The sight of the green 4WD followed by an entourage will always be fond memories for everyone in Oman who were fortunate to witness it personally or watch it in news.
The air was celebrative, there was happiness of the most awaited family member arriving. People would line up on the route to welcome His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.
For His Majesty Sultan Qaboos it was a tradition practiced by Islamic leaders but it was also one that gave him great joy as he stated to the Kuwaiti daily, Assiyassah, in February 2006, “I admit that I greatly enjoy these in-country tours across the length and width of the country. In these tours, I talk face-to-face to citizens. I listen to their demands and they listen to my views. I feel at home here, and so they do. Inspecting the conditions of citizens is an established tradition in Islamic history, and it is considered one of the duties of a leader.
“There are citizens whose circumstances prevent them from reaching out to the leader, so I make it a point to hold direct meetings with them. I am comfortable and I find pleasure in these tours where I mingle with my folks, hear from them and let them hear from me, so that we could all, together, gather and make the right choices. I rejoice and I see my folks rejoice as they listen to the directives of the decision-maker and put them to action. It is at this point that a culture of discipline emanates and gains impetus from this reciprocity, which fosters allegiance and a feeling of belonging between the two sides.”
This political practice of annual meet the people tour that began in the mid 1970s had many advantages. He was there to know about the citizens’ experiences and grievances. It showed how keen a listener he was. The shaikhs, dignitaries and citizens had the opportunity to present their concerns and the most interesting aspect was that most of the issues could be instantly discussed with the concerned minister as they were part of the entourage. “My meetings with members of the public are of great importance to me. It is among the traditions of our country to provide an opportunity to any Omani citizen to meet his Sultan without mediators,” he had stated.
A major advantage was the speeches of his Majesty in which he addressed issues that were important and pressing. For instance, the meet the people tour that was conducted immediately after the 24th National Day (1994) addressed economy and the role of the private sector. “We shall endeavour to strike a balance between income and expenditure, so that Oman can maintain its sound economic reputation. The future role will be for the private sector, which will be capable if it stands together and the huge projects that come into existence. It will have a leading role because it will benefit and, at the same time, reduce the cash liquidity burden. In the past, we were preoccupied with many different matters, but now the economy will be our only concern.”
The tours were the actual process of reviewing development and exchanging thoughts. Once again when the roads of Oman began to seen increasing number of road accidents he took the issue nationwide alertness as he addressed on October 18, 2009 during his annual meet the people tour urging the government and society to bring about a change in bringing down the high toll of death and disability. His Majesty urged his government and society to collaborate to put an end to the high toll of death and disability on Oman’s roads.
“What is happening on our roads should be a part of everybody’s concern. Misuse of vehicles by different categories of society is irritating and worrying as it results in the death of many. While we believe life and death are destined by Allah, at the same time Allah’s order is not to kill ourselves. While some may die in these accidents, others, who remain alive, may be disabled and a burden for himself, his family and his society. Therefore, we should join hands and be aware of this issue.”
During his speech to the citizens, His Majesty the Sultan urged everyone to make this issue the subject of talk with families. Road safety should be discussed, and public awareness should be stressed in order to limit the phenomenon (road accidents), which is a tax on what is called progress, growth and civilisation (modernisation), said His Majesty. “Each thing has a tax, but this kind of tax should be seriously considered,” His Majesty added. Immediately the Royal Oman Police, NGOs and companies from the private sector came with many initiatives to target the road safety and the result was Oman was able to bring down the toll progressively.
The meet the people tour also meant spot visits to the projects in the areas where the tours were being held. But later in the years major activities began to be associated with the annual tour such as symposiums focusing on major issues such as empowerment of women when the Day for Omani Women was declared to be on October 17. And yet again in 2013 when the symposium was held to promote small and medium enterprises, innovation and entrepreneurship.