December 26, 5:45 AM
Iowa City Foreign Policy
Examiner Ahmed Souaiaia
(From Oman): I was aware of Oman's reputation as low-key player in terms of foreign policy. Unlike some of its neighbors, Oman does not take sides in regional disputes, it does not interfere in its neighbors’ internal affairs, and it solves problems with the outside world away from the limelight.
But only those who have had the opportunity to visit and live among the Omanis are able to see firsthand that being low-key is a lifestyle here. From its citizens to its governing elite, from professionals to public servants, Omanis love to do things quietly.
It took me more than twenty-four hours traveling around the beautiful city of Muscat before I noticed the presence of police officers on the road. And when I saw one, he was clearing the debris off the road where a traffic accident just happened. This phenomenon is unprecedented when it comes to most countries in the Arab world.
In Tunisia for instance, the first thing visitors would notice is the heavy presence of police officers. At every major intersection in Tunis, one could run into uniformed police officers and it is very likely that one will be pulled over and asked questions. Nearly every government building or major private establishment in Morocco, too, is manned by security personnel. In some other Arab countries even the military can be seen, especially, on country roads.
Having said this, it is not being suggested that only in the Arab world are security personnel present in the streets. In fact, even in my own current hometown, a small-sized American metropolitan, it is not unusual to spot patrol cars once or twice on one’s trip from home to work or even from home to the grocery store. Sirens are heard even in the middle of the night. It is because the presence of uniformed security personnel is a usual and mundane event in most countries that its absence in Muscat is astounding.
But once one talks to people, one would soon realize that being subtle and low-key is the primary trait of Omanis. Being low-key is reflected in interactions, architecture, services, governance, and living. To be sure, it is nearly impossible to see a building higher than ten floors. Moreover, the colors of buildings and private homes are nearly the same: no bright or unusual colors. Rather, shades of the subtle cream, antique white, beige, earth yellow, and related shades bring the city walls to a perfect harmony with the natural colors of the many landscape, hills and mountains in the background and the horizons. In fact, the only building with bright colors that I saw turned out to be the palace of his Majesty the Sultan of Oman. But even there, subtlety is still present: the palace is beautifully nested in a forest of reticent clusters of buildings and homes, some of which were built specifically for the poor. Even in the proximity of the halls of power, there are no visible security personnel standing guard at the gates.
Under the covers of the subtlety, however, is an active society that is growing particularly efficient and modestly confident in its abilities. This is a society that shuns the bright lights, the noisy nights, and the glamorous displays of power; but one determined to build a better future.