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Muscat city at night


Celebrating 43 years of Renaissance


CONTENTS In fond memories

Backbone of the country

The first elected Municipal Councillor of Muttrah, Mahmood Al Shawarzi, reminisces about Oman in yesteryears

Oman government has come up with policy decisions to garner support for SMEs

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22 Looking back

Fostering growth

Today’s Oman is very different from what it was in the long-gone days, reminisces Saeed Khawwar, Chairman of Bin Hayl Group

The Ministry of Oil & Gas has announced a 10-year plan according to which it will spend around USD70bn between 2013 and 2022

32 Exploring the majestic Oman is shrouded in a blend of ancient Arab mysteries, unique natural beauty and modern living

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38 Positive outlook The real estate sector accounted for an estimate of RO294mn. This is about four per cent of Oman’s total GDP in early 2012

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CONTENTS Riding the investment wave

Charged up Oman intends to invest more than USD6bn to increase its power generation capacity through 2016

The utilities sector is set to get a major boost as the construction of 16 power and water projects are in the pipeline

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52 On the fast track

Mood upbeat

The transport sector in Oman has been earmarked for a major funding boost under the 2013 budget with a wave of upcoming projects

This year, PEIE is in the process of setting up an institute to train workers in developing technical and language skills and learn about work ethics and employees’ rights

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Food security and sustainability

Measures of progress

The government is looking for ways to develop the industry and tackle challenges like over-fishing and water shortage

Oman is taking rapid strides in both public and private sectors with an increased focus on research programmes

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CONTENTS Striving for excellence

Safeguarding cultural heritage

The investments that the private sector is making now is a pointer to a future when the sector will play a larger role in health care services

Heritage, culture and arts lie at the core of Oman’s history, which is an integral part of nation’s identity

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76 Fostering cultural tourism

Leaps of progress Although their struggles are far from over, Omani women continue to rise and prosper

Anne Bouji emphasises that you’re never too young or too old to learn to enjoy music

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Redefining Oman

On expansion mode

Duqm, a new city is in the making in Oman. In course of time, it will serve as a predominant economic growth engine of the country

Oman has made significant strides in the last 42 years. Trends in the real estate sector bode well for the country

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CONTENTS Surging ahead

Creating opportunities

With the launch of 4G technology, Oman has been placed alongside the world’s most advanced countries

Oman is growing and so is its art scenario. All that it needs is more support from the government and private sector

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98 Building a digital society Large businesses in Oman has streamlined their operations through their IT investments with small and medium entities following suit

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Smart solution Digital Signage technology is making headway in Oman which has seen successful completion of important projects in recent times

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Towards empowerment

Force to reckon with

Soft skills are not universal. That’s why it’s important to focus on behavioural training as much as on traditional hard skills

Supporting SMEs is a major priority for the government for diversification of non-oil economy

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CONTENTS New outlook In today’s context, fashions of a forgotten era are making a comeback

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Incredible Dhofar Collage

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The Dhofar governorate enjoys a distinctive natural diversity where the coast seamlessly blends with the desert

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Foreword

Moving ahead In the name of God, the compassionate and the merciful

Produced by

DEENAR PRESS & PUBLISHING PO Box 139, PC 102, Al Qurm Sultanate of Oman T +968 24696868, F +968 24693569 E info@deenarmedia.com CREDITS Hatim al Taie, Abdullah al Tai, Rathish Ramachandran, Farooq Shaikh, Shyniben Koyakkil, Susmita De, Deepali Kumar, Maham Hassan, Leticia Meneses, Bhavana Sinkar

Š 2013 All rights reserved. This publication may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form in whole or in part without the written permission of the publishers. While every care has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publishers cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of the information herein, or any consequences arising from it. Printed at

Ruwi Modern Printers

All along, Oman’s progress has been promising under the able leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The government has increased economic investments progressively. In its Eighth Plan, it has allocated RO1.6bn on initiatives focusing on infrastructure and social programmes. These provisions include Al Batinah Expressway aimed at boosting tourism and other sectors by connecting the region to the rest of the country. Five new hospitals are coming up in Muscat, Suwaiq, Salalah, Khasab and Dhalkout. A fresh league of new institutions are set up to carry out the execution of the Plan. The Supreme Council for Planning and the National Centre for Statistics and Data are created by royal decree and are set to take up the role and activities of the dissolved Ministry of National Economy. In its endeavour to expand job opportunities for young Omani nationals, the Sultanate targets between 200,000 and 275,000 placements by 2015. While Duqm has started delivering, government is making new plans for development of Musandam governorate. The pilot project is aimed at studying and identifying areas of economic activities that are feasible in the governorate. The environmental, demographic and social factors of the governorate will be taken into consideration to prioritise the development process, keeping in line with the vision. Prospects of tourism and trade activities in the region will also be studied. This year The Sultanate consolidates the viewpoints of industry captains, visionaries and the youth between its covers. We present our nation to our readers not only through the eyes of the industry and the government but also through imagination of creative thinkers and reminiscences of veterans. The Overview section of the book puts the achievements of the Sultanate in perspective. The last but not the least, the picture section of the book portrays pristine natural beauty that is quintessentially Omani. As Oman basks in its rich heritage, its youth gets conditioned in contemporary environment. Old yet new, that lends Oman a unique flavour, which we bring out in this book.

Abdullah Mohammed al Tai


Message

Backbone of the country Oman government has devised policy decisions to garner support for SMEs

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mall and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the bedrock of a country in transition, trying to build an alternate economy. For Oman, SMEs, who are local entrepreneurs, play a crucial role to help the country in its economic progress, through their ability to innovate and diversify the industrial output at grass root level. On realising the importance of the SMEs and their probable roles in many sectors, Oman has taken initiatives to strengthen the smaller firms within the economy. The state plays a major role in influencing the nature and pace of SME development. In Oman, the government has made multi-pronged approach to support the SME sector. As a first step, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce (MoCI) has modified the definition of small and mediumsized companies. It is done in order to increase the flow of funding to SMEs. The new definition now recognises firms based on their annual turnover and number of employees. The firm which employs 10 to 99 workers, with gross sales of RO250,000 to RO1,500,000, will be defined as mediumsized enterprise. A firm will be recognised as a small-sized

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Celebrating Oman’s 43rd Renaissance Day

enterprise if it employs five to nine workers, having an annual turnover of RO25,000 to RO250,000. And there is a new category termed as micro-enterprise of business in Oman, containing not more than four employees with gross sale under RO25,000, as per the notification done in 2012. According to the Statistical Year Book, 2012, in Oman there are in total 3892 medium-sized enterprises, 68,489 small-sized enterprises and 200,716 micro-sized enterprises registered till 2011. However, the categorisations are by capital only and not by gross sales or turnover. Despite a favourable environment, one challenge that adversely affects the progress of SMEs is the lack of skilled labour. Business experts feel that the demand for skilled labour is very strong, but its availability is a real challenge for the industrial sector in the country in general and SMEs are no exception to that. As remedial measures, the government has taken steps to increase the training component. This year, Public Establishment of Industrial Estate (PEIE) is in the process of setting up an institute to train workers in developing technical and language skills, who would also learn about work ethics and employees’


Oman’s youth is full of dreams, energy, passion, drive and determination. They should take up the cudgel, explore boundless horizon and grab the opportunities in the market Hatim Al Taie, Chairman, Deenar Press and Publishing rights. Companies are also coming up with the ideas of inhouse training for their workforce for better performance. Oman’s industrial sector is showing impressive growth and consistently pursuing its policy to diversify in the non-oil based economy. But it is also gearing up to face the additional challenges ahead. The industrial sector’s role in economic diversification now needs supporting or industries linked to large scale industrial units. Downstream industries, many of whom are SMEs, are clearly in advantage here. Instead of just exporting either raw materials or semi-refined materials, local entrepreneurs are manufacturing them and transforming them into downstream products. It adds jobs, values, expertise, more

opportunities to the enterprises, and positions them as players in the market. The Port of Salalah has planned a 6,000 square-meter ’business incubator space’ to allow for short-term leases for SMEs before expanding into a larger facility at the free zone. By and large, SMEs across the Sultanate have been successful owing to the impetus given by the government, besides the support by the public and private sector companies including financial houses. Oman’s youth is full of dreams, energy, passion, drive and determination. They have aspirations to turn their dreams into reality. They should take up the cudgel, explore boundless horizon and grab the opportunities that are there in the market.

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Celebrating Oman’s 43rd Renaissance Day


Felicitations to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and the people of Oman on the auspicious occasion of the 43rd Renaissance Day


R E T ROSP ECT


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Retrospect

In fond memories The first elected Municipal Councillor of Muttrah, Mahmood Al-Shawarzi, reminisces about Oman in yesteryears

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t was July 1970. The first Renaissance Day still lives in the memory of Mahmood Al Shawarzi, general manager of Nasser bin Abdullatif Alserkal Est. He was young at that time and was just eight years old. When he woke up in the morning he saw that the road was draped with red cloth, the colour of Oman’s flag at that time. People on the road were exuberant and in all ecstasy, he joined them. Celebration was going on for days and many a times in life, as he says now, he re-lived that moment. For the first time, the people of Muttrah had the honour to meet His Majesty as his aircraft landed at Bait Al Falaj Airport, located in Muttrah.

Mahmood A. Al-Shawarzi General Manager, Nasser bin Abullatif Alserkal Est. He is also an elected member of Municipal Council representing Muttrah Governorate

Shawarzi reminisces, “On the first day of his accession to the throne, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said had said, “I want to establish a modern government.” His determination had always reflected his inner conviction. A great believer in the benefits of education, he said, “We

will teach our children even under the trees” - at a time when there were no buildings for schools. There were only three schools; kids have even studied in tents. But education was a priority. An educated nation can change the face of a country. His Majesty appealed to Omanis, who were outside the country, to come and participate in the development process of the country. Omanis, who studied medicine and engineering and were practicing abroad, along with others professionals, came back to their motherland to contribute in the Renaissance of Oman. All went to their respective fields and worked with rigour, against all odds. Expatriates, with their expertise in various fields, also gave active support. Everybody rallied behind His Majesty to fulfill his dream.” His Majesty’s leadership has inspired these people who rolled up their sleeves and worked with unflagging zeal. As a result, the country has come to what we see now.

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His Majesty’s leadership has inspired people who rolled up their sleeves and worked with unflagging zeal. As a result, the country has come to what we see now

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Celebrating Oman’s 43rd Renaissance Day

Today, we have many Omanis taking charge of areas like banking sector. We go to a hotel; we are received by an Omani at the reception. We arrive at the airport and an Omani helps us to reach our destination. It is with everybody’s contribution that the country has seen growth and expansion in last 42 years. “It was not that we had no challenges to face. Human resources, education, health -- you name it, we had challenges galore. But we have been able to overcome hurdles in our journey towards success,” says Shawarzi. Shawarzi have seen Oman growing gradually. He went to a school in Muttrah called Al Saidya in Corniche. The Corniche was a sandy beach then. He recalls a hilarious story. “It was a national day. I don’t remember the year. Muttrah Fort was all lit up and sparkled with an array of firework displays. People were all scared as a first reaction and they thought war had started. An old lady came running to me yelling that the sky was falling! That speaks of the innocence and simplicity in the people at that time.” In front of Shawarzi’s house, there was a joint, akin to a camel station, from where common people used to collect grains and fuel (firewoods) called ma’aqal. Local restaurants prepared food and served by local people. “Everything available was fresh. Nothing frozen!” says he. Those were the days when Al Rahama hospital was the only hospital in Oman. It is gone now and Shawarzi laments its absence. The souk in Muttrah is still the same, sans its beautification at a later stage. When it comes to preserving heritage his take is very clear. He says, “In Muttrah, tourists can catch glimpses

Shawarzi’s collection: A vintage typewriter (Top), a camera and a telephone (Below)


of old Oman, provided we preserve our heritage. We want to retain the old low-rise buildings. We hope multi-storied buildings don’t mar the pristine charm of that area.” In this context Shawarzi strongly believes that His Majesty has led his country in the right direction. ���His foremost message was that as we develop ourselves and open Oman to the world, we also preserve our tradition and culture. That is why when you come to Oman you come to a country with heritage. It is steeped in history and living tradition. His Majesty laid stress on values deeply rooted in our culture but upheld a progressive outlook and maintained relations with countries beyond Oman.” After he completed his graduation from Muscat, Shawarzi moved to Colorado, USA, to study Business Management. His stay was arranged by an Omani friend of his who was settled there. With him around, Shawarzi felt comfortable in his sojourn abroad, without any culture shock. On his return, he joined the Dewan of Royal Court and worked there from 1985 to 2004. Post retirement, he joined Nasser bin Abullatif Alserkal Est, an investment and real estate company. His office, aesthetically done up, is a treasure trove of his antique collection. Whether it is a 200-hundred year old handwritten Quran or a vintage camera, the collection is worth seeing. Muscat Municipal Council, which existed prior to the Renaissance, plays a crucial role in executing projects and programmes according to government plans. It became an official body in the 70s. Last year, the government formed councils in 11 governorates of Oman. All members, instead of being appointed by the government, are now elected by the people. As an elected member, representing Muttrah, Shawarzi says, “I try to do my bit for my area where I grew up.” Shawarzi believes that what has saved Oman from the economic crisis, that affected many other parts of the

world, is simply because that it has a slow but steady and strong economy. He said, “The country did not have many resources during the Renaissance days. The oil production was never substantially high in this country. On the contrary, it was quite low. The saving grace was that our government had the wisdom of planning. Keeping in line with five-year plans, Oman government has efficiently developed economic resources along with the infrastructure of the country.”

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Retrospect

Looking back Today’s Oman is very different from what it was in the long-gone days, reminisces Saeed Khawwar, Chairman of Bin Hayl Group

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aeed Khawwar, chairman of Bin Hayl Group, was not in Oman the day it was reborn. He missed out on celebrations of the Renaissance Day. Children at home enjoyed those cherished moments. His family had migrated to the UAE and returned to Oman one year later, in 1971. He was 12 years old then. He was much too young to realise the significance of the change at that point of time. But nonetheless, he could see the gradual transformation of Oman, which he reminisces with a touch of nostalgia.

Saeed Khawwar Chairman, Bin Hayl Group

United Nation’s criteria to evaluate a country were then based on consumption of electricity and development of road network. By that parameter, Oman then lived in limbo. Ibn Batuta, a traveller who lived 700 years ago, had given a vivid description of Salalah in his book during his time, which Khawwar thinks remained the same till 1970, without much physical progress. He says, “There was no electricity before 1970 and hardly was there any road network. The abundance of road network that we see today was non-existent then. Neither did we have abundance of cars on the road. A few cars that were there were mostly the 4WDs that could ply on undulated tracks and rubble roads.” There were only two elementary schools during our times, one in Muscat and one in Salalah. It was only

after Sultan Qaboos ascended the throne that girls started attending schools. Teachers were mostly Omanis. It was Khawwar’s father who compelled him to go to school. Only 25 students were to be admitted into elementary school. Khawwar was not selected. “The teacher fondly asked me to go to the sea beach and play with sea shells and come back next year,” he recalls. “I did not come back. As I said, I went to the UAE.” Khawwar would have loved to live in Muscat to continue his studies, but those days, there were no secondary schools in Oman. Only Qatar, UAE and some other Gulf states had set up secondary schools. Therefore he had no other option but to leave for UAE to pursue his studies. Sometime later, he was back in Muscat and the changes were significantly visible. Oman had morphed into a much more vibrant country. After His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said had ascended the throne, the country took big strides for its people. And the transition, though gradual, became visible. Now electricity was almost everywhere. And the road network was commendable. To begin with, there was a new road from Muttrah to Ghubra, a single carriageway. The signs of development have begun to show. Private cars were noticeable on the road. Though they were not many in

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“There was no electricity before 1970 and there was hardly any road network. The abundance of road network that we see in Oman today was non-existent then”

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Celebrating Oman’s 43rd Renaissance Day

number like today, still people were jubilant to see motors on Muscat road. By 1977, Muscat was beyond recognition. Al Nadha Hospital and Khoula Hospital had come up providing healthcare facilities to Omanis. “Though the basic infrastructure was in short supply as compared to what we have today, but then Muscat was the most happening place for us,” quips Khawwar. After finishing school, as there was no college here yet, the only way to progress further was to score enough in the exam and get a scholarship to study abroad. That is how Khawwar got scholarship to study in the US in 1977. Travelling to new destinations outside Oman was fascinating for young Khawwar. Wearing European style dressing was a novelty. As he had travelled to European countries and Egypt earlier, he was familiar with different ways of life. So, unlike many of his friends, Khawwar did not suffer from culture shock when he went to the US for the first time. After completing his college education, he returned to Oman and worked in the government for more than a decade. In between, he studied Business Administration and launched his own business in 1990. Oman was then keen on laying its infrastructure from the ground up. Construction activities were in full swing. There was a big demand for building materials. Khawwar’s company manufactured pipes and fittings. “We started from the scratch and we had to face a lot of challenges. It was very difficult those days to start on a new business. We neither had much capital, or land nor security worth RO50,000 to borrow loans from banks. Being new in the business, affordability was a big issue then. Nowadays, I feel, it is much easier. Today’s Oman is remarkably different from what we were familiar with in the past,” says Khawwar.


OVERVIEW


Oil & Gas

Fostering growth The Ministry of Oil & Gas has announced a 10-year plan according to which it will spend around USD70bn between 2013 and 2022

O

man’s oil and gas sector is challenging yet dynamic. The government made a smart move by reversing a trend of declining oil production. It is a sound government policy that has helped Oman’s natural resources to develop successfully against many odds. The Ministry of Oil & Gas (MOG) executes its policy through Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), in which the government retains 60 per cent of stake. Today’s PDO is by far the largest operator in sector, with control over 90 per cent of crude oil reserves and account for about 75 per cent of total oil production. PDO makes up most of the Sultanate’s natural gas supplies, though private investment is altering the public-private sector balance. The nation’s energy needs, whether industrial or domestic, are fulfilled by an increased production level of natural gas, which can be called a money-spinner as an export commodity. While upstream activity remains PDO’s forte, the government of Oman controls a big part of the industry through the

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state owned Oman Oil Company (OOC). It is true that Oman has a modest size of oil reserves as compared to its GCC counterparts. But nevertheless, for international oil companies, it remains an attractive proposition. Shell’s 34 per cent stake in PDO, an interest in Oman LNG, as well as a share in the Mukhaizna concession, of which Occidental Petroleum is a shareholder and the OOC, makes it the most significant overseas investor in the sector. Occidental Petroleum is the second largest oil producing operator in Oman. More than 20 local and global hydrocarbon firms are engaged in production and exploration activities in Oman. Others companies operating in various capacities are Total, BP, CNPC, KoGas, PTTEP, Tethys and Repsol. Though a small number of offshore concessions were granted in the past, Oman’s oil and gas sector is mostly an onshore business. Its oil and gas fields are mainly located in the north and central onshore areas. PDO’s concession, Block 6 (90,874sq km) is the largest in the country and located in central and southern Oman. To its


An offshore oil rig

north lie two blocks of Occidental’s portfolio, which are Blocks 9 (4083 sq km) and 10 (1254 sq km). The Block 53 (694 sq km) is a new addition and much smaller in size. But it is the site of one of the most significant projects in Oman. Other significant concessions include names of industry majors like BP, Maersk and Petrogas.

easier with the discovery of huge reserves of nonassociated natural gas in the late 80’s. It was quickly adopted as Oman’s primary source of power. Electricity and desalination plants were fuelled by this new-found resource. The liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is now used at homes, commercial enterprises and industries.

