One of the oldest Arabic-speaking independent states is Oman. Located in on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula, the country is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. Unlike many other Arab countries, which remained under European colonial control until as far as the twentieth century, colonialism ended for Oman in the early sixteenth. Oman’s strategic location to the Persian Gulf was a very desirable quality for many possible conquerors. However Oman’s geography, which created natural barriers between it and the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, warded off invaders for centuries.
The proximity to the Gulf allows for humid weather along the coast in the eastern portion of the country. Towards the central region, there is a much more arid climate and gravelly desert. Along the northern boarder and southeastern edge, there lie mountain ranges. Oman is a fragmented country, which means that not all of its landmasses are connected to one another geographically. The northernmost portion of the country is separated from the rest by the United Arab Emirates. This region is known as Ruus al Jibal and is located directly on the Strait of Hormuz, which feeds into the Persian Gulf.
People have resided in the region that makes up modern Oman since Homo sapiens migrated there from Africa nearly one-hundred thousand years ago. These people developed tools, fishing and farming techniques, the domestication of animals, and the cultivation of crops. There is archaeological evidence of raised platforms that were used by the ancients to create ziggurat structures. This hints at an early influence from Mesopotamian civilizations, such as the Sumerians, who referred to the land as “Makan” and valued the area for its copper reserves. Along with the copper, archaeologists have discovered that the region of modern-day Oman was prized in ancient times for frankincense as well. By the sixth century BCE, these early civilizations had developed into the Iranian Empire known as the Achaemenid, which would be followed by two more Persian civilizations: the Parthians and the Sassanids. The control of these dynasties lasted from the sixth century BCE to the seventh century CE.
The arrival of Islam in the seventh century CE was, as it is with many Arabic-speaking countries, a high milestone in the history and formation of the present state. Islam was brought to Oman by ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, who was sent by Muhammad himself. Oman was one of the first nations to accept and convert to the new religion. Thus, in the years following Muhammad’s death, Oman was a key component in the rapid expansion of Islam across both the Arabian Peninsula and across North Africa.
In the Middle Ages, Oman flourished in regards to its trade. The Middle East became the gateway for trade between the Western world and the rest of Asia. The maritime trade of Oman allowed the country to grow rich and strengthened Omani influence in other areas of the world- as far away as China and also in Africa. It was during this time that the khanjar knives, for which Oman is famous for, became synonymous with Arab and Muslim sailors. This fact demonstrates the domination Oman had over the seas in the Middle Ages. Even today, there is a strong tradition of creating the curved khanjar knives, which has become a unique art form of the country.
Middle Eastern domination of world trade ended in the fifteenth century, when an alternate route to the Eastern world was discovered around the southern tip of Africa. This route was discovered by Vasco de Gama, a Portuguese. By the year 1508, Portuguese presence in the area has escalated to their occupation of the city of Muscat, and eventually the whole of Oman. Their control lasted exactly one-hundred and forty years, until 1648. Evidence of Portuguese colonization is still present in some of the costal towns and cities, where a more European architectural style is present.
The Portuguese were eventually driven out by defiant Omani nomads. Their leader, Nasr ibn Murshid, is still considered a national hero in the eyes of the citizens of Oman. The uprising of Oman against their conquerors helped to boost the economic and military prowess of the small nation and the country quickly became one of the wealthiest independent states in the Middle Eastern region.
Until the eighteenth century, Omanis enjoyed the leadership of a series of sultans that helped to create reforms to both the country’s navy and agriculture. However, in that same century, civil war broke out. This led to the northern faction to call on help from Persian armies, resulting in Persian occupation of the state for a short period of time in the 1740’s, until they were quickly overthrown. From this point to present-day, no other foreign body has had control over Oman. Yet, throughout the early nineteenth century, the country did develop notably strong ties with Britain. Unlike many other countries in the region, Britain did not declare a protectorate over Oman. Rather, Oman retained its sovereignty.
Economic conditions of the nineteenth century were not nearly as friendly to the Omanis as they were in the previous centuries. Many believe that the abolition of slavery is largely responsible for the declining circumstances. This initially resulted in a large-scale migration of Omanis to Zanzibar. When conditions continued to worsen, an uprising began. This revolution only worsened the economic status of the country and Oman called for help from British forces. In addition to military help, the British also loaned the government money- an act that only increased their influence in the country. The situation in Oman remained in a poor state, with rebels and the government not being able to come to agreement on terms of a peace treaty for several decades.
By the early twentieth century, the nation was a much different from the Oman that had once flourished from its international relations in trade. Under Sultan Said bin Taimur, who was elected in 1932, Oman became a much more introverted, isolated country that was still very poor. Said bin Taimur ruled for thirty eight years, until his son took control of the country in 1970. The result of Sultan Qaboos Bin Said’s reign has been much different than that of his father’s. The discovery of oil allowed the country to open up to the rest of the world. Oman now also heavily relies upon its fishing and agricultural sectors. In addition, Sultan Qaboos Bin Said brought about reforms for Oman in the education, healthcare and the overall general welfare of the Omani people. In 2011, as with many of its neighbors, Oman experienced a series of uprisings and protests. While some got violent, many were peaceful. In response to them, Qaboos bin Said called for reforms throughout both the government and instituted a number of political and economic reforms.
Today, after decades of isolation, Oman has become a valuable and sought after ally for many foreign nations. Due to its close ties with most Middle Eastern countries and also with the United Kingdom and the United States, Oman is seen as a sort of mediator in world politics.