Oman sultan shifts lawmaking powers outside royal family

March 14, 2011 - 0:0

MUSCAT (AP) — Oman's ruler granted lawmaking powers Sunday to officials outside the royal family in the boldest reforms yet aimed at quelling protests for jobs and a greater public role in politics.

The decree by Sultan Qaboos bin Said reflects the scramble to appease demonstrators and head off possible wider unrest in the strategically important nation, which shares control of the Persian Gulf waterway that carries 40 percent of the world's oil tanker traffic.
Just hours before the announcement, suspected arsonists burned a government office and the home of a clan leader in Ebri, about 210 miles (350 kilometers) northwest of the capital Muscat. No injuries were reported, but military units boosted their presence in the area.
The sultan has made sweeping Cabinet shake-ups and promises for thousands of new civil service posts since demonstrations began late last month. But the latest plan introduces the most fundamental changes about how the country is governed.
Two current advisory councils -- one elected and another appointed by the sultan -- will receive powers to make laws and regulations within 30 days after a special commission decides how to amend the state statutes. But it was not immediately clear if the sultan would retain full veto power.
Oman's protests are limited compared with the unrest in Persian Gulf ally Bahrain, where demonstrators have increasingly called for toppling the monarchy. But Oman and Bahrain have been promised $10 billion each in aid from the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council in attempts to answer demands for more job opportunities and more state aid.
As part of the decree Sunday, Oman's leader also boosted state pensions and payments for families receiving state social security.
An Oman-based political analyst, Saeed Awad bin Bagoer, described the sultan's plan to transfer powers to the council as an ""historic political reform.""
Oman is not a major oil producer, but its stability is closely followed on international markets. Oman and Iran share control of the Strait of Hormouz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Oman also is an important diplomatic bridge between the United States and Iran.
Protests in Oman began in late February among young job seekers inspired by the uprisings across the Arab world. One person was killed in clashes that stunned a nation whose last major unrest was an anti-monarchy rebellion in the 1970s.
Thousands of workers have staged strikes or sit-ins to demand pay hikes and expanded benefits. Protesters also have pressed for more media freedoms and a greater public voice in the country's affairs.
Photo: Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said