International Day of Democracy, 15 September 2020 – Oman

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According to the United Nations, democracy is “a fundamental building block for peace, sustainable development and human rights”.

Article 21 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

According to the United Nations, true democracy is “a two-way street, built on a constant dialogue between civil society and the political class”.

The political system in Oman, however, is not democratic but monarchical. Oman is a sultanate in which the Sultan (sovereign ruler) holds absolute power and rules over all three branches of government – the legislature, the judiciary and the executive.

The Sultan also holds many other political leadership positions, such as “Sultan of Oman, President of the Council of Oman (Council of State and Shura Council), Prime Minister, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Chair of the Supreme Judicial Council, Supreme Commander of the Royal Oman Police, and President of the Defence Council.”

The Omani government constantly points to elections held for the Shura (Consultative) Council, the lower tier of the Council of Oman, and for municipal councils, as evidence of democracy in Oman. In actual fact the Shura Council’s role is no more than advisory, and it has no power to legislate as the government wants people to think.

As far as civil society is concerned, Article 116 of the Omani Penal Code classifies any party political activity, or the establishment of political parties or human rights associations, as a crime punishable by a prison term and a fine.

Likewise, Article 121 of the Code prescribes a prison sentence and a fine for anyone organising or taking part in a peaceful gathering or demonstration against the government.

Article 269, moreover, specifies prison and a fine for anyone who undertakes or participates in any atheistic or irreligious activity, or invites others to do so. The Penal Code also criminalises and specifies a penalty for anyone who openly declares his atheism or his criticism of provisions in Omani law derived from Islamic Sharia.

There are several other provisions in the Omani Penal Code that demonstrate clearly that Oman is not a democracy, laws incompatible with the requirements set out in 2000 by the UN Commission on Human Rights, such as:

Article 97 of the Omani Penal Code, which treats criticism of the Sultan, the supreme power in Oman, as a crime punishable with prison and a fine; and

Article 248, which prescribes a prison sentence and a fine for anyone who criticises the judiciary.

Despite Oman’s having signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this year, the country’s domestic laws remain the biggest obstacle to implementing the Covenant’s provisions and allowing the establishment of political parties and human rights organisations.

Meanwhile, Oman has so far still not signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Democracy is built on inclusion, equal treatment and participation.

– United Nations

In your opinion, how can the system of government in Oman be transformed from an absolute monarchy into a democratic system?