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Title: State, religion and democracy in the Sultanate of Oman
Author: Al-Farsi, Sulaiman H.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2699 5245
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2010
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The extent to which the Middle East in general and the Gulf states in particular are willing and able to embrace more inclusive means of popular political participation has dominated the politics of the region for nearly two decades. Faced with contending pressures of urbanisation, demographic shifts and increasingly finite reserves of oil and gas, that social contract peculiar to the region - the rentier state - is no longer regarded as the panacea for ensuring regime stability and legitimacy. The emergence of powerful and in some cases violent Islamist opposition groups, not least in Saudi Arabia, is seen as testament to such growing socio-political anomie. The Sultanate of Oman is not immune from such pressures. How to ensure the continued legitimacy of the political system in a post-oil era is the focus of this thesis. A traditionally tribal society noted for its adherence to the Ibadi school of Islam, Oman has increasingly been buffeted by the forces of globalisation, population growth, an emerging middle class, accelerating rates of urbanisation and the concomitant demands for greater political participation. Across much of the Middle East, such demands have either been bloodily repressed or, if imposed by outside intervention, have led to the emergence of fragile regimes whose legitimacy is often beholden to an uneasy alliance of otherwise competing sectarian factions. By contrast, Oman provides a unique case study in how attempts to open up the political space in Oman have emerged from three separate but inter-connected constituencies: a top-down approach associated with the state elite; the traditional view of Shura linked to religious and tribal hegemony, and the bottom-up approach to democratisation, associated with an increasingly educated and urbanised middle class. All three constituencies draw upon indigenous symbols such as religion, tradition and norms to promote their view of democratisation. The thesis examines the extent to which these contending approaches to political reform employ existing forms of legitimacy and identity drawn from Ibadi Islam and in particular, the concept of Shura. The thesis explores the extent to which Shura is, in an Omani context, compatible with national emancipation and in so doing, challenges the extent to which this process is less a function of broader public demand, and more a response to the demands of Omani elites wishing to entrench the longevity and legitimacy of the political system in the post-oil era. The thesis argues that all three constituencies believe that Shura in Oman, despite its often contested nature, forms the cornerstone for ensuring the legitimacy of any political regime. Incorporating a sense of shared identity that recognises the continued importance of tribalism in determining political allegiance, the process of Shura has nonetheless reached a level of maturity that now embraces the concept of popular participation. The absence of sectarian factions and other social problems in the evolution of this process serves to highlight how indigenous approaches to popular participation can determine new approaches to political reform across the Middle East.
Supervisor: Jones, C. ; Dyer, C. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available