H.M. Sultan Qaboos of Oman, A41AA, SK

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  1. N4QX

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    Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Arab world’s longest-serving ruler and with a reputation for quiet diplomacy, has died at the age of 79.

    His cousin, Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, will be sworn in as the new sultan, ending decades of speculation over who would succeed the popular ruler.

    Boris Johnson said he was “deeply saddened” by Qaboos’s death, describing him as “an exceptionally wise and respected leader who will be missed enormously”.

    He said: “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.”

    The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, was among others paying tribute, describing the the sultan’s 40-year rule as “widely respected” and saying he worked hard to “promote peace and stability in Oman and the wider region”.

    A former British protectorate in the Arabian Peninsula, Oman had been ruled by Qaboos since a bloodless coup against his father in 1970 enacted with the help of Britain. He travelled abroad for treatment for what was believed to be colon cancer at least twice since 2014 and had just returned to Muscat from hospital in Belgium.

    Qaboos had no children and, following protocol, had not publicly appointed a successor. A 1996 statute says the ruling family must choose a successor or the name would come from a sealed envelope left by the sultan to be opened if the royal family could not decide. The family hurriedly convened a council over Friday night to discuss the matter, reports said, and decided to go with Qaboos’s “wise guidance.”

    The Omani constitution 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”.

    There were believed to be more than 80 eligible candidates for the throne.

    Haitham bin Tariq al-Said in 2009: he is reportedly being sworn in as the new sultan of Oman following the death of his cousin Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
    Photograph: Tariq Alali/Reuters
    The Oxford-educated Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, 65, has been heritage and culture minister since the mid-1990s and previously held several positions in the ministry of foreign affairs. He was appointed in 2013 to chair Oman’s development committee and is well-versed in the politics of the royal court.

    His appointment comes as something of a surprise to Omanis, who widely assumed that the name of the 65-year-old deputy prime minister Asad bin Tariq al-Said was in the sultan’s envelope. Asad was Qaboos’s “special representative”, fulfilling engagements abroad and making several public appearances on behalf of the sultan.

    “The family went down the least controversial path, favouring unity instead of a drawn-out discussion that could have been marked by interference from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” said Cinzia Bianco, a research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

    “[Haitham’s] biggest challenges will be to get buy-in from local economic elites on reforms and the cooperation and trust of ordinary Omanis, because financial sacrifices will be needed.”

    In a televised speech, Haitham promised to uphold Muscat’s policy of friendly relations with all nations. “We will continue to assist in resolving disputes peacefully,” he said. The new sultan inherits strained state finances and high unemployment in the indebted oil producer, as well as the task of balancing the geopolitical interests of his Middle Eastern neighbours.

    A three-day period of official mourning for the public and private sectors had been declared, state media said. “With great sorrow and deep sadness … the royal court mourns His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who passed away on Friday,” said a statement from the palace.

    Neighbouring Gulf states also declared three days of mourning.

    Qaboos’s funeral procession passed along Muscat’s main road amid tight security as Omanis thronged the palm tree-lined route, some reaching out their hands and others taking pictures.

    The casket, draped in the Omani flag, was carried into Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque where hundreds joined prayers inside. Haitham stood facing the casket, with a traditional curved dagger, or khanjar, strapped to his waist. Qaboos was later buried in a family cemetery.

    The state news agency ONA said Qaboos died after “a wise and triumphant march rich with generosity that embraced Oman and extended to the Arab, Muslim and entire world and achieved a balanced policy that the whole world respected”.

    While he brooked no dissent, fighting off Dhofar rebels with Britain’s help, Qaboos ruled with a lighter hand than many Gulf leaders and transformed the country from a backwater with just six miles of paved roads where slavery was legal into a wealthy modernised state.

    Having played a crucial role in Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers while preserving its membership in the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council and facilitating mediation efforts in Yemen’s civil war, Oman’s policy of “friend to all and enemy to none” meant Muscat emerged as a discreet mediator.

    Haitham’s appointment at the expense of younger candidates with military backgrounds, however, appears to signify a desire for continuity rather than disruption in both domestic and foreign policy.

    Analysts worry about royal family discord and a resurgence of tribal rivalries and political instability in the region, at a time when young hawks have assumed power in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

    With Reuters and AFP

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    ======H.M. Sultan
    ====Qaboos of Oman
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