Sultan of Oman moves quickly to contain protests
MUSCAT - Sultan Haitham bin Tariq moved quickly in response to young protesters demanding work and ordered the implementation of a plan to employ more than 32,000 jobless youths, despite the difficult economic conditions Oman is going through as a result of the pandemic and the decline in state revenues with the fall of oil prices.
Omani analysts told The Arab Weekly that Sultan Haitham moved faster than all the state agencies that are supposed to handle the issues at hand.
They attributed this to the sultan’s conviction that the role of the state is to listen to the people’s demands attentively, whatever the circumstances, especially when they concern young people who are the pillar of the country’s stability and the key to its future prosperity.
Omani state television showed footage of the sultan while chairing a meeting on youth unemployment.
Sultan Haitham said, “Young people are the wealth of nations and their inexhaustible resource … We are keen to listen to them and find out what their needs, interests and aspirations are.”
The official Oman News Agency ONA said the sultan also issued new directives to create up to 32,000 full-time or part-time jobs in government departments.
Additional directives will provide government subsidies to those who join the work force for the first time.
Observers pointed out that the treatment of the protesters was different from in the past.
In addition to the expedited announcement of the employment plan, it was clear to everyone that there were orders from the sultan for the civil treatment of the protesters, making sure that no arrests are made.
Police appeared in some of the videos offering water to protesters. This reflected a changed approach since Monday’s demonstrations, when police fired tear gas to disperse gatherings and arrested groups of protesters.
Muhammad Mubarak Al-Arimi, head of the Omani Journalists Association, attributed the protests of the last few days to “accumulated factors that went on for more than ten years as a result of the Omani and international economic situation.”
He said no protester was arrested nor detained.
Arimi told The Arab Weekly: “The quick reaction by Sultan Haitham bin Tariq reflected many things, including his direct knowledge of the conditions in his country for more than a quarter of a century and his direct supervision of the Oman 2040 Vision and follow up of people’s needs.”
He pointed out that the Basic Law of the sultanate guarantees freedom of opinion, as long as it does not infringe on the interests and security of the country and its citizens, “and this is what we have seen in the protests of the past two days, which reflected the maturity of the attitudes by Oman’s youth towards its country and its sultan.”
The initial response of the state establishment, whether in terms of providing job opportunities or security measures, seemed to be a reflection of what happened ten years ago during the protests that followed the wave of the “Arab Spring” upheaval.
It seems clear that official bodies did not take into consideration that those who are demonstrating today are a new generation that has nothing to do with what happened a decade ago, even if the protesters’ demands and the geography of the movements are similar.
The protesters chose to reenact the symbolism of the square that had attracted the previous generation of demonstrators in Sohar , which has since been removed and replaced by a highway bridge.
Salem bin Hamad al-Jouhouri, an Omani researcher in international affairs, said that Sultan Haitham’s move towards speeding the hiring of job seekers after the sit-in which occurred in some governorates indicated “support to their demands, and a will to find quick solutions to them and address their situations.”
Jouhouri told The Arab Weekly that economic pressures on Oman were many, “especially with the decline in oil prices, the delay in the implementation of projects and programmes and the pandemic, all of which put the economic momentum in limbo”.
Khalid bin Hamad al Rawahi, director of manpower in the capital, Muscat, referred to the economic and social challenges faced by Oman Vision 2040, after the government set a work programme to employ 12,000 people in the public sector and about 13,000 in the private sector and establish projects for young people and facilitate their self-employment by offering them grants and soft loans.
Rawahi told The Arab Weekly that the global economic crisis and the pandemic “caused a delay in the implementation of some of the programmes scheduled within this plan, which prompted some young people looking for work to assemble in the street and ask the government to speed up the process of their employment.”
He noted that there had been 15,000 job opportunities provided within two years, as well as a monthly subsidy from the Job Safety Fund in the amount of 200 riyals per person.
The director of manpower in Muscat added that the authorities are continuing to complete the procedures for the appointment of 12,000 jobs within the 2021 employment plan, so that 1,000 jobs are offered every month in the civilian and military government sectors until the end of this year. Additionally, 2,000 public service job opportunities will be offered under the temporary contract system.
He stressed that the ministry of labour will announce a subsidy for the wages of new private sector recruits of two hundred Omani riyals, provided that employers bears the difference in the salary.
The Oman News Agency reported on its Twitter account that “the Sultan gave his instructions to the concerned authorities to quickly implement the hiring initiatives by employing more than 32,000 job seekers during this year.”
Among these jobs, there will be “12,000 in the civilian and military government sectors, according to the current needs of the different departments,” added the same source.
ONA stated that the Sultan’s initiatives also include providing 2,000 job opportunities in the government sector under the temporary contract system and providing one million hours of part-time work based on decisions that the ministry of labour will announce.