Not Free
PR Political Rights 6 40
CL Civil Liberties 18 60
Last Year's Score & Status
23 100 Not Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Oman is a hereditary monarchy, and power is concentrated in the hands of the sultan. The regime restricts virtually all political rights and civil liberties, imposing criminal penalties for criticism and dissent.

header2 Key Developments in 2021

  • The government published a new basic law, which introduced the position of crown prince, in January. Sultan Haitham bin Tariq’s son, Dhi Yazan bin Haitham, was assigned to the post.
  • In May, Omanis held demonstrations in several cities to protest unemployment and the introduction of a value-added tax (VAT). Some arrests and brief detentions were reported, while police used tear gas when clashing with protesters in the city of Sohar. Overall, however, security forces mounted a largely mild response, and most detainees were quickly released.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 0.000 4.004

In January 2020, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq succeeded his cousin, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who died that month and had governed Oman since seizing power from his father, Sultan Said bin Taimur, in 1970. Sultan Haitham delegated to his cabinet ministers some of the responsibilities Sultan Qaboos had formally maintained, including the appointment of a foreign minister, that August. The basic law published in January 2021 created the position of crown prince; Sultan Haitham’s eldest son, Dhi Yazan bin Haitham, was appointed.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 1.001 4.004

The 1996 basic law, promulgated by decree, created a bicameral body consisting of an appointed Council of State (Majlis al-Dawla) and a wholly elected Consultative Council (Majlis al-Shura). Citizens elect the Consultative Council for four-year terms, but the chamber has no legislative powers and can only recommend changes to new laws.

Consultative Council elections were held in October 2019, with 637 nonpartisan candidates, including 40 women, competing for the council’s 86 seats. Two women were elected. In November 2019, the sultan appointed the 86 members of the Council of State for a four-year term, including 15 women.

Oman held its first-ever municipal council elections in 2012. In the most recent elections in 2016, voters chose among 731 nonpartisan candidates to fill 202 seats on the 11 councils, which correspond to Oman’s 11 governorates. Turnout was about 49 percent. In May 2020, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) announced that the municipal elections set for 2020 would be postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the existing councils would continue until new elections could be held.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 1.001 4.004

The electoral framework allows all citizens over the age of 21 to vote unless they are in the military or security forces. However, the framework applies only to the Consultative Council and municipal councils, which serve largely as advisory bodies. Elections are administered by the MoI rather than by an independent commission.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 0.000 4.004

Political parties are not permitted, and the authorities do not tolerate other forms of organized political opposition. A 2014 law allows the revocation of citizenship for Omanis who join organizations deemed harmful to national interests.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 0.000 4.004

The sultan maintains a monopoly on political power. The structure of the constitutional system excludes the possibility of a change in government through elections.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 1.001 4.004

The nonpartisan nature of Oman’s limited elections, the overwhelming dominance of the sultan in Omani society, and the authorities’ suppression of dissent leave voters and candidates with little autonomy in their political choices.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 1.001 4.004

Noncitizens, who make up about 44 percent of the population, have no political rights or electoral opportunities. Citizenship is generally transmitted from Omani fathers. Foreign residents must live legally in the country for 20 years to qualify for citizenship, or 15 and 10 years for foreign husbands and wives of Omani citizens, respectively, if they have a son. These and other conditions make naturalizations relatively rare.

Omani women can legally vote and run for office, but they have few practical opportunities to organize independently and advance their interests in the political system. Two women were elected to the Consultative Council in 2019, up from one in 2015, and seven women won seats on municipal councils in 2016, up from four in 2012. Fifteen women serve on the appointed Council of State.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 0.000 4.004

Government policy is set by the sultan and an inner circle of advisers and senior ministers. The Council of State and the Consultative Council are advisory bodies with no lawmaking powers.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2.002 4.004

Oman’s legal code does not provide an effective framework for the prevention, exposure, and impartial prosecution of corruption. However, government officials are required to declare their assets and sources of wealth, and several high-profile corruption cases involving government officials and executives from Oman’s oil industry have resulted in convictions and prison terms in recent years.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0.000 4.004

