Oman is traditionally considered a relatively stable pole in a volatile region but recent protests have laid bare manifold issues facing the Gulf country on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.
The turmoil played out last month culminating in demonstrations in various cities. Speculation is growing over what is behind the Omani people’s frustration, and whether it can be fixed.
Ten years ago, the Sultanate of Oman weathered the Arab Spring, which altered the region’s landscape and ended several regimes. Unlike in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya, however, the Omani demonstrators primarily demanded political reforms, and not the Sultan’s departure.
At the time, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said obliged and pledged various political reforms. These included creating 50,000 new jobs in the public service, welfare programmes for the unemployed and wage increases for civil servants.
Local demonstrations were brought under control relatively quickly, although they did not entirely cease, said James Worrall, associate professor in International Relations & Middle East Studies at the University of Leeds.
It has become apparent that Qaboos’s reforms merely managed the country’s issues temporarily, without fixing them permanently.
“Oman’s economy – which had already been struggling prior to 2019 due to its over-reliance on hydrocarbons and high levels of debt – has been exacerbated by the twin shocks of the global pandemic and fallen oil prices,” she said.
As a result, economic output decreased by 6.4 percent while the national budget was expanded to 17.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) since the reforms were first implemented. Within a year, the country’s deficit rose from 60 percent to 81 percent of GDP in 2019.
Meanwhile, the country’s economic underdevelopment has led to growing underemployment, particularly among young people, with an unemployment rate of 10 percent.