Oman is a country steeped in history, culture, and tradition, with influences from Arabia, Yemen, Mesopotamia, Iran, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa. In about 630 AD, Oman was one of the first countries to embrace Islam. Throughout its long history, spanning some 6 millennia, it maintained its independence, except for comparatively brief periods of occupation by the Persians and the Portuguese.2 Its heritage of hundreds of forts, castles, and watchtowers reflects various periods of its colorful history. From ages past, Oman lay strategically along the sea trade routes between the East and the West. As renowned seafarers and merchants, the Omanis explored and charted new trade routes to distant lands; Omanis were said to be the first to sail to China in the eighth century.3 By the middle of the 19th century, Oman had reached the pinnacle of its development as a regional and colonial power, with influence and possessions in Arabia, Persia, Asia, and Africa, and with international and trading links with Britain, France, Portugal, and the United States.2- 3 This era of political and economic achievements was followed by a century of steady decline of Oman and loss of its empire. In the first half of the 20th century, Oman drifted poorly behind other parts of the developing world in education, health care, and infrastructural development, and became essentially isolated.