In 2012, the government invited local and global companies to bid for exploration licenses in seven blocks. It included both onshore and offshore blocks with an emphasis on the latter. This was a divergence from its previous policy.

Growing demand for natural gas

At present, the state-owned Oman Gas Company (OGC) operates a 2500 km, government gas network and delivers gas feedstock to 39 major gas consumers like power and desalination plants, petrochemicals, and fertiliser industries, oil refineries, industrial estates, and steel and cement plant. Gas demand in Oman has escalated and to meet that demand, OGC has started concentrating on installing the pipelines, compressor stations, and supply stations.

In recent times, Oman has seen the growing importance of natural gas. International companies operating in oilfields enjoyed the right to utilise the associated gas for running their wells, surpluses to be serviced by PDO. The Sultanate’s drive for an alternate economy became

The scale of the non-associated gas finds in the late 80s and 90s gave boost to export that has seen Oman become a significant provider of LNG to the international market. In 1994, Oman LNG was established by Royal Decree as the

Oman’s drive for an alternate economy became easier with the discovery of huge reserves of natural gas in the late 80s. It was quickly adopted as a primary source of power

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At present, the Oman Gas Company, owned by the state, operates a 2500km government gas network and delivers gas feedstock to 39 major consumers Panoramic view of an oil and gas refinery

nation’s first LNG plant. Along with this, a second facility, Qalhat LNG, in which Oman LNG is a part stakeholder, represent Oman’s total LNG export infrastructure. With a capacity of 14.32 cu metres per year, plants source their gas from the Sahi Rawl and Saih Nihayda gas fields in central Oman and process it and export it to Asian markets. The demand in the domestic market is rising, as it is which according to some experts is underserved. While more return is expected from nation’s oil and gas infrastructure, MOG’s concern had been to expand Oman’s crude oil. But the complex geological structures have made this a daunting task. The production has dipped from 970,000 bpd in 2000 to 713,000 bpd in 2007. MOG has a feather in its cap as it has been able to reverse this

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Celebrating Oman’s 43rd Renaissance Day

declining trend, by investing in new wells, entering into partnership with foreign firms, and by adopting state-ofthe-art technology to increase efficiency.

More exploration Despite Oman being an evolved oil producer, MOG zeroes in on exploration to maintain production levels in future. Since early 90s, the country has been successful in increasing its reserves, which rose from 4.3 billion barrels in 1991 to 5.5 billion barrels at the end of 2011, according to the BP “Statistical Review of World Energy,” June 2012. The recent discovery at Amal South-East located in the southern region of Oman is estimated to hold some 300m barrels. This speaks of MOG’s success in this field. More


opportunity for exploration came when the MOG bid for seven concessions in 2012. The private sector also plays an important part in exploration activity. Swedish firm Tethys discovered conventional oil about six km east of the Saiwan oil field in which it retains a 30 per cent stake alongside other entities. The large reserve in Khulud Gas Westfield is PDO’s most recent discovery, announced in 2010. According to industry experts, this indicates the future discoveries in Oman. But utilisation of such finds will rely primarily on the technique of hydraulic fracturing, another name for fracking. It is a process by which fluid is injected into rock formations, to create fissures that will allow greater quantities of oil and gas to flow into the wellbore. Fracking is cost-effective and gaining ground in Oman as an effective technology. The process is useful for exploring the huge reserve of gas that lies underneath. At the end of 2011, Oman’s natural gas reserves stood at 948.6bn cu metres. Oil production in the Sultanate is more and more getting associated with enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques. Bringing Oman’s oil to the surface, from deep inside its geological structure, had always been very daunting task, which has encouraged oil companies to adopt EOR methods. There are many successful EOR stories in Oman. The thermal EOR in Qarn Alam uses an unusual process by which steam drains oil to lower producer wells. It projects a production level of 40,000 bpd by 2015. Due to physical challenges in oil extraction, Oman’s energy sector has earned the reputation for deploying advanced methods of extraction. In collaboration with PDO and Sultan Qaboos University, MOG has developed a biological technique, which could be a potential addition to Oman’s EOR activity. With advanced recovery techniques, oil companies in Oman have adopted an array of advanced drilling methods. These include drilling to great depths, ballast drilling through tight gas reservoirs, horizontal, multilateral and jet drilling. Oman exports more than 90 per cent of its crude oil production to foreign markets, predominantly in East Asia. Much of the residue goes to ORPIC’s two refineries, Mina Al Fahal (Muscat) and Sohar, the largest facility which is undergoing an upgradation process. According to current plans, a 230,000bpd facility is coming up in

The scale of the non-associated gas finds in the late 80s and 90s gave boost to export with Oman becoming a significant provider of LNG to the global market

View of gas processing factory, gas and oil industry Duqm in 2017. Both these developments will more than double refinery capacity, enabling Oman to export refined products. In mid-2012, the MOG announced a 10-year plan according to which it will spend around USD60bn – USD70bn between 2013 and 2022 on oil exploration and production and around USD 40bn for exploiting gas resources. This large scale investment is set to present immense opportunities to the private sector.

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Tourism

Exploring the majestic Oman is shrouded in a blend of ancient Arab mysteries, unique natural beauty and modern living

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n 2012, US based magazine National Geographic listed travel to Oman as one of the best trips of the year, while Australian based Lonely Planet named Muscat the year’s most desirable tourist destination after London. In addition, Muscat was also named the Arab Tourism Capital by the ministers of tourism from the Arab League’s member states. These international level accolades go far to prove that Oman, with its unique micro-climate and terrains, different from those of other GCC countries is a haven of uniqueness amidst the surrounding barren lands. In recent years, the authorities in Oman have been working to diversify their economy’s reliance away from oil and hydrocarbons, giving increasing attention to the tourism industry as perhaps a major earning source in the future. The country stands out from others in the neighbouring area, with its combination of rugged

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landscapes, lush greenery and picturesque oceanic views; prompting authorities to harness this priceless beauty with increasing amounts of investments. Progress thus far, has not been disappointing. In 2012, the tourism industry represented 3 per cent of the GDP according to the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). This was a 5.8 per cent increase from 2011, dominating the Middle East region’s average growth of 3.1 per cent. Oman, approximately 300,000 sq kms in area is skirted with 1,700 sq kms of coastline. In the north is the strategically situated rocky and previously isolated Musandam peninsula, extending into the Straits of Hormuz. The Hajar mountain range contains Oman’s highest peaks and its main area is known as the Jabal Akhdar meaning Green mountains, as it was once the most


The capital city Muscat is often described as ‘Arabia’s jewel’. Its lush and bright greenery mocks all preconceptions of a desert country, thriving amidst all the barren land there is

Gateway to the old town of Muscat

heavily cultivated area of the country. It contains the highest peak in Oman at 2980 metres, Jabal Shams. The region known as the ‘Sharqiya’, is situated south of the eastern Hajar Mountains and contains the major coastal town of Sur. The largest desert in the country is the vast area in the west extending into Saudi Arabia called the ‘Rub Al Khali’ or Empty Quarter. This was one of the last unexplored regions in the world and was only crossed for the first time by Westerners in the 1930’s. The largest area of pure sand is the Wahiba Sands which is located in the ‘Sharqiya’, to the south of Sur. South of the Wahiba Sands is Oman’s most important island, Massirah. The coastal part is called Barr Al Hikman and is a bird watcher’s paradise. During winter, several hundred thousand birds such as Flamingoes, Waders, Gulls and Terns fly through here.

Oman’s major tourist cities Often described as “Arabia’s jewel”, the capital city Muscat is a unique and charming blend of the old and new. The city’s lush and bright greenery mocks all preconceptions of a desert country, thriving amidst all the barren land there is. Old Muscat has resolutely retained its one of a kind old-world character, not letting time or even the changing world affect its quaint appeal. The many forts, castles, mosques and towers that dotted the landscape of the city are testament to its rich character. Of particular note are Jalali and Mirani forts flanking the Al Alam Palace. Other highlights include the Corniche, old souq of Muttrah and the greater Muscat that boasts all the necessities for city lovers. Existing within traditional dwellings, Sur is a calm and peaceful sea coast town. The drive to it offers

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Oman, with its unique microclimate and terrains, different from those of other GCC countries, is a haven of uniqueness amidst the surrounding barren lands

Al Riyam Park in Muscat

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Oman can truly be a utopian paradise for anyone, with its attractions not just stopping at its array of lovely cities and interesting places, but continuing with plentiful activities to be experienced. Among the favourites for the locals and expats alike are scuba diving, photography and filming, rock climbing, trekking, camel racing, bull fighting, fishing, turtle watching, sailing, boating, horseback riding and cliff diving. The old capital of Oman and once a centre of education and art, Nizwa is an oasis city with a seamless blend of the modern and the ancient. It is known for many things in the country, notably its historical monuments, handicrafts and agricultural products. Like every Arab city, it also has a Souq, unique in its vastness, which showcases a lovely collection of handicrafts, coffee pots, swords, leather goods, silverware and antiques. The Nizwa Fort is a majestic wonder to behold, with the Sultan Qaboos Mosque, as one of the oldest mosques in Oman, not far behind. Another old capital of Oman, Sohar is a seaside city, named after the great grandson of Noah from the Ark, according to legend. Belonging to the fertile Batinah coast region, this is truly the most verdurous city in Oman as the journey to it is a visual feast of dates, mangoes, limes, bananas, vegetables and fodder crops. The city is also home to the only whitewashed Omani fort, with five impressive towers, the Sohar fort.

Nakhal Fort in Al Batinah region

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Celebrating Oman’s 43rd Renaissance Day

stunning views of sparkling white beaches covered with colourful shells, deep ravines and cliffs that fall dangerously into azure seas, rocks sculpted by wind and waves and lush green wadis (river beds). The city is rumoured to be the home of the legendary Sinbad the Sailor and is popular for its dhow shipyards. Walking through the intricate labyrinth of the city’s streets, one can spot beautiful antique houses with carved doors and arabesque windows. Beyond Sur we can find the beaches of R’as Al Hadd and R’as Al Junayz where every year about 30,000 turtles come to lay their eggs.

Hidden in the southern region of Oman, Salalah is a countryside haven of veritable gardens, tumbling waterfalls and meandering streams. This transformation is due to the Khareef, the Indian monsoon that touches the city every summer. Salalah is an intriguing mixture of legend and myths that actually date back to biblical times. The tomb of Prophet Ayoub can be found in the Jebel Qara, better known as the Job of the Old Testament. In Khawr Rhori lie the ruins of the palace reputed to be that of the Queen of Sheba. For most of the year, the unspoiled beaches of Salalah are ideal for scuba diving, canoeing, sailing, jet skiing and diving. Salalah is no doubt Oman’s coolest treasure to seek during the Khareef with its fresh unpolluted air, peacefully misty climate, leafy ambiance and the bluest rolling seas.


Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, one of the main attractions of the Muscat city

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Real Estate

Positive outlook The real estate sector accounted for an estimate of RO294mn. This is about four per cent of Oman’s total GDP in early 2012

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he property market in Oman was relatively sluggish in 2011. Then onward it had started showing indication of a steady growth. Apart from general economic progress, improvement in finance for housing has caused encouragement in the sector to grow gradually during this period. People’s earnings have improved with the widespread increase in salary in public and private sectors in Oman. The country had been able to avoid impact of the economic downturn, as was experienced by other GCC countries, due to relatively slower pace of property development. Whatever minor setback was there, Oman’s real estate industry recovered relatively faster. Omanis are the prime customers in this property market. According to the 2010 census, 70 per cent of the total population comprises the nationals.

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Demographically there is a large section of the population, which is about 60 per cent of the total Omanis that fall under the age group of 21 years. So, a substantial demand for the residential property in the near future in the Sultanate is anticipated. During the past several years, from 2003 to 2010, the supply rates of residential units followed a pattern. On an average about 3,000 units were constructed in apartment category and a little more than 2000 villa types were produced each year. The supply of residential units in the real estate market during this period remained relatively constant. Whereas, at the beginning of the year 2000, it produced at the rate of 2000 apartments units and 1500 villas in a year. There is a shift in demand that has taken place compared to the past. Now there is a major demand for the apartment units than for the villas. This is reflected in


The rents are high in the regular rental segment and the demand for top end residential apartments with high quality facilities is growing significantly A villa in The Wave Muscat

the shift in supply and the production of residential units in the market.

Contribution to national economy The real estate service sector accounted for an estimate of RO 294.4 million. This is about four per cent of the Sultanate’s total GDP during early 2012. It is about 8.5 per cent increase compared to its contribution during the same period in 2011. Although the demand for residential segment in the real estate is the most important factor, 75 per cent of this demand is for the apartment with two to three bed room units. However, in recent years there is a particular increase in the demand for one-bed room apartment units.

Housing Market In today’s market Omanis are increasingly opting to

rent residential property. A lot of young Omanis are coming to cities for their jobs. Many of the students as well as the newly employed hire rented apartments until they can afford to buy a house or villa. The rental market is quite active. In some of the top grade newly constructed projects, the rental value is RO700-900 per month, and for two-bed room unit it is RO1000-1200. Of course these, residential apartments are of high quality living standards and facilities. However, these rental values are a way above the regular rental values available in the nearby areas. Although the rents are high but the demand for these types of housing with high quality of living is growing.

Contribution of ITCs in the property market To encourage the tourism sector, the government had introduced a policy of Integrated Tourism Complexes

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Since the property market is price sensitive, ITC developers are trying to adjust and downsize the scale but providing high quality standards to market needs

Residential quarter in Muscat Hills

(ITC). Under this category, the projects are essentially multi-use development ventures. These are typically centered on some leisure facilities like golf course, marinas, (in case it is located along the coast), commercial shopping centre, hotels, etc. These are mostly an independent small township with a large number of various types of residential buildings in it. One of the major policies is to cater to GCC national and non-GCC expatriate population apart from the Omani citizens. In fact, many of these projects are developed with an aim to attract the western expatriate buyers and investors. Some of the ITC projects were put on hold after the adverse consequences of the economic slowdown of 2008. Even then in the last couple of years, ITC projects were altered according to the market condition and are currently growing at a steady pace. Some of the projects are already in the market and those are Muscat Hills, The Wave, Jebel Sifah and Salalah Beach. Most of the property buyers

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and renters are residents of Oman. Since the property market is price sensitive, ITC developers are trying to adjust and downsize the scale but providing high quality facilities to meet the market needs. The first successful ITC project in Muscat is The Wave. About 4,000 residential units are targeted to be completed and handed over by the third quarter of 2012. Half of the property owners in the Wave are Omanis. A substantial number of expatriates, who had been living in Oman for years, intends to settle down in Oman. These ITC projects are providing high quality residential units and are available as a freehold property to the non-GCC nationals.

Challenges for Affordable Housing The real estate market is realising that there is a need for housing units which is affordable to the people with respect to their income. One of the real estate


consultants, Jones Long La Salle’s estimate is that there is at present shortage of 15,000 housing to the families who are earning less than RO450 per month. Their estimate reveals that there are 300,000 households in this category of income and 95 per cent of these families are living in affordable housing units. The supply of affordable houses in Oman was mostly provided on a smaller scale. Small construction firms working on smaller developments have been providing the low-income housing in the country.

In the current commercial property market, there is now demand for fully furnished, smaller size office space, located in high end buildings

The government has been constantly working on these challenges to cater to the low income families of the Sultanate. It has created Housing Loan Programme that offers soft, interest-free loans to qualified Omani families. The maximum loan amount that will be available is RO 20,000, directly provided by the government. The Eighth Five Year Plan (2011 – 2015) budget allocation is RO49mn by the Ministry of Housing. The loans are applicable to families whose monthly income is RO300 or less. Any applicant who is above 60 years, with a monthly income of RO400 or less, is also qualified for the assistance. About 2189 families had received this assistance in 2011, and the figure in mid-2012 shows that about 2230 got the Housing Assistance Programme, according to the Ministry of Housing.

Commercial Properties There is oversupply of commercial space in the real estate market in Oman. But the demand for the office space has remained stable according to one of the leading property consulting companies. The demand for smaller office space, ranging from 11-200 sqm is the highest from their current experiences. Half of the market prefers these sizes of office space. The preference pattern of the office spaces have changed in the current commercial property market. It is now for smaller size office space, but fully furnished, located in high quality buildings. But an important challenge for the office space in the commercial property is the parking facilities. According to the existing building regulation, it is to

provide one car space for every 50m2 of gross office space. This challenge needs to be tackled in the near future to upgrade the supply of the office space. Despite challenges, the real estate market is poised for growth and expansion in 2013 with some adjustments, of course. Though economic downturn has compelled ITCs to alter building plans, and the supply-demand ratio in office and retail space needs to have an appropriate balance, the ongoing developments in other sectors like infrastructure and logistics is creating opportunities for the real estate sector. On top of that, the demand for housing is on the rise as young Omanis are looking for quality housing. The mood is upbeat for Oman’s real estate sector.

