Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said
Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said|Oman News Agency

Sultan Qaboos of Oman passes away, Haitham named successor


Muscat, January 11, 2020

Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said of Oman died here on Friday at the age of 79, after ruling the Gulf state for nearly five decades, and the country's Culture Minister Haitham bin Tariq al-Said was on Saturday named as his successor.

The official Omani agency ONA announced the news early Saturday in a short message without providing details of the causes of the demise of the Sultan, who had travelled to Belgium last month for a medical check-up, reports Efe news.

Haitham bin Tariq al-Said took the oath of office on Saturday after a meeting of the Royal Family Council, the BBC quoted the government as saying. He is a cousin of Qaboos, who had no heir or a designated successor.

"With great sorrow and deep sadness... the royal court mourns His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who passed away on Friday," it said.

Oman has declared three days of mourning and shutdown of offices in both the public and private sectors following the loss of its leader. Flags will fly at half-mast for the next 40 days.

Images showed a crowed of men gathered outside the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in the capital, Muscat, where the casket had been taken and prayers were being held.

Qaboos was born in the southern city of Salalah, the then capital of the kingdom, and was the only son of Said bin Taimur and Princess Mazoon al-Mashani.

He overthrew his father in 1970 in a bloodless coup with the help of the British.

Venerated in Oman, he is remembered as wise, righteous and the chief mediator in one of the most conflict-ridden regions of the world. He established ties with neighbouring Iran and even Israel.

After ascending the throne in 1970, and heavily influenced by the West and Zanzibar - his main country of reference - he sought to turn around the fortunes of Oman and its people.

He also placed much emphasis on education. By 1975, there were already 214 schools and in 1982, the first university, named Qaboos, was founded.

In addition, he set up a free, modern healthcare system - that went from having 150 doctors in 1975 to more than 3,500 in the present day - which significantly improved life expectancy and infant mortality.

The Sultan is the paramount decision-maker in Oman and also holds the positions of prime minister, supreme commander of the armed forces, minister of defence, minister of finance and minister of foreign affairs.

His death has come at a time of heightened tension in the Middle East as Washington and Tehran have attacked one another on Iraqi territory.

The Omani Sultanate had called for calm, in line with Bin Said's policy of neutrality.

Under the Sultan, Muscat even mediated between conflicting countries in the volatile neighbourhood and sought to end the conflict in Yemen. Oman was the first Gulf state to establish low-level ties with Israel.

He played a key role in the resolution of the Kuwait crisis and the Iraq-Iran war. The only conflict the Sultan had to face in his land was the Dhofar War (1962-1975) - which he inherited from his predecessor - where the southern rebels wanted autonomy until they were defeated by Qaboos five years after ascending to the throne.

Russian author Sergei Plekhanov, in his book "A Reformer on the Throne" - one of the few authorized biographies of the Sultan - explained that Said bin Taimur did not let Qaboos visit the Omani capital until he was 25 and deprived him of access to newspapers because he foresaw an opposition to his authoritarian policies.

However, his father sent him to Suffolk in England for education. There, he developed an interest in photography and classical music, which later led him to set up Oman's first opera and its choir.