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close this bookBedouins, Wealth, and Change: A Study of Rural Development in the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman (UNU, 1980, 63 pages)
close this folderPART III. Case study: The sultanate of Oman
View the document(introductory text...)
View the document1. An introduction to the new developments in the sultanate of Oman with reference to mobile population groups
View the document2. Changes in the nomad region of Oman
View the document3. Settlement projects in inner Oman, and other measures to develop the rural/nomad region
View the document4. Summary and evaluation of results in the rural/nomad region

(introductory text...)

Fred Scholz

1. An introduction to the new developments in the sultanate of Oman with reference to mobile population groups

A Short Description of the Sultanate of Oman

The Sultanate of Oman in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula includes the traditional heartland of the country, Muscat and Oman, the southern province Dhofar, which was annexed in 1879, and the peninsula of Musandam, an exclave which is separated from the rest of Oman by the 90-km-wide Emirate of Fujairah (fig. 16). Oman, which has an area of 300,000 km2, lies within the region influenced by monsoon climate but is nevertheless to be numbered with the countries within the Old World Arid Zone. Rainfall amounts of less than 50 mm per year are typical of the interior and on the coast between 120 and 150 mm; only in the high mountains in the north (up to 3,100 m) and in the south (up to 1,600 m does the precipitation exceed 300 mm. In general, however, precipitation felts very irregularly and over a very small area. It usually occurs in the form of short, heavy showers, and the water scarcely seeps into the ground as much is lost as surface run-off. What ground moisture there is evaporates as a result of the high temperatures. The average temperature in June is between 34 and 38 C.

About 15 per cent of the land's surface is covered by mountains with almost no vegetation. About 65 per cent comprises the wide gravel plains of wadis which extend from the mountains or desert to the sea and have thorn and dry savannah vegetation. The remaining area is a broad desert. Less than 1 per cent of the land's total area (about 36,000 ha) is taken up by oases and can be cultivated intensively. Date palms represent the main type of growth in northern Oman. In the southern province, Dhofar, the coconut palm is dominant. In addition, papayas, bananas, and lemons are grown in oases throughout the country, and grains, fodder, and vegetables of all kinds are planted beneath the trees. Irrigation water comes in most cases from underground falaj systems or from wells. The largest part of the country's surface is unsuitable for agriculture but is the home of a mobile, animal-breeding population.

FIG, 16. The Arabian Peninsula

Only the bedouins and shawawi (mountain nomads) are able to exploit the sparse and extensive pasture with their camel, sheep, goat and, in Dhofar, cattle herds. Until 1970 the country was more or less isolated from the outside world and without signs of change but the young Sultan Qaboos, who came to power by way of a bloodless palace revolt on 23 July 1970, introduced policies directed at the modernization of the country.

Goals and Measures Adopted for the Development of the Country

The policies of the new Omani government had three major goals:

  1. the rapid elimination of the backwardness of the country caused by its isolation under Sultan Said;
  2. the development of an economy that spans the whole country and is independent of oil exports;
  3. the creation of an Omani national consciousness.

Obstacles in the way of these goals included the deeply embedded tribal structures; the lack of direct contact between sultan and tribal leaders; the independence of tribal heads within their own territories and in relations with the Sultan of Muscat; and the lack of willingness on the part of the tribal leaders to accept the policies of the new sultan which were aimed at mediating among all sectors of the population and the government.

To achieve its aims, the government introduced many measures which affected the tribal leaders and the tribes. These included the development of a nation-wide infrastructure and an administrative system that operates across tribal borders, and the development of a national economy. The success of these measures has been very limited; economic development has been concentrated on the area surrounding Muscat. The successful development of the educational and health programmes is shown in table 21.

These governmental policies applied to the entire country and for the nomadic tribal population they presented a set of possibilities in which they could choose to become involved. Measures specifically affecting the tribal population included the appointment of tribal leaders loyal to the sultan to highly paid government positions and the granting of land to the lowliest tribal members. Land distribution had been formerly the privilege of heads of tribes and the sheikh; the new system was a method of bringing the tribal population into direct contact with a new government. Soldiers for the Omani army were now recruited from a wider range, above all from the Omani tribes of the mountains and deserts, whereas formerly the army had been made up chiefly of enlisted Baluchis from the coastal region. Moreover, foreign firms were henceforth to give preference to Omani natives for all jobs which they were capable of doing. And, in an attempt to create an Omani national consciousness, a quasi-military salute was introduced in the schools, to be given daily as homage to the sultan.

Among the policies affecting labour were the following. a. A minimum wage, adjusted to the cost-of-living index, regardless of job qualification was introduced. b. Employment preference was to he given to workers from tribes in whose areas a project was being carried out. (This was applied especially to road construction firms and oil companies, but as of 1976 any Omani can take a job anywhere in the country.) c. Labourers were hired through the sheikh, not directly by the company. (The sheikh was then paid the wage and, after deducting an amount, he paid the workers; this right of the sheikhs was invalidated in 1976, but in some tribes the practice continues.)

