The oldest independent state in the Arab world, Oman is one of the more traditional countries in the Gulf region and was, until the 1970s, one of the most isolated.
It is strategically placed at the mouth of the Gulf at south-east corner of the Arabian Peninsula and, in the 19th century, vied with Portugal and Britain for influence in the Gulf and Indian Ocean.
The country has so far been spared the militant Islamist violence that has plagued some of its neighbours.
Oman has not been immune from the groundswell of political dissent in the region, however. Protests in 2011 demanding reforms were dispersed by riot police, and the government began a crackdown on internet criticism the following year.
Head of state: Qaboos Bin Said Al Said
Qaboos Bin Said Al Said has been Oman’s sultan, prime minister and foreign minister since he seized power from his father, Said Bin Taimur, in 1970.
He also serves as the head of the defence and finance ministries.
His policies have proved popular in spite of the lack of a democratic government.
Under his rule, oil revenues have been used to develop the country’s infrastructure.
Sultan Qaboos responded to a rare outbreak of discontent in 2011, following a wave of pro-democracy protests across the Arab world, by promising more jobs and benefits.
The government operates the main broadcasters and censorship is widespread.
The advocacy group Freedom House say Oman’s press law, “one of the most restrictive media laws in the Arab world, ensures that the media remain censored and subdued”.
Oman has a sophisticated telecommunication infrastructure, but mobile phone calls, emails and chat rooms are monitored. There is also extensive filtering of social media.
Some key dates in Oman’s history:
700s AD – Onset of Arab domination and the introduction of Islam.
1737 – Persians invade and are driven out in 1749, when the Al Bu Said dynasty comes to power, which continues to rule to this day.
1913 – Control of the country splits. The interior is ruled by Ibadite imams and the coastal areas by the sultan. Under a British-brokered agreement in 1920 the sultan recognises the autonomy of the interior. Sultan Said bin Taimur regains control of the interior in 1959.
1964 – Oil reserves are discovered; extraction begins in 1967.
1970 – The sultan is overthrown by his son in a bloodless coup. Sultan Qaboos bin Said begins a liberalisation and modernisation programme.
2002 – Sultan Qaboos extends voting rights to all citizens over the age of 21.
2011 – Protesters demand jobs and political reform. One demonstrator is shot dead by police. Sultan Qaboos reacts by promising jobs and benefits.
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