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Power

Charged up Oman intends to invest more than USD6bn to increase its power generation capacity through 2016

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emand for power is expected to reach 4,600mw by 2016 and could reach 8,000mw by 2020. Current demand is 3,800mw, while in the year 2000, power demand was only 1,800mw. Power generation in Oman has become almost completely privatised. A number of generation firms operate, including those in Rusail, Wadi al Jizzi, SMN Barka, Sohar Power and al Ghubrah. Excluding Wadi al Jizzi and al Ghubrah, which are owned by the Electricity Holding Company (EHC), all the generation firms are now privately owned and required to list on local exchanges. Also owned by the EHC, the Oman Electricity Transmission Company (OETC) is the only transmission firm in the MIS system. The OETC transfers electricity from private sector generation firms to government-owned distribution companies. Although the OETC was set to be privatised in 2008, plans were delayed in the wake of the global credit crunch, and authorities have yet to set a new target date. An important structural change in the sector is a plan to introduce new power-supply firms into the market. Spearheaded by the Authority for Electricity Regulation (AER), legislation would increase competition in an effort to improve customer service and ensure that none of the existing suppliers monopolise the market. The AER is reportedly moving closer to implementing the new measures, though no timeframe has been announced. The Rural Areas Electricity Company (RAECO) owned almost 50 power plants as of 2011, all operating on diesel fuel. Domestic customers made up 70 per cent of the 2011 total, consuming almost half of RAECO power supply that

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year. Government buyers used around a quarter of supplied power, and commercial customers utilised 20 per cent of the total. Around half of RAECO’s customers were located in the Musandam governorate in 2011. Customers in the al Wusta and Dhofar governorates accounted for 33 per cent and 17 per cent of the total, respectively. As about 70 per cent of RAECO’s costs accrue from fuel expenses, the firm is working to raise efficiency by focusing on demand-side management. RAECO is in the process of increasing plant productivity in the Sultanate. With rising demand, a number of projects are set to substantially increase production capacity. For example, a new natural gas-fired plant is under construction in the northern Musandam governorate. The new Independent Power Project (IPP) is being built through a partnership agreement between the Oman Oil Company (OOC) and the South Korean conglomerate LG. According to 2011 Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWPC) figures, the new IPP should be capable of producing around 120 MW of electricity. This will be used to replace an existing system of diesel generation, with the new IPP becoming Musandam’s primary source of power. Commercial operation date for the power facility had been set for the end of 2014. Perhaps the most significant power project in Oman is a natural gas-fired plant under construction in the coastal city of Sur. With a capacity of 2000mw, the plant will be the OPWPC’s largest power project, according to recent figures provided by the body. The project’s developer, Phoenix Power, signed a 15-year power purchase agreement


Perhaps the most significant power project in Oman is a natural gasfired plant under construction in the coastal city of Sur. The plant will be the OPWPC’s largest power project

File picture of Barka power station with the OPWPC in mid-2011 and the plant will become operational in two phases. Phase 1 is scheduled to be completed in 2013 and will provide early power of 433mw through two gas turbines running in open cycle mode. The second phase includes three gas turbines as well as two steam turbines and will increase capacity by 1567mw. Phase 2 is scheduled to be completed by 2014. A better understanding of consumption patterns can help consumers conserve electricity usage. The sector is looking to adopt new technologies, such as automatic metres that read residential consumption in homes and are easily understood by the resident. There are several on-going initiatives to educate Omanis on the benefits of efficient electricity consumption. These will boost awareness of alternative solutions, save electricity during times of peak demand and reduce outages. Efforts are also under way to encourage energy conservation and develop renewable energy sources. For example, the Al Rusail power plant is working to reduce the environmental impact of its production by using an emissions monitoring system

developed by GL Noble Denton to continuously test for levels of CO, CO2, NO2 and SO2. Furthermore, the government has set a target for renewables to eventually contribute 15-20 per cent of peak demand requirements, up from the current 2-3 per cent, according to RAECO. The consultancy Ernst & Young noted in its “Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Indices” report in February 2012, that Oman’s potential to produce solar power is one of the highest worldwide.

Solar power Both in Oman and around the globe, governments and industry have recognised the opportunity and are pushing to turn unexploited solar resources in the MENA deserts into real energy that can be transported regionally and northward. While solar technology has been around for years and is becoming increasingly efficient, it is still very expensive. The very nature of solar energy makes it problematic. Unlike conventional power sources, the output cannot be

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internal desert areas of Marmul and Fahud, although some coastal areas such as Seeb displayed promising amounts of insolation year-round. A small number of companies in Oman have been active in the solar sector for a number of years. Three of the longest established are Growth International, Oman Solar Systems and OMASY, which among themselves pursue opportunities in the import, wholesale and retail sales and manufacturing of solar equipment. To date, solar energy has primarily been used for water heating purposes in households and in the provision of power for remotely located equipment. However, recent developments suggest solar power may play a larger role in the nation’s industrial projects, particularly in the extraction of oil and gas. In 2011 Petroleum Development Oman contracted US-based GlassPoint to build a solar powered system for thermal oil recovery.

Solar technology is gaining ground

adjusted to demand, so the utility has to have oil or gas generators ready should production fall too low. Excess energy also needs to be stored. Batteries are inefficient, expensive and usually toxic. Other solutions might be clean, but they are expensive, hard to adjust and often unworkable in certain environments, such as hydro storage in the desert. In the Sultanate, feasibility studies have examined the potential of all of the main alternatives, but it is the solar option that has emerged as the frontrunner. The case for solar energy production in Oman was firmly established in 2008 by a report conducted by the Authority for Electricity Regulation. Using data gathered over a five-year period, it showed that the Sultanate enjoys one of the highest solar energy density levels in the world. The total solar energy resources in Oman can theoretically cover all energy demands and provide for export as well. The report also demonstrated which parts of Oman might be the best suited to the development of solar power infrastructure. In general, the greatest potential was found to be in the

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The wider industrial sector is benefitting from an initiative undertaken by the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (PEIE), which has formulated a four-stage programme that aims to establish solar energy as a viable power option for industrial projects at the locations it operates across Oman. Stage one, completed in 2012, included conceptualisation, planning and trials for proof of concept. After a comparative analysis of technologies, concentrated photovoltaic was chosen as the most suitable, and the PEIE has embarked on the second and third stages of its strategy, Current plans call for the construction of a 500kw and 10mw plant at the Samayil Industrial Estate. Stage four, which will be undertaken between 2014 and 2020, will see the construction of more financially viable solar power plants in other industrial estates. In May 2012, South Korean firm Kwan Won Engineering installed a 1kw Desert Photovoltaic Test Bed System at Sultan Qaboos University, the first stage of a larger scheme in which it will invest in 50mw power plants in Duqm Industrial City. If the ambition of establishing Oman as a solar energy centre is to be realised, private sector investment will have to complement the current government-led approach. Already, there are signs that independent players are willing to invest in the nation’s fledgling solar sector.


Water Resources

Riding the investment wave The utilities sector is set to get a major boost as the construction of 16 power and water projects are in the pipeline

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he water sector in Oman is likely to remain active with a range of projects in the pipeline keeping investors interested in this stable Middle Eastern market. However, with demand expected to rise sharply, the country faces a challenge to keep up against limited supply growth. While Oman’s neighbours in the Persian Gulf have widely publicised their ambitions in the power and water sectors, particularly in the renewables space, Oman continues to mature, presenting opportunities not only for development of new generation and desalination capacity but also in the secondary market through the sale of performing assets. The country’s power and water authorities continue to support the privately held electricity and water developers to do business in the Sultanate through a number of independent water and power projects (IWPPs) and independent water projects (IWPs). The annual demand

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for power and water is expected to increase by 10 per cent and five per cent every year respectively. This prompts a renewed focus on IWPPs and IWPs. According to Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWPC) projections this year, peak power demand for Oman’s central system including the electricity production facilities at Ghubrah, Rusayl, Manah, Wadi alJizzi, Barka Phase I, Al Kamil, Sohar and Barka Phase II, is expected to double from 4,293mw in 2012 to 8,106mw in 2019. Peak water demand in Oman’s northern region, the interconnected Sur and Duqm zones, is expected to grow from 218mn metric cube in 2012 to 316mn metric cube in 2019. Construction is under way, however, to increase water supply. An independent water project that is expected to supply 1,91,000 metric cube of water per day is being built in Ghubrah. The plant is scheduled to become operational in 2014. The IWP will be built next to an existing power


Peak water demand in Oman’s northern region, the interconnected Sur and Duqm zones, is expected to grow from 218mn metric cube in 2012 to 316mn metric cube in 2019 ACWA power and desalination plant, Barka and desalination facility. However, unlike the majority of desalination plants, the new Ghubrah IWP will not be co-located with an electricity generation plant. Rather, the IWP will be powered with electricity from the grid system. With the initial call for tenders for the IWP project issued in September 2011, five companies have moved past the prequalification phase and have been short listed for the job. The winning bidder will be licensed to design, build, finance, own and operate the new facility. Another significant water project is the expansion of ACWA Power Barka (ACWA PB) desalination facility. Located around 65km up the coast from Muscat, the plant is the first privately funded water project in Oman. The OPWPC reports that the plant expansion should add roughly 45,000 metric cube of capacity per day, bringing the facility’s total desalination capacity to over 1,35,000 metric cube. Construction began in November 2012, and the IWP is

slated to become fully operational by the fourth quarter of 2013. In addition, a desalination plant with a capacity of 20,000 metirc cube of water per day is being built by Majis Industrial Services near the Port of Sohar, according to the data provided by OPWPC. Apart from increasing capacity, technological advances are also being made in this sector. One firm installed and commissioned its forward osmosis desalination plant at Al Najdah in Wusta governorate. Modern Water, a UK based water technology firm, is the first company in the world to commission a commercial forward osmosis desalination facility. Production at the 200 metric cube-per day-plant began in July 2012, and Modern Water has entered into a 12-month operation and maintenance stage. In addition to providing potable water to the nearby areas in the region, the Al Najdah plant is also working to increase the Omanisation of its work force.

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Company (SSPWC), the USD 1bn IWPP will supply power and water through a 15 year purchase agreement with the OPWPC. The new facility has a power capacity of 490mw and its water desalination capacity is almost 70,000 metric cube per day. Plans to build a second power plant in Dhofar were confirmed in 2012. Known as Salalah IPP2, the new facility is expected to generate a minimum of 200mw of electricity, increased to 300mw, when plans are finalised.

Steps are being taken to increase the water supply in the Sultanate. The PAEW is undertaking projects worth a total of USD339mn

A wastewater treatment plant at Azaiba

The Rural Areas Electricity Company (RAECO), which distributes power to remote areas within the country, operates six reverse osmosis water desalination plants; the water is sold at the station gate to the Public Authority of Electricity and Water (PAEW), which then distributes the water in bulk supply. Oman initially sourced its supply from ground water, but this began to change 20 years ago when the Sultanate’s first desalination plants were built. More have followed as demand for water continues to grow. This rising demand can be attributed to several factors, including economic development, growing population and the expansion of supply networks. Demand has been reduced to an extent as measures have been taken to decrease network losses. Steps are also being taken to increase the water supply. The PAEW is undertaking projects worth a total of USD 339mn. In the southern governorate of Dhofar another natural gas-fired power plant recently became operational. The IWPP successfully passed all its acceptance tests in 2012. Developed by Sembcorp Salalah Power and Water

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As demand for water continues to rise in the Sultanate, private and foreign investors are expected to play a greater role in the sector. Several projects are in the pipeline to increase supply. Private firms are taking the lead in a number of these developments. Oman’s water networks are primarily divided into two main areas, the Main Supply Zones (MSZs) which connects the north of Oman and the Salalah System, an isolated network in the south. OPWPC analysis of water networks in the MSZs is broken down into three zones. In terms of water demand, the Inter Connected Zone is the largest and includes the Muscat governorate. The most substantial growth in demand is predicted to occur in the Duqm Zone. OPWPC expects water requirements to increase by an average of 53 per cent per annum in Duqm between the periods of 2012 to 2018. While Oman’s neighbours in the Persian Gulf have widely publicised their lofty ambitions in the power and water sectors, particularly in the renewables space, Oman continues to mature, presenting opportunities not only for development of new generation and desalination capacity but also in the secondary market through the sale of performing assets. An expansion in wastewater treatment will also provide an additional boost to the local supply. Haya Water, the government-run company that handles wastewater management for the Muscat governorate, is aiming to help combat the annual 350mn metric cube nationwide shortage by expanding its catchment and treatment facilities, which include areas that supply storage for rain and other water runoff. The company, which provides water to residential, commercial and government facilities in Muscat, is aiming to achieve an 80 per cent network connectivity rate by 2018, which is up from the current 22 per cent. The strategy for water treatment is to integrate the full cycle of water resources in a sustainable scheme, from production, treatment and distribution to reutilisation.


Infrastructure

On the fast track The transportation sector in Oman has been earmarked for a major funding boost under the 2013 budget with a wave of upcoming projects

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man’s transport network expansion is a direct result of government policy that stresses the need to encourage public private partnerships (PPPs) and other forms of private sector involvement. In the Eighth Ffive-year Plan, USD75.88bn in total investment was earmarked for the period 2011-2015. A major chunk goes directly to transport infrastructure programmes, of which, USD4.18bn goes to airports, USD3.12bn to roads, and USD1.27bn to seaports.

Roadways The road network in the country is set for a dramatic upward shift with some challenging highway projects either under way or reported as being in the pipeline. In terms of length, the most ambitious of these schemes is a new Muscat-Salalah road. Linking north and south, the current highway is a dual carriageway from Muscat to Nizwa, but after that, it is single carriageway. The plan at present, which is still in the design phase, is to introduce grade separation the whole way, with a 71km stretch from Adam to Thumrait to be dualised. Parsons International was awarded the contract for design and construction supervision services for the NizwaThumrait stretch of the highway in July 2012 by MOTC. A second key roadway initiative is to further boost connectivity between Muscat and Sur, which lies 337km southeast of the capital. Sur is an important Liquefied

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Natural Gas (LNG) terminal, with an important port and growing population, yet its road connection to the capital has long been unsuited to modern traffic. This project commenced some years ago, with the section from Muscat to Bidbid complete. The intention now is to link Bidbid to Sur, a distance of approximately 200km, by dual carriageway. A third major project under way is the construction of a parallel highway to the one currently linking Muscat to Dubai in the UAE. The current highway is an extremely busy link route, both for business and tourism purposes leading to severe congestion. So construction of a new, 265km road, also referred to as the al Batinah Expressway project after the Omani region through which much of it passes, is now under way. The MOTC announced in September 2012 that the project has been divided into 11 different packages, with the total worth around USD2.59bn. The existing Muscat-Dubai road is also being upgraded. Under the Eighth Five Year Plan, the Nizwa-Thumrait road has been allocated USD632.33mn; the Bidbid-Sur road will receive USD607.03mn, while the al Batinah Expressway is to get another USD632.33mn. Municipal transport construction is also being rapidly developed. Muscat municipality has a challenging work schedule trying to keep pace with the expansion of the capital. The municipality used to carry out all of its


road construction in-house, but more recently it has started privatising certain services, such as surfacing and general maintenance.

Sea Ports Oman is ideally situated to meet the world shipping traffic passing through the Arabian Sea. Having ports spread 500km apart and serving different roles, as in Oman, makes more sense than what is happening in the Gulf, where there is overcapacity. The Sultan Qaboos Port in Muscat will be transformed into a tourism-oriented venue, while Sohar Port will expand its commercial and industrial strengths and Sur Port its LNG. Connecting these ports and thus transforming them into more effective, multimodal

hubs, is thus a key part of the road, rail and air building plan. In a decision aimed at accelerating Muscat’s transformation into a prime destination for tourism, HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said directed ministers in July 2011, to transfer Port Sultan Qaboos’ (PSQ’s) cargo and container operations 220km north-west to Sohar Industrial Port (SIP) in the al Batinah governorate. This will allow PSQ to function as a dedicated tourism port. Located south of the Strait of Hormuz, SIP is an integrated, fully operational, 6300-ha deep-sea industrial port with a draught of 18m. The port hosts petrochemicals, logistics and metals clusters. It is also undergoing one of the largest port development projects in the world, with investments of over USD14bn. SIP has evolved into an industrial port equipped with modern facilities. A 50-50 joint venture

The Al Batinah Expressway is to get USD632.33mn; The NizwaThumrait road has been allocated another USD632.33mn; the Bidbid-Sur road will receive USD607.03mn

Cruise at Port Sultan Qaboos

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extending all the way down the coast of the Sultanate from Muscat to Salalah. At 1061km, Oman’s stretch of the GCC railway should become a major asset to the country’s infrastructure and boost its transport and logistics sectors. This stretch of rail will cost the government more than USD5bn to develop and build.

The 1061km stretch of the GCC railway in Oman is costing the government more than USD5bn to develop a network that will boost its transport and logistics sectors

The national railway project is planned to unfold in three stages. The first will see a 136km link up between the UAE city of Al Ain and the industrial port of Sohar, with an 8km spur line to Buraimi. The line will then continue to Muscat, and thereafter to stations at Sinaw, Ibra, and the new port of Duqm. Stage two will connect Duqm to the southern port city of Salalah, while stage three will connect across the border to Yemen. Completion of the design phase is scheduled for the end of 2014, with the construction phase set to begin in mid to late 2014. between the government of Oman and the Port of Rotterdam, SIP is operated by Sohar Industrial Port Company (SIPC) and is International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) certified. Located on the coast, roughly halfway between Muscat and Salalah, the port of Duqm is the Sultanate’s newest maritime trade facility. It could also become one of its most important centres for ship repair and shipbuilding. The port is currently handling project cargo – oversized or overweight items for specific projects, mainly in oil and gas or construction – along 2200m of quayside. The Port of Salalah is also evolving into a multimodal transport centre, with air, road and, soon, rail links to local and global markets. In its next stage of development, running up to 2014, the port will see cargo capacity increase to more than 20m MT per annum, while a new liquid bulk facility should be able to handle more than 6m MT per year. The quay length is also set to rise to 3130m.

Railways The first phase of the GCC rail project is scheduled to be operational in late 2018, with the railway eventually

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Celebrating Oman’s 43rd Renaissance Day

Aviation The aviation sector expects heavy investments in the near future with six airport projects underway over the last few years, two involving the expansion and rebuilding of existing airports on the same sites, Muscat International Airport (MCT) and Salalah Airport (SLL), and four new regional airports on greenfield sites – Sohar, Adam, Ras al Hadd and Duqm. As per Eighth Five Year Development Plan, spending on airport development amounts to USD6.01bn. According to data from the Ministry of National Economy, USD4.81bn has been allocated to complete on going projects at MCT and SLL, with a further USD743.61mn earmarked to the latter for new projects. In addition, USD464.63mn has been allocated to develop the four regional airports.

