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History of the Oman and Zanzibar Sultanate





There have been discoveries of Palaeolithic stone tools in caves in southern and central Oman, and in the United Arab Emirates close to the Straits of Hormuz at the outlet of the Persian Gulf. These stone tools, some up to 125,000 years old, resemble those made by humans in Africa around the same period. This is the southern route ‘out of Africa’.

Sumerians traded with Oman, and the Persian Achaemenid dynasty, controlled and/or influenced the Omani peninsula. This influential control was most likely exerted from a coastal center such as Sohar. From the 3rd century B.C. to the arrival of Islam in the 7th century A.D, Oman was controlled by two other Iranian dynasties, the Parthians (Whites) and the Sassanids. During this period Oman's administrative name was Mazun. By about 250 B.C, the Parthian dynasty brought the Persian Gulf under their control and extended their influence as far as Oman. Because they needed to control the Persian Gulf trade route, the Parthians established garrisons in Oman. In the 3rd century A.D, the Sassanids succeeded the Parthians and held the area until the rise of Islam four centuries later. This agricultural and military contact gave people exposure to Persian culture, as reflected in certain irrigation techniques still used in Oman.

Oman adopted Islam in the 7th century, during the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad. Ibadism became the dominant religious sect in Oman by the 8th century; Ibadhism is known for its "moderate conservatism". One distinguishing feature of Ibadism is the choice of ruler by communal consensus and consent. Oman is currently the only country in the Islamic world with a majority Ibadi population.

Arab tribes migrated eastward to Oman, coinciding with the increasing presence in the region of peoples from present-day Iran. In the 6th century, Arabs succeeded in repelling encroachments of these ethnic groups; the conversion of Arab tribes to Islam in the 7th century resulted in the displacement of the settlers from Iran.

But Oman was nonetheless conquered by several foreign powers, having been controlled by the Qarmatians between 931–932 and then again between 933–934. The Qarmatians ("Those Who Wrote in Small Letters" also transliterated "Carmathians", "Qarmathians", "Karmathians" etc.) were a Shi'a Ismaili group centered in eastern Arabia, where they attempted to established a utopian republic in 899 A.D. They are most famed for their revolt against the Abbasid Caliphate.

Between 967 and 1053, Oman was part of the domain of the Iranian Buyyids: The Buyyids/Deylamites/Dailamites were a possibly Persian people, inhabiting the mountainous regions of northern Persia on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. The earliest Zoroastrian and Christian sources indicate that the Dailamites originally came from Anatolia near the Tigris River. They spoke the Deilami language, a northwestern Persia dialect similar to that of the neighbouring Gilites.



Between 1053 and 1154, Oman was part of the Great Seljuk Turk Empire.

In 1154, the indigenous Nabhani dynasty took control of Oman, and the Nabhani kings ruled Oman until 1470, with an interruption of 37 years between 1406 and 1443.

The capital Muscat was taken by the Portuguese on 1 April 1515, and was held until 26 January 1650, although the Ottomans controlled Muscat between 1550–1551 and 1581–1588. In about the year 1600, Nabhani rule was temporarily restored to Oman, although that lasted only to 1624, when fifth imamate, which is also known as the Yarubid Imamate. The Yarubid recaptured Muscat from the Portuguese in 1650 after a colonial presence on the northeastern coast of Oman dating to 1508.

The Yarubid dynasty expanded, acquiring former Portuguese colonies in East Africa - including Zanzibar - and engaging in the slave trade. By 1719 dynastic succession led to the nomination of Saif ibn Sultan II. His candidacy prompted a rivalry among the ulama and a civil war between the two major tribes, the Hinawi and the Ghafiri, with the Ghafiri supporting Saif ibn Sultan II. He assumed power in 1748 after the leaders of both factions had been killed in battle, but the rivalry continued, with the factionalization working in favor of the Iranians, who occupied Muscat and Sohar in 1743.

The Iranians had occupied the coast before—indeed the coast was often the possession of various empires. These empires brought order to the religious and ethnic diversity of the population of this cosmopolitan region. Yet the intervention on behalf of an unpopular dynasty brought about a revolt. The leader of the revolt, Ahmad ibn Said al Said, was elected sultan of Muscat upon the expulsion of the Iranians.

