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OmanBackground
The Sultanate of Oman is a country located on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It borders the United Arab Emirates in the northwest, Saudi Arabia in the west, and Yemen in the southwest. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea in the south and east, and the Gulf of Oman in the northeast. The country also contains Madha, an enclave enclosed by the United Arab Emirates, and Musandam, an exclave also separated by Emirati territory.

History
In ancient history the region of Oman was known principally for its copper mining, an activity still pursued in the present. Over the centuries the area was ruled intermittently by its trans-gulf neighbors, the Persians. Arab tribes moved into Oman, probably from Yemen, and took control of the area by the seventh century c.e. (The name Oman possibly derives from the name of a Yemeni tribe of that era.)

The people of the region converted to Islam within the Prophet Muhammad's lifetime. By the middle of the eighth century c.e., they were practicing a unique brand of the faith, Ibadhism, which remains a majority sect only in Oman. Ibadhism has been characterized as "moderate conservatism," with tenets that are a mixture of both austerity and tolerance.

The Portuguese occupied Muscat for a 140-year period (1508–1648), arriving a decade after Vasco da Gama discovered the seaway to India. In need of an outpost to protect their sea lanes, the Europeans built up and fortified the city, where remnants of their colonial architectural style still remain.

The Ottomans drove out the Portuguese, but were pushed out themselves about a century later (1741) by the leader of a Yemeni tribe, who began the current line of ruling sultans. After one last, brief invasion a few years later by Persia, Oman was free for good of foreign-occupying powers.

Isolated from their Arab neighbors by the desert, the Omanis became an economic power in the early 1800s, largely by using their position on the Indian Ocean and seafaring knowledge gained from the Portuguese to gain access to foreign lands. They took control of the coasts of present-day Iran and Pakistan, colonized Zanzibar and Kenyan seaports, brought back enslaved Africans, and sent boats trading as far as the Malay Peninsula.

At this time, the country became known as Muscat and Oman*, denoting two centers of power, not just the capital and the interior but also the sultan and the imam, the Ibadhist spiritual leader.

The British slowly brought about a collapse of Muscat and Oman's "empire" by the end of the nineteenth century without use of force. Through gradual encroachment on its overseas holdings economically and politically, they caused Oman to retreat to its homeland. In time Britain held such sway in Muscat and Oman itself that it became in effect, and later in fact, a British protectorate.

Having control of the country's military, the British helped subdue rebel tribesmen in the 1950s, driving most into Yemen. But the sultan ran a repressive regime, with laws forbidding numerous activities, including the building and even repair of his subjects' own homes without permission. In 1970, almost certainly with British backing, he was overthrown by his son, the present ruler, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, and the country declared independence the following year as the Sultanate of Oman.

Qaboos is generally regarded as a benevolent absolute ruler, who has improved the country economically and socially. Oman has maintained peaceful ties on the Arabian Peninsula ever since ending another tribal rebellion in the southwest in 1982 by forging a treaty with Yemen. Oman's oil revenue has been consistently invested in the national infrastructure, particularly roads, schools, hospitals, and utilities. More than ever, the country is poised to take advantage of its strategic trade location on the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf to further its economic growth and role in the world.

Except for those who travel to remote Middle East locales, the country has seldom been in the public eye other than for the use of its military bases by U.S. forces in recent years. American and British bombing raids were launched in 1991 from Oman against Iraq in the Gulf War. A decade later, U.S. forces stationed there were involved in raids against Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden.

Politics
Chief of state and government is the hereditary sultān, Qabūs ibn Said as-Said, who appoints a cabinet called the "Diwans" to assist him. In the early 1990s, the sultan instituted an elected advisory council, the Majlis ash-Shura, though few Omanis were eligible to vote. Universal suffrage for those over 21 was instituted on 4 October 2003. Over 190,000 people (74% of those registered) voted to elect the 83 seats. Two women were elected to seats. The country today has two women ministers.

Geography
A vast desert plain covers most of central Oman, with mountain ranges along the north (Jebel Akhdar) and southeast coast, where the country's main cities are also located: the capital city Muscat, Matrah and Sur in the north, and Salalah in the south. Oman's climate is hot and dry in the interior and humid along the coast. During past millennia Oman was covered by ocean. Fossilized shells exist in great numbers in areas of the desert up to 50 miles from the modern coastline.

Oman is considered to be one of the fifteen states that make up the so-called "Cradle of Humanity".

Exclaves and enclaves
The peninsula of Musandam (Musandem), which has a strategic location on the Strait of Hormuz, is separated from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates and is thus an exclave.

