The Omani Empire and the Colonial Period
From 1814 to 1840, France retook a foothold in the Indian Ocean, and relationships were re-established, this time between Muscat and the Bourbon Island (Reunion). In the 1840’s, Oman was at the height of its commercial and political power: it ruled over a vast marine Empire, from the coasts of Persia (Bandar-Abbas) and Beluchistan (Guadar) to Zanzibar and Cape Delgago on the African coast (northern border of the current Mozambique).
Sultan Said showed a great diplomatic activity: he signed agreements with Great Britain, the United States and soon afterwards France, which had new neighbouring possessions in Madagascar and in the Comoro Islands. After a first agreement in 1841, a Treaty of Trade and Friendship was signed on November 4th 1844 and ratified in 1846.
The treaty allowed a notable development in the relationships between Zanzibar and the Reunion, as well as the expansion of a direct trade between the Omani Empire and the metropolitan France. In this way, the famous expedition of the Omani merchant ship “La Caroline” was a great commercial success, thanks to the Marseilles Chamber of Commerce, whereas Hadji Derwich, a representative of Sultan Said visited Toulon and Paris, where he was welcomed by the then President of the Republic, Louis-Napoleon BONAPARTE.
After the death of Sultan Said (1856), his Empire was divided in two separate sultanates, each falling to one of his sons. By an agreement made in 1862, London and Paris promised to respect the independence of the two sultanates of Zanzibar and Muscat. London will nonetheless turn Zanzibar into a protectorate in 1890, but, thanks to this agreement, the sovereignty of Muscat’s sultans has always been strictly respected.
French-Omani relations clearly grew stronger after the opening of a French consular representation in Muscat, decided by the French Foreign Affairs Minister HANOTAUX in 1894. The vice-consul Pierre Ottavi, who arrived in 1894, quickly gained Sultan Faysal’s trust. He was indeed well disposed towards France: in 1896 he donated a beautiful house in Muscat, nowadays known as the “Maison de la France”, Beit Fransa.