“Oman Breaks From GCC on Yemen Conflict”
Al Monitor, May 7, 2015
“Saudi Arabia marshaled a seemingly impressive coalition for its air war on Yemen. In addition to its Sunni allies in the Gulf, Riyadh roped in partners ranging from Sudan to Morocco, and even far-off Senegal. However, one ally of the kingdom is sitting out the war: Oman. Indeed, Oman is the only Arab monarchy that declined to participate in the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. By not deploying its military to strike Houthi targets in its southern neighbor, Oman is further demonstrating that it is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member most independent from Riyadh’s sphere of geopolitical influence — and most committed to cooling regional sectarian tensions. … Rather than dropping bombs, Muscat has opted for pressuring the international community to pursue a diplomatic solution to the rapidly deteriorating conflict. … This strategy of relative neutrality is consistent with Sultan Qaboos’ traditional foreign policy of maintaining respectful relations with all relevant actors and offering Oman’s service as a third-party mediator. This same strategy brought American and Iranian diplomats to talk in Muscat in 2012, which led to the historic framework deal that world powers and Iran reached in Lausanne last month. … There is also a sectarian dimension to Oman’s position. The majority of Omanis practice Ibadi Islam — a strand distinct from both Sunnis and Shiites — and many have a fair deal of sympathy for the Houthis in Yemen. Like Ibadis, the Zaydi Shiite Houthis are viewed by Saudi Arabia’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi religious establishment as ‘apostates’ or ‘infidels.’ The history of Riyadh’s sponsorship of Salafist groups in Yemen is not received well in Oman, a unique Arab state given its reputation for religious tolerance.”
Quickie analysis: Yet again, Oman shows that it is, quietly, the only grownup in the Gulf.