Oman: A Beneficial Dictatorship

By Ingeborg de Koning

Petro-states exhibit many characteristics inherent to neopatrimonialism, a term developed by Kohli; as mentioned in Pierson, the discovery of oil resources allows personalistic leaders to establish rent-seeking opportunities and patrimonial structures. The Sultanate of Oman too, is a petro-state; yet it does not quite fit the neopatrimonial picture. While it is patrimonial in the sense that the Sultan, Sultan Al-Qaboos bin Said, secures the loyalty of the general population through the use of state resources, Oman’s public resources are not “[treated] as personal patrimony,” along Kohli’s description.  

Indeed, here Oman would fit more into the type of the cohesive-capitalist state, as a distinction is made between the realms of public and private resources. As Al-Yousef states, Oman’s approach centres on the idea “that there was no alternative to a substantial intervention by the state in order to achieve a satisfactory rate of resource mobilisation for economic development.” Throughout a series of Five Year Plans from 1976 onwards, under a repressive, authoritarian government headed by the Sultan, Oman employed an intense development policy to achieve rapid socio-economic development.

Yet, Oman too differs from a cohesive-capitalist state; while the governance is indeed a “centralized and purposive authority structure” and economic growth is the no. 1 priority, this is not achieved through the tight control of labour, but rather, through the effective employment of its public resources, the oil, to stimulate the economy and develop a strong market. The ‘rewards’ of this approach constitute the Sultan’s patrimony: for his position is justified through socio-economic and human development. Recognizing that both categories are ideal types, it remains interesting how Oman does not quite fit snugly into either. Perhaps a useful addition would thus be the category of “beneficial dictator,” as Al-Qaboos has often been called, to explain Oman’s state authority and – intervention dynamics.