This is my first time to a Gulf country, and I am particularly interested in questions of wealth, poverty, oil, and guest workers. On my Etihad flight from New York to Abu Dhabi, no-one was wearing traditional Gulf Arab clothes. There were no men in dishdashas, and I did not even notice a woman who covered her hair. In terms of appearance, if you hadn’t told me where the plane was going I would have said India. Most of the folks who didn’t look European on this flight looked South Asian to me. Were these mostly guest workers? Or were they just Indians and Pakistanis changing planes in Abu Dhabi? And is there another airline or flight time that is more popular for Gulf Arabs?
On our flight from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, however, there were significantly more folks in traditional dress, most clearly a group of young men. When we got off the plane, there were four paths through immigration. The first was marked “electronic gates” – the young men in dishdashas went that way. The second said “GCC nationals” – I’m not sure I saw anyone head that way. The third was not labeled as far as I could tell, and we were waved that way (just on the basis of our appearance, I think). The fourth said “retinal scan”, and that is where the folks who looked South Asian went.
Since we have arrived, I’ve been getting a better sense of identifying who is an Omani and who is a guest worker. There are many, many of the latter. As a tourist, I’m pretty sure none of the restaurants I’ve eaten at have had Omani staff. At the same time, it appears that this doesn’t mean that every Omani is wealthy. We visited a fishing village today, for example, that was not fancy by any means. And one of the first things one reads about Oman is that it has far less oil than other gulf states (though oil production still accounts for over 50% of GDP).