The longest-serving monarch of the Arab world, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, passed away this January 10, 2020 at the age of 79, ceding power to his cousin and former culture minister: Haitham bin Tariq al-Said. While the smooth transition was welcomed by all – both foreign powers and Omanis, the loss of Sultan Qaboos will leave its mark on his people for years to come.
Made famous for his commitment to peace and his astute ability to maneuver through the most troublesome political waters, Sultan Qaboos is, to all intents and purposes irreplaceable. The new decade is forever poorer for such a loss …
Since news of the Sultan’s death became public, a litany of officials and world leaders made a point at highlighting the legacy he leaves behind, one, which, better than any eulogy could, speaks of the man he was, the world he aspired to build, and the lessons he hoped to impart.
“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said,” said UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay. “He will be remembered for his wisdom and vision of peace and development for his country and his endeavors in building a more sustainable planet. His commitment for biodiversity and nature conservation, encapsulated in the UNESCO – Qaboos Prize established some 30 years ago, remains as a legacy for today’s generations and those to come.”
Speaking to the press Queen Elizabeth II noted warmly “Sultan Qaboos’ devotion to Oman, to its development and to the care of his people was an inspiration. He will be remembered for his wise leadership and his commitment to peace and understanding between nations and between faiths. He was a good friend of my family and of the United Kingdom, and we are thankful for all he did to further strengthen the bond of friendship between our countries. My State Visit to Oman in 2010 remains a cherished memory.”
Speaking at his swearing in ceremony the new Sultan of Oman’s tone was one of continuity.
“The trust in us is great and the responsibilities are great … We will follow the same line as the late sultan and the principles that he asserted for the foreign policy of our country, of peaceful coexistence among nations and people, and good neighborly behavior of non-interference in the affairs of others.”
For the first time in four decades Oman will sit under the reign of another. Sultan Qaboos rose to power in a bloodless coup against his father in 1970. Educated in the UK, he oversaw something of a revolution in Oman during his reign, guiding the Gulf state in its development from an isolated loner to active member in the Arab League, the United Nations and eventually the World Trade Organization, as well.
Omanis will now have to navigate an unforgiving region without their Sultan, the only leader most of them have ever known. Needless to say that the challenges laid down before the new sultan are as formidable as they are many and protracted, both at home and abroad.
Even more consequential than the sultan’s passing, however, is the fate of his temperate model and dedication to implementing change gradually through regional cooperation. A man defined in tolerance and moderation, Sultan Qaboos understood more than most how to mitigate risk in a region plagued by instability.
As Bruce Riedel, a U.S. diplomat noted in an article published by Brookings: “Qaboos was the 14th generation of his family ruling Oman. His shoes will be difficult to fill. No successor has the decades of legitimacy and leadership that Qaboos enjoyed, nor the training needed. The disruption in the region due to the crisis over the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani adds to the concerns about the future of the sultanate. He had a unique view toward the Arab-Iranian and Sunni-Shia divide in the Gulf, one that stressed engagement with everyone. I remember seeing Iranian Navy ships in Muscat harbor not far from vessels from the U.K. Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy. That unique viewpoint is much needed today. Let’s hope his successor can help us find a way out of the dangerous waters we have recklessly blundered into with Iran.”