Earlier this week the Sultanate of Oman hosted an event showcasing the cultural wealth and historical sites of Musandam under the pretext of cultural inclusion and safeguarding. What Muscat is conveniently omitting to say is that this particular exercise aims to repaint the province under the colours of its ruler, rather than celebrate its cultural, historical, religious, and linguistic idiosyncrasies.
Musandam, which was annexed by Oman in the early 1970s after a deal was struck with the British government, remains fiercely in opposition to the Sultanate on the basis of the systematic abuse it has suffered over the decades.
An exclave lying south of the United Emirates, Musandam does not have direct borders with Oman, and can only be accessed by sea.
If Musandam held close ties with Oman prior to its annexation, its people never identified as Omanis, and instead clamoured for territorial independence – a move that has been met with utmost violence by Muscat’s security forces. From unlawful arrests to the destruction of entire villages, Oman has waged a quiet war against Musandam, forcing countless communities into living in their ancestral homes by cutting them off from all basic services including health and education.
Forgotten by the international community, the plight of Musandam remains largely ignored – that is not to say it should go on unaddressed, especially if we consider the fierce campaign of oppression and cultural remapping its people have been subjected to.
In recent years cultural sites have been destroyed to cancel Musandam’s historical ties to the land and to reinforce Muscat’s narrative that the province’s cultural footprint is inherently Omani, which is a blatant exercise in cultural appropriation.
But there is more! The practice of the Shihuh tribe’s dialect has been outlawed as well as their traditional clothing in the name of integration. Muscat’s campaign against Musandam has gone as far as restricting the tribe’s ability to freely practise their faith, which differs from the Abadi school of thought Oman (Islam) follows.
Thousands of years of history should not be so easily dismissed. More importantly we ought to consider the loss incurred by those communities indigenous to the land and what this ultimately means for their future. Once a people find themselves cut off from their roots and forced to assimilate into another culture, they stand to lose their identity. As for the international community, we stand to watch history disappear.