Conclusion The next few years promise a significant transformation. New and expanded roads, a handful of new airports and airport extensions, and major port developments are under way, with opportunities for both local and international transport and logistics players also rapidly expanding.


Industry

Mood upbeat This year, PEIE is in the process of setting up an institute to train workers in developing technical and language skills and learn about work ethics and employees’ rights

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he industrial sector is one of the major sectors for achieving economic diversification plan. The Seventh Five Year Plan (2006-2010) had a strategy to achieve an annual growth rate of 11.7 per cent. The actual growth rate exceeded 18.8 per cent annually. The industrial sector earned total revenue of RO222.7mn during the beginning of the first quarter of 2012. It is about RO15.6mn higher than the revenue during the same period a year back. Although the contribution of industrial sector in the overall economy is relatively small compared to the oil and gas sector, but the industrial production is making an important contribution in the national economy. The share of the industrial activities currently is at more than 17 per cent of Oman’s overall GDP for the last couple of years until 2011. In the beginning of 2012, the industrial sector contributed RO1.09bn to the economy.

Sohar industrial hub

The Public Establishment for Industrial Estate (PEIE) plays a direct role on the ground so far as the industrial sites are concerned. It develops and manages a number of industrial estates, including the sites at Sohar, Rusayl, Nizwa, Al Mazunah Free Zone and Sur industrial estates. Apart from the estates for industrial manufacturing, it has developed a technology park, Knowledge Oasis Muscat. The PEIE also guides the industrial entrepreneur to understand the provision of incentives available to firms and facilitates the process of securing industrial permits necessary for setting up industries.

The Sohar Industrial Estate, owned and managed by PEIE, includes 60 operational businesses, of which 18 units are under construction and a further 44 businesses are expected to be implemented in the near future. The manufacturing units in SIE include marble, paper recycling, foodstuffs, detergents, leather, furniture, toothpaste, beverages, ice cream, resins, glass, steel bars, and engine oil. The Sohar Aluminum smelter (which has the world’s longest single pot line) is located in Phase Five of the industrial estate. A salient feature of the SIE is the low land rental charged to tenants.

Sohar industrial zone is now Oman’s most active industrial hub in the country. There are three manufacturing sites in Sohar: Sohar Industrial Port Area (SIPA), Sohar Free Trade Zone (SFZ) and Sohar Industrial Estate (SIE). In addition, there are local industrial areas planned by Ministry of Housing at Barka and Al Muwaylah (in Sohar) which are partially developed. It is envisaged that the high quality heavy industrial facilities in SIPA will further provide opportunities for downstream manufacturers. The heavy industrial activity in the industrial port area concentrates on the petrochemicals and metals sectors with supporting logistics facilities to service both freight and heavy industry.


The Sohar Free Zone is located approximately 5.0 km inland from Port of Sohar. The total project size of 4,500 hectares is to be developed in four phases with a possibility of further expansion.

Duqm free zone Duqm is one of the biggest free economic zones that is expected to attract huge foreign investments for the refineries and petrochemicals projects. Yahya bin Said al Jabri, Chairman of the Al Duqm Special Economic Zone Authority (SEZAD) said that the Authority along with other companies, operating in Duqm will be able to realise Sultanate’s aspirations into reality and turn the area into one of the main sources of public revenues, generating job opportunities in and around the free economic zone. He said that the government till now has invested about RO1.750bn to establish the infrastructure for SEZAD, a process in which Omran and Nawras have participated. The government investment to the area will increase gradually with its progress over the time, which extends

up to 2020. The field is now open for more investments by the local and foreign investors. The refinery work is expected to start in 2015 and be ready by 2018. The project will enhance the Sultanate’s position in the field of chemical industries and create more job opportunities for Omanis.

The contribution of the industrial sector in the economy is small compared to that of the oil and gas sector, but the industrial production is making an impact on national economy

Jabri informed that SEZAD is now zeroing in on developing the industrial area which would help it to receive small, medium and heavy industries by providing them with the required infrastructure and other industry related services. A need will be created for many light industries, such as carpentry, ironmonger, auto-repair, and aluminium workshops as the population is expected to reach 70,000 during the upcoming years. Oman is prepared for that demand as its industrial sector is showing impressive growth and is consistently pursuing its policy to diversify in the nonoil based economy. In this context, small and medium enterprises are expected to play a vital role in helping the country with their ability to innovate and diversify industrial output.

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Farm sector

Food security and sustainability The government is looking for ways to develop the industry and tackling challenges like over-fishing and water shortage

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he farming and fishing sector plays a vital role in the economic development of a nation. Approximately eight per cent of expatriates and over half the population of Oman are employed in this industry. Traditional methods of production have been in practice for centuries. But to increase the sector’s share, the government is constantly looking for innovative ways to develop and run the industry efficiently while tackling major challenges like over-fishing and water shortage.

Agriculture and livestock The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth (MoAFW) figures for 2010 show a year-on-year increase in production in all major crop-growing segments. The livestock data for Oman also shows similar growth. The

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population of cattle have risen extensively since the last major agricultural census of 2004/05. A high proportion of milk-producing cattle are kept. However, an increasing amount of beef has been shipped from the southern to the northern region as the demand is rising.

Undersea Oman has a coastline of 3165km and a nutrient-rich produce thrives on the deep ocean shelf. A small population and less pollution have kept these resources preserved. The locals, too, have continued to engage in traditional fishing activity. According to MoAFW, over 36,000 nationals have been employed in this segment. Many of these individuals use traditional canoes with a simple motor, but account for a majority of the nation’s annual catch. The Arabian Sea is home to a wide variety


Oman that has a coastline of 3165km and nutrient-rich produce thrives on the deep ocean shelf. A small population and less pollution have kept these resources preserved Farming on the Batinah plains of staple and valuable fish like kingfish, abalone and lobster. Recently, commercial techniques of fishing focused operations on finding bottom-feeding fish. Environmental concerns that threatened traditional fishing communities by indiscriminate hunting led to a complete ban on deep-sea trawl on 2009 which eventually resumed in 2011. The regulatory changes haven’t adversely affected production levels but 2010 saw an increase in the production of fish by 3.4 per cent over a catch of 167,000 tonnes in the prior year. Seafood is a staple of the Omani diet, but the country has successfully established its export of fish products. UAE happens to be the largest importer and takes 57 per cent of the total volume, as of 2010. The rest of the world includes, the GCC (19.5 per cent), Asia (7 per cent), MENA (6.9 per cent), EU (2.7 per cent) and Africa (1 per cent).

Outlook The agriculture and fisheries sector has been facing a number of challenges, however, it has prioritised in the national strategy and the existence of a clearly defined government investment programme for its future development. The success will only depend on the government’s ability to encourage private investments.

Expansion The government has committed to more than USD1.3bn to the Omani fisheries sector in a series of investments that will lay the groundwork for growth in the industry and open new opportunities for private businesses. The goal of the government’s investments is to create an industry that can meet the demand of the local

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“By 2020, there will be 31 fishing ports in all. Each will have land available for investors to set up their own projects. As of now, Oman has 21 ports. The construction of four new ports will begin soon, and six more are in design, tender and other stages,” added Al Oufi. In addition to these infrastructure investments, the partially state-owned Oman Fisheries Company (OFC) has committed significant resources to establishing new processing plants, expanding its fishing fleet and building ties with independent fishermen. OFC has announced that it would build processing plants in Duqm and Barka, each with a capacity of 35 tonnes per day, while facilities already under construction in Salalah and Soqrah will be operational by next season. The company also has plans to develop a black tiger shrimp farm, for which it is seeking a strategic partner, according to Mohammed bin Hamad al Masrouri, chairman of the board. While investments from the state and private enterprises will lead to higher capacity and output in the coming years, addressing several issues could help ensure that these gains are sustainable and have a positive impact on the estimated 36,000 citizens employed in the industry.

A fishing boat near coast of Sur market along with boosting fish exports, the investment for which, according to the UN data, is worth USD95m. The main element of this investment includes the construction of ports and processing facilities. The port in Duqm is set to be the largest processing facility in the Middle East. Tenders for the construction of the port have already been submitted and work has begun. However, work on the processing unit is yet to begin. Hamed bin Said Al Oufi, the under-secretary for fisheries wealth at the MaFW, said to The Times of Oman, “As soon as we have the fisheries port contracted, we will start floating the tender for the industrial estate, as the two projects will go hand-in-hand.” By establishing modern ports across the Sultanate, the government is also making efforts to ensure that many coastal cities are included in the development of the industry.

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Celebrating Oman’s 43rd Renaissance Day

Oman’s coastal cities have a long tradition of fishing and it is a key economic resource for many communities. However, some of the techniques used are centuries old. OFC has taken steps such as providing ice to independent fishermen as well as interest-free loans for the purchase of boats, engines and other equipment. Storing more frozen fish could also help boost exports. In recent years the MaFW has limited foreign sales of certain types of fish during the summer months, when rough seas discourage fishermen and domestic demand rises. By announcing its commitment to developing the fisheries industry, the government has helped ensure that the sector will continue to be an important part of the Sultanate’s future. Following the completion of the infrastructure improvements over the coming years, commercial fisheries in Oman should see strong growths in harvesting and administering capacity, with potential investment opportunities in all aspects of production.


A farm in Wadi Ghul

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Education

Measures of progress Oman is taking rapid strides in both public and private sectors with an increased focus on research programmes

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he dire need for creating a public education system in Oman was strongly felt by its new government in the early 70s. In the initial years, it became the country’s priority area. A significant portion of the proceeds from hydrocarbons fortune were spent on this sector. From two schools in Muscat and Salalah, the system has today grown into a superstructure that reflects the growth of the Sultanate as a modern economy. For the last two decades, the government has implemented a plan to develop an education system that would cater to Oman’s economic diversification and self-sufficiency. The new “Basic Education Programme” of the late 1990s emphasised on core subjects like English, maths, ICT and applied sciences cruicial for creation of knowledge economy. Through this, reflective thinking and the ability to analyse was encouraged

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as opposed to rote learning of the previous system. According to the Ministry of Education (MOE), 79 per cent of the schools have adopted the new system. With girls representing 50.7 per cent of total student numbers, one can say that Oman’s education system has upheld gender equality. Under the new system, schooling is organised in two series, covering grades one to four (primary) and five to 10 (secondary). In a further two years of post-basic education, students opt for either arts or sciences, and upon completion, are awarded with a secondary school leaving certificate. The governmentrun schools are filled up with nationals only. Oman, more particularly Muscat, has a booming private school segment, which developed as a demand from the expatriate community. Schools accommodating the expatriate children or international schools that offer


For the last two decades, the government has implemented a plan to develop an education system that would cater to Oman’s economic diversification and self-sufficiency their British or American curricula to a cross section of nationalities have made their presence felt across the country. Providing learners with greater proficiency in the English language is one of their core strengths. There are 153 such institutions for which Muscat can be called the hub of Oman’s private school segment, the next in line being the northern Al Batinah region. The MoE oversees the public and private school system. More general educational policies ensue from the Basic Statute of State issued by law. This regulation caters to the MoE’s educational objectives, the main thrust of which is scientific thinking and promotion of research work. With regard to private schools, the MoE can authorise their establishment and look after various needs. The market is not typically about formal learning only. Sustained investment has broadened its scope. Under

the special education system, about 196 teachers were employed in 2010 and 2011 for the disabled children at primary level.

Growth of higher education Oman’s higher education sector is a blend of public and private enterprise. With the founding of Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) in 1986, the state-owned university system had started operating. Prior to this, Omani students aspiring for university education had to leave homeland for adjacent Arab countries or UK or US. With SQU, students now got the chance to study closer to home. Four more colleges were added in recent times to the existing five under SQU. In the academic session of 2010/11, more than 17,000 students were enrolled in SQU, which has earned its reputation as a centre of teaching, research and community activities.

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The six state run Colleges of Applies Sciences (CAS), located in regional cities, with a student population of 8000, have gone through different functions. Evolving from teacher training facilities, they have now started offering five degree programmes that include IT, international business, communication studies, design and engineering. The government also provides vocational education at tertiary level. The Higher College of Technology with more than 10,000 students is presently the second-largest after SQU. Upgraded in 2001, the college offers programmes up to undergraduate level. This apart, there are six other technical colleges at Salalah, Ibra, Al Musanaa, Niza, Shinas and Ibri that offer programmes up to higher diploma levels in IT, business, science and engineering. Along with vocational training, good grooming and impeccable style is becoming integral to look the part in any corporate set up. So, institutions are offering behavioural training as its popularity is increasing. By the middle of 1990s, Omanis settled abroad approached the government for raising the domestic capacity in tertiary sector and this has accelerated the growth of the private sector in education arena. Since 2000, a number of positive measures have been initiated to accelerate the growth of Higher Education Institutions, which included land grants and a matching grant system for private universities. Omani students now had the option to choose between public and private higher education. Private colleges burgeoned in recent years, and there are a total of 19 in 2012. Seven private universities have also been established in Muscat, Sohar, Dhofar, Nizwa, Buraimi and Sharqiyah. The German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech), was founded in Oman in 2007 in collaboration with Aachen University. It should be mentioned in this context that private colleges are now zeroing in on growing sectors that require trained workforce. The Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) oversees operation and development of the public Colleges of education, Teacher Training Colleges, SQU, and private universities and colleges. The Higher Education Admission Centre, which manages a graduates survey system and an in-house survey system, has been able to take the role of MoHE one octave higher as the

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government can now match the needs of the labour market with the output of higher education institutions.

Rise in research activity A significant rise is seen in research activity. In addition to USD1.3mn from His Majesty’s Trust Fund Grants to pursue strategically important long-term projects, the reputed SQU research centre receives USD1.3 mn from the internal university. Fund is also generated for the centre by the regional and global agencies, industry and individuals. A national body, The Research Council (TRC) set up in 2005, grants 70 per cent of its fund to SQU. TRC is to promote and act as a focal point for research and innovation in the country. It plays an active role in promoting open research and strategic research in private sector institutions. Caledonian College of Engineering is a direct beneficiary of TRC. With TRC grant, GUtech undertook a study of local sustainable urbanisation, and Dhofar University is conducting research on the optimal use of Oman’s resources. As a facilitator for research activity, TRC in tandem with group of institutions, monitor and enact reform across the entire education sector. The Eight Plan (2011—2015) has granted the highest spending allocation over other sectors in the 2011 budget at RO927mn (USD2.42bn) - 34 per cent of the total current expenditure. The government will further channelise RO5.9bn (USD15.4bn) to the sector. In return, the government expects to bring about the growth of primary education and reach full enrolment rates. It will also try to bridge the gap between industry and institutions. Fundamental indicators, such as, lowering illiteracy rates along with maximising exposure to formal education, are the main areas of concern for the government. Ministry of Education, in recent times, has provided access and communication links to other government bodies in its portal. The intention is to develop skills in workplace. The e-learning programme is available for students by means of which students can attend interactive virtual classes or go for a self-paced learning system.

A challenge to overcome English-language proficiency is still a major issue. World-wide it has become the dominating language for business. A balancing act needs to be done here. The need to remain rooted to the culture but at the same


time to remain connected to the contemporary world has become imperative for Omanis. For this reason, MoE is revising English teaching practices in private schools. In this reform, external experts, other ministries and NGOs are actively participating to voice their opinions to overcome this challenge. Education had been the priority of Oman’s government since its first Renaissance Day. Over the time, the sector has grown significantly and the commitment is reinforced in the Eighth Plan, the outlay for which shows a 48 per cent increase over that of the previous plan. Construction of 15 new schools, 32 expansion projects, and 65

extensions to meet the growth of student numbers by 2015, are on the anvil. Along with this, private schools are expected to grow, thanks to the presence of the expatriate community in Oman. Expansion is anticipated in every sphere of this sector. While SQU remains the primary institution in higher learning, private sector is rapidly progressing and is expected to absorb a higher number of high school graduates in the coming years. Research activity will go beyond the realm of SQU, owing to investments from TRC and private sector. His Majesty’s progressive outlook has stood Oman in good stead and all the expansion programmes will take the country to its next level of development.

In 2010-2011, more than 17,000 students were enrolled in Sultan Qaboos University, which has earned its reputation as a centre of teaching, research and community activities

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Health

Striving for excellence The investments that the private sector is making now is a pointer to a future when the sector will play a larger role in health care

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urrent health indicators in Oman show a remarkable progress, thanks to the huge investment into the sector in the country. From just two 12-bed hospitals and 10 clinics in 1970, today a public healthcare system has emerged that cater to Oman’s major cities and interiors. Citizens now have access to public medical facilities based on a three-tiered system, operated by Ministry of Health (MOH). Primary health care is delivered through 150 health care centres and extended health centres, spread across the country. Services that are offered at this level are mother and child treatment, the prevention of common ailments, and awareness building exercise in major health issues. Each region has one regional hospital and a number of wilayat hospitals, through which secondary care, both ambulatory and in-patient,

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is delivered. These referral institutions provide services in general medicine and general surgery, cardiology, obstetrics, and other in fields. MOH runs hospitals and health centres at national, regional, sub-regional and local levels, which are integrated in a referral chain. Tertiary care is delivered through national referral hospitals, Royal Hospital, Khoula Hospital, Ibn Sina Hospital and Al Nadha Hospital. All these referral hospitals operate specialist facilities, such as the Royal Hospital’s oncology unit, which has undergone expansion in 2012. Royal Hospital enjoys the position of an apex institution within the MOH system. Other national hospitals enjoy autonomy to an extent as they fall under the jurisdiction of the Directorate General of Health Services of Muscat Governorate. The public health care system run by MoH comprises 50 hospitals and 176 health centres. The therapeutic


services provided in MOH hospitals are supplemented by other government hospitals or clinics run by the Sultan Qaboos University, Ministry of Defence, Royal Oman Police and the Petroleum Development Oman. It includes five hospitals, 45 dispensaries and primary health care centres altogether. To sum up, now there are 5847 beds per 10,000 people.

Sur and Salalah. Among the recent arrivals are New Life Healthcare Centre, which focuses on genetic research, the Starcare Hospital of UK-based Starcare healthcare systems and the Sagar Polyclinic from India. It is in the Polyclinic segment that the private sector has made the most impact. According to MOH statistics, 814 private clinics now operate in Oman, compared to 471 in 1995.

