Oman’s quest to balance ‘tradition and modernisation’
“Oman Reborn: Balancing Tradition and Modernization” by Linda Pappas Funsch is a well-documented book on the sultanate that traces the Gulf country’s history of independence, its legacy of interaction with diverse cultures and enlightened modern leadership. It is an essay that could easily be titled “Pride and Progress in Oman.”
Funsch notes that the Omani leadership transformed the country in less than 50 years from an isolated underdeveloped kingdom into a stable, dynamic and largely optimistic country. The skilled architect of modern Oman is Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, friend to both East and West, whose unique leadership style has resulted in domestic and foreign policy achievements during his almost five decades in power.
Before 1970, Omani people across the country, as well as those who felt compelled to leave their homeland in search of education and opportunity elsewhere, were waiting for a leader who would take them on a journey towards progress and prosperity. Sultan Qaboos assured them he was that leader and so it has proved.
With his military and academic background and comprehensive knowledge of his country’s history, Sultan Qaboos understood not only the role Omanis played over the centuries but also their potential to transform their land from the sleepy, isolated desert backwater into a thriving and forward-looking country. It was essential, he decided, to channel the country’s human and material resources towards a single goal — the development of the modern Omani individual.
Funsch quotes Sultan Qaboos as saying: “The achievements in various spheres are all aimed at realising one noble goal — the building of the modern Omani who believes in God and is committed to maintaining his own identity, while keeping abreast of the technology, sciences, literature and arts of the age in which he lives and reaping the benefits of modem civilisation in building his country and developing his society.”
From the moment Sultan Qaboos assumed power on July 23, 1970, he dedicated himself to the nation and people of Oman with the words: “The land of Oman and its people are in my heart and in my thoughts, and the job I have taken on is a duty, not a ceremonial honour.”
“Oman Reborn” is a personal account of how the author fell in love with the country during her first visit in 1974 and how she followed its developments with great interest before returning in 2006.
The book illustrates how Sultan Qaboos used his discrete foreign policy to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran after the Iranian government arrested three Americans in different situations. The Omani diplomatic efforts behind the scenes proved quite effective in releasing other hostages in areas of conflict.
Rather than mediating, Sultan Qaboos’s preferred role appears to be that of a go-between, in which he responds to requests from third parties to help defuse tensions rather than attempting to mediate between the opposing parties.
Funsch efficiently reaches a larger audience conveying the uniqueness and integrity of Oman within the Arab world and the genuine respect it has gained from the international community.
She is a specialist in modern Middle East studies and Islamic history. She has studied, worked and travelled extensively throughout the region. A freelance writer, consultant and educator for more than 40 years, Funsch lectures frequently about Oman at symposia and institutions such as the World Bank, the World Affairs Council and Georgetown University.