Oman swears in new ruler following death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said

11 January 2020, 13:53

Oman's new sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said
Oman's new sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Oman has announced on state television culture minister Haitham bin Tariq Al Said as the county's new ruler, ending the mystery surrounding the successor.

Haitham bin Tariq Al Said will succeed Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who ruled the country for 50 years and did not have any children.

The announcement was played over footage showing thousands gathered in the capital, Muscat for Sultan Qaboos bin Said's funeral.

Qaboos was the Middle East's longest-ruling monarch and came to power when he deposed his father in a 1970 palace coup.

His choice of successor was a closely-guarded secret believed to have been known only to the sultan.

He was known internationally for his diplomatic balancing in the Persian Gulf.

Under his leadership, Oman often served as a facilitator for talks between adversaries, including Iran and the US.

The new sultan vowed in an address on Omani state TV to continue the foreign policy approach of Qaboos, one that he said is based on peaceful coexistence between nations and on non-interference.

Oman, a former British protectorate that sits on the south-eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula across from Iran, is a close ally of Washington and is viewed as a valuable regional player.

It shares borders with Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said died aged 79
Sultan Qaboos bin Said died aged 79. Picture: PA

Qaboos died at the age of 79 from an illness that was never publicly disclosed or confirmed. For years, he had sought treatment in Germany where he spent eight months between 2014 and 2015.

Following Islamic tradition, he was buried before nightfall.

His successor is a career diplomat whose role as minister of national heritage and culture helped project Omani influence. Local media in the Gulf reported that Sultan Haitham is a cousin of Qaboos.

Sultan Haitham has years of experience with the foreign ministry, starting in 1986. He served previously as the foreign ministry's under-secretary for political affairs and its secretary general. He has also chaired meetings of the cabinet.

The new sultan was selected in an intricate process broadcast on state TV. The country's defence council, in the presence of the Royal Family council, was shown cutting open a sealed letter in which Sultan Qaboos names his choice for successor.

The defence council then read the contents of the letter aloud before all those present in the meeting, announcing Haitham bin Tariq Al Said as the dynasty's heir.

According to Oman's succession laws, the letter is to be opened if the Royal Family council cannot agree on a successor within three days. The Al Said family has ruled Oman since the eighteenth century, and once ruled over Zanzibar too.

The quick announcement of a successor and the unsealing of the letter suggest the ruling family wanted to name a successor without delay.

The new sultan is known in international policy circles because of his interactions with world leaders and other royals. For example, he greeted the Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla when the royal couple arrived in Oman in 2016.

This experience "was considered to have provided him with the necessary political gravitas and foreign policy expertise to help steer Oman into a post-Qaboos era", said Sigurd Neubauer, a Middle East expert, in an analysis for The Arab Gulf States Institution in Washington.

Saudi Arabia described Qaboos as the man who modernised Oman, while the United Arab Emirates and Egypt said he was a "wise leader".

The UAE, which has had tense relations with Qaboos in the past, announced three days of mourning.

In Yemen, the Houthis, who are at war with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, described him as leader who worked to end the country's five-year-old conflict.

In the United States, former president George W Bush issued a statement saying Qaboos was "a stable force in the Middle East and a strong US ally".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has paid tribute to the ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who has died aged 79.

In a statement, Mr Johnson said: "I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, Sultan of Oman.

"He was an exceptionally wise and respected leader who will be missed enormously. He will be remembered for his devotion to the development of Oman into a stable and prosperous nation, and as the father of the nation who sought to improve the lives of the Omani people.

"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. He leaves a profound legacy, not only in Oman but across the region too.

"The UK is a proud friend and enduring partner of Oman, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Omani people."

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a statement: "I heard the news about His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman with great sadness.

"He was a leader of vision and purpose who took over the leadership of his country at a difficult time and raised it to an entirely new level of development and prosperity.

"He was a man of culture, humanity and deep conviction who strove to make his nation and the world better and more peaceful. He was kind, thoughtful and with a big heart.

"He had great wisdom and insight from which I benefited often as did so many others. My deepest sympathy, prayers and condolences are with the people of Oman. He will be sorely missed."

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: "Saddened to hear of the death of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said. He was widely respected and worked hard to promote peace and stability in Oman and the wider region."

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