Measures were adopted by the government for Dhofar and geared to the situation there. These include, in addition to the extremely expensive military activities against "leftist" infiltration from the People's Democratic Republic of


  1. the payment of a premium for giving up weapons and for the enlistment of former opponents of the sultan into his military service;
  2. numerous concessions to youths (e.g., the granting of lightweight motorcycles, the opening of cinemas, the employment of pupils for wages by foreign firms during school vacations) designed to keep them from participating in guerilla activities in the hinterlands;

TABLE 21. Development of the Educational and Health Care Systems in Oman

  1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977
Schools 3 16 41 68 111 176 207 257
Pupils 900 6,941 15,332 24,481 35,565 49,229 55,752 75,000
Hospitals and clinics 2 28 47 52 55 64 _ 69

Sources: SYB 1976; V.B. No. 7, 814/78.

c. the establishment of an aid service in the areas of education, medicine, nutrition, and agriculture adapted to the needs of the mountain population; and d. supply centres set up in the hinterlands, making foodstuffs and medical services available locally.

In contrast to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, therefore, there is no concerted strategy for integrating the nomadic population into modern developments in Oman. Nor are there direct moves by the government in the form of projects, such as compulsory settlement and land grants, as in neighbouring countries. There are two projects and these are in the planning stages. They are the settlement projects at Tanam and Haima, which will be discussed at greater length below.

Planning Organizations

In order to implement the 1970 decision to develop the country quickly, an administration was most necessary. But suitable people could not be found and the appropriate institutions could not be created instantly. Until the establishment of the Development Council, an organization which has been co-ordinating and organizing the country's development since 1974, there were many different phases of planning, and the country paid dearly for its experience. The government's course of action is sketched briefly below and reveals the efforts to achieve effective planning.

After Sultan Qaboos had taken over the government, the Development Board that had been created during his predecessor's last years in office was dissolved and replaced by:

..... the "Department of Planning and Development" and an independent "Tender Board" were formed. Thereafter a temporary "Planning Council" was created which was renamed (1972) as the "Supreme Council for Economic Planning and Development." The Centre for Economic Planning and Development was attached to this Supreme Council. [TFYOP 1976.]

Because there was no functional government structure during the first few years after 1970, the various planning institutions had responsibility both for planning and implementation. Misunderstandings and omissions were thus unavoidable. In order to improve efficiency the General Development Organization was created by the sultan's decree in 1973 and was raised to the level of a ministry the same year (Ministry of Development). This ministry was responsible for the entire development plan and had both planning and implementation responsibilities. As far as economic development was concerned, its responsibility extended only as far as there was no ministry responsible for a particular sector: agriculture, irrigation, fishing, mining, oil, trade, industry.

As early as 1974, however, the necessity of separating executive and planning became clear. As a result of this separation of functions, the Ministry of Development was dissolved and several new ministries were created. All cultural, economic, and political sectors were thus finally represented by a ministry, and a government that was clearly structured and capable of effective work was established. The organizational structure of the government in the Sultanate is shown in figure 17.

With this clear division of the government into subiectoriented ministries having their own budgets, the preconditions for effective development in Oman were established. This development originated in the individual ministries and was co-ordinated by the Development Council created in 1974 by sultan's decree. In the Development Council, which is under the chairmanship of Sultan Qaboos, seven ministries (cf. fig. 17) are represented together with the Under Secretary for Financial Affairs. The Development Council has a Technical Secretariat which is headed by a Secretary General and an Under Secretary for Planning. The duties of the Development Council were laid down by law in 1975:

First:Second: Council for Financial Affairs. To discuss the establish an annual development budget and to refer this budget to the
Third: To set and approve priorities for development
projects submitted by ministries and government
departments before they are implemented,
with a view to ensuring conformity
with the approved priorities, and to achieving
complementarily and consistency of projects
in terms of time and substance.
Fourth: To set priorities to requests for consultant
studies submitted by government ministries
and departments and to authorize them before
any commitment is made.
Fifth: To lay down general rules and terms for extending
Government "loans" and "participation"
which are to be approved by the council
for inclusion in the annual development
Sixth: To approve privileges proposed by the minister
concerned, in accordance with the law for the Protection of Developing Industry 4/74, if the proposed privileges include any monopolistic rights or concessions.
Seventh: government departments, in so far as the
implementation of the development plan is concerned.
Eighth: To receive from ministries and government
departments follow-up progress reports on
the implementation of projects and consultant studies.
Ninth: To issue an annual follow-up report on the
implementation of the development plan.
Tenth: Any other business assigned to the Council
by His Majesty the Sultan. [TFYDP 1976]

The Development Council's responsibility was limited to the planning and guidance of economic development, as is clearly recognizable from the text of the law. Executive functions, on the other hand, remained with the individual ministries. All the planning decisions were made in the different governmental institutions and in the Development Council with its seat in the Capital Area. The individual ministries that were directly involved in development set up offices in all the important towns, i.e., in the settlements chosen as central places, in order to implement the measures that had been planned. These centres were usually the seats of the Walis.

