The Sultanate pursued a dual-purpose policy, the first of which was the creation of an internal self-defense that prevented the extremist forces from attracting and recruiting any of its citizens. The second focused on preventing extremist organizations from exploiting the tranquility within the Omani territory to build international shelters.
Ahmed Samy Abdel Fattah
The Sultanate of Oman is politically neutral and pursues a policy of self-sufficiency as a way to avoid the repercussions of regional conflicts on it. Thus reserving for itself the status of mediator between all international parties and factions. This is a major reason for extremist organizations to avoid or target them remotely.
In keeping with the peaceful policy of the Sultanate of Oman for all countries, the Global Terrorism Index of the Institute of Economy and Peace in Australia declared the Sultanate of Oman free from terrorism. The Sultanate ranked 130th in terms of zero points. A figure that, according to the report, indicates the strength of the security grip and the effectiveness of national counterterrorism measures.
Despite Oman’s civil wars in the last century, the Sultanate witnessed the Dhofar War, in which the Omanis rebelled against Sultan Sa’id bin Taymour, the father of Sultan Qaboos, and British colonialism from the early 1960s until the mid-1970s.
But the revolutionary movement failed to achieve its objectives. Oman also witnessed the Jabal al-Akhdar war, which broke out in 1957 and ended in 1959, in which the Sultanate of Oman succeeded in annexing the land belonging to the Emirate of Amman, which was established as an independent state under the Seeb Agreement in 1920.
In recent years, however, they have been free of any terrorist acts compared to their geographical neighbors from the Gulf states.
In the same context, Daesh failed to carry out any terrorist operations inside Oman, despite its large military successes in late 2014 and early 2015 – which enabled it to represent the most serious security threats to many countries. As well as its failure to attract any Omani citizens to fight within its ranks, which indicates the strength of the tools of deterrence in Oman, that helped the state to isolate and neutralize any attempts to infiltrate extremist elements to its popular components.
Thus, the Sultanate has adopted a dual policy, the goal of which was to create the internal self-immunity that prevented the extremist forces from attracting and recruiting any of its citizens. While, the second focused on preventing the extremist organizations from exploiting the tranquility inherent in the territory of Oman and form international shelters to evade the pursuit of global intelligence or the use of its territory by any extremist organization to threaten neighboring countries.
The study therefore details the various factors that have helped Oman to be free of terrorism. As well as neutralizing the threat of using its territory by extremist organizations to carry out attacks on neighboring countries.
Firstly: Oman’s tools to confront terrorism
Oman is well aware that its geographic base lies in a volatile region, especially since al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula takes Yemen, from which Oman shares a long geographical border of 288 kilometers. This represents a security threat to the national security of the Sultanate. However, the extremist organization did not succeed in attracting any Omani citizens, nor did it fail to transfer its operations into Omani territory.
At the same time, the Sultanate of Oman did not occupy any place in the rhetoric of extremist organizations calling for retaliatory attacks in a number of countries. Neither of the interests of foreign countries in the territory of Oman was actually targeted, even though it was engaged in actual wars on the ground with terrorism, In general, we can explain this through a number of reasons, as follows:
1) Legal tools
Oman enacted a law in 2007 authorizing the execution and imprisonment of anyone who established, participated in the establishment and management of any terrorist entity, participated in its activities in any way knowing its purposes, and its violent sabotage objectives. Under this law, a penalty of at least five years’ imprisonment was imposed for anyone who made or contributed to the transfer of weapons for the purpose of committing a terrorist offense.
As part of the tightening of the legal deterrent tools of terrorism, the Sultanate issued in August 2014 a law allowing the stripping of Omani citizens of their nationality if they engage in any acts that may harm the interests of Oman. This means that the Sultanate has codified its punitive measures against anyone cooperating with foreign armed or governmental entities.
Because of the Omani perception that most of the terrorism issues are linked to sectarian or ethnic conflicts, the Sultanate sought to achieve some kind of equality among its citizens, in order to prevent any external party from exploiting the sectarian conflict between the Abadism.
Abadism is considered one of the Islamic sects that differ in some of the doctrinal visions with the four Sunni sects or Shiite sects – or the Sunni and Shi’a minorities.
