Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Oman’s southern port of Salalah, in a peaceful rally on Friday calling for democratic reform and an end to corruption, activists and residents told Reuters.
While Oman’s protests, unlike in other MENA countries, are not typically huge, Salalah’s activists said that it was the fourth Friday protest in succession since scattered unrest began in the sultanate more than two months ago.
Peaceful protesters, watched by a few dozen policemen, shouted, “The people want an end to corruption,” and “The people want reform.”
Residents said between 300 and 400 protesters took part in the protest, although some activists put the number at several thousand.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said, a US ally who has ruled Oman for 40 years, promised a $2.6 billion spending package in April after nearly two months of demonstrations inspired by popular uprisings across the Arab world.
Some Omani protesters have called for the ouster of the sultan, but have mainly focused on demands for better wages, jobs and an end to corruption. Many are angry at the state’s perceived unwillingness to prosecute ministers sacked for corruption in response to demonstrations in February 2011.
“Day by day, the people increase their demands for reform. At first their demands were just about economic needs, but now they are no longer asleep and they are asking for their freedoms ... we want free elections,” an activist, who identified himself as Salem, told Reuters by telephone.
Sultan Qaboos sacked 12 ministers in March 2011, including the finance minister, without giving a reason and protesters have called for them to be tried for graft.
He promised to cede some legislative powers to the partly elected Oman Council, an advisory body.
Currently only the sultan and his cabinet can legislate, and a transfer of powers has yet to be announced. Some protesters said they were losing patience.
On Wednesday, the Omani sultan met with Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, in Muscat, and said that regional states should keep vigilant toward the plots of sowing discord in the region, referring to the latest developments in the region, FARS News reported.
Mr. Salehi called for an urgent settlement to the problems in Arab countries, and said that leaders should heed the demands of the people.
Unlike other Arab Gulf countries, both of the countries’ ties seem to be not fraying.
During his visit, Mr. Salehi said that Iran-Oman relations and ties would ensure interests of the two countries and the entire region.
Iran and Oman have expanded cooperation in a variety of areas such as economy and defense since Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took office in 2005. The two countries signed a security agreement in August 2009.
A year later, in August 2010, Iran and Oman signed an agreement to further boost mutual cooperation in the field of defense.
In December 2010, the Iranian parliament approved a bill that allows Tehran to implement an agreement on security cooperation and coordination with Oman.
(Dina Al-Shibeeb of Al Arabiya can be reached at: email@example.com)