x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Oman 'has begun reform'

A government shake-up of Oman, including the dismissal of 12 cabinet ministers, was the beginning of a reform effort that would "utilise the energies" of youthful protesters, the country's foreign minister said yesterday ahead of a Gulf Co-operation Council meeting in the UAE capital.

ABU DHABI // A government shake-up of Oman, including the dismissal of 12 cabinet ministers, was the beginning of a reform effort that would "utilise the energies" of youthful protesters, the country's foreign minister said yesterday ahead of a Gulf Co-operation Council meeting in the UAE capital.

"This development does not end here and it has no ceiling. It is the policy of the Sultanate of Oman," Yusuf bin Alawi said before the meeting, where the issue of regional unrest was expected to take centre stage.

The Sultanate announced yesterday evening that 12 ministers including the interior and education ministers had been removed.

"Development has begun with this strong package and will continue in the same strength in the years to come in order for us to utilise and benefit from the energies of the youth," said Mr bin Alawi.

The changes would enhance the government's administrative abilities, he said, adding the country would rely less in the future on foreign labour, a sign of what they might do to tackle unemployment.

Protesters in Oman have called for an end to corruption in government and the strengthening of the sultanate's advisory parliament.

In his opening remarks, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs, placed regional unrest at the forefront of concerns for Gulf countries. He said he was confident Oman could overcome its problems, praising its ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said's ability to "treat these issues with wisdom and ability". "We are following with the utmost interest the latest developments in the brotherly Sultanate of Oman," he added.

He backed attempts by King Hamad of Bahrain to contain protests, with demonstrators calling for constitutional reforms and better living conditions. Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad is leading a dialogue with Bahraini protesters.

Sheikh Abdullah said King Hamad's attempts to contain the protests showed "wisdom" and said the interests of Bahrain and its people must be the priority.

"There is no doubt the GCC states are affected by what is happening in the Arab world," Abdul Rahman al Atiyyah, the secretary general of the GCC, said ahead of the meeting.

Successive protests have gripped Arab countries this year, with demonstrators ousting the long-time dictators of Tunisia and Egypt. Mr al Atiyyah said popular movements in Arab countries represented "a new dawn for the people of these brotherly countries".

Gulf officials stressed the unity of GCC nations in what were momentous times. Mr al Atiyyah said the council stood behind Bahrain and Oman during the ongoing unrest. "Our security is a red line," he said.

Gulf officials remained tight-lipped about the possibility of an aid package for Oman and Bahrain, but Mr al Atiyyah drew a link between greater economic co-operation between GCC states and political calm in the region.

He said Gulf nations were eager to embrace reform, and that reform efforts in Bahrain and Oman had been ongoing for years.

kshaheen@thenational.ae