It was not only at this lowest level of the administration that appropriate personnel was initially lacking. Even during the first deliberations concerning a possible development concept for Oman, the government was dependent on foreign experts. These specialists, functioning in part as advisers, were without doubt usually highly qualified; they had, however, no local experience, no knowledge of the society and of the geography of Oman. Thus, they followed principles that were based on the pattern of western industrialized countries. An attempt was made to apply the theoretical concept of development put forth by these experts, which was known in the literature as "modernization" or "westernization." This concept was sometimes applied without consideration of local conditions and without questioning whether an alternative course of development more appropriate to Oman was available. But in this respect, much has changed since 1970. The government has gained in experience, can choose the experts and consultants it still needs, and can have alternative concepts drawn up in particular cases. Furthermore, since 1974 the Central Bank has been an additional institution through which expenditures for development can be controlled.

TABLE 22. Omani Government Income from the Oil Sector

  1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 Estimated annual average, 1976 - 1980
Oil exports
(millions of barrels)
20.9 88.2 119.2 121.3 107.4 102.8 107.0 105.8 124.6 113.8
Government oil revenue (millions of Omani rials*) 1.9 25.5 38.5 44.4 47.7 49.3 60.6 291.5 369.8 447.2

Sources: SYB 1976; TFYDP 1976.
* One Omani rial = approximately US$2.90.

Planning Base

The basis of all planning is a sufficient supply of funds. The financial basis for realizing the necessary and expensive development programme is represented primarily by the government oil revenue which is made up of royalties and taxes. In 1967, the first tanker was loaded with Omani oil and since that time Oman has experienced a continuous growth in oil income (table 22).

The jump in income between 1973 and 1974 is striking. In addition to the rise in the price of crude oil on the world market, the new conditions governing Omani participation in the oil companies are responsible for this rise. This will be discussed in greater detail below.

Other government income, insofar as it was not absorbed by the defense budget for the Dhofar war, was very modest, and was also used for development. This income includes revenues from the export of agricultural products and from customs duties that are imposed on certain imports. Oman has also found financial support for its development plans in friendly Arab governments, in Europe, and in America. This support grew only after 1974 when it was recognized abroad that Oman cannot be compared with the small, rich oil-producing countries: It is a relatively large country with a limited and widely scattered population, a more expensive type of development to be pursued, and an income from oil deliveries that is not sufficient to cover the costs of this development.

Taking out credit naturally means being in debt to the countries supplying credit. But debts also mean dependence

The foreign debts of Oman, however, have remained within reasonable limits since they were placed under the control of the Central Bank.

Sufficient financing and the availability of specialists and workers are not the only prerequisites for the development plans. Fundamental to such planning are statistics concerning the size of the population, the amount of arable land available, and the number of settlements as well as maps of different scales and air photographs.

Up to now, the information concerning the size of Oman's population has been based only on estimates and a census cannot be taken over night. Numerous preparations must be made, personnel must be trained, the country must be divided into census districts, houses must be numbered, streets and residential areas must be listed, and questionnaires must be prepared. Preliminary work has been carried out successfully and it should be possible to conduct a census in the near future. Oman would then be the second Arab country, following Kuwait, with exact information concerning the size, age, and racial composition of its population. This will put the government's plans on a firm foundation, and help for Oman's population will be more carefully directed and more effective than it has been so far.

Exact maps are a primary prerequisite for the census, for the development of the infrastructure, and for the development of agriculture. Oman is fortunate in being able to draw on maps that were prepared in part by Great Britain. Topographical maps are available at scales of 1 :50,000, 1:100,000 1:250,000, and 1:1,000,000. In addition, air photographic coverage of the entire country has been obtained.

2. Changes in the nomad region of Oman

The development measures introduced by the government and the opportunities they offered to the nomadic population led to quite different reactions and social changes. A number of consequences, for instance, arose from the favourable working and earning opportunities. The earnings from the new jobs need not be used for buying necessities since the family remains self-subsistent at present. Earnings, therefore, are invested-in gold, jewelry, motor vehicles, radios, household goods, clothing, expensive toys, and other imported luxury items, and in part also in special foods such as dried milk, conserves, and sweets. In addition some have acquired date groves, constructed permanent housing, or started business operations such as shops or taxi firms.

Alongside these changes, noticeable in the urban areas, there have been changes in the bedouin areas. For example, the newly available money has been used to buy motorized pumps. This fact has various negative consequences, however generally desirable it may be. Thus, in many oases as a result of the large capacity of modern motorized pumps the ground-water table has subsided rapidly, endangering the existence of the oasis itself. This has occurred in all the oases in the coastal area of the Batinah where sea water has been able to infiltrate irrigation water and thus has raised its mineral content. The water can no longer be fully used for agriculture, and date groves and other vegetation have been destroyed.

