Oman: Political Development in a Changing World, by Carol J. Riphenburg. Westport, CT and London: Praeger Publishers, 1998. xii + 237 pages. Bibl. to p. 242. Index to p. 248. $59.95.
Reviewed by W Lynn Rigsbee 11
Praeger is to be commended for publishing Carol J. Riphenburg's Oman: Political Development in a Changing World, especially after its previous text, The Sultanate of Oman: A Twentieth Century History (New York: Praeger, 1995) by Miriam Joyce, was not well received.'
Riphenburg's work provides an insightful analysis of Omani political development since the advent of the Qabus regime. In eight chapters, she covers the issues of historical legacy, political and economic development, evolving gender equality and foreign policy.
Of particular importance is her examination of the Sultanate's evolving "democracy" within the context of Oman's political culture. This culture, which is Islamic and patriarchal, ensures that resulting institutions will be appropriate for the society.
Riphenburg shows that the Islamic components of Oman's political culture and evolving democracy are based in the Qur'anic principles of shura (consultation) and ijma' (consensus). These concepts have been used by Sultan Qabus as the justification for the establishment of the Majlis al-Shura, or Consultative Council. The members of the Majlis are elected by "nominating colleges" from each of Oman's wilayat (governorates). These colleges consist of "notables"-men and women of high standing in their community who assemble in public to nominate individuals to the Majlis. The names of nominees are then passed to the deputy prime minister of legal affairs, and, ultimately, to Sultan Qabus himself for the final selection of the Majlis membership.
Thus, the Majlis is, as the author notes, an institution based on indirect nomination and representation. As a result, it is not, in the Western sense, a democratically elected representative body. Despite this limitation, the establishment of the Majlis marks the beginning of representative government in the Sultanate. …