a country where being low-key is a lifestyle
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia
January 14, 2009
aware of Oman's reputation as low-key player in terms of foreign policy. Unlike
some of its neighbors, Oman does not take sides in regional disputes, it does not
interfere in its neighbors’ internal affairs, and it solves problems with the
outside world away from the limelight.
But only those who have had the opportunity to visit and live among the Omanis
are able to see firsthand that being low-key is a lifestyle here. From its
citizens to its governing elite, from professionals to public servants, Omanis
love to do things quietly.
It took me more than twenty-four hours traveling around the beautiful city of
Muscat before I noticed the presence of police officers on the road. And when I
saw one, he was clearing the debris off the road where a traffic accident just
happened. This phenomenon is unprecedented when it comes to most countries in
the Arab world.
In Tunisia for instance, the first thing visitors would notice is the heavy
presence of police officers. At every major intersection in Tunis, one could
run into uniformed police officers and it is very likely that one will be
pulled over and asked questions. Nearly every government building or major
private establishment in Morocco, too, is manned by security personnel. In some
other Arab countries even the military can be seen, especially, on country
Having said this, it is not being suggested that only in the Arab world are
security personnel present in the streets. In fact, even in my own current
hometown, a small-sized American metropolitan, it is not unusual to spot patrol
cars once or twice on one’s trip from home to work or even from home to the
grocery store. Sirens are heard even in the middle of the night. It is because
the presence of uniformed security personnel is a usual and mundane event in
most countries that its absence in Muscat is astounding.
But once one talks to people, one would soon realize that being subtle and
low-key is the primary trait of Omanis. Being low-key is reflected in
interactions, architecture, services, governance, and living. To be sure, it is
nearly impossible to see a building higher than ten floors. Moreover, the
colors of buildings and private homes are nearly the same: no bright or unusual
colors. Rather, shades of the subtle cream, antique white, beige, earth yellow,
and related shades bring the city walls to a perfect harmony with the natural
colors of the many landscape, hills and mountains in the background and the
horizons. In fact, the only building with bright colors that I saw turned out
to be the palace of his Majesty the Sultan of Oman. But even there, subtlety is
still present: the palace is beautifully nested in a forest of reticent
clusters of buildings and homes, some of which were built specifically for the
poor. Even in the proximity of the halls of power, there are no visible
security personnel standing guard at the gates.
Under the covers of the subtlety, however, is an active society that is growing
particularly efficient and modestly confident in its abilities. This is a society
that shuns the bright lights, the noisy nights, and the glamorous displays of
power; but one determined to build a better future.