Since the 18th century, British imperialism has maintained control over the principalities of the eastern and southern coasts of the Arabian Peninsula; but this imperialist hegemony is now dissolving. As British forces retreat from the Gulf,footnote1 new contradictions are exploding which threaten the position of world imperialism and the local ruling classes.

The present centre of these contradictions is Oman, with its population of 750,000. The Sultan of Muscat, on the coast below the Omani mountains, entered into treaty relations with Britain in 1798 and since then has accepted British control while formally remaining an independent state. The British have helped him to consolidate his realm. In the Omani mountains, a purist Shi’a Muslim sect, the Ibadhis, held a traditional tribal autonomy, centred on the town of Nizwa and the Green Mountain. In the province of Dhofar, to the south of Muscat and Oman proper, the British have helped the Sultan to annex and dominate a previously autonomous people. The Sultan himself lives in the capital of Dhofar, Salala, since it is cooler tham Muscat.

The Sultan has a force of several hundred slaves, a personal Baluchi bodyguard, and an army and air-force financed and officered by the British. Britain carries out all his foreign relations and is represented locally by a Consul-General. In return the Sultan has allowed Britain to build four bases on his territory. The base at Salala is reputed to have underground chambers stocked with nuclear weapons and has been frequently attacked by local guerrillas, but by far the most important is on Masirah island, off the Omani coast; the Sultan has sold this to the British and the local shepherds and fishermen have been cleared off. It is virtually impregnable, and with the loss of the Libyan bases will form a major link between the centre of imperialist military forces in the area, Cyprus, and points further east. In the event of a successful revolutionary movement in Oman, the island could serve as a refuge for defeated imperialist agents and become a Taiwan of the Arabian counterrevolution.

In the 1950’s the Omani Ibadhis, led by their Imam, staged a series of risings on the Green Mountain, but were suppressed by British troops. The Imam of Oman received the backing of the Saudis who were involved with the Sultan of Muscat in the Buraimi dispute. In addition the Egyptian and Arab states as a whole supported the Imam and attacked the Sultan. At the time this was a relatively progressive development, but the Omani risings of the 1950’s were limited both by their reliance on traditional tribal conflicts and by their subservience to the Saudi and other Arab States. Since then three major new developments have altered the co-ordinates of the Omani revolution.

First, the discovery of oil in Oman and Dhofar has served to awaken the consciousness of the population, previously sunk in pre-capitalist particularism. This showed the possibility of increased wealth and revealed the exploitation of the Omani masses by the Sultan and the oil companies; the development of oil has provided the political context for class conflict. Secondly, the victory of the revolution in South Yemen in 1967 has provided the Omani revolution with a friendly hinterland that is naturally far more militant and anti-imperialist than the Saudi State ever was. Thirdly, a group of young Omanis studied the lessons of the defeats of the 1950’s and set up a new revolutionary organization independent of the old Imamate clique. These formed the Liberation Front of Dhofar in 1964 and began a guerrilla war in July 1965 by attacking the Salala base.

Dhofar itself has a population of between 100,000 and 300,000 without any medical or educational services. Its population are shepherds, fishermen and farmers. The Sultan of Muscat has done nothing for these people, and as in the rest of Oman the institution of slavery is still legal and prevalent. However, the liberation struggle has transformed this situation. The cadres who formed the lfd in 1964 were militants of the Arab Nationalist Movement, originally a Palestinian movement formed in Lebanon in the early 1950’s. This anm was originally independently nationalist but adopted a pro-Nasser position after 1956. In the early 1960’s a Marxist anti-Nasserite and anti-Ba’th trend developed within it, and the movement split into Marxist-Leninist and nationalist factions in 1964. Three of its radical sectors are now autonomous revolutionary forces: the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the National Liberation Front of South Yemen and the Liberation Front of Dhofar.

Concentrating initially on a local, limited issue—the independence of Dhofar—they extended the liberation struggle in that zone and now control two-thirds of the province. However, their movement has surpassed these local limits, and at a conference in September 1968 the lfd transformed itself into the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arab Gulf. It now has a central committee with 25 members from all parts of the occupied Gulf and works on the basis of the following platform adopted at the 1968 conference: