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Marking the end of an era, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said who ruled Oman for five decades passed away on January 10, after a long ailment and paved way for the change of guard in the important Gulf state. Sultan Qaboos was a ruler of tall stature and was respected globally. The 79 year old Sultan provided stability and independent foreign policy to Oman while balancing the regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran. After deposing his conservative father, Said bin Taimur in a bloodless coup in 1970, Sultan Qaboos crushed the Dhofar rebellion, abolished slavery, led Oman to a path of modernization, presented the first written constitution in 1996 and encouraged women empowerment through their involvement in politics, business and sports. The Father of modern Oman is widely known for his mediation efforts owing to his crucial role in signing of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and his role as a mediator in bringing together the warring parties in Yemen.
Speculations of difficult succession in Oman due to absence of natural heir, were laid to rest as the family council decided to go with the Former Sultan’s choice for the successor i.e. Haitham bin Tariq al Said who is a cousin of Sultan Qaboos; had studied at Oxford before heading the culture and heritage ministry in the Sultanate. The new Sultan has inherited a country where Qaboos ruled single handedly acting as Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, Finance and Foreign Affairs and the Governor of the central bank. It would not be easy for him to command the same respect and adherence as the former ruler. Strained state finances and vast unemployment will pose a challenge for the new ruler at domestic turf; while withstanding the external pressure to choose sides in the regional rivalry will test his prowess in maintaining a neutral foreign policy. Nevertheless, after taking the oath as the Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq assured that he will continue his predecessor’s policies of friendly relations with all nations while further developing the country.
Muscat declared three days of official mourning for Qaboos bin Said and announced that for the next 40 days flags will be in flown in half mast position. Countries including USA, UK, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Bahrain offered condolences and expressed grief over loss of a seasoned politician. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid glowing tributes to the Omani leader and said that Sultan Qaboos was “a beacon of peace for our region and the world” while emphasizing that Qaboos was a “true friend of India”. Indian President Mr. Ram Nath Kovind called Sultan Qaboos “a close friend of India” and noted that the world had lost “a great leader and a statesman who worked tirelessly towards building peace in the region and the world.” The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs declared that India will observe state mourning on January 13 as a mark of respect to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said. The Indian flag flew at half-mast throughout the day. Mr. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Indian Minister of Minority Affairs is leading the Indian delegation to Muscat on 14 January 2020 to pay condolences on behalf of the Government and People of India.
While condoling the death of Sultan Qaboos, Prime Minister Modi mentioned that the deceased Sultan “provided strong leadership for developing a vibrant strategic partnership” between India and Oman. Mr. Modi congratulated the new Sultan and said that India looks forward to working hand in hand with Sultan Haitham to further strengthen the strategic partnership. India and Oman share a strategic and cordial relationship and both the countries are natural partners engaged in trade since ancient times. Oman hosts over 800,000 Indian expatriates who send remittances back home. Indian workers have made significant contribution to the overall development of the Sultanate. India looks forward to maintaining close relations with Oman under the new Sultan and wishes to engage at the same level as earlier.
Script: Dr. Lakshmi Priya, Research Analyst, IDSA