Country Listing

Oman Table of Contents



A comprehensive population census has never been conducted, but in 1992 the sultanate solicited help from the United Nations (UN) Fund for Technical and Financial Assistance in taking a full census. For planning purposes, the government in 1992 estimated the population at 2 million, but the actual figure may be closer to 1.5 million, growing at a rate of 3.5 percent per annum. The population is unevenly distributed; the coastal regions, the Al Batinah plain, and the Muscat metropolitan area contain the largest concentration.

The population is heterogeneous, consisting of an ethnic and religious mix derived in large part from a history of maritime trade, tribal migrations, and contacts with the outside world. Although Arabs constitute the majority, non-Arab communities include Baluchis--from the Makran coast of Iran and Pakistan--who are concentrated in Muscat and the Al Batinah coast and play a significant role in the armed forces; ex-slaves (a legacy of Oman's slave trade and East African colonies); and Zanzibari Omanis, who are well represented in the police force and the professions. The integration of Omanis of African descent is often circumscribed by a language barrier (they often speak Swahili and English but not always Arabic). The presence of Omanis of Indian descent in Muscat reflects the historical commercial ties between the sultanate and the Indian subcontinent. The Khoja community in Matrah, of Indian origin, is perhaps the richest private group in Oman, and its members are among the best educated. The Shihuh of the northern Musandam Peninsula numbered about 20,000 in the early 1990s. They speak Arabic and a dialect of Farsi and engage primarily in fishing and herding.

Because of the small indigenous population, the government has been obliged to use foreign labor. In 1992 about 60 percent of the labor force was foreign. Some 350,000 foreign workers and their families (primarily Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Filipinos, and Sri Lankans) live in Oman. The high percentage of foreigners in the work force, combined with improvements in the country's education system, has prompted the government to institute a program of indigenization whereby Omani nationals gradually replace foreigners (see Labor , this ch.).

Data as of January 1993