Established Merchant Families

Persian Gulf States Table of Contents

Among the most important groups, in terms of political influence, are a number of merchant families whose economic wealth is predicated on the old, established links with the ruling family. These are members of families who settled in Muscat and the coastal region and include both Hindus and Muslims from the Indian subcontinent and Shia from Iran. These families consolidated their power during the reign of Sultan Said ibn Taimur and continued to amass fortunes after 1970, largely through monopolistic or quasi-monopolistic franchises. None is directly involved in the oil business, but together they are the principal suppliers of goods to the government, local contractors, foreign firms, local consumers, and the oil industry. Valuable distributorships for consumer and capital services are under their aegis.

Close cooperation between the merchants and Sultan Said ibn Taimur evolved into a mutually protective relationship with civil servants in the Qabus ibn Said government. Included in this group are the Zawawis, whose roots are in Saudi Arabia. Qais ibn Abd al Munim az Zawawi, for example, as of 1991 served as deputy prime minister for economic and financial affairs. Apart from his ministerial position, Qais ibn Abd al Munim is a prominent Muscat businessman. He was educated in India, has no hereditary relationship with the ruling family, and is well connected in the Arab world. His brother, Omar ibn Abd al Munim az Zawawi, a Harvard-educated physician, is considered the second wealthiest man in Oman next to the sultan. Apart from being president of Omar Zawawi Establishment (the Omzest Group), which comprises about seventy companies and joint ventures, he is special adviser for external liaison to the sultan. The Omzest Group represents multinational companies, such as Daimler-Benz and Mitsui Engineering and Shipping Company, which is contracted to build the oil refinery near Muscat.

Another example of a merchant family drawn into the ministerial level is Said Ahmad ash Shanfari, the minister of petroleum and minerals, whose family origins are Dhofari and who has held the portfolio since 1974. The Shanfari family is related to Qabus ibn Said's mother and controls Shanfari and Partners, a contracting company involved in building infrastructure. Its bid was selected from among six contractors to build the new industrial estate at Raysut.

Khimji Ramdas, who heads the Khimji Ramdas Group, which holds international franchises ranging from consumer products and soft drinks to insurance and construction, is also in this circle. Yahya Muhammad Nasib, chairman of Yahya Enterprises, provides defense and communications equipment to the Ministry of Defense and other ministries. Other influential families include those of Muhsin Haidar Darwish and Suhail Bahwan, chairman of the Bahwan Group, Muscat.

More about the Government and Politics of Oman.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress