ABSTRACT

Conventional wisdom, which has become state ideology in Oman, is to consider the July 1970 coup which established the reign of Qaboos b. Sa’id a turning point in the history of the sultanate; it marked the nahda or renaissance of Oman from the dark ages of the reign of Sa’id b. Taimur (1932-70). The terminology is interesting as the leaders of the late nineteenth/early twentieth century restoration of the imamate in Oman also referred to their movement as a nahda3 It is also an overstatement of the situation for, while change certainly came to Oman in 1970, there is a very high degree of continuity between the reigns of father and son, both in the personalities of the two sultans and in their approaches to govern­ ment. These similarities tend to be obscured by the characterizations of Sa’id by many of the expatriates who were employed by him and whose advice he often ignored. David Smiley, the commander of the Sultan’s Armed Forces in the late 1950s, claimed that Sa’id ‘maintained a rule of narrow and puritanical autocracy, determined to preserve his country from the contamination of modern ideas’.2 John Townsend, who worked for both Sa’id and Qaboos, characterized Sa’id’s reign as worthy of the most dedicated disciple of Machiavelli’.3 Ian Skeet, an oil company employee in the late 1960s, described the sultan as the ‘epitome of an English Victorian paterfamilias, rigid, upright, uncomplicatedly confident that only he knows what to do at what time in the best interests of his family, steering his people, like children, along the path ordained for them’4 in what represents perhaps the kindest condemnation of the sultan’s 38-year reign.