Saturday, October 27, 2007

Omani Elections

Before my recent trip to Oman, I made some disparaging remarks about Oman's shura council. I see no reason to change my views about the constitutional arrangements, but after spending some time there it seems fair to add that Sultan Qaboos is not just popular in the sense that citizens approve of the job he's doing, but popular in the sense that they are downright enthusiastic about his rule. I often suspect Arab monarchs of trying to make themselves accessible and responsive to the population in part to stave off demands for institutional changes that could erode their power. In his case, it has worked tremendously, and the personal bond many Omanis feel with him should not be under-estimated.

Back to the shura elections the country held today, my Omani friends expressed amazement at how much campaigning was going on leading up to them. This seems to have stemmed from a desire of various Omani centers of power to increase turn-out, a desire found especially within the tribes which form the backbone of Omani social organization and can use the channels to the ruler. This campaigning has been followed by high turnout, especially among women. While intellectuals and pro-democracy activists may resent the council's insignificant role in formulating national policy, I suspect to the Omani people it represents an important channel for procuring services and what in the United States would be called pork barrel projects, all made possible by the country's oil wealth.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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