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Historical Background

The White Book, or Basic Law of the Sultanate of Oman, issued in 1996 as Royal Decree No.101/96, declares that the system of government in Oman is a hereditary sultanate, in which succession passes to a male descendant of Sayyid Turki bin Said bin Sultan.

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Separation of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Powers

The Sultan is the head of state and the supreme commander of the armed forces. His person is inviolable and must be respected: he rules by royal decree, and his orders must be obeyed. He presides over the Council of Ministers and has the power to appoint or dismiss ministers. In addition to being the prime minister, the Sultan also holds the portfolios of defense, foreign affairs, and finance. While each minister has significant discretionary power, the Sultan makes the final decisions, albeit as a result of consultation between him and the ministers. The Sultan appoints and dismisses deputy prime ministers, ministers, undersecretaries, general secretaries, provincial governors and senior judges. He declares state of emergency, general mobilization, or war, and makes peace in accordance with the provisions of the law. He issues and ratifies laws and signs international treaties and agreements.

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Main Provisions

The Basic Law, considered to be the equivalent of a constitution, clarifies the process of royal succession. Within three days of the position of Sultan becoming vacant, the Ruling Family Council determines the successor to the throne. If the Ruling Family Council does not agree upon a successor, the National Defense Council confirms the appointment of the person designated by the Sultan in his letter to the Family Council. Article 9 of the Basic Law stipulates that power in the Sultanate is based on consultation (shura). The Basic Law defines the Supreme Judiciary Council as the oversight body for the judiciary and the Council of Oman as the country’s bicameral legislature, composed of the Consultative Council and the Council of State.

In accordance with Article 42 of the Basic Law, the Sultan presides over the Council of Ministers or appoints someone to do so. The Council of Ministers submits recommendations to the Sultan on economic, political and social, as well as executive and administrative matters and proposes draft laws and decrees. It also monitors the implementation of all laws, decrees, ordinances and decisions, as well as treaties and agreements and court judgments, in a manner that will ensure that they are complied with. The Council's deliberations are secret and its decisions are issued with the approval of a majority of those present. It is responsible, collectively and individually, before the Sultan. The Basic Law bars ministers from holding interest in companies doing business with the government in order to separate political from economic power. Public service ministries are required to submit reports and answer questions regarding their performance and plans before the lower house of the parliament.

The Sultan also presides over Specialized Councils or appoints chairmen for them. The powers of the Specialized Councils are defined and their members are appointed by royal decree. The National Defense Council is in charge of working with ministries of defense and the interior and coordinating the activities of the Royal Armed Forces and the Oman Police Force, and the National Development Council is in charge of general development planning.

The Basic Law provides for a bicameral parliament. The exact duties of the upper house, the Council of State, and its relations to the lower chamber, the Consultative Council, are not yet well established. But the fact that eight women, among the 48 members, were appointed to the upper house is a step in the direction of improving on political equality and expanding participation.

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Civil Rights

The Basic Law guarantees basic civil rights and liberties, affirms the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. Article 17 of the Basic Law states that all citizens are equal before the law, regardless of gender, origin, color, language, religion, sect, domicile, or social status. It specifies that rule in the Sultanate is based on justice, consultation and equality. Citizens have the right to take part in public affairs in accordance with circumstances defined in the law.

Personal freedoms are guaranteed in accordance with the law. No person may be arrested, searched, detained or imprisoned, or have his residence or movement curtailed, except in accordance with the provisions of the law. No person may be subjected to physical or psychological torture. No statement is valid if it is established that it has been obtained as a result of torture, enticement or humiliating treatment, or threats of such measures. An accused person is innocent until proven guilty in a legal trial, which ensures him the essential guarantee to exercise his right of defense according to the law. It is prohibited to harm the accused either bodily or mentally. The rights to counsel, to appeal, and to litigation are protected. Citizens have the right of assembly within the limits of the law. Observance of public order and public morals is a duty incumbent upon all residents of the Sultanate.

Freedom of religion is respected, provided that it does not disturb “public order and accepted standards of behavior.” Freedom of opinion and expression guaranteed within the limits of the law, freedom and secrecy of personal communication, freedom of the press, printing and publication are guaranteed in accordance with the conditions and circumstances defined by the law. It is prohibited to print or publish material that leads to public discord, violates the security of the state or abuses a person’s dignity and his rights.

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