibrant country that is modern day Oman.

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Page last modified: 29-12-2012 19:36:24 ZULU