The enlightened dictatorship

The enlightened dictatorship is a phrase supposedly invented by the Danish kings who ruled Norway thru the 17th and 18th centuries. They wanted to tell the people that they were fit to rule because they were born smarter than most others. Of today’s royals, the Sultan of Oman might be among the closest we come to a royal who fulfils that particular requirement!

We do not know him personally, but we have visited his country and his capital city. The Sultan has absolute political power, but he has spent the country’s oil money giving his subjects better infrastructure, better health, better education and not least better opportunities for women than most other rulers in the Arab world. He is not quite a Scandinavian social democrat yet, there are political prisoners in his jails that would testify to that if ever given the chance, but still we found Oman a very unexpected positive surprise.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Queen Elizabeth II, the ship, not the monarch, is lying alone and forsaken amongst the luxury towers.

Our ship first came to Dubai however, where we never went near the skyscrapers and the tallest hotels in the world. We could not care less about the convoys of sports cars that tour the town when the Ferrari-club holds their champagne-and-caviar-meetings. In the cruise terminal we passed a large model of the new marina that the city is promoting. It was all about super yachts for the super rich. One of our waiters at the Luminosa told us what that meant in practical terms; it means working for the Trumps and the Abramowitzes of this world earning 350 dollars a month if you are lucky. Our friend does not get rich on the Luminosa either, but at least moving there made him triple his salary!

We spent one day in Dubai going for a desert excursion, finding out first hand how hard it is to walk the tiniest little hill when sand as smooth as sugar flows like water around your feet. It was an interesting experience, but it did not change the fact that we could not get away from Dubai fast enough.

After Dubai we came to Oman and the capital city of Muscat. For the ignorant tourist, this city has an Arabian atmosphere that Dubai tried very hard not to show us. At least nobody flung vulgar luxury in our face every step we took, and that alone put us in a better mood.

Muscat, Oman. A young boy in traditional clothing in one of the markets near the port.

We did a city tour of the Grand Mosque, The Opera House, The National Museum and the Royal Palace, all relatively new institutions built after the currant Sultan Qaboos bin Said started modernising the country in the 1970ties. We spent half our time in a nice city market and a friendly sidewalk cafe. Oman has a reputation as a safe place where a western tourist still can travel without being beheaded on every street corner. You need to look no further than to the neighbouring Yemen to find a country where this is unthinkable.

Oman is Muslim in a very traditional and conservative way, but militant fundamentalism has not reach its borders. Women have a place in politics, even if politics are not about final decisions since all power rests with the Sultan. Still, this is quite a few steps closer to the 21st century than Saudi Arabia, another neighbour, where women cannot even drive a car!

We do not claim to know all about Oman, nor do we claim the Oman is an Arabian heaven on earth. But give us the choice between travelling to Dubai, or God forbid travelling to Qatar to watch the disgusting 2022 Football World Cup; and we will choose Oman any day!

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