Exit the Sultan – Leaving Behind a Legacy of Half A Century

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The departed Sultan was a wise ruler and acted also as peacemaker in the turbulent region. — Reuters

Mousumi Roy | Caravan Daily

IT SADDENED ALL of us to have heard about the demise of Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said who ruled Oman for nearly a half century. As the Sultan had no children, Constitution dictates that the Royal Family will need to name a successor within three days of demise of the ruler. If the family does not choose a successor within this time-frame, the a council of military and security officials, supreme court chiefs and heads of the two assemblies will put their heads together install in power an individual whose name has been secretly written by Qaboos (in the form of a letter) to be the successor.

Meanwhile, Haitham bin Tariq has been appointed as the Ruler of Oman on Saturday after the high military council called on the ruling family council to convene and choose a successor. He has served as minister of national heritage and culture previously.

Sultan Qaboos had a unique vision for Oman. On assuming power, he immediately set about transforming his country, making best use of its new-found oil wealth — it was around 1962 that oil was discovered in Oman. The Sultan used this revenue principally for modernizing Oman’s infrastructure. It was a slow but steady march forward, and from scratch. For instance, in 1970, Oman had only three primary schools, 10km of paved roads, two health centers, and no infrastructure to speak of. Its per capita income at that time was less than $50 a year. Today, after a little over three decades, the scenario in the Sultanate is radically different. Oman is now a middle-income developing country and the 18th most liberal economy in the world, with universal free welfare services and an impressive infrastructure.

Many Indians come to Oman with the intention taking up jobs for a short period, but would soon fall in love with the sea and the sands, and end up living a long life here. The same is true for nationals from other countries. Many Europeans here on retirement mode are often heard expressing their intention to stay back in Oman for more time because of the peaceful and clean environment here, the low cost of living, the amenities and facilities here that match well with those in their home countries, and the additional attraction here being no taxes on personal income. Oman is liberal even from the religious point of view, there are the churches, and there are a couple of Indian temples too.

SULTANATE

The Sultanate of Oman is situated in the south–eastern quarter of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the west, Yemen to the south-west and the United Arab emirates (UAE) to the north–west. The total land area of 309,500 sq km makes it third largest country in the peninsula.

Oman’s countryside is among the most stunning and varied in the Gulf region – consisting predominantly of valleys and deserts (forming 82% of the landmass), mountain ranges (15%) and the narrow strip of coastal plains(3 %). Interestingly, Oman’s coastline is about 2,000km long, extending to the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.

The early form of civilization existed in Oman some 5,000 years ago. The name ‘Oman’ is derived from the Arab tribes that migrated to the area from a place in Yemen called Uman. The Omanis were among the first Arabs to embrace Islam, back in 630AD, and are quite liberal in their attitude to other religions. In 1507, the Portuguese established their control over Oman by force. They were finally driven out from Hormuz, in 1622, and eventually from Muscat in 1650 by Sultan bin Saif Al-Ya’arubi — which marked the start of an era of Oman’s full independence. This made the country the oldest independent state in the Arabian region.

However, the history of Oman has always been a struggle for economic and political power between the interiors (ruled by an Imam), and the coastal areas as also Muscat ruled by Sultan. In 1744, Omani tribes elected Imam Ahmed bin Said, founder of the present Al Busaidi dynasty. He also adopted the title of Sultan, which remains to this day.

BRITISH PROTECTORATE

It was in 1890 that Oman became a British protectorate while maintaining its independence. In return, Britain kept up its supply route to the Far East. The Dhofar rebellion aided by South Yemen in the 1960-65 period was suppressed. On July 23, 1970, the 30-year-old Sultan Qaboos bin Said assumed power. This day is celebrated annually in Oman as the Renaissance Day.

PEACEFUL, STABLE

Oman is peaceful, stable and relatively prosperous. The capital, Muscat, is blessed with the natural beauty of ‘Sabka’ (salt flats) ‘Khwars’ ( lagoons), oases, stark mountains of rock and brownish–green ranges of ophiolites, stretches of sand and gravel plains, and  the coast line — all beautifully maintained by resort to unique architectural skills and intensive creative efforts that created appropriate greenery and flowerbeds. Today, Oman is modern but is also making it a point to preserve much of its character and heritage, making Oman a unique place to visit.

The departed Sultan was a wise ruler and acted also as peacemaker in the turbulent region. When death came calling, he was 79. He was the only one who could make the US-Iran relationship go easy despite the recurrence of strains. He was often described as a true friend of Iran, an impartial go-between, irrespective of the change of governments in that country. As a unique mediator, the Sultan facilitated US-Iran talks that led to the JCPOA.

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Mousumi Roy is a Visiting Professor (International Relations). She is Based in Muscat. The views expressed here are the author’s personal.

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