Like its predecessors, Al Said dynastic rule has been characterized by a history of internecine family struggle, fratricide, and usurpation. Apart from threats within the ruling family, there was the omnipresent challenge from the independent tribes of the interior who rejected the authority of the sultan, recognizing the imam as the sole legitimate leader and pressing, by resort to arms, for the restoration of the imamate.

Schisms within the ruling family were apparent before Ahmad ibn Said's death in 1783 and were later manifest with the division of the family into two main lines, the Sultan ibn Ahmad Al Said (r. 1792–1806) line controlling the maritime state, with nominal control over the entire country; and the Qais branch, with authority over the Al Batinah and Ar Rustaq areas.

During the period of Sultan Said ibn Sultan Al Said's rule (1806–1856), Oman cultivated its East African colonies, profiting from the slave trade. As a regional commercial power in the 19th century, Oman held territories on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of East Africa, the area along the coast of East Africa known as Zanj including Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, and until 1958 in Gwadar (in present-day Pakistan) on the coast of the Arabian Sea. But when the British declared slavery illegal in the mid-19th century, the sultanate's fortunes reversed. The economy collapsed, and many Omani families migrated to Zanzibar. The population of Muscat fell from 55,000 to 8,000 between the 1850s and 1870s. Most of the overseas possessions were seized by the United Kingdom and by 1850 Oman was an isolated and poor area of the world.

When Sultan Sa'id bin Sultan Al-Busaid died in 1856, his sons quarreled over the succession. As a result of this struggle, the empire—through the mediation of the British Government under the Canning Award—was divided in 1861 into two separate principalities: Zanzibar (with its East African dependencies), and Muscat and Oman.

The death of Sa'id bin Sultan in 1856 prompted a further division: the descendants of the late sultan ruled Muscat and Oman (Thuwaini ibn Said Al-Busaid, r. 1856–1866) and Zanzibar (Mayid ibn Said Al-Busaid, r. 1856–1870); the Qais branch intermittently allied itself with the ulama to restore imamate legitimacy. In 1868 Azzam ibn Qais Al-Busaid (r. 1868–1871) emerged as self-declared imam. Although a significant number of Hinawi tribes recognized him as imam, the public neither elected him nor acclaimed him as such.



Imam Azzan understood that to unify the country a strong, central authority had to be established with control over the interior tribes of Oman. His rule was jeopardized by the British, who interpreted his policy of bringing the interior tribes under the central government as a move against their established order. In resorting to military means to unify Muscat and Oman, Imam Azzam alienated members of the Ghafiri tribes, who revolted in the 1870–1871 period. The British gave Imam Azzam's rival, Turki ibn Said Al-Busaid, financial and political support. Turki ibn Said succeeded in defeating the forces of Imam Azzam, who was killed in battle outside Matrah in January 1871.

Muscat and Oman was the object of Franco-British rivalry throughout the 18th century. During the 19th century, Muscat and Oman and the United Kingdom concluded several treaties of friendship and commerce. In 1908 the British entered into an agreement of friendship. Their traditional association was confirmed in 1951 through a new treaty of friendship, commerce, and navigation by which the United Kingdom recognized the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman as a fully independent state.





During the late 19th century and early 20th century, the sultan in Muscat faced rebellion by members of the Ibadi sect residing in the interior of Oman, centered around the town of Nizwa, who wanted to be ruled exclusively by their religious leader, the Imam of Oman. This conflict was resolved temporarily by the Treaty of Seeb, which granted the imam autonomous rule in the interior Imamate of Oman, while recognising the nominal sovereignty of the sultan elsewhere.

The conflict flared up again in 1954, when the new imam led a sporadic 5-year rebellion against the sultan's efforts to extend government control into the interior. The insurgents were defeated in 1959 with British help. The sultan then terminated the Treaty of Seeb and eliminated the office of the imam. In the early 1960s, the imam, exiled to Saudi Arabia, obtained support from his hosts and other Arab governments, but this support ended in the 1980s. Zanzibar paid an annual subsidy to Muscat and Oman until its independence in early 1964.

In 1964, a separatist revolt began in Dhofar province. Aided by Communist and leftist governments such as the former South Yemen (People's Democratic Republic of Yemen), the rebels formed the Dhofar Liberation Front, which later merged with the Marxist-dominated Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arab Gulf (PFLOAG). The PFLOAG's declared intention was to overthrow all traditional Persian Gulf régimes. In mid-1974, the Bahrain branch of the PFLOAG was established as a separate organisation and the Omani branch changed its name to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO), while continuing the Dhofar Rebellion.

