Groups of Omani protesters demanding jobs have gathered in several cities for the third consecutive day in the biggest challenge yet for the Gulf state’s new ruler.
Social media postings showed a group of protesters holding a sit-in under a bridge in the northern city of Sohar on Tuesday. Other protests were reported in Rustaq, Nizwa and Sur.
Videos and photos showed security forces serving water to protesters, a change of approach from Monday’s demonstrations when police fired tear gas to disperse gatherings and arrested protesters.
Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, who acceded to the throne last year after the death of Sultan Qaboos, has had to bring in austerity measures to ease pressure on public finances at a time of low oil prices.
The government did not comment on Tuesday’s protests. Oman’s state television showed the sultan chairing a meeting on youth employment.
The protests in Sohar, #Oman, have entered their 2nd day. Demands are mostly economic. Despite challenges, Sultan Haitham is determined to transform the country's economic structure. The #Omani police is particularly calm when dealing with the protesters. #صحار_الآن pic.twitter.com/i699aT5faS
— Ismail Numan Telci (@numanis) May 25, 2021
“The youth are the nation’s wealth, its unfailing resource … we will make sure we listen to them, sense their needs, interests and aspirations,” Sultan Haitham said.
The economy of Oman, a relatively small energy producer with high levels of debt, is vulnerable to swings in oil prices and external shocks such as the coronavirus pandemic.
The protests follow the introduction last month of a value-added tax (VAT) for the first time, one of a series of reforms aimed at ensuring the sultanate’s financial sustainability.
As part of legislation introduced to give citizens preference over foreigners in both the public and private sectors, Oman ordered state-owned companies in April 2020 to accelerate the process of replacing foreign staff with Omani nationals.
The finance ministry gave public sector companies until July 2021 to draw up timetables to appoint Omanis in place of foreign staff, including in managerial positions.
Foreigners make up more than 40 percent of Oman’s population of 4.6 million, and have played a major role in the Gulf state’s development for several decades.
— sebastian usher (@sebusher) May 25, 2021