“Control the situation”: Omani leaders quickly quell the protests | Business and Economic News


Oman has traditionally been regarded as a relatively stable pole in a turbulent region, but recent protests have exposed many problems facing this Gulf country on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula.

The turmoil of the last month Finally held demonstrations in various citiesThere are growing speculations about the reasons behind the frustration of the Omani people and whether it can be resolved.

Ten years ago, the Sultanate of Oman withstood the effects of the Arab Spring, which changed the landscape of the region and ended multiple regimes. However, unlike Tunisia, Egypt or Libya, Omani demonstrators mainly demand political reforms, not the departure of Sudan.

At that time, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said had the obligation to Commitment to various political reformsThese include the creation of 50,000 new jobs in the public service sector, welfare programs for the unemployed, and raising the salaries of civil servants.

James Worrall, associate professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the University of Leeds, said that local demonstrations were brought under control relatively quickly, but they did not stop completely.

Obviously, Qaboos’ reforms only temporarily solved the country’s problems, but did not permanently solve them.

Waller told Al Jazeera: “Since 2011, there have been small-scale protests in the Sultanate, but these protests have basically received no attention.”

‘Double shock’

Yasmina Abouzzohour, a visiting researcher at the Brookings Institution, told Al Jazeera that the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting drop in oil prices have exposed the weaknesses of Oman’s economic system, which is more than 60% dependent on oil and gas.

She said: “Due to excessive reliance on hydrocarbons and high debt, Oman’s economy was in trouble before 2019, and the dual shocks of the global pandemic and falling oil prices have exacerbated the Omani economy.”

As a result, economic output fell by 6.4%, while Expanded the national budget Since the reform was first implemented, it has reached 17.3% of gross domestic product (GDP). Within a year, the country’s deficit rose from 60% of 2019 GDP to 81%.

At the same time, the country’s economy is underdeveloped Leading to increasing underemployment, Especially young people, the unemployment rate is as high as 10%.

Worrall said that here, the coronavirus catastrophe has added new impetus on a personal level.

“The pandemic has added some pressure, it has dealt a heavy blow to the economy, and of course it has also caused people to be trapped, bored and frustrated-the latter factor is very important.”

Sultan Qaboos died in January 2020, leaving behind his successor Sultan Haytham bin Tariq Said Challenging situation. Nonetheless, Worrall said, leadership changes may be beneficial to the country.

“Obviously, there are a lot of similarities, which is important, but we also saw some interesting differences. Haytham is obviously more dynamic. There are many activities, and when the Qaboos era is about to end, things will naturally happen. Slow down and didn’t make some difficult decisions,” he said.

These difficult decisions that Qaboos postponed were left to Haytham, who had no choice but to make fiscal adjustments in view of the economic recession that Oman was witnessing.

‘Tenant response’

Haitham instructed all authorities to cut their budgets by 10%. It is this kind of administrative structure that has been clearly expanded over the past few decades in order to provide work for as many people as possible.

Oman’s administrative bureaucracy now consumes almost three-quarters of the national revenue of the oil sector.he still Levied a 5% value-added tax (Value-added tax), and start to levy income tax on high-income earners from 2022.

In addition, the government reduced subsidies, adopted early retirement measures, and lowered wages for new employees.

Abouzzohour said that it is not surprising that people’s frustration has reappeared, and the renewed protests are the result of a repeat of economic difficulties.

“They are triggered by economic dissatisfaction, especially unemployment and layoffs,” she said.

Among other measures, Haytham announced a package of measures aimed at creating 32,000 jobs in the public and private sectors and providing additional social benefits.

“The protests against the creation of new government jobs — interestingly, many of them are temporary — and the announcement of private sector employment reforms seem more like typical rentier reactions, but they convey to a certain extent Information about the nature of the long-term work-the long-term direction of economic reforms, and of course the reality,” Waller assessed the measures taken.

Since the current protests may bring immediate economic concerns to the government, as Oman is desperately seeking foreign direct investment and seeking to stimulate key sectors such as tourism, this may undermine investor confidence, so control the situation for Sudan’s vision It’s essential.

Abouzzohour said that fortunately for him, the protests are unlikely to expand dramatically.

“The possibility of these protests escalating is very small. First, these are small events attended by hundreds of protesters. Second, Sultan Haytham has acted quickly to contain them, promising to create jobs for the government and the private sector, and to help Omanis who are unemployed due to the pandemic provide a six-month allowance.”

In addition, there were larger-scale protests against unemployment and inflation in 2018 and 2019, and were demoted by the late Sultan Qaboos in a similar manner. Abouzzohour said that there is no reason to suspect that these recent small sit-ins will end in a different way.

Worrall agreed, noting that the government has shown a tendency to ease the situation rather than exacerbate it.

“Nothing can be completely ruled out, but the possibility [of protest escalation] Is the smallest. In fact, it is very difficult to form a true alliance. The government still responded positively and showed that it cares about the people. The pandemic situation means that people understand the pressure and can see similar problems elsewhere,” Waller said.

“The government continues to participate in the dialogue and shows its willingness to address people’s concerns as much as possible.”

Panoramic view of Muscat, the capital of Oman on January 12, 2020 [Christopher Pike/Reuters]

“Decentralization”

On the other hand, politically, Oman is now facing the question of whether reforms should be accompanied by political liberalization. Worrall believes that although the initial signs are favorable, people cannot yet fully assess the modus operandi of Sudan moving forward.

“It is important not to treat political liberalization as a Western model, but it is clear that Haytham’s direction of travel is to involve more people. Due to the restrictions of COVID, we have not really seen his interaction with the people, but Decentralization It looks like a political liberalization.

“More decisions will be made at the local level, but obviously there are other factors at play here, which is a balancing act. For example, Majlis A’Shura [legislative body] Some interesting new powers have been acquired recently, but there are also other modifications or deletions,” Waller said.

However, even if national liberalization is not on the agenda immediately, Sudan still has work to do.

According to Abouzzohour, the priorities are clear.

She said: “Sudan will focus on improving economic conditions, promoting tourism after the epidemic is under control, and diversifying its economy away from hydrocarbons.”

Worrall added that although the challenges are great, Sudan has a way to overcome the crisis.

“The situation is definitely challenging, but Haytham has a range of tools available and capable people around him who can help. Therefore, we will see extensive continuity, but we will also see continuous and gradual changes. ——The classic balance of interests, resources and priorities that has been serving the Sultanate for the past five years,” Waller said.

Worrall said that although the current Sudan and his predecessor have “many similarities”, there are still differences that may change the country’s momentum.

“What’s fascinating is that Haytham seems willing to decentralize power inside and outside the royal house. The separation of Qaboos’s key role is an important development, as is the acceleration of decentralization programs and activities.”

Worrall concluded: “The willingness to reform and reorganize is not only a newcomer who wants to leave his mark, but also a person who can make quick decisions and knows that the economic situation is short.”





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