The private sector landscape looks much more impressive from what it was half a decade back. There are seven private hospitals with a combined bed capacity of 279, the largest of them being the Muscat Private Hospital. It has out-patient and in-patient services across major specialities, including a diagnostic centre with CT scanning and MRI capability. The Badr Al Samaa group is the largest private health care group in Oman, operating eight hospitals and polyclinics in areas like Al Khuwair, Al Khoud, Barka, Nizwa, Sohar,

New developments

Set to launch in 2016, the International Medical City will be developed in a tranquil backdrop on the Arabian Sea coast, Salalah, where patients will stay in a supportive environment with their families

In the public segment, the construction on the new Sultan Qaboos Hospital project in Salalah began in 2012. Once completed, the five-story hospital will offer facilities for paediatric emergency services, general medicine and surgery, orthopaedics, psychiatry, neorosurgery and radiology. The proposed Muscat General Hospital to be established near the international airport currently lies at planning stage. It would be

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the secondary hospital to service the Muscat city. A number of new facilities are also planned by the MOH in Dhofar Governorate by 2015. Set to launch in 2016, the International Medical City (IMC) will be developed in a tranquil backdrop on the Arabian Sea coast, east Salalah, where patients may stay in a supportive environment with their families. The master plan was recently completed by PSOMAS, a leading US-based consulting transportation and infrastructure engineering firm. Allocated by the Ministry of Tourism and partnered by the Ministry of Health, the project sprawls across 870,000sqm waterfront plot. A multi-phased development, IMC fills up a gap in the healthcare sector in the region through expert services for which patients from the GCC often have to fly to Europe and the US. The development will house region’s first multi-specialty transplant centre, Oman’s first 250-bed tertiary care multi-specialty hospital, a hightech diagnostic centre, a healthcare resort, a wellness centre, a luxury hotel, medical and nursing colleges and a purpose-built research and development centre complex. Developed by the Saudi based Apex Medical Group, the project will be implemented in three phases. In the first phase, development of infrastructure will begin this year. There is scope for private investment in specialised tertiary care and organ transplantation as these areas are identified with an increasing gap between supply and demand. MOH plays a pivotal role in the healthcare system. From health system design, to development of new policies and programmes, the ministry also serves as the major regulatory body for health services, including the supervision of drugs and pharmaceuticals as well as patient care. It sponsors patients to travel abroad in cases where the required facilities are not available in Oman. All requests or recommendations for overseas treatment are processed through a ‘Treatment Abroad Committee.’ MOH is responsible for the registration of drug manufacturers and products, control of narcotics and other controlled drugs, issuance of the necessary customs clearances for import and re-export of drugs. Very recently, MOH has issued a drugs policy by which it retains control over pharmaceutical prices in the retail market. Responsible for private pharmacy licensing, it monitors the functioning of the private pharmacies. The current five-year plan takes the developments

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Celebrating Oman’s 43rd Renaissance Day

made in primary health care infrastructure and services to its next level. It also focuses on the improvement of secondary and tertiary health care through increasing hospital autonomy. Developing human capital, boosting blood services and attracting non-remunerated donors are its other areas of concern. The main objective is to reduce mortality rate due to disease. A special attention is drawn to the provision of sanitary drainage services. While capacity building and infrastructural development remain the two areas of growth in the national fiveyear plan, MOH is pursuing a new level of efficiency in the existing system. Primary health care centres are now sufficiently equipped to alleviate the pressure on secondary and tertiary systems. The 28 new health centres that will be opened across the country as part of the current plan are expected to address this issue successfully.

Combatting challenges Development in infrastructure and treatments has almost eradicated communicable diseases in the country, such as measles, malaria and typhoid. But with the progress in economy, with an altered Omani lifestyle, affluence has brought in sedentary lifestyle which has given rise to non-communicable diseases. Despite vast improvements in healthcare system, this is posing as a new challenge to public health. According to MOH, 15 per cent of the population suffers from diabetes, while 25 per cent is clinically obese. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are on the rise and in 2011 accounted for around 50 per cent of outpatient morbidity in the Sultanate, up from 42.5 per cent in 1966 as per MOH data. MOH has addressed the issue at the right time and attempts to reverse the trend. Screening and treatment programmes at hospitals and clinics are meant for diabetes. A National Centre for Diabetes and Endocrine Systems is coming up as proposed by the Eighth Plan. Screening programmes at national level for other non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, obesity, etc have been there since 2007. MOH also runs educational campaigns to raise awareness.

Private sector participation Experienced medical consultants working part time in the private sector has been able to sustain the growth of Oman’s private health care sector. In its country co-operation strategy for the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognizes the steps taken with regard to developing a private health care sector


The government has taken steps to encourage private sector participation in the healthcare sector with incentives like granting of free land, technical support, as well as soft loans in Oman. Catering to a burgeoning population, the healthcare system is gradually becoming financially heavy. The government has taken steps to encourage private sector participation in the healthcare sector with incentives like granting of free land, technical

support, and soft loans. As a result, expansion of private healthcare facilities has taken big strides and come to the aid of MOH. The kind of investment the private sector is making now is a pointer to a future when the sector will play a larger role in health care services.

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Art & Culture

Safeguarding cultural heritage Heritage, culture and arts lie at the core of Oman’s history, which is an integral part of nation’s identity

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man’s cultural heritage, which represents literature, culture and the arts, is reputed in the region and beyond. The government of Oman makes efforts to preserve its past for its posterity as well as visitors. The Ministry of Heritage and Culture (MOHC), the Sultan Qaboos Higher Centre for Culture and Science, the Omani Society for Fine Arts, the Oman Centre for Traditional Music, the Cultural Club, the Literary Association, the Oud Hobbyists Association, the Photographic Society, the National Records and Archives Authority and the Public Authority for Craft Industries speak of the cultural diversity of the country. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos took an active interest in the founding of a number of academic chairs at universities. He established a Sultan Qaboos Award for Culture, Arts and Literature in 2012 as a support for the country’s talented writers, artists and thinkers, and unveiled the Royal Opera House in Muscat. Oman’s cultural scene

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is alive with the old and new, local and foreign. The Royal Opera House, opened officially in October 12, 2011, and is the nation’s premier venue for performing arts. While initiatives have been taken at home to promote culture and arts and preserve the country’s legacy, Oman has achieved numerous cultural and artistic feats within the Arab countries and international arenas.

Conservation of forts In tandem with these initiatives, the Ministry of Heritage and Culture (MOHC) has taken practical measures to protect the country’s antiquities. Visitors as well as Omanis marvel at Oman’s old forts and castles, which are very typical of this region. Apart from the restoration work on forts, castles and old residential quarters, the MOHC runs museums and carries out excavations on prehistoric sites.


While initiatives have been taken at home in all fronts to preserve the country’s legacy, Oman has achieved numerous cultural and artistic feats within the Arab countries and global arenas

A folklore performance

It also prints copies of old manuscripts as well as publishes contemporary cultural bulletins, holds cultural weeks to boost ties with neighbouring countries and promote creative talents. Other major players in the cultural fields include the Diwan of Royal Court, Sultan Qaboos University, the Ministry of Tourism. They are focusing on renovation of forts and castles, transforming them into cultural and tourist attractions. In 2012, the restoration of Bahla Castle, al Musana’ah Fort and Bait al Maqham Fort in the wilayat of Bausher was complete.

Heritage sites Oman has a rich past with remnants of history strewn all across the country. Enormous importance is attached to these archaeological and cultural sites. Global best

practices and cutting edge technology are applied to the conservation of these vestiges of ancient civilisation. The Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, aided by foreign organisations, are converting some of its important heritage sites into archaeological park. While the directorate is working with Italian firms for Ras Al Hamra, it has reached an agreement with an American Japanese joint mission for Bat, a world heritage site and Qalhat. A major potential cultural and tourist attraction, the historic city of Qalhat is now undergoing excavation work. The aerial archaeological survey brought to light the old city walls, lanes and passageways between the houses and towers at various points. Oman has been an active partner with UNESCO for many years and has four heritage sites. Those four are the ancient aflaj irrigation systems, archaelogical sites at Bat, Al Khutum,

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Sites on which restoration work is complete and open to the public Forts and castles of Sumail, al Araqi, al Kamazirah, Bait al Marah and Mirbat

Restoration work on other sites Al Adfin Fort in the wilayat of Wadi Bani Khalid, al Wasil Fort in the wilayat of Bidyah, the al Sulaif quarter in the wilayat of Ibri, al Aswad Fort in the wilayat of Shinas and al Rustaq Castle, the Harat al Bilad quarter (traditional houses) in the wilayat of Manah and the Al Busaid quarter in the wilayat of Adam in the Dakhiliyah Governorate

The main reading room has 70 seats while the individual reading room has 18 and has a special computer hall with 24 seats.

Bait al Baranda

Al Ain; the Bahla Fort, and the Land of Frankincense, which includes areas of Frankincense trees at Wadi Dawka as well as a series of caravan routes that lie in the proximity. In 2010, Oman became the first Arab country to gain a place on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural heritage list. It was announced in September 2012 that the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Bat al Khutum and Al Ayn in the Dhahirah Governorate, first discovered in the 1970s, will be under intense study by a team of French and Japanese researchers from this year. These sites form an array of settlements and burial grounds from the third millennium BC. To aid the continuation of research into the preservation of heritage sites, a British university has been awarded a research and consultancy grant by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture.

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The Diwan of Royal Court also manages the Public Knowledge Library in Qurm, established by PDO in 1990 on the occasion of the 20th National Day. Apart from books, the library contains videos and journals. The on-line library ‘Knowledge Planet’, initiated by Digital Oman began in 2004, and now has more than 40,000 documents. Cambridge University’s Islamic Records Authority in the UK has granted a research scholarship to the library which aims to analyse, index and digitalise 2,500 Omani records, which in course of time will form part of the e-library. Digital Oman has also launched a section for the visually impaired, called the Library of Light in 2012. Future plans include a digital museum and a children’s digital library.

Museum segment

Public Libraries

Oman’s museum segment has been developed in the recent past through public and private investment. This expansive infrastructure is supervised by MOHC’s Directorate of Archaeology and Museums. Four of the major museums come under MOHC: The Natural History Museum (1985), Oman’s Children Museum (1990), which are the two most popular public sector museums, and the Omani French Museum (1992) and the Museum of Heritage and Culture.

Hisn al Shamoukh Library in the wilayat of Manahn, sprawling across 3,000 sqm, was established under the instruction of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos in August 2012.

Sohar Museum, which opened in 1993, is presently closed to public view for renovation. Museums like Muscat gate


and popular Armed Forces Museum are run by other government agencies like Diwan of Royal Court and the Ministry of Defence respectively. For some years, Bait al Zubair Foundation Museum, a private sector institution, established in 1998 by Zubair family, has been operating virtually as a national museum of the Sultanate. Housing the finest private collection of Omani artefacts in the country, the museum’s operation is funded by the Zubair group. A pioneer in the adoption of curatorial methods, the museum is a venue for cultural events, workshops and conferences. Bait al Zubair’s role was so exemplary that in 2010, MOHC introduced new regulations to oversee the activities of a rapidly growing segment of private museums. The regulation focuses on collection authenticity, display criteria and building norms and facilities. As a result of this, the MOHC has officially certified three museums -- Bait al Zubair, the Modern Art Museum and the Omani Costume Museum. It should be mentioned here that the total visitor numbers in all MOHC museums reached 49,473, a fall from the previous year; the reason could be the closure of two museums for renovation. Scheduled for completion in 2014, a public sector museum, which could be Oman’s largest, is coming up in the government quarter of Muscat. The new National Museum occupies a 27,500 sqm plot and will house 13 permanent galleries, displaying more than 6000 Omani objects. While the names of UK based design consultants Jasper and Jacob and Carillion are approved for consultancy and construction, international cultural organisations are expected to be involved in exhibition, research, restoration and management. Oman’s living traditional culture is promoted and safeguarded by the MOHC’s Directorate of Traditional Arts. The directorate oversees competitions in the traditional dances of different locales, and operates an array of festivals, such as Omani theatre festival, Omani song festival, Omani poetry festival, the Omani traditional music and art festival, a cinema festival held in association with the Omani Association for Cinema. The unwritten history of the Sultanate is relived through the Oral History Project. Oman itself is a treasure trove and being in a

geographically strategic location, cultural objects from abroad enter the country en route to respective destinations. Though a relatively new concept in Oman, and trafficking of objects is not very commonplace in Oman, the Ministry of Heritage and Culture is taking steps to create awareness about trafficking of cultural property. In February, this year, a workshop was organised to train and educate ministry staff as well as other authorities dealing with the issue.

Folk arts and musical instruments at Bait al Baranda

Hassan al Lawati, director general of archeology and museums at MoHC, said, “Oman is a pioneer in terms of heritage in the region, and as a member of the UNESCO’s 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, we are ready to help the international community to protect cultural objects from any country.”

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Art & Culture

Fostering cultural tourism Anne Bouji emphasises that you’re never too young nor too old to learn to enjoy music

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he Royal Opera House Muscat is the leading arts and culture organisation in the Sultanate of Oman. Located in Muscat, its vision is to serve as a centre of excellence in global cultural engagement, to strive to enrich lives through diverse artistic, cultural, and educational programmes.

the Royal Opera House will play a major role in helping to promote Oman’s role as a ‘cultural’ destination. The education and outreach initiatives of the Royal Opera House Muscat will be able to support that aspect the cultural tourism as well as serving to enrich the lives of all of those fortunate enough to live in Oman, be the citizens or expatriates.

In order to help both young and old to explore and appreciate musical diversity, to foster an understanding of various aspects of world music as well as develop a greater understanding of Arab music. To this end, the Royal Opera House Muscat provides a stage where the rich and diverse artistic talents of Oman, the region, and the world can be showcased to inspire audiences and nurture creativity with innovative programmes; foster cultural vitality and unleash talent; promote cultural tourism; and put cultural diplomacy into practice by invigorating global and multi-disciplinary collaboration and exchange.

For the young, the educational and outreach programmes can change lives, by impacting in quite a significant way on the lives of young people in their formative years when they are eager to learn and can instil in them, the love of music and the arts while at the same time engaging their parents in outreach programmes. With this in mind the Royal Opera House Muscat, presented several shows for families and children such as

As Oman continues to grow as a tourist destination

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Rimsky Korsakov’s Tsar Saltan and Saint-Saëns’ Carnivals of the Animals with animation and live narration in Arabic. The aim of course, was to introduce students to the classical arts. In all, 1800 students and their teachers


A rendition by an orchestra group

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The Royal Opera House provides a stage where the rich and diverse artistic talents of Oman, the region, and the world can be showcased to inspire audiences and nurture creativity

A choir group performs for students were invited to attend free matinée performances over a two-day period. These performances were extremely successful and enjoyable, as for many of the students this was their first opportunity to visit a building as magnificent as the Royal Opera House and certainly it was their first opportunity to watch a classical performance. Similarly, when Prokofiev’s ballet ‘Cinderella’ was performed, 200 students from various schools were invited to attend the performance. Special needs children were given an opportunity to listen to a unique performance from the Vienna Boys Choir who performed for 77 students and their teachers from the Omar bin Al-Khattab School for the blind; when a special concert was performed for the first time in the south entrance area where the acoustics were wonderful and the choir’s voices reverberated throughout the hall with its magnificent high ceiling. Many of us love to attend the ballet or the opera, because we enjoy the music, because it is different, because it reminds us of some of the things we miss from home, but I wonder how many of us really know all that much about the performance we attend? The Royal Opera House has the answers to all the questions

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that may have been lurking in the back of our minds about the plot or the composer. Their dedicated and specialised staff are on hand to provide preperformance talks to inform us, the audience about the significance of the programme we are about to see and provide inside information about the production. The talks are informal and are designed to engage us with the creative process of the production, thus providing an opportunity to enhance our evening at the theatre and deepen our understanding of the production by helping us understand the plot, style, historical significance, and musical analysis. All we have to do is turn up an hour before the performance. For those who want to know more about the Royal Opera House Muscat as a building, its beauty and architecture, there are open days and guided tours available. These are available in English as well as Arabic and are very popular with residents as well as tourists. I am confident that this is a feature that will continue to grow, as like the Grand Mosque, the Royal Opera House Muscat becomes one of the most popular stops on the tourist trail and most photographed building in the country; and rightly so.


The Royal Opera House auditorium

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Women

Leaps of progress Although their struggles are far from over, Omani women continue to rise and prosper

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is Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said has always been an enthusiastically avid supporter of women and their rights in Oman. From the first day of coming into power, one of his major goals has been to encourage and help empower women into becoming more active members of the society. The results have not been fruitless; it’s 40 years later and Oman Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time in history in 2010 while also celebrating International Women’s Day the same year. In response to the Royal directives of His Majesty the Sultan, October 17 is thus allocated every year as the day for the Omani women. A non-profit campaign whose aim was to highlight achievements of the Omani women, especially those who had become role models in different regions, was launched in 2010. A group of youths sitting at the helm of this initiative, Omani Women Campaign, were proud over what the country had accomplished in terms of women empowerment in the past 40 years of glorious Renaissance. Through events, competitions, media, marketing and internet; the campaign’s aim was to ensure that there was a direct interaction with society. Capacity building programmes and meetings on a national level, to help build women’s confidence and increase their involvement in the workings of their society were also a fundamental part of the initiative. It focused on educating citizens on how to expand a woman’s horizon and participation in the development and education of her society, as well as raised public

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awareness about the available opportunities for the Omani women. Another notable coup for the women in Oman was the ‘My Message’ campaign, whose aim was to create the longest message in the world at 2,000 metres long and 1.25 wide. This message carried notes of gratitude, praises and loyalty from the Omani women to His Majesty the Sultan. The message covered three main themes namely safety and security, equal opportunities and obligations and social justice. This ambitious project was truly a testament to the care accorded and the blessings showered on the Omani women by His Majesty the Sultan in the last four decades. The message was recorded in the Guinness book of records as being the longest message in the world. The year 2013 is promising great leaps in the empowering of women in Oman, especially with the increasing globalisation of their issues. Issuing women roles in decision making processes, encouraging women to take up business leadership roles, reducing rampant practices of violence against women and furthering education for women are the areas that are top priorities right now. Tackling issues of women in developing and under-developed regions will also gear a lot of focus. The very first Oman Extraordinary Women Conference also inaugurated in July 2013. The conference saw remarkable women from different walks of life focus on the role of working women in the corporate world,


‘My Message’ campaign was an ambitious project that was truly a testament to the care and the blessings showered on the Omani women by His Majesty in the last four decades touching upon aspects like entrepreneurship and achievements in different industrial positions. The Conference took place under the patronage of the Ministry of Education. Accomplished women such as Naashiah Al Kharusi - Chairperson of Oman Women Association and Member of State Council, Dr. Kiran Bedi - Former Indian Police Service and India’s first and highest (woman) ranking officer, Ms. Sherifa Hady - EG

Distribution Manager of Middle East , Mediterranean and Africa, Ms. Sherry Colbourne – President and social mogul and many others imparted words of wisdom and empowerment. The past, present and future roles of women, were thoroughly examined and discussed in the seminars. The current difficulties being faced by women today, the need for women to break traditional mindsets by stepping out of their comfort zones and the steps they need to take towards progress was the theme of the year.