In light of this, the Omani Penal Code, in its article 130, has sanctioned imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years for anyone who promotes sectarian strife or seeks to create a kind of hatred among popular elements based on doctrinal doctrines.
In this regard, the Sultanate of Oman has surpassed of a lot on its Gulf neighbors, who suffer from doctrinal conflicts that have enabled external forces represented in Iran to exploit them to cause some kind of security imbalance within these countries, in an attempt to overthrow the regimes of the Gulf. The Iranian breakthrough has clearly emerged in Iraq, Iran and Syria by deepening sectarianism among the popular constituents within these countries, before presenting itself as a champion of the Shiite component.
2) An integrated political tool
The Sultanate’s containment of all the dissidents and militants who took part in the civil war – some known as the “Dhofar Revolution” – took place in 1962-1975. It played a role in alleviating the popular opposition against the ruling regime. Sultan Qaboos pardoned all those who fought the state, in public life, in a clear reference from the Sultanate to extract implicit recognition of the rebels of the legitimacy of the state on all Omani territory. Sultan Qaboos returned all those exiled abroad under the reign of his father Sultan Said bin Timor.
Sultan Qaboos did not stop there, but went beyond it and dealt with the opponents of a political fatherhood. This was clear through the involvement of some of his opponents in political positions sovereign. Such as Youssef Alawi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Sultanate, who was a member of the Dhofar Liberation Front of the Socialist Party. He was also the son of Imam Ghalib Al Hinai. Sultan Qaboos did not ignore the Imam al-Hinai, but tried to bring him back from exile in Riyadh, but the latter was rejected and remained in Saudi Arabia until his death in 2009.
The Sultan Qaboos’ tolerance of those who fought against the state contributed to the restriction of armed actions against the state and the extension of its control over all lands. Sultan Qaboos wanted his integration policy to establish in the mind the opposition the importance of a sovereign state that all, including those who oppose the Royal regime. Provided that opponents the idea of accepting coexistence with others.
Civil war played a role in the adoption of Sultan Qaboos’s policy of integrating opponents and insurgents after he saw civil war as a way to tear apart the country, and recommend foreign interventions to the detriment of the country’s supreme interests.
3) Neutrality of foreign policy:
Oman’s foreign policy has been characterized by absolute impartiality, and has made the principle of non-alignment of any of the conflicting international and regional parties. In accordance with political or doctrinal interests – a method for which it has enjoyed good relations with all countries. Oman’s foreign policy can be separated from all types of international armed reactions , As well as political alignments directed against any party.
Nevertheless, the policy of international isolationism did not diminish Oman’s effectiveness on the international stage. The policy of neutrality enabled it to play the role of mediator in many important international and regional conflicts.
For example, Oman played a role in mediating the completion of the peace agreement and national partnership. This agreement was signed in September 2014. It stipulated consultations with a view to forming a government of competencies, as well as appointing advisors to the Yemeni President Abdurbo Mansour of the Houthis and the Southern Movement.
Oman also took the neutral situation in the Iraq war against Iran, unlike all the Gulf states that provided all kinds of support for Iraq. This neutrality enabled it to mediate between the two sides in order to bring the points of view and the cease-fire closer.
Oman also mediated between Iran and the Western powers to complete the nuclear agreement. In the same vein, Oman mediated between the United States and the Houthis for the release of US citizens detained by the al-Houthi organization to be released in October 2016. Amman also mediated between Iran and the United States after the last arrest of three US citizens who crossed their borders in 2009, released after Omani diplomatic efforts in 2011.
It is also noteworthy that the Sultanate has not participated in military interactions outside its borders – since Sultan Qaboos took power in 1970 – except in the war to liberate Kuwait (1991) as part of the Gulf Peninsula Shield.
Although all countries fear the backlash of any armed action outside their territory, Oman’s participation in the United Nations-supported international coalition forces (The Security Council adopted resolution 678, in which the Council called on the UN Member States to deal with the legitimate government of Kuwait and to use all means to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait) was not affected by any negative military output after the end of the war. Not only because the outcome of the war at the time was guaranteed for the international coalition, but also because of Amman’s geographic distance from the conflict zone. Moreover, its participation in the war was routine, as it did not play a large role in the military buildup of the war like other Gulf countries.
