In 1959 Britain brutally and ruthlessly put down an uprising against the rule of Sultan Said bin Taimur, one of the most repressive regimes to have ever ruled in the Middle East. Britain's chief diplomat in the region at the time was George Middleton who noted:
"The condition of the people is miserable, the Sultan is unpopular, there is no central administration … and, under the present regime, not a great deal of hope for the future."
However that didn't prevent Britain from assisting the sultan through bombing the rebels using the Royal Air Force (RAF). Recently classified files state the reason was "to show the population the power of weapons at our disposal" to persuade them that any "resistance will be fruitless and lead only to hardship".
Prime minister of the time, Harold Macmillan, appallingly sanctioned bombing of civilian water supplies and agricultural gardens, war crimes for which he was never held to account. The aim was to prevent dissident villages from gathering their crops and to deny water supplies to selected villages.
The repressive policies continued, with few schools or health facilities across the country, such that by 1970 it was illegal play football, wear glasses or even to talk to anyone for more than 15 minutes.
Another rebellion erupted in the Dhofar province in southern Oman in 1970 due to repression and neglect of the Sultan. It too resulted in a similar intervention by British officers who controlled Oman's military. When the British concluded the Sultan would lose the war, their military advisers in Muscat undertook a palace coup and replaced him with his son, Qaboos, who recently passed away.
Oman has since become a giant British military and intelligence base.
British commercial interests in Oman have always comprised of oil, gas and the selling of military weaponry.
Oil and gas continue to grow for the country, comprising around 30 percent of Oman's GDP. Shell has a 34 percent stake in Oman's Petroleum Development Corporation, which is responsible for the country's oil; BP has a 60 percent stake in the Khazzan gas project.
Edward Snowden's leaks show Britain's GCHQ has a network of three spy bases codenamed Timpani, Guitar and Clarinet which tap into undersea cables passing through the Strait of Hormuz intercepting emails, telephone calls and web traffic. The data is gathered, processed and shared with the US National Security Agency.
Britain has also established a new military base in central Oman, to house two 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers being built for the Royal Navy to serve as a staging post for UK Carrier Strike Group deployments across the Indian Ocean. A new Omani-British Joint Training Area will allow for a permanent British army presence.
Oman imports over $0.5 bn worth of arms annually; the UK is the largest supplier.
The head of the British army recently visited Oman signing a "Comprehensive Joint Declaration on Enduring Friendship" and a new Joint Defence Agreement. Northern Ireland's Police Service trains Oman's police, military and special forces in how to manage strikes and protests.
These interests tie the UK with the Sultan's authoritarian and repressive regime, harsh even by Gulf standards.
Sultan Qaboos holds the positions of prime minister, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, chairman of the central bank, and minister of defence, foreign affairs and finance. Although Oman has elections to its lower house, it is largely ineffective.
Political parties are prohibited and political gatherings can lead to arrests as can publishing material that challenges the rights of the Sultan and his prerogatives. In 2014, a UN special rapporteur described a
"pervasive culture of silence and fear affecting anyone who wants to speak and work for reforms in Oman."
The UK remains silent over Oman's brutality, abuses and violations, emphasising their "exceptionally close relationship". UK defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, recently praised the statesmanship, knowledge and wisdom of the "visionary" Sultan. The British parliament's register of financial interests shows foreign minister Alan Duncan's 24 trips to Oman over the past 20 years have been mainly paid by the Sultan.
Britain has a long relation with modern Oman, with close economic and military ties central. Brexit means the British government will seek closer relations with its allies in the Gulf seeking to maintain the current repressive status quo.
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