2016 Oman

Video report from dhow yards in Sur

Arab problems, Persian solutions


Oman and Yemen share the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula but not much else at the moment

In the latest trouble to rock Yemen, half a dozen people were killed and many others injured after security officials opened fire on a suicide car bomber which set off the device in the southern city of Aden on 28 January.

Aden has seen a spike in activity from both al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State in recent months, with gun and bomb attacks on the rise after the Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia led a coalition to recapture the city from Shia Muslim rebels.

The internationally-recognised president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has managed to install himself in Yemen’s second city after he fled the capital, Sana’a.

This car bomb went off just outside the Maashiq Palace and the president was in the building – his Aden residence – at the time.

An affiliate of the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a city that has descended into lawlessness.

Aden was once one of the most famous ports in the region but the former British colony is not top of many holidaymakers’ lists when it comes to visiting the area.

Hundreds of passengers sail on past the city, daunted by the pirates operating from Somali beaches and the instability brought on by the military intervention in Yemen last year.

1,500km to the north-east, Salalah is a more enticing stopping-off point for cruise liners.

The capital of Oman’s Dhofar region, the port is the centre for Arab and non-Arab visitors alike who come to experience the khalif, or monsoon.

Ringed by coconut palms that fringe the pristine beaches, Salalah and the mountains up back behind it are transformed by the annual summer rains into a verdant explosion of lush plains and rich waterfalls feeding sub-tropical banana plantations.

And, according to the Times of Oman, an Islamic tourist cruise connecting Iran and India with the Omani capital, Muscat, and Salalah is expected to be launched some time this year.

The paper was told by a representative of an Iranian shipping company that each planned cruise journey would be just over a week in length and would cater to both Iranian and Omani tourists.

The Sultan Qaboos is the supreme ruler in Oman, but he has used his consolidated power to oversee the modernisation and the opening up of the country.

Tourism is flourishing and Oman is looking to engage with actors across the region.

On 27 January, an official from an Omani sovereign wealth fund said it had signed an understanding with Khodro Industrial Group, the biggest carmaker in Iran.

That agreement would be for a $200m plant at the south-west Omani port of Duqm.

A gas pipeline between the two neighbours, who face each other across the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, is also a prospect now that international sanctions on Iran have been lifted.

That idea would be anathema to Saudi Arabia, the major power to the south of the Gulf, which has cut all ties with Tehran, after its embassy in Iran was attacked following the execution in Saudi Arabia of a Shia Muslim cleric.

Yet back to the south and is not all sweet dates and white sands in Oman.

The economy needs further diversification and the Sultan has to ensure that infrastructure spending is not only centred on Muscat and a couple of coastal, popular areas but reaches the mountainous and traditional interior as well.

The swelling and young population is outgrowing the number of jobs and the role of women in society can also be improved.

But there is much to celebrate in Oman at the moment and much to lament in Yemen, its struggling and unstable neighbour back down the Arabian Sea shore.

This blog will be reporting from Oman next month