The use of the motorized pump also means that the farmer is more directly tied to the market. In order to acquire the means to run the pump, he must plant his fields to cash crops. This is probably a welcome change on the whole, but it means that the previously grown crops, such as dates, no longer receive careful attention since their market value has declined. Numerous date groves have gone to ruin or are only partially cultivated.

In addition, numerous agricultural workers, some the descendants of slaves, have left the agricultural areas for towns or have sought work in the oil-producing areas or in the United Arab Emirates Omani agriculture has begun to depend on workers from abroad, especially from India and Pakistan. In numerous administrative areas this emigration of Omani male workers is so advanced that the cultivation of grain has decreased and intensive care for the date culture is lacking. In 1972 it was reported that in many parts of the country between 20 and 80 per cent of the men had taken jobs outside the area in which they had previously lived and that in some of the hill villages only two or three males were left so that when a death occurs the women have to help with the burial. Other areas in the Oman Mountains ret ported that no wheat was being grown due to lack of manpower.

These changes, which are occurring in the oases, indicate a development that is also found in the nomad area and which will be described on the basis of settlement and nomad habits and economic activities.

Settlement and Nomad Habits

The growing diversification of the Omani economy was coupled with a decrease in animal breeding throughout the country and especially in camel breeding. The reduction of animal breeding was accompanied by a reduction of vegetal growth and the need for water which in turn led to a limitation of the traditional nomad movement in terms of frequency and distance. A lengthier stay in one location, the construction of semi-permanent or permanent housing and the movement from one location to another by Landrover are common today. Camps are established near surfaced and unsurfaced roads and where they are accessible by vehicle.

1. The Bedouins of Inner Oman

The bedouins used to stay in the southern wadi region and at the edge of the Rub al-Khali and the Wahibah sands during the winter (fig. 18) and their camps were located near small wells sunk into the wadibed. They spent the summer months near the oases at the foot of the Oman Mountains. In years of extreme need, it was possible to follow a path through the mountains to the coastal plain of the Batinah (i.e., the northern wadi region). These bedouins now spend the whole year near the oases or by the modern, well-built roads that connect them and they rarely move their camps. They prefer to settle within an hour's drive by Landrover from the newly established schools and hospitals. The shelters that are built in these new settlements are constructed of cement block, and are supplied with electricity and have air conditioning, refrigerators, televisions and deep freezers.

Some of these bedouins have settled in the middle of the broad wadis near the edge of the mountains and have planted date groves. These are primarily members of the Dura tribe in whose territory the oil deposits have been found. This tribe profits from the oil economy and is able to finance the costly lay-out of gardens (table 23) and the maintenance of wells. Agriculture on this basis is not yet profitable. In some areas heavy irrigation,increasing salinity, and the poor quality of the soil have made cultivation impossible and new groves and wells must be established. In some wadis (e.g., Wadi al-Ain, Wadi Aswad, Wadi Tanam, and in the Hamirat al-Duru) groves have been abandoned and small, newly laid-out gardens established (fig. 19).

The Duru tribe, in whose territory oil was discovered, exemplifies recent changes. The usual migration to distant wadis now occurs only occasionally and is by truck or by

Landrover. Small animals and the family are transported in modern vehicles and the few camels that are still raised are turned out to free pasture. In the last 10 to 15 years, however, most of the tribe has settled near the oasis of Tanam, in Wadi Aswad, and near Awaifi (fig. 18). The style of housing has been adapted to this new mode of life, the old huts of palm-branch mats having given way to block style huts of clay, plywood, and cement blocks. In some settlements all the new housing is constructed of these modern building materials.

TABLE 23. Cost of Laying Out a Garden near Tanam (Duru Tribe)

  Cost (US$)
Land Free from the government
Fencing 800
Motorized pump with pipes 4,000
Well shaft 1,600 - 3,000
Other (e.g., plants, fertilizer, 500
seed, tools)  
Total 6,900 - 8,900

Source: Information gathered by the author, Feb. 1977.

The monthly income of a labourer working for the oil company is US$300-800.

FIG. 18. Inner Oman: Survey Map. Tribal and New Settlement Areas

FIG. 19. Wadi Tanam Free Bedouin Settlement

In inner Oman (Jenabah, Wahibah) there is also less migration and bedouins have settled near the oases close to the mountains, e.g., Sanaw, Adam (see fig. 18). Fewer animals are kept, but the widespread laying out of gardens found among the Duru is missing here.

One reason for the reduced migration is that bedouins prefer to be near the new schools and hospitals. Also, the land surrounding the oases is claimed by the oasis inhabitants and the bedouins are denied any claim to ownership. In order to preserve their right to the huts which they have built around the oases, and in which they have lived for generations, the bedouins must now remain year round to prevent the oasis inhabitants from tearing down the huts during their absence and replacing them with stone huts. Since there are very few permanent job opportunities in the oases, the economic situation of some bedouin families is extremely precarious; in fact, many women have sold their silver jewelry and have turned to weaving simple, primitive carpets (unpatterned kelims) for a living.

