At least 1,000 protesters are thought to have gathered for second straight day in industrial town of Sohar, near the border with the UAE. Omani police fired rubber bullets on stone-throwing protesters demanding political reform killing two people and wounding many others, and the military moved in to secure the area, witnesses said. Protests were also reported in the capital Muscat and Salalah.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said, trying to ease tensions in country, reshuffled his cabinet on, a week after an earlier protest in the capital Muscat. Earlier in the month, the government increased the salary for national workers in the private sector by 43 percent to US $520 per month.
February 25-27, 2011
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
The protests appear to be inspired by growing unrest in the region. However, they are likely to be because of growing local unrest about local issues, mainly political and economic. They may also be related to growing unrest among the impoverished local Shiite population, who are largely from an Indian extraction and do not follow the same branch of Shiite Islam as other GCC Shiites. However, at this stage, with the relatively small number of protesters, this is unlikely to be a major factor in the recent unrest by themselves.
The most serious protests were in the town of Sohar, whose economy has suffered massively as a result of the global financial crisis. The collapse of the Blue City project, widely covered by Political Capital over the past two years, has also had a negative impact on the city’s economy.
The move by the government to increase the salaries of local civil servants may help alleviate some of the grievances, but with rising unemployment especially among the under-30’s, the move does not address growing unease.
What also makes Oman more complicated is the absence of an heir to their throne, where the Sultan, in his mid-70’s, has ruled for over 40 years after toppling his father in a coup.
In addition, reports of recent changes in the structure of the security forces may imply a deeper potential threat, that is not only restricted to mass protests, but also within the government structure. Recent improvement of relations with Iran may explain some of the recent events in the Sultanate.
The country and regime face unprecedented threats, and although apparently not on the scale seen in other regional states, the situation may get more complicated, especially given that they come at times of challenges within the regime itself as well as public unrest.
The figure below show the ethnic and religious make-up of the Omani population