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Oman (/oʊˈmɑːn/ oh-mahn; Arabic: عمان ʻUmān), officially called the Sultanate of Oman (Arabic: سلطنة عُمان Salṭanat ʻUmān), is an Arab state in southwest Asia on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the southwest. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea on the southeast and the Gulf of Oman on the northeast. The Madha and Musandam enclaves are surrounded by the UAE on their land borders, with the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman forming Musandam's coastal boundaries.
For a period, Oman was a moderate regional power, formerly having a sultanate extending across the Strait of Hormuz to Iran, and modern day Pakistan, and far south to Zanzibar on the coat of south-east Africa. Over time, as its power declined, the sultanate came under heavy influence from the United Kingdom, though Oman was never formally part of the British Empire, or a British protectorate. Oman has been ruled by the Al Said dynasty since 1744, and has long-standing military and political ties with the United Kingdom, and the United States, although it maintains an independent foreign policy.
Oman is an absolute monarchy which the Sultan of Oman exercises ultimate authority but its parliament has some legislative and oversight powers. In November 2010, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) listed Oman, from among 135 countries worldwide, as the nation most-improved during the preceding 40 years. According to international indices, Oman is one of the most developed and stable countries in the Arab World.
Dereaze, located in the city of Ibri, is the oldest known human settlement in the area, dating back as many as 8,000 years to the late Stone Age. Archaeological remains have been discovered here from the Stone Age and the Bronze Age; findings have included stone implements, animal bones, shells and fire hearths, with the later dating back to 7615 BC as the oldest signs of human settlement in the area. Other discoveries include hand-moulded pottery bearing distinguishing pre-Bronze Age marks, heavy flint implements, pointed tools and scrapers.
On a mountain rock-face in the same district, animal drawings have been discovered. Similar drawings have also been found in the Wadi Sahtan and Wadi Bani Kharus areas of Rustaq, consisting of human figures carrying weapons and being confronted by wild animals. Siwan in Haima is another Stone Age location and some of the archaeologists have found arrowheads, knives, chisels and circular stones which may have been used to hunt animals.
Sumerian tablets refer to a country called Magan or Makan, a name believed to refer to Oman's ancient copper mines. Mazoon, another name used for the region, is derived from the word muzn, which means heavy clouds which carry abundant water. The present-day name of the country, Oman, is believed to originate from the Arab tribes who migrated to its territory from the Uman region of Yemen; many such tribes settled in Oman, making a living by fishing, herding or stock breeding, and many present day Omani families are able to trace their ancestral roots to other parts of Arabia.
From the 6th century BC to the arrival of Islam in the 7th century AD, Oman was controlled and/or influenced by three Persian dynasties, the Achaemenids, Parthians and Sassanids. In the 6th century BC, the Achaemenids exerted a strong degree of control over the Omani peninsula, most likely ruling from a coastal center such as Sohar. By about 250 BC, the Parthian dynasty had brought the Persian Gulf under their control and extended their influence as far as Oman, establishing garrisons in Oman to help control the trade routes in the Persian Gulf. In the 3rd century AD, the Sassanids succeeded the Parthians and held the area until the rise of Islam four centuries later.
The arrival of Islam
Omanis were among the first people to embrace Islam. The conversion of the Omanis is usually ascribed to Amr ibn al-As, who was sent by Muhammad around 630 AD to invite Jayfar and 'Abd, the joint rulers of Oman at that time, to accept the faith. In accepting Islam, Oman became an Ibadhi state, ruled by an elected leader, the Imam. During the early years of the Islamic mission, Oman played a major role in the Wars of Apostasy that occurred after the death of Muhammad, and also took part in the great Islamic conquests by land and sea in Iraq, Persia and beyond. Oman's most prominent role in this respect was through its extensive trading and seafaring activities in East Africa and the Far East, particularly during the 19th century, when it propagated Islam to many of East Africa's coastal regions, certain areas of Central Africa, India, Southeast Asia and China. After its conversion to Islam, Oman was ruled by Umayyads between 661–750, Abbasids between 750–931, 932–933 and 934–967, Qarmatians between 931–932 and 933–934, Buyids between 967–1053, and the Seljuks of Kirman between 1053–1154.
