Islamabad, The Sultanate of Oman will celebrate the 53rd glorious National Day this Saturday, 18 November 2023, marking milestone accomplishments made in all aspects of life under the wise leadership of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik.
The Royal speech of His Majesty the Sultan at the opening of the first annual sitting of the 8th term of the Council of Oman constituted a new future approach that strengthens the existing efforts made by various State institutions.
The Sultanate of Oman considers that the Council of Oman and its integration with institutions of the State harness the main factors for implementing approaches aimed at achieving accomplishments that benefit citizens.
His Majesty the Sultan’s audience to the chairmen of the State Council and Shura Council—separately, in December 2022—underscores the fact that partnership in shaping the country’s present and future constitutes a basic pillar of national action in strengthening this integration in a way that serves its future directions and policies aimed at pressing ahead with the comprehensive development march. It also underlines the need to unify efforts and advance the supreme interest of the State, secure the sustainability of development and safeguard the country’s gains and accomplishments.
Last month (October 2023), the Sultanate of Oman conducted the Shura Council’s 10th Term Elections during which Omani citizens cast their votes for the first time via “Antakhib” electronic app.
The app, which was used for the first time in the elections of municipal councils, boasts high security and confidentiality standards. Its use requires the availability of a smartphone equipped with the NFC feature, a valid ID card and enrolment in the electoral register. The participation rate via this app stood at 65.07 percent, and the voters selected 90 members to the Shura Council.
The Royal interest in the advancement of this homeland and its honourable people was demonstrated through many achievements, most notably the promulgation of the Social Protection Law, which guarantees the implementation of Oman’s vision and policy of adequate insurance coverage for various segments of society.
His Majesty the Sultan expressed this attention during his Royal speech at the opening of the first annual sitting of the 8th Term of the Council of Oman, as His Majesty said, “We envisage that the Social Protection System, recently introduced, will be comprehensive, extending its benefits to all segments of society, thereby guaranteeing a dignified life for all”.
Among other duties, the Social Protection Fund encompasses a number of programmes, which will be implemented next January 2024. Most of these programmes do not require social research, like endorsing cash benefits for the elderly, children, people with disabilities, orphans and widows.
The scheme also includes family income support, social insurance programmes that secure support for the elderly, cases of disability, death, work-related injuries, occupational diseases and job security, in addition to maternity, sick, and unscheduled leaves.
The Social Protection Law achieves well-being for the people of Oman in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law of the State and the goals of Oman Vision 2040 that pertain to social aspects.
Since the outset of its blessed renaissance, the Sultanate of Oman has advocated the view that education constitutes the edifice that secures and fortifies nations’ present and future. Therefore, Oman accorded top importance to education so that it could tap its benefits and reap its fruits.
To this effect, Oman proceeded with bolstering education by introducing the latest instruments and methods to expand its scopes. Oman Vision 2040 gives priority to “education, learning, scholarly research, and national capabilities”. Acting within the context of the vision’s first theme titled “Man and Society”, Oman embarked on implementing comprehensive education, sustainable learning and scholarly research that leads to the evolution of a knowledge-based society and competitive national human resources.
The Royal philosophy stems from the fact that educational institutions, research, and cultural centres at all levels constitute the foundation of society’s scientific and intellectual advancement, and act as drivers for our technological and industrial progression.
The overall approach is to continue empowering the education sector, linking educational curricula to the requirements of economic growth and broadening opportunities for our youth to help them engage in scientific expertise, and immersing themselves in the broad realms of science and knowledge. The youth of Oman are encouraged to utilize their cognitive and intellectual abilities for contesting creative and innovative endeavours, thereby laying a robust groundwork for authentic investment and establishing themselves as leaders in economic growth.
This approach was evidenced by the issuance of the School Education Law in May 2023. The law states that “The greatest goal of school education in the Sultanate of Oman is to achieve comprehensive and integrated development of the learner’s personality in terms of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical aspects.”
The law also establishes the advancement of the teaching profession and the necessity of enhancing the status of the teacher. It recognizes the teacher’s effective role in grooming the generations of this nation. This was emphasized by His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik, when he chaired the Council of Ministers meeting in February 2023.
The Council of Ministers approved the allocation of an annual day titled “Omani Teacher’s Day”, which falls on 24 February every year. It is an official holiday for all teachers and related jobs in public and private schools.
The Council of Ministers gave directives for the implementation of an advanced vocational and technical education system to enable students in 11th and 12th school grades to choose their preferred educational tracks. The educational system offers a host of professional and technical specializations, including engineering and industrial specializations.
