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SULTANATE OF OMAN

Although Oman has existed as a distinct nation for several thousand years, the modern state—the Sultanate of Oman—is a creation of the last two centuries. The traditional territorial concept of Oman was altered in this period by the independence of the northwestern part of Oman as the United Arab Emirates and the absorption into the sultanate of the southern region of Dhofar. Although the names of both Oman and Dhofar are clearly of great antiquity, their original meanings and sources are uncertain. While most northern Omanis share a common Arab, Muslim, and tribal culture, the people of Dhofar remain culturally distinct and often feel culturally closer to neighboring regions in

22 November 2012 Thursday 00:01


SPEECH OF HIS MAJESTY
At The Opening of the 5th Term of The Council of Oman
3lst October 2011
In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

Praise be to the Almighty who has promised those who are grateful further blessings. Prayer and peace be upon the Messenger of Mercy to all nations, and to His family and companions. And to those who have followed their righteous path to the Day of Judgement.

Honourable Members of the Council of Oman..

Dear Citizens..

In the Name of God, the Most High, the Almighty, we inaugurate the 5th Term of the Council of Oman on this blessed day, thanking God for His bounties, His abundant generosity and His providence to enable Oman to achieve further development, progress and prosperity, for He is the One Who responds to prayers.

We spoke before, on this same glorious occasion, about Oman’s Shura (consultation) experiment and about the gradual path we chose to build it on firm foundations and stable pillars that will ensure its natural growth, meet the requirements of each phase of national work, and also respond to the community’s needs and – by applying wisdom in its vision and in the implementation of its procedures – fulfil its aspirations of contributing more effectively to the decision-making process for the higher interest of the country and citizens.

Many notable achievements were made along the path of this blessed experience during the past phase, and as we express our thanks for the efforts exerted in this regard we are looking forward to a qualitative shift in national work which will be carried out by the Council of Oman during the upcoming period in the light of the expanded powers given to it in the legislative and auditing fields. There is no doubt that the challenges are enormous, but we are quite confident that all members of the Council will play their effective role and exert their utmost efforts for the sake of leading their beloved country onwards to greater honour, glory, progress and prosperity, security and stability, while putting before their eyes the enormous responsibilities incurred by their Council as a body which takes part in the decision-making process. The members, as citizens seeking their country’s prominence, should also work continuously and relentlessly to ensure the success of plans aimed at consolidating the Sultanate’s economic, social and scientific potential to serve the common interest, and raise the country’s regional and international status and help it achieve its commitments at both local and foreign levels without slowness or delay.

It is obvious that this requires more cooperation and coordination between government departments and the Council of Oman in particular, and between the two and the private sector, the civil societies and corporations in general.

Collaboration and cooperation between all responsible bodies and direct coordination between the departments and the exchange of opinions and consultation among those in charge is the way that leads to the success of national plans and programmes in playing their desired role in comprehensive development and achieving its short and long-term goals in serving the present and future generations.

Honourable Members of the Council of Oman..

Dear Citizens..

The building of a modern state which we pledged to establish since the first moment of the dawn of the Blessed Renaissance, required us to exert big efforts in the field of establishing the infrastructure which is the pillar and first cornerstone of comprehensive development. The provision of this infrastructure - in all parts of the Sultanate - Praise be to God, has given a big opportunity for construction development in various cities and villages throughout Oman and paved the way for the establishment of many economic, commercial and industrial projects as well as different educational, cultural, health and social institutions. Any observer of daily life in Oman will see this quite clearly. And no wonder. Omanis have been, from ancient times, makers of civilization with their great historical heritage, their openness to other civilizations across the seas and oceans, and their ability to communicate and exchange mutual benefits with others. This is why Omanis are well-qualified to be an example and a model for others to follow in this age of rapid development and progress, and why they are also capable of coping with the challenges of the modern age, and adopting every new enlightened idea, benefitting from sciences and new technology and at the same time always preserving the values and high principles that they believe in, and the traditions and authentic customs with which they were brought up.

We all know that progress is part of the reality of the universe we live in. However, many ways and means are required in order to achieve it. The first of these is a strong will and determination, and a readiness to face challenges and persist in one’s endeavours to overcome difficulties and obstacles. Therefore every nation that desires to live – in the full meaning of the word – needs to roll up its sleeves and work tirelessly and diligently with dedication and the love to give generously to utilize its capacities and skills and invest in its resources and potential, so that it can build a great and illustrious present and prepare for a decent and prosperous future. Through God’s grace, the Omani people have been granted many of these qualities, and over the past four decades they were able to realize achievements which still stand as clear evidence that cannot be denied by anybody who has the power of vision and insight.

We offer our thanks to the Almighty for His great bounties and we pray and supplicate humbly to Him to grant this generation of Oman’s sons and daughters as well as the upcoming generations the ability to maintain these achievements and preserve and protect them against every malicious enemy, scheming traitor or envious waylay, as these achievements are in their trust for which they will be asked before God, history and their homeland.



Honourable Members of the Council of Oman..

Dear Citizens..

We have always affirmed our continued attention to the development of human resources and we said that these resources take top priority in our plans and programmes as the human being is the cornerstone of every development structure and a pivotal component around which all types of development revolve as their ultimate goal is the happiness of the individual, providing him with a means of a decent living and guaranteeing his security and safety.
As youth are the present and future of the nation we gave them the attention and care they deserve throughout the years of the blessed Renaissance as the government endeavoured to provide them with education, training, qualifications and employment opportunities.

The forthcoming stage will witness, with God’s permission, bigger attention and greater care to provide more opportunities for the youth in order to consolidate their gain in knowledge, strengthen their talents in creation and production and increase their participation in the comprehensive development march.

As education is the basic pillar of progress and development, and in order to produce a responsibly aware generation with expertise and skills, and aspiring to a higher level of knowledge, it is necessary to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the educational march in order to achieve these aspirations and benefit from the available job opportunities in the public and private sectors.

The construction, economic, commercial and industrial projects established during the past stage in various parts of the Sultanate have absorbed many national workers and the private sector has proved its cooperation in shouldering the responsibility as it assumed a tangible role in cooperating with the government and boosting sustainable development efforts. We are looking forward to a greater role to be played by the private sector in the future, particularly in the field of the development of human resources.

