The reform is a rare example of social reform in a country that remains conservative. The sultan's decree, which has yet to be published, repeals a 1993 law that gave the Interior Ministry power over marriages with foreigners. The country has a large immigrant population from other Mideast countries, the Philippines, India and Pakistan.
Muscat (AsiaNews) – Omanis will no longer have to apply for state permission to marry a foreign national. A royal decree was issued this week implementing what is a tantamount to a social revolution in the otherwise conservative Gulf state.
The change is part of a series of long-delayed reforms undertaken by Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Saidhas to improve fiscal stability and attract foreign investment. He came to power in 2020 after the death of his cousin, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, whose reign lasted 50 years.
In a country where the state controls the media and where the authorities tend to crack down on dissent, Omani citizens previously had to meet certain conditions before they could marry a foreigner, including minimum age. In the past, unauthorised marriages were sanctioned with fines and annulments.
Decree 23/2023 issued by Sultan Haitham repeals a 1993 law under which the Interior Ministry had the power to approve marriages with immigrants or stateless people.
"The facts and circumstances of life have changed, and the economic situation has changed (since that 1993 law)," said Omani lawyer Salah al-Maqbali, repeating to Reuters comments he made to Omani media outlet Shabiba.
The new decree states that marriages must not violate Shari‘a (Islamic law), public order or other provisions that ban marriage with foreigners for holders of certain positions within the government.
The full decree has not yet been published, but marriages previously deemed illegal can now be legalised.
Located on the south-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sultanate of Oman is divided into 11 governorates and 61 provinces.
Omani nationals make up just over half of its population of 3.8 million people. Most foreigners are Arabs from other Middle Eastern countries but a substantial portion comes from the Philippines, India and Pakistan.
Like many countries in the region, the sultanate has an economy based on crude oil and especially natural gas, plus tourism.
Recent reforms saw gross debt reduced to 40 per cent of GDP last year, down from 60 per cent in 2021, prompting the S&P rating agency to revise its outlook for the country from stable to positive.
Islam is the state religion and Shari‘a is the main source of law, but the principle of freedom of religion is upheld. Religious discrimination is not allowed.
Muslims represent about 86 per cent of the population. Christians are around 6.5 per cent or 300,000 people, 70 per cent Catholic, 13 per cent Orthodox and 6 per cent Protestant. The remaining 11 per cent belong to other Christian groups.
Non-Muslims are essentially migrants from other Asian nations, particularly the Philippines and India, and live in large urban centres, like the capital Muscat, Sohar and Salalah.