The Cabinet also approved new educational channels and curricula prepared to keep pace with the requirements of sustainable development and future skills. The new vocational and technical education system began to be applied in the current school year (2023-2024) in a number of schools.
Since Oman has placed the development of national human resources among its priorities, the Council of Ministers approved a programme to consolidate the foreign scholarship programme for the years (2023-2027). The move includes the grooming of graduates who are capable of assuming leadership roles in economic sectors. It comprised the endorsement of 150 scholarships in innovative specializations in the best international universities over a period of five years, starting from 2023. The programme, which cost RO 36 million, seeks to empower the academic educational process.
His Majesty the Sultan also accorded attention to preserving the national identity and demonstrating pride in the Omani culture. His Majesty the Sultan cautioned against the challenges facing society and their unacceptable impacts on the moral and cultural system. In this context, His Majesty stressed the need to confront these challenges and enhancing society’s ability to address them, notably by invigorating the national identity, inculcating authentic values and principles and promoting the role of the family.
In this context, His Majesty the Sultan said, “It is imperative to accord paramount attention to the family, the cornerstone of our society, which acts as a bulwark in safeguarding our progeny from harmful ideologies that are in direct opposition to the tenets of our venerable religion and core values. Such detrimental trends also conflict with our Omani traditions, which are deeply ingrained in our history and national character”.
His Majesty the Sultan also urged families to provide extra support to their children and raise them well, bearing in mind the changes posed to their behaviour in terms of negative concepts pervading the world. These include the exploitation of human rights principles and other justifications to impose visions, programmes and behaviours that are not consistent with the prevailing tenets and principles.
Regarding the Royal support to youth, His Majesty gave directives to begin procedures for establishing project to set up an integrated sports city that attracts and hosts tournaments and competitions at the regional and global levels.
He also gave directives to study projects for investment in sports labs and extend incentives to investors, deemed partners in sports development. In this context, His Majesty the Sultan stressed the need to advance the sports sector and finalize a sports strategy that is being prepared to ensure furnishing facilities for young people and exploring their skills, right from the early school stages.
Oman also accords great importance to the employment of national human resources, training them and honing their skills to enable them to enter the labour market and explore the business environment. This attention reflected in legislations and laws, including the Labour Law, that provides a safe business climate by defining rights and duties and stabilizing the relationship between production parties.
While chairing the Council of Ministers in January 2023, His Majesty the Sultan urged the authorities concerned to take necessary measures to establish a proper environment that encourages citizens to take up all types of work. He laid emphasis on the importance of educating young people about global work culture and entrepreneurship.
Oman attaches importance to the development of national administrative leaders, both in the public and private sectors. In this context, His Majesty the Sultan presided over the opening of the Royal Academy of Management, which enjoys the honourary patronage of His Majesty the Sultan.
Oman also accorded priority to sustainable development in governorates and cities, considered as pillars of Oman Vision 2040. The approach focuses on the development of local administration, based on decentralization. It resulted in the issuance of the Governorate System and the Municipal Councils Law, aimed to empower the people of Oman in each governorate and enable them to contribute to the nation-building process.
His Majesty the Sultan encouraged Omani governorates to demonstrate the capabilities that they possess. He urged them to compete to present the best proposals for development projects that can be implemented in each wilayat. Those projects would be evaluated according to specific terms and conditions, and the first three winning ones receive funding in a bid to enhance the governorates’ economic activities. The governorates of Dhofar, Musandam and South Al Batinah won such competitions during 2023.
The Sultanate of Oman also seeks to boost the social and economic prosperity through Oman National Spatial Strategy, which is the prime driver of the development sectors. It targets seven main goals, themed as: “Developing cities and communities that are suitable for living”, “Preserving Omani identity”, “Responding to climate change and the need to adapt to it and alleviate its impacts”, “Promoting growth and economic diversity based on the components of each governorate”, “Sustainable use of resources, the production of power and the management of renewable resources”, “Water and waste management”, “Protection of the environment through control of impacts on environmentally-delicate areas” and “Developing a sustainable transport system and the creation of transport alternatives that include walking and use of bicycles”.
In this context, His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik presided over the inauguration of Sultan Haitham City. The city, which occupies an area of 14,800,000 square metres, has been planned to reflect sound and sustainable urban planning based on the utilization of green spaces on an area of 2,900,000 square metres. It is designed to house 100,000 people and it will have 20,000 housing units ranging between separate villas, semi-attached villas, townhouses and flats.
The new city translates 12 international criterions of luxury and welfare—ranging between affordable cost, integrated utilities and sustainable systems—all of which played a role in drawing out the city’s masterplan.
