It came out of the blue, it seems, as Omani citizens flooded streets, north and south of the country, protesting either not getting jobs or getting laid off from theirs.
Groups of Omanis gathered in at least two cities on Monday with videos and photos posted on social media showing angry protesters.
Several Arabic-language hashtags related to the protests trended on Twitter on Monday, including one that read “Sohar revolts.” One video showed civilian men running from tear gas canisters. Another hashtag indicated protests occurring in Salalah in southwest Oman as well.
A heavy presence of security forces, with convoys of military and police vehicles, could be seen on the videos. Some videos showed people throwing stones at police cars, while security forces fired tear gas canisters at the protesters.
The protests are the first to take place under Sultan Haitham, who took power in January 2020 after the death of long-ruling Sultan Qaboos.
Call for jobs
State media reported on the protests on Monday, saying university graduates were calling on the government to provide jobs.
The labor issue is “one of the most important priorities” for the country’s ruler, state-run Oman News said.
In a tweet, the country’s labor ministry acknowledged Sunday’s protests and said the protesters’ demands of employment and complaints of layoffs “were heard”.
Oman’s Labor Ministry in a tweet said it was aware of people gathering there to try to “find new job vacancies and to solve the problems of those who were fired.”
State media on Monday referred to employment as “among the most important priorities” of Sultan Haitham.
The state-owned Oman TV reported that job seekers went to employment directorates in the Sultanate seeking work opportunities.
It was not immediately clear if there had been a major layoff in Sohar, which is home to a key port, as well as plants producing aluminum and steel.
The coronavirus crisis and low oil prices have battered Oman’s state coffers. Oman has long had plans to reform its economy, diversify revenues, and introduces sensitive tax and subsidies reform, but most failed to see the light under the late Sultan Qaboos. His successor, Sultan Haitham, has introduced a series of reforms to try and make government finances sustainable.
Oman’s economy has faced two years of decline, from 2019-2020, with mild recovery expected in 2021.
Sultan Haitham has instituted some reforms in the last year. Last August, Haitham restructured the government, forcing many ministers who held their positions for decades to retire.
The oil and gas sector remains a major industry in Oman. Its tourism sector has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and repeated lockdowns in the sultanate.
Oman faces billions in looming loan repayments, including from China.
Oman started implementing a 5% VAT from April 16, 2021. It is estimated that VAT will contribute 1.5% towards the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and raise around $1 billion per year.
The sultanate is also planning to introduce an income tax on high earners starting next year, as part of plans to bring down its deficit.
Oman is set to run out of its current oil and gas reserves in less than two decades. Hydrocarbons, which are the sultanate’s top exports, generated 68% to 85% of yearly government revenues over the last 30 years.