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Oman has not been exposed to a significant internal threat since the defeat of the Dhofari insurgents in 1975. Tribal dissension, a factor in the past, is considered unlikely to recur because most tribal chiefs and leading families share the advantages of rising oil income. The foreign labor force is large--estimated at 58 percent of the working population--and most foreign workers are Indians and Pakistanis who are not politically active. A few observers foresee an internal power struggle over the succession because Sultan Qabus ibn Said has no designated successor, but others believe that the country is stable enough to avoid strife over the selection of a new ruler.
The sultanate has not been the target of terrorist acts; it faces few problems from the narcotics trade and considers the level of general crime to be remarkably low. The security services are described as large and efficient but not overly intrusive.
The Royal Oman Police (ROP), commanded by the inspector general of police and customs, is under the supervision of the Ministry of Interior. The size of the force was estimated in 1992 at 7,000, but this number is believed to include customs, immigration, civil defense, firefighters, coast guard, and prison service. The principal crime fighting unit is the Directorate General of Criminal Investigation. An oil installation division has responsibility for security of the oil industry, patrolling pipelines, oil rigs, and oil terminals. The mounted division patrols border areas on horseback and camel and also provides security control at airports and border points. The coast guard contingent numbers 400; it is equipped with fifteen AT-105 APCs and eighteen inshore patrol craft.
The home guard (firqat) units had been raised and trained for irregular counterinsurgency operations by troops of the British army's Special Air Services. Armed with small arms, firqat units serve as tribal police and defense forces for the mountain people engaged in herding cattle in areas infiltrated by the Dhofari insurgents during the rebellion. After the insurgency, they remained as paramilitary tribal police, numbering about 3,500 in 1992.
Oman's criminal court system provides for fair trials within the framework of Islamic judicial practice. The defendant in criminal trials is presumed innocent and cannot be detained for longer than twenty-four hours without review of the case by a magistrate, who may then allow the police to hold a suspect up to fourteen days--extended if necessary up to seventy days--to carry out further investigation. Some suits have been filed against police officers for illegal arrest.
The accused can be represented by an attorney, but the government does not pay for a public defender. There are no jury trials and no right to a public trial. The judge can release the accused on payment of bail. Only the judge questions witnesses at the trial. The verdict and sentencing are frequently pronounced within a day. Sentences of more than two months and more than US$1,300 in fines are subject to appeal. No executions have been carried out since 1975 and are, in any event, subject to the sultan's ratification. A rarely used security court system handles internal security cases. The government can search private residences and monitor telephones and private correspondence without warrant but generally confines such actions to investigations of potential security threats and individuals suspected of criminal activity.
According to the Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1991, torture, mistreatment, and cruel punishment are not systematically practiced, nor are they countenanced by Omani authorities. The traditional punishments authorized by Islamic law, such as amputation and stoning, are not imposed. The Department of State reported that some prisoners had complained of beatings by police in 1991, and other physical abuse had been reported in earlier years. Prison conditions are described as harsh, with extreme temperatures in cells without proper ventilation. However, a practice of punitive hard labor under grueling desert conditions was discontinued in 1991.
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Much of the data concerning the size and equipment of the armed forces of the Persian Gulf states is based on The Military Balance and on Jane's Fighting Ships. Some of the discussion of internal security practices and judicial systems is drawn from Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1991 prepared by the United States Department of State.
Two general works, The Making of the Modern Gulf States by Rosemarie Said Zahlan and The Turbulent Gulf by Liesl Graz, provide background on security perceptions and problems facing the smaller states of the gulf. Anthony H. Cordesman's The Gulf and the West contributes details on the individual armed forces, the military strengths and shortcomings of each state, and each state's involvement in the naval confrontation in the gulf in the 1980s. The Middle East, published by the Congressional Quarterly, treats numerous topics dealing with Persian Gulf security, including local disputes, United States military sales, and the events leading up to the 1990-91 gulf crisis.
Studies of the military strategy employed in Operation Desert Storm in Desert Victory by Norman Friedman and Thunder in the Desert by James Blackwell give limited mention to the role played by the Persian Gulf states. Several analyses of the geostrategic environment in the region, although dating from the mid-1980s, still have relevance. They include Arms and Oil by Thomas L. McNaugher and Saudi Arabia: The West and the Security of the Gulf by Mazher A. Hameed. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of January 1993
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