The Portuguese colonization
A decade after Vasco da Gama discovered the seaway to India in 1498, Portuguese explorers arrived in Oman and occupied Muscat for a 140-year period, between 1508 and 1648. In need of an outpost to protect their sea lanes, the Portuguese colonists built up and fortified the city, where remnants of their colonial architectural style still remain.
Rebellious tribes eventually drove out the Portuguese, but were pushed out themselves about a century later, in 1741, by the leader of a Yemeni tribe leading a massive army from various allied tribes, beginning the current line of ruling sultans. Excepting a brief Persian invasion in the late 1740s, Oman has been self-governing ever since.
Neither the Portuguese nor the Persians controlled the entirety of what is now Oman. The majority of the territory was ruled by tribes, and the colonists were wholly contained to a few port cities. It is thus incorrect to allude to their role, even if unintentionally, in the same vein as other episodes of European colonization, such as the British in India.
Oman, East Africa and the Indian Ocean
In the 1690s, Saif bin Sultan, the Imam of Oman, pressed down the East African coast. A major obstacle to his progress was Fort Jesus, housing the garrison of a Portuguese settlement at Mombasa. After a two-year siege, the fort fell to bin Sultan in 1698. Thereafter the Omanis easily ejected the Portuguese from Zanzibar and from all other coastal regions north of Mozambique. Zanzibar was a valuable property as the main slave market of the East African coast, and became an increasingly important part of the Omani empire, a fact reflected by the decision of the 19th century Sultan of Oman, Sa'id ibn Sultan, to make it his main place of residence in 1837. Sa'id built impressive palaces and gardens in Zanzibar. Rivalry between his two sons was resolved, with the help of forceful British diplomacy, when one of them, Majid, succeeded to Zanzibar and to the many regions claimed by the family on the East African coast. The other son, Thuwaini, inherited Muscat and Oman.
A History of Omani presence is also known in Comoros archipelago in the Indian ocean, which led to a great influence in the Comorian culture from the clothing, to the wedding ceremenies. It is said that the capital of Comoros, Moroni, was once the capital of the Omani sultanate empire and a centre of trade for the empire.
Oman and Gwadar
In 1783, Oman's Saiad Sultan, defeated ruler of Muscat, was granted sovereignty over Gwadar, a coastal city located in the Makran region of what is now the far southwestern corner of Pakistan, near the present-day border of Iran and at the mouth of the Gulf of Oman. He was to continue this sovereignty, via an appointed wali (or "governor"), after regaining control of Muscat, and he maintained close relations with the Emirs of Sindh. The Sultans of Muscat retained sovereignty over Gwadar until the 1950s. In 1955, Makran acceded to Pakistan and was made a district – although Gwadar, at the time, was not included in Makran. In 1958, Gwadar and its surrounding areas were returned to Pakistan by Muscat, and were given the status of Tahsil of the Makran district.
The Dhofar Rebellion was launched in the province of Dhofar against the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman and Britain from 1962 to 1975. As the rebellion threatened to overthrow the Sultan's rule in Dhofar, Sultan Said bin Taimur was deposed by his son Qaboos bin Said, who introduced major social reforms and modernised the state's administration. The rebellion was ended by the intervention of Iranian Imperial forces, Pakistani Baluchistan Imperial ground forces, British Royal Air Force air power and major offensives by the expanded Sultan of Oman's Armed Forces.
Although Arabic is Oman's official language, there are native speakers of different dialects, as well as Balochi (the language of the Baloch from Baluchistan western-Pakistan, eastern Iran), and southern Afghanistan or offshoots of Southern Arabian, and some descendants of Sindhi sailors. Also spoken in Oman are Semitic languages only distantly related to Arabic, but closely related to Semitic languages in Eritrea and Ethiopia. Swahili and English are also widely spoken in the country due to the historical relations between Oman and Zanzibar the two languages have been linked historically. The dominant indigenous language is a dialect of Arabic and the country has also adopted English as a second language. Almost all signs and writings appear in both Arabic and English. A significant number also speak Urdu, due to the influx of Pakistani migrants during the late 1980s and the 1990s.
