In principle, the theocracy of the twentieth-century Imamate of the northern Oman interior, ruled by an imam, was incompatible with the royal authority of Sultan Sa‘id bin Taymur (r. 1932–70). In practice, the points of collaboration were many. Seen from the vantage of ordinary tribespeople, the Imamate was a government. In the words of a former member of the Imamate's militia in 1980, “It killed; it taxed; it imprisoned.” The Ibadi imam had fourteen governors to represent his authority. Many qadis (judges) worked for both the Imamate and the Sultanate, always after first seeking permission from the Imam. Many judges often divided their time annually between the lands governed directly by the Imam and those of the Sultan. Several key incidents from the 1940s through the mid-1950s indicate the level of tacit cooperation, including 1952 support for combined military action to expel Saudis from an oasis in Buraimi. In the 1950s, Sultan Sa‘id was initially successful in assimilating the former domains under imamate control into direct Sultanate rule. He had, after all, assured tribal leaders that he would preserve what was essentially Islamic in the life of the interior—except of course for the nature of rule at the top. He preserved the status quo but by the 1960s it became increasingly obvious that he was unwilling or unable to face the shifting perceptions of “just” Islamic rule and the country's economic stagnation and desperate poverty.

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