Author: Nikolaus A. Siegfried Date: 1998 Institution: Free University of Berlin Subject:Social Sciences Supervisor: Gudrun Kraemer
Abstract: Over the past years, the Arab Gulf monarchies have adopted written legal frameworks founded on Islamic principles or even explicitly the Scharia. After King Fahd's proclamation of the Saudi Basic Law in 1992, Oman remained the only Arab country without a constitutional document. The Sultanate received a Basic Law on November 6, 1996 when Sultan Qabus issued Decree No. 101. But even though observers of Oman agree that the document is a milestone on the path to state formation, its impact on political and legal development is far from clear. One group (most recently Miller, 1997) claims that the Basic Law is a turning point towards a representative monarchy and democratization in the Sultanate, whereas others like Katz (1997) argue that the decree is basically a completion of the policy Qabus has followed until now. The latter argument is an extension of Pridham's (1986) who maintains that Qabus has in most respects pursued his father's way of governing rather than initiated a truly innovative regency. Within the framework of this controversy, this article investigates the innovative power of the Basic Law for Oman. On the background of Omani history, and European and Islamic constitutional thought the papers reviews Decree 101 with respect to authority and legitimacy in the Islamic country. Comparing the Basic Law with the constitutional texts of the other Gulf monarchies leads me to the conclusion that Oman's Basic Law does not set a truly innovative legal framework. Although the Decree confirms the adherence of national laws to international standards, civil liberties do not extend to the public sphere. The Basic Law`s main purpose is fixing the status quo of powers where the Sultan remains the only recognized authority in the state. Second, it is used to suggest a historically unfounded unity of the Omani nation, which is a basis for modern territorial states. The Decree makes the Sultan the symbol of this unity and thus helps to legitimize his authority.