Middle East’s longest-ruling king Sultan Qaboos bin Said dies aged 79
Jan. 11, 2020
The Middle East’s longest-ruling king, Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, has died aged 79.
The sultan overthrew his father in a bloodless coup with British support in 1970 and led Oman on a modernising path while carefully balancing its diplomacy between Iran and the US.
Under his father, Said bin Taimur, slavery was legal, no-one could go abroad and music was banned. The country, roughly the size of Poland, also had just six miles of paved roads.
The young Qaboos was sent to study in England in the 40s and ended up training at Sandhurst and with the Scottish Rifles Regiment in what was then West Germany.
The UK initially supported his father but grew frustrated with him as he became increasingly eccentric after surviving an assassination attempt.
During the coup, the old king shot himself in the foot while trying to pull a gun from under his robes before going into exile in London.
No cause of death for Sultan Qaboos has been confirmed, although he has travelled abroad for cancer treatment at least twice since 2014 and had just returned from a hospital in Belgium.
He also reportedly suffered from diabetes.
Boris Johnson said he was ‘deeply saddened’ by the sultan’s death in a statement today.
‘I had the pleasure of meeting His Majesty Sultan Qaboos and was struck by his commitment to peace and understanding between nations and between faiths.
‘The UK is a proud friend and enduring partner of Oman, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Omani people.’
Decades of speculation over who would succeed him were ended only today when it was reported his cousin, Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, had been sworn in.
Sultan Qaboos never married or had children and did not publicly name an heir, a tradition among the Al Said dynasty whose history is littered with violent coups.
By law, the ruling family had to choose the successor or a name would come from a sealed envelope left by Sultan Qaboos. They reportedly rushed to talks over Friday night to discuss the nomination.
The Omani consitution says the sultan should be a member of the royal family as well as ‘Muslim, mature, rational and the legitimate son of Omani Muslim parents’.
Under Sultan Qaboos, Oman became known as a welcoming country for tourists and an important diplomatic player.
It helped the US free captives in Iran and Yemen and hosted visits from Israeli officials while opposing their policy on land occupation in the West Bank.
In a rare interview in 2008, the monarch told a Kuwaiti newspaper: ‘We do not have any conflicts and we do not put fuel on the fire when our opinion does not agree with someone.’
He was nonetheless an absolute ruler who silenced any dissenters.
His death could raise the risk of unrest in Oman, which sits on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula.
Oman’s willingness to tread its own path has been key to gaining influence. But it has also irritated Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who oppose Iran and now dominate relations between Gulf Arab nations.
It is not known how the new Sultan Haitham will choose to manage these pressures.
Gary A Grappo, an ex-US ambassador to Oman, said: ‘Maintaining this sort of equidistant type of relationship … is going to be put to the test.’
‘[He] is going to have an immensely, immensely difficult job. And overhanging all of that will be the sense that he’s not Qaboos because those are impossible shoes to fill.’
Many Omanis will see Sultan Qaboos’ legacy in the schools, hospitals and roads he built in the wake of his father’s rule.