German and International Research on Oman 1998
Oman and the West: state formation in Oman since 1920
by Francis Owtram [abstract]
This paper will present an analysis of the external and
internal influences on the process of state formation in
Oman since 1920 and consists of three main sections.
1. Three interrelated analytical themes are identified in
the relationship between Oman and the West: the
international context of western involvement in Oman, the
nature of that involvement and its impact on Omani society.
2. Five historical stages of state formation in Oman are
i. Oman and British imperial expansion 1798-1920
The period since 1920 can be divided into four stages. In
each of these stages up to 1977 the decisive factor in the
process of state formation was British strategic interest.
This is the era of British 'informal empire' in Oman.
ii. Informal empire in Oman 1921-1931. The period
immediately after the 1920 Treaty of Sib represents the
high point of British intrusion into the daily government
of Oman. Sultan Taimur bin Faisal was unwilling to 'rule'
in the situation Britain presented him and absented himself
from Muscat. Therefore a Council of Ministers (1920-1932)
'governed' with British advisers and British control of
customs revenue. Also during this time the development of
new Western strategic interests in Oman in the form of air
routes and oil prospecting began to increase the strategic
importance of Oman.
ii. The expansion of the Sultanate 1932-1955. Sultan
Sa'id bin Taimur initially sought to take an active part in
the government of the Sultanate and develop independence
from the British. His interest in obtaining any revenues
from oil coincided with the interest of the British
government and oil companies. The outcome was the
overturning of the Sib settlement and the British
financing, staffing and development of armed forces which
occupied Nizwa and ousted the Imamate in 1955.
iv. British withdrawal and the consolidation of the Omani
state 1956-1977. Following his tour of the interior Sultan
Sa'id retreated to Dhofar and also absented himself from
Muscat as his father had done. The Suez Crisis of 1956
marked the end of European attempts to act in
the Middle East independently of the United States and was
to be followed by British withdrawal and decolonisation in
the region. In Oman this finally took place in 1977 when
the British vacated their bases at Masirah Island and
Salalah having defeated the left wing rebellion in Dhofar
and secured a political order in Oman conducive to western
interests. This involved allowing the modernising Qabus to
become Sultan in 1970.
v. The development of the contemporary Omani state
1978-1995. The final stage is that of the contemporary
state. The development of significant oil revenues enabled
Qabus to embark on a vast development programme for Oman
whilst maintaining a close grip on power. Whilst British
personnel and influence remained significant in military
matters there was a far greater American financial and
political involvement following the 1980 US-Oman Access
Agreement. This reflected the western strategic interest in
Oman for the planning of rapid deployment force
capabilities to secure western access to Gulf oil; this was
demonstrated in the Gulf Crisis 1990-1991.
3. The paper will assess the implications of Oman's
relationship with the West for theories of 'informal
empire' and state formation.
Index of Papers presented at the Oman Conference 1998
Oman Conference 1998 - Main Page
Oman Studies Centre - Main Page
Last updated on 25 May 1998.