Since taking power in 1970, Sultan Qaboos has presided over a phenomenal transformation in the country’s social and economic structure. Life expectancy has risen from 48 years to 76. The average per capita income has increased more than 5,000 per cent from $343 to reach $18,000 in 2009, and literacy rates have soared.
But as the renaissance now moves into its fifth decade, the question of whether the sultan can keep the momentum going is now being asked. The achievements of the past 40 years have been made possible by vast revenues from oil production, which began just two and a half years before Sultan Qaboos came to power. Now Oman’s oil output is in decline, after peaking in 2006. It is estimated the sultanate has just 33 years of oil production remaining, at current extraction rates. Gas availability is also becoming restricted and is hindering Muscat’s diversification ambitions.
Against this backdrop it appears that the end of Oman’s renaissance could be looming on the horizon. The key challenge now facing Sultan Qaboos is delaying its arrival for as long as possible.