2. The Bedouins of the Coastal Plain of the Batinah

Formerly the bedouins of the coastal plain moved back and forth between the foothill region of the Oman Mountains and the oasis strip on the coast. There they supervised the date harvest in the summer or had some other employment in the oasis. In the last few years they have built permanent housing on the landward side of the oasis strip where they used to have their summer camps and near the road from Muscat to Sohar which was completed in 1974. These settlements are loosely scattered along the road and in some parts of the coastal plain they are beside large cultivated plots granted them by the government. Recently some of this cultivated area has been acquired by rich merchants and government officials. The newly built houses along the road are constructed almost without exception of modern building materials and are either connected to the local electrical supply or have their own generators. The majority of the male members of the tribal population living here are employed in non-agricultural work. It is estimated that up to 30 per cent of the male population is employed in the United Arab Emirates; the rest are employed in transportation, as drivers or workers for Omani and foreign firms, or are employed by the government in the capital area.

3. The Bedouins of Dhofar

Little has changed in the migratory habits and settlement customs of the bedouins in Dhofar. Their movements continue to be between the area near the mountains and the country's interior. Motorized vehicles are also used here and and serve as transport from one seasonal location to another. The government has attempted to set up permanent settlements with medical stations, government and administrative offices, police station, military post, wells, and government-run markets. Up to now, however, there has been no marked settlement of bedouins in these locations.

Thamarit and Mudhay in the interior (nerd) are exceptions. There is a military airport near Thamarit and a military base in Mudhay, and bedouin families from different tribes, notably the Bayt Kathir, have settled in both locations. They have built their own houses, some permanently occupied, some used only seasonally or periodically.

On the periphery of Salalah in Taqah and Mirbat between 6,000 and 7,000 plots (60x60 ft) have been distributed to Dhofaris in the past few years. Not only Hadar but also many bedouins and jebalis (mountain nomads) have acquired land in Salalah in this way. At first, the inhabitants of each sector came from the same tribe, but recently the government has been trying, for political reasons, to encourage quarters with mixed tribal populations.

All construction on these sites must be of natural stone and/ or cement blocks. In an effort to check land speculation there is a law that a piece of property can be sold only when at least one stone building has been constructed on it. The plots of the bedouins and jebalis can be recognized by the fact that they are undeveloped or only partially developed because either money or interest is lacking. Many families that still engage in animal husbandry in the desert or the jebel use their urban dwellings only irregularly. In part they serve as shelters during the work week for those members of the family who have found work in town. During the Dhofar conflict and before the large-scale land distribution, two low-cost housing areas were built by the government, one in east Salalah and one in Taqah. Refugees from the Dhofar Mountains (jebalis) were provided with free houses. There were 54 houses in Salalah and nine houses of five units each in Taqah.

The Salalah complex, which was called Sha'biyat (fig. 20), and in which about 3,000 jebalis were living in 1977, was torn down in that year to make way for the construction of a stadium. Although most of the families living in Sha'biyat had acquired land on the periphery of Salalah under the land distribution programme, they demanded that the government build a new settlement for 3,000 jebalis in Awpad al-Gharbiyah since their land was being used for speculation and for rentals. The government reacted by creating a settlement of tents on cement slabs, with permanent buildings housing sanitary facilities. The jebalis, however, demanded a permanent settlement comparable to the one which had been torn down. As this demand was not met, they destroyed all the permanent sanitation buildings on the day of their resettlement, took down the tents, and moved to the Jebel or onto their own lots in Salalah. The government had anticipated this behaviour, but so soon after the Dhofar conflict for political reasons had sought to avoid the charge that it had not provided new dwelIings.

4. Mountain Nomads (Shawawi)

The consequences of modern change in the mountains differ according to regions. In the northern area (Musandam), permanent settlement of mountain nomads, with government assistance, is the goal, but success has been extremely limited thus far.

In the central mountain area the emigration of the male population in search of employment has led to a decrease in the number of animals kept and to changes in migratory and settlement habits. As a rule the mountain nomads select locations within the wadis from which they can reach the new transportation arteries and urban centres. Shelters are now built of clay, boards, and cement. In many areas of this central mountain region a transition to agriculture is taking place. This is happening with indirect government support such as provision of the means for digging wells, purchasing motorized pumps or buying seed.

5. The Bedouin Groups of the Central Wadi Region

These bedouins-the tribe of the Harasis (sg., Harsusi) are still almost completely untouched by modern developments. Changes in their way of life are almost non-existent, and the fact that individual families have motor vehicles is no testimony to processes of change. That the government wants to carry out a settlement project here indicates the necessity of integrating this Omani population group into the main current. (The settlement project will be described in greater detail below.)

