Oct. 8, 2014 by Darius
[A month and a half ago, I introduced my Poised for the Future Index, a metric which combines improvements in a country’s levels of educational attainment, its corruption levels, and its political stability to identify countries that seem positioned for strong economic growth in the future. See https://notwhatyoumightthink.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/thinking-aloud-poised-for-the-future-a-new-growth-index/ for more information.]
Oman, one of the countries that does well on the Poised for the Future Index, often deliberately tries to keep itself out of the news. Nonetheless, we’ll look at it today. 🙂
Like the other countries on the Poised for the Future Index, Oman’s education has improved a great deal in the last 10 years, rising by an impressive 21% since 2005 according to the UN Education Index. Oman now has a total adult literacy rate of 86.9% (still plenty of room for improvement), and women lag behind but are not left behind completely. Looking to the future, though, 97% of males aged 15-24 and 98% of females in the same age group in Oman are literate. In the new generation, then, both overall literacy is much better and women are being included.
Oman is an absolute monarchy, ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said, who has ruled continuously since ousting his father in a palace coup (with British support) in 1970. Oman has a fairly clean government, ranking as the 61st least corrupt country in the world.
Importantly, Oman is a bastion of stability in a turbulent region. It is sparsely populated and has neither the vast oil wealth of its neighbors in the Gulf to the north nor the poverty, tribalism, and dysfunction of Yemen, which lies across Oman’s western border. Importantly, Omani foreign policy in the region has been designed to avoid enemies: Oman quietly keeps good, or at least working, relations with the US, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and even Israel, a feat that perhaps no other country in the world has been able to accomplish. Oman is also the odd one out religiously: most Omanis are Ibadis, distinct from both Sunnis and Shias. Perhaps surprisingly in this climate, sectarianism is a nonissue in Oman.
Oman, like other absolute monarchies, does not have a free press and is ranked as “not free” by Freedom House. Recently, Omani men were sentenced to prison for criticizing the government. Oman enjoyed a very quiet Arab Spring, though, and there is little prospect of large-scale unrest in the immediate future. In fact, the Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index ranks Oman as more stable than the Bahamas. It is unlikely that there will be a succession crisis following the death of Sultan Qaboos because even though he has no children, he has created an elaborate succession plan.
In addition to its oil wealth and traditional agriculture, Oman has a growing tourism industry and, unlike many of its Gulf neighbors, has pursued an intentional policy of “Omanization,” designed to train Omani nationals to replace expatriate workers in the financial and hospitality industries, among others. Historically, Oman was an economic powerhouse, dominating trade in the Indian Ocean. As Asia rises again, Oman is poised to benefit from its geography, its investment in its people, and its deliberate lack of political drama.