Area 82,031 square mi (212,460 square km)
Population 4.236 million 2014
Highest Point 9,776 ft (2,890 m)
Lowest Point 0 m
GDP $81.80 billion 2014
Primary Natural Resources petroleum, copper, asbestos, natural gas.
OMAN IS LOCATED in the MIDDLE EAST, bordering the ARABIAN SEA, Gulf of Oman, and PERSIAN GULF, between YEMEN and the UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (UAE). It is a country in the lands associated with earliest civilizations.
By 2000 B.C.E., Oman was known for its production of copper in the north, while the south produced frankincense, which was essential to the social religious life of ancient peoples. Oman adopted ISLAM in the 7th century C.E., during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. The Omanis consolidated their power along the coast of the Arabian Sea, flourishing in maritime trade, but this expansion was checked by a Portuguese invasion in 1506. A century of occupation followed, and afterward, once again the Sultan of Oman spread the faith and Arab culture as he extended his conquests to Mombasa and Zanzibar, other portions of the southern Arabian Peninsula, and the Makran coast (now PAKISTAN). At this height of power in 1856, sons of the sultan fought over succession and the empire was split into Zanzibar and Oman. Decline came swiftly, and soon the sultan lacked the funds to placate the Imams of the interior.
By 1913, there was open rebellion. Oman slipped into medieval repression until Sultan Qaboos overthrew his father in 1970. He launched aggressive reform and modernization. The new sultan was confronted with insurgency in a country plagued by endemic disease, illiteracy, and poverty. He judiciously used foreign military support and progressive measures to defeat the separatist revolt and reintegrated the effected provinces.
With Sultan Qaboos’s modern and progressive leadership, considerable change has come to ancient and traditional Oman in the past three decades. Many of his economic, educational, and health care improvements have been the first of their kind. The oil industry is modest in comparison to gulf neighbors but has supplied the revenues for national infrastructure improvement and diversification of the economy.
The government has invested in copper mining and refining, as well as the development of light industry. Adoption of modern techniques and equipment in agriculture and the fishing industry is increasing yields and profitability. There is a concerted effort to decrease the dependency on expatriate labor in the public and private ectors. With improved education and training now available, the “Omanization” of the managerial labor force is progressing. The sultan has opened Oman to tourism (another first) and is making efforts to liberalize foreign investment and joint ventures.
Most Omanis are Ibadi Muslims, belonging to one of Islam’s earliest fundamentalist movements. The Ibadi are distinguished by their conservative doctrine and their system of selecting religious leaders by consensus. This makes Oman unique in the gulf and continues to influence the role of the Sultan to the interior communities and their religious leaders. Oman remains a very conservative society, but one that has a history of contact with the wider world. With its strategic location on the Strait of Hormuz and the mouth of the Persian Gulf, Oman will remain of interest to the industrialized world.