We are looking with satisfaction at the efforts made by the government during the recent past in implementing our directives to employ thousands of our sons and daughters in the civil, security and military sectors, and we would also like to express our appreciation for the efforts made by the private sector in this important domain.

Honourable Members of the Council of Oman..

Dear Citizens..

The State’s laws and regulations have guaranteed for every Omani the right to express his opinion and participate with his constructive ideas in enhancing the march of progress witnessed by the country in various arenas.

We have always believed it is important that there should be a wide range of different ideas and opinions, and that people should not be prohibited from thinking freely, because this is evidence of a community’s strength and its ability to benefit from these opinions and ideas to serve its aspirations for a better future and finer, happier life. However, freedom of expression does not mean that any one party has the right to force its opinions on others or suppress the rights of others to express their ideas freely, since this has nothing to do with democracy or law; and keeping up with the times does not mean imposing one’s ideas on other people.

This is how our true religion teaches us, as God the Great Almighty commended the faithful in his coherent book by saying “Who conducts their affairs by mutual consultation”. And this is also what the laws of the modern age in which we live call for. Also as the monopolization of opinion and its imposition on others should not be permitted, radicalism and immoderation should also not be tolerated because all that will disturb the required balance upon which wise decisions that consider the interests of all were based.

The more thought becomes diverse, open and free of fanaticism, the more it becomes a correct and sound basis for building generations, the progress of nations and the advancement of societies. Inflexability, extremism and immoderation are the opposite to all this and societies which adopt such ideas only carry within themselves the seeds of their eventual destruction.

As we affirmed the rejection of our Omani society of any claims that do not conform with our moderate and tolerant nature, we remind all concerned that enlightenment is highly important to truly understand issues and give no space for baseless speculation, as the Sultanate’s policy is based on achieving balance in life in accordance with God’s saying “But seek with the wealth which God has bestowed on thee, the home of the hereafter, not forget thy portion in this world but do thou good to thee and seek not mischief in the land” – True are the words of Almighty God. We were born in this country with the natural disposition, Praise be to God, of tolerance, good conduct, rejection of bitterness, warding off sedition and abiding by customs and values based on fraternity, cooperation and love among all.

We affirm the need for these good traits and high values to be instilled in our youth from a young age, at home, in school, mosque, club and other educational and nurturing incubators so it will act as a fence protecting them from falling into the abyss of intruding ideas that call for violence, extremism, hatred, fanaticism, being opinionated and non-acceptance of the others, as well as other extreme ideas and opinions that lead to the tearing up of the society, draining its vital powers and leaving it in ruins and utter destruction, God forbid.

Honourable Members of the Council of Oman ..

Dear Citizens..

Government work, as is well-known, is a matter of trust and responsibility. It should be carried out with total disregard for personal interests and with complete honesty for the service of the community, and it should never countenance corruption. Here we should like to affirm that corruption must not be allowed in any shape or form; we instruct our government to take all necessary measures to prevent it and we direct all the audit authorities to fulfil their duties resolutely in this regard with the full force of the law, away from doubt and uncertainties, since justice must take its course and become our goal and objective. With God’s assistance, we are continuing to upgrade the judicial and audit institutions with the aim of reinforcing the State institutions. Our support for the judiciary and its independence is a duty to which we have committed ourselves, and we recognize that it is imperative to respect its decisions without favouratism, as all are equal before the law

Honourable Members of the Council of Oman ..

Dear Citizens..

We are living in a world that has witnessed rapid developments at regional and international levels that have had a different impact and opposing reactions. As the world is characterized by over-lapping interests and policies we cannot be detached from what is happening around us. The Sultanate has always been known for adopting a clear policy based on cooperation with all in accordance with the firm principles of mutual respect, encouragement of dialogue and rejection of violence in tackling issues, in order to come up with communities where fraternization and stability prevail which will enable nations to continue their development march and achieve their objectives of progress and prosperity in an atmosphere of security, free of disturbances, and encourage the implementation of economic and social plans and programmes in accordance with priorities dictated by public interests. We in the Sultanate, and despite the crises swarming the world and the difficulties in predicting their limits, timescale, and their negative repercussions on the countries’ economy, we endeavour to lessen these impacts by adopting balanced economic policies to preserve our gains and boost our economic plans in various spheres,, going forward with determination to complete the establishment of the modern state based on solid foundations that guarantee the continuation of the development of natural and human resources, spreading education, culture and knowledge and providing security and stability and consolidating the basis of institutional work that leads, with God’s assistance, to more progress, prosperity and a decent living for all citizens.

In conclusion, we should like to salute and express our appreciation to all dedicated workers from our Omani sons and daughters, wherever they are and whatever responsibilities they bear, and to all those who have helped to create a better future for Oman and raise its status and prestige to new heights, while protecting its gains and safeguarding its achievements, security and stability. In particular, we salute our Armed Forces and security services for their sacrifice and selflessness and to them we reaffirm that we shall continue to extend our care and support for the development of their abilities and potential.

Our Lord. Make this country peaceful, and feed its people with fruits. And be their Guide on the straight path.

May God grant you success. And may God’s peace and mercy be upon you.


SYMBOLISM
The national symbol employs a pair of crossed khanjars, the traditional daggers that all Omani men wore until recently (and still wear on formal occasions). This symbol is integrated into the national flag and appears in nearly all government logos.




OMAN HISTORY

Islam had reached Oman within the prophet Muhammad's lifetime. By the middle of the eighth century C.E., Omanis were practicing a unique brand of the faith, Ibadhism, which remains a majority sect only in Oman. Ibadhism has been characterized as "moderate conservatism," with tenets that are a mixture of both austerity and tolerance.
The Portuguese occupied Muscat for a 140-year period (1508–1648), arriving a decade after Vasco da Gama discovered the seaway to India. In need of an outpost to protect their sea lanes, the Europeans built up and fortified the city, where remnants of their colonial architectural style still remain.

