Oman marks 51st national day with pared-back celebrations

Government is focusing on cutting spending and creating jobs

Oman will mark a subdued 51st National Day for the second year running on Thursday, as the government continues to cut spending with the aim of creating thousands of jobs for its citizens.

In the days leading up to the event there were Omani flags flying in streets around the country, but there were none of the lights that are usually hung up to mark the occasion.

Like last year, there were no singers or international entertainers flying in to perform, though there will still be firework displays in the capital Muscat and the major cities of Salalah and Sohar.

While last year’s festivities were muted after the death of the country’s former ruler Qaboos bin Said in January, and the coronavirus pandemic curtailing large gatherings, commentators told The National neither of these factors are behind the subdued fanfare this year.

Instead, they said the government’s focus on resuscitating the country’s economy and creating jobs is the reason for this year's low-key celebrations.

“The main focus now is to find jobs for thousands of our graduates and that is the reason why the government is saving money. Though oil prices have rallied a bit this year, it does not mean we should waste money on extravagant celebrations”, said Qassim Al Kharusi, a former ministry of finance official.

Oman, which depends heavily on oil revenue, has benefited from international crude prices rising from $39 per barrel last year to around $80 per barrel currently.

Reducing the country's budget deficit remains a higher priority for the government than celebrations, said Dr Ajit Singh, a business professor at the Modern College of Business and Science in Muscat.

“Oman reported a budget deficit of 1.206 billion rials ($3.13 billion) for the first seven months of this year. Obviously it needs to settle this deficit and pompous celebrations will drain more money”, he told The National. “Cost saving is a priority at the moment.”

In January, Oman’s Minister of Labour Dr Mahad bin Said Baowain said the government will create thousands of jobs for Omanis. He said there were more than 65,000 jobseekers in the country.

Sultan Haitham bin Tarek, who took over from the late Sultan Qaboos, is expected to address the nation live on television on November 18.

Mr Al Kharusi expects him to stress the need to cut back on spending, stem waste and boost revenue by diversifying away from oil income.

Since he became ruler in January last year, Sultan Haitham has introduced a series of measures to boost revenue, including trimming down the civil ministries, introducing taxes and implementing plans to raise funds from bonds.

Omanis plan their own festivities

Though the government has cut back plans for the occasion, some Omanis want to stage their own celebrations on November 18.

Many houses in Muscat are already lit up with lights in the red, white and green of Oman’s flag.

In Azaiba, an affluent area of Muscat, 52-year-old petroleum engineer Hamed Al Ojaili told The National he was still planning to mark the occasion.

“I am planning to switch on the lights on the outside walls of my house to celebrate the 51st national day. I do that every year and I am not going to miss it this year”, he said.

Other Omanis said they were planning to put on folk music in their neighbourhoods.

“A group of us will have drums beating and traditional dances on the beach on the evening of November 18th. How can we stop marking it? We have celebrated the National Day for 50 years,” said grocery shop owner Mubarak Al Hadidi, 35, who lives in the coastal area of Seeb in Muscat.

Oman’s national day is celebrated on the birthday of Sultan Qaboos. The country has its Renaissance Day on July 23, the date when he became ruler, succeeding his father.

Updated: November 18th 2021, 1:07 PM
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