Oman is famous for its khanjar knives, which are curved daggers worn during holidays as part of ceremonial dress. During the Medieval era, khanjars became highly popular as they symbolized Muslim sailors, and later various types of khanjars were made, representing various sailing nations in the Muslim world. Today, traditional clothing is worn by most Omani men. This typically consists of an ankle-length, collarless robe called a dishdasha that buttons at the neck with a tassel hanging down. Traditionally, this tassel would be dipped in perfume. Today the tassel is merely a traditional part of the dishdasha.
Women wear hijabs and abayas. Some women cover their faces and hands, but most do not. The abaya is a traditional dress and currently comes in different styles. The Sultan has forbidden the covering of faces in universities. On holidays, such as Eid, the women wear traditional dress, which is often very brightly colored and consists of a mid-calf length tunic over trousers. The Abaya is mostly worn in the capital, whereas in the interior regions brightly colored dresses are the usual attire.
The main daily meal is usually eaten at midday, while the evening meal is lighter. During Ramadan, dinner is served after the Taraweeh prayers, sometimes as late as 11 pm. Maqbous is a Rice dish, with Yellow Rice and Saffron served and cooked over Spicy Red or White Meat. Arsia is a festival meal, served during celebrations, which consists of Mashed Rice flavoured with Spices. Another popular festival meal is Shuwa, which is Meat cooked very slowly (sometimes for up to 2 days) in an underground clay oven. The Meat becomes extremely tender and it is infused with Spices and Herbs before cooking to give it a very distinct taste. Fish is often used in main dishes too, and the Kingfish is a popular ingredient. Mashuai is a meal consisting of a whole Spit-roasted Kingfish served with Lemon Rice. Rukhal Bread is a thin, round Bread originally baked over a fire made from Palm leaves. It is eaten at any meal, typically served with Omani Honey for breakfast or crumbled over Curry for dinner. Chicken, Fish and Mutton are regularly used in dishes.
Although Spices, Herbs, Onion, Garlic and Lime are liberally used in traditional Omani Cuisine, unlike similar Asian food, it is not hot or Spicy. Omani Cuisine is also distinct from the Indigenous Foods of other Arab states of the Arabian Peninsula and even varies within the Sultanate's different regions. There are also significant differences in Cuisine between different regions of Oman.
The government aims to give young people a fully rounded education by providing activities and experience in the Sporting, Cultural, Intellectual, Social and Scientific spheres, and to excel internationally in these areas and for this reason, in October 2004, the government created a Ministry of Sports Affairs to replace the General Organisation for Youth, Sports and Cultural Affairs.
The 2009 Gulf Cup of Nations, the 19th edition, took place in Muscat, Oman, from 4 to 17 January 2009 and was won by Oman.
The International Olympic Committee awarded the former GOYSCA its prestigious prize for Sporting excellence in recognition of its contributions to youth and Sports and its efforts to promote the Olympic spirit and goals.
The Oman Olympic Committee played a major part in organizing the highly successful 2003 Olympic Days, which were of great benefit to the Sports associations, clubs and young participants. The Football Association took part, along with the Handball, Basketball, Rugby Hockey, Volleyball, Athletics, Swimming, and Tennis Associations. In 2010, Muscat hosted the 2010 Asian Beach Games.
They also host Tennis tournaments in different age divisions each year. Inside the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex stadium contains a 50 meter pool for Swimming which is used for international tournaments from different schools in different countries. The Tour of Oman, a professional Cycling 6-day stage race, is held in February.
Oman is also currently hosting the Asian 2011 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup qualifiers, where 11 teams are competing for 3 spots at the FIFA World Cup.
