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Sultan Qaboos Obituary: A ruler who ushered in Oman renaissance, quiet diplomacy

Reuters/Dubai
Filed on January 11, 2020 | Last updated on January 11, 2020 at 08.55 am
Sultan Qaboos, Obituary, ruler, Oman, renaissance, quiet diplomacy
His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. AFP file photo

A 1996 statute says the ruling family will choose a successor within three days of the throne becoming vacant.

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said transformed Oman during his 49-year reign from a poverty-stricken country torn by dissent into a prosperous state and an internationally trusted mediator for some of the region's issues. He became sultan in July 1970 with the aim of ending the country's isolation and using its oil revenue for modernisation and development.

Oman state news agency ONA said Qaboos died after "a wise and triumphant march rich with generosity that embraced Oman and extended to the Arab, Muslim and entire world and achieved a balanced policy that the whole world respected".

It did not disclose the cause of death. Qaboos, 79, had been ailing for years and was in Belgium in December for treatment.

His death leaves Oman, without a clear successor because he never publicly named one. The sultan, who has dominated decision-making in the Gulf state for decades, has secretly recorded his choice in a sealed letter should the royal family disagree on the succession line.

Qaboos healed old rifts in the country. He became known to his countrymen as "the renaissance", investing billions of dollars of oil revenues in infrastructure and building one of the best-trained armed forces in the region.

While brooking no dissent at home, he also charted an independent foreign policy.

Sultan Qaboos made his last public appearance in October 2018 when he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a rare visit to Oman.

No heir apparent

There has been wide speculation over who will succeed Qaboos as domestic challenges loom large.

A 1996 statute says the ruling family will choose a successor within three days of the throne becoming vacant.

If they fail, a council of military and security officials, supreme court chiefs and heads of the two assemblies will put in power the person appointed by the sultan in his letter.

Oman observers say the sultan's three cousins - Assad, Shihab and Haitham bin Tariq al-Said - stand the best chance.

"I have already written down two names, in descending order, and put them in sealed envelopes in two different regions," Qaboos said in a 1997 interview when asked about the succession.

Personal life

Qaboos, the eighth ruler of the Al Said dynasty that governed Oman since 1744, was born on Nov. 18, 1940 in Dhofar.

In 1958, he headed to England to complete his education, strengthening historic ties between Britain and the Omani royal family. He studied for two years at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst and served six months in the British army in West Germany, returning to England in 1962 to study local government.

He became the ruler in 1970, the new sultan, then only 30 years old, inherited a country with little infrastructure, few skilled administrators and none of the basic institutions of government.

Qaboos gradually asserted his authority by taking over the role of prime minister and the ministries of finance, defence and foreign affairs, which he retained.

He fought Dhofar rebels with help from Britain, Jordan and Iran. Through military advances and by offering rebel leaders state jobs, Qaboos ended the revolt within six years of taking office.

In 1981, Qaboos began widening political participation and free elections for an advisory council were held in 2003.

 


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