FIG. 20. Sha'biyat-Low-Cost Housing Complex for Jebali Families in Salalah

Economic Habits

Following the pacification of the country after internal conflicts between the tribes and between the sultan and the Imam (1959), the practice of nomadic animal husbandry among bedouins and mountain nomads gave many of the male workers the opportunity to seek other work; for, from that time on, the animals could be cared for by women and children and the camels could be turned out to free pasture. The money earned by this wage labour was for the most part spent on consumer goods. The new wealth was also used for motor vehicles and motorized pumps; for permanent storage facilities; for the development of new date groves; and new construction appeared in the urban area of Muscat, Matrah, and in the newly established town of Ruwi.

We must, however, be clear about the major differences which exist between the economic development of the bedouins of the interior, namely the Duru tribe, whose territory is rich in oil, and the other tribes, the Janabah, Wahibah, Harasis, who have no mineral assets.

1. The Duru Tribe

A major part of the income of the Duru sheikhs is used to purchase Landrovers and trucks. They thus maintain an extensive system of transportation of people and goods within Oman and especially within the oil-producing area where they have transport licenses. They have also acquired motorized pumps which are used in the new date groves and vegetable gardens in Wadi Aswad, Wadi al-Ain, Wadi Tanam, and near Awaifi (fig. 18). Until a few years ago there were no permanent settlements in Wadi Aswad, only a few water holes, but now there are oases cultivated by bedouins in the middle of a completely desert-like region at the foot of Jebel Aswad escarpment. These bedouins were previously famous for breeding strong, fast camels and this was formerly the main source of income of the Duru tribe. Since the middle of the 1950s camel breeding has declined and many men have emigrated to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries or have found work with the PDO, the Omani oil company. In the past few years only about 100 camels at a price of 300 to 500 Omani rials have been sold in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and Bahrain. The animals that are raised run free but are marked for ownership by brands and shearing signs. Herders are no longer employed; rather a new "use" for the camels has developed: the old animals are driven to the neighbourhood of the oil settlements of Fahud, Nathi, and Jibal where they wander into one of the oil or mud ponds, sink in the mire, and die. The Omani oil company then is legally required to pay damages of 50 Omani rials for a male animal, 80 rials for a female animal and 150 rials for a pregnant animal.

The main source of income of the Duru tribe for the past 20 years, however, has been the oil industry. The sheikhs receive a monthly payment from the government for the concessions granted by the sultan and also a payment for securing the pipelines across the territory and for providing posts for guarding oil installations. These favours have been reduced in the last few years, however, as the position of the Duru tribal heads has weakened, and the power of the sultan and the Omani government has become more secure.

The members of the Duru tribe are economically dependent on the oil company: the men are employed as heavy-truck drivers, Bedford drivers, line coolies, rig coolies, rig drivers, kitchen boys, room boys, cooks, well watchmen, light drivers, driver's mates, or on bull gangs. Forty per cent of the labourers employed by the oil company belong to the Duru tribe. In addition, there are several hundred Duru employed as occasional labourers. An unskilled worker receives a wage of 60 Omani rials for 21 working days plus 6 days off; a specialized, skilled worker earns 80 to 100 rials, a driver 100, and a foreman 150 rials. The casual labourer receives 1,800 rupees per day. It is therefore not surprising that the breeding of small animals plays a subordinate role and that no attempt is made to cultivate the newly laid-out fields as a basic source of income; the oasis gardens are owned at present as symbols of prestige.

2. The Jenabah and Wahibah Tribes

The "modern" economic development that has occurred in Duru territory is not taking place among the Wahibah and Jenabah. The members of these tribes still engage in the traditional migration between summer and winter pasture areas and in fishing to an even greater extent than before. The use of motorized vehicles makes possible the rapid transport of fresh fish to the most distant markets on the coast of Oman and in the UAE. Land grants and the newly constructed wells are only available for the leading members of the Jenabah and Wahibah tribes. Other tribal members are trying to acquire land at traditional summer camps, but here they meet resistance from settled oasis inhabitants who sometimes contest the bedouins'claims with armed force. The government is aware of the problem but no solution has been found.

The main source of income for male members of the Wahibah and Jenabah tribes, in addition to fishing, is employment in the Emirates, in Qatar, and in Bahrain. A large portion of the male population may stay for several months or even years outside Oman; of 30 Wahibah families polled in the area of Sanaw, 24 had their men of working age employed outside Oman. The remaining family members no longer undertake extensive migrations but stay near the settlements, often to be near the schools.

3. The Bedouins and Jebalis of Dhofar.

Changes in the economic habits and migratory practices of the bedouins in Oman's southern province, Dhofar, are less evident. While the government is trying to win the loyalty of these tribes with financial concessions, these are limited. Isolated cases occur of men emigrating to the oil-producing regions of Oman, and emigration to Saudi Arabia and the UAE has increased, but data about these movements are very scanty

Some Dhofar bedouins are today soldiers (Firqah militia, Mudhani-Askars) and thus draw regular monthly salaries. These bedouin soldiers have built numerous houses near their camps, especially at Thamarit and Mudhay, and these are occupied permanently or semi-permanently. It is noteworthy that some of these soldiers have laid out small irrigated gardens by their houses.

