5 Things to Know About Oman

After 14 months of confinement, Iran released American Sarah Shroud from Evin Prison on Tuesday. Shroud and her two friends were accused of illegally entering Iran and spying for the U.S. government while on a hiking trip in July of 2009. Her friends remain in prison; Shroud was released on "compassionate grounds." According to her mother, Shroud has serious health issues: a breast lump and precancerous cervical cells.

On Tuesday, Shroud embraced her mother not in her hometown of Los Angeles, but in Muscat, Oman. Officials say the nation, which borders Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, was instrumental in enabling Shroud's bail payment, and making sure it didn't breach U.S. sanctions on Iran.

A few things to know about the Kansas-sized sultanate:

1. Oman is the only country in the Islamic world with a majority of Ibadhi Muslims (distinct from Shia and Sunni Muslims). Ibadhis are known for being moderately conservative and for choosing their ruler through communal consensus.

2. It has about 4.8 billion barrels in proven oil reserves, and produced 750,000 barrels per day in 2006 -- mere drops in comparison to the output of some of its neighbors. Accordingly, many Omanis still rely on agriculture and fishing for their livelihoods; dates make up the majority of the country's agricultural exports.


3. It's the oldest independent state in the Arab world.

4. The country's 1984 press act empowers the government to censor publications judged as culturally or politically offensive. Criticism of the Sultan is forbidden.

5. Before Sultan Qaboos seized power from his father in a 1970 coup, the country was isolated and had virtually no relations with the rest of the Arab world. Radios were banned. Citizens found outside the walls of the city after imposed curfews would be shot if they weren't carrying a lantern. From the support of Middle East peace initiatives to a recent increase in trade with China, the Sultan has strengthened Oman's relationships with countries around the world. 

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Elizabeth Weingarten is an editorial assistant at the New America Foundation. A former Slate editorial assistant, she also previously wrote for and produced the Atlantic's International Channel.

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