Oman has traditionally been considered a relatively stable hub in an unstable region, but recent protests have posed a variety of problems for the Gulf country on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.
There was a commotion last month The culmination of demonstrations in different cities“Speculation is growing about what is behind the Omani people’s frustration, whether it can be corrected.
Ten years ago, the Sultanate of Oman withstood the Arab Spring, which changed the landscape of the region and ended several regimes. In contrast to Tunisia, Egypt or Libya, however, the Omani protesters generally demanded political reform, not the removal of the Sultan.
At that time, Sultan Qaboos bin Saeed Al Said obliged և promised various political reformsThese included the creation of 50,000 new jobs in the public service, welfare programs for the unemployed, and an increase in the salaries of civil servants.
The local protests took control relatively quickly, although they did not stop completely, said James Ames Warl, an associate professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the University of Leeds.
It became clear that the Qaboos reforms were simply managing the country’s problems temporarily, without permanently fixing them.
“Since 2011, there have been small-scale protests in the Sultanate, mostly under radars,” said Alla Azeri Ural.
The COVID-19 epidemic and the consequent fall in oil prices have revealed the weaknesses of Oman’s economic system, which is more than 60 percent dependent on oil and natural gas. Yukmina Abuuzohur told Al Jazeera about this while visiting an employee of the Brookings Institution.
“Oman’s economy, which was already struggling until 2019 due to high dependence on hydrocarbons, high levels of debt, has been exacerbated by the double shocks of the global epidemic and falling oil prices,” he said.
As a result, economic output fell by 6.4 percent, meanwhile The national budget was expanded 17.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) since the reforms were first implemented. Within a year, the country’s deficit in 2019 increased from 60% to 81% of GDP.
Meanwhile, the country has had economic underdevelopment led to growing under-distribution, particularly among young people, the unemployment rate is 10%.
Warlal noted that the coronavirus disaster has added new dynamics to the individual level.
“The epidemic added an element of pressure, which dealt a rather severe blow to the economy իհարկե, of course, led to people’s cooperation, boredom և disappointment. This last element is possible. “
Sultan Cabos passed away in January 2020, leaving his successor Sultan Haytham bin Tariq Al Said Challenging circumstances. However, a change of leadership could benefit the country, Warl said.
“It is clear that there are many similarities, it is possible, but we have also seen some interesting differences. Haytham obviously has more energy. “There has been a lot of activity, while at the end of the Nightmare era everything has naturally slowed down, some difficult decisions have not been made,” he said.
These difficult Qaboos decisions were left to Haytham, who had no choice but to make tax adjustments in light of Oman’s economic downturn.
Haytham instructed all authorities to reduce their budget by 10 percent. It is this administrative apparatus that has clearly expanded in recent decades to offer jobs to as many people as possible.
Oman’s administrative bureaucracy now consumes almost three-quarters of its national oil revenues. He also imported five percent VAT (VAT) և Income tax for high-income employees from 2022.
In addition, the government has cut grants, moved on to early retirement, and set lower wages for new employees.
So the resurgence of people’s frustration is not surprising, the new protests are the result of repeated economic hardships, says Abuzohor.
“The reason was economic grievances, particularly unemployment and dismissals,” he said.
Among other things, Heitham announced a package of measures designed to create 32,000 public-private jobs and provide additional social benefits.
“The response to government job-creating grievances, which is interesting to many, is temporary. The announcement of private-sector employment reform is much more like a regular base response, but the timing of longer-scale economic reforms is certainly a reality,” he said. Vorral measures taken.
The current protests may prompt immediate concern for the government, as it could undermine investor confidence as Oman desperately seeks direct foreign investment, seeks to boost key sectors such as tourism, and controls the situation is essential to the Sultan’s vision. for: ,
Fortunately for him, the protests are unlikely to escalate sharply, Abuuzohur said.
“These protests are unlikely to escalate. First, they were small events involving several hundred protesters. “Second, Sultan Haytham quickly moved in to curb them, promising to create public-private jobs, as well as a six-month scholarship for Omanis who became unemployed due to the epidemic.”
Moreover, much larger protests against unemployment and inflation took place in 2018 and 2019, led by the late Sultan Qaboos. “There is no reason to doubt that these last small-scale sit-ins will end differently,” Abuuzohur said.
Ural agrees. Noting that instead of aggravating the situation, the government showed a tendency to de-escalate.
“Nothing can be completely ruled out, but the possibility [of protest escalation] It would be really difficult to form a real coalition. The government remains responsible, showing that it cares about its people. “The epidemic situation means that people understand the pressures; they can see anywhere else where there are similar problems,” Warl said.
“The government continues to enter into dialogue, to show readiness to address the concerns of the people as well as possible.”
“Decentralization of power”
Politically, on the other hand, Oman now faces the question of whether reform should be accompanied by political liberalization. Although the first indications are favorable, the Sultan’s work style cannot be fully appreciated, Warl claims.
“One might not think that political liberalization resembles a Western model, but it is clear that the direction of Haytham’s journey is to attract more people. We haven’t really been able to see the interaction with its population well because of COVID restrictions, but the decentralization of his power it seems to be a kind of political liberalization.
“There will be more decisions at the local level, but it is obvious that other elements are also playing here, it is a balancing act. For example, Majlis A’Shura [legislative body] “He has recently acquired some interesting new powers, but at the same time he has changed or removed others,” Warl said.
But even without immediate liberalization on the country’s agenda, the sultan will have work to do.
According to Abuuzohur, the priorities are clear.
“The Sultan will focus on improving economic conditions, boosting tourism and diversifying the economy from hydrocarbons after controlling the outbreak,” he said.
“Although the challenge is great, the Sultan has the means to overcome the crisis,” Warl added.
“The situation is definitely difficult, but Haytham has a number of tools at its disposal to help the people around it. “Thus we will see broad continuities, but also continuous, gradual evolutionary changes, a classic kind of balance of interests, resources, and priorities that has served the sultanate well for the past five decades,” Warl said.
Although the current Sultan and his predecessor had “many similarities,” there are differences that could change the country’s dynamic momentum, Warl said.
“The wonderful thing is that Haytham seems to be ready to transfer power both inside and outside the royal family. The diversification of key roles by Qaboos is a major development, as is the acceleration of decentralization programs and operations. ”
Voral concluded. “The willingness to reform, to reorganize, is a new person who wants to make his own mark, someone who can make quick decisions, who knows that time is short given the economic situation.”