The "Dhufar" issues of the "Oman Imamate State"

Chapter 1: The first Dhufar issue of 15 April 1972

Where is Dhufar ?

Dhufar, sometimes transliterated as Dhofar or Zufar, is the name of a region in South Arabia between Hadramaut, the Rub' al-Khali and the Huqf and Jiddat al-Harasis areas. It is one of the main regions of the Sultanate of Oman. Although Dhufar is historically, geographically and culturally distinct from Oman, there was always a close relationship between Oman and this region due to geographic proximity. The region was brought under closer control of Muscat's Al Bu Sa'idi sultans towards the end of the 19th century in an effort to thwart Ottoman designs upon Dhufar. Since then, Dhufar has always been an integral part of the Sultanate of Oman (officially known as Sultanate of Muscat and Oman before 8 August 1970).

During Sultan Sa'id bin Taimur's reign (1932-70) in Oman, Dhufar was very much administered like a private property of the Sultan who prefered it to Muscat and even made Salalah his residence in the late 1950s. The 20th century Imamate in the Omani Interior (which lasted from 1913 to 1955) never extended to Dhufar. Even after the imamate ceased to exist in Oman's interior and the Imam and some of his followers established their organisation in exile, their movement actually never laid claim to Dhufar.

After 'State of Oman', now 'Dhufar': plans are made early in 1971

Nevertheless, Youssef Salim Tadros, the imamate organization's able Lebanese stamp agent in Beirut and "Postal Counsellor" to the Imam's "Omani Mission to Lebanon" since 1966, made plans to issue stamps for Dhufar as early as in spring 1971. The Dhufar issues by the "Oman Imamate State" were modelled after such issues as Ajman's for Manama or Sharjah's for Khor Fakkan. As Dhufar was a province apart within [the Sultanate of] Oman, separate issues seemed to make sense in a certain way. Moreover, there was a rebellion going on in Dhufar against the Sultan's rule. It was led at the time by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arab Gulf (PFLOAG), the successor organisation to the Dhufar Liberation Front which had started the revolt on 9 June 1965, then became the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf in September 1968 and later, after its merger with NDFLOAG in late 1971, became the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arab Gulf. The rebellion had developed from a nationalist, perhaps also secessionist, local revolt against the Sultan's rule in Dhufar to a communist-inspired full-fledged guerilla war. By 1971 / 1972, the rebels controlled much of Dhufar province and even had established some sort of infrastructure in the "liberated" areas. As Tadros argued in a letter dated 14 June 1971 in which he announced the Dhufar issues to a colleague, "the revolters in Dhufar occupy nearly half of the country, all the mountain areas are under their hands". This was certainly true - the only flaw in the argument being that these rebels were not followers of the Imam, and that PFLOAG was as opposed to the Imam and an "Oman Imamate State" as it was to the Sultan and the Sultanate. It is uncertain whether Tadros consulted with the few remaining imamate leaders in exile before he decided to issue the stamps (he obviously had not consulted the Omani exiles regarding previous stamp issues and believed himself - whether rightly or wrongly, we do not know - to be holding a general license from the Imam's organisation to handle their stamp issues without having to refer to the political leadership of the organization for details).

To Tadros it did not matter that this rebellion had nothing to do with the Imam's cause. He saw a good change of marketing "Dhufar" stamps as the war in Dhufar and the existence of areas under the control of the rebels was widely publicised in the media throughout the world. Therefore Tadros could hope that the general public would automatically believe that "Dhufar stamps" would emanate from the "liberated" areas in Dhufar. Few people would realise that PFLOAG in Dhufar and the Imam's exiled followers were two entirely separate groups. Because the rebellion in Dhufar was a fact (whereas the Imam's rebellion in Oman had practically ceased years before the first imamate stamps were issued in 1967), he even saw a chance of getting the Dhufar stamps accepted by major philatelic catalogues.

The Sultanate wins Arab recognition - Dhufar stamp plans frustrated?

However, more than a year passed between his original plans for Dhufar stamps and their first issue. In the meantime, the situation for Oman Imamate State stamps became increasingly difficult: the imamate organization in exile gradually eroded in 1971 / 1972 as more and more Omani exiles and former followers of the Imam returned to Oman where Sultan Qaboos bin Sa'id had taken over from his father Sa'id bin Taimur on 23 July 1970. Friendly ties were soon established between the new Sultanate government and other Arab countries, including those which had hitherto supported the Imam. The Sultanate of Oman acceded to the Arab Postal Union (with effect from 1 July 1971), to the Universal Postal Union (17 August 1971), the League of Arab States (29 September 1971) and to the United Nations (7 October 1971). After the Sultanate of Oman's accession to the APU, the Jordanian postal administration ceased to accept letters with Oman Imamate State stamps, thus depriving Tadros of the facility of producing postally used covers. Ultimately, the Syrian postal administration helped out: letters with Oman Imamate State stamps were accepted in Damascus in March and June 1972, which enabled Tadros to stay in business with his "State of Oman" and the new "Dhufar" stamps for a few more months.