The Ottomans drove out the Portuguese, but were pushed out themselves about a century later (1741) by the leader of a Yemeni tribe, who began the current line of ruling sultans. After one last, brief invasion a few years later by Persia, Oman was free for good of foreign-occupying powers.

Isolated from their Arab neighbors by the desert, the Omanis became an economic power in the early 1800s, largely by using their position on the Indian Ocean and seafaring knowledge gained from the Portuguese to gain access to foreign lands. They took control of the coasts of present-day Iran and Pakistan, colonized Zanzibar and Kenyan seaports, brought back enslaved Africans, and sent boats trading as far as the Malay Peninsula.

At this time, the country became known as Muscat and Oman*, denoting two centers of power, not just the capital and the interior but also the sultan and the imam, the Ibadhist spiritual leader.

The British slowly brought about a collapse of Muscat and Oman's "empire" by the end of the nineteenth century without use of force. Through gradual encroachment on its overseas holdings economically and politically, they caused Oman to retreat to its homeland. In time Britain held such sway in Muscat and Oman itself that it became in effect, and later in fact, a British protectorate.

Having control of the country's military, the British helped subdue rebel tribesmen in the 1950s, driving most into Yemen. But the sultan ran a repressive regime, with laws forbidding numerous activities, including the building and even repair of his subjects' own homes without permission. In 1970, almost certainly with British backing, he was overthrown by his son, the present ruler, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, and the country declared independence the following year as the Sultanate of Oman.

Qaboos is generally regarded as a benevolent absolute ruler, who has improved the country economically and socially. Oman has maintained peaceful ties on the Arabian Peninsula ever since ending another tribal rebellion in the southwest in 1982 by forging a treaty with Yemen. Oman's oil revenue has been consistently invested in the national infrastructure, particularly roads, schools, hospitals, and utilities. More than ever, the country is poised to take advantage of its strategic trade location on the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf to further its economic growth and role in the world.

Except for those who travel to remote Middle East locales, the country has seldom been in the public eye other than for the use of its military bases by U.S. forces in recent years. American and British bombing raids were launched in 1991 from Oman against Iraq in the Gulf War. A decade later, U.S. forces stationed there were involved in raids against Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden.


OMAN GEOGRAPHY



A vast desert plain covers most of central Oman, with mountain ranges along the north (Jebel Akhdar) and southeast coast, where the country's main cities are also located: the capital city Muscat, Matrah and Sur in the north, and Salalah in the south. Oman's climate is hot and dry in the interior and humid along the coast. During past millennia Oman was covered by ocean. Fossilized shells exist in great numbers in areas of the desert up to 50 miles from the modern coastline.

Oman Exclaves and enclaves
The peninsula of Musandam (Musandem), which has a strategic location on the Strait of Hormuz, is separated from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates and is thus an exclave.

Oman has one other exclave, inside UAE territory, known as Wadi-e-Madhah. It is located halfway between the Musandam Peninsula and the rest of Oman . Belonging to Musandam governorate, it covers approximately 75 square kilometres (29 sq mi). The boundary was settled in 1969. The north-east corner of Madha is closest to the Khorfakkan-Fujairah road, barely ten metres (30 ft) away. Within the exclave is an UAE enclave called Nahwa, belonging to the Emirate of Sharjah. It is about eight kilometres (five mi) on a dirt track west of the town of New Madha. It consists of about forty houses with its own clinic and telephone exchange.

Cyclone Gonu
Oman was hit by Cyclone Gonu on June 6. Large areas in the capital area region in the Governorate of Muscat and in Amerat and Quriyat were severely affected. Gonu first hit the southern city of Sur late on June 5, 2007.

Interestingly, Oman is one of the few countries having no National Red Crescent or Red Cross Society.

Location
Oman is located in the southeastern quarter of the Arabian Peninsula and, according to official estimates, covers a total land area of approximately 300,000 square kilometers; foreign observer estimates, however, are about 212,000 square kilometers. The land area is composed of varying topographic features: valleys and desert account for 82 percent of the land mass; mountain ranges, 15 percent; and the coastal plain, 3 percent.

The sultanate is flanked by the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, and the Rub al Khali (Empty Quarter) of Saudi Arabia, all of which contributed to Oman's isolation. Historically, the country's contacts with the rest of the world were by sea, which not only provided access to foreign lands but also linked the coastal towns of Oman. The Rub al Khali, difficult to cross even with modern desert transport, formed a barrier between the sultanate and the Arabian interior. The Al Hajar Mountains, which form a belt between the coast and the desert from the Musandam Peninsula (Ras Musandam) to the city of Sur at Oman's easternmost point, formed another barrier. These geographic barriers kept the interior of Oman free from foreign military encroachments.

Geographic coordinates: 21°00'N, 57°00'E
Geographical regions

Natural features divide the country into seven distinct areas: Ruus al Jibal, including the northern Musandam Peninsula; the Al Batinah coastal plain; the Muscat-Matrah coastal area; the Oman interior, comprising Jabal al Akhdar (Green Mountain), its foothills, and desert fringes; the barren coastline south to Dhofar; Dhofar region in the south; and the offshore island of Masirah.

Ruus al Jibal
The northernmost area, Ruus al Jibal, extends from the Musandam Peninsula to the boundary with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at Hisn al Diba. It borders the Strait of Hormuz, which links the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman, and is separated from the rest of the sultanate by a strip of territory belonging to the UAE. This area consists of low mountains forming the northernmost extremity of the Al Hajar al Gharbi (Western Al Hajar) Mountains. Two inlets, Elphinstone (Khawr ash Shamm) and Malcom (Ghubbat al Ghazirah), cleave the coastline about one third of the distance from the Strait of Hormuz and at one point are separated by only a few hundred meters of land. The coastline is extremely rugged, and the Elphinstone Inlet, sixteen kilometers long and surrounded by cliffs 1,000 to 1,250 meters high, has frequently been compared with fjords in Norway.

Al Batinah

The UAE territory separating Ruus al Jibal from the rest of Oman extends almost as far south as the coastal town of Shinas. A narrow, well-populated coastal plain known as Al Batinah runs from the point at which the sultanate is reentered to the town of As Sib, about 140 kilometers to the southeast. Across the plains, a number of wadis, heavily populated in their upper courses, descend from the Al Hajar al Gharbi Mountains to the south. A ribbon of oases, watered by wells and underground channels (falaj), extends the length of the plain, about ten kilometers inland.

