Angry citizens take their resentment to the street, and the security forces meet them. Tear gas was also used. This is an uncommon scene in Oman.
The usual lull in power began to fade since last Sunday (May 23, 2021). It was replaced by loud youth-led protests. The main demand is to provide jobs and government employment offices in the cities where protests have erupted have been the target of the protesters.
The demonstrations began in the city of Sohar, 200 kilometers northwest of the capital, Muscat. Then other cities joined her. Some observers fear a tougher crackdown and an escalation of protests.
The dynamics of the days-long protests are, of course, subject to fluctuations. While video clips spread on social media documented security forces, backed by heavy vehicles, in the face of the protesters, other later clips showed a more relaxed relationship, as one watches the security forces distributing water bottles to the protesters. The government may be willing to avoid an open confrontation with the protesters, but this may not be easy to achieve; Yesterday, Wednesday (May 26, 2021) several news agencies reported that tear gas was used against protesters, who were said to have pelted security forces with stones. It seems that further escalation is not excluded.
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Sultani austerity strict
The protests erupted against the backdrop of a tight austerity program imposed by Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said. The program included many layoffs and the imposition of a value-added tax last month.
“The core problem is the country’s economic underdevelopment, which has led to high youth unemployment and a lack of job opportunities. And recent developments are only a manifestation of these shortcomings. What makes matters worse is that the population has a pension and benefits mentality that does not coincide with the decline in per capita pensions, ”Adel Hamiziyeh, a political economist at Chatham House in London, told DW.
Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tariq: Youth is the nation’s wealth and its inexhaustible resource
“Young people are the wealth of the homeland“
The government’s reform plan is strict. Its broad outlines include lower government aid, early retirement, and lower wages for new hires. It will also subsidize government aid that is provided for some goods and impose fees on some services. The above is clearly angering parts of the population.
It appears that the government is now trying to temper that discontent, rhetorically at least. “Young people are the nation’s wealth and its inexhaustible resource. We will listen to them and carefully follow their concerns, problems and needs, ”Sultan Haitham bin Tariq commented on the protests. And the official Oman News Agency announced that the Sultan promised early this week to create about 32,000 new jobs.
The state budget is under pressure
Adel Hamiziyeh believes that this announcement at its best is a short-term solution, adding that from the economic point of view, Oman is suffering from huge pressures. He explains that the country suffers from recession due to weak oil demand and the repercussions of the Corona pandemic. And he adds that the administrative apparatus has been expanded in the past decades in order to create job opportunities for citizens.
The expansion of the bureaucratic administrative apparatus has led to the consumption of three-quarters of the country’s revenues from oil, according to the German government trade and investment center / GTAI. The oil sector, in turn, generates nearly four-fifths of the country’s exports.
Adel Hamiziyeh believes that high oil prices may provide a breathing space, but the prescription of the fiscal and SAI policies does not appear to be sustainable. The expert stresses the need to start reforms sooner rather than later. In theory, the rich countries of the Arabian Peninsula could provide more support to Oman, but the question has long been raised about the possibility of such aid being linked to political conditions, adds Adel Hameezia. Oman has always been proud of its ability to move politically in the region with relative independence.
Also read: Oman’s policy constants in the era of Qaboos .. Will they continue during the era of his successor Haitham?
Worried about another “Arab Spring”
The government’s reactions indicate how seriously it has dealt with the protests. The former Omani foreign minister, Yusuf bin Alawi, announced in a mysterious way on television at the end of last April that he expects further uprisings in the Arab countries. He explained his assumption that the conditions that produced the protests in the context of what was known as the “Arab Spring” are still in place. “Perhaps one spring may not be enough in our Arab region; Since nothing has changed. It is very likely that the Gulf states will not withstand future uprisings, ”said Bin Alawi, who is known for his sober approach, warning that this worries him.
Adel Hamiziyeh believes that the protests will cause immediate concern to the government: “If they expand or persist, they will of course lead to damage to investor confidence, at a time when Oman is actively looking for foreign direct investment and is seeking to stimulate economic sectors such as tourism.”
A new social contract
Politically, Amman faces a question today as to whether a political openness should be carried out at a time when economic support for citizens is declining, according to Adel Hameezia, a political economist at Chatham House Center in London. The state’s ability to support the citizen will increase the pressure on it to introduce political or social reforms.
“Oman will hardly have the ability to avoid thinking of a new form of a social contract with its citizens,” Adel Hameezia concluded his speech to DW.
Kirsten Kneipp / K.S.