The Sultanate of Oman is a country in southwest Asia, on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It borders the United Arab Emirates on the northwest, Saudi Arabia on the west, and Yemen on the southwest. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea on the south and east, and the Gulf of Oman on the northeast. The country also contains Madha, an exclave enclosed by the United Arab Emirates, and Musandam, an exclave also separated by Emirati territory.
A vast desert plain covers most of central Oman, with mountain ranges along the north (Jebel Akhdar) and southeast coast, where the country's main cities are also located: the capital city Muscat, Matrah and Sur in the north, and Salalah in the south.
Oman's climate is hot and dry in the interior and humid along the coast. During past millennia Oman was covered by ocean. Fossilized shells exist in great numbers in areas of the desert up to 80 km from the modern coastline.
Chief of state and government is the hereditary sultān, Qabūs bin Saīd as-Saīd, who appoints a cabinet called the "Diwans" to assist him. In the early 1990s, the sultan instituted an elected advisory council, the Majlis ash-Shura, though few Omanis were eligible to vote.
Universal suffrage for those over 21 was instituted on 4 October 2003. Over 190,000 people (74% of those registered) voted to elect the 83 seats. Two women were elected to seats. The country today has three women ministers.
The sultan functions as an absolute ruler.
The Omani economy has been radically transformed over a series of development plans beginning with the First Five-year Plan (1976-1980). At Sultan Qaboos's instruction, a vision of Oman's economic future up to the year 2020 was set out at the end of the first phase of the country's development 1970-1995. Vision 2020, outlined the country's economic and social goals over the 25 years of the second phase of the development process (1996-2020).
The direct rule of the sultan gives Oman a largely stable economic and social system free of party politics. Sultan Qaboos, encourages market-oriented policies and private sector development as the mechanism for prosperity and growth.
Commercial export of oil began in 1967 and since Sultan Qaboos' accession to the throne in 1970, many more oil fields have been found and developed. In June 1999, PDO discovered a new oil field in southern Oman after drilling and testing three wells which demonstrated the commercial viability of the reservoir. This is the most significant find in five years. Work is continuing on the RO 503.876 million ( US$1,300 million ) oil refinery project in Sohar, which was due to go into operation in 2006 with a 116,400 barrels a day refining capacity. In 2004 Oman Oil Refinery was supplied with about 78,200 barrels a day for refining, while PDO began using steam injection technology in several wells to increase their productivity.
Since the slump in oil prices in 1998 , Oman has made active plans to diversify its economy and is placing a greater emphasis on other areas of industry, such as tourism and natural gas. Oman's Basic Statute of the State expresses in Article 11, that, "The National Economy is based on justice and the principles of a free economy."
Oman is known for its popular tourist attractions. Wadis, deserts, beaches, and mountains are areas which make Oman unique to its neighboring GCC nations (Wadis in particular). Jebel Shams is Oman's tallest mountain, highest point, and is a popular destination for camping. Most of the major malls are located in Muscat, the capital. The largest mall in the country is the Muscat City Centre which was built by Majid Futtaim, an Emirati business man. Other popular tourist activities include sand skiing in the desert, mountain-climbing, camel racing, and camping.