Muscat-Matrah coastal area
South of As Sib, the coast changes character. For about 175 kilometers, from As Sib to Ras al Hadd, it is barren and bounded by cliffs almost its entire length; there is no cultivation and little habitation. Although the deep water off this coast renders navigation relatively easy, there are few natural harbors or safe anchorages. The two best are at Muscat and Matrah, where natural harbors facilitated the growth of cities centuries ago.

Oman interior
West of the coastal areas lies the tableland of central Oman. The Al Hajar Mountains form two ranges: the Al Hajar al Gharbi Mountains and the Al Hajar ash Sharqi (Eastern Al Hajar) Mountains. They are divided by the Wadi Samail (the largest wadi in the mountain zone), a valley that forms the traditional route between Muscat and the interior. The general elevation is about 1,200 meters, but the peaks of the high ridge known as Al Jabal al Akhdar (Green Mountain)--which is considered a separate area but is actually part of the Al Hajar al Gharbi Mountains--rise to more than 3,000 meters in some places. Al Jabal al Akhdar is the only home of the Arabian tahr, a unique species of wild goat. In the hope of saving this rare animal, Sultan Qabus ibn Said has declared part of Al Jabal al Akhdar a national park. Behind the Al Hajar al Gharbi Mountains are two inland regions, Az Zahirah and inner Oman, separated by the lateral range of the Rub al Khali. Adjoining the Al Hajar ash Sharqi Mountains are the sandy regions of Ash Sharqiyah and Jalan, which also border the desert.

Dhofar region

Dhofar region extends from Ras ash Sharbatat to the border of Yemen. Its exact northern limit has never been defined, but the territory claimed by the sultan includes the Wadi Mughshin, about 240 kilometers inland. Its capital, Salalah, was the permanent residence of Sultan Said ibn Taimur Al Said and the birthplace of the present sultan, Qabus ibn Said. The highest peaks are about 1,000 meters. At their base lies a narrow, pebbly desert adjoining the Rub al Khali to the north.

Coastal tract, and island of Masirah
The desolate coastal tract from Jalan to Ras Naws has no specific name. Low hills and wastelands meet the sea for long distances. Midway along this coast and about fifteen kilometers offshore is the barren Masirah island. Stretching about seventy kilometers, the island occupies a strategic location near the entry point to the Gulf of Oman from the Arabian Sea. Because of its location, it became the site of military facilities used first by the British and then by the United States, following an access agreement signed in 1980 by the United States and Oman.




Climate
Summer begins in mid-April and lasts until October. The highest temperatures are registered in the interior, where readings of more than 50° C in the shade are common. On the Al Batinah plain, summer temperatures seldom exceed 46° C, but, because of the low elevation, the humidity may be as high as 90 percent. The mean summer temperature in Muscat is 33° C, but the gharbi (literally, western), a strong wind that blows from the Rub al Khali, can raise temperatures from the towns on the Gulf of Oman by 6° C to 10° C.

Winter temperatures are mild and pleasant, ranging between 15° C and 23° C.

Precipitation on the coasts and on the interior plains ranges from twenty to 100 millimeters a year and falls during mid- and late winter. Rainfall in the mountains, particularly over Al Jabal al Akhdar, is much higher and may reach 700 millimeters.

Because the plateau of Al Jabal al Akhdar is porous limestone, rainfall seeps quickly through it, and the vegetation, which might be expected to be more lush, is meager. However, a huge reservoir under the plateau provides springs for low-lying areas. In addition, an enormous wadi channels water to these valleys, making the area agriculturally productive in years of good rainfall.

Dhofar, benefiting from a southwest monsoon between June and September, receives heavier rainfall and has constantly running streams, which make the region Oman's most fertile area.



Area and boundaries
Area: 309,500 km²
Border countries: Saudi Arabia 676 km, United Arab Emirates 410 km, Yemen 288 km
Coastline: 2,092 km

Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 24 nautical miles (44 km) 
exclusive economic zone: 200 nautical miles (370 km) 
territorial sea: 12 nautical miles (22 km) 
Island territory: Khuriya Muriya Islands, Masirah
Resources and land use
Natural resources: petroleum, copper, asbestos, some marble, limestone, chromium, gypsum, natural gas, frankincense

Land use:
arable land: 0% 
permanent crops: 0% 
permanent pastures: 5% 
forests and woodland: 0% 
other: 95% (1993 est.) Irrigated land: 580 km² (1993 est.)
Environmental concerns
Natural hazards: Summer winds often raise large sandstorms and dust storms in the interior during periodic droughts. Following rain, Wadis can fill with rainwater water and vast tracts of land can be flooded.
Environment - current issues: Soil salinity is rising. There is beach pollution from oil spills. There are very limited natural fresh water resources
Geographical note: Oman is in a strategic location on Musandam Peninsula adjacent to Strait of Hormuz, a vital transit point for world crude oil


BANKING SECTOR



The banking sector is an important factor in maintaining financial equilibrium and economic stability. The Omani banking sector, which comprises the Central Bank of Oman (CBO) and various commercial and specialised banks operating in the Sultanate, is stable, highly efficient and able to respond to regional and international developments, including the growing trend towards freeing up financial services within the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The Central Bank of Oman (CBO):
The Central Bank of Oman is responsible for maintaining the stability of the national currency the Omani Rial (RO) and ensuring monetary and financial stability in a deregulated and open financial system. The capital base of the CBO which was one million Omani Rials at the commencement of operations in 1975.

The Omani banking system has experienced several mergers and as a result commercial banks which are locally incorporated and eight are branches of foreign banks.As at the end of 2005, there were also three specialised banks in operation,The Oman Housing Bank (OHB), The Oman Development Bank (ODB).
Manpower in the banking sector

The banking sector is a model of successful Omanisation. The College of Banking and Financial Studies plays a vital role in preparing nationals for banking careers.



