Water Development and State Building in Oman

 

Mikaela Bennett

George Washington University, 2017

 

Introduction

 

By now a familiar narrative to many, the Omani ‘renaissance’ which followed Sultan Qaboos’s accession in 1970 was characterized by the rapid development of the state through infrastructure and social services. Contrary to the prevailing state narrative of near-instantaneous and miraculous prosperity stemming from the wisdom and benevolence of a single individual (Sultan Qaboos), development in the Sultanate of Oman gained in both organization and momentum with the improvement of state security and the development of state administrative capacity. It also functioned as a critical tool for consolidating the Omani state and earning political loyalty. Water development experienced particular complexity as a source of political, economic, social, and cultural capital. This paper explores the history of early Omani water infrastructure and development policy. The critical role of the British in early development, and the evolving character of the Omani state help explain how environment, imperial priorities, and traditional socio-political structures uniquely shaped development planning under Sultan Qaboos as he sought to consolidate power and construct a national identity.