Oman - The 20th century

Oman - The 20th century Last updated on Wednesday 14th April 2010

Muscat's control depended very much upon the opinion of the Sultan held by the tribes of the interior. In the early 20th century, the sultan's power to control the interior of the country was felt to have decreased.

In February 1932 Sultan Said bin Taimur, father of the present ruler, came to power. When he tried to exercise his nominal control in the interior of the country in the early 1950's, he was backed by the British, who felt that there was oil there. And in order to look for it, they needed the Sultan to have actual control of the area and for Oman's indefinite borders with Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi to be clearly defined and drawn.

The ultimate result of this was a territorial dispute over the Buraimi oasis involving Oman, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. With British help and his own bravado, Sultan Said in the end was the winner and the Buraimi oasis is today firmly within the borders of Oman.

Sultan Said bin Taimur was, in the words of one British writer, "an arch-reactionary of great personal charm". He wanted no change of any sort in Oman and did all that he could to isolate his country from the world. All visas were issued personally by him. He forbade travel to the interior by coastal residents and vice versa. Believing education was a threat to his power, he opposed it.

In general, Omanis were not allowed to leave the country and those who did were seldom allowed to return. The Sultan's only contact with the outside world was through his British advisers and Muscat's merchant families. He allowed these last to establish enormously lucrative monopolies for the import of good that he saw as crucial to his survival. In exchange, the merchants stayed out of politics and imported nothing which Sultan Said felt reeked of progress or the West (radios, books, eyeglasses).

Through their customs receipts, the merchants provided the Sultan with most of the country's income. Aside from a few rich merchants, most of the population relied upon agriculture and fishing.

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