The specialist banks
The Specialist banks were set up to support national development efforts in specific fields such as housing, industry, agriculture and fisheries. Currently there are three specialist banks. Two - the Oman Housing Bank and the Oman Development Bank - are government banks, while the third - the Alliance Housing Bank - is privately owned. The three banks operate through number of branches in various parts of the country.

The Oman Housing Bank (OHB)
The Oman Housing Bank (OHB) provides housing loans for nationals to enable them to purchase, build or complete their homes. Its capital has been increased to RO30 million to enable it to expand the scope of its operations and obtain loans for a larger number of applicants. The OHB charges a limited service fee for subsidised loans in response to directives issued by Sultan Qaboos. In this way the financial burden on loan applicants is minimised. The bank also grants non-subsidised loans with additional facilities to other applicants. Most of its loans are subsidised as part of the government’s policy of supporting those on limited incomes.

The Oman Development Bank (ODB)
The Oman Development Bank (ODB) was established in 1997 as an Omani public joint-stock company in a merger between the Development Bank of Oman and the Oman Bank for Agriculture and Fisheries. It is now a closed joint stock company, following the issue of Royal Decree No. 18/2006 issued on 11th March 2006. The ODB operates on economic principles while maintaining a proper social perspective by supporting small projects. Projects supported by loans in excess are financed by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry or one of the other financial institutions. The ODB has been granted exemption from all taxes and the government subsidises the interest payable on the soft loans it grants to fund private sector projects. The bank also provides other loans on a medium or long term basis to help fund projects, as well as technical assistance and advisory services to Omani companies. In addition, it acts as an export credit guarantee agent and distributes sums from the Fisheries Research Fund.


DEMOGRAPHICS



In Oman, about 50% of the population lives in Muscat and the Batinah coastal plain northwest of the capital; about 200,000 live in the Dhofar (southern) region, and about 30,000 live in the remote Musandam Peninsula on the Strait of Hormuz. Some 600,000 expatriates live in Oman, most of whom are guest workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, and the Philippines. Since 1970, the government has given high priority to education to develop a domestic work force, which the government considers a vital factor in the country's economic and social progress. In 1986, Oman's first university, Sultan Qaboos University, opened. Other post secondary institutions include a law school, technical college, banking institute, teachers training college, and health sciences institute. Some 200 scholarships are awarded each year for study abroad.

Nine private colleges exist, providing 2-year post secondary diplomas. Since 1999, the government has embarked on reforms in higher education designed to meet the needs of a growing population, only a small percentage of which are currently admitted to higher education institutions. Under the reformed system, four public regional universities will be created, and incentives are provided by the government to promote the upgrading of the existing nine private colleges and the creation of other degree-granting private colleges.

Population: 3,001,583
note: includes 577,293 non-nationals (July 2005 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 42.6% (male 652,028; female 626,698)
15-64 years: 54.9% (male 978,183; female 668,814)
65 years and over: 2.5% (male 41,366; female 34,494) (2005 est.)

Population growth rate: 3.28% (2006 est.)
Birth rate: 36.73 births/1,000 population (2005 est.)
Death rate: 3.86 deaths/1,000 population (2005 est.)
Net migration rate: 0.31 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2005 est.)
Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.46 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 1.2 male(s)/female
total population: 1.26 male(s)/female (2005 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 19.51 deaths/1,000 live births (2005 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 73.13 years
male: 70.92 years
female: 75.46 years (2005 est.)

Total fertility rate: 5.84 children born/woman (2005 est.)
Urbanisation: About 78% of the population is urban.
Nationality:
noun: Omani(s)
adjective: Omani

Ethnic groups: Arab, Baluchi, South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi), African
Religions: Ibadhi Muslim 75%, Sunni Muslim, Shi'a Muslim, Hindu
Languages: Arabic (official), English, Baluchi, Urdu, Indian dialects
Literacy:
definition: NA
total population: 75.8%
male: 83.1%
female: 67.2% (2003 est.)


CULTURE OF OMAN



Even though Oman is a modern country, western influences are quite restricted. The Ibadi form of Islam is also conservative like Sunni Islam and Shi'a Islam. About 75% of Oman is Muslim. As is the case with most Middle Eastern countries, alcohol is only available in some hotels and few restaurants.

Although Arabic is Oman's official language, there are native speakers of different dialects, as well as Balochi, or offshoots of Southern Arabian, a Semitic language only distantly related to Arabic. Swahili is also widely spoken in the country due to the historical relations between Oman and Zanzibar. The dominant indigenous language is a dialect of Arabic and the country has also adopted English as a second language. Almost all signs and writings appear in both Arabic and English
Oman is famous for its khanjar knives, which are curved daggers worn during holidays as part of ceremonial dress. Today traditional clothing is worn by most Omani men. They wear an ankle-length, collarless robe called a dishdasha that buttons at the neck with a tassel hanging down. Traditionally this tassel would be dipped in perfume. Today the tassel is merely a traditional part of the dishdasha.

Women wear hijab and abaya. Some women cover their faces and hands, but most do not. The abaya is a traditional dress and it is current having different styles. The Sultan has forbidden the covering of faces in public office. On holidays, such as Eid, the women wear traditional dress, which is often very brightly colored and consists of a mid-calf length tunic over pants.



A very important part of Omani culture is hospitality. If invited into an Omani house, a visitor is likely to be greeted with a bowl of dates, qahwa (coffee with cardamom - standard Arabic ????)and fruit. The coffee is served fairly weak in a small cup, which should be shaken after three servings to show that you have finished. The dates are in lieu of sugar. Halwa and other sweets are often given at celebrations such as Eids.

The Omani culture is steeped in the religion of Islam. Oman has developed its own type of Islam, known as Ibadhism. There are both Sunni and Shia Muslims in Oman. With this in mind the Islam month of fasting, Ramadan and other Islamic festivities are very important events in Omani culture 
National Dress
For men the national dress is an ankle-length, collarless gown with long sleeves called the dishdasha. There are several accesories including a muzzar (a type of turban), an assa (a cane or stick) and a Khanjar.

The Khanjar is a ceremonial curved dagger that is a symbol of male elegance and are worn at formal events and holidays.

