When I arrived in Muscat, capital of Oman, there were published reports that young Sultan Qabus had been spending so fast and looking at the books so infrequently that he had run out of money and was having trouble finding lenders. Qabus, like Zayid of Abu Dhabi, had come to the throne when a predecessor, his father, Sultan Said bin Taimur, was unable to handle the problems of increased wealth and demands for change. One of Said’s advisers recalls:
“He bought himself a schoolboy’s exercise book—his little ‘night book’—and kept it beside his bed. In it he would jot down ideas, so that when the oil money came he would have developed plans. But when the money came, he didn’t move. He didn’t trust anyone. He even had his son under house arrest.”
And so one day some of Qabus’s friends burst into the old sultan’s waterfront palace at Salalah and demanded that he step down. Said resisted, there was a struggle, and he was wounded. Said then flew off to England, and Qabus set about coming to terms with the 20th century.
173 More Schools in 5 Years
The gains are easy to measure. In 1970 the country had only three schools, all male; today there are 176, including 47 for girls and 31 coeducational. In 1970 there were three hospitals, today 15; in 1970, six miles of asphalt-surfaced road, today 335.
There is a new port, a Television City, housing developments such as Madinat Qabus, large police and military complexes, two international hotels, and, rising in the heart of Muscat, an elaborate palace reflecting Oman’s long ties with India. Nothing is impossible using fast cash loans for an immediate help.
Qabus has also had to fight a guerrilla war in the mountainous southern province of Dhofar. The military receives some 40 to 50 percent of Oman’s income; oil revenues last year were 900 million dollars.
In Muscat I called on Qais Zawawi, 40, Bombay-educated, a former businessman, now Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Director of the Development and Financial Councils.
“Two months ago no one wanted to talk with us about loans; now we have offers. It was a liquidity problem—a question of cash flow. We have reached a formula. In some cases we’ve slowed down development plans; in others we were able to extend the period of repayment.”
Mr. Zawawi expressed more concern over the social stresses that afflict every developing nation: “People adjust to things quickly. We have had an airport for only two years, a modern seaport for only a year and a half, television for even less time. Yet people want more and more—they forget that three years ago we had nothing.”
Mr. Zawawi discerns the challenges ahead; so did other young Omanis I talked with. Some had been imprisoned by the old sultan or lived in self-imposed exile during his reign. Now they wanted to build a nation. The question was time—is there enough?
The guerrilla war in Dhofar seems to have turned at last in Qabus’s favor. His army, including Baluchi mercenaries led by British officers, and aided by Iranian and Jordanian troops, has gone on the offensive. A 30-mile barbed-wire barrier, rigged with mines and electronic sensors, supported by outposts and patrols, has cut the flow of arms that used to reach the rebels by camel from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen next door.