9 June 1972: Dhufar covers mailed from Damascus - first and last postal use

Meanwhile, the first definitive sets of 8 Dhufar stamps had been ordered from Clive H. Feigenbaum's company in London. Feigenbaum had already produced most of the "State of Oman" stamps for Tadros. A special "Dhufar Philatelic Agency" was set up in London for distributing the stamps - another one of Feigenbaum's numerous companies. The eight definitives carry a common design, printed in black on metallic-ink backgrounds, featuring a map of the area and an Arabian horse. The stamps were printed in sheetlets of 6 for each value, and the issue was scheduled for release on 15 April 1972. It seems that announcements were mailed by the "Dhufar Philatelic Agency" to stamp magazines and dealers as early as April 1972, since Linn's Stamp News of 8 May 1972 already includes news about this release of stamps. Postally used covers had, however, not yet been seen with these stamps, so that Linn's stated that the "actual political status of the territory and philatelic status of the stamps are not yet known at present". To provide for postally used cover, a number of sets was shipped to Middle East Stamps in Beirut, put on specially prepared FDCs and cancelled in blue with a CDS bearing the words "Dhufar Post" and the date "15.-4.1972" (15 April 1972). These envelopes contained the official announcement for the first issue, signed by "A.A. Badi, Post Master, Dhufar / via Damas, Syria", and a leaflet containing very general geographic information on the "Dhufar Principality", but carefully avoiding any explanation of the current political and legal situation. Eventually, these covers were mailed as registered letters from Damascus on 9 June 1972, together with other FDCs bearing "State of Oman" stamps. 9 June 1972 was the last date the Syrian postal administration ever accepted Tadros' letters. (For a photo of such a cover, click here - use your browser's 'back' button to return to this page after viewing).

It is not clear what made the Syrian postal administration accept such letters at all in March and June 1972 despite the fact that the Sultanate of Oman had been admitted to the Arab Postal Union and to the Arab League. We can only guess: on one hand, Tadros, a reputable stamp agent who had worked with a number of Arab governments, had excellent contacts which he certainly used to induce the Syrian postal administration to continue the arrangement for the imamate letters as long as possible. On the other hand, Syria (and even more so South Yemen) was still not on friendly terms with the Sultan's government, and the Syrian government had (and still has) a tradition of providing shelter for various opposition movements from all over the Middle East.

Incidentally, 9 June 1972 - the date of the Damascus CDS on the back of the Dhufar and Oman Imamate State letters - was the 7th anniversary of the "Dhufar revolution". A mere coincidence or skilful planning by Tadros to enhance credibility?

Whatever Syria's motives may have been, even Damascus felt compelled to cease its cooperation with Tadros after June 1972, especially since the imamate movement waned away and more and more former exiles had made their peace with the new Sultan. After the Syrian postal administration ended ist cooperation with Tadros, no more postally used covers could be produced. The definitive issue of 15 April 1972 thus was the first and last Dhufar issue for which postally used covers exist. Theoretically, postally used non-FDC letters with individual stamps like for the other imamate issues would have been possible, but none seem to have been mailed on 9 June 1972.

No end to a story ... Dhufar issues continue until 1986

As we all know, this was not yet the end of the Dhufar issues (nor of the "State of Oman" issues): from 1972 to 1986, Feigenbaum continued to produce more such issues, both mint and CTO, as well as "First Day Covers", none of which, however, could be used postally.
[On these later issues, see Chapter 2 of the Dhufar story].

Mixed reactions in philatelic circles

How were the Dhufar stamps received in philatelic circles? As had to be anticipated, there were serious doubts as to the status and postal validity of the stamps. The new issue was recorded only by few stamp magazines such as Linn's mentioned above.
The first detailed article on the Dhufar issues "And now Dhufar" was published in the Journal of Arabian Philately No. 2 (April-June 1972), pp. 6-7 and 15, probably written by Don Palazzo who handled the distribution of the stamps in the US. This article links the stamp issues to the rebellion in Dhufar, with a vague hint that "the revolutionary forces in Dhufar, which coordinate with the guerillas of Central Oman, have granted a concession to the to the same philatelic agent and promoter who are behind the much-disputed 'State of Oman' stamps". The author then speculates on how mail by Dhufari guerillas could possibly be forwarded from Dhufar via South Yemen. As we know, PFLOAG and the Dhufari guerillas had nothing to do with the stamp issue, but this example illustrates how Tadros' scheme worked out. Incidentally, there was even some truth in the statement that "the revolutionary forces in Dhufar ... coordinate with the guerillas of Central Oman", except that this coordination was not between the Imam's followers and the Dhufari rebels but between PFLOAG (operating in Dhufar) and the National Democratic Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Occupied Arab Gulf (NDFLOAG) which had started guerilla operations in Northern and Central Oman in June 1970 and finally had merged with PFLOAG in late 1971. Articles in the German magazines Sammler-Dienst No. 17 of 19 August 1972, pp. 1243-44, and Briefmarken-Spiegel No. 12 of December 1973, pp. 379-80, put the story right. On the whole, the Dhufar issues seem to have received much less attention in the philatelic press than the 'State of Oman' issues. Even the government of the Sultanate of Oman, or more specifically the Ministry of Posts, Telegraphs & Telephones, does not seem to have issued any specific warning against the Dhufar issues as it did against the 'State of Oman' issues.

... continued: Chapter 2: The later Dhufar issues.

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Page added on 25 February 2000. - Last revised: 1 March 2000. - Copyright © 2000 by Oman Studies Centre