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Oman: Sultan Haitham announces job creation programme following protests

Haitham makes announcement on TV following country-wide demonstrations against unemployment and corruption
An image grab taken from Oman TV on 11 January 2020 shows Oman's Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, following his swearing-in as the country's new leader (AFP)

Oman's ruler, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, has ordered the government to fast-track plans to create thousands of jobs in the public sector and to subsidise employment in the private sector, in response to several days of protests over unemployment and corruption.

Riot police and armoured vehicles were deployed on Sunday in response to protests by scores of Omanis in the north and south of the country, spreading to various cities on Monday and Tuesday. Numerous arrests were reported in Sohar and Salalah on Sunday and Monday, although some protesters were later released.

Following the initial crackdown on Sunday, with some protesters throwing stones and riot police firing tear gas canisters to break up the crowds in the country's north, protests continued on Monday and Tuesday in several cities including Nizwa, Ibri, Rustaq, Suwayq, al-Khaburah, and Sohar.

In a change of tactics on Tuesday, police stood back and allowed demonstrations to continue, and were filmed handing out bottles of water to Omanis involved in a protest sit-in in Sohar.

State TV began to report on the protests, interviewing people about their struggles to find work in Oman, where unemployment has spiked since the coronavirus pandemic.

'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 bin Tariq

The sultan, who came to power in January 2020, said 32,000 full and part-time jobs would be created in the government sector, making the announcement as he was shown on state TV chairing a meeting on youth employment.

"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 sultan, who recently implemented austerity measures in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and falling oil prices, also announced government subsidies for those entering the private sector workforce for the first time.

Monthly assistance of $527 was extended for six months to 15,000 self-employed Omanis, and also to those laid off from jobs in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries during the pandemic.

The directive stated that the government would be “supporting the wages of Omani new entrants to the labour market in the private sector by an amount of 200 Omani riyals [$520], provided that the employer bears the difference in the salary agreed upon, for 15,000 job opportunities for a period of two years”. 

Oman’s general budget revenues fell in the first two months of 2021 as oil income dropped 35 percent, according to finance ministry data.

The budget deficit amounted to about 456.6m Omani riyals ($1.2bn), while revenues were down by about 21.6 percent year-on-year in the wake of falling oil revenues and the coronavirus crisis, Arab News reported.

The protests mark the first major challenge to Sultan Haitham, who succeeded longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said after half a century of authoritarian rule backed by the UK and US.