In 1970, Qaboos bin Said Al Said ousted his father, Sa'id bin Taymur, who later died in exile in London. Al Said has ruled as sultan ever since. The new sultan confronted insurgency in a country plagued by endemic disease, illiteracy, and poverty. One of the new sultan's first measures was to abolish many of his father's harsh restrictions, which had caused thousands of Omanis to leave the country, and to offer amnesty to opponents of the previous régime, many of whom returned to Oman. He also established a modern government structure and launched a major development programme to upgrade educational and health facilities, build a modern infrastructure, and develop the country's natural resources.

In an effort to curb the Dhofar insurgency, Sultan Qaboos expanded and re-equipped the armed forces and granted amnesty to all surrendering rebels while vigorously prosecuting the war in Dhofar. He obtained direct military support from the UK, Iran, and Jordan. By early 1975, the guerrillas were confined to a 50-square-kilometer (20-square-mile) area near the Yemeni border and shortly thereafter were defeated. As the war drew to a close, civil action programs were given priority throughout Dhofar and helped win the allegiance of the people. The PFLO threat diminished further with the establishment of diplomatic relations in October 1983 between South Yemen and Oman, and South Yemen subsequently lessened propaganda and subversive activities against Oman. In late 1987 Oman opened an embassy in Aden, South Yemen, and appointed its first resident ambassador to the country.

Since his accession in 1970, Sultan Qaboos has balanced tribal, regional, and ethnic interests in composing the national administration. The Council of Ministers, which functions as a cabinet, consists of 26 ministers, all directly appointed by Qaboos. The Majlis Al-Shura (Consultative Council) has the mandate of reviewing legislation pertaining to economic development and social services prior to its becoming law. The Majlis Al-Shura may request ministers to appear before it.

In November 1996, Sultan Qaboos presented his people with the "Basic Statutes of the State", Oman's first written "constitution". It guarantees various rights within the framework of Qur'anic and customary law. It partially resuscitated long dormant conflict-of-interest measures by banning cabinet ministers from being officers of public shareholding firms. Perhaps most importantly, the Basic Statutes provide rules for setting Sultan Qaboos' succession.

Oman occupies a strategic location on the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, 35 miles (56 km) directly opposite Iran. Oman has concerns with regional stability and security, given tensions in the region, the proximity of Iran and Iraq, and the potential threat of political Islam. Oman maintained its diplomatic relations with Iraq throughout the Gulf War while supporting the United Nations allies by sending a contingent of troops to join coalition forces and by opening up to pre-positioning of weapons and supplies.

In September 2000, about 100,000 Omani men and women elected 83 candidates, including two women, to seats in the Majlis Al-Shura. In December 2000, Sultan Qaboos appointed the 48-member Majlis Al Dowla, or State Council, including five women, which acts as the upper chamber in Oman's bicameral representative body.

Al Said's extensive modernization program has opened the country to the outside world and has preserved a long-standing political and military relationship with the United Kingdom, the United States, and others. Oman's moderate, independent foreign policy has sought to maintain good relations with all Middle Eastern countries.



Turki bin Said
Faisal bin Turki
Taimur bin Feisal
Said III bin Taimur
Qaboos bin Said



Sultans of Oman

Salim I bin Sultan and Said II bin Sultan (first reign) 20 November 1804 14 September 1806 Co-Rulers
Said II bin Sultan (second reign) 14 September 1806 19 October 1856 Sole Ruler
Thuwaini bin Said 19 October 1856 11 February 1866 Killed
Salim II bin Thuwaini 11 February 1866 3 October 1868 Killed
Azzan bin Qais 3 October 1868 30 January 1871 Killed
Turki bin Said 30 January 1871 4 June 1888
Faisal bin Turki 4 June 1888 9 October 1913 British protectorate imposed on 20 March 1891
Taimur bin Feisal 9 October 1913 10 February 1932 Abdicated
Said III bin Taimur 10 February 1932 23 July 1970 Deposed
Qaboos bin Said - present sultan






Vasco da Gama's visit in 1499 marks the beginning of European influence, and the Portuguese established control over the island four years later. In August 1505, it became part of the Portuguese Empire when Captain John (João) Homere, part of Francisco de Almeida's fleet, captured the island. It was to remain a possession of Portugal for almost two centuries.

