Sultan Qaboos Obituary

By Antonino Occhiuto

On 11 January 2020, the longest serving Arab ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said of Oman died aged 79. Qaboos, who ruled the country for 50 years, is credited for turning Oman into a prosperous, modern and unified state and for playing a key role in regional mediation.

The Sultan spent his early life and education in the UK, educated at Bury Saint Edmunds, Suffolk and at Sandhurst, the Royal Military Academy, in Berkshire.[1] Following a British-supported bloodless coup in 1970, in which Qaboos seized power from his father, the Sultan immediately focused his efforts on roads, hospitals, schools, communications systems, and industrial and port facilities.[2] The deceased Sultan leaves a country with a landmark literacy rate close to 90%. On the political level, in 1996, he promulgated Oman’s constitution, which formalised both a consultative legislature, a cabinet and the Sultan as the unifying symbol of the state.[3] His early rule was characterised by the suppression of an insurgency supported by the Soviet Union in the southern region of Dhofar. The rebellion was quelled with the support of British, Iranian and Jordanian forces.[4] Events in Dhofar allowed Qaboos to demonstrate his outstanding diplomatic and political skills on a local-domestic level. Following his military victory over the rebels, the Sultan dubbed-down on reconciliation efforts and led the successful integration of the southern region with the rest of Oman.

 

As often the case in autocratic political systems, in Oman the ruler’s convinctions shaped the direction of the country’s domestic and foreign policy under Qaboos. The Sultan firmly believed that Oman’s only way forward in a volatile region such as the Middle East was to keep out of trouble by engaging diplomatically and economically with all its neighbours, without siding with a camp or the other and, when possible, leading diplomatic initiatives to ease tensions and resolve conflicts.[5] The Sultanate engaged with all major international actors. Despite developing strong ties with the Soviet Union and China, Oman’s military partnership with Britain remained firm while Muscat’s relationship with Washington became increasingly important. In both 1991 and 2003 Oman’s military facilities played an important role as a staging area for the movement of coalition troops against Iraq. When it comes to Gulf and Middle East politics, under Qaboos, Oman joined Saudi Arabia’s efforts to create the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981. Muscat also maintained good relations with Iran, a potentially threatening presence across the Straits of Hormuz. The decision to maintain cordial relations to Tehran allowed Oman to lead back-channel communication efforts between Iran and the US, facilitating the talks that led to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).[6] Currently, Muscat is also the ideal candidate to promote a de-escalation in the conflict between the UN-recognised government of Yemen—backed by Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies—and Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

 

With the Sultan not having children or brothers, following the ruler’s death, Oman could have been left in an institutional chaos with an array of potential candidates for the throne. Qaboos took the succession matter into his hands to avoid foreign interferences in the succession process and to guarantee continuity and stability in the country. The Sultan left a sealed letter addressed to the Defence Council and the Royal Family Council, in which he named his choice for successor— Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said—to be opened following his death.

 

Notes:

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Qaboos bin Said,” 2020, Encyclopaedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Qaboos-bin-Said

Miller, Judith. “Creating Modern Oman: An Interview with Sultan Qabus,” May/June 1997, Foreign Affairs. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/oman/1997-05-01/creating-modern-oman-interview-sultan-qabus

“Royal Decree No. (101/96) Promulgating the Basic Statute of the State.” Article 5. Ministry Of Legal Affairs, Sultanate of Oman. http://www.mola.gov.om/eng/basicstatute.aspx

Owen, Robert. “The Rebellion in Dhofar—A Threat to Western Interests in the Gulf,” June 1973, Royal Institute of International Affairs, p . 266-272. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40394708?seq=1

Kechichian, Joseph A. “Oman and the World: The Emergence of an Independent Foreign Policy.” p. 253.

Behravesh, Maysam. “Oman hedges its bets on Tehran and the Trump administration,” April 2019, Atlantic Council. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/oman-hedges-its-bets-on-tehran-and-the-trump-administration/

Times News Service. “European Union’s message on passing of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos,” 2020, Times Of Oman. https://timesofoman.com/article/2546814/Oman/Government/European-Unions-message-of-condolence-for-HM-Sultan-Qaboos

 

[1] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Qaboos-bin-Said

 

[2] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/oman/1997-05-01/creating-modern-oman-interview-sultan-qabus

 

[3] http://www.mola.gov.om/eng/basicstatute.aspx

 

[4] https://www.jstor.org/stable/40394708?seq=1

 

[5] Kechichian, Joseph A. “Oman and the World: The Emergence of an Independent Foreign Policy.” p. 253.

[6] https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/oman-hedges-its-bets-on-tehran-and-the-trump-administration/

14 January 2020

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