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Securing the Sultanate: Imperial Legacies and the Expansion of the Royal Oman Police in the 1970s
In the decade following the July coup of 1970, the government of Oman under the reign of the new Sultan, Qābūs bin Saʿīd, embarked on a series of enormous infrastructure and institution building projects. During this period, a time known in the Sultanate as the “Renaissance” or “al-Nahḍa,” these initiatives transformed the ways Omanis experienced the world around them and interacted with the state. One project that has, so far, garnered little attention from historians is the creation of the Royal Oman Police (ROP), which the Sultan founded via Royal Decree in 1974. Prior to this time, Oman had no nation-wide police force and security was handled by local governors. With the advent of the ROP, for the first time, Omanis experienced the presence of the central government in almost every town and village in the country. The ROP built new, modern police stations that replaced old forts as loci of government force throughout the countryside. The police car, a new sight on Oman’s roads (themselves new spaces), introduced the phenomena of the traffic stop, and the ROP Air Wing extended the physical reach of the state to the most remote mountain tops through its use of helicopters and airplanes. Drawing on archival documents from British contractors who helped train and lead the ROP, an official notebook of an Omani ROP officer, and government reports and correspondence from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, this paper argues that the ROP’s spread across Oman was, at its core, a kind of internal imperialism that was deeply rooted in the imperial and colonial policing traditions of the British Empire. In fact, Felix De Silva, the head of the ROP was a former Tanganyikan policeman, while other important early leaders came from police departments in Hong Kong, Kenya, and Special Branch in Britain itself. These people, with the help of newly trained Omani policemen and women, built an organization that introduced governmentality to the Omani people through a new repressive state apparatus that spread out across the land swiftly and efficiently. Therefore, I conclude that for many Omanis, life in their country during the first decade of the “Renaissance” was not only marked by new levels of monetary and material wealth, but also by contact with a new, powerful, and intrusive institution that brought them into direct contact with their government in a manner unprecedented in the history of Oman.
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Arab States
Arabian Peninsula
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