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Qaboos's 45 years in power makes him the longest-serving head of state in the Arab world AFP Image Credit:

Cairo: Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said died on Friday evening, state media said early on Saturday, and a three-day period of national mourning was declared.

Qaboos had no children and had not publicly appointed a successor.

Succession

A 1996 statute says the ruling family will choose a successor within three days of the throne becoming vacant.

If they fail to agree, a council of military and security officials, supreme court chiefs and heads of the two consultative assemblies will put in power the person whose name has been secretly written by the sultan in a sealed letter.

A three-day period of official mourning for the public and private sectors has been declared, state media said.

Who was Sultan Qaboos?

When Sultan Qaboos Bin Saeed took over in 1970 after a bloodless coup against his father, Oman had only three schools, two hospitals and six kilometres of paved roads. Once in power, Qaboos embarked on modernising the Arabian Peninsula country, launching a series of ambitious schemes promoting education, healthcare, trade and road links that has drastically transformed life in the Sultanate.

Under him, schools spread across Oman, accommodating boys and girls alike. The country’s first university, which was named after Qaboos, was established in 1986.

A fan of classic music, Qaboos opened in Muscat in October 2011 the Royal Oman Opera, the first opera house in the Gulf.

Domestic policy

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Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan with Sultan Qaboos Bin Said of Oman (NOTE: Original publication date not available)

With revenues from oil discovered in Oman in late 1960s, Qaboos set up oil refineries, two main ports as well as fish processing plants. In the final years of his rule, he showed interest in diversifying the country’s oil-dependent economy by promoting other sources for national income, including tourism and investment.

Qaboos also established Oman’s first cabinet, government departments and two advisory bodies, including the elected Shura Council representing all the country’s provinces or wilayats.

In 1996, Oman had its Constitution. Qaboos also modernised the Omani army.

Therefore, he was able to quell a long-standing rebellion in Oman’s southern province of Dhofar in late 1975, a triumph that allowed him to go ahead with his modernisation drive.

However, he kept large executive powers in his hands. Besides being the ruler, he served as the country’s prime minister, the supreme commander of the army, defence and foreign ministers as well as the governor of the central bank.

In 2011, Oman saw street protests, inspired by the so-called Arab Spring revolts.

The protesters demanded more jobs, higher pay, lower taxes and wider political reforms. Unlike protesters elsewhere in the Arab world, the Omani demonstrators did not call for Qaboos’ downfall.

In response, he ordered the creation of 50,000 new jobs, increasing state spending on public services and expanding powers of the elected Shura Council. His long-time governance was never challenged.

For many Omanis, Qaboos was the father of modern Oman. His accession to the throne on July 23, 1970 was annually marked as the nation’s Renaissance Day.

His birthday on November 18, 1940 was celebrated as an annual national holiday.

Foreign policy

As part of Qaboos’ efforts to end the country’s isolation, Oman, a former British protectorate, joined the Arab League and the UN in 1971.

It was also a founding member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981.

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1981. The first GCC meeting in Abu Dhabi. From left to right: Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Kuwait; Shaikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah, Emir of Kuwait; King Khalid Bin Abdul Aziz, King of Saudi Arabia; Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of the UAE; King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques; Sultan Qaboos of Oman; Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar; Shaikh Eisa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, Emir of Bahrain.

During Qaboos reign, Oman enjoyed political and economic stability in a region roiled by turmoil.

Upon taking power, Qaboos adopted a foreign policy based on good neighbourliness and cordial ties with different countries – a policy dubbed as “a friend of all and a foe of none”.

Owing to this policy, Oman emerged as a trusted mediator in several disputes. Muscat helped defuse 2013 US-Iran tensions and played a key role in reaching a nuclear deal between Tehran and big powers, including the US, in 2015. Oman also maintained balanced relations with regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran. In 1994, Israel’s then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin visited Oman, the first trip by such a senior Israeli official to an Arab country with no diplomatic links with Tel Aviv. In 2018, Qaboos met the then Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu in Muscat.

Oman, meanwhile, brokered the release of several Western hostages in neighbouring Yemen and was reportedly a venue for behind-the-scenes talks between Saudis and Yemen’s Al Houthi militia.

Based on its self-styled “positive neutrality”, Oman did not take sides in a Saudi-led military campaign against Iran-allied Al Houthis. The Sultanate also steered clear of a bitter dispute between Qatar and the three GCC members: Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.

The approach earned Qaboos a multitude of world peace prizes including India’s Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding bestowed on him in 2004.

Personal life

Born in the southern Omani city of Salalah, Qaboos received primary and secondary education in Oman before going to Britain at age of 16. In 1960, he attended the British Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. After graduation, he joined the British army and served with a battalion for one year. Later, he went on an educational world tour.

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Sultan Qaboos in 1970 AFP

After his return to the homeland in 1966, Qaboos did not hide his wish for change in Oman, much to his ruling father’s reluctance.

Qaboos once reminisced about his early life in an interview. “My father’s insistence on studying Islam as well as the history and culture of Oman has made a great impact on deepening my responsibilities towards the Omani people and humanity at large,” he said. Qaboos also acknowledged tremendous benefits from Western education, including military training in the UK.

In 1978, Qaboos married Nawwal Bint Tareq, a cousin. Their marriage ended two years later with no children. In 2014, Qaboos started treatment for reported colon cancer. He had since gone on medical trips to Germany and Belgium.

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Muscat Sultan Qaboos Bin Saeed has ordered setting up of 'Ajyal College' in Bahla town, about 190-km northwest of Muscat, with an aim to revive traditional craft."Bahla, which has this great history, is also the incubator for the traditional crafts and good heritage," the Omani leader said during his meeting with the Shaikhs and dignitaries from the Central and Interior region on Sunday at the Royal camp at Saih Al Shamikhat in Bahla. Gulf News archives