Switzerland of the Middle East: Oman, an Authoritarian Benevolence –
Situated along the north western Arm of Arabian Sea neighbouring the most conflicted nation
Yemen, and the sunni Muslim Power Saudi Arabia along with UAE on one side, Oman is
notably the most stable and neutral Country that garnered the name, Switzerland of the middle
east. It is indeed bold out of the blue that the sultanate of Oman never witnessed a terrorist attack
due to its majority of Ibadi Muslims taking it far away from the sects of Sunni and Shia, due to
which most other nations of Arab world fall into a conflict.
Today’s Oman is largely the result of the policies bought out in the 1970s and 1980s that
directed the country from being just an arid land to a Country of technology, Prosperity and
development. As soon as Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said came to throne after a short coup
overthrowing his father, his main motive was to look beyond the present. He strived to bring the
nation out of isolation and promoted free movement of trade across the strait of Hormuz, which is
a vital passage for oil trade. Today, around 21 Million Barrels of oil pass through the strait, any
disruption would possibly tip the entire middle east and Possibly Oman. For this reason, Oman
never tried to indulge in conflicts with its neighbours, instead drafted several policies to protect
the trade. On the other hand, the government over the years, employed various policies that
contributed to widespread economic growth, while implementing various public policies that
promised the rule of Sultan Qaboos for nearly 50 years.
While the country remained neutral and stayed away from choosing blocs, it did act as a liaison
to various parties in conflict with each other. While the USA does not bring Oman into news
often, the country stays vital in maintaining Iran and the USA relations mediating whenever
necessary. This also helped Oman to back channel several hostage negotiations with the
The rule of Qaboos and Haitam bin Tariq indicated Authoritarian benevolence which secured
Oman from internal conflicts, widespread protests and civil war. On several occasions, the
country violated several human rights and committed abuses on prisoners, the capacity to
provide citizens with various welfare policies and healthcare, averting the rise of poverty and
unemployment did not raise much concern of Human rights violations. Infact, after the popular
protests in 2011, after the citizens took to streets demanding jobs, sultan qaboos made sure that
most of them are employed as he promised to curtail the number of immigrants into the country.
As a result the unemployment rate decreased to 8% keeping it low even till today.
The network of Patrons that Oman managed to gain brought great value and power to the country
making it impossible to sideline Oman in the affairs of the Middle East and the world. As a
result, Oman saw little reasons to have an alliance with one country and detach from another.
Even during the adverse conditions, the country has been able to meditate successfully while not
developing hostile relations with the parties. For example, in 1978, after Cairo signed a deal with
Jerusalem, Egypt was thrown out of the Arab League. However, Oman did not avoid the country
as it continued to maintain bi lateral relations and Sultan Qaboos also paid a visit to Cairo.
A year later, in 1979, the Iranian revolution sent shockwaves across the region involving
widespread conflict between Iran and Iraq. It not only threatened the religion of most Arab
countries of Sunni and Shia sects, but also caused Oman\] to fear the plundering of ships across
the Persian Gulf. Hence, Oman started to think beyond borders and towards seas. As a result, the
Gulf Cooperation Council was negotiated and that provided the regional shield against the
disruption of trade. Not only GCC, but Oman was able to craft several overt and covert policies
with various nations. Later, it urged the UN to initiate Peace talks and financial aid between Iran
and Iraq in order to restore Peace.
This unique country with a fascinating foreign Policy of Keeping friends close and Enemies
closer also offered assistance to several countries. From helping to send back the Americans held
in Yemen and to securing relations with Iran in a very stable manner, and by offering financial
assistance in the early stages of Iranian Nuclear deal the country makes sure to abide by its
peaceful coexistence policy.
Vision 2040: Sultan Qaboos throughout his rule although made sure that the country is driven
towards development through its oil income contributing to around 85%, which indeed provided
subsidized living for many people. But he wanted to decrease reliance on oil income. He wanted
the country to be prepared for any unannounced situations through Economic Diversification,
Modernization of Agriculture, Startup Ecosystems, Tourism, Technology and also set up
Industrial zones across the ports of Salalah and Duqm. The economic diversification helped the
funding of those problems helping the survival of the country. Vision 2040 also aims to embrace
the diversity of the region and culture of Oman. Overall, the vision endeavours to deal with the
environment, while being a competitive economy and a responsible state apparatus.
From an overall Perspective, the royal dynasty of Oman stands unique amongst the Middle
Eastern countries. While possessing a capability to fend itself financially, Oman has been able to
function as a diplomatic friend of everyone. It maintained ties with both the USA and Iran
without hampering its ties or getting pushed into hostile conditions. The early awakening of the
country towards averting crisis and conflict provided for safe haven in the unstable Arab world
which has seen the worst of the Humanitarian crisis for the Past few decades. However, if Oman
intends to continue to be the Switzerland of the Middle East Post pandemic it has to realize that
the battle of neutrality is a tough one with the changing world order Post Pandemic as
plummeting oil Prices might push the country towards newer alliances and that any possible
conflict can wreak havoc and impact the world economy as well as Oman’s vital source of
Author: Mudunuri Navya, Research Associate, Center for Human Security Studies