Oman’s guiding hand in a churning Mideast

A region so in flux needs an honest broker like tiny Oman that can listen and mediate with selfless interest.

Oman's Sultan Qaboos, left, receives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Muscat, Oman, Oct. 26.

One of the calmest cities in the Middle East has been very busy of late, acting as a hall of odd fellows.

In recent weeks, Muscat, the capital of the tiny Arab state of Oman, has hosted Israel’s prime minister, Iran’s foreign minister for special political affairs, the Palestinian president, and the United Nations envoy for the Yemen conflict.

Each visit was held in secret, of course, which befits Oman’s historic role as a trusted go-between in the region. Yet three possible outcomes now seem to be in the open.

One, Oman’s minister for foreign affairs said “maybe it is time for Israel to be treated the same” as other states in the Middle East. The suggestion was not widely disputed by most Arab states, not even Saudi Arabia, which is in the midst of ongoing global criticism for its role in killing of a prominent Saudi dissident.

Two, both the Defense secretary and secretary of State for the United States have called for a swift cease-fire in the war in Yemen and peace talks to take place next month. The four-year-old war has killed some 10,000 and left more than a third of the population in a humanitarian crisis. “It is time to end this conflict, replace conflict with compromise, and allow the Yemeni people to heal through peace and reconstruction,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Three, the Israeli sports minister, Miri Regev, was able to visit Abu Dhabi, sing her country’s national anthem at a sports event in the heart of the Arab world, and visit the third largest mosque in the world.

As retired Gen. David Petraeus said at a recent conference in the region, the Middle East is in the midst of a “realignment” of power. Events are shifting the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The US may soon propose a new peace process for the Israel-Palestinian standoff. And while the war in Syria winds down, the war in Yemen has escalated.

Oman, as it has done in the past, is playing a crucial role as a mediator in many of these shifts. It is friendly to Iran, its fellow Arab states, and the West. It can talk to both sides in the Yemen conflict, even brokering the release of Western hostages in Yemen. And it has been a back channel during the Syrian war and an intra-Arab dispute over Qatar.

What gives it this influence?

Oman seeks to live a peaceful existence as a neutral player between the bigger powers of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Yet its monarch, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who has been in power since 1970, also has a guiding philosophy on how to build trust and mutual respect.

The country’s diplomacy focuses on understanding the interests of other countries rather than trying to maximize its own gains, explains Sayyid Badr bin Hamad al-Busaidi, secretary-general of Oman’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It relies on seeing them as “though we were as them, to see the world through their eyes.”

“Is there some solution to this problem that neither of us have yet thought of that might turn out to work better for both of us?” says Mr. Busaidi.

This approach allows Oman to keep an open invitation to countries seeking to negotiate a way out of a difficult situation. And as the recent visits of foreign diplomats to Muscat shows, Oman’s honest listening and genuine concern for others may be helping produce results.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Oman’s guiding hand in a churning Mideast
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today