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Caught in the shadowsOman The True-life Drama and Intrigue of an Arab Stateby John Beasant224pp MainstreamOman was once described as a place in the sun for shady people and this is a prominent if not predominant theme of this fascinating book For the history of this secretive mysterious oil-rich Gulf state with a population of only 16 million is dominated by tales of Arabian intrigue adventure and skullduggery a British-inspired coup to oust the sultan and replace him with his own son SAS operatives fighting off rebels while pretending to be training advisors Omani oil finding its way to Rhodesia and South Africa during sanctions the buying of expensive weapons which made instant millionaires of former British military and intelligence officers and the infamous construction contract awarded to Cementation after Mrs Thatcher lobbied the sultan while her son Mark was on the company payrollSuch controversy has made the Omani regime notoriously censorial and hypersensitive to any adverse comment It is illegal to criticise Sultan Qaboos and Robin Allen the Financial Timess highly respected Gulf correspondent was banned from the country merely for reporting a World Bank study which concluded that Oman was heading for major economic upheaval because of exceptionally high levels of defence and national security expenditureSo when John Beasant a well-connected journalist who had worked in Oman for many years wrote this book the regimes reaction was typically repressive He was offered a substantial bribe not to publish and when he refused he was escorted to the airport and expelled from the country Since publication this book has been officially bannedThis amazingly inept public-relations strategy is all the more counter-productive because the book is far from a hatchet job on the current regime Beasant concludes that Sultan Qaboos has an enviable record of quite extraordinary acheivement arising from his personal and sustained courage in modernising Oman and believes he will emerge as one of the first constitutional monarchs of the Arabian PeninsulaOmans precarious
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