The Dhow
An enduring symbol of Oman is the traditional Dhow. These dailing ships have been around for several centuries, there is evidence of an Omani Dhow reaching China in the 8th Century. the dhows are still in operation primarily used for fishing, exporting and tourism. The main ports of Sohar, Sur, Salalah and Muscat all maintain a large fleet. Sur also has an exstensive dhow building industry.


NATIONAL DRESS - WOMEN



Omani women have very colourful costumes which vary from region to region. The main components of a woman's outfit comprise of a dress which is worn over trousers (sirwal) and the headdress, called the lihaf.

There are numerous traditional styles of Omani costume seen in Muscat. However, there are three main types which show vibrant colours, embroidery and decorations. One style of costume is rather flowing and resembles that worn by the women of the Interior, while another is decorated with distinctive silver bands. The embroidery on these dresses can take around two months to complete.

Muscat
Dhofar
Al Batinah
Al Dakhiliyah
Al Sharqiyah
Musandam & Al Dhahirah

The jewellery worn by Omani women is fashioned mainly from gold, although the traditional metal was silver. Work is very intricate and elaborate patterns and symbols, even Quranic calligraphy, is engraved into the metal.

Traditional footwear was a type of platform shoe made from wood called the qurhaf. However, most women now wear sandals or Western-style fashion shoes.

Omani women have used natural cosmetics and beauty preparations for centuries and despite the supply of brand name cosmetics sold in department stores and supermarkets, the traditional products are still available at souqs all over the Sultanate.

Kohl, a dark powder used as an eyeliner made mainly from frankincense or the roots of the arvea jevanica, is still used to enhance the eyes and is applied with a small stick made from silver (marwat) or wood. As a 'moisturiser' women grind the seeds of the prunus mahled together with the yellow pigment of the carthamus tincturius flower. Indigo is also used as a 'skin wash'. The indigo is pounded into a powder and rubbed into the skin, to then be rinsed off with the crushed leaves of the becium dhofarense. This beauty treatment leaves the skin smooth and faintly tinged with blue which enhances the natural skin tone and is complemented by the colours contained within the vibrant dresses and scarves. Indigo is also applied to the face in decorative patterns for festivals and celebrations, such as weddings.

Hair is conditioned with oil extracted from the shoo seeds which is said to make the hair shine and delay the signs of greying. A popular shampoo is made from sidr and ipomoea nil leaves.

Many women in Oman paint their hands and feet with henna, particularly before special occasions such as Eid holidays or weddings. Henna comes from the plant of the same name and is extracted by pounding the leaves into a powder which is then mixed with water to form a thick paste. The paste is applied in patterns on the hands and feet, which, when dried, leaves a temporary orange/brown design which fades after around three weeks.

Omani costumes are so varied, colourful and eye-catching, that the Post Office of Oman has produced postage stamps depicting men's and women's outfits from the different regions.




NATIONAL DRESS - MEN

The national dress for Omani men is a simple, ankle-length, collarless gown with long sleeves called the dishdasha. The colour most frequently worn is white, although a variety of other colours such as black, blue, brown and lilac can also be seen. Its main adornment is a tassel (furakha) sewn into the neckline, which can be impregnated with perfume. Underneath the dishdasha, a plain piece of cloth covering the body is worn from the waist down. Omani men may wear a variety of head dresses. The muzzar is a square of finely woven woollen or cotton fabric, wrapped and folded into a turban. Underneath this, the kummar, an intricately embroidered cap, is sometimes worn. The shal, a long strip of cloth acting as a holder for the khanjar (a silver, hand-crafted knife or dagger) may be made from the same material as the muzzar. Alternatively, the holder may be fashioned in the form of a belt made from leather and silver, which is called a sapta. On formal occasions, the dishdasha may be covered by a black or beige cloak, called a bisht. The embroidery edging the cloak is often in silver or gold thread and it is intricate in detail. Some men carry the assa, a stick, which can have practical uses or is simply used as an accessory during formal events. Omani men, on the whole, wear sandals on their feet.



The Khanjar
The curved dagger, the khanjar is a distinguishing feature of the Omani personality as well as an important symbol of male elegance. It is traditionally worn at the waist.

The shape of the khanjar is always the same and is characterised by the curve of the blade and by the near right- angle bend of the sheath. Sheaths may vary from simple covers to ornate silver or gold-decorated pieces of great beauty and delicacy. In the
past the silver khanjars were made by melting down Marie Theresa silver coins.
Different types of khan jars are named after the regions in which they are made and vary according to size, shape, type of metal and the overlay. The top of the handle of the most usual khanjar is flat but the "Saidi" type, which takes its name from the Ruling Family, has an ornate cross-shaped top.
 However, all possess certain common features and have the same components:



• The hilt may be made of costly rhinocerous horn or substitutes such as
sandalwood and marble.

• The blade determines the value of the khanjar according to its strength and
quality.

• The sadr, or upper part of the sheath, is decorated with silver engraving,

• The sheath , the most striking part of the khanjar, is worked with silver threads.

Khanjars are supported on belts of locallymade webbing, sometimes interwoven with silver thread or belts of leather covered by finely woven silver wire with handsome silver buckles, and a knife with an ornate handle of silver thread is often stuck into a simple leather pouch behind the sheath.

THE DHOW

Al Ghanjah
Easily distinguishable by its typical stem-head with trefoil crest, Al Ghanjah was formerly used in trading. having a capacity of 130 to 300 tons, this boat used to be built in Sur.

Al Boum
Easily distinguishable by its high, straight stem-post set at 45°, its load is varied  between 74 and 400 tons. Al Boum is used for transporting passengers  and goods.

The Shashah
The Shashah is a small, primitive fishing craft (made of date palm sticks bound   together with coir). it is usually about 10 feet long and can accommodate one or two persons. it is mainly used for fishing on the Batinah coas.

The Baggarah
Generally 25 to 35 feet in length, a number of them can be found on the Batinah coast, especially at Mjis and southwards from it.

Al Badan
One of Oman's most popular boats, Al Badan is used for fishing and coastal      cargo-carrying throughout the country. It has a load capacity of 20 to 100 tons and is one of Oman's older boats.

