The inhabitants of the area of Oman have long prospered on Indian Ocean trade. In the late 18th century, a newly established sultanate in Muscat signed the first in a series of friendship treaties with Britain. Over time, Oman's dependence on British political and military advisors increased, but it never became a British colony. In 1970, QABOOS bin Said Al-Said overthrew the restrictive rule of his father; he has ruled as sultan ever since. His extensive modernization program has opened the country to the outside world while preserving the longstanding close ties with the UK. Oman's moderate, independent foreign policy has sought to maintain good relations with all Middle Eastern countries. Inspired by the popular uprisings that swept the Middle East and North Africa in 2010-11, Omanis began staging marches and demonstrations to demand economic benefits, an end to corruption, and greater political rights. In February and March 2011, in response to protester demands, QABOOS pledged to create more government jobs and promised to implement economic and political reforms, such as granting legislative and regulatory powers to the Council of Oman and the introduction of unemployment benefits. Also in March, the Gulf Cooperation Council pledged $20 billion in financial aid to Oman and Bahrain over a 10-year period to assist the two nations in their struggle with Arab protests. Amid concessions made to oppositionists, the government during the summer continued to crack down on protests and demonstrations, and increasingly clamped down on the media. In October 2011, QABOOS issued a royal decree expanding the legislative powers of the Council of Oman to draft, amend, and approve legislation.