One group of bedouins in Thamarit operates as merchants and cartage contractors. Some bedouin families have prospered as result of the construction of the military airfield in Thamarit and the uncontrolled, duty-free import of inexpensive items from Dubai. They have invested their money chiefly in property and houses in the provincial capital of Salalah.

More extensive changes have taken place among the jebalis (mountain nomads) than among the bedouins. Many young jebalis belong to the Firqah, the sultan's native militia, and the relatively high monthly pay (80 Omani rials minimum in 1978) enables them to buy almost any of the products offered for sale in Salalah. They therefore obtain their groceries, largely provided free of charge by the government anyway, in town and, as a consequence, monsoon agriculture has been almost completely abandoned in the mountains. Since the end of the Dhofar conflict however, there has been a steady increase in the number of cattle, and in some cases of camels and goats as well. This increase in livestock has been favoured by the sinking of numerous deep wells on the plateaus which reduce the distances covered during migration by eliminating the laborious descent to the traditional watering places in the wadis. Recently new studies have been made in this area and when the results are published there should be more information available about the changes which have taken place.

4. The Shawawi

Changes in the way of life of the mountain nomads (shawawi) are less spectacular. Most of the males are ready to accept work outside the area of animal husbandry and they migrate from their mountain homeland to the UAE and, in increasing numbers, to jobs with new companies in the capital area of Oman. Their earnings are frequently invested in the purchase of date trees.

The mountain nomads in the central Oman Mountains have frequently become taxi drivers or treight transporters between Muscat and the hinterlands, but a public bus and transport system has been introduced and its competition has lessened the income of the nomads and led to their partial abandonment of some taxi and transport services. Other jobs in the transportation services or in related fields are not easy to come by in Oman and there has been some migration of these displaced workers to the Emirates. The inhabitants of the Musandam peninsula have experienced fewer changes than those of the central mountains.


A tendency toward permanent settlement, toward the reduction of migratory activity, and thus to the acceptance of non-agricultural employment can be noted among the nomads and bedouins of Oman. Despite the freedom of choice and opportunity offered to the individual the condition of numerous settlements, the abandonment of oasis gardens and wells, the failure of many transportation enterprises, and the emigration of a large portion of the male working force to neighbouring countries, testify that on the whole development has not had positive results. The government is aware of this but for political reasons cannot discuss openly the results of the development programme; it has, however, recently formulated a settlement project in Tanam and a water supply and settlement project in Haima which are aimed particularly at the mobile population of the country.

3. Settlement projects in inner Oman, and other measures to develop the rural/nomad region

Settlement Projects

In the wake of the successful expansion of the infrastructure the Omani government realized that settlement centres must be created in the bedouin area if emigration of male members of the work force was to be prevented and if settlement of the valuable arable land was to be controlled. The newly appointed Omani government, among many other activities, has introduced two projects: Tanam and Haima.

1. The Tanam Project

This project involves a small oasis within the wadi of the same name a few kilometres southwest of Ibri, an old oasis location (fig. 18). There was formerly no settlement in Tanam and the date groves belonged for the most part to members of the Duru tribe who used to camp around Tanam during the summer months.

When oil was discovered in the traditional territory of the Duru (near Fahud, Jibal, and Nathi), special measures were taken by the government to assist the tribe. A hospital and a school were built at the edge of the oasis; an asphalt road was constructed to link it with the modern road network at Ibri-Buraimi; and in addition a souk (market) was built and the land surrounding the old oasis divided into both small and large fenced-in gardens, each equipped with one or more wells. Dwellings were located next to the gardens.

A project to improve this settlement is planned now. On the basis of its experience in constructing low-cost housing in the capital area of Muscat, the government hopes to establish a settlement with a regular ground plan like that of a chessboard. Each of four square properties is bordered on two sides by streets and by alleys on the others; central supply systems for water and electricity are planned. The most important facilities and offices are located in the central square. The plans for the settlement are made by the government (Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Diwan Affairs) and after its completion, the new settlement of Tanam will be inhabited chiefly by Duru tribesmen.

As much as the state's initiative is to be welcomed and as exemplary as it could be for settlement development in the bedouin area as a whole, it can be criticized on certain scores. The settlement itself lacks economic credibility and no employment opportunities have been created. The rectilinear lay-out of the gardens and the centrally operated irrigation system have also been criticized. It is, furthermore, uncertain whether the bedouins of Oman are ready and willing to live permanently in self-contained settlements, nor was any poll made beforehand of the attitudes of the potential settlers. It has been frequently demonstrated that it is extremely difficult to predict the behaviour of bedouins.

2. The Haima Project

Haima lies within the central wadi region (fig. 18), and both a military post and a police station are located there. Haima is a rest stop on the route between Muscat and Salalah, and in the past it was one of the most important camp locations of the Harasis tribe. In the area around Haima there are numerous small, basin-shaped depressions in the surface of the Jiddat al-Harasi, a broad alluvial plain. There is a sparse growth of halophytic grass in clumps which provides a very limited pasturage for animals. The rest of the Jiddat al-Harasi is completely lacking in vegetation.