Oman is perhaps the only Gulf nation to have bullfighting events organised in its territories. Al-Batena area is prominent for such events. Wide audiences turn up to see the events unfold. Omani Bullfighting is however not a violent event. The origins of Bullfighting in Oman are unknown though many locals here believe it was brought to Oman by the Moors of Spanish origin. Yet others say it has a direct connection with Portugal which colonized the Omani coastline for nearly 2 centuries.
Oman lies between latitudes 16° and 28° N, and longitudes 52° and 60° E.
A vast gravel desert plain covers most of central Oman, with mountain ranges along the north (Al Hajar Mountains) and southeast coast, where the country's main cities are also located: the capital city Muscat, Sohar and Sur in the north, and Salalah in the south. Oman's climate is hot and dry in the interior and humid along the coast. During past epochs Oman was covered by ocean, witnessed by the large numbers of fossilized shells existing in areas of the desert away from the modern coastline.
The peninsula of Musandam (Musandem) exclave, which has a strategic location on the Strait of Hormuz, is separated from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates. The series of small towns known collectively as Dibba are the gateway to the Musandam peninsula on land and the fishing villages of Musandam by sea, with boats available for hire at Khasab for trips into the Musandam peninsula by sea.
Oman's other exclave, inside UAE territory, known as Madha, located halfway between the Musandam Peninsula and the main body of Oman, is part of the Musandam governorate, covering approximately 75 km (29 sq mi). Madha's boundary was settled in 1969, with the north-east corner of Madha barely 10 m (32.8 ft) from the Fujairah road. Within the Madha exclave is a UAE enclave called Nahwa, belonging to the Emirate of Sharjah, situated about 8 km (5 mi) along a dirt track west of the town of New Madha, consisting of about forty houses with a clinic and telephone exchange.
Oman has a hot climate and very little rainfall. Annual rainfall in Muscat averages 100 mm (3.9 in), falling mostly in January. Dhofar is subject to the southwest monsoon, and rainfall up to 640 mm (25.2 in) has been recorded in the rainy season from late June to October. While the mountain areas receive more plentiful rainfall, some parts of the coast, particularly near the island of Masirah, sometimes receive no rain at all within the course of a year. The climate generally is very hot, with temperatures reaching 54 °C (129.2 °F) in the hot season, from May to September.
Flora and fauna
Desert shrub and desert grass, common to southern Arabia, are found, but vegetation is sparse in the interior plateau, which is largely gravel desert.
The greater monsoon rainfall in Dhofar and the mountains makes the growth there more luxuriant during summer; coconut palms grow plentifully in the coastal plains of Dhofar and frankincense is produced in the hills, with abundant oleander and varieties of acacia.
The Al Hajar Mountains are a distinct ecoregion, the highest points in eastern Arabia with wildlife including the Arabian tahr.
Indigenous mammals include the leopard, hyena, fox, wolf, and hare, oryx and ibex. birds include the vulture, eagle, stork, bustard, Arabian partridge, bee eater, falcon and sunbird. in 2001 Oman had nine endangered species of mammals and five endangered types of birds and nineteen threatened plant species. Decrees have been passed to protect endangered species, including the Arabian leopard, Arabian Oryx, Mountain gazelle, Goitered Gazelle, Arabian tahr, Green sea turtle, Hawksbill Turtle and Olive ridley turtle, but UNESCO have de-listed the Oman Arabian Oryx sanctuary from the World Heritage list due to the government's decision to reduce the site to 10% of its former size.
Oman is divided into nine subjects: five regions (mintaqah) and four governorates (muhafazah).
Drought and limited rainfall contribute to shortages in the nation's water supply, so maintaining an adequate supply of water for agricultural and domestic use is one of Oman's most pressing environmental problems, with limited renewable water resources; 94% of available water is used in farming and 2% for industrial activity, with the majority sourced from fossil water in the desert areas and spring water in hills and mountains. Drinking water is available throughout the country, either piped or delivered.
The soil in coastal plains, such as Salalah, have shown increased levels of salinity, due to over exploitation of ground water and encroachment by seawater in the water table. Pollution of beaches and other coastal areas by oil tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman is also a persistent risk.