Hundreds of Omani protesters gathered in the city of Sohar for a third night, demanding that the government open talks on their demands for more jobs, higher pay and more representative political institutions.
Khaled Maqbuli, a leader of the protest, called on the demonstrators at a roundabout in the center of Sohar, north of the capital, Muscat, to stay peaceful and avoid confrontation with the army and the police. Two people were killed, several wounded and a supermarket set on fire over the past two days.
“We are peaceful, we have demands, we are not saboteurs,” Maqbuli, 26, said through a loudspeaker. “We want the government to send civilian people to discuss our demands; we have nothing to say to the military.”
Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, the country’s ruler since 1970, “has received the demands of the citizens in all the provinces and is giving them his attention,” state television reported.
Demonstrations against poverty and autocratic rule are spreading through the Arab world. Tunisia was the first to see an Arab leader ousted by popular protests in January, followed this month by Egypt. Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has lost control of several cities to the opposition and demonstrations also have taken place in Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria and Jordan.
Oman’s MSM30 Index of stocks closed down 4.9 percent, the most since January 2009, at 6,142.42. Oil gained for a second day in New York. Crude for April delivery rose as much as $2.08, or 2.1 percent, to $99.96 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Demonstrators circulated a list of demands today, including that the sultan names a prime minister and gives more power to the consultative council. Qaboos is head of the government.
Omani television said the sultan formed a committee to examine how to expand the power of the 83-member council whose role is to make recommendations to the government. Yesterday, he ordered the government to hire 50,000 Omanis and to pay 150 rials ($390) a month to job seekers.
Among the other demands of the demonstrators were a tripling of salaries, cancellation of private bank debts and the establishment of a government fund to help people marry and build a house.
“How can anybody live on 150 rials a month,” said Nasser Sheibi, a 26 year-old unemployed man. “I want a government official to come here and to tell me how that can be possible.”
Protests in Sohar escalated yesterday after security forces rounded up demonstrators, arresting a total of 48, according to Ammar Hanai, who said he was one of those detained.
Qaboos later ordered the release of the detainees and the withdrawal of the police from the roundabout where hundreds of demonstrators have gathered since about noon on Feb. 26.
The city’s harbor is operating normally after protesters blocked roads, Jan Meijer, the chief executive officer of the Port of Sohar, said today.
As in Bahrain, the feeling of deprivation of the Omani demonstrators is exacerbated by their proximity to richer oil-producing nations Qatar and United Arab Emirates. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency estimates that 60 percent of the workforce in Oman was made up of non-citizens in 2007 and that unemployment in 2004 was 15 percent. The Omani government doesn’t publish employment indicators.
Oman, with a population of about 2.7 million Omanis and 600,000 expatriates, produces just over 800,000 barrels of oil a day. The sultanate lies at the strategically important entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world’s oil passes.