Sultan Qaboos ushered in Oman renaissance, quiet diplomacy

Sultan Qaboos bin Said
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Updated 12 January 2020

Sultan Qaboos ushered in Oman renaissance, quiet diplomacy

  • Qaboos healed old rifts in a country long divided between a conservative tribal interior and seafaring coastal region

DUBAI: Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who died late on Friday, transformed Oman during his 49-year reign from a poverty-stricken country torn by dissent into a prosperous state and an internationally trusted mediator for some of the region’s thorniest issues.
He became sultan in July 1970 in a palace coup with the aim of ending the country’s isolation and using its oil revenue for modernization and development.
Qaboos, 79, never publicly named a successor but secretly recorded his choice in a sealed letter should the royal family disagree on the succession line. “I have already written down two names, in descending order, and put them in sealed envelopes in two different regions,” he said in a 1997 interview.

His successor
State television said his cousin Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said was named sultan on Saturday after the high military council called on the ruling family council to choose a successor. The family had followed Qaboos’ written recommendation, believing in “his wisdom and vision,” a military council statement said.
State media did not disclose the cause of death. Qaboos, who has dominated decision making in the Gulf state for decades, had been ailing for years and was in Belgium in December for treatment.
“The immediate danger, perhaps, is that regional players may try to influence the outcome of succession or the chosen new leader,” said Simon Henderson, director of the Bernstein Program on Gulf and Energy Policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“Iran will likely be opportunistic in how it plays its cards.”
Analysts worry about royal family discord, and a resurgence of tribal rivalries and political instability, now a new ruler was chosen at a time when young leaders have assumed power in neighboring Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Qaboos healed old rifts in a country long divided between a conservative tribal interior and seafaring coastal region. He became known to his countrymen as “the renaissance,” investing billions of dollars of oil revenues in infrastructure and building one of the best-trained armed forces in the region.
While brooking no dissent at home, Qaboos charted an independent foreign policy, not taking sides in a Gulf rivalry.
Muscat kept ties with both Tehran and Baghdad during the 1980–88 Iran–Iraq War, and with Iran and the US after their diplomatic falling out in 1979.
Oman helped to mediate secret US-Iran talks in 2013 that led to a historic international nuclear pact two years later.

SPEEDREAD

• Sultan Qaboos healed old rifts in a country long divided between a conservative tribal interior and seafaring coastal region.

• Qaboos, 79, never publicly named a successor but recorded his choice in a sealed letter.

The white-bearded Qaboos met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in October 2018 on a rare visit to Oman. While other Gulf states have made overtures to Israel, none of their leaders have openly met with Netanyahu.

Al-Said dynasty
Qaboos, the eighth ruler of the Al-Said dynasty that governed Oman since 1744, was born on Nov. 18, 1940 in Dhofar.
In 1958, he headed to England to complete his education, strengthening historic ties between Britain and the Omani royal family. He studied for two years at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst and served six months in the British army in West Germany, returning to England in 1962 to study local government.
When oil exports began in 1967, Sultan Said, accustomed to tight financial constraints, was reluctant to spend on development.
Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution directed Qaboos’ attention to the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of global oil passes. He pledged to keep the strait open and in 1980 signed a deal to let US forces use Omani facilities for emergencies. In 1981, Qaboos began widening political participation and free elections for an advisory council were held in 2003.

Charismatic authority
When the “Arab Spring” protests started to threaten — and eventually topple — the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, Qaboos took note and defused his own potential bombshell as protests broke out in Oman with promises of jobs and reforms.
He sacked more than a third of the Cabinet, created thousands of public sector jobs and paid a dividend to the unemployed, which the IMF said amounted to a quarter of Omanis.
However domestic challenges remain with high unemployment and the state increasingly relying on external borrowing as oil prices fell, pushing its credit rating to junk status.
“Sultan Qaboos had such charismatic authority and became so synonymous with Oman as a modern nation-state that it will naturally be difficult for any successor to replicate that, at least at the beginning,” Kristian Coates Ulrichsen of the Texas-based Rice University’s Baker Institute told Reuters.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 22 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”