Sultan Qaboos died on Friday evening after “a wise and triumphant march rich with generosity that embraced Oman and extended to the Arab, Muslim and entire world and achieved a balanced policy that the whole world respected”, the state-run Oman News Agency said.
The country’s authorities moved rapidly to appoint new ruler with Haitham bin Tariq al-Said reported to be taking the oath of allegiance to succeed his cousin on Saturday afternoon, according to two Omani newspapers.
There had been concerns over Sultan Qaboos’ health in recent weeks and he had reportedly been in Belgium for treatment, but travelled back to Oman shortly before the New Year.
Oman, on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula and a key Western ally, has announced a three-day period of national mourning.
Sultan Qaboos was the longest serving leader in the Middle East, having ruled the country since 1970 after taking over the leadership from his father in a peaceful coup. 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.
From 1964-70, Qaboos was confined to the royal palace in Salalah and denied any role in running Oman. He became disenchanted with his father’s methods and skeptical of the army’s ability to defeat Dhofari rebels.
When oil exports began in 1967, Sultan Said, accustomed to tight financial constraints, was reluctant to use the revenue for development.
Britain, with considerable clout then over Gulf rulers, helped Qaboos overthrow his father in a palace coup on July 23, 1970. Sultan Said was forced to abdicate after some resistance and spent the last two years of his life in exile in England.
The new sultan, then only 30 years old, inherited a country with little infrastructure, few skilled administrators and none of the basic institutions of government. Qaboos gradually asserted his authority by taking over the role of prime minister and the ministries of finance, defence and foreign affairs, which he retained.
He fought Dhofar rebels with help from Britain, Jordan and Iran. Through military advances and by offering rebel leaders state jobs, Qaboos ended the revolt within six years of taking office.
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 U.S. forces use Omani facilities for emergencies.
In 1981, Qaboos began widening political participation and free elections for an advisory council were held in 2003.
More to follow