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Geographer Alasdair Drysdale speaks further on why Oman is unique in the Arabian Peninsula.

…Oman really is unique within the Arabian Peninsula in all kinds of ways. I think sometimes people make the assumption that just by virtue of its location, it's sort of in the same category as Saudi Arabia and some of the sheikdoms on the Persian Gulf coast. But it has a very different history, with intense interaction with Asia and East Africa over the centuries. It's Ibadi Muslim, which is to say it's actually the only country in the Middle East which has the majority of its muslims that are Ibadi. It's still conservative, but in doctrinal terms they depend on consensus in election or appointment of religious leaders.

But the other way in which Oman, I think, really is quite special is that the status of women there is noticeably different….In the 1970s it was completely isolated and there simply were no schools, or none to speak of, and today, roughly half of students in secondary schools and actually more than half of students in universities are female. So they, they actually take great pride in that.

When I was in Oman last year I was quite struck by how prominent women are in some of the key ministries. It varies a lot from ministry to ministry, but I was working in the ministry of family planning, and I would say that all of the key people were women. In the ministry of social labor affairs, the ministry of planning, it's quite common to find women in positions of real, real authority. It's kind of a trivial little thing, but just to emphasize how different Oman and Saudi Arabia [are], where women are not permitted to drive, I read somewhere quite recently that Oman just granted its first taxi driver's license to a woman. I mean it sounds like an incredibly small thing, but really it's special in that part of the world.


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