Unemployment triggers protests in Oman

Crowds gathered January 22 outside of the Ministry of Manpower in Muscat, chanting: “We want jobs.”
Sunday 28/01/2018
Omani soldiers keeping watch in the northern industrial town of Sohar.

LONDON - In scenes reminiscent of the protests that shook Oman in 2011, hundreds of unemployed Omanis demonstrated in Muscat and Salalah, leading officials to reiterate pledges to create thousands of jobs. 

“The cabinet is closely monitoring the implementation of the decision to create 25,000 jobs… in no more than six months as a first phase,” an official statement carried by the Omani state news agency said. 

Crowds gathered January 22 outside of the Ministry of Manpower in Muscat, chanting: “We want jobs.” Such protests are a rare occurrence in Oman and a clear indicator that its citizens are looking for more than just rhetoric. 

Oman had countrywide protests in February 2011, inspired by the “Arab spring” demonstrations in which the governments in Tunisia 
and Egypt were toppled, with unemployment one of the protesters’ chief complaints. In response, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said fired one-third of his cabinet and the government was reshuffled to address calls to end corruption. 

Sultan Qaboos also pledged to create 50,000 government jobs and increase unemployment benefits.

In March 2011, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) stepped in to help Oman and Bahrain with a $20 billion stimulus package similar to the United States’ post-second world war Marshall Plan for Western Europe. 

However, the unemployment issue in the sultanate remains a major problem, possibly due to miscalculations by the government, such as waiting for promised support by Iran that never materialised.

“Lots of discussion about Oman’s apparent acceptance of Saudi funding for key projects,” wrote Middle East analyst Christopher Davidson on his official Twitter account. 

“This says a lot about the state of the coffers but Muscat seems to have limited options. There are now open protests about unemployment and Iran’s long-promised help wasn’t delivered.” 

Financial market analysis firm BMI Research’s latest country risk report on Oman pointed to unemployment as one of the chief threats facing the sultanate. 

The report said the biggest weakness in Oman’s short-term political profile is the possibility that frustration at a lack of improvement in living standards for the country’s relatively young population could lead to renewed protests against the government. 

Unemployment in 2016 in Oman was estimated at 17.5% but youth unemployment was said to be more than 20%. 

Due to the global economic situation, particularly with regards to falling oil prices, GCC countries have reassessed their economic models, resulting in economic initiatives and reform programmes.

GCC powerhouses Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in January introduced value added taxes (VATs) for the first time. Despite suffering the same — if not worse — economic circumstances as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, other GCC members, including Oman, are to introduce VATs this year or in 2019.