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RIP Baba Qaboos, your Sultanate will miss you

Vicky Kapur (From the Executive Editor's Desk)
Filed on January 12, 2020 | Last updated on January 12, 2020 at 04.29 pm

(AFP)

There is no doubt that Oman owes its place as a modern Arab country to the wise policies of Sultan Qaboos.

If there is such a thing as an ex-expat, then count me in. Having begun my Gulf career with a two-and-a-half-year stint in Muscat, I'm officially a former expat of Oman. Before I took an Air India flight out of New Delhi to begin my expat life in the early 2000s, I was advised - like I suspect a majority of to-be expats are still advised - to be cautious and maintain discretion at all times. It is not a 'free' country like yours, I was told. The rules are much stricter in the Middle East, they said. In fact, 'don't criticise anyone or anything' was almost always part of the oft-repeated rhetoric. And then, one fine evening in early March 2003, I landed at Seeb International Airport, waiting to see signs of oppression, repression, suppression...

Days became weeks and then, before I knew it, a whole month had passed without me observing anything amiss. The more I looked around for 'those' signs, the more 'at home' I felt. Oman is a place that grows on you, compatriot expats told me. So true. I found Omanis to be one of the warmest and most good-humoured people (having worked and lived in Dubai, home to over 200 nationalities, I'd say I've met quite a few to make a conclusive comparison). The one thing that surprised me the most was the love and affection that Oman residents had for their Sultan. Omanis and expats called him Baba Qaboos (Father Qaboos). It didn't take me long to understand the why of that undying, energetic and intense love that almost bordered on devotion. He is the architect and, indeed, the father of modern Oman in the truest sense of the term.

Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said bin Taimur Al Said, the Arab world's longest-serving leader, passed away late Friday night in Muscat, at the age of 79. He was much loved at home for ending the Sultanate's era of isolation, pulling it out of poverty, repairing the fabric of society, building modern infrastructure, and ushering in reforms over the half a century of his peaceful reign. There is no doubt that Oman owes its place as a modern Arab country with a strong infrastructure, a well-integrated yet non-aligned regional power, a tourist hotspot and an expat haven, to the wise policies of Sultan Qaboos. He brought about a renaissance in the Sultanate and positioned it as a neutral zone capable of hosting meetings of contrasting minds and conflicting mindsets to address some of the region's and the world's thorniest issues.

Once a diplomatically closed kingdom, all roads lead to Oman today. It wasn't always so, though. By the mid-1960s, the Sultanate had struck oil, giving a huge boost to the ruler's revenues. Then a young man in his mid-20s, Qaboos was dismayed that the then-Sultan's newfound wealth wasn't being used for the benefit of the people of the Sultanate. Sultan Qaboos assumed the throne from his father, Sultan Said bin Taimur Al Said, in 1970, at a time when Oman had been literally closed to the outside world for decades. At the age of 29, however, his first job as Sultan was to quell the rebellion brewing in southern Oman with the help of the British and Oman's neighbours.

That collaboration for quashing the rebellion was a blessing in disguise as it heralded a long and close partnership between Oman and its neighbours. Sultan Qaboos' Oman became a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and, until his death on Friday, he was the last remaining leader among the GCC rulers who put their signatures on the constitution of GCC which came into existence on May 25, 1981. With his departure, an era has truly ended.

Hailed by the world as an interlocutor par excellence and peacemaker who routinely convinced regional and global warring factions to come to the negotiating table, Sultan Qaboos not only effectively used the oil wealth to transform his country from a regional backwater into a modern Arab state but also successfully used diplomacy and political neutrality to make Oman play the role of 'Switzerland of the Middle East' on several occasions. A statesman respected by one and all, he was one of the region's most moderate figures, striving to broker peace between parties of several old and new regional conflicts, including Iran and the US, the Saudi-led coalition forces and Iran-backed Houthi rebels, Palestine and Israel, Kuwait and Iraq, and even Syria and the Western world. He was, in fact, instrumental in helping forge the now-abandoned Iran nuclear deal by hosting talks between Iran and the Obama administration. The world is today poorer of a distinguished statesman, an extraordinary peacemaker, 'the Renaissance'.


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