Many Omanis and foreign experts expect the new sultan to be one of three of his cousins. It remains unclear to what extent a new sultan would change Qaboos’s domestic and foreign policies.
Qaboos came to power at age 29 in 1970 in a bloodless coup aided by the British against his father, putting himself at the helm of a poor, isolated nation locked in a civil war with rebels in the south.
Tapping the kingdom’s newfound oil wealth, Qaboos subdued the rebels with a combination of military force and development projects while building roads, hospitals, schools and other modern infrastructure across the country to improve life for his people. The effort was so successful that in 2010, the United Nations ranked Oman first in the world in advancement up the Human Development Index over the previous 40 years, ahead of China.
That made Qaboos a titanic figure in his country of 4.6 million, located on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and across the Strait of Hormuz from Iran. While sultan, he also held other offices at times, including prime minister, governor of the central bank and minister of finance, defense and foreign affairs.
The first day of his reign, July 23, is a holiday called Renaissance Day. His birthday, Nov. 18, is Oman’s National Day.
Although economic stagnation fueled by low oil prices marred his later years and his people’s political rights remained limited, Western diplomats marveled at the consistency of his foreign policy. In 2007, he spelled it out in a public statement.
“We work for construction and development at home, and for friendship and peace, justice and harmony, coexistence and understanding, and positive constructive dialogue abroad,” he wrote. “That is how we began, that is how we are today, and that, with God’s permission, is how we shall continue to be.”
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