sultan functions as an absolute ruler
The sultan is a direct descendant of the 19th century ruler, Usman
Sa'id bin Sultan, who first opened relations with the United States
in 1833. The Sultanate has neither political parties nor legislature,
although the bicameral representative bodies provide the government
with advice. The sultan does not designate a successor when alive.
Instead, the ruling family tries to unanimously designate a new
sultan after his death. If they do not designate a new ruler after
three days, then they open a letter left to them by the deceased
sultan, containing a recommendation for a new sultan. It is assumed
that the ruling family will agree on this person as the success.
Oman's judicial system traditionally has been based on the Shari'a--the
Qur'anic laws and the oral teachings of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.
Traditionally, Shari'a courts fell under the jurisdiction of the
Ministry of Justice, Awqaf, and Islamic Affairs. Oman's first
criminal code was not enacted until 1974. The current structure
of the criminal court system was established in 1984 and consists
of a magistrate court in the capital and four additional magistrate
courts in Sohar, Sur, Salalah, and Nizwa. In the less-populated
areas and among the nomadic bedouin, tribal custom often is the
royal decrees have placed the entire court system--magistrates,
commercial, shari'a and civil courts--under the control of the
Ministry of Justice. An independent Office of the Public Prosecutor
also has been created (formerly a part of the Royal Oman Police),
and a supreme court is under formation. Regional court complexes
are envisioned to house the various courts, including the courts
of first instance for criminal cases and Shariah cases (family
law and inheritance).
Administratively, the populated regions are divided into 59 districts
(wilayats), presided over by governors (walis) responsible for
settling local disputes, collecting taxes, and maintaining peace.
Most wilayats are small; an exception is the wilayat of Dhofar,
which comprises the whole province. The wali of Dhofar is an important
government figure, holding cabinet rank, while other walis operate
under the guidance of the Ministry of Interior.
The Consultative Council
In November 1991, Sultan Qaboos established the Consultative Assembly
(Majlis al-Shura), which replaced the 10-year-old State Consultative
Council, in an effort to systematize and broaden public participation
in government. The Assembly has 83 elected members with only consultative
tasks. Representatives were chosen in the following manner: Local
caucuses in each of the 59 districts sent forward the names of
three nominees, whose credentials were reviewed by a cabinet committee.
These names were then forwarded to the Sultan, who made the final
selection. The Consultative Assembly serves as a conduit of information
between the people and the government ministries. It is empowered
to review drafts of economic and social legislation prepared by
service ministries, such as communications and housing, and to
provide recommendations. Service ministers also may be summoned
before the Majlis to respond to representatives' questions. It
has no authority in the areas of foreign affairs, defense, security,
and finances. The Council of State (Majlis al-Dawla) has 41 appointed
Political parties and elections
Oman does not allow political parties and only holds elections
with limited suffrage for a consultative assembly. Though Oman
is developing into a constitutional monarchy, political parties
are not yet allowed in Oman. The previously influential opposition
movement, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman, is dormant
Although Oman enjoys a high degree of internal stability, regional
tensions in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war and the Iran-Iraq
war continue to necessitate large defense expenditures. In 2001,
Oman budgeted $2.4 billion for defense--about 33% of its gross
domestic product. Oman maintains a small but professional and
effective military, supplied mainly with British equipment in
addition to items from the United States, France, and other countries.
British officers, on loan or on contract to the Sultanate, help
staff the armed forces, although a program of "Omanization"
has steadily increased the proportion of Omani officers over the
past several years.
North and South Yemen merged in May 1990, Oman settled its border
disputes with the new Republic of Yemen on 1 October 1992. The
two neighbors have cooperative bilateral relations. Oman's borders
with all neighbors are demarcated.
International organization participation
ABEDA, AFESD, AL, AMF, ESCWA, FAO, G-77, GCC, IBRD, ICAO, IDA,
IDB, IFAD, IFC, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol,
IOC, ISO (correspondent), ITU, NAM, OIC, OPCW, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO,
UNIDO, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO (applicant).