Middle East Studies

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The Emergence of States in a Tribal Society

Oman under Sa'id bin Taymur, 1932–1970

Prof. Uzi Rabi PhD (Tel Aviv University, 2000) is the Chair of the Department of Middle Eastern and African History, and the Director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University. He specializes in the fields of the modern history of states and societies in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula; oil and politics in the Middle East; Iranian–Arab relations; and Sunni–Shi’i tensions.


This book reassesses the reign of Sa’id bin Taymur, who was deposed by his son, Qabus bin Sa’id, in a coup in July 1970. Contemporary historiography of the period of Sa’id’s rule (1932–1970) views Oman as medieval and isolationist; Qabus’ later government is seen as progressive and enlightened, with his ascendancy to the throne often described as the “rebirth of Oman” from its “medieval slumber” into a thriving and prosperous Sultanate. This study refutes the prevailing view that Sa’id’s four-decade reign should be perceived as a place where time stood still. The author offers a critical look at the economic, political, social and cultural aspects of Oman during the reign of Sa’id bin Taymur.

The Emergence of States in a Tribal Society mainly focuses on tribe–state relations, emphasizing their dynamic interaction, with particular attention paid to the relationships between the tribal groups. Uzi Rabi’s book reinterprets a significant timescale in the modern history of the Arabian Peninsula and pre-oil societies, and will be essential reading for both students and scholars of Middle Eastern history, culture and society.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-080-4
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $67.50
Release Date: September 2006
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-473-4
Paperback Price: £24.95 / $39.95
Release Date: March 2011
Page Extent / Format: 320 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


List of Maps
A Note on Transliteration
List of Abbreviations


One Historical Structures in Oman

Two The Reign of Sa’id, 1932–1952

Three The Creation of the Unified Tribal State,

Four The Unified Tribal State, 1960–1964:
Two Different Versions of the State

Five The Discovery of Oil and the Dhufar Rebellion:
The End of the Unified Tribal State,
November 1964–July 1970


Select Bibliography

Rabi examines the complex method employed by which Taymur brought about the integration of the several tribes intro a more unified political system while simultaneously and cautiously using the oil revenue without reducing the state’s adherence to Islamic principles of governance… The author is to be commended for the intricacy of his coverage of the social and anthropological aspects of the historical development of this portion of the Persian Gulf. This effort will undoubtedly become a basic reading requirement for an appreciation of the historical development of modern Oman.
Digest of Middle East Studies

Rabi presents a fascinating account and, indeed, a striking reassessment of the long reign of Sultan Sa’id bin Taymur. Earlier studies for the most part dismissed the reign of Sa’id as “medieval and isolationist,” and regarded the government that succeeded it under Sa’id’s English-educated son, Qabus, as “progressive and enlightened.” Rabi has studied closely Sa’id’s reign, and convincingly asserts that his government “proved to be a responsive administration that adjusted itself to political and socioeconomic challenges.” Under Sa’id, Muscat and Oman were united as “the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman.” In 1964, oil in commercial quantities was discovered in Oman, increasing dramatically the income of the state, yet Sa’id seemed less than able to deal with some of the demands of the time. As his son, Qabus put it: “I have watched with growing dismay and increasing anger the inability of my father to use the new found wealth of this country for the needs of its people.” On 26 July 1970, Qabus, joined by others in Oman, led a coup and sent Sa’id into exile. Although Sa’id’s 38-year reign ended in personal disaster, his accomplishments were important, and Rabi makes a strong case for them. Highly recommended.

Uzi Rabi’s study reassesses the four-decade reign of Sa’id bin Taymur (1932–1970), usually depicted as an uninspiring interlude in the history of the sultanate of Oman and of minimal interest to academics. Scholars have generally perceived the coup of July 1970 – whereby Sultan Qabus bin Sa’id, the current ruler of Oman, deposed his father, Sa’id bin Taymur – as a watershed event denoting a systematic change from tradition to modernity in Omani politics. Rabi’s study maintains that Qabus’s rule should be regarded as another phase in a continuing progression of state building in Oman. In this sense, Sa’id was not a medieval, isolationist despot but a complex ruler seeking to serve his society and government as he understood them; he maintained Oman’s financial viability, guarded the country’s independence, resolved the issue of the imamate, and provided the foundation for Qabus to integrate two rival versions of the state prevalent in the 1960s – Sa’id’s tribal state and the British one.
... The reader is left with three models of the state, which provide an element of clarity and around which the historical events from 1932 to 1970 are organized and explained. Such an inductive approach provides a wealth of material, contributes to middle-level theory building, and avoids the error of overreaching generalizations. To students and scholars of Oman, this book provides comprehensive and fascinating data related to a little known and often neglected period of modern Omani history. Recommended for libraries, graduate students, professors, researchers, and policymakers interested in contemporary Middle Eastern studies.
International Journal of Middle East Studies

Uzi Rabi has written a historically detailed but theoretically nuanced study of the evolution of Oman under the rulership of Sa’id bin Taymur. Rabi deploys a wide array of archival sources to overturn previous historiography that portrayed Sa’id as a medieval despot, intent on keeping Oman isolated from the wider world. Instead Rabi describes a complex figure who understood his society and the constraints within which he was working. Rabi argues that Sa’id slowly but successfully created a United Tribal State, an administration that unified Oman while negotiating with powerful forces within Omani society. Rabi contrasts this approach with that desired by British diplomats and explains how the Sultan successfully managed to secure London’s financial and military assistance without undermining his vision for how Oman should evolve. Rabi makes a strong case for an extensive rethinking of Sa’id’s role in the building of the Omani state. From this perspective it is Sa’id and not the present ruler Qaboos who becomes the father of the modern Omani state.
Toby Dodge, Lecturer in Politics, Queen Mary, University of London, Senior Consulting Fellow for the Middle East at the International Institute for Strategic Studies

Sa’id Bin Taymur’s successor and current Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Sa’id, set out to reinvent a country his father isolated, after Britain agreed to help him usher in sorely needed economic reforms. In this painstakingly documented study, Uzi Rabi argues that Sa’id bin Taymur (1910–1972) was not negligent and, in fact, should be considered the (silent) father of the ‘New Oman’. According to Rabi, Sa’id was unnecessarily maligned, even though his thirty-eight-year rule was problematic. Rabi provides us with a thorough analysis of how Sa’id forged the Unified Tribal State (chapter 3), anchoring everyone around himself as ruler; in one sense, Sa’id may well have understood the value of the illusion of power as much as raw force. Some of the best work in the book are Sa’id’s detailed views of various tribal leaders and Imami aspirants: Sa’id’s appreciation of internal tribal politics was exceptional, even if his suspicion of everyone resulted in difficult relationships.
The International History Review

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