In 1698, Zanzibar became part of the overseas holdings of Oman, falling under the control of the Sultan of Oman. The Portuguese were expelled and a lucrative trade in slaves and ivory thrived, along with an expanding plantation economy centring on cloves. The Arabs established garrisons at Zanzibar, Pemba, and Kilwa. The height of Arab rule came during the reign of Seyyid Said (more fully, Sayyid Said bin Sultan al-Busaid), who in 1840 moved his capital from Muscat in Oman to Stone Town. He established a ruling Arab elite and encouraged the development of clove plantations, using the island's slave labour.

Zanzibar's commerce fell increasingly into the hands of traders from the Indian subcontinent, whom Said encouraged to settle on the island. After his death in 1856, his sons struggled over the succession. On April 6, 1861, Zanzibar and Oman were divided into two separate principalities. Sayyid Majid bin Said Al-Busaid (1834/5–1870), his sixth son, became the Sultan of Zanzibar, while the third son, Sayyid Thuwaini bin Said al-Said, became the Sultan of Oman.

The Sultan of Zanzibar controlled a substantial portion of the east African coast, known as Zanj, and trading routes extending much further across the continent, as far as Kindu on the Congo River. In November 1886, a German-British border commission established the Zanj as a ten-nautical mile (19 km) wide strip along most of the coast of East Africa, stretching from Cape Delgado (now in Mozambique) to Kipini (now in Kenya), including Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, all offshore islands, and several towns in what is now Somalia. However, from 1887 to 1892, all of these mainland possessions were lost to the colonial powers of the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy, although some were not formally sold or ceded until the 20th century (Mogadishu to Italy in 1905 and Mombasa to Britain in 1963).

Zanzibar was famous worldwide for its spices and its slaves. It was East Africa's main slave-trading port, and in the 19th century as many as 50,000 slaves were passing through the slave markets of Zanzibar each year. (David Livingstone estimated that 80,000 Africans died each year before ever reaching the island.) Tippu Tip was the most notorious slaver, under several sultans, and also a trader, plantation owner and governor. Zanzibar's spices attracted ships from as far away as the United States, which established a consulate in 1837. The United Kingdom's early interest in Zanzibar was motivated by both commerce and the determination to end the slave trade. In 1822, the British signed the first of a series of treaties with Sultan Said to curb this trade, but not until 1876 was the sale of slaves finally prohibited.


Tippu Tip or Tib (1837 - June 14, 1905), real name Hamad bin Muhammad bin Jumah bin Rajab bin Muhammad bin Sa‘īd al-Murghabī, was a Swahili-Zanzibari trader of mixed descent. He was famously known as Tippu Tib after an eye disease which made him blind. A notorious slave trader, plantation owner and governor, who worked for a succession of sultans of Zanzibar, he led many trading expeditions into east-central Africa, involving the slave trade and ivory trade. He constructed profitable trading posts that reached deep into Central Africa.








Sometimes gradually and sometimes by fits and starts, control of Zanzibar came into the hands of the British Empire; part of the political impetus for this was the 19th century movement for the abolition of the slave trade. The relationship between Britain and the nearest relevant colonial power, Germany, was formalized by the 1890 Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, in which Germany pledged not to interfere with British interests in insular Zanzibar. That year, Zanzibar became a protectorate (not a colony) of Britain. From 1890 to 1913, traditional viziers were appointed to govern as puppets, switching to a system of British residents (effectively governors) from 1913 to 1963.

Hamoud bin Mohammed Al-Said became sultan with the support of the British consul, Sir Basil Cave, upon the death of Hamad bin Thuwaini. Before he could enter the palace, another potential contender for the throne, Khalid bin Barghash, seized the palace and declared himself sultan. The British responded the next day, August 26, 1896, by issuing an ultimatum to Khalid and his entourage to evacuate the palace by 9:00 a.m. on August 27. When he refused, British warships fired on the palace and other strategic locations in the city, destroying them and causing Khalid and his group to flee.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records the resultant Anglo-Zanzibar War was the shortest war in history, and the same day Hamoud was able to assume the title of sultan, more indebted to the British than ever. Later Hamoud complied with British demands that slavery be banned in Zanzibar and that all the slaves be freed. For this he was decorated by Queen Victoria and his son and heir, Ali bin Hamud, was brought to England to be educated.

From 1913 until independence in 1963, the British appointed their own residents (essentially governors).

