International Day of Parliamentarism – 30 June

On June 30, 1889, the Inter-Parliamentary Union was established, a date recognised in 2018 by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Day of Parliamentarism. Parliamentary work is a hallmark of democracy, which is fundamentally based on the free will of the people to determine their political, economic, social, and cultural systems, alongside full participation in all aspects of public life.

In the Vienna Declaration, the World Conference on Human Rights emphasised in Article 8 that democracy, development, and respect for human rights and freedoms are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. The declaration also asserts that one of the goals of democracy is to preserve individual dignity, achieve social justice, and promote social cohesion.

The significance and presence of parliamentary work lie in its derivation of principles from democracy, which is primarily focused on the ideas of justice, equality, and the protection of rights and freedoms. Moreover, it underscores that power is subject to representatives of the people or directly to the people themselves.

Oman, like other Gulf countries and certain Middle Eastern regimes, is an authoritarian state. The political system is an absolute monarchy (sultanate), with the current Sultan, Haitham bin Tariq, serving as the head of state and government, the supreme commander of the armed forces, and the head of the Supreme Judiciary Council. Despite efforts since the reign of the previous Sultan, Qaboos bin Said, to present Oman as a state that employs democratic tools within its political system through the establishment of the Council of Oman—comprising the elected Shura Council and the State Council, whose members are appointed by royal decree—the council’s political role is largely advisory. It is presented on various occasions as Oman’s parliament, but its authority is limited to approving or amending legislation for non-sovereign ministries.

Despite the initiation of the electoral process for Shura Council members in the mid-1990s, following its renaming from the Consultative Council in the early 1990s, the powers granted to it have remained purely advisory. Over the last two decades, Oman has experienced several protest movements, the most notable being the 2011 protests that coincided with the Arab Spring demonstrations across the Middle East. Although the authorities initially responded cautiously to these protests, they swiftly resorted to brutal repression, particularly in Sohar and Salalah. The crackdown resulted in fatalities and numerous injuries. The protests, which continued until May 2011, eventually saw the deployment of the military to the streets, working in conjunction with the special forces of the Royal Oman Police to suppress all demonstrations.

The issue extends beyond protests and their suppression to include the security persecutions faced by many activists, writers, and journalists, which often involve harassment, arrest, and travel bans. This type of authoritarianism and the absence of any democratic features are accompanied by repressive laws in various local legislations. Article 116 of the Omani Penal Code criminalises any activities related to the formation of political parties or human rights associations. The only active association in the human rights field is a government-controlled organisation, with its members appointed by royal decree.

It is also worth noting that the role of the Shura Council in human rights issues is weak, with no significant contributions to defending the rights of detainees or to improving and amending laws in accordance with international human rights agreements and covenants. It should be noted that several voices from members of the Shura Council, acting in their individual capacities and not as representatives of the council, have expressed solidarity with various issues such as unemployment and even the development or modernisation of laws.

The Shura Council specifically, and the Council of Oman in general, do not engage in any educational or awareness activities with the community regarding human rights or the importance of democratic work. This is especially pertinent when it comes to protecting freedoms, promoting the principles of justice and equality, and addressing the dangers of power abuse and centralisation.

In addition, based on the points noted in resolution A/RES/72/278 regarding gender equality, women’s empowerment, and combating violence against women, the Council has not played a significant role in proposing amendments or updates to laws concerning the transmission of nationality by Omani women married to non-Omanis. Local laws continue to discriminate against women in this regard compared to men, imposing numerous obstacles and complex conditions for women to obtain the right to confer their nationality to their children.

Despite the possibility that this could be attributed to the underrepresentation of women in the Shura Council, which resulted in the complete absence of women in the latest elections in October 2023, the upper chamber of the Council of Oman, the State Council, also has a low proportion of female representation—18 out of 86 members. Membership in this council is appointed directly by the Monarch himself. However, the issues concerning women mentioned above show no improvement due to the lack of effective proposals being put forward and the absence of active roles for female members in addressing women’s aspirations within society. 

Despite the importance of parliaments in representing people and involving them in political decision-making, as well as selecting their political representatives, Oman is one of the countries that exploit these institutions to polish its external image. It creates the illusion for both local and international communities that such institutions exist in Oman, whereas in reality, they have no genuine role in the political process nor do they functionally perform parliamentary duties.

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