Only recently Oman, the geographically
forbidding sultanate at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, was
living an the Dark Ages. Even by the most backward Arabian
standards Omani women and girls were given very short shrift
indeed. There were only three schools catering for a population
of over one million, and these were strictly reserved for boys.
Well-to-do Omanis found it almost impossible
to send their daughters abroad for education.
Then, on July 23, 1970, there
was a dramatic change, with the overthrow of the despotic old
king, Sultan Said bin Taimur, and his replacement by his son,
Sultan Qaboos bin Said then 29.
The new young king was
determined to modernise the kingdom. He could not have achieved
such dramatic social progress without the revenues from newfound
oil deposits: even so, Oman’s budget often has, been strained in
the cause of advancement.
Today there are about 240
schools with 65,000 students, at least one-third of whom are
girls. Some 380 young Omani men and women are abroad studying.
At the recent
National Day celebrations, which coincided with the popular
young king’s birthday, Sultan Qaboos announced an annual award,
to be known as the Sultan’s. award for merit, which we shall
personally present on each future national day to the boy or
girl who performs the most worthy act of service to our country
and people during the year."
"Women’s emancipation. has.
come a long way in a very short time, but old traditions linger,
and many husbands insist that their women still wear the veil in
public," the wife of a Cabinet minister told me.
conservatism was strikingly illustrated by the case of a
beautiful young lady who became the star attraction on Salalah’s
When she took
the TV job the young lady was betrothed, and had accepted a
token dowry from the groom-to-be’s family — an Omani custom.
When the family insisted that she give up her TV job, she
refused, and when the marriage contract was annulled, she
further refused, in the interests of women’s liberation, to
return the dowry.
The matter went to
ministerial level, and to the credit of the Sultan, the dowry
was repaid by the government, an act that no Omani male would
have believed possible just six years ago.