Oman, officially the Sultanate of Oman, is an Arab country on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Holding a strategically important position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the nation is bordered by the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the southwest, and shares marine borders with Iran and Pakistan. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea on the southeast and the Gulf of Oman on the northeast. The Madha and Musandam exclaves are surrounded by the UAE on their land borders, with the Strait of Hormuz (which it shares with Iran) and Gulf of Oman forming Musandam’s coastal boundaries.
Oman is an absolute monarchy. The Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has been the hereditary leader of the country since 1970. Sultan Qaboos is the longest-serving current ruler in the Middle East, and sixth-longest current reigning monarch in the world.
Oman has modest oil reserves, ranking 25th globally. Nevertheless, in 2010 the UNDP ranked Oman as the most improved nation in the world in terms of development during the preceding 40 years. A significant portion of its economy is tourism and trade of fish, dates, and certain agricultural produce. This sets it apart from its neighbors’ solely oil-dependent economies. Oman is categorized as a high-income economy and ranks as the 74th most peaceful country in the world according to the Global Peace Index.
Oman’s Basic Statute of the State expresses in Article 11 that the “national economy is based on justice and the principles of a free economy.” By regional standards, Oman has a relatively diversified economy, but remains dependent on oil exports. Tourism is the fastest-growing industry in Oman. Other sources of income, agriculture and industry, are small in comparison and account for less than 1% of the country’s exports, but diversification is seen as a priority by the government. Agriculture, often subsistence in its character, produces dates, limes, grains, and vegetables, but with less than 1% of the country under cultivation, Oman is likely to remain a net importer of food.
Since a slump in oil prices in 1998, Oman has made active plans to diversify its economy and is placing a greater emphasis on other areas of industry, namely tourism and infrastructure. Metkore Alloys is due to build a world-class 1,650,000-tonnes-per-annum capacity ferro-chrome smelter in Oman with an envisaged investment of $80 million.
A free-trade agreement with the United States took effect 1 January 2009, eliminating tariff barriers on all consumer and industrial products, and also providing strong protections for foreign businesses investing in Oman. Tourism, another source of Oman’s revenue, is on the rise. A popular event is The Khareef Festival held in Salalah, Dhofar, which is 1,200 km from the capital city of Muscat, during the monsoon season (August) and is similar to Muscat Festival. During this latter event the mountains surrounding Salalah are popular with tourists as a result of the cool weather and lush greenery, rarely found anywhere else in Oman.
Oman’s foreign workers send an estimated US$30 billion annually to their home states in Asia and Africa, more than half of them earning a monthly wage of less than US$400. The largest foreign community is from the south Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka or come from Maharashtra, Gujarat and the Punjab, representing more than half of entire workforce in Oman. Salaries for overseas workers are known to be less than for Omani nationals, though still from two to five times higher than for the equivalent job in India.
The Oman Ferries Company maintains the two diesel-powered, high-speed, car ferries – Shinas and Hormouz. The ferries are used for travel between Muscat and Khasab. Khasab is strategically located in Musandam on the southern tip of the Strait of Hormuz and is controlled by Oman. Mainland Oman is separated by a small strip of UAE territory from Musandam.
As of 2014, Oman’s population is over 4 million, with 2.23 million Omani nationals and 1.76 million expatriates. The total fertility rate in 2011 was estimated at 3.70. Oman has a very young population, with 43 percent of its inhabitants under the age of 15. Nearly 50 percent of the population lives in Muscat and the Batinah coastal plain northwest of the capital. Omani people are predominantly Arab, Baluchi, South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi), and African ethnic groups.
Arabic is the official language of Oman. It belongs to the Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic family. Baluchi (Southern Baluchi) is widely spoken in Oman. Endangered indigenous languages in Oman include Kumzari, Bathari, Harsusi, Hobyot, Jibbali and Mehri. Omani Sign Language is the language of the deaf community. Oman was also the first Arab country in the Persian Gulf to have German taught as a third language.