Few Americans know much about Oman, a small sultanate located on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Yet Oman hosts American military forces on three Omani bases through a Facilities Access Agreement and its unbroken alliance with the US dates from 1790.
The majority of Omanis are Ibadhi, an early offshoot of Islam and a third tradition within the Islamic mosaic. This small but strategic country at the mouth of the Persian Gulf is ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said – who has been in power since 1970 after engineering a bloodless palace coup against his father.
Although Omani society is historically tribal, Sultan Qaboos has been able to construct an effective national consensus, in which Omani loyalty transcends tribe. Oman is also now highly urbanized and since 2014, foreign migrants represent over 43% of the population working primarily in the oil industry. Yet in addition to encouraging the growth of the petroleum sector, the Sultan has also initiated a program of “Omanization,” aimed at reducing the country’s reliance on hydrocarbon production, increasing private investment, and replacing expatriate labor with trained Omanis.
Linda Pappas Funsch, author of Oman Reborn: Balancing Tradition and Modernization (2015, Palgrave Macmillan), will discuss the history and modern transformation of the Sultanate of Oman, a little known, but vitally important, country of the Arab Middle East. The story of Oman is compelling – a maritime power that prospered as the global hub for the frankincense trade in antiquity. Its unique world view and international relations of today are a reflection of its lengthy interaction with diverse cultures. Oman’s foreign policy today is a product of its history, values, and realistic appraisal of 21st century dynamics.
Ms. Funsch is a career specialist in Islamic and modern Middle Eastern history and cultures with experience in academia, publishing, consulting, tourism and travel writing. Following undergraduate study at Marymount College, Tarrytown (NY) and the American University in Cairo, she was awarded an M.A. in Near Eastern Languages and Literature at New York University. She has served as editor of The Arab World magazine in New York, consultant for the League of Arab States’ office to the United Nations, project specialist for the Ford Foundation, both in Beirut and New York, and US Director of the American Research in Egypt consortium in Princeton, NJ.
She has taught at several colleges in New York and Maryland, including Iona College, Mount Saint Mary’s University, Hood College and — for 15 years and currently — at Frederick (MD) Community College’s Institute for Learning in Retirement. She has guest lectured at Georgetown University, the World Affairs Council, the World Bank, the National Defense University, Mary Washington University, and Baylor University, among others. She has also been interviewed on the Voice of America. In addition, she is engaged in a number of ecumenical outreach activities, aimed at fostering an understanding and appreciation of the shared values among the Abrahamic faith traditions.