The very sad news that H.M. Sultan Qaboos died on 10th January 2020, has been announced. There will be an official period of three days mourning, and all flags in Oman will be flown at half mast for 40days.
Born on 18th November 1940, Qaboos bin Said bin Taimur Al Said was the 14th Al Said ruler of Oman. His father Sultan Said ruled Oman from 1932 to 1970 when, during a civil war in Oman’s southern province of Dhofar, Sultan Qaboos became ruler aged 29.
Sultan Qaboos, the only son of Sultan Said, was initially educated by tutors in Salalah, then in 1956 he arrived into a small village, Felsham, outside Bury St Edmunds England, where he was privately educated by Philip Romans to gain entrance into Sandhurst.
Sultan Qaboos graduated from Sandhurst, the military academy, in 1962 and then joined the 1st Battalion of the Scottish Rifles (Cameronians) who had earlier fought in Oman in the 1950s. The Cameronians were based in Germany during the time Sultan Qaboos served with them. Subsequently, he spent a short time in English local government and undertook a World Tour with a former British Consul-general to Oman, Leslie Chauncy and Chauncy’s wife.
In 1964 he returned to Salalah where, soon after, the beginning of the revolt would take place in the province of Dhofar that would accelerate his accession.
Sultan Qaboos assumed power on 23rd July 1970 as a result of a relatively bloodless coup engineered by Britain. This resulted in increased military support for the Oman government from Britain, Jordan and Iran to oppose the rebels who themselves were supported by South Yemen and through it Russia and other communist states.
As ruler, Sultan Qaboos had a number of unique attributes that helped cement his power. His father, of course, was ruler but perhaps almost as important his mother was from the Sheikhs family of an important Tribe in Dhofar, the region where the revolt was focused. His time in Britain gave him an understanding of the culture of his key ally and his instruction in Sandhurst will have enabled him to grasp the necessity of action in a conflict. Unlike the other Gulf states the Omani monarchy was not a family business it was entirely devolved on an individual, the Sultan; this enabled a single-minded approach to decision making which, in 1970, enabled a pragmatic approach to Oman’s situation. The state he initially ruled was barely developed and though oil exports from 1967 had increased the state’s finances, little development had taken place. Sultan Qaboos solidified his position through war in Dhofar, increased development in both Dhofar and the rest of the country and an enormous increase in the government’s apparatus, all contributing to a declaration of success in January 1976; .
Oman today is a remarkable success story with a ‘high income’ economy based on Oil and Gas production, well-educated population and stable government. Sultan Qaboos was Minister of key elements of the government (Finance, Foreign Affairs and Military) and the country’s elected ‘Majlis As Shura’ has no legislative power, though there has been a limited increase in participation within decision making through an elected process. In 2012 the Sultan responded to protests in Oman about corruption and lack of opportunity by dismissing long standing government Ministers and appointing as Ministers several elected members of the Majlis As Shura to Ministerial rank. As with all other Arabian Gulf States, there is an assumed compact by the nationals of Oman that the Ruler (Sultan, King, Emir or Sheikh) will provide a very comfortable, uncomplicated life for the population, in return for the lack of participation in the management of the state.
Sultan Qaboos established an outward looking diplomatic relationship with Oman’s neighbours and other countries. This included Iran with which Oman has always had close diplomatic ties, notwithstanding the irritation at this approach by other Arab states and the USA.
Sultan Qaboos will be buried in the royal family’s graveyard in Bowsher, Muscat on 11th January.
Though previously married Sultan Qaboos had no children. The succession rules after his death is that male descendants of a previous ruler of Oman, Sultan Turki, have 3 days to agree amongst each other who will become ruler. If they are unable to decide, the person nominated by name in a sealed envelope by Sultan Qaboos will then be announced in front of Oman’s Council of State.
Oman’s new ruler (read what the sucession rules are) will inherit a state that is currently stable, wealthy and with a wealth of opportunity. It however has a young population who, at a time of decreasing oil revenues, have high expectations of continuing direct support from its ruler, a pact that may be increasingly difficult to finance. External pressure from the conflict in Yemen and other neighbours will have an impact of what Oman can do and will be obliged to do.