- Monsoon Revolution: Republics, Sultans, and Empires in Oman, 1965–1976 by Abdel Razzaq Takriti
There are effectively two books somewhat uncertainly cobbled together in this study. The first is an examination of the “revolutionary” aspects of the war in the Dhofar governorate. The second is a recounting of the removal of “Orientalist” and “tyrant” Sultan Sa‘id bin Taymur and his replacement by his “absolutist” son Qaboos in 1970, and includes the first steps in the establishment of a broader post-1970 state. The thread holding them together is a perceived “Anglo-Sultanic structure.” In author Abdel Razzaq Takriti’s view, recent Omani history has been a function of British “imperial [End Page 328] sovereignty,” which he defines as “a dominant foreign power investing local authority in an indigenous body of its choosing, while retaining a degree of control over that body” (p. 15). This not only meant that Britain controlled the Sultanate’s foreign policy and even the outlines of domestic policy according to a combination of some sort of a master plan and a “colonialist” myopia, but it also effectively manipulated both sultans almost as if they were puppets.
The strength of the first part of this study, which originated in a St Antony’s College, Oxford doctoral thesis, lies in the detailing of the revolutionary ideology and activities in Dhofar and northern Oman. The author’s sympathies obviously lay with what he regards as revolutionary elements of Arab and Omani dissidence. Indeed, reading this book brings back echoes of leftist rhetoric of the 1960s and 1970s, somewhat as if Fred Halliday’s thinking had stopped with his Arabia Without Sultans and not evolved into his later work.
This first part of the book is more of an intellectual ideological history than a history of the war in Dhofar, concentrating on only one specific element within a larger social and political universe. All of the author’s fourteen interviews are with leftist or revolutionary figures, including two Palestinians, seven Bahrainis, one Kuwaiti, one Westerner, and only three Dhofaris. Their contributions add valuable details and depth to Takriti’s topic, as does his extensive gleaning of material from Arabic sources. At the same time, however, the emphasis on revolutionaries glosses over the fact that the majority of the fighters in Dhofar came from the mountain tribes and were not ideological, while the Dhofar Liberation Front’s leadership significantly consisted of mostly families and groups from the city of Salala but outside the dominant Kathiri tribal structure. One example of enduring friction was the minor mutiny in the early 1970s of jabalis against the Front’s severe strictures on Islam. The National Democratic Front (NDFLOAG) in the north receives considerable attention but there is no mention of other, more moderate, Omani nationalists who opposed the old sultan, such as Husayn Haydar Darwish, Muhammad Amin ‘Abdullah, ‘Abdullah al-Ta’i, and Salim al-Ghazzali.
The other embedded book within the book deals with discussions and events leading to the 1970 coup, the coup itself, and the resultant government’s first steps. Ironically, Abdel Razzaq Takriti bases nearly his entire discussion of this period on British archival sources, principally Foreign and Colonial Office and Ministry of Defense records, supplemented by the personal papers of John Graham, the seconded commander of the Sultan’s Armed Forces at the time. This results in a one-dimensional view of activities with little reference to the actors in Oman apart from what is discussed in the British records. This leads, inter alia, to a positive perception of Hugh Oldman, Oman’s defense secretary in the early 1970s, as the leading figure in Muscat and an incomplete understanding of the sultan’s complex uncle and prime minister, Sayyid Tariq (nor is there any mention of the bitter rivalry between Oldman and Tariq). Oldman looms large in the British records because he was a principal point of contact between Whitehall and Muscat.
The British documents give a detailed view of the events surrounding the coup but they do not give...