By Khalil bin Abdullah Al Khonji
The beauty of friendship associations is that they literally serve as a bridge between two countries. Such associations are like full-fledged institutions, which are established at the request of civil society leaders with the aim of developing friendship and cooperation between Oman and various countries in many areas of mutual interest.
The fields can be quite extensive and range from the economic, commercial, cultural, scientific, artistic, media, sports, social and other segments. It depends on the nature of each friendly country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs supervises the establishment and organisation of such associations, as per the ministerial decision issued after the approval of the Council of Ministers.
First few friendship associations
The Oman German Friendship Associations (OGFA) and Oman Japan Friendship Associations (OJFA) were among the first ones that the late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said – may God have mercy on him – had directed in the beginning of the 70s.
His Highness Sayyid Tariq bin Taimour – may his soul rest in peace – chaired the Oman German association and with him Qais bin Abdul Munim Al Zawawi – may God have mercy on him. His Highness Sayyid Thuwaini bin Shihab Al Said chaired the OJFA in 1974 and Saeed bin Nasser Al Khusaibi was with him as the secretary general of the association. It should be noted that the members of the two associations included senior businessmen, academicians and other notable personalities from both sides.
Devoted to strengthening bonds
The heads and the members are devoted to the upkeep of the associations and spend a lot of time and energy in strengthening the bonds of economic, commercial, cultural and scientific cooperation between Oman and the friendly countries. From these associations sprang various companies and projects that helped build the modern state of Oman under the wise leadership of the late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos – May God rest his soul.
Very close and deep ties
The Oman British Friendship Association (OBFA) was established in 1991 as per a royal decree under the honorary leadership of His Highness Sayyid Fahr bin Taimur Al Said and with him were the prominent businessmen, namely, Yahya bin Mohammad Nasib Al-Raisi as the first president of the association and Shawqi bin Abdul-Redha Sultan as the secretary general of the association, along with a group of businessmen from both sides who contributed to revitalising the economic, cultural and artistic aspects between Oman and Britain. The two countries have very close ties and a history that is firmly rooted in concepts, which were and still are relevant and important.
The association carries out annual activities in both London and Muscat in which the members from both sides participate.
Restructuring of associations
In 2013, the three associations were restructured. While His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, who was the minister of heritage and culture then, continued as honorary president of the Oman British and Oman Japan Friendship associations, the former minister of commerce and industry, Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, headed the OBFA and the OJFA was headed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Saud Bahwan.
While His Highness Sayyid Tariq bin Shihab Al Said was appointed as the honorary president of the OGFA, the well-known businessman, Rashad bin Mohammad Al Zubair was made the president.
Recently, the OBFA was restructured again and Saleh bin Mohammad Al Zakwani was made the president of the association. This was done under the orders of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tariq – may God protect him – in order to renew, restructure, develop and re-form the association. Its members are in line with the development of common benefits and interests, and building on the achievements and successes of the friendship bonds between the Sultanate and Britain.
Spirit of rapprochement
The establishment of friendship associations between Oman and other countries has continued to include a wide range of international friendship associations, including: France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, China, South Korea, South Africa, Tunisia, Bahrain and many others. All of this has been done in order to expand the base of dialogue, develop ties between peoples, and discuss bilateral relations under the title of Omani diplomacy, which carries with it the spirit of rapprochement and tolerance and has the characteristics of coexistence and peace between different cultures in order to provide fertile platforms for the practice of trade and industry and the promotion of interests between countries.
Forging interaction in various fields
Channels of communication between peoples and countries are numerous, including chambers of commerce, business owners’ associations, joint business councils, civil institutions, joint associations between Arab and European countries, the Americas, the East and the West, and the appointment of honorary consuls in countries that do not have embassies. All these channels are necessary to convey the messages of the Sultanate of Oman to the people of the world to help forge further interaction in various fields. These ties must be expanded, provided that these associations are evaluated periodically, in order to advance them to the level of the official governmental orientation that seeks joint cooperation with the civilised countries of the world.
(The author is a former president of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a well-known Omani businessman.)