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December 17, 2010

My visit to Oman

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Oman is not well known to Canadians. We do not have an embassy there and Oman does not have one in Ottawa. My visit to Oman was triggered by my visit to the beautiful island of Zanzibar, earlier this year. I have fallen in love with Zanzibar from reading about its fascinating history, both in English and Arabic. It’s the history that brought me here to Oman.

Except for paying too much for my five star hotel (which I knew before I landed), and the fact that government does not allow Skype to operate (I did not know this before I landed), I enjoyed my stay in Oman.

Even though I didn’t plan it, my visit coincided with two occasions; Oman was the host this December of the Asian Beach Games, and the country was celebrating 40 years of the Renaissance, during which the current popular Sultan, Sultan Qaboos, had embarked on an ambitious plan of development.

The Sultan rules with the help of an appointed cabinet and an Upper House and there is an elected Maljis (a legislative assembly).

Oman has a very strategic position as it lies in the South Eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, and is overlooking the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. It is surrounded by Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. . It is the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula after Saudi Arabia. Over 80% of its land is desert and the rest has beautiful mountain ranges, valleys and coastal areas.

Although Oman does not produce as much oil as the UAE, it is an exporting country. The country has shown impressive progress in the last 40 years and has an excellent road network. It does not compete with other Gulf countries in building taller buildings and towers; which I believe is a wise choice.

Zanzibar was part of an Omani commercial empire in the eastern Indian Ocean, which lasted from the 600s to the 1900s and included parts of East Africa, West India, Arabia and Iran.

Oman has what a Canadian like myself is looking for; sunshine, pleasant winter weather, history, culture, beaches, mountains and deserts.

Omani’s ancestors are Arabs, Africans, Iranians and Indians. This is reflected in the Omani food. Although the native language is Arabic, Omanis who fled the Zanzibar mascaras in the 1960s speak fluent Swahili. English is also widely spoken.

Muscat is the capital and it is dotted with fine ancient forts, built to defend the city from the sea. The interior also has forts, which were built to defend the main cities from the desert side. Oman is the home of some 500 forts.

The Portuguese invaded Oman in 1508 and they occupied Oman and its cities in both Africa and India. The Omani’s liberated their lands following 200 years of occupation but later the British and the Germans competed to invade and occupy Oman with the British having the upper hand.

The first treaty between Oman and Britain dates back to 1646. It was a trade treaty giving the East India Company trading rights. The 1800 treaty stated that the relationship between the two countries would “remain good until the end of time and sun and the moon and their revolving careers”.

In 1856, following the death of Sultan Said bin Al Busaid, who took both Muscat and Zanzibar as twin capitals of the Omani Empire, the Empire was split into two; Zanzibar and Africa’s Eastern coast, and Sultanate of Muscat and Oman. In 1891, the British Army invaded Oman and held it as a protectorate until 1970.

Oman is a conservative Muslim country; most of Omanis follow the Ibadi School. In contrast with its neighbouring countries Saudi Arabia, Yemen and UAE, I have not seen a single niqabi woman here

The country has some 3-4 million people (a new census has started during my visit) and Omanis constitute about 75%. The government allotted free plots of land for foreigners to build Christian churches in Muscat, Salalah, and Sohar and a Hindu temple is based at Muscat.

Oman is a country worth visiting.

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