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New ruler upholds Oman peace policy

AMIR ORDERS 3 DAYS OF MOURNING ON QABOOS DEMISE

In this photo made available by Oman News Agency, Oman’s new Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said (right), carries Sultan Qaboos’ coffin at Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman on Jan 11. (AP)

KUWAIT CITY/MUSCAT, Jan 11: His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al- Sabah on Saturday ordered official mourning for three days as of Saturday on demise of Sultan Qaboos bin Said of the Sultanate of Oman.

All government institutions will shut down and Kuwait Flag will fl y at half-mast for three days, according to a Government statement read by the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Interior and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Anas Al-Saleh. Al-Saleh eulogized Sultan Qaboos as a great, kind and sagacious leader who had played a key role in making enormous achievements in his country, which played a pivotal role in maintaining unity of the GCC states.

The Kