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Reviewed by:
  • Oman's Insurgencies: The Sultanate's Struggle for Supremacy, and: Oman: Politics and Society in the Qaboos State
  • Calvin H. Allen Jr. (bio)
Oman's Insurgencies: The Sultanate's Struggle for Supremacy, by J.E. Peterson. London, San Francisco, and Beirut: Saqi, 2007. 448 pages. Appends. to p. 487. Maps to p. 497. Bibl. to p. 508. Index to p. 522.
Oman: Politics and Society in the Qaboos State, by Marc Valeri. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. viii + 259 pages. Bibl. to p. 267. Index to p. 284.

These two books feature one of the world's leading authorities on Oman and a relatively new specialist. John Peterson has been writing about Oman for more than [End Page 143] 30 years, and his two books, with a third in press, and many articles, book chapters, and other publications dealing with the Sultanate are leading studies of Oman's past 100 years. His stint as the official historian of the Sultan's Armed Forces eminently qualifies him for this book on Oman's 20th century insurgencies. Marc Valeri is a research fellow at the University of Exeter. This book, his second on Oman, is based on his dissertation at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris.

In examining the two decades (1957-76) of conflict in Oman, Peterson argues that the Sultanate's wars against the Ibadi Imamate (1957-9) in northern Oman and the Marxist opposition in Dhofar (1965-76) were insurgencies, i.e., conflicts led by a minority against a sitting government. In defeating these insurgencies, the Sultanate relied on counter-insurgency methods in which the Sultan provided local authority and legitimacy by carrying "out the functions demanded by its people and achiev[ing] the legitimacy expected of the state" (p. 13) and the Sultan's British allies "provided the funds, equipment, officers, direct military support on occasion, and Oman's interface with the outside world" (p. 23).

Peterson begins the book with a discussion of the nature of insurgency and counterinsurgency warfare, as well as the historical background, including relations between Imamate and Sultanate, the British role in Oman, and issues related to boundaries and oil, leading to the establishment of centralized Sultanate authority in 1955. In Chapter 2, Peterson examines the first insurgency beginning with the unification of Oman under Sultan Sa'id bin Taymur in December 1955 through the insurgency of 1957 led by the Imam Ghalib bin 'Ali al-Hina'i, the counter-insurgency of 1957-8, the final defeat of the insurgents with the capture of al-Jabal al-Akhdar in 1959, and the integration of northern Oman into the Sultanate in 1971. Peterson then turns his attention to the Dhofar insurgency, with Chapter 3 providing historical and cultural background to Dhofari dissidence, including a description of the evolution of the conflict from a nationalist orientation under the Dhofar Liberation Front (1965-7) to a Marxist ideology under the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf (and its various later avatars) from 1968 to 1970, the coup of July 1970 that brought Sultan Qabus bin Sa'id to power, and the next two years of the conflict during which the Sultanate began to score some military successes. This discussion continues in Chapter 4 —covering the years 1972 to 1976 —as Peterson describes the establishment of a permanent government presence in the mountains of Dhofar and the subsequent military offensive through 1973, the external assistance to both sides in the conflict, events of the final two years of the counter-insurgency (1974-5), and the ceasefire and development activities in Dhofar through the late 1980s. Chapter 5 summarizes the characteristics of these two wars and then looks at Omani military and security development since 1970.

Much has been written about the Dhofar war —mostly memoirs of British army officers involved in the war or discussion imbedded in studies of modern Oman (Valeri covers this same period in pp. 51-69 of the book reviewed below), and Peterson provides an excellent review of this literature in a bibliographic essay (pp. 498-501), but this is the first major scholarly study of these two insurgencies. It is solid military history...