A different perspective from Oman
With regards politics, the sultanate has been known for its neutral policy that helped it avoid many problems
I don’t remember the last time the Sultanate of Oman made it to the news’ headlines. Oman has never made major headlines. The defining feature of our region is that it is usually the evil figures or the victims who make headlines. However, one Omani statement against the transition of the Gulf Cooperation Council into a union has attracted the attention of many.
We have become used to two contradictory cases at the GCC, one is very loud and is represented by Qatar and another is very calm and is represented by Oman.
The council has absorbed both, despite the sharp contradiction between them. The Sultanate of Oman was known as the most harmonious member, or rather as the almost perfect member, due to its steady relations with others in the region.
The future will be hard on everyone if cooperation is not deepened. Oman, like the rest of the GCC, is confronting difficult challengesAbdulrahman al-Rashed
As for the proposed Gulf Union, I don’t think it necessitates a protest like the one conveyed by Oman’s Foreign Affairs Minister Youssef bin Alawi a few days ago in Bahrain. The proposal was made around two years ago and any member state has the right to accept it or reject it, or at least hope for it. The minister justified his rejection saying there was nothing to warrant rushing into a union. This would have been true if it hadn’t been 33 years since the council’s establishment! The proposed union, which the minister thinks is too much, is even less than the unity foreseen in the preamble of the council’s establishment three decades ago. The current proposal of a union is similar to the EU model where no state is obliged to do what it rejects.
What is best for Oman
In my opinion, and knowing its calm character and success at internal educational, economic and humanitarian development as a large country that does not fear dissolving, the Sultanate of Oman, which is the second largest country among all six GCC countries, may be the most convenient of countries for this union. I am not exaggerating when I say that Oman, despite its weak financial resources, is the best among all six GCC countries in terms of domestic development. Although it sells a small amount of oil (it is the 27th source in the world with oil revenues standing at $36 billion), its expenditure budget is only around $28 billion. The result is more a efficient and more successful economy. Therefore, it’s better for Oman if Gulf economic cooperation is expanded. The future will be hard on everyone if cooperation is not deepened. Oman, like the rest of the GCC, is confronting difficult challenges. Its economy is based on oil and oil prices and according to what we have heard and seen, new discoveries and production technique pose a threat to the oil industry in the country. Also, similar to other Gulf countries, half of Oman’s residents are under the age of 25. This will mean that consecutive governments will confront a lot of difficulties. Most of these residents are armed with the best means of communication; there are three million people in Oman, but five million cellular phone in use. Also, 60 percent of laborers are foreigners. The scene in Oman is thus similar to its neighbors’. The number of job seekers is increasing, their livelihood expectations are high and competition with others is not easy.
With regards politics, the sultanate has been known for its neutral policy that helped it avoid many problems. When it was revealed, over the past few weeks, that Oman acted as the messenger between Iran and the U.S. regarding the nuclear issue, some thought this was a new role for Oman. But this wasn’t Oman’s first time playing such a role. In the past few years, the sultanate, like Switzerland, has transferred messages between Washington and Tehran, considering there is an Omani embassy in Tehran. But Muscat wasn’t a mediator and it did not mediate. It was chosen as a neutral party to ensure the transfer of messages. The Iranians have no activity in Oman and the latter is not among Iran’s most prominent trade partners. In the end, the Omanis know what better serves their interests.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 11, 2013.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.