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FU T U RESCOP E


Infrastructure

Redefining Oman Duqm, a new city is in the making in Oman. In course of time, it will serve as a predominant economic growth engine of the country

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man was not the same in the 70s. “It looked different from what it is today,” says Ismail Balushi, deputy CEO of Special Economic Zone Authority, Duqm. Catering to 30,000 people, there was only one health centre in the vicinity of his house. Traditional candlelight was the only source of light under which he studied till an improvised appliance was introduced in the market. This continued until the 80s, when electricity came to Oman.

Ismail A. Ibrahim Al Balushi

Deputy CEO, Special Economic Zone Authority, Duqm

Balushi narrated an incident from those early days, which he still cherishes in his memory. “It was 1977. I was in grade one, put under the care of an Egyptian teacher, Ibrahim Abul Hassan. It was 10 in the morning, our timeout for playing football. After the game was over, we were relaxing under a tree. Suddenly, a series of cars went past our school. One came directly to the tree where we sat. It was parked close to us and the window rolled down For the first time I saw His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. He called us and he had a talk with all our teachers. We heard him saying, “Please take care of my kids.” When he left, the teacher said, “You know, I always wanted to see my President. But I never thought even in my dreams that my President would really approach us and say this to us. I never ever thought I will ever meet another country’s king or president. Kids, if you have such a leader, your country will be the best one day.” It is true. It is due to His Majesty’s leadership that Oman has emerged stronger. I am very glad that Oman is in safe hands. The kind of care the government takes for Oman’s citizens is exemplary. If you compare that period of time to what it is today, the transformation is awe-inspiring.”

In his own words as Balushi continues, “All that Oman needs is good infrastructure and education. We have achieved that to a great extent. We have one of the finest road networks and other infrastructures in the GCC. Over the years, we have reached many milestones. But at present, instead of basking in the glory of what we have achieved so far, we should look at the potential of the flow of trade and investment within the country.” In 2011, Oman initiated a new phase in the formation of free zones by establishing Al Duqm Special Economic Zone Authority (SEZAD). Keeping in line with the Master Plan, the Duqm region, which is three times the size of Bahrain as a country and two times and half of Singapore, is envisioned as a world class investment vehicle in partnership with the private sector along with Oman’s government, which plays an active role in infrastructure development. Not only to serve as a predominant economic growth engine, Duqm is also geared to step up the economic growth model, which is a significant strategic task concerning the country’s overall economic and social development. SEZAD seeks to advance government’s strategic objectives within the broader frame-work of industrial and regional development, job creation, transfer of modern technology and economic diversification further through favourable environment. No doubt that development of utilities is crucial to the Sultanate’s vision of promoting SEZAD to a competitive socio-economic platform with world-class facilities and

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of a comprehensive system of infrastructure and utility support services. Road building is segregated in seven different packages, three are already in progress of which, Package 1 is 70 per cent over. This is in addition to the ongoing projects in the fields of energy and gas, ports, petrochemicals and others.

We believe that sophisticated and serious foreign investors will appreciate the business pulse of Oman, who will bring home their capital as an extension of their business in the global market

The existing investment framework has played a substantial role to facilitate further the foreign investment in Oman, thanks to the favourable business climate that Oman has created. In fact, the development of Duqm project is capitalising on the country’s political stability and strategic location. Oman logistically enjoys a strategic location and on top of that a fast and easy access to emerging markets in the Middle East, Asia and Africa is a big plus for foreign investors. “Yes, it’s true that we cannot and should not neglect our local businesses, but we believe that sophisticated and serious foreign investors will appreciate the business pulse of Oman. We wish to attract foreign investors who will bring home their capital as an extension of their business in the global market,” says Balushi.

social infrastructure to mark it as a preferred place to work and live in. Earlier there were no hotels in Duqm. Accommodation was a major challenge. Now there are three hotels. It has Crown Plaza with 200 rooms, which is already in operation. Also City hotel and the floating hotel, Veronica have more than 100 rooms each. Around 200,000 people are targeted to stay in Duqm. Therefore, a modern airport, railway line, desalination project, urban township and tourism resort, sewerage collection and treatment, solid waste management – all fall under a diverse leveraging of utilities foreseen for execution at Duqm over the coming years. As for airport, the construction of the runway is complete. SEZAD will now float the tender for the terminal as well as for the tower. As a stop-gap arrangement, it created a temporary airport in this area and has scheduled three flights a week. Several high-standard arterial road network projects are under implementation now, forming a key component

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It is encouraging to note that in accordance with the SEZAD policy, investors from home and abroad, those who are interested to set up projects will be allowed to do so through private, or joint public-private partnerships (PPPs) and government procurement. Challenges are critical, and require serious coordination among all stakeholders to keep up the development of Special Economic Zone at Duqm. However, Oman Drydock Co (ODC) and Port of Duqm (PDC) have made the story come true. Both marked significant milestone in their growth and expansion with the ground-breaking development in maritime and offshore cluster. ODC is in operation for two years. In fact, SEZAD is well-placed to ride this offshore wave. “My belief is that this is a time of great challenge and transition. Special Economic Zone at Duqm is an ambitious project and to be well situated as an iconic flagship, we must stay attentive on our mission of carrying forward the mandate of bringing new strength to Oman’s economy,” concludes Balushi.


On expansion mode Oman has made significant strides in the last 42 years. Trends in the real estate sector bode well for the country

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man has come a long way and grown tremendously within the last 42 years the transformation is remarkable. Muscat is continuing to grow and at the same time infrastructure is getting better. However, as land is becoming scarcer in central areas, the city is starting to see more residential apartment developments and there are some pretty good schemes available for rental and purchase. Young Omanis have ultimate aspirations to move into their own villas, and some are already buying apartments for their own occupation, although it is still mainly for investment. The supply of family villas is increasing in the suburbs and with the new Expressway, it is now easy to be in the suburbs and commute daily with shorter travel times. The buzzword is now affordable housing. A few of the real estate companies are catering to such housing needs, although high land values and construction costs create obstacles. A competitive residential mortgage market now prevails and banks are responding positively to home loan applications. All the main banks offer good mortgage products, and the options are now plentiful with Islamic banking. Bank Nizwa has opened and many of the established banks have Islamic windows and it is easier now to borrow for home loans.

Phillip Paul Head of Country, Cluttons and Partners LLC


Real Estate According to Philip Paul, head of country, Cluttons and Partners LLC, “As the economy has grown, there has been a significant development of office space, and there continues to be a demand for good quality office space, which are few in number. A good quality office space means a unit well located with good access, spacious car parking area, good natural light, proper floor to ceiling height, adequate lift provision, good floor plates aimed at market requirements and well managed, and also at a price that is appropriate. We have been very successful in leasing out a couple of buildings for commercial purposes. For example, Beach One in Shatti Al Qurm and also Maktabi, an office building at Wattayah built by GLOREI (Global Omani Development and Investment Company).” Many expect a city to be constructed with Central Business District (CBD) and to develop from there in a concentric pattern, but there are clear geographical and historic reasons for which this has not occurred here. It is arguable that there is no longer the need for a traditional CBD as the road and IT infrastructure have vastly improved, for example, Bank Muscat has bucked the trend to be located in the CBD and is established at Airport heights. Paul says, “We are in a developing country which has progressed very quickly. Some areas have developed very well, but some have become congested and some have been re-zoned, for example Ghala. This is an area in transition but nevertheless is growing remarkably quickly.” “I am also very positive about ITC projects. Take for example Muscat Hills. It is a high quality project built around the golf course right in the heart of the city, and this sort of quality project would be impossible to replicate within the city. Phase II is being implemented and it is a great location for CEOs and top management. The Wave is a much bigger project and is performing well and we’re seeing a strong demand for rental and purchase from our clients,” informs Paul. It boasts of good facilities such as golf course, retail outlets and the marina and the Hotel Kempinksi is in advanced planning stage.

Meanwhile, Muriya and Jebel Sifah cater to a different market; they are aimed at the tourist market and are located beyond the city in very attractive locations. Bar Al Jissah has been a success and people are waiting for the launch of Saraya Bandar Jissah, which Paul believes will be imminent. These projects are on a very large scale and are being delivered over many years. They are of interest to both the local population and the global market. We have seen the evolution of Oman’s retail sector with older generation malls being superseded by larger scale better quality contemporary malls. Muscat City Centre is popular and so also Qurum City centre. There is also the Grand Mall in this league and Panorama and Lulu Malls are under development. So there is a lot of retail space available in the market. Ground floor retail space is also available in mixed use buildings. Despite the supply of space, prices are holding up in properly designed good properties. There are still opportunities for retail development in the right location at the right scale. There are international brands that would like to be present in Oman to service the growing population. It is retailers who need to understand the local market and provide the appropriate levels.

The supply of family villas is increasing in the suburbs and with the new Expressway, it is now easy to be in the suburbs and commute daily with shorter travel times

Broadly speaking, the challenges faced in this region, according to Paul, are a limited understanding of the services his company provides and a belief that real estate can be easy money. “I think challenges also lie in educating the market to deliver quality, suitably functional operational buildings that will remain so for a long time to come. It is a challenge faced by other agencies involved in the built environment, like architects, planners, and the municipality - we are only a small part of it.” Within any property market and especially in developing countries, there are property cycles with peaks and troughs of value. Paul is upbeat when he concludes, “Today we are in a stable period where there is a good demand for the right properties, and one would expect future capital growth and good returns. There are new areas for development and within the property cycle, we expect to see a period of expansion and growth.”

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Art

Creating opportunities Oman is growing and so is its art scenario. All that it needs is more support from the government and private sector

T Hassan Meer Artist

en years ago, there was no art college in Oman. Sultan Qaboos University housed the art education department, and now there is Omani Fine Arts Society presented by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos to his people. This Society has created a space for art and creativity, which supports artists by organising exhibitions and workshops. The Art Youth Studio, sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, nurtures budding talents. The government plays a supportive role by offering space and materials and the opportunity to exhibit their paintings outside Oman. In spite of their best efforts, these forums are not adequate for a country that is undergoing a significant growth. “Though new art colleges are coming up but the time is not ripe yet to churn out quality students. It is true that institutions need time to evolve and create their benchmarks for progress but this gap needs to be plugged in as soon

as possible,” says Hassan Meer, an artist reputed in Oman and beyond for semi-abstract painting, video projections and many other mediums of expression capturing the period of Oman’s transition. He set the trend of video art which earned him critical acclaim at the Fifth International Cairo Biennale. The first exhibition of the ‘Circle’ series in Muscat was organised by him, together with his peers in 2000 which eventually caught global attention. He was also shortlisted for a prestigious Sovereign Asian Art Prize. Meer says that Oman is growing fast but the rest of the Middle East is growing faster and so also the art scenario, with Dubai as its regional hub. There is a huge demand worldwide for Arab art. Artists in Palestine, Lebanon and UAE are most expressive in portraying contemporary life in this region. Wherever one travels in the world, even in ‘Art Bazaar,’ one of the largest global

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art fares, Arab art is visible. Seven years ago, there was hardly any gallery at global level representing the Arab world, now there are galleries of which about 30 per cent of the collection flows from this region. He explicitly says, “In Oman, we do have a gallery but we need more galleries as in other countries to display and preserve their work. Today, whatever art pieces are produced, artists market them outside the country. Or else, they become a part of virtual reality and disappear from public eye. Art connoisseurs often do not get to see them. That is why private sector needs to encourage artists and build up a system here.” He further said, “I came to hear that our government probably has plans to open a museum of contemporary art in Muscat. If what I heard is true, then I must say this is a good move by our government. But, at the same time, we do not want to put the onus of providing infrastructure for art on government only. We want everybody to contribute in developing art in Oman. The private sector, as part of their corporate social responsibility, should be more active about art and culture.” Meer made a mention of one of his experiences in Korea 12 years ago. There he has seen private companies setting up art galleries. Not only in Korea, but in Europe, New York, Japan wherever one goes, one would see that art lovers do not depend on the government. On the contrary, they put a lot of effort to develop art with the help of private sector. Jordan’s role in this context is exemplary. One of its banks has set up a spacious gallery which holds exhibitions frequently. Meer believes that if Oman government could set up more museums, which along with promoting tourism, could also display and preserve Omani paintings for the posterior.

We do not want to put the onus of providing infrastructure for art on government only. We want everybody to contribute in developing art in the Sultanate

He shared with us a very interesting perception that he has, “We have a tech-savvy young generation. 70 per cent children in Oman have smartphones, and hence they have access to different forms of art, whether we realise it or not. Even if formal education does not help them to develop art awareness, then technology and peer group can always help them to accomplish that. For those who are really talented, access to outside world and networking has become easy with internet. There are several programmes to support Omani artists in countries beyond Oman. If we can create that kind of support service here, then the sky is the limit.” A portrait by Hassan Meer

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The ibex statue by Hassan Meer

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Telecom

Surging ahead With the launch of 4G technology, Oman has been placed alongside the world’s most advanced countries

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Ross Cormack CEO, Nawras

man’s telecommunication sector is a very exciting and fast moving industry and many customers in the country are already enjoying the benefits of the latest technology. The major changes being experienced in telecommunications today are the continuing increase in broadband data usage along with an increase in social networking over broadband. This is likely to be a trend in the near future, too, as customers are choosing to be online more often, whether at work, at home or while on the move. Social media sites are becoming increasingly popular and are being used for both leisure and business activities. Businesses are looking to use more e-commerce opportunities and many e-services are now being offered by government departments as part of the move towards a digital society.

as competition among mobile providers soars. The 2012 telecoms retail price benchmarking report for Arab countries published by AREGNET, the Arab World communications regulatory network shows communications in Oman to be amongst the most competitive in the region.

Current trends in the telecom arena are expected to have an impact in future. One of them is the latest next generation technologies being introduced by operators. Nawras began an extensive Network Turbocharging programme in 2012. This involves adding many new 3G sites across the country, replacing all existing 2.75G sites with 3G+ technology for over 98 per cent of the population as well as the introduction of 4G coverage in the most populated areas. In the areas completed in phase one, customers are already enjoying faster broadband speeds with greater coverage, including deeper indoor, allowing them to do more online through this high quality internet service.

Nawras listens to customers and uses their valuable feedback when taking decisions and making future plans. Customer trends are analysed in detail to clearly understand every element of a positive customer journey. “While it has been recognised that Oman is one of the most competitive telecommunication markets, it is our duty to look for areas to increase value and offer an improved customer experience,” says Ross Cormack, CEO, Nawras.

It is a common phenomenon that prices go down

While prices have steadily declined, the level of service has increased. The range of products in the market has nearly doubled, especially in packages suitable for low or high use customers. This reflects the more detailed market segmentation taking place, which is seeing Nawras provide more tailored offerings for customers reflecting their many different requirements. More customisable plans are on offer to provide more choice for a greater range of usage styles.

The number of internet users is multiplying rapidly. To handle growing demands by increasing numbers of customers, the Nawras network will be future proofed through the Network Turbocharging programme. Using the latest radio technology, future upgrades to the network can be handled remotely through software updates

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The major changes experienced in the telecom industry today are the continuing increases in broadband data usage along with an increase in social networking over broadband

without requiring site visits. The programme includes adding two new data carriers, which means the network has a far greater capacity to handle much higher volumes of broadband traffic, while delivering an enhanced customer experience. The World Economic Forum considers broadband access as one of the driving factors in developing economies. As Oman moves towards a knowledge and innovation driven economy, broadband access enables businesses to grow. According to GSMA figures, on an average, every 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration represents as much as a 1.6 per cent increase in GDP; these figures show the potential of internet services to contribute to the economy of the Sultanate. Nawras has already invested RO60mn in the first phase of Network Turbocharging which has more than doubled 3G+ speeds without raising prices. The Turbocharging Programme will continue into 2014 until every 2G site is upgraded to 3G+, representing a substantial investment in the future of communications in Oman and delivering a long term benefit to customers. Investments in cyber security are an on going process and this important area

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is constantly being evaluated to ensure that the network is safely future-proofed. The continuing development of the public sector means there is a greater need for business solutions to meet the requirements of new businesses, and particularly to help start-ups flourish. Data bundles for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and Small Office/Home Office (SoHos) have proved to be very popular. Nawras offers Maktabi Mobile which is designed for small to medium sized businesses needing a portable and competitive solution for both voice and internet services. The bundle contains five postpaid voice services, a shared internet plan with 1 GB of data for the business owner or manager, a HSPA USB modem and free voice calls within the whole group. Maktabi Mobile allows customers to simplify, control and significantly reduce the cost of their small business mobile communications by bundling together services. Introduction of 4G technology is now creating opportunities for operators and government. The superfast 4G service allows operators to offer faster service bundles to customers and supports government initiatives as the country moves towards an e-society, in


Nawras celebrates winning Customer Service Provider of the Year 2012 line with His Majesty’s Vision 2020. An improved national communication infrastructure links all government entities and supports all e-Oman projects by enhancing public services across Oman.

In May 2013, Nawras added a third data carrier to the turbocharged areas from Al Bustan to Barka and this further increased the capacity of the network giving improved reach for enhanced indoor coverage.

Nawras has linked the Ministry of Education (MoE) with a fast internet connection to support every state school with quicker access, better web browsing, improved data connectivity and enhanced study support.

Like every other business, Nawras has faced challenges with rising costs but instead of introducing ad hoc cost cutting initiatives, the company changed its way of doing things to work in a much more efficient and smarter manner, every day.

“As to the hurdles anticipated in future, the incredible surge in broadband usage has proved challenging but also provided us with a great opportunity to maximise the potential of our modernised network. Providing increased coverage and capacity to cope with the growing demand is allowing us to meet the data challenge head on,” says Cormack. After upgrading to the latest technology and adding a second carrier, the residents of Al Amerat noticed the difference as speeds doubled and more customers could access a faster broadband service. This trial provided Nawras with the successful blueprint to follow as they completed phase one of Network Turbocharging and entered phase two.