On 10 December 1963, Zanzibar received its independence from the United Kingdom as a constitutional monarchy under the Sultan. This state of affairs was short-lived, as the Sultan and the democratically elected government were overthrown on 12 January 1964 in the Zanzibar Revolution led by John Okello, a Ugandan citizen. Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume was named President of the newly created People's Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba. Several thousand Arabs (5,000-12,000 Zanzibaris of Arabic descent) and Indians were killed, thousands more detained or expelled, their property either confiscated or destroyed. The film Africa Addio documents the revolution, including a massacre of Arabs. (Ethnic difference, and the expulsion of those who had anywhere else to go, were repeated themes in East Africa, the most prominent example being the Expulsion of Indians in Uganda in 1972 by Idi Amin.)

The revolutionary government nationalized the local operations of the two foreign banks in Zanzibar, Standard Bank and National and Grindlays Bank. These nationalized operations may have provided the foundation for the newly-created Peoples Bank of Zanzibar. Jetha Lila, the one locally-owned bank in Zanzibar, or for that matter in all of East Africa, closed. It was owned by Indians and though the revolutionary government of Zanzibar urged it to continue functioning, the loss of its customer base as Indians left the island made it impossible to continue.

On 26 April 1964, the mainland colony of Tanganyika united with Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar; this lengthy name was compressed into a portmanteau, the United Republic of Tanzania, on 29 October 1964. After unification, local affairs were controlled by President Abeid Amani Karume, while foreign affairs were handled by the United Republic in Dar es Salaam. Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania.


Sultans of Zanzibar

Majid bin Said Al-Busaid 19 October 1856 7 October 1870 Bargash ibn Sa'id attempted to usurp the throne from his brother in 1859, but failed. He was exiled to Bombay for two years.

2 Sayyid Sir Barghash bin Said Al-Busaid 7 October 1870 26 March 1888 Responsible for developing much of the infrastructure in Zanzibar (especially Stone Town), like piped water, telegraph cables, buildings, roads, etc. Helped abolish the slave trade in Zanzibar by signing an agreement with Britain in 1870, prohibiting slave trade in his kingdom, and closing the slave market in Mkunazini.

3 Sayyid Sir Khalifa I bin Said Al-Busaid 26 March 1888 13 February 1890 Supported abolitionism, like his predecessor.

4 Sayyid Sir Ali bin Said Al-Busaid 13 February 1890 5 March 1893 The British and German Empires signed the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty in July 1890. This treaty turned Zanzibar into a British protectorate.

5 Sayyid Sir Hamad bin Thuwaini Al-Busaid 5 March 1893 25 August 1896

6 Sayyid Khalid bin Barghash Al-Busaid 25 August 1896 27 August 1896 Was a belligerent in the Anglo-Zanzibar War, the shortest war in recorded history.

7 Sayyid Sir Hamoud bin Mohammed Al-Said 27 August 1896 18 July 1902 Issued the final decree abolishing slavery from Zanzibar on 6 April 1897. For this, he was knighted by Queen Victoria.

8 Sayyid Ali bin Hamud Al-Busaid 20 July 1902 9 December 1911 The British First Minister, Mr A. Rogers, served as regent until Ali reached the age of 21 on 7 June 1905.

9 Sayyid Sir Khalifa II bin Harub Al-Said 9 December 1911 9 October 1960 Brother-in-law of Ali ibn Hamud. Oversaw the construction of harbor in Stone Town and tar roads in Pemba.

10 Sayyid Sir Abdullah bin Khalifa Al-Said 9 October 1960 1 July 1963

11 Sayyid Sir Jamshid bin Abdullah Al Said 1 July 1963 12 January 1964 On 10 December 1963, Zanzibar received its independence from the United Kingdom as a constitutional monarchy under Jamshid.


The first sultan of Zanzibar - Majid bin Said Al-Busaid

Sayyid Barghash bin Said Al-Busaid
Sayyid Khalifa I bin Said Al-Busaid
Sayyid Ali bin Said Al-Busaid
Sayyid Hamad bin Thuwaini Al-Busaid
Sayyid Khalid bin Barghash Al-Busaid
Sayyid Hamoud bin Mohammed Al-Said
Sayyid Ali bin Hamud Al-Busaid
Sayyid Khalifa II bin Harub Al-Said
Sayyid Abdullah bin Khalifa Al-Said
Sayyid Jamshid bin Abdullah Al Said







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