Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Basic Law

On 20 October 2011, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos issued Royal Decree 99/2011 introducing historical amendments to the Basic Law of the State. These amendments, which are seen as a significant milestone in the country’s legal and political development, include amending the succession process and expanding the role and duties of the Council of Oman.

Background to the Basic Law

The Basic Law is Oman’s first formal constitution which was introduced by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos in November 1996 to mark a new phase in the development of Oman’s system of government and to strengthen the State’s legal foundations.

The Basic Law consists of 81 Articles establishing the legal and political framework within which the State operates. It defines the roles and responsibilities of the State and provides for the political, economic and social principles guiding its policies. It also guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms, protects property rights and upholds the independence of the judiciary.

Among the main topics covered under the Basic Law are succession and the Council of Oman, which were the focus of the recent amendments.


Prior to the amendment of the Basic Law, the Ruling Family Council (RFC) was responsible for selecting a successor to the throne, within three days of the position of Sultan becoming vacant.

If the RFC does not agree upon a successor within three days, the Defence Council, composed of the highest ranking military officers, shall take over the process and confirm the appointment of the person designated by His Majesty the Sultan in his letter to the RFC.

According to Royal Decree 105/96, the Defence Council is headed by the Sultan, and composed of the Minister of Royal Office, the General Inspector of Police and Customs, the Head of Internal Security Services, the Commander of the Royal Navy, the Commander of the Royal Air Force, the Commander of the Royal Guards, the Commander of the Royal Army and the Commander of the Sultan’s Armed Forces. The composition of the RFC, on the other hand, is not known publicly.

This process was amended by Royal Decree 99/2011 to include the presidents of the State Council, the Shura Council, the Supreme Court and two of its oldest deputies, together with the Defence Council in taking over the process and appointing the person nominated by His Majesty the Sultan in his letter.

By including the presidents of the State Council and the Shura Council, this amendment allows some degree of public participation in the succession process, making it more transparent and enhancing its legitimacy. In addition, the presence of the president of the Supreme Court and two of its oldest deputies brings the process under judicial supervision, ensuring that due process is followed and preventing any potential manipulation or undue influence by one party.

The Council of Oman

The most significant changes introduced by Royal Decree 99/2011 are in relation to the Council of Oman.

Prior to the amendments, the Basic Law had only one Article on the Council of Oman establishing its two chambers: the appointed State Council and the publicly elected Shura Council. Power was given to the legislature to specify the powers of each of the Councils, the length of their terms, the frequency of their sessions, the number of members of each Council, the method of their selection and appointment, the reasons for their dismissal, and other regulatory provisions.

The recent amendments, however, introduced 45 new Articles outlining in detail the composition, membership, and responsibilities of the Council of Oman.

The powers of the Shura Council were expanded to include legislative powers and the authority to scrutinise the government’s performance. Under the new provisions, any draft law prepared by the Government must be referred to both the Shura and the State Councils for their approval or amendment. It will then be submitted directly to the Sultan to be endorsed and promulgated. The Council also may propose draft laws and refer them to the Government for consideration.

Remarkably, the Shura Council may, at the request of at least 15 of its members, question any of the ‘public service’ ministers in relation to exceeding their powers and violating the law, and refer its conclusions to the Sultan. The ‘public service’ ministers also will have to submit an annual report to the Shura Council on the performance of their ministries.

Furthermore, the recent amendments give the Council of Oman the power to review and provide its recommendations in relation to development plans, annual budget and any proposal to accede to or conclude an economic or social agreement.

This clearly means that the status and significance of the Council of Oman has changed dramatically from being a mere consultative body to become a legislative power.