Sohar
In November 1980, the dhew 'Sohar', a replica of the medieval 10th century ships, sailed from Muscat to Canton in China. Navigating without the use of modern aids, it reached its destination a year later in November 1981.

The Huri
A small dug-out canoe, the Huri is normally between 10 and 20 feet in length.   it is generally used for fishing and short-haul transport. it is the most common small boat in Omani waters.

Al Sambuq
One of Oman's and the Arab world's most common sailing vessels, Al Sambuq   has a load capacity as varied as 20 to 150 tons. In the past, Al Sambuq was used for diving to collect pearls but now it is used for carrying cargo and transporting passengers. it can be found in the Saham and Sur regions.

The Abubuz
A plain, functional cargo vessel, the Abubuz is similar in size to the Sambuq. The Abubuz is a boat of recent origin derived from continuing Omani efforts to   incorporate features of European sailing ships.

The Shu'i
A general purpose coastal boat, the Shu'i is currently being built at Sur. One of  the smaller-size boats of Oman, it is built low with a high quarter deck.

SNV Shabab Oman
One of the largest wooden-hulled ships in the world, SNV Shabab Oman entered service in the Royal Navy of Oman in 1979 for use as a Sail Training Vessel. It has an overall length of 177 feet, a beam of 28 feet and a maximum draft of 15 feet.

Sewn Al Sambuq
A boat of great antiquity, the sewn Al Sambuq is one of the most interesting boat types in Oman. Beautifully crafted to precision, it is found along the Dhofari coast.


URBANISM, ARCHITECTURE, AND THE USE OF SPACE

The contemporary urban character of Omani culture has strong ties to Indian Mogul architectural style. This is manifested in the seafront whitewashed two- and occasionally three-story residential buildings that line the road along the harbor of Matrah (Muscat's sister city). It is also seen in the style of some mosques and minarets with their slim and ornate shapes, as well as in public buildings such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Qurm. Other contemporary constructions are more eclectic in style.



Earlier architectural styles found in the towns and interior cities of Oman, such as Nizwa, Ibri, Ibra, and Bahla, reflected a pared down and simpler cultural expression and use of space that was consistent with Ibadism, a relatively austere form of Islam.

Private residences reflect the culture's concern for gendered space. Most Omani homes have formal rooms for men and their visitors, while women generally socialize in each other's private quarters. When people meet to mark various rites of passage, such as births, marriages, and deaths, the celebrations are marked by clear gendered space. It is women who visit other women on the occasion of a birth in a family. Marriage rituals entail elaborate celebrations for women only, for men only, and, when space is open, with segregated sitting areas. Deaths are similarly marked by gendered use of space, with only men attending the actual burial of a body.




THE OMANI CRAFT HERITAGE DOCUMENTATION PROJECT

Rich and diverse, the traditional craft industries of Oman are among the most important cultural survivals in the Arabian Peninsula. Their origins can be traced back to man's earliest activities in the Gulf and Mesopotamia, and their subsequent development directly reflects both Oman's distinguished history as a trading nation, and the innate resourcefulness of its people. Across the country, and for many centuries, Omanis have worked with the raw materials available within their local environment and those obtained through trade, to create objects of both functional utility and exquisite artistry.




Until recently, however, there had been little research into this fascinating subject. It was also apparent that the rapid development and modernisation of the Sultanate would pose real challenges to the survival of the country's craft industries. The Omani Craft Heritage Documentation Project was therefore initiated in 1996 by His Highness Seyyid Shihab bin Tariq Al Said, with the aim of assessing and documenting the different types of crafts in all parts of the country. For more than three years, researchers and authors Neil Richardson and Marcia Dorr travelled throughout the country interviewing hundreds of individual craftspeople, from the jirz-makers of Musandam to the potters of Dhofar, and recording their craft traditions. Research methodology included the documentation and photography of raw materials, tools and equipment, production techniques, the products made and the context within which these products are made and used.


The outputs of the Project are twofold. First there is an archive of information and images pertaining to Oman's craft traditions. This archive is a valuable resource for scholars, and for the country as a whole, for it is only by means of recorded knowledge that educators can sensitise the next generation to the importance of protecting cultural heritage, and it is only by this means that responsible, effective preservation measures can be implemented. The second output is The Craft Heritage of Oman, a two-volume publication that presents Oman's craft traditions to an international audience for the first time. The aim of the publication is to establish a global identity for Oman's crafts industry, thereby elevating the status of Omani artisans and contributing to the perpetuation and promotion of Oman's heritage and culture.


The Craft Heritage of Oman is foremost a tribute to Oman's artisans and the rich traditions they embody. The authors consider the origins and development of the country's craft industries, including the relationship between craft usage and lifestyle. They provide a comprehensive record, region by region, of the design and production techniques of the diverse crafts to be found across the Sultanate. A wide-ranging artefact catalogue combines with a concluding review on the changing role of craft industries in a rapidly modernising society, to make this the most significant publication on the traditional craft heritage of south-east Arabia.


FOOD IN DAILY LIFE



Omani cuisine revolves around rice. The morning meal is not significant, often consisting of bread or leftovers from the day before, and tea. The main meal of the day is in early to mid-afternoon. It is generally a large dish of rice with a thin sauce often based on tomato or tomato paste and meat or fish. Pork does not exist in the Omani diet as it is prohibited by Islam. The evening meal is generally very light, sometimes consisting only of fruit or bread and tea. The influence of Indian cooking is very strong. A variety of Indian restaurants are found throughout the country. In the capital area, there are a number of Western fast-food establishments, as well as a variety of French, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese restaurants.



WHY VISIT OMAN?

Mountain villages clutched against canyon walls, clusters of dates weighing heavy in the plantation oases, a ribbon of sand blown across the dunes, a lone camel padding across the limitless interior - these are the kinds of images afforded by the beautiful and enigmatic country of Oman.

In years gone by, Oman was rich with copper and frankincense, and enjoyed an extensive East African empire. Then, in the early 20th century, a deeply conservative ruler, Sultan Said, chose deliberately to isolate the country from the modern world. His son, peace-loving Sultan Qaboos, assumed the throne in 1970 and that date now marks the beginning of the widely celebrated 'Renaissance' in which the country has been returned to an age of prosperity and progression.

