Groups of Omanis demanding jobs have held fresh protests, activists say, in the biggest challenge yet to the Gulf state’s new ruler who ordered the government to accelerate plans to create thousands of jobs.
Social media postings showed a group of protesters holding a sit-in under a bridge in the northern city of Sohar, where protests have taken place for three consecutive days.
Other protests were reported in several other towns, including Rustaq, Nizwa and Sur.
Videos and photos showed security forces serving water to protesters, a change of approach from Monday’s demonstrations when police fired tear gas to disperse gatherings and arrested groups of protesters.
Sultan Haitham, who acceded to the throne last year after the death of Sultan Qaboos, has had to bring in austerity measures to ease pressure on public finances at a time of low oil prices.
The government did not comment on Tuesday’s protests.
Oman’s state television showed the sultan chairing a meeting on youth employment.
“The youth are the nation’s wealth, its unfailing resource… We will make sure we listen to them, sense their needs, interests and aspirations,” Sultan Haitham said.
The sultan also announced new directives to create up to 32,000 full and part-time government jobs, according to Oman’s state news agency.
These will include government subsidies for those entering the workforce for the first time.
The economy of Oman, a relatively small energy producer with high levels of debt, is vulnerable to swings in oil prices and external shocks such as the coronavirus pandemic.
The protests follow the introduction last month of a value-added tax (VAT) for the first time, one of a series of reforms aimed at ensuring the sultanate’s financial sustainability.
Oman has pushed forward its program of replacing foreign workers with Omani citizens to ease pressure on the job market but youth unemployment is relatively high at about 10 per cent.
“The authorities may choose to postpone the implementation of some of the planned fiscal measures to maintain socio-economic stability, especially if oil prices rise enough to reduce pressure on the budget,” said Zahabia Gupta, an analyst at S&P Global Ratings.