Nawras has linked the Ministry of Education with a fast internet connection to support every state school with quicker access, better web browsing, improved data connectivity and enhanced study support

Oman has been ranked in 32nd position out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Competitiveness Report. The strength of having a comprehensive and competitive communications industry is recognised by the Forum as one of the key drivers for economic growth. Oman can be proud of its communications industry which is moving ahead of many so-called leading countries and with the launch of 4G as well as a third carrier on U900, the country has been placed alongside the world’s most advanced states. In the report mentioned earlier and published by AREGNET, high usage residential and business broadband packages in Oman are shown to have the lowest cost in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

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ICT

Building a digital society Large businesses in Oman have streamlined their operations through their IT investments, with small and medium entities following suit

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nformation Communication Technology (ICT) has received a strategic thrust from the Oman government where it plays the lead role along with an evolving private sector to execute projects with the required level of competence and resources. Oman’s vision is to ensure a better life for its residents through the means of telecommunications and IT utilising modern devices and channels. While large businesses have reaped streamlined operations and seamless payment handling through their IT investments, the small and medium scale industries are looking for incentives to harness technology within their scope.

Sangeetha Sridhar Consultant - Operational Excellence, Information Technology Authority, Oman

According to the UN bi-annual E-Government Survey 2012, Oman ranked 16th in the world on the United Nations eParticipation Index, which reflects citizenengagement. Oman is one among the 25 elite member states that offer separate m-government portals. The

2012 His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Award for Excellence in E-Governance has seen some intense competition this year reflecting the maturity of public sector services with a prime focus on citizen-centric delivery, engagement and performance management. Business infrastructure systems have demonstrated a steady growth while new trends are witnessed involving online payments, business analytics and intelligence, mobile-based services, including apps and buzzing social networking activity. Over 90 per cent of the businesses have access to Internet but fewer than 50 per cent utilise this connectivity to serve their customers directly. Big data sits in silos waiting to be explored for potential messages from the customers. While the web-presence is becoming mandatory, some agile brands are moving towards social media presence

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The promotion of open-source development, community-wide free ICT training, KPI-driven ICTcertification for public sector staff, vibrant software, service and web competitions are all healthy signs of growth within this industry, which will continue in future. Talking about the gap between between college education and industry requirements, Sangeetha says, “Currently formal vendor certifications and product / platform-specific trainings are filling in the much talked -about gap between college education and industry requirements but the e-learning model is not yet prolific. The current education system continues the teacher-led learning pattern and hence the self-learning model is not yet significant among the graduates or the employed.”

According to the UN bi-annual E-Government Survey 2012, Oman ranked 16th in the world on the United Nations eParticipation Index, which reflects citizen-engagement

Faster devices, intelligent equipment and smart-gadgets and hand-held devices are expected to become a norm, indicating the need for enterprise mobility. As per IDC projections, the enterprise app market could grow to USD7.7 billion by 2015. In line, mobility and cloud will emerge as major trends initiating a related appdevelopment arena.

along with online shopping-carts and payment services, too. The futuristic cloud-based services, single-sign on identity for all residents through unified identity management electronic postal system are taking shape as of now. “I would like to make a mention of a landmark decision here. Acceleration of E-Government services via portals and mobile platform is the catalyst, spurring activity within the market at public sector, private sector and the public in one massive spin. This being compounded by the support for promoting small and medium enterprise (SMEs) with a favourable terrain for growth, is the next best thing happening in the Sultanate,” says Sangeetha Sridhar, consultant - operational excellence, Information Technology Authority (ITA), Oman.

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There are other challenges as well. The demand for skilled-nationals continues to escalate, well beyond the capacity of the existing higher education institutions and training organisations. Sangeetha further says, “Infrastructure investments are being patchy over legacy systems, where-in there exists a looming arch of demand for web 2.0 based technologies and cloud-to-handheld device service delivery which require completely reengineering service-oriented deployments. Further the internet penetration is dense in the capital and prime cities while it is sparse or even lacking in remote areas. This hampers mushroom-growth of local adoption nationwide. Broadband service infrastructure has more mountains to scale and valleys to bridge.” Social networking driven by a business environment will benefit the entire community at large but only a few brands are using this approach. Local content creation has not taken a systematic approach yet. With the expansion of ICT space in Oman, there is considerable scope for emergence of new business opportunities in the Sultanate. A mobile penetration level of 173 per cent with a CAGR of 17 per cent as projected by the Telecommunication Authority’s five year summary report indicates the potential market for mobile-based


value-added services and paid apps. As of now, a few financial organisations and sprightly public sector units like the ROP are the trailblazers. Infrastructure services are taking to the new cloud level and private clouds are likely to receive a warm welcome. Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) will take time but Software-as-a-service (SaaS) will see dawn. Enterprise software, business productivity software, network and security solutions, data-storage solutions and wireless connectivity will continue in proportion to the new investments and new business operations sprouting. Instead of ‘Here are my products or services, take them or leave them’ - the new mantra or the future strategies

of ICT should be ‘Think people - Think service.’ With the current levels of mobile and internet penetration, the affluent buyer market offers plenty of opportunities along with the challenge of fulfilling their expectations.

Integrated Communication Technology is the propelling factor: Ranking higher, scaling faster, engaging users. The new mantra or the future strategies of ICT should be ‘Think people - Think service.’

“As customers have access to global markets at their click-level, local businesses must compete with better customer service and timely responses. For this, ICT can trim their cost-fat and yet keep them serving the connected economy. The consumer protection framework must transcend to online services and evolve with resolving mechanisms in order to get better commitment from the service providers and constructive e-lifestyle activism of the users,” says Sangeetha.

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Information Technology

Smart solution Digital Signage technology is making headway in Oman which has seen successful completion of important projects in recent times

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nzyma is a leading IT solutions provider and business technology advisor based in Oman. With their experience in the IT sector, they have forged their way ahead and built enduring relationships over the years. Last five years, they have been in active partnership with Scala, Inc, producer of multimedia software. They are here to create a platform for their digital signage software suite to be used by companies in retail, airports, healthcare, education, telecom etc. They will create, manage and distribute electronic messages for advertising or information dissemination, which can also be interactive, using various forms of visual display media. Driving more than 500,000 screens worldwide, Scala is the world leader in location-based media designed for communication. Headquartered in Philadelphia, Scala has been in the market for past 25 years and has subsidiaries in the Netherlands, France, Norway, Germany, Japan and India, and more than 400 Scala certified partners in about 90 countries, one of them being Oman. Digital Signage is a software solution creating a digital message on a central location and distributing it to the player site on a local location. Player site is a piece of installed software compatible with windows or android based PC. It is connected to flat screen LCDs

Alain Bodenstedt Director, Partner Sales, EMEA, Scala


that are available these days widely. The message will be displayed on these screens, which will provide information to customers in order to provide special customer experience. The content is generally created with marketing messages to generate brand or product awareness. The GCC region is crucial for Scala as it has seen enormous growth in this region. The most developed digital signage market at the moment is in Dubai, along with Abu Dhabi. Dubai has undergone enormous growth and development for the last decade or more, followed by Saudi Arabia and Oman. Digital science is here for probably last ten years. Scala penetrated in Dubai and in no other place because that is where the maximum potential lies at that moment. The end result was that Scala today has 80 to 90 signage projects running in Dubai only.

There is a tremendous acceptance of digital signage solution among companies and organisations. They need to deploy digital signage solution in their premises

“Given the vastness of the Dubai Mall, if a patron wants to find his destination, say the nearest Pizzaria, in an interactive way, it allows him to touch the screen. With the system of Scala, anybody can find the easiest path to a certain location,” says Alain Bodenstedt, director, partner sales, Scala. From Dubai, Scala’s business model was carried to other regions where their resellers represented Scala in the region. “By having local resellers who are trained and certified by Scala, we can ensure that we provide the quality. So we created a partner channel in Saudi Arabia. From there we went to Bahrain, Qatar and then came to Oman. And Oman for us now is very high on scale to develop and to do business with. We can see enormous potential here. That’s why I am here now to talk to end users and create awareness for digital signage and once the awareness level rises, more projects will follow automatically,” says Bodenstedt.

Upbeat Oman Omantel is one of Anzyma’s prime projects in retail telecom in Oman that was done successfully with Scala support. With the demanding real-time updates and multimedia-rich marketing content, Scala InfoChannel has been chosen as their software platform for Digital Signage solution. Anzyma has spearheaded the project which is a nation-wide rollout. Scala InfoChannel has been implemented across 76 screens. Backed by the Anzyma’s infrastructure, Scala InfoChannel is aiding

the leading telecom company in Oman to make new strides in the field of digitised advertising. The second major project involved Haya Channel. Hayah means life in Arabic. The initiative came from the Ministry of Health. They wanted to promote awareness about health and provide tips for patients who visit health clinics all over Muscat. Anzyma has worked closely with Scala in these projects. The network is again powered by Scala InfoChannel. The phase-1 of the project is focused on Muscat region, where Anzyma has powered 56 screens linking 23 health centres in the capital displaying multimedia content. Other key projects are: High-end

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Costy Berberi General Manager, Anzyma

Oman market is very promising when it comes to embracing technology as part of life. Its market is opening up for digital signage in a favourable environment created by government authorities

digital display solutions at Nawras flagship store at MGM, digital signage solutions and queue management system for Royal Opera House, wayfinding solution for Muscat Grand Mall, digital media network for ONEIC. Costy Berberi, general manager, Anzyma is upbeat about the market in Oman. He says, “Oman market is very promising when it comes to embracing technology as part of life. We have been active in the IT scenario with Scala for the past five years now. We see that there is a tremendous acceptance of digital signage solutions among companies and organisations. They need to look for digital signage solution in their premises. Within 10 years, I see Oman completely different from now with a huge prospect for digital signage. Right now, we have projects with transportation, health, education and telecom and eventually have plans to cover most of the sectors in Oman. We also have an expansion plan this year. We can explore a lot of aspects with digital

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signage, especially with Scala’s support and create out of the box solution for the client. We are taking great steps forward. The entire IT experience is changed here as well as in the region.” Oman’s market is opening up for digital signage in a favourable environment created by government authorities. Many projects are in the pipeline for digital signage in Oman. Apart from the corporate communication, transportation sector holds good prospect for the communication tool. The railway project that is coming up in Oman, Muscat airport and the new airports in the region are the main areas of focus. There is a new upcoming project for the exhibition centre in Seeb. “We will definitely be interested to have Scala as an informative tool for all the audience that will be there in this facility during exhibitions and fares. This communication medium will provide messages and display advertisements. Education is another area where this


“We can explore a lot of aspects with digital signage, especially with Scala’s support and create out of the box solution for the client. We are taking great steps forward.”

Haya channel in a health clinic software can be used effectively. It is already implemented in Salalah College,” informs Berberi. Discussing the potential for Scala, Bodenstedt said that Quick service restaurants or popularly called QSR is one of the upcoming markets these days. In these restaurants, a static menu board will now be replaced by a digital menu board. Though Scala is digitising static menu boards, its approach goes beyond this. A good example is the banking sector where Scala signage is used. It is becoming crucial in Europe now. After the economic downturn, people need to regain trust in banks. So banks send positive messages through digital signage screens to make customers feel comfortable again. The same service can be replicated in Oman.

Another market is the automotive sector. When a customer is interested as a buyer in a brand or model, he can look for information about his preferred model on digital signage screen. He can touch the screen and also change the colour of the chosen car, if he desires so. Everything is done within the Scala digital signage solution. So the whole user experience is changing with interactive digitisation. Through button touch one can withdraw information from the system without interfering with the local help. Digital signage has another advantage. By minimising paper prints, the system comes clean without any clutter. Since companies are adopting green technology, there is a possibility that companies will go for digital signage. So for all the good reasons, digital signage solution is making headway in Oman.

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Training

Towards empowerment Soft skills are not universal. That’s why it’s important to focus on behavioural training as much as on traditional hard skills

W George Eichenberg and Alexandra Eichenberg Founders and Managing Partners, Munich Development Group

fundamental to build the house of career. The first step to be successful is to know about one’s own self. One third of our seminars contain self-awareness or to get to know yourself better. Not only the private companies, but also ministries are seeking soft skills education for adults. So this is what we are working on -- behavioural training and soft skills training,” informed Alexandra Eichenberg and George Eichenberg, founders and managing partners, Munich Development Group (MDG). In partnership with Al Rahba Training Services, MDG is offering training in behavioural training, considered essential for successful survival in today’s competitive work environment.

e all know that knowledge, soft skills and attitude are inter-linked. We can gain knowledge through books and other mediums but the basics of soft skills are learnt in our upbringing at home and school, which is our private world. Our life is dependent on these soft skills because they help in the interaction with our fellow beings. But the private world is essentially different from the professional world. And for the entry from our private world into the professional world where we have to interact with our colleagues, our boss, other staff members, it is very crucial that we develop our soft skills to interact appropriately. This could be focus on our role as a team member or colleague and our behavioural skills related to operating in the work environment, following orders, being on time, etc.

Practice in the West

“By lacking in behavioural skills, we will not be successful in the professional world. Soft skills are

“In the West, our upbringing was a little bit different,” said Alexandra. “Parents told us, “If you want to get some extra money for yourself, you have to work.” This exposure in

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developing interpersonal skills. Now that the trainees have finished their vocational training and improved themselves, it is expected that they will do their job competently.

Relevance in Oman

In the seminar, when people start to discover the corelation between their own attitude and the outcome for their country or company, they start thinking differently

This year’s World Economic Forum presented a global competitiveness index. In an earlier examined survey, business leaders were asked about the most problematic factor for doing business in their country. While Oman ranked 32 in the survey, UAE ranked 24, Saudi 18 and Qatar on rank 11 on the global competitiveness for doing business in these countries. The most mentioned challenging factor in doing business in Oman is restrictive labour regulations. The two following factors are the inadequately educated workforce and poor work ethics. “The need for behavioural training in Oman lies here,” points out George Eichenberg.

the outer world gave us a good insight in working in the professional world later. We understood at an early stage of life that money is related to work. This is not only typical for Germany, it is prevalent all over Europe.” Germany has a dual education system in which a student either goes for vocational education for three years or goes to university. The vocational training involves one or two weeks of duration of learning theories in school, which prepares him for two months of work in an assigned company. It is a complete programme and one has to conclude it with an exam. This process is repeated to complete the duration of three years. Every apprentice of such a programme has a mentor, whose role is mandatory. He guides trainees on the job and gives feedback based on their performance, showing patience towards the behavioural mistakes made by trainees. Trainees on their part write reports every day which is a reflection of their experience and outlook at work. That is the best way to get connected to the work one does. This environmental conditioning is very crucial as mentors show how to interact with co-workers and clients or how to behave appropriately in the workplace. Apart from vocational training, these three years of learning is all about practical wisdom and

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He further explains: Many graduates come to a workplace and aspires to be the director of the company after two years of experience. They will not achieve their goal just because they want to be there. They have to earn it through hard work and involvement. Working hard is easier and enjoyable when one is passionate about one’s work. Otherwise hard work is tiring and can bring despair. This is a general rule of life. Many individuals start doing something because their parents wanted them to do so. Sometimes they are influenced by their friends. They just do it. They are like a visitor or an observer to the environment. From this, either indifference or non-involvement ensues. “But they should take time and find out what they want out of life. Before that selfawareness is needed and our job is to help them create this awareness in them, says George Eichenberg. Both say that their experience in imparting training in Oman is very enriching and upbeat. In the seminar, when people start to discover the co-relation between their own attitude and the outcome for their country or company, they start thinking differently. For them, it is a kind of a wakeup call. They can now analyse their environment with objectivity, no longer feeling a victim of a situation and understand that they have the power to influence or change their environment. Once people are aware that they can influence or alter a situation, a change in their attitude becomes evident. They feel they are part of the community or a team and they


are also part of something which is bigger than them. “We call it self-awareness. They realise that they can positively make a difference for themselves, for their employer and the country as well. They start taking charge of themselves and the situation,” says Alexandra. As training provider, both feel that some companies in Oman have trained their people quite well in soft skills. But at the same time there are some who think that the training facilitator has the sole responsibility to develop their people. Human resource development is a process. It is wrong to think that after two days’ communication seminar or workshop, one will turn into a communication expert. “You need to train the people again, and again and again. There is a so called 10,000 hour rule. If you do something 10,000 hours, - no matter what - you will succeed in doing it like an expert. Hence, after a trainee comes back to his workplace after a training workshop, he is not finished with training. What he has learnt in the seminar has to be adapted into his daily business,” says Alexandra. There needs to be a mentor in the company even after the training for its sustainability. Then again he can be sent after a while for an advanced course for training. It is like a loop. There must be a system in place within organisations which would help the training institute to be an important part of the system. If this element is missing, then this process will not work. “All that we can do is facilitate and moderate. An interface between companies and us help to create sustainability. But the onus for the development of their people lies on companies themselves. It is very heartening to see when some companies inform that their employees took a call to get trained. We have a totally different start in the training when we know that the people themselves want the training,” stresses George Eichenberg. From their seminar at GUTech and in other places, the trainer duo found the Omani youth as motivated and

eager learners. The methodologies for the training sessions are neither purely academic nor educational nor are they entirely entertainment. It is a mix of both. It is edutainment per se, where they teach through simulations, games and self-awareness sessions that compel them to think out of box and work in a team. George Eichenberg recalled, “In a discussion we once said that if you see a young guy driving a Ferrari and he says that his father bought it, then don’t envy him because he didn’t work for it – it was his parents’ effort. It is important to understand the link between working hard and eventually be able to do what you like to do. Money will come if you have the capability. So learn skills to develop capability. The response was amazing. We think that the prospects for behavioural training in Oman are very positive.”

