Muscat: On July 23, 1970, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said came to power in Oman. As the Sultanate celebrates its 44th Renaissance Day, MPPH chairman and editor-in-chief, Mohamed Issa Al Zadjali reflects on the achievements reached so far and what is needed to take His Majesty's wise vision forward.
Al Zadjali was just an eight-year-old boy when His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said took over the reins from his father. Like many Omani families at the time he was living outside the country, in Abu Dhabi, but quickly returned to their homeland.
"I felt that this day, July 23, 1970, made Omanis come back to their country. So many were abroad but after July 23, they started to come back. It was the spark for the modernisation of Oman. If you read His Majesty's speech, he said to forget the past and look to the future, for how to build the country and make Oman one of the developed countries in the world," Al Zadjali says, sitting in his office in Ruwi, a string of green prayer beads running through his fingers.
When he and his family landed in Muscat, the airport consisted just of one small building where arriving and departing passengers had to take turns being processed through immigration and customs. The roads, most of which were unpaved, were narrow and people still drove on the left hand side, like the British.
In Old Muscat, there were large stones carried from a wadi in the middle of the road that they had to drive around.
'His Majesty said we have to invest in our brains'
"Whenever I drive there I remember those scenes of how it used to be and where we are now. People were so nice then. They would greet you and ask 'Who is your father?'" he remembers.
It didn't take long for development to begin in Oman, Al Zadjali says. One of the first things His Majesty did was order a road from Muscat to Dubai to be built. Still a child, Al Zadjali didn't know why it should go to Dubai.
"I thought maybe it should go to Nizwa. Now I understand why. It was good for trade and doing business faster. Before we didn't have Port Sultan Qaboos and the airport was small. That road really helped to develop Oman and bring trade and goods and so on," he says.
Roads and transportation
In fact, roads and transportation systems have been central and highly important to Oman's development, Al Zadjali believes. He says economies grow up around the roads, and they are soon followed by schools, hospitals and other services and amenities.
"Building all the new highways is helping develop the country. Transportation is like the nerve system for our country," he explains.
Al Zadjali says His Majesty had a very wise and long-term vision for the Sultanate, even if the people didn't always understand the decisions at the time, as he himself questioned some things as a child.
"But you don't always realise this until five or six years after. When you make a decision today, you don't see the effects of that decision tomorrow. He made strategic decisions. To be a leader like him you really have to be strong and patient. Sometimes people change their decisions based on how people react but he always stood for what he believed. It was for the benefit of this country," Al Zadjali says.
While much of the first four decades of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said's leadership have focused on infrastructure and physical developments, Al Zadjali says the new area of development is the people, which includes a lot of investment in training and education.
"His Majesty said we have to invest in our brains, our human resources. I see that they are giving a lot of scholarships abroad. I always encourage this because I want Omanis to see the world and how they live. When you go and experience things yourself, you want to bring back those good ethics or behaviour from other countries," says Al Zadjali, who was educated in the USA in the 1980s.
Al Zadjali's father, Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali, had worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and had lived in other countries and travelled. He knew there were many ways to contribute to Oman's development, including by providing media, which is why he founded the Times of Oman. In the early 1970s there was hardly any English media in Oman but majority of the experts who came to build the country were from Europe and Asia. Most didn't speak or read Arabic and there was no way for them to get the news.
"Times of Oman was born to help reach those people who couldn't speak Arabic and make sure they were aware of what was happening around them. It also reached non-Arab countries around the world. We feel we were part of this vehicle to build Oman. He made the Times of Oman a brand name in Oman and made sure we are the authority source for news. He did this for the benefit of the country. He loved Oman. The paper didn't make money for him then but it was good for the country," Al Zadjali explains.
As Oman's Renaissance enters its 45th year, Al Zadjali says there needs to be a return to traditional values. He worries that the young generation has lost the sense of hospitality, respect and hard work with which their parents and grandparents were raised. He says globalisation and wealth has changed the attitudes so that people are more self-centred and less tolerant. While in the past people took time to ask about how others' lives and families were, these days they go straight into business.
"I remember when we used to go to any ministry or bank before we started any transaction they would offer us a drink and ask about our lives. That's gone now. People are busy with their lives and only want to make money. Young ones want to be rich so fast, whether they earn it in the right way or not," he asserts.
He says Omanis should think more about their education, identities and communities, and invest more time in families.
"It should start in the house, teaching our kids to respect other people and their ideas. If you don't like someone else's idea you don't have to fight with them. This is what Islam taught us," he adds.
He also hopes Omanis won't take His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said's generous leadership for granted. He compares him to a kind grandfather who likes indulging his grandchildren, but says His Majesty's gifts should be used wisely and to support his vision for the country.
"His Majesty is still continuing with his journey, making Oman a first world country. But he can't do it all by himself. I think maybe we should not abuse that love. We should use it in a better way, as he wished, not just for ourselves but for all of Oman," Al Zadjali concludes.
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