It’s becoming increasingly clear that the societal landscape of the Sultanate is undergoing significant change, maybe as the Sultanate seeks to regain its own precise, unique place in the world.
Certainly, opinions have been expressed locally that lean towards a more culturally based approach to most facets of life, as the Sultanate comes to terms with the realities of diminished oil and gas returns, and the tourism restrictions of a post-Covid world. “Maybe,” said one Omani businessman, we were seduced by the fact we were so close to Dubai, and how it grew and became rich so quickly? After generations of hardship, prior to Sultan Qaboos’ reign, I think we all saw stars in our eyes.” He smiled then and commented, “Well, maybe not stars, but maybe dollar signs?”
We spoke for a time about what is important to Omanis, and he explained that only two things have genuine value to Omanis, their families, and their faith. “Everything else, jobs, cars, money, they are all just unimportant details. No, that’s wrong, because I’m talking about my generation. To the younger generations those other things, jobs, cars, money, phones, and travel, have become important, and in some, all-consuming. This is not their fault... they are young, and have the frailties of youth... No. It is the fault of my generation. We are the ones who lost our way and lost sight of what is really important.”
He appeared angry, so I just let the silence linger. What could I say that would ease his pain? Yet, as the silence lay like a cloud, I asked, “What’s this really about? Every generation in every society beats itself with the same stick, but regrets for solving nothing. Sure, we are wiser because of what we have learned from our past, but we cannot deny the youth of today the technological advances of yesterday and today, can we? That will only cause bitterness.”
“I think in two generations of this ‘seduction,’ we have lost so much of our identity. We are a race apart that still not only worships, but lives, our faith. We live our lives around our faith, and it is so deep in our culture and traditions. That shows our eternal commitment to faith first.” He looked about to say something else, and I asked, “Does it upset you to see someone like me who places his life’s work, his purpose, ahead of his faith?”
“I don’t understand you,” he nodded wisely, “But I don’t have to. I respect you for what you know and do, and what you are doing for our young people. It is not for me to comment upon your lifestyle, your politics, or your religion, but what I do ask is whether you are the right person to be educating my grandsons and granddaughters, being that you are not of our faith?” “If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be here,” I answered with a smile, “and maybe because I do see the world differently, I am exactly the one!”
Others joined us, and we drifted apart, but that gentleman’s honesty and openness has been brought home to me in recent months. The Sultanate is taking back its ‘cultural high ground,’ so to speak, affirming its commitment to its faith, and ensuring it, and its people remain true to their legacy.
Should this be a genuine national perspective, I know of one well-spoken Omani gentleman who will be happier, and as with most things, where one is seen and heard... others will be just as happy.