The biggest problem of the central wadi region is the almost total lack of ground water at an accessible depth. The bedouins relied on a few ephemeral water holes or they made use of dew by shaking the bushes before sunrise, soaking up the water droplets with leather cloths, and then squeezing the water out and collecting it in vessels. In very dry years water had to be brought in by camel caravan.

An attempt was made years ago to help the Harasis to secure water by drilling a well. The new project includes plans for the construction of several deep wells and a settlement for the Harasi population. No agricultural plots have been planned, however, since even deep wells may not provide a large enough supply of water. The most important consideration in Haima is the supply of drinking water for man and animals.

Haima is also to be laid out on a regular plan, and priority for settlement will be given to the Harasis tribe, who are among the poorest of the nomad groups in Oman.

As in Tanam, little consideration has been given to the economic security of the relocated families, and there is no information available about the willingness of the Harasis to settle.

Other Development Measures

The Omani government has also adopted measures which affect farmers much more than they do nomads, and these measures will be summarized below.

Experimental and production farms

In addition to testing new techniques and fertilizers, plants, and animals, the goal of these farms is to produce agricultural products of all kinds for the local markets. The farms are intended to set an example for the rest of Omani agriculture, and they have been developed in all of the larger oases in the country. The influence which the farms have had has been limited by the lack of programmes for instructing farmers and familiarizing them with the innovations.

Date factories

The object of the new date factories in Rustaq and Nizwa is to improve the preparation and production of dates, the main product of Omani agriculture. Promising progress has been made. Date farmers are being trained to increase productivity and to improve the quality of the dates and thus to become competitive in the export market.

Land distribution

Land may in principle be granted by the government to any Omani but in the Batinah, it is the prosperous inhabitants of the capital region, and a few bedouins, who have obtained the large areas of land. These urban landowners have developed large gardens using well irrigation, but there is a danger that ground-water conditions are being disturbed by the uncontrolled withdrawal of water. For example, some shallow wells on the oasis strip on the coast near Seeb have already gone dry or have been infiltrated by sea water. Numerous date groves have been ruined by salts and the date palms are dying. Since the new private gardens usually produce only enough for the owner, and furthermore are also used to grow luxurious decorative plants, the general economy has not been affected by these gardens. The gardens have not provided a source of employment for the Omani population as all of the workers ;in them are from India and Pakistan. The success of governmental measures for land distribution and for the related use of ground water has been very limited.

The market provides little encouragement for agricultural production by oasis farmers, or for the production of animal products by the bedouins and shawawi. Omani products face stiff competition from imported goods in quality, quantity, and in price. The import of foodstuffs of all kinds has risen steadily since 1970 and the expansion of the country's harbours and airports, and the customs policies, have favoured this development. And there is, in addition to all this, a strong merchant lobby in the country.

4. Summary and evaluation of results in the rural/nomad region

Summary of Results

  1. Up to the time of writing there have been no government policies guiding the development of the rural/nomad area.
  2. The government has opened up numerous opportunities which have made participation in the development of the country by mobile population groups possible.
  3. The nature of this participation differs according to the importance of the individual tribe to the nation's economy.
  4. In general, the following developments can be noted:
  • a decrease in animal husbandry
  • a decrease in the frequency and a reduction in the distance of nomadic movements
  • a transition to permanent housing and settlement
  • an increase in non-pastoral activities, especially outside Oman
  • the introduction of scattered location and lay-out in the housing areas
  • a differentiation, both within tribes and between tribes, of the mobile population on the basis of economic criteria between those for whom the new developments in Oman have had a positive and those for whom they have had a negative effect. The size of each group differs according to tribe (see table 24).

Criteria used in the above evaluation were: type of construction used in housing, means of transportation, nonpastoral labour, women's jewelry, foodstuffs, number of animals owned, ownership of land, number of motorized pumps.


Since changes in the bedouin/nomad area of Oman are recent and are still in progress, a final evaluation cannot be made. In general, however, the government appears to have encouraged the positive participation of all population groups in the modern development of the country. For local and intra-tribal reasons some population groups have been more involved in the changes than others. Further research into this aspect of development would help the Omani government to facilitate decision-making and would contribute to the formulation and realization of specific projects.

TABLE 24. Percentage of the Tribal Population Participating Positively or Negatively in the Modern Economic Development of Oman (as of September 1978)



Tribe Positive Negative/Nil
Duru* 90 10
Afari* 45 55
Jenabah* 40 60
Wahibah* 30 70
Harasis** 5 95
Coastal bedouins** 55 45
Bedouins in Dhofar* * 50 50
Musandam * * 10 90
Oman Mountains* 70 30

Source: * Enquiries and ** estimates by the author in 1974, 1976, 1977, and 1978.

The present study is designed to emphasize the necessity for such interdisciplinary research projects. Such projects must, however, be implemented quickly if the results are to have any practical value.