Will the protests in Oman spark off another Arab Spring?
On May 23rd, 2021, Oman saw an outbreak of protest actions that took Arab and international observers by surprise. The movement started from Sohar, in the Omani north, followed over the next few days by other cities and provinces including Salalah, Sur, Ibri, Ibra’, Khabura, Rustaq, Al-Suwaiq, Sama’il and the capital, Muscat.
The main focus of the demonstrations, judging by the placards held up by protesters, was unemployment and a call for jobs, but there were also calls for corruption to be tackled and corrupt officials brought to account.
Here’s a timeline of the demonstrations and protests to date:
May 23rd, Sohar: A peaceful gathering was held outside the Labour Directorate of young people demanding jobs, as well as raising placards relating to the new Land Law (which sets out the government’s terms for granting plots of residential land) and also combating corruption and holding corrupt officials to account.
The security forces, who outnumbered the protesters, intervened by firing tear gas to disperse them. They then arrested more than 40 demonstrators, plus others the next morning. All were released in the evening of May 24th.
May 24th, Salalah: In solidarity with the protests in Sohar, a large number of protesters turned out in Salalah to denounce the arrests that had taken place in Sohar, and make the same demands about jobs and corruption. Once again the security forces intervened and arrested a number of demonstrators, who were likewise released later without charge, according to the OCHR’s sources.
May 25th: In solidarity with the events in Sohar and Salalah, several Omani provinces and cities in different parts of the country – north, south, east and west as well as central Oman – saw demonstrations by groups of young people making the same demands. The places affected were: Sur, Ibri, Ibra’, Al-Suwaiq, Khabura, Nizwa, Sama’il, Al-Buraimi, and also the capital, Muscat.
That evening, the current Sultan in Oman, Haitham bin Tariq, issued instructions to provide a number of temporary jobs for the unemployed, and also short-term financial support for Omani nationals who had been dismissed or suffered job losses in other Arab Gulf states.
May 26th, Sohar: Protests in Sohar saw heavy police intervention and sporadic arrests. According to witnesses who spoke to the OCHR, the reason for the arrests was that protesters had seized control of a car-transport vehicle in order to halt the traffic on one of the province’s major highways. Some of the protesters said later that the people who had done this were a group of infiltrators they had seen for the first time at the demonstration, and they did not know where they had come from.
The security forces took this as an excuse to intervene in force and fire tear gas. They also arrested some of the protesters with excessive force. The Omani media and several intellectuals also took advantage of the incident to demonise the protest movement and call on the demonstrators to return to their homes.
In Sur, too, a number of protesters were arrested and released later the same day.
May 27th: Despite the heavy-handed arrests made by the security forces the previous day, a number of demonstrators gathered again, under the same banners.
Salalah saw, for the first time, a rally of Omani women outside the Directorate of Housing and Planning.
Several of demonstrators who had been arrested in Sohar over the previous few days were released, and organisers of the peaceful protests tried to secure the release of others.
28 May: The release of a number of detainees (protesters) in Salalah.