Oman History


Muscat and Oman (as the country was called before 1970) was
converted to Islam in the seventh century A.D., during the
lifetime of Muhammad. Ibadhism, a form of Islam tracing its
roots to the Kharijite movement, became the dominant
religious sect in Oman by the eighth century. Contact with
Europe was established in 1508, when the Portuguese
conquered parts of the coastal region. Portugal's influence
predominated for more than a century, with only a short
interruption by the Turks. Fortifications built during the
Portuguese occupation can still be seen at Muscat.

After the Portuguese were expelled in 1650 and while
resisting Persian attempts to establish hegemony, Muscat and
Oman extended its conquests to Zanzibar (now part of
Tanzania), 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 (now Iran)
and also exercised a measure of control over the Makran
coast (now Pakistan) of mainland Asia. By the early 19th
century, Muscat and Oman was the most powerful state in
Arabia and on the East African coast.

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

When Sultan Sa'id Sayyid died in 1856, his sons quarreled
over his succession. As a result of this struggle, the
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

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the sultan in
Muscat faced rebellion by members of the Ibadhi sect
residing in the interior who wanted to be ruled exclusively
by their religious leader, the Imam of Oman. This conflict
was resolved temporarily by the Treaty of Seeb, which
granted the imam autonomous rule in the interior, while
recognizing the nominal sovereignty of the sultan.

The conflict flared up again in 1954, when the new imam led
a sporadic five-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 voided the
office of the imam. In the early-1960s, the exiled imam
obtained support from Saudi Arabia 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 the Persian Gulf.

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 Persian Gulf states, while continuing the
guerrilla war in Dhofar.

Sultan Qaboos bin Sa'id assumed power on July 24, 1970, in a
palace coup directed against his father, Sa'id bin Taymur,
who later died in exile in London. The new sultan was
confronted with insurgency in a country plagued by endemic
disease, illiteracy, and poverty.

One of the new sultan's first measures was to abolish many
of his father's harsh restrictions, which had caused
thousands of Omanis to leave the country, and offer amnesty
to opponents of the previous regime, many of whom returned
to Oman. He also established a modern government structure;
and launched a major development program to upgrade
educational and health facilities, build a modern
infrastructure, and develop the country's resources.

In an effort to curb the Dhofar insurgency, Sultan Qaboos
expanded and re-equipped the armed forces and granted
amnesty to all surrendered rebels while vigorously
prosecuting the war in Dhofar. He obtained direct military
support from Iran and Jordan. By early-1975, the guerrillas
were confined to a 50-square-kilometer (20-sq.-mi.) area and
shortly thereafter were defeated. As the war drew to a
close, civil action programs were given increasing priority
throughout the province and since then have become major
elements in winning the allegiance of the people. The PFLO
threat appeared to diminish further with the establishment
of diplomatic relations in October 1983 between South Yemen
and Oman, and South Yemen's subsequent diminution of
propaganda and subversive activities against Oman. In late-
1987, Oman opened an embassy in Aden, South Yemen, and
appointed its first resident ambassador to the country.

source: U.S. State Department Background Notes 1994

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