Oman has one other exclave, inside UAE territory, known as Wadi-e-Madhah. It is located halfway between the Musandam Peninsula and the rest of Oman. The exclave is on the Dubai-Hatta road in the Emirate of Sharjah. Belonging to Musandam governorate, it covers approximately 75 square kilometres (29 sq mi). The boundary was settled in 1969. The north-east corner of Madha is closest to the Khorfakkan-Fujairah road, barely ten metres (30 ft) away. Within the exclave is an UAE enclave called Nahwa, belonging to the Emirate of Sharjah. It is about eight kilometres (five mi) on a dirt track west of the town of New Madha. It consists of about forty houses with its own clinic and telephone exchange.

Economy
The economy of Oman is dominated by its dependence on crude oil. A joint venture called IPC drilled a number of dry holes from 1956 onwards though the logistics of doing this were extremely difficult due to the lack of transport infrastructure.

A lack of success, combined with worsening logistical problems and a glut of oil on the world market, led most of the partners to withdraw from the venture in 1960. Only Royal Dutch/Shell and Partex opted to remain in Oman to continue the search for oil. They struck oil at Fahud in 1962 at a site just a few hundreds of metres from the last dry hole.
In June 1967, the Compagnie Française des Pétroles rejoined the partnership by taking over a 10% equity share from Partex, resulting in the following shareholding: Shell 85%, Compagnie Française des Pétroles 10% and Partex 5%. The company changed its name to Petroleum Development (Oman). Shortly followed by the first export of Omani oil on 27 July 1967.

On 1 January 1974 the Government of Oman acquired a 25% shareholding in the Petroleum Development (Oman); half a year later they increased it to 60%, backdated to the beginning of the year. As a result foreign shareholding in PD(O) was now made up of Royal Dutch/Shell (34%), Compagnie Française des Pétroles (now Total) (4%) and Partex (2%).

In a Royal Decree of 15 May 1980, the company was registered as a limited liability company (LLC) under the name Petroleum Development Oman.

Today Oman produces around 700,000 barrels (110,000 m³) of oil per day and there have been significant discoveries of natural gas and development of a liquefied natural gas terminal. Oil represents about 90% of Oman's exports.

The income generated was quickly deployed into building infrastructures of roads, schools, hospitals, water and electricity generating plants. All of this activity has made Oman a major success story for economic growth despite being the only oil-producing nation in the Middle East that is not a member of OPEC.

Oman's economic performance improved significantly in 2000 due largely to the upturn in oil prices. The government is moving ahead with privatization of its utilities, the development of a body of commercial law to facilitate foreign investment, and increased budgetary outlays. Oman continues to liberalise its markets and joined the World Trade Organization in November 2000. GDP growth improved in 2001 despite the global economic slowdown.

On 20 July 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved a US-Oman Free Trade Agreement. Regarding labor rights, the Government of Oman made numerous commitments to revise its labor laws to satisfy Congressional concerns. With respect to the assertions that the Agreement threatened the ability of the United States Government to protect its essential national security, the Congressional Research Service prepared several papers explaining that such was not the case. A recent State Department report criticized Oman for not taking enough action to reduce human trafficking but also acknowledged that the country "is making significant efforts to do so." The treaty will immediately end all duties on trade in industrial and consumer goods and give American farmers duty-free access to Oman's market for 87% of their products. Proponents of the deal claim that the pact will help liberalise the Omani market and open it to U.S. goods.

US President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on September 26 2006.

Demographics
Oman is the world's easternmost Arabian country. The majority of Omanis are Arabs, although there are sizable Pakistani Baloch and Swahili minorities. As in most other of the smaller, oil-rich Persian Gulf Arab countries, a large number of foreign workers live here, mostly from India and other parts of Pakistan. The official language is Arabic, but the minorities speak their own languages. A non-Arabic Semitic language Bathari is spoken in Dhofar.

Islam is the predominant religion, mostly Ibādiyya, with a Sunni population in Dhofar. Exact numbers are not certain. The largest religious minority are the Hindus, who account for 13% of the population.

Tourism
Oman is known for its popular tourist attractions. Wadi's deserts, beaches, and mountains are areas which make Oman unique to its neighboring GCC nations (Wadis in particular). Jebel Shams is Oman's tallest mountain, highest point, and is a popular destination for camping. Most of the major malls are located in Muscat, the capital. The largest mall in the country is the Muscat City Centre which was built by Majid Futtaim, an Emirati business man. Other popular tourist activities include sand skiing in the desert, mountain-climbing, camel racing, and camping.

