Chief of state and government is the hereditary sultan, Qabus ibn Said al-Said, who appoints a cabinet called the “Diwans” to assist him. In the early 1990s, the sultan instituted an elected advisory council, the Majlis ash-Shura, though few Omanis were eligible to vote. Universal suffrage for those over 21 was instituted on 4 October 2003. Over 190,000 people (74% of those registered) voted to elect the 83 seats. Two women were elected to seats. The country today has two women ministers.
The sultan functions as an absolute ruler
The sultan is a direct descendant of the 19th century ruler, Usman Sa’id bin Sultan, who first opened relations with the United States in 1833. The Sultanate has neither political parties nor legislature, although the bicameral representative bodies provide the government with advice. The sultan does not designate a successor when alive. Instead, the ruling family tries to unanimously designate a new sultan after his death. If they do not designate a new ruler after three days, then they open a letter left to them by the deceased sultan, containing a recommendation for a new sultan. It is assumed that the ruling family will agree on this person as the success.
Oman’s judicial system traditionally has been based on the Shari’a–the Qur’anic laws and the oral teachings of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Traditionally, Shari’a courts fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, Awqaf, and Islamic Affairs. Oman’s first criminal code was not enacted until 1974. The current structure of the criminal court system was established in 1984 and consists of a magistrate court in the capital and four additional magistrate courts in Sohar, Sur, Salalah, and Nizwa. In the less-populated areas and among the nomadic bedouin, tribal custom often is the law.
Recent royal decrees have placed the entire court system–magistrates, commercial, shari’a and civil courts–under the control of the Ministry of Justice. An independent Office of the Public Prosecutor also has been created (formerly a part of the Royal Oman Police), and a supreme court is under formation. Regional court complexes are envisioned to house the various courts, including the courts of first instance for criminal cases and Shariah cases (family law and inheritance).
Administratively, the populated regions are divided into 59 districts (wilayats), presided over by governors (walis) responsible for settling local disputes, collecting taxes, and maintaining peace. Most wilayats are small; an exception is the wilayat of Dhofar, which comprises the whole province. The wali of Dhofar is an important government figure, holding cabinet rank, while other walis operate under the guidance of the Ministry of Interior.
The Consultative Council
In November 1991, Sultan Qaboos established the Consultative Assembly (Majlis al-Shura), which replaced the 10-year-old State Consultative Council, in an effort to systematize and broaden public participation in government. The Assembly has 83 elected members with only consultative tasks. Representatives were chosen in the following manner: Local caucuses in each of the 59 districts sent forward the names of three nominees, whose credentials were reviewed by a cabinet committee. These names were then forwarded to the Sultan, who made the final selection. The Consultative Assembly serves as a conduit of information between the people and the government ministries. It is empowered to review drafts of economic and social legislation prepared by service ministries, such as communications and housing, and to provide recommendations. Service ministers also may be summoned before the Majlis to respond to representatives’ questions. It has no authority in the areas of foreign affairs, defense, security, and finances. The Council of State (Majlis al-Dawla) has 41 appointed members.
Political parties and elections
Oman does not allow political parties and only holds elections with limited suffrage for a consultative assembly. Though Oman is developing into a constitutional monarchy, political parties are not yet allowed in Oman. The previously influential opposition movement, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman, is dormant today.
Although Oman enjoys a high degree of internal stability, regional tensions in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war and the Iran-Iraq war continue to necessitate large defense expenditures. In 2001, Oman budgeted $2.4 billion for defense–about 33% of its gross domestic product. Oman maintains a small but professional and effective military, supplied mainly with British equipment in addition to items from the United States, France, and other countries. British officers, on loan or on contract to the Sultanate, help staff the armed forces, although a program of “Omanization” has steadily increased the proportion of Omani officers over the past several years.
After North and South Yemen merged in May 1990, Oman settled its border disputes with the new Republic of Yemen on 1 October 1992. The two neighbors have cooperative bilateral relations. Oman’s borders with all neighbors are demarcated.
International organization participation
ABEDA, AFESD, AL, AMF, ESCWA, FAO, G-77, GCC, IBRD, ICAO, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, ISO (correspondent), ITU, NAM, OIC, OPCW, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO (applicant).
Ref: SULTANATE of OMAN