• The Red Line

Episode 67. Oman: A Looming Crisis

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Rundown:

Oman has for decades now pitched itself as the "Switzerland of the Middle East", holding a steady course of neutrality above all. Staying neutral though is a luxury afforded by good times, a luxury that can be forcefully taken away by others.


As the dynamics of the Middle East begin to change, and multipolar completion intensifies in the region can Oman maintain its current course, or will it be forced to finally decide where its future lies?

 

Guests:

Calvin Allen

  • Former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Professor of History at Shenandoah University

  • Specialist on the Arabian Gulf region, having published three books on Oman, including Oman Under Qaboos: From Coup to Constitution, 1970-1996, and over 40 articles.

  • Allen has been a Fulbright Scholar in Oman (1976-77), a Wye Faculty Fellow (1990), and led a Fulbright Summer Faculty Seminar in Oman and Jordan (2009).

Colby Connelly

  • Research Analyst at Energy Intelligence, where his key areas of focus include oil and gas/LNG markets, aboveground risk, corporate strategy, and the impact of the energy transition on oil and gas producing states.

  • Connelly previous worked as a Research Associate at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, where he focused on the economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council region

  • Non-resident Fellow at the Middle East Institute.

Bruce Riedel

  • Senior Fellow and Director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, part of the Brookings Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence.

  • In addition, Riedel serves as a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy.

  • Riedel spent 30 years of service at the Central Intelligence Agency, and was a senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to four presidents of the United States in the staff of the National Security Council at the White House.

 

Part 1: The Swiss Solution (3:30)

  • Calvin Allen discusses the unique religious and political status of Oman, which has allowed it to pursue a foreign policy that has been characterised as pragmatic and neutral.

  • We discuss the impacts of Oman's isolation from its Middle Eastern neighbours through to the middle of the 20th century playing a large factor in its pathway towards adopting its Switzerland of the Middle East character, regularly used as a back channel by its neighbours in settling disputes while avoiding being dragged into regional power struggles.

  • Haitham bin Tarik has been Sultan of Oman since 2020. We evaluate his impact on the country to date, the importance of his early career in the Omani foreign ministry, and the challenges that face his rule with economic pressures and a young growing population to manage, as well as the challenge to maintaining neutrality in the turbulent region.

 

Part 2: Every Thirty Years (23:23)

  • Colby Connelly examines the economic factors at play in Oman's future and foreign policy decisions, including its high dependency on oil and gas exports and the ongoing sovereign debt accrued since the oil price crash of 2014 made worse by the pandemic since 2020.

  • With the potential of investment flowing into Oman from its neighbours, is there a possibility that their long-held neutrality may be under threat from economic competition in the Gulf?

  • We discuss the interesting focus Oman has on renewables and clean hydrogen production, not just for export purposes but for domestic industry and the potential to decarbonise their resource sector as a means to compete with expanding oil and gas production by its neighbours.

  • With the Omani government keen to diversify its income stream, long overdue tax reforms have been mooted in recent times. We evaluate the likelihood of Oman's economic reforms progressing and how it might compare to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia's recent manoeuvres in this space.

 

Part 3: Peer Pressure (50:14)

  • Bruce Riedel identifies that Oman is at the nexus of four different civilisations; the Arab world, India and Pakistan, East Africa, and Iran, and its intimate relations with all four spaces has created a unique situation. That uniqueness was further exemplified through the cultivation of a close relationship with the United States while avoiding being involved in the Iraq War in 2003.

  • Oman's neutrality in the Yemeni conflict came at the cost of some damage to the Saudi-Omani relationship, but has left Oman as perhaps best placed to negotiate a compromise to the long-running conflict.

  • Oman's recent efforts to diversify its economy has seen an increase in trade and relations with India, Pakistan, and China, but Oman remains highly cautious and protective of its independence, needing to carefully navigate potential conflicts with the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, as well as the Yemen conflict and domestic instability and economic problems that will create headaches for years to come.

 

The Red Line's Oman Reading List:

We’ve compiled a list of further reading to better understand Oman and it's unique position within the Middle East.


Books:

Oman Under Qaboos: From Coup to Constitution, 1970-1996

Calvin Allen


A History of Modern Oman

Jeremy Jones and Nicolas Ridout


Yemen in Crisis: Road to War

Helen Lackner

 

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This episode is dedicated to Patreon members Sofie Fordo, Alphan Akcin, and Ben Cronin.