GLOBE. UNKNOWN COUNTRIES
(August 8th, 2023)
There are more than 220 countries in the world right now: many are independent, others under the guardianship of others; some are not recognized by the international community, but this does not prevent them from existing. Hardly anyone talks about most of them, because those events that attract the attention of the major international press do not take place there.
I’m sure none of you would be able to tell me anything about Nauru, the Tuvalu islands or Kiribati, but the same goes for certain states in the Caribbean or sub-Saharian Africa.
Years ago, I came across an article that spoke of Buthan, a Himalayan kingdom where it seems that people are much happier than us,
because regulations have been adopted to protect the environment and everything possible is being done to avoid the invasion of mass tourism which on the one hand brings a lot of money, but on the other leads to the construction of large hotels and great infrastructures which perhaps irreversibly change the natural and human environment.
Therefore, I decided to read up on these states, generally medium-small, and to write a few pieces about them.
Fortunately, the web provides us with resources, such as newspaper articles or information sheets with statistical data.
For this trip, I decided to start from Oman, a sultanate located in the Arabian peninsula, near the United Arab Emirates, about which, unlike its neighbour, very little is known.
Intrigued by an article that appeared a few weeks ago in Internazionale, the precious weekly magazine that translates and publish inquiries into “forgotten” places, I chose this state as a starting point. In the article it was said that in Oman techniques have been used for centuries to minimize the waste of fresh water, an important element everywhere, but particularly precious in a place where the desert is king.
Oman is the oldest independent state in the Arab world. It is strategically located at the end of the Persian Gulf at the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula. The coast, 2,500 km long, offers better climatic conditions: in summer the monsoon rains arrive and this favors agriculture and human settlement.
The kingdom occupies an area of 309,500 sq km and has a population of 4.5 million.
The capital is called Muscat.
The prevailing language is Arabic, but ther are minorities of Baluchi, Urdu and English speaking people; the prevailing religion is Ibadi Islam, but there are Shiite, Hindu and Christian groups.
The state is a semi-absolute monarchy, the sultan concentrates all powers, legislative and executive, in his own hands, even if, as we will see, an advisory council was created, made up of people, men and women, elected on non-partisan lists.
The law, in fact, does not recognize the existence of any organized party. The territory is divided into 59 governorates.
Freedom of speech is not guaranteed: the information ministry exercises strong control over the media.
In the 17th century, Oman was an empire that extended, especially in the 1800s, across the Strait of Hormuz to Iran and Pakistan and along the eastern African coast to Zanzibar, where its merchants arrived who also trafficked in slaves.
For a long time her navy held off against the British and Portuguese in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.
In 1913, the country split into two: the interior was governed by Ibadi imams and the coastal areas by the sultan. Seven years later, on the basis of an agreement brokered by the British, the latter recognized the autonomy of the interior regions.
However, in 1959, aided by the British army and by a bombing campaign by the RAF, Sultan Said bin Taimur also regained control of the territory lost decades earlier: shortly after (1964) important gas and oil reserves were discovered, but only three years later their exploitation begins.
In 1965 a revolt exploded in southern Oman, which went down in history as the Dhofar rebellion, which opened a serious crisis in a regime characterized by an absolutist management by the sovereign.
The fighting between government forces and insurgents will last ten years: the state will resort to a vast repertoire of repressive measures to crush the left-wing insurgency, but it is only thanks to the intervention of Great Britain, Iran, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates that Muscat manages to win over the rebels.
1970, July: The elderly sultan is deposed by his son during a palace conspiracy: Qabus bin Said will govern for the next 50 years, launching a program of liberalization and modernization.
Alone, however following the popular protests in 2011 which demanded democracy here too, as in the rest of the Arab world, Qabus convenes an advisory council with limited powers.
In January 2020, following the death of the elderly monarch, he ascends the throne Haitham bin Tariq Al Said. According to the BBC, the new ruler, an Oxford graduate, will continue on the line traced by his predecessor: neutrality in international relations, even though Oman is one of the founding members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) together with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar.
He is also expected to pursue economic and social reforms: As head of Oman’s Vision 2040 initiative, Sultan Haitham has been heavily involved in efforts to make the country less dependent on oil and gas exports.
Oman is an extremely unequal country: poverty and unemployment are widespread and a recent report denounces mistreatment of foreign immigrants.
As an article that appeared months ago in the Guardian denounces,the maids of African origin who work in the homes of the wealthy Omanis are subject to enormous exploitation (up to 20 hours of work per day) and suffer all kinds of harassment, including sexual abuse.
Do Bold, an organization that works to assist and repatriate migrants trapped in the Gulf, has compiled a voluminous report based on 469 interviews with as many family collaborators.
The picture that emerges is chilling: all the women, except one, were victims of forced labor and had reached Oman by deception.
The recultors had led them to believe they would take them to a place where they could study or learn a skilled trade.
Instead, once they arrived, they were sent home to do household chores, at the mercy of their masters.
In Oman the practice of Kafala is widespread, which binds the worker to his employer.
If the employee unilaterally breaks the contract or leaves the place of employment to escape possible abuses, he is liable to prosecution and subsequent arrest.
Adama, a 20-year-old domestic worker from Sierra Leone, for example, recounts that one day she turned to the police to report the ill-treatment to which she was subjected: in fact, she feared for her survival.
The agents went to her owner ‘s house, saw the signs of her beatings and lashes, spoke to family, then left without taking her to safety.
Her owners then, to punish her, locked her up in a closet, leaving her without food.
PIER LUIGI GIACOMONI