How Has Oman’s Constitution Been Amended?
The sultan of Oman has announced constitutional changes that will provide for a more seamless succession and for the guarantee of more rights and freedoms for its citizens, including women. The changes, announced by state-run media on Monday, also will increase government transparency, including a committee to monitor and evaluate the performance of senior government officials.
Changes to the country’s basic law are made by the decree of the hereditary sultan.
The changes announced on Monday by Sultan Haitham bin Tariq come exactly one year after Haitham was named as the country’s new ruler following the death of his cousin, Qaboos bin Said, who had ruled the Arab nation for half a century.
Qaboos did not have any children, nor did he have a crown prince in place. His choice of Haitham was placed in a sealed envelope left in the palace in Muscat. The envelope was opened following his death after the royal family was unable to agree on who should be his successor.
According to Oman’s basic law, which serves as the country’s constitution, the sultan should be a member of the royal family. The sultan also is required to be: “Muslim, mature, rational and the legitimate son of Omani Muslim parents.”
Haitham, the father of two sons and two daughters, appears determined to change this succession uncertainty. His decree will allow for the naming of a crown prince, which is common in other Gulf states.
He did not, however, name a crown prince or say what his duties would be in Monday’s announcement.
Qaboos, Haitham’s predecessor, overthrew his father in a British-backed coup in 1970. Once he came to power, he embarked on a program of modernization, which he paid for using the country’s significant oil revenues. He added roads, a telecommunications network and hundreds of miles of electrical infrastructure. He built schools, hospitals and a desalinization plant, and opened universities. He also almost immediately abolished slavery.
Women were given the right to vote and run for a place in the Majlis al-Shura, the Consultative Assembly of Oman – the lower house of the Omani legislature – in 1997.
The country got caught up in the 2011 Arab Spring protests, and demonstrators in Oman staged protests calling for an end to unemployment and corruption, as well as political reform. Qaboos responded by promising more jobs and better benefits, making some amendments to the Basic Law, and ordering new elections to the Consultative Assembly, which was promised greater powers. Qaboos also ordered a crackdown on protests and on critics who used the internet to disseminate their views.
Upon assuming the position of sultan, Haitham, a graduate of Pembroke College of Oxford University, began enacting reforms, including appointing a finance minister and a central bank chairman, as well as a foreign minister. The sultan previously held these positions.
The country has come under serious financial pressure due to low oil prices, brought even lower by the coronavirus crisis. It is also saddled with a large amount of national debt, projected for 2021 to be nearly 89% of its gross domestic product.
Oman has a population of about 4.8 million occupying an area of approximately 119,500 square miles. It borders the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.