The methodologies for the training sessions are neither purely academic nor educational nor are they entirely entertainment. It is a mix of both. It is edutainment per se

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SME

Force to reckon with Supporting SMEs is a major priority for the government for diversification of non-oil economy

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mall and Medium Enterprises (SME) play a crucial role in a nation’s economy. In Oman, the total number of SMEs comes to 80 per cent of the companies registered. “But in terms of revenue, I think, they are not able to exceed over 30 per cent as an overall contribution to the economy of the country,” says Hassan Ghuloom, CEO of Al Waqia Shoes, one of the leading manufacturers and exporters of safety, military, and uniform footwear in the Gulf. Supporting these small and medium enterprises, has been a major priority for the government. Creating jobs and encouraging innovation has been in the focus. A number of organisations are there for the past 10 to 15 years that offer soft loans, mentorship and assistance with government services. With the government widening the base of SME support structure and the private sector extending a helping hand and playing a larger role in this sector, opportunities for SME funding, facilities and networking are on the rise. But Ghuloom has a point to make. “I approached one of these funding organisations as well as Oman Development Bank for one of my projects. They approved my project, which they thought was good and economically viable. However, they put a condition, or I would say, a barrier to this project. They asked me to

Hassan Ghuloom CEO, Al Waqia Shoes Co LLC


provide them with 200 per cent of the amount of loan as a guarantee. If I could provide that kind of guarantee, I would not really approach a bank to fund my project. Other organisations ask for a huge amount of security which does not help the entrepreneur to initiate the project. The objective of these funding entities is to develop entrepreneurship in Oman. But the conditions they stipulate are stringent. If this is not changed, we are not going to go anywhere from where we are at the moment.” With a starting capital of RO70 mn, the government is developing another fund, called Al Rafed. According to Ghuloom, it is personally funded by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said to develop SMEs. This will double up to RO140mn over the next five years. In a conference held a few months back His Majesty had stressed the role of SMEs in the economic progress of the country. There was also a thrust from the top on funding organisations to be more flexible in their approach towards SMEs. “These funds do exist for the past 15 years, but if you look at their contribution towards the nation or SMEs, it is negligible. I am not saying that it is nothing, I am saying it is ‘negligible’. They should be more proactive in understanding the requirements of SMEs,” says Ghuloom. Recently, CBO has advised all banks to reserve five per cent of their portfolio for SMEs. This five per cent has to grow into 10 per cent by 2016 which will accrue into a large sum. Ghuloom says that if banks do take the advice of CBO then definitely that will give boost to SMEs to grow. But there is a challenge on the way. With the increment of wage from minimum RO200 to RO325, the entrepreneurs feel overburdened in running an ongoing venture or setting up a new one whether in manufacturing sector, construction sector, or service sector. “The entire proposition is expensive for SMEs. Steps have to be taken to redress the situation. This is the key sector for employment generation. The challenge that we are facing at the moment is how to develop and nurture these SMEs. Our government has initiated the process to make them more active. These funding agencies can play a proactive role. The government has no alternative except to push and help SMEs to grow in order to combat the challenge of unemployment that exist in our society,” says Ghuloom.

Apart from this, the government has taken creditable initiatives. It has spent an enormous amount to develop Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM)to house startup companies. But compared to the expenditure on the infrastructure, the number of companies operating from KOM are not significant. More companies should come in. Three years ago a new initiative has been taken by Public Establishment for Industrial Estate (PEIE). They and Sultan Qaboos University have developed their own in-house research and development centres. But these research centres need more groundwork to be done to aid innovation and research and development activity within the sector, says Ghuloom. Sometime back, he has attended seminars on Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed between Oman and the USA in 2009. According to him, the information dissemination on the opportunities available to the SMEs post-FTA is not as good as the content of the papers generated at the seminars. More awareness building exercise is needed here for SMEs to grab the opportunities that are available, asserts Ghuloom.

There is a thrust from the top on funding organisations to be more flexible in their approach towards small and medium organisations in the Sultanate

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Fashion

New outlook In today’s context, fashions of a forgotten era are making a comeback

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faf and Aida Al Farsi first began designing apparels for their family and friends for special occasions and, encouraged by the response, they launched their own boutique ‘Dibaj’ in 2008. Not having a professional training never stood in the way of their progress as their appreciation for fashion, coupled with their admiration for Oman’s heritage and eye-opening travels abroad, helped them to create their signature style. The Ready-to-Wear Collection of Dibaj, presented at Muscat Fashion Week 2013, featured 28 pieces of elegant creations. Staying true to their design aesthetics, the collection is a juxtaposition of contemporary silhouettes and details that breathe life into Oman’s cultural heritage Commenting on their style Afaf said, “We wanted to encapsulate the style of a modern day woman who is proud of her roots and heritage. The pieces are sophisticated yet playfully versatile and can be easily deconstructed and styled for a day look.” According to Aida, cultural reference points are repackaged in a relevant and international context. She said, “Floor sweeping gowns and unapologetically feminine silhouettes depict a confident woman’s poise which is accentuated by structured boleros and cinched waistlines that polish the contour of the collection’s unrestricted and free flowing

Afaf & Aida Al Farsi Co-Founders and Creative Directors of Dibaj

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fabrics. Lavish velvet dresses with fluid lines are dramatised with a nocturnal colour palette of blue, black and bottle green whereas wisps of tulle capes, delicate lace, intricate Swarovski embellishments soften the Collection.” Colour pops offered refreshingly unexpected appearances and tuxedo pantsuits introduced a new shape to the Dibaj repertoire. The collection also showcased off-shoulder and split sleeve dresses, gold brocade skirts, nude-colored tulle t-shirts embellished with Swarovski crystals and luxuriously draped kaftans. Complementing the Collection’s modern tailoring are accents of silver Omani weaving and folklore embroidery on cuffs and hemlines as well as traditional Khanjar belts along the waist. A staple Dibaj creation is stylistically relevant, free-flowing and confidently feminine with delicate accents inherited from the region. Afaf says, “Dibaj preserves Oman’s heritage by adapting it to contemporary fashion and breathes new life into tradition by weaving it into refined tailoring to create modern and wearable pieces.” Aida adds on, “We are fortunate to be designing in a country with a rich fashion heritage to draw inspiration from. Traditional Omani clothing differs from tribe to tribe and our designs pay tribute to this culture. Our country is our muse and we are influenced by the diversity of fashion that has lived on throughout generations.” Dibaj’s jewellery line was created in the spirit of their grandmothers. The unwillingness to let women’s tradition of wearing Omani silver to disappear with modern times, led to this creation. Cultural reference points are repackaged in a relevant and international context. Iconic and timeworn Omani silver pieces such as Kohl applicators and Khanjar belt buckles are gold plated and reinterpreted into contemporary accessories with the use of fabrics, leather, beads, jade, semi-precious and lava stones and Dibaj’s signature fleur de lis charm.

Our country is our muse and we are influenced by the diversity of fashion that has lived on throughout generations. We represent this culture hidden within the details of our designs

In creating the line, Afaf and Aida acquire antique pieces of Omani silver from local souqs, which are then refined and gold plated. No two are exactly alike as each piece of silver is intricate and handmade. The final creation is a wearable, timeless piece of jewellery that mirrors Oman’s very own balance between the respect for heritage and modernity.

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COLLA G E


An idydillic beach on the coast of Oman

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Amazingly beautiful Yiti beach near Muscat

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View of Mirbat, Oman

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Pebble beach on the coastal road between Quriat and Sur

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Birds and other wildlife enjoy this paradise in the southern province of Oman

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Vibrant Oman anthias

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Three boats in the fjord of Oman

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A quaint village onTiwi beach

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Rock formation in sea, Qantab

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Night view of gate next to Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat

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Panoramic view of the Hajar Mountains and Nizwa from Nizwa fort

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Travel

Incredible Dhofar The Dhofar governorate enjoys a distinctive natural diversity where the coast seamlessly blends with the desert

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nown for its pristine natural beauty, Dhofar, the largest governorate in the Sultanate of Oman, sprawling across one third of its topography, plays a significant role in the country’s tourism map. As the rest of the country’s temperatures soar during summer, the monsoon, locally called Khareef, brings rains to Dhofar, resulting in lush green vegetation. While a major portion Oman has arid desert landscapes which is typical of the Arabian peninsula, its southern region of Dhofar, with its greenery stands in stark contrast. Travellers hail from within Oman and the neighbouring countries to enjoy this cool, refreshing environment. Salalah Tourism Festival is a huge draw during the Khareef that extends from end-July until the beginning of September. There are daily flights between Muscat and Salalah, as well as other Arab Gulf states. Sharing the eastern border with Yemen, Dhofar is a rather mountainous area that covers 99,300 km2. The governorate enjoys a distinctive natural diversity where the coast seamlessly blends with the desert. Here

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mountains rise to a height of 1,500 metres and then dip into a flat plain that sprawls across sandy beaches stretching for hundreds of kilometres. The ten Dhofar governorate wilayats are: Salalah, Taqah, Mirbat, Sadah, Shalim and Halaniyat Islands, Dalkoot, Rakhyut, Thamrit, Mokshin and Al Mazuna. Dhofar has been the traditional homeland for many tribes speaking a variety of South Arabian Semitic languages. The Arab tribes include Al-Hakli (Qara), Al Kathiri, Al-Hashmeis, Al-Yafei, Al-Mashaikhi, AlShahri, Al-Mahri, Al-Batahri, and Al-Barami. The people of Dhofar is as varied as its topography and can be identified as either Jeballi, living in the mountains, or hailing from the mountains, Badawi, living in the desert, or from the desert, and Hadhari, living in the cities or settlements. Historically the region was the chief exporter of frankincense in ancient times, with some of it being traded as far as China. Rich in meteorites, the


Salalah during Khareef

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Airport from Muscat and then rent a car from there to reach the Salalah city. But there are many who would prefer driving down to Salalah. There are actually nine segments of the road to reach the city and each has its own beauty and challenges. The first stretch is MuscatNizwa which covers 174 km of the trip. The roads are well-paved with scenic mountains in the background as one enters Nizwa. The second part is Nizwa-Adam stretching only for 56kms. Top up your car at petrol stations you drive by lest you get stuck without fuel. The next two are Adam-Al Ghabah and Al Ghabah to Hayma stretches which together cover 318 kms. Driving may get a bit tedious at this point, but the adventurous do not falter. Hayma to Qatbit is segmented into short stretches of journey covering 219kms. Some visitors choose to break journey at the Qatbit Rest House before moving on to Salalah the next day. Qatbit to Thumrayt

Lush green vegetation (Top) Mughsayl blowholes (right)

Salalah plain was once a well cultivated area with a sophisticated irrigation system. Today, Dhofar is a blend of traditional Omani heritage and a modern way of living. With a sound infrastructure and modern amenities, the capital city of Salalah is a pointer to this uniqueness.

The evergreen Salalah Salalah receives its visitors with large vistas of grass and water mist. The unique climatic factors make Salalah a magical spot and the jewel of the Arabian Sea. Salalah is an ideal destination for both, leisure and adventurous holidays. Wonderful outdoor pursuits, excellent beaches, coconut palms, banana and papaya plantations make up the most of this city. The city is famous for its rich history, archeological remains and numerous frankincense trees. Most people prefer to take a plane down to Salalah

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Mughsayl Bay

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Al Baleed archaeological park: Drive along the sea side to reach the UNESCO-listed Al Baleed Archaeological Park which preserves ruins dating back to pre-Islamic times. It was a major port for exporting frankincense and shipping Arabian horses in ancient and medieval period. Since the 1970s, several excavations have been made by a German archaeological team. A broad pathway now meanders through significant ancient structures like the citadel, city wall and grand mosque. The best time to visit the site is in the late afternoon. Al Husn Palace: The palace, known as Al Husn Palace, was originally built by Sultan Turki in the nineteenth century, but has been extended by successive sultans, and it is now a big, modern complex of buildings, overlooking the beach, south of the city centre. It is surrounded on the landward side by a stone wall and entered through big teak doors. The stretch of beach immediately in front of the palace is off limits to the general public, but you can get quite close and take photographs of the palace.

In and around the city

Grand Mosque in Salalah is a long stretch of 195 kms. The most beautiful part of the drive, and well worth the long span of time it takes, is the final drive through the Dhofar Mountains before reaching the Salalah city.

Icons of Salalah Salalah Frankincense Museum: Situated on Sultan Qaboos Street, the ‘Land of Frankincense’ museum is one of the cultural lifelines of Salalah. Visitors can explore a large archaeological site and the museum displays an impressive collection of artefacts that depict the maritime history of Oman. The artefacts are as varied as the excavated columns built 2,000 years ago to stone tools used by fishermen. This is perhaps the best place to trace Oman’s history and gain insight into Oman’s prosperous past; a must-see for any visitor to Salalah. The museum is located in Al Baleed which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

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Ain Homran: The scenic location of this natural spring is an excellent spot for bird watching. Seven different species of eagles have been identified at Ain Homran by a group of international bird watchers. Due to the nature of the place, you will find mosquitoes and insects around, so make sure to apply some cream. Gold souq: A visit to the gold souq is an important feature of the tour of Salalah. A variety of oriental gold and silver is sold here. Most of the gold sold is 24 carat, often softer and better quality than gold purchased in other parts of the world. You can shop around for a traditional Dhofari design or have it designed. The Salalah Gold Souk is situated in the Salalah Centre. Magnetic Mountain: At Mirbat you come across a stretch of land where you feel the anti-gravitational pull. You can move your car upward along a slope by putting it on neutral and feel a magnet is pulling your vehicle. Car drivers enjoy this wonder of nature. Mirbat: A quaint seaside town, Mirbat is complete with its own majestic castle, a souk, and the ruins of an old town dating back many hundreds of years. Visitors


will also enjoy the opportunity to see local fishermen bringing in the day’s haul by the seaside which they can buy there and also at the souk. Mughsail Bay: This is a popular beach which lies 40km to the west of Salalah. Driving down to the beach is enjoyable with desert on both sides. However, once you reach there, the beach provides fantastic views of the sea, rugged mountains and cliffs, blow holes, white sandy beach and more. The beach offers water sport activities and also has a restaurant located on the beach. Taqah castle: The castle that stands tall in the centre of the town is well worth a visit. Renovated in recent years by the Ministry of Tourism, Taqa castle is an important historical monument, dating from the 19th century, exhibiting the architectural quality that is worthy of praise. It is now used as a museum to exhibit old artefacts and handicrafts that speak of its glorious past of the Dhofari town of Taqa. The town being a major shipping port for frankincense and myrhh, worth more than gold, had led to a prosperous local

economy. Taqah is a favourite destination for Omanis as it represents the birthplace of their beloved sultan, HM Sultan Qaboos. Today, Taqah is a fishing port and reputed for its sun-dried sardines. The village itself is known for traditional stone houses.

Frankincense tree, (left below) Taqah Castle

Wadi Darbat: One of the most beautiful valleys in the Arabian Peninsula, Wadi Darbat flows to the sea at Khawr Rawri. After heavy rains during khareef (June-September) there is an impressive waterfall at the southern end of the wadi. The area is dense with vegetation. Nomads camp around the valley while their camels graze on the lush pastures. You can often see white storks feeding in this wadi. There are many cave chambers once used by the shepherds as shelter and you get a feel of the past with coloured paintings of animals on the cave walls. At the end of the wadi, there comes a cave, considered to be the largest natural cave in Oman. Shisr: As a site for ‘The Lost City of Ubar,’ Shisr is on

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Bin Ali’s Tomb (left), Mughsayl Beach (right)

the UNESCO World Heritage List discovered in 1992 by a NASA satellite, having been buried under the desert sands for centuries. Thought to be a major hub on the caravan route between trading cities of the region, the town was reputed to be opulent. It flourished as a centre for trading local fragrances with exotic goods from the East. Ubar’s ancient history was narrated by successive generations of Arab desert dwellers and explorers in a number of ancient books and travelogues. Speculation is rife whether or not the excavated ruins behind Shisr are the famed Ubar of history, though the place bears great historical significance. Artefacts dating back several thousand years have been excavated by archaeologists who are still working on the site. Wadi Dawkah: Visit the UNESCO Frankincense Nature Reserve at Wadi Dawkah. This site of UNESCO World Heritage Listing is Wadi Dawkah, a protected stretch of

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over 1,000 frankincense trees situated about 40km north of Salalah. The precious sap from these trees and others across the country fetched the Sultanate great wealth throughout history, and linked it with other nations through its trade as far as Europe and China.

Legacy of the past Frankincense trail: The frankincense trees have contributed to the prosperity of the frankincense trade in the region for several centuries. Still used in important ceremonies including religious festivals, frankincense also remains a symbol of Omani hospitality. Its fragrant resin is today burned throughout the Sultanate to welcome guests. The Frankincense Trail is a site in Oman that includes frankincense trees and the remains of a caravan oasis, crucial to the medieval incense trade. The Frankincense Trail has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Sumhuram: The impressive ruins of the fortress and of the palace of Sumhuram, perched on the cliff of Khawr Rawri, might be the remains of Queen Sheba’s Palace. The ancient port of Sumhuram port was one of the key points to ship frankincense, myrrh and slaves from the 1st to the 7th century. This place is one of the four sites on the UNECSO ‘Land of the Frankincense Trade’ World Heritage List. Archaeologists seek to excavate more of this once flourishing city. Sumhuram has commanding views over the waters of Khawr Rawri and the ocean, a critical factor in monitoring ships and ensuring the safety of the town from raiders. Nabi Ayoub: Visit the biblical Prophet Job’s Tomb, an Islamic pilgrimage site, known in this region as Nabi Ayoub. In this tomb, perched up on the Jebal Ittin, the remains of the prophet can be found. The walls of the tomb are decorated with verses from the Holy Quran. Next to the tomb a small stone mosque is located where Nabi Ayoub’s right foot print can be seen. Ruins of Khawr Rhori: This is the largest reserve in the governorate of Dhofar. It is attractive to tourists as it contains Khawr Rhori port, famously known as Sumharam. The port was often mentioned in Greek, Hellenic and Arabic historical scrolls, being the main port for the export of frankincense in Dhofar. The khawr (lagoon) is not only a nature reserve, but an important heritage reserve as well, and has been included in the World Heritage List. It helps to maintain the ecological balance by being the natural habitat of many fish, birds and plants.

Other attractions Shop for souvenirs: Al Hafah Souq lies 3km from the city of Salalah. It is surrounded by lofty coconut trees and is the perfect place to buy the best incense, not only in Dhofar, but also in the Sultanate. Al Hafah Souq is replete with a variety of products, including traditional textiles, gold and silver jewellery as well as many other artefacts.

Enjoy water sports: Tourists can enjoy a variety of water sports in the various beaches of Dhofar. The Arabian Sea has high tides, thus one can indulge in fast water sport activities. Sea fishing is also a popular sport in the Dhofar coasts. You will find varieties of fishes including large shoals of sardines and lobsters.

Wadi Darbat

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The Sultanate 2013