Trouble in Paradise, All May Not Be Well In Oman


Veteran columnist Georgie Ann Geyer has written an article praising the Sultanate of Oman as having “so many of the answers to the Islamic world’s problems.” According to her article:

Unquestionably, the greatest problem for the Western world today is radical Islamic terrorism, which strides across a Muslim world without jobs for its angry young men or good governance that only grows worse from country to country. Yet precious little time is given, either in diplomatic circles or think tanks, to countries that provide realistic answers to these problems. If we WERE interested in answers, at the top of the list would be this remarkable little country of only 3 million people that is emerging as the “Switzerland of the Middle East.” The popular narrative about the sultanate is that when the young Sultan Qaboos took over from his medieval father in 1970, Oman had four schools, four miles of road, slaves shackled in caves and was a “country” at the bottom of every development list. The city gates closed at sundown, and sunglasses and bicycles were banned as forms of Western evil. Today, only 40 years later, Oman is one of the most developed — and stunningly beautiful — countries in the world. When the handsome young sultan took over, inheriting a country that was all but collapsed in poverty, in his first speech to “my people,” he said that they had been living in darkness, but that now united, they would move into the light. There is little question that he has fulfilled this amazing promise, but what is even more amazing is HOW he has done it: * The sultan and his government, made up of tribal and business leaders and the brightest of the young Omanis, believe in gradualism and incrementalism. They learned from experience not to try to force anything on the Omani people. Instead, they make development — houses, education, technology, women’s equality — available, then wait for the people to claim it……The Omani “model” embraces coexistence, tolerance and cultural excellence; it sees no contradiction between Islam and being modern; its foreign policy is amenable and peaceable, and all of its acts are directed to keep the region out of war. It was the sultan who refused to have American troops based on Omani soil, knowing the negative response foreign troops inevitably have. Instead, he invented the idea of having the troops “over the horizon” — available for emergencies, say, on islands in the Arabian Sea, but not readily visible. It is truly surprising to find so many of the answers to the Islamic world’s problems in this off-the-beaten-track country. And it is also amazing the degree to which they have blended Islam and modernization — without conflict, but rather with an amazing degree of peacefulness and prosperity.

While giving all the credit to the Omani government, Ms. Geyer ignores the role of so-called Ibadhi Islam, a form of Islam distinct from the Sunni and Shiite denominations. A Jamestown Institute report explains:

A sudden crackdown and arrest of “Islamists” in 2004-05 raised fears about Oman becoming entangled in the vicious cycle of terrorism, much like several other countries in the Persian Gulf region. The trial of the “saboteurs”—who attempted to challenge the status quo like in 1994—and the continuing calm thereafter indicates that the scourge of violence in the name of religion has still not reached the shores of the Sultanate. The reason for terrorism not occurring in Oman is mainly attributed to the peculiar religion of the Omanis, who are followers of Abdallah ibn Ibadah al-Maqdisi’s branch of Islam, a breakaway from the Khariji (“quietist”) movement in Basra in 650 AD. Some experts suggest that the movement is an offshoot of a dissident Shiite sect hailing originally from Ibadh in Saudi Arabia, which was introduced to Oman in the eighth century. Oman is the only Ibadhi country in the world, with its tenets closely linked to the Maliki Sunni school. Ibadhism rejects primogeniture succession and asserts that the leadership of Islam should be designated by an imam who is capable and elected by the people. In fact, both political and religious Ibadhi leadership is vested in an imam. The Ibadhi orientation, which many Muslims consider unorthodox, has conditioned the society in such a fashion that in a region extremely conscious of sectarian affiliations, the 2004 census did not even seek to ascertain the composition of the Omani population along divisive lines, though it is understood that roughly 25 percent of the population is estimated to be Sunni. Further proof of Oman’s uniqueness lies in it becoming the first Gulf Cooperation Council country in December 1994 to host an Israeli prime minister—Yitzhak Rabin—though there were murmurs of discontent among the Islamists. In this backdrop, it is no surprise that there is no record of Omanis having fought in Afghanistan or being held in Guantanamo Bay.

As alluded to above, the 2004/2005 crackdown was not the first time that the Omani government engaged Islamists within the Sultanate. Media reports from 1994 detail an alleged plot organized by the Muslim Brotherhood which was followed by mass arrests including a former ambassador to the United States, a former commander of the air force, and two undersecretaries of government ministries. Interestingly, the CV of Salah Soltan says that he founded the Faculty of Shari‘ah and Law in Oman in 1996 and from 1995 until 1998 was Associate Professor, Tarbiya (Education) College, Sultan Qabous University in Oman. As previous posts reported, Dr. Soltan (aka Soloah Soltan) is a well-known Muslim Brotherhood figure close to Youssef Qaradawi who was recently resident in the U.S. but left following the suspension of his application for citizenship in connection with news reports about his anti-semitic and pro-Hamas statements. More recently, Dutch media reported that Muslim Brotherhood figure Tariq Ramadan will hold the Sultan of Oman chair of Islamology at the University of Leiden financed at a cost of 2.5 million Euros and that Ramadan was selected from 40 candidates for the chair financed by Oman.

As any traveler to Oman can testify, the country is indeed a lovely place whose inhabitants are uncommonly warm and welcoming to visitors. However, as any person familiar with the region also knows, such an attitude is not incompatible with holding abhorrent attitudes and opinions. For example, German visitors to the Sultanate report that they encountered a young man in an Omani village who lavished praised upon Germany “because Hitler was a great man.” When queried about the source of such a belief, the young man replied that it is what he had been taught by both his father and his school teacher. The same travelers also returned from Oman with copies of a cassette tape whose cover featured an axe striking down the Statute of Liberty who had been standing upon the Jewish Star of David (see picture above). Omanis also frequently expressed the belief, common throughout the MIddle East, that George Bush ordered 911 as an excuse to strike the Muslim world. While these are only anecdotal examples, they suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood presence in Oman has had its impact, even on the peaceful inhabitants of that tranquil land.

(Additional Source: The Globe and Mail (Canada) October 18, 1994 Tuesday OXFORD ANALYTICA GULF STATES: Islamic Opposition groups threaten gulf elites BYLINE: GAM LENGTH)

Comments are closed.