Oman gears up for muted 50th National Day celebrations

Fanfare will be toned down this year following the death of the country’s former ruler Sultan Qaboos in January

Photo taken in Muscat, Oman
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Oman’s National Day celebrations on November 18 will be muted this year as the country continues to mourn the death of its former ruler while cutting back on non-essential expenditure to protect its ailing economy and curtailing large gatherings amid the Covid-19 crisis.

In previous years, renowned actors, singers and other performers have been flown in to entertain crowds in football stadiums and hotels across the country. But this year the festivities have been trimmed down in recognition of the nation’s loss in January.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who was the Arab world’s longest-serving ruler when he passed away aged 79 this year, is credited with bringing Oman out of obscurity and transforming it into a modern nation by building schools, universities and modern infrastructure while opening it up to visitors.

Nearly a year after his death, many Omanis still mourn the loss of the much-loved leader and are reluctant to engage in celebrations.

“I think it is obvious that Omanis are still in mourning and the death of Sultan Qaboos is still fresh in their minds. The government has obviously decided to keep the 50th National Day on a low key to respect people’s feelings,” Qassim Al Kharusi, a political analyst said.

National flags will be hoisted along roadsides but the streets of cities like Muscat, Sohar and Salalah will see little of the usual National Day fanfare.

Oman’s ruler, Sultan Haitham bin Tarik is expected to deliver the traditional National Day speech on television, rather than the royal box in the national stadium in front of thousands of his subjects.

The usual street decorations and traditional dances on the roads will also be bypassed this year, though there will still be small fireworks displays to mark the occasion.

Financial analysts said that, in addition to muting the celebrations out of respect for the loss of Sultan Qaboos, the country is trying to save costs to pay for the national deficit.

“The year 2020 has a deficit of 2.8 billion rials ($7.2 billion) and it makes sense to cut down losses. At current prices, we sell our oil at about $43 per barrel compared to $120 per barrel in 2014. There will be no point to spend millions in celebrations when we need to pay for the deficit,” Ahmed Al Shizawi, a financial analyst said.

In the last three months, Sultan Haitham, who took over from the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said in January, has introduced a series of measures to boost the national coffers, including trimming down the civil ministries, introducing taxes and implementing plans to raise funds from bonds.

However, towns outside Muscat are expected to stage the usual National Day horse and camel races, though the crowds will be cut to half their usual size due to the pandemic.

Oman, which has been through two lockdowns since the start of the pandemic, reported 329 new cases of Covid-19 on Monday with 12 deaths. The total number of confirmed cases has now reached 120,718 while 1,350 people have died from the virus since the beginning of the outbreak.