The law does not provide freedom of information guarantees. Openness and transparency are limited in practice by the concentration of power and authority in a small inner circle around the sultan. The State Audit Institution monitors ministerial spending, conflicts of interest, and state-owned companies, but its findings are not released to the public, and it does not cover the sultan’s court or the military.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 1.001 4.004

Freedom of expression is limited, and criticism of the sultan is prohibited. There are private media outlets in addition to those run by the state, but they typically accept government subsidies, practice self-censorship, and face punishment if they cross political redlines. Media outlets were reportedly told to avoid reporting on demonstrations held in several cities in May 2021.

The government has broad authority to close outlets, block websites, revoke licenses, and prosecute journalists for content violations, and it has used this authority on multiple occasions in recent years. In March 2021, the Omani telecommunications regulator blocked access to social media application Clubhouse for want of a “proper license.”

The government’s efforts to suppress critical news and commentary extend to individuals active online and on social media. In February 2021, poet Salem Ali al-Maashani and Amer Muslim Bait Saeed were detained for criticizing planned construction in the Dhofar Plain. In March, the Court of First Instance in Salalah issued a six-month prison term and a fine against environmental activist Ahmed Issa Qatan for violating the Cyber Crime Law; Qatan had also campaigned against Muscat’s plans for the Dhofar Plain.

In July, security forces detained activist Ghaith al-Shibli after he used Twitter to engage in dialogue on a variety of subjects under the hashtag #ghaith_spaces. In August, activist Khamis al-Hatali was arrested a day after disseminating a speech criticizing Sultan Haitham on Twitter.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2.002 4.004

Islam is the state religion. Non-Muslims have the right to worship, but they are banned from proselytizing. Religious organizations must register with the government. The Ministry of Awqaf (religious charitable bequests) and Religious Affairs distributes standardized texts for mosque sermons, and imams are expected to stay within the content outlines of these texts.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 1.001 4.004

The government restricts academic freedom by preventing the publication of material on politically sensitive topics and placing controls on contacts between Omani universities and foreign institutions.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 1.001 4.004

The authorities reportedly monitor personal communications, and the growing number of arrests, interrogations, and jail terms related to criticism of the government on social media has encouraged self-censorship among ordinary citizens in recent years. The 2018 penal code increased the maximum penalties for slander of the sultan and blasphemy to 7 and 10 years in prison, respectively, from three years for both under the old code. In March 2021, an appeals court upheld a prison term against medical worker Muslim al-Badi, who had been accused of insulting Sultan Qaboos. Al-Badi began serving his sentence in April.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 1.001 4.004

A limited right to peaceful assembly is provided for in Oman’s basic law. However, all public gatherings require official permission, and the government has the authority to prevent organized public meetings without any appeals process. The 2018 penal code prescribes prison terms and fines for individuals who initiate or participate in a gathering of more than 10 people that threatens security or public order, or who fail to comply with an official order to disperse. Police are seen in antiriot gear while on patrol and when responding to protests.

While demonstrations are rare in practice, protests against unemployment and the imposition of a VAT were held in several cities in May 2021. Some arrests and brief detentions were reported; police used tear gas when clashing with protesters in Sohar. Sultan Haitham, meanwhile, pledged to improve the labor market and offer stipends for those unemployed due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Overall, security forces mounted a largely mild response; by comparison, the authorities forcefully dispersed demonstrations during the 2011 protests and used lethal force in at least one incident during that period.

