Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 July 2020

The death of Sultan Qaboos marks the end of an era

He will forever be remembered as the moderniser of Oman and a foreign policy pragmatist the region very much needed

Sultan Qaboos’ greatest legacy might be the peaceful and stable Oman he has left behind. AFP
Sultan Qaboos’ greatest legacy might be the peaceful and stable Oman he has left behind. AFP

The death of Sultan Qaboos, the longest-serving ruler in the Middle East, marks the end of an era. He was father figure to Oman’s more than four million residents and an elderly statesman who many leaders across the region looked up to. Sultan Qaboos held the reins for almost half a century, during which time he brought immeasurable progress to his country while playing a vital role in maintaining much-needed stability in this part of the world.

Indeed, it is important to remember Sultan Qaboos as the great moderniser of Oman and an important mediator between feuding neighbours, both in times of war and peace. He was the last of the founding members of the Gulf Co-operation Council, formed in 1981, during a period of great uncertainty brought about by the onset of the Iran-Iraq War.

His departure is a great loss to his country, the region and the wider world. But even as this is a time of mourning, it is important to celebrate his life and honour his legacy as one of the Arab world's great leaders.

Not long after succeeding his father at the age of 29 in July 1970, Sultan Qaboos ushered in a period of development in Oman. It is worth noting that up until this point, the country was mostly underdeveloped; it reportedly had just 12 hospital beds, 10 kilometres of surfaced roads and three primary schools – all of them for boys.

Within a short period, however, he invested the revenue generated from the country’s oil industry into building critical infrastructure, educational institutions, hospitals, banks, and air and seaports. During this period, Sultan Qaboos also united the country and championed a tolerant society that was home to not just Arabs but also descendants from the Indian subcontinent and East Africa. Another example of his progressive vision was his bold move to admit women to the orchestra more than three decades ago.

A lover of the arts, Sultan Qaboos leveraged his country’s immense history and cultural heritage by turning it into a rarefied tourist destination, particularly for visitors who were genuinely interested in this part of the world. The Royal Opera House in Muscat, a vibrant cultural attraction since its opening in 2011, is one of many fruits of that vision.

Sultan Qaboos was famously a foreign policy pragmatist under whose leadership Oman maintained friendly ties with every country in the neighbourhood, refusing to take sides even during times of duress. He believed that such a positive approach was beneficial not just to Oman but to everyone in the Middle East. What makes his pragmatism even more laudable is that despite being a friend of the West and a military man – he was an alumnus of the Sandhurst Military Academy in Britain – he worked strenuously on the principle of pacifism even with awkward neighbours. It is telling that countries such as the UAE and Bahrain have declared official mourning for his death; his influence having been instrumental for the region and not just his within the borders of his own country.

Sultan Qaboos’ greatest legacy, perhaps, will be the peaceful and stable Oman he has left behind. Despite the fact that no succession plan had been announced, former culture minister Haitham bin Tariq Al Said was named within hours of his death when a sealed envelope nominating him was opened. Sultan Qaboos’ death will have been the moment that many Omanis had feared the most in their lifetime. However, given the state of the country today – especially when compared to the desperate situation it was in during the 1970s – there is no doubt that "the Sultan of love and wisdom", as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, referred to him, has left his country on firm and steady footing.

Updated: January 11, 2020 06:49 PM

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