On the other hand, the Sultanate of Oman rejected the idea of participating in the joint Arab force, as the main system of the Omani forces prohibited them from working outside the framework of the Gulf Cooperation Council. But, at the same time, Foreign Minister Yousuf bin Alawi hoped that the new force would be able to face the security risks facing the region.
The political neutrality of the Sultanate of Oman, did not limit its ability to confront terrorism. A report published in the New York Times on June 13, 2015, reported that the United States had transferred six Guantanamo Bay detainees to Yemen as part of a bilateral agreement signed between the two countries.
By neutralizing its foreign policies, Oman has neutralized its popular component from sectarian polarization and sectarian tensions in neighboring countries. Which is considered as an obstacle against the wishes of extremist organizations to be in Amman, because of the lack of human element, which is necessary to strengthen the existence of these organizations, especially under the grip of the powerful security forces.
It can be said that Amman’s experience in achieving harmony between the religious and popular components prevented the expansion of terrorism.
As part of the policy of neutrality, Oman has avoided integrating into any military alliances. In order to combat terrorism itself, which explains why radical organizations have not targeted them.
Although the Sultanate of Oman was included in the countries of the International Alliance to fight Daesh, but the fact that this role was not announced. Indicating that the process of inclusion in the International Alliance was made for political reasons. In the first place to clarify the extent of international mobilization and solidarity directed against Daesh.
4) Financial Control Tool
Oman is fully aware that countering terrorism requires the drying up of its financial resources in parallel with the intellectual and security confrontation. In 2016, a decree was issued aimed primarily at tightening restrictions on digital and monetary electronic transfers.
Article 8 states that “Criminalizing Any person who, by any means, provides or collects funds directly or indirectly knowing that they will be used in whole or in part for the commission of a terrorist act, by a terrorist or a terrorist organization. ”
In accordance with chapter III of the Royal Decree, the National Committee for Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism was established. The Committee is responsible for developing national strategies to dry the sources of terrorist financing, as well as benefiting from the experiences of other countries in this regard.
The National Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Committee is working in cooperation with the Financial Investigation Unit – established under the Terrorism Act promulgated by Royal Decree in 2010.
It shall be responsible for receiving reports from financial institutions, suspicious non-financial businesses, associations, non-profit organizations for transactions suspected of being related to the proceeds of a crime, suspected of being linked to terrorism or involving money laundering or financing of terrorism. Before being Analyzed in conjunction with an intensive campaign targeting the course of funds.
In the same context, the National Committee is drawing up public policies and issuing guidelines to limit money-laundering or financing extremist activities on its territory. As well as examining international treaties to benefit from international expertise in this area.
Oman is a leading country in the field of financial control of terrorism. This progress has enabled it to seek membership in the Canada-based Agamount Group, a group that assists countries in combating terrorism locally. As well as increased cooperation and exchange of information on ways of confrontation. Great technological advances and increased financial transactions have given terrorists the chance to hide and operate in the virtual world.
5) Sectarian coexistence
The legal means did not make Oman free of terrorism, except in conjunction with the state of intellectual tolerance prevailing between different communities. In this regard, we should point out that the Ibadism sect, which represents the majority of the population in Oman – approximates about 70% according to some reports – adopts a vision of tolerance and integration of popular components that contradict the doctrine.
The Ibadhi community sees Arab popular rejection as a sufficient reason to adopt a neutral, non-integrated policy in any regional conflict.
The Sultanate of Oman deliberately did not conduct any population statistics on the basis of sectarianism, which led to the consolidation of the idea of citizenship among the minds of Omanis. As well as deepening their national feeling towards the state. More importantly, such behavior contributes to the reduction of hatred among religious communities.
Some describe the Ibadi doctrine as the majority of the population in Oman as an Islamic Orthodox, referring to its cautious nature and its evasion of extremism, opinion and position.