Score Change: The score improved from 0 to 1 because protesters with primarily economic grievances were able to hold demonstrations in several cities and because authorities mounted a relatively mild response, with most detainees quickly released.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1.001 4.004

Oman’s basic law allows for the formation of nongovernmental organizations, but civic life remains limited in practice. The government has not permitted the establishment of independent human rights organizations and generally uses its registration and licensing process to block the formation of groups it sees as a threat to stability. Individual activists focusing on issues including labor rights and internet freedom risk arrest. The 2018 penal code includes vague clauses that allow prison terms for individuals who establish, operate, or finance an organization aimed at challenging the “political, economic, social, or security principles of the state” or promoting class conflict.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2.002 4.004

Omani workers are legally able to organize unions, bargain collectively, and strike. However, there is only one authorized trade union federation, and neither government employees nor household workers are permitted to join unions. Strikes, which are banned in the oil and gas industry, are rare in practice, partly because disputes are often resolved through employer concessions or government mediation.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 0.000 4.004

The judiciary is not independent and remains subordinate to the sultan, who is empowered to appoint and remove senior judges. The sultan also chairs the Supreme Judicial Council, which nominates judges and oversees the judicial system, though a 2012 reform replaced the justice minister with the head of the Supreme Court as the council’s deputy chair.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1.001 4.004

Arbitrary arrest is formally prohibited but suspects arrested in vaguely defined security cases can be held for up to 30 days before being charged, and security forces do not always adhere to other rules on arrest and pretrial detention. Ordinary detainees are generally provided with access to legal representation.

Defendants in politically sensitive cases may face harsher treatment from the justice system. For example, prior to his trial in 2017, Mansour bin Nasser al-Mahrazi, a writer and researcher who was eventually sentenced to three years in prison for offenses including “insulting the sultan,” spent at least two months in incommunicado detention, and the judge refused to hear defense witnesses.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2.002 4.004

Prisons are not accessible in practice to independent monitors, but former detainees have reported beatings and other abuse. In March 2021, Sultan Ambo Saeedi accused the Internal Security Service of torturing him over a 30-day detention period in 2017. Saeedi subsequently fled Oman.

The country is generally free from armed conflict, and violent street crime is relatively rare.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1.001 4.004

The 2021 basic law banned discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, ethnicity, and social class, but noncitizens are not protected from discrimination in practice. Women face disparate treatment under personal status laws and de facto bias in employment and other matters. Under the Personal Status Law, a woman must have a male guardian—usually a father—to contract her into marriage. Men are recognized as the head of the household. Same-sex relations are punishable with up to three years in prison, and LGBT+ people face societal discrimination.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 1.001 4.004

Most Omani citizens enjoy freedom of movement, but travel bans are often imposed on political dissidents. Foreign workers cannot leave the country without permission from their employer and risk deportation if they change employers without documentation releasing them from their previous contract. During 2021, the government periodically restricted internal travel and imposed curfews to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These measures were implemented in line with a rise of reported coronavirus cases.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2.002 4.004

While the legal framework protects property rights, state-owned companies and the ruling family are dominant forces in the economy, limiting the role and autonomy of small and other private businesses. Women generally receive less property than men under inheritance laws.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1.001 4.004

Omani citizens require permission from the MoI to marry noncitizens from countries outside the Gulf Cooperation Council. Spouses or children of Omani women cannot gain citizenship. Omani law does not specifically address domestic violence and sexual harassment or criminalize spousal rape, while extramarital sex is criminalized. Women who report rape have at times been prosecuted for engaging in extramarital sex, if authorities do not believe they were assaulted. Women are at disadvantage under laws governing matters such as divorce and child custody. The 2018 penal code included a new provision that criminalized the wearing of women’s clothing by men.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1.001 4.004

Oman’s labor policies put migrant workers at a severe disadvantage and effectively encourage exploitation. Household workers, who are not covered by the labor law, are especially at risk of abuse by employers. The government has pursued an “Omanization” process to replace foreign workers with native Omanis. Among other tactics, temporary visa bans for foreign workers in various professions have been issued or extended since 2013. In January 2021, the Ministry of Labor announced plans to bar expatriates from certain private-sector occupations, which would only be open to Omani citizens.

Despite a 2008 antitrafficking law and some recent efforts to improve enforcement, authorities have not always proactively identified or protected human trafficking victims. The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2021 notes that authorities are identifying more trafficking survivors but open few legal cases and secure few convictions. Government policies limit shelter stays to victims with cases actively being investigated.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    24 100 not free