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Lecture | L-PEG Lunch Research Seminar

Ports, Production, and Promises: Radical Transformations and Job Creation in Oman

Friday 8 May 2020
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 4
2311 BZ Leiden


Please register in advance at l-peg@hum.leidenuniv.nl to receive a copy of the paper & lunch.


“Sohar is the next Dubai,” was a common local refrain across the Al-Batinah governorate of Oman in the 2000s. Today, Duqm holds the promise of the future. It is currently undergoing radical transformation from a small fishing village to an enormous special economic zone (SEZ). This paper rests within the context of national strategic visioning and planning, and examines particular sites targeted for radical transformation in response to economic change imperatives. Rentier states like Oman are supposed to have content populations, yet the level of social agitation, especially around jobs, is intensifying. This paper examines such puzzles, and asks why economic development plans in rentier economies that appear to respond so clearly to labour market challenges, fail so dramatically to address them evenly across sectors and periods. It centres on the city of Sohar as a critical case of rapid economic transformation and socio-economic disjuncture. Starting in the 2000s, Sohar transformed from a small coastal town to a city today that is almost unrecognisable from just 15 years ago. Yet Sohar was also at the heart of the Omani Spring in 2011, reflecting the wider Arab uprisings that year. Economic disenfranchisement and a lack of opportunities for local youth were at the core of concerns. Such industrial development then, and the SEZ in Duqm today, are supposed to generate growth and jobs. Labour nationalisation policies and SME promotion are supposed to facilitate this process, but have resulted in mixed outcomes for the economy and society. Building on multi-year ethnographic, semi-structured interview, and survey research, this paper interrogates the nexus of economic development planning and youth socio-economic expectations. It contributes to development scholarship on economic transformations, and labour market research in rentier economies


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