The Sultanate of Oman continues to implement economic plans, financial and investment programmes within the framework of the tenth five-year plan (2021-2025), guided by the priorities of Oman Vision 2040. The outcomes of these plans have contributed to enhancing the GDP growth, raising financial and economic indicators, improving credit ratings, and achieving some financial surpluses that were directed to economic and social priorities.
The economy of the Sultanate of Oman witnessed a growth in fixed prices by 2.1 percent during the first half of 2023. Oman managed till the first half of 2023 to reduce public debt to RO 16.3 billion, thanks to rationalizing and raising the efficiency of spending, as well as the increase in public revenues as a result of the rise in oil prices. It was also attributed to the financial measures taken to increase non-oil revenues, in addition to managing the lending portfolio by repurchasing some sovereign bonds at less than their issuance value, repaying high-cost loans and replacing them with lower loans, and issuing local bonds for trading on Muscat Stock Exchange (MSX) at a relatively low cost.
Meanwhile, the contribution of the tourism sector to the GDP reached RO 1.070 billion in 2022. It is hoped that it will reach 2.75 percent during the next two years, compared to 2.4 percent at the end of last year (2022).
Foreign direct investments (FDI) recorded a 23.3 percent increase at the end of the first quarter of 2023, to stand at RO 21.27 billion.
Oman strives to attract investments for projects in various fields, including renewable energy and clean hydrogen, as many land plots were allocated for this purpose. In this framework, two agreements were inked last June 2023 with an investment value of approximately USD 10 billion, to develop two new projects for the production of green hydrogen in the Governorate of Al Wusta, as the total expected production will reach 250 metric kilotons of green hydrogen, equivalent to 6.5 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity.
Within the same context, HH Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitham Al Said, Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth met with some CEOs of global companies who participated in Duqm Economic Forum last month (October 2023). During the meeting, HH Sayyid Theyazin highlighted the investment opportunities available in the fields of renewable energy and clean energy, such as green hydrogen and green ammonia. These sectors come in line with Oman’s approach towards zero carbon neutrality by 2050. The meeting also spotlighted the incentives offered to investors and the investment milieu in Oman.
At the behest of His Majesty the Sultan, a fund named “Oman Future Fund” was launched last May 2023 with a capital of RO 2 billion.
The fund is aimed at enhancing economic activity and encouraging the private sector to enter into partnerships or finance feasible investment projects in the sectors of economic diversification targeted by Oman Vision 2040.
The Sultanate of Oman accords a priority to digital economy to be a contributor to the national economy. To this end, His Majesty the Sultan gave instructions in this regard to design a national programme to implement and localize artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, and to accelerate the devising of legislation to position these technologies as basic enablers and catalysts for these sectors.
The National Digital Economy Programme works to build and develop a prosperous digital economy in the Sultanate of Oman based on several principles that include establishing national industries in the digital economy, enhancing in-country value (ICV), and generating sustainable opportunities.
The Sultanate of Oman seeks to maximize the benefit of its geographical location through the special economic zones and free zones. It also strives to utilize the maritime transport routes to connect markets in the GCC, Europe, Asia and Africa. For this purpose, Oman has established Khazaen Economic City that includes two free zones in the Governorate of South Al Batinah. The city has managed to attract local and foreign investments worth RO 300 million.
Khazaen Economic City and the rest of economic zones and free zones in Sohar, Duqm, Salalah and Al Mazunah are regulated by legislations and systems that encourage investment and offer low taxes and advanced infrastructure.
This economic mobility in the Sultanate of Oman and the subsequent positive results towards improving financial and economic indicators and reducing the state’s public debt made credit rating institutions raise and modify their credit outlook for Oman. Standard & Poor’s raised the credit rating for Oman to “BB+” with a stable future outlook, Fitch raised the credit rating of Oman to “BB+” with a stable outlook last September, and Moody’s raised the credit rating of Oman to the level of “Ba2” while maintaining a positive outlook.
Meanwhile, the Sultanate of Oman has made progress in several global indicators, as it ranked 56th globally and 5th in the Arab world in the Industrial Competitive Performance Report for 2023, issued by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Oman also advanced 10 places in the Global Innovation Index for 2023 to obtain the 69th rank globally, out of 132 countries.
During giving audience to businesspersons and owners of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), His Majesty underscored the importance of building an effective partnership between the government and private sectors. This partnership will empower the private sector in setting up projects and investments to support targets of economic diversification, growth of gross domestic product (GDP) and generating job opportunities for citizens.
The aforementioned affirmation is consistent with the Royal orders to augment Oman Development Bank’s (ODB) maximum lending limit from RO 1 million to RO 5 million. The Royal directives allow an increase in this limit for development projects that contribute to augmenting added value. They also stipulate increasing the percentage of contribution towards financing the cost of projects, expanding the list of activities and fields funded by Oman Development Bank, while offering additional incentives for projects established outside Muscat Governorate within the framework of investment plans in the governorates and creating job opportunities there.
