“Oman’s Succession: After the Sultan”
The Economist, December 6-12, 2014, p.A60
“On an average day a resident of Muscat, Oman’s seafront capital, is likely to drive down Sultan Qaboos road, pass Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and perhaps Sultan Qaboos port, too. He or she may be a graduate of Sultan Qaboos University and watch a football match at the Sultan Qaboos sports complex before heading home to a house in Medinat Sultan Qaboos, a neighbourhood of the city. If one man dominates the country, that is because since 1970, when he overthrew his father, Qaboos bin Said al-Said has ruled the Gulf state as an absolute monarch, albeit a benevolent one who has both unified and modernised Oman. His dominance has not concerned many until recently. But for almost six months the 74-year-old sultan has been under the care of doctors in Germany with what is said to be colon cancer. Unmarried, he has no heir or designated successor. … Omani law stipulates an idiosyncratic procedure to find a successor. On the sultan’s death the scions of the ruling Al Bu Said family have three days to decide who will take his place. If they cannot agree they will open an envelope left by the sultan containing the name of his chosen successor. Word has it that his three cousins—Assad, Shihab and Haithem bin Tariq al-Said—are front-runners. Little is known about them. Few Omanis want to face up to their ruler’s mortality because ‘quite simply, his majesty’s shoes are too big to fill,’ says Ahmed al-Mukhaini, an analyst. ‘That could be a good thing, as it means the next sultan will have to share power.’ Sultan Qaboos is seen as a visionary by Omanis and expatriates (including Western diplomats) alike. Over 44 years the sultan has used the oil money of his Gulf state of 4.1m people, of whom some 40% are expatriates, to transform Oman from a backwater with few miles of paved road into a prosperous state with generous social provision. … Omanis note that their country is less rich than neighbouring Saudi Arabia, but their ruler has done much more with its wealth. The sultan has made friends with everyone, including arranging talks between the West and Iran, much to the consternation of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The country feels as much part of Asia as of the Arab world.”
Quickie Analysis: Oman doesn’t get a lot of press and seems to prefer it that way. But Sultan Qaboos’s eventual succession is sure to create waves in a region that doesn’t actually need more waves.