Unlike the protesters’ demands in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain for their leaders to go, the large crowds here chanted praise for their sultan of the past 41 years, Qaboos bin Said.
“We will sacrifice our blood, our soul, for you, your majesty!” they shouted.
The rally here was part government choreography, part genuine outpouring of affection for the sultan, an absolute monarch who has transformed this strip of sand and bone-dry mountains from an impoverished backwater to a tidy country of well-paved roads and relative affluence. Every citizen, male and female, has free health care and free education through college.
“We love his majesty but there are problems we want to fix,” said Maan Al Miaani, a 24-year-old bank teller who attended a vigil on Tuesday night outside a police station in the northern city of Sohar, where two protesters were being detained.
That is not to say that Oman has escaped from violence. Several hundred protesters clashed with security forces in Sohar over the weekend, leaving at least one demonstrator dead. Soldiers also fired into the air to try to clear protesters from a roundabout in the city on Tuesday morning. But the number of protesters overall has remained relatively small and their demands are specific — they do not include the ouster of the sultan.
The protesters want more jobs, more freedom of expression and less government control over the news media. In a letter to the sultan, they also requested subsidies for young people who want to get married but cannot afford wedding expenses.
The sultan has responded to the protests by promising the creation of 50,000 jobs and the possibility of widening the powers of a consultative council, the possible predecessor of a parliament.