Meanwhile, the foreign policy of the Sultanate of Oman, under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik, continues to provide a global role-model, based on mutual respect, common interests and benefits, non-interference in the internal affairs of countries, respect for international conventions and laws, and upholding the principles of peace, humanity, dialogue and tolerance. In this context, His Majesty the Sultan said, “We reassert our firm political tenets, solidly anchored in the principles of good neighborliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of other sovereign nations. Our position is further rooted in a steadfast belief in the establishment of a just and equitable system for mutual benefit and exchange of interests, aimed at establishing solid foundations for stability and peace, and to make a positive contribution towards these noble objectives”.
Therefore, these principles and values pursued by the Sultanate of Oman in its foreign policy have made it a source of trust and appreciation for international units and organizations to play active roles and achieve security, peace and stability in a number of regional and international issues. These principles and values stress that the approach of peace and cooperation is the only path and the safest ideal model for the region and the world at large.
In this regard, the Sultanate of Oman has pointed out that it follows a preventive media policy to protect society from sources of extremism and radicalism that lead to terrorism. This is achieved by consolidating values of tolerance, harmony, unity and rapprochement among its members, avoiding inciting sectarian strife in all local media means, and pursuing a policy of positive neutrality in dealing with news, especially those related to civil and sectarian conflicts in some countries of the region.
At the level of bilateral relations, His Majesty the Sultan held talks during the current year (2023) with leaders of Arab and foreign countries through mutual visits and phone calls, including with the presidents of America, Russia and Syria. Additionally, His Majesty visited a number of countries, including the United Arab Emirates, the Arab Republic of Egypt, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. These visits aimed at promoting areas of bilateral cooperation and exchanging views on a set of regional and international issues of common interest.
The Sultanate of Oman is currently chairing the 43rd session of the GCC Supreme Council. Oman perceives the achievements made by the GCC in various fields were attributed to the success of benign endeavors, unification, interdependence and kinship among the countries of the region, united by a common history and destiny, as well as the GCC keenness to extend bridges of friendship with friendly countries and all regional and international bodies and organizations in support of joint cooperation in the political, economic and commercial fields. In this context, the Sultanate of Oman hosted Gulf meetings of various ministries, bodies and joint committees.
The Sultanate of Oman has reacted to a number of events in the region, including the Israeli aggression against Gaza and the violation of Palestinian rights. In this regard, the Monarch of the country affirmed the Sultanate of Oman’s solidarity with the brotherly Palestinian people and backed all efforts calling for halting the escalation and attacks on children and innocent civilians and releasing prisoners in accordance with the principles of international humanitarian law. His Majesty the Sultan also urged the international community to fulfill its responsibilities to protect civilians, ensure their humanitarian needs, lift the illegal siege on Gaza and the rest of the Palestinian territories, and resume the peace process to enable the Palestinian people regain all their legitimate rights by establishing their independent state on the 1967 borders with (Al Quds A’Sharqiyah) East Jerusalem as its capital in accordance with the principle of the two-state solution, the Arab Peace Initiative and all relevant international resolutions.
During his audience with the GCC foreign ministers and the GCC Secretary-General, His Majesty also stressed the need to intensify regional and international efforts to stop escalation and violence and provide protection for civilians.
The Sultanate of Oman is rallying efforts with the GCC, Arab and Islamic countries to achieve ceasefire in Gaza and halt the unjustified and inhumane attack on Gaza Strip. During the GCC Ministerial Council’s meeting in Muscat, the GCC countries provided immediate support worth USD 100 million for humanitarian and relief aid, and stressed the need to urgently ensure the delivery of this aid to the Gaza Strip.
The Sultanate of Oman also contributes to resolving a number of contemporary regional and international issues, including the Yemeni crisis. It also works in cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni parties to exert constructive efforts that contribute to forging a comprehensive and lasting solution, in a manner that meets aspirations of all Yemeni people.
In the humanitarian level, the Sultanate of Oman responded to the efforts made with the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Belgium, to facilitate the process of receiving two Austrian citizens and a Danish citizen and transporting them from Tehran to Muscat and then transporting them to their countries, in addition to Oman’s contribution with the State of Qatar for the mutual release of Iranian and American nationals.
Oman’s renewed renaissance, under the leadership of His Majesty the Sultan and the efforts of its noble people, is pressing ahead to achieve development goals and realize aspirations, so that Oman and its people enjoy a more prosperous future.