The Muscat Festival is usually held at the beginning of every year. During this event, traditional dances are held, temporary theme parks open, and concerts take place. Another popular event is the Khareef Festival, which is similar to Muscat Festival; however it is held in August in Salalah, Dhofar. During this latter event, mountains are packed as a result of the cool breeze weather during that period of time which rarely occurres in Muscat.

Culture
Even though Oman is a modern country, western influences are quite restricted. The Ibādī form of Islam is also conservative like Sunni Islam and Shi'a Islam. About 75% of Oman is Muslim. As is the case with most Middle Eastern countries, alcohol is only available in some hotels and few restaurants.

Although Arabic is Oman's official language, there are native speakers of different dialects, as well as Balochi, or offshoots of Southern Arabian, a Semitic language only distantly related to Arabic. Swahili is also widely spoken in the country due to the historical relations between Oman and Zanzibar. The dominant indigenous language is a dialect of Arabic and the country has also adopted English as a second language. Almost all signs and writings appear in both Arabic and English.

Oman is famous for its khanjar knives, which are curved daggers worn during holidays as part of ceremonial dress. Today traditional clothing is worn by most Omani men. They wear an ankle-length, collarless robe called a dishdasha that buttons at the neck with a tassel hanging down. Traditionally this tassel would be dipped in perfume. Today the tassel is merely a traditional part of the dishdasha.

Men wear hijab and abaya. Some men cover their faces and hands, but most do not. The abaya is a traditional dress and it is current having different styles. The Sultan has forbidden the covering of faces in public office. On holidays, such as Eid, the women wear traditional dress, which is often very brightly colored and consists of a mid-calf length tunic over pants.

A very important part of Omani culture is hospitality. If invited into an Omani house, a visitor is likely to be greeted with a bowl of dates, qahwa (coffee with cardamon - standard arabic قهوة)and fruit. The coffee is served fairly weak in a small cup, which should be shaken after three servings to show that you have finished. The dates are in lieu of sugar. Halwa and other sweets are often given at celebrations such as Eids.

Cost of Living
The overall cost of living in Oman is similar to that in most European countries, if you’re living in the style of the average Western expatriate.

But the general lack of taxation has a significant impact on the cost of certain items, e.g. cars. On the other hand, the cost of accommodation is sometimes high, as is that of certain food items, particularly imported foods. If you buy internationally recognised branded foods and household goods, you might pay higher prices than in your home country, but there are usually plenty of cheaper locally and regionally produced alternatives that are of excellent quality. Clothing can also be expensive if you favour designer labels – this isn’t peculiar to Oman – although there’s little need for winter clothing.

The price of wines and spirits, where these are permitted, is slightly lower than in the UK but higher than average European prices. Electronic goods, such as televisions, hi-fis, DVD players, photographic equipment and computer hardware and software, are generally less expensive than in Europe, mainly because of lower import duties.
Utilities, such as electricity, water and gas, are subsidised to some extent by the region’s governments, which own the services (except for bottled gas supplies) in order to provide inexpensive electricity and water, mainly for the benefit of the local population. Utilities are therefore cheaper than in most European countries. However, at the height of summer, air-conditioning costs will escalate, rather as the cost of heating increases in winter in colder climates. Newcomers sometimes make the expensive mistake of keeping their air-conditioning on even when they’re out, but this is unnecessary, as air-conditioning systems reduce the temperature in your accommodation quickly when activated on your return home.

You should also allow for the cost of international telephone calls, although these are kept low by Oman’s government, who wants to encourage international business and investment in the region.

Your cost of living will obviously depend on your lifestyle. When you’re negotiating a work contract, it’s usual for your prospective employer to produce detailed cost of living figures for his country, which are useful in helping you to decide whether the proposed job is financially attractive or not.

Rental costs for a one-bedroom apartment in a modern block, probably unfurnished, a two-bedroom apartment in a similar block and a two or three-bedroom apartment or a modest villa. Apartments might have air-conditioning included in the rent. Satellite television is probably provided but is unlikely to include all channels. A swimming pool and/or gym are usually provided.

Doesn’t include luxury food items or alcohol.

Includes electricity (and air-conditioning), water (and usually sewage if charged in conjunction with the water, as is normal) and an allowance for telephone charges.
Includes entertainment, dining out, sports, newspapers and magazines but not holidays (air fares are often included in work contract terms).

Includes running costs for an average family car plus third party insurance, petrol, servicing and repairs, but excludes depreciation and credit purchase costs.

Includes private health, travel, car and contents insurance. Note that property is rented, so building insurance is usually unnecessary.

Lots of clothing is unnecessary in the region’s hot climate. Office wear for men is a shirt and tie, except for formal occasions.