Secondly: Mainstream the Omani experience to the countries of the Middle East
Perhaps the most important part of the study is about the possibility of transferring the Omani experience to other countries. Here we should not deal with the experience of Oman in the fight against terrorism as a single block, but we must divide them into the elements mentioned in the first part of the study. As the effectiveness of these elements vary from state to state depending on the local conditions within each country.
In other words, although all countries try to benefit from the experience of other international actors in the fight against terrorism, no country should import laws from another country and apply them as they are without amendments to suit their new practical reality. Otherwise, the deterrent effectiveness of these laws will vanish.
In view of the Omani experience, religious coexistence among the religious popular components is the main focus of Amman’s pioneering experience in the field of counter-terrorism.
This coexistence has been achieved by the integrated government policy, as well as successful government attempts to isolate its Sunni and Shiite constituents from inter-communal conflict in the neighboring countries. This means that the Sultanate has succeeded in deepening the nationalism of its citizens.
Here, we have to point out that the neighboring countries of the Gulf – as the region of the most important conflict with Iran – have no problem with their Shiite citizens. But the real problem lies in the submission of some of the Gulf Shiites to their sectarian loyalties of Iran on the national affiliations of their countries.
Some of them, for example, founded Hezbollah in the late 1980s to export the Iranian revolution and overthrow the regime in Saudi Arabia – which contributed to the establishment of a state of mistrust between the two parties.
Community isolation is therefore normal, not as a result of government behavior, but rather as a result of Shia refusal to work for their country. That means that the Gulf States will not be able to fight the extremist ideology itself as long as the Shiites are working for a country that is hostile to the Gulf in every corner of the world.
It is true that Oman has a large Shi’a population (about 5%), but its neutral foreign policy has enabled it to isolate them from the foreign world’s affairs.
This is what the Gulf States can achieve at this time, because all these countries deal with the areas of conflict in the Middle East as part of their national security. Which oblige them to intervene in order to influence the outputs of the interactions, to achieve their public’s interests?
In other words, the idea of adopting neutrality in important international issues to avoid reactions is rare in the field of international relations. As all countries usually adapt a foreign policy that aims at glorifying their interests abroad.
Which makes any State is likely to integrate into any internal conflict, to minimize the effects of such dangers. This means that Oman’s neutrality is unique, and it is unlikely to see any Arab country adopting the same behavior at the moment. Because of the sharp political polarization resulting from political and military changes in the region.
It should be noted in this regard that the role of the mediator exercised by Oman in Iran’s relationship with the foreign world – especially the West – has prompted Iran to avoid trying to win the allegiance of the Omani Shiites.
Not only does Iran not want to lose its strong broker, which has helped bring it closer to the foreign world, but also because Iran does not want to destroy the rest of its limited trust with the foreign world by destabilizing Oman.
In this regard, we must point out that Iran is attributing its relations with the Sultanate of Oman to the peacefulness of its foreign policy.
On the other hand, the generalization of the Omani experience’s rest elements, including legal or financial control, is within the reach of all the countries of the region. As each country has the authority to issue any decisions aimed at intensifying sanctions to reduce terrorism.
Joint cooperation between international actors in this field can contribute to the transfer of counter-terrorism expertise legally and financially from one country to another. This means that the transfer of the items of the Oman legal and financial experience is easy to achieve.
Finally, it is possible to say that confronting terrorism requires the elimination of all societal polarizations, especially organizational ones with a sectarian dimension. Because the emergence of a Sunni political organization will necessarily lead to the emergence of a Shiite political organization. And the intensification of extremism in the Shiite discourse will lead to an extreme Sunni reaction.
Oman was a pioneer in preventing Islamic organizations from spreading to it. In 1994, a group of Omani citizens tried to establish a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, but Oman arrested the cell before it could cause any social cracks.
In the same context, the Middle East’s countries should adopt community empowering policies that are based on national, not sectarian basis.
Because the command of sectarian power in itself is sufficient to create a kind of social discord, which is based on hatred and lack of confidence. Which leads to a security imbalance called the breakthrough of the popular component.
Moreover, sectarian empowerment drives the excluded category on the basis of sectarianism to beg external forces to intervene in the affairs of their own internal affairs. Which further complicating matters and deepening mistrust?
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