Oman country profile

  • Published
Map of Oman

The oldest independent state in the Arab world, Oman is one of the more traditional countries in the Gulf region and was, until the 1970s.

It is strategically placed at the mouth of the Gulf at the south-east corner of the Arabian Peninsula and, in the 19th century, vied with Portugal and Britain for influence in the Gulf and Indian Ocean.

The country has so far been spared the militant Islamist violence that has plagued some of its neighbours.

Oman has not been immune from the groundswell of political dissent in the region, however. Protests in 2011 demanding reforms were dispersed by riot police, and the government began a crackdown on internet criticism the following year.


Sultanate of Oman

Capital: Muscat

  • Population 2.9 million

  • Area 309,500 sq km (119,500 sq miles)

  • Major language Arabic

  • Major religion Islam

  • Life expectancy 71 years (men), 76 years (women)

  • Currency Rial

Getty Images


Head of state: Haitham bin Tariq Al Said

Image source, AFP/Getty Images

Haitham bin Tariq Al Said succeeded to the throne on the death of his cousin, Qaboos Bin Said Al Said, in January 2020.

Sultan Haitham was 65 on his accession, and the Oxford-educated veteran government official is expected to continue both his predecessor's neutral path in foreign affairs and his focus on economic and social reform.

As head of Oman's Vision 2040 initiative, Sultan Haitham has been heavily involved in efforts to make the country less reliant on oil and gas exports for revenue.

Qaboos Bin Said Al Said seized power from his ultra-conservative father Said Bin Taimur in 1970.

Under his rule, oil revenues were used to develop the country's infrastructure, and he was able to facilitate secret talks between the United States and Iran in 2013 that led to the landmark nuclear deal two years later.

Sultan Qaboos responded to the rare outbreak of discontent in 2011, following the wave of pro-democracy protests across the Arab world, by promising more jobs and benefits after initially suppressing demonstrations.


Image source, Getty Images

The government operates the main broadcasters, and press freedom groups say that media censorship is widespread.

The internet is a medium for public debate, but online activists can be targeted by the authorities, says Reporters Without Borders.


Some key dates in Oman's history:

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Nizwa, pictured in 1957, was Oman's capital at one time

700s AD - Onset of Arab domination and the introduction of Islam.

1737 - Persians invade and are driven out in 1749, when the Al Bu Said dynasty comes to power, which continues to rule to this day.

1913 - Control of the country splits. The interior is ruled by Ibadite imams and the coastal areas by the sultan.

1959 - Sultan Said bin Taimur regains control of the interior in 1959.

1964 - Oil reserves are discovered; extraction begins in 1967.

1970 - The sultan is overthrown by his son in a bloodless coup. Sultan Qaboos bin Said begins a liberalisation and modernisation programme.

2002 - Sultan Qaboos extends voting rights to all citizens over the age of 21.

2011 - Protesters demand jobs and political reform. One demonstrator is shot dead by police. Sultan Qaboos reacts by promising jobs and benefits.

2020 - Sultan Qaboos dies, is succeeded by his cousin Haitham bin Tariq Al Said.

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