What makes Oman's renaissance somewhat unique in the region is that the transformation has been conducted with great sensitivity towards traditional values - there are few high-rise buildings in the capital, Muscat; the country's heritage of forts (numbering over 2,000) are meticulously restored; ancient crafts like weaving are actively supported. Moreover, traditional Arabian values, such as hospitality and practical piety, are still in evidence making Oman somewhere to experience Islamic culture at its best.



DESTINATION AT A GLANCE: OMAN

The sultanate of Oman could be the Arabian Peninsula’s most rewarding destination. More accessible than Saudi Arabia, safer than Yemen and more traditional than the Gulf emirates, Oman nonetheless has plenty to rival these countries’ attractions and more.

A stirring history that combines the great sweep of Bedouin tradition with some extraordinary forts and other traditional architecture. And Mutrah Souq in Muscat is a fantasy of an Arabian bazaar come-to-life, with glittering gold and clouds of incense. But it’s Oman’s diverse natural beauty that is the main drawcard. Here you’ll find wildly beautiful beaches, the jagged ramparts of mountain ranges and the perfectly sculpted sands of the fabled Empty Quarter.



BEST TIME TO VISIT

November to mid-March, to avoid the monsoon

TOP THINGS TO SEE
• Muscat, the lovely port city with a beautiful bay, atmospheric souq and Portuguese forts

• Yitti’s gloriously unspoiled beach with craggy mountains

• Masirah’s palm-strewn oases, postcard-perfect beaches and flamingos

• Nizwa, the beguiling inland town with a 17th-century fort and expansive souq

• Mughsail’s jaw-dropping bay with sheer cliffs and frankincense trees close to Yemen

TOP THINGS TO DO
• Walk in wonder though Wadi Shab, the verdant gorge that feels like paradise

• Explore the copper-coloured dunes of the Wahiba Sands by camel or 4WD
• Drive over the Hajar Mountains from Al-Hamra to Wadi Bani Awf, Oman’s most spectacular road
• Ponder the mysteries of Ubar, Arabia’s fabled ‘Atlantis of the Sands’

• Get off the beaten track on the Musandam Peninsula, a dramatic Omani outpost guarding the gates of the Gulf

GETTING UNDER THE SKIN
Read Sultan in Oman by renowned travel writer Jan Morris; or Atlantis of the Sands by Ranulph Fiennes
Listen to Symphonic Impressions of Oman performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, which captures the mood, scenery and traditions of Oman

Watch 7 Days Sultanate of Oman – Oman’s cinematic history is nonexistent but at least you can take a tour around the country

Eat harees – steamed wheat, boiled meat, lime chilli, onions and garnished with maowaal (dried shark); shuwa (marinated meat cooked in an earth oven)
Drink camel’s milk

IN A WORD
Tasharrafna (Nice to meet you)
TRADEMARKS
A
former hermit sultanate that has become one of the most open Arabian Peninsula states; frankincense; ancient forts; Bedouin and the sands of the Empty Quarter
RANDOM FACT
The coastal oasis of Sohar will forever be remembered from the Arabian Nights as the starting point for Sinbad’s epic journeys.



Introducing Muscat
‘Muscat is a port the like of which cannot be found in the whole world where there is business and good things that cannot be found elsewhere.’

As the great Arab navigator Ahmed bin Majid al-Najdi recognised in AD 1490 Muscat, even to this day, has a character quite different from neighbouring capitals. There are few high-rise blocks, and even the most functional building is required to reflect tradition with a dome or an arabesque window. The result of these strict building policies is an attractive, spotlessly clean and whimsically uniform city – not much different in essence from the ‘very elegant town with very fine houses’ that the Portuguese admiral Alfonso de Alburqueque observed as he sailed towards Muscat in the 16th century.

Muscat means ‘anchorage’, and the sea continues to constitute a major part of the city: it brings people on cruise ships and goods in containers to the historic ports of Old Muscat and Mutrah. It contributes to the city’s economy through the onshore refinery near Qurm, and provides a livelihood for fishermen along the beaches of Shatti al-Qurm and Athaiba. More recently, it has also become a source of recreation at Al-Bustan and Bandar Jissah, and along the sandy beach that stretches almost without interruption from Muscat to the border with UAE, over 200km to the northwest.

Muscat is a forward-thinking, progressive city much loved by its citizens, and a beacon for those who live in the interior. In 2006 a new museum, Bait al-Baranda, was opened in the city’s honour. Its inauguration coincided with the choice of Muscat as Arab Cultural Capital – a fitting celebration of Muscat’s renaissance.


Introducing Masirah
With its rocky interior of palm oases and gorgeous rim of sandy beaches, Masirah is the typical desert island. Flamingos, herons and oyster-catchers patrol the coast by day, and armies of ghost crabs march ashore at night. Home to a rare shell, the Eloise, and large turtle-nesting sites, the island is justly fabled as a naturalist’s paradise. Expats stationed here affectionately termed Masirah ‘Fantasy Island’ – not because of wildlife, but because anything they wanted during the long months of internment was the subject of fantasy only.

Masirah is still remote, with minimal facilities, but the island’s splendid isolation is under threat with hotel chains negotiating for a portion of the eastern shore. For now, though, Masirah continues to offer a rare chance to see nature in the raw: if you can get there it promises a rare trip on the wild side.

Introducing Nizwa
Nizwa lies on a plain surrounded by a thick palm oasis and some of Oman’s highest mountains. About two hours from Muscat along a new highway, the town is a gateway to the historic sites of Bahla and Jabrin, and for excursions up Jebel Akhdar and Jebel Shams.

Only half a century ago, the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger was forced to steer clear of Nizwa: his Bedouin companions were convinced that he wouldn’t survive the ferocious conservatism of the town and refused to let him enter. He’d have been amazed to find that Nizwa is now the second-biggest tourist destination in Oman. The seat of factional imams until the 1950s, Nizwa, or the ‘Pearl of Islam’ as it’s sometimes called, is still a conservative town, however, and appreciates a bit of decorum from its visitors.




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