The Middle East is becoming increasingly unstable. That could have been said about the region at virtually any time since WW2, but at no point since WW2 has there been so many failed states, so many failing states, and such broad and sustained sectarian and ethnic wars being fought across the region.
Today, even relatively stable regimes with deeply entrenched institutional structures seem compelled to keep investing in external regional power plays – with possibly serious medium-term consequences.
But one country which stands out as an island of peace right in the middle of this sea of conflict is Oman. Internally stable, relatively economically solid despite (or perhaps due to) not being solely an oil economy, aloof of the prevailing regional sectarian wars, and respected by all their neighbours. And not only their immediate neighbours: when the government of Israel needs to establish diplomatic back-channels with arch-enemies like Iran, it seems they also turn to Oman for help.
This is not a blip, or random happenstance. For a myriad of historical reasons, Oman can be thought of as a middle-eastern equivalent to Switzerland. Surrounded by larger, more powerful neighbours, culturally and religiously apart – the strand of Islam that dominates in Oman is outside of the Sunni/Shia divide, for example –, and fiercely independent, Oman has stood its political ground and has prospered historically as a trading nation able to bridge the gap and provide neutral meeting ground between rivals for centuries.
What has not been the case until only recently is that all of its bigger neighbours seem fragile at the same time, leaving a power vacuum in the region that only Oman might be able to fill, as the only country in the region that appears to be standing on rock-solid foundations.
And given its neutrality, its conciliatory political culture and its historically-proven capacity to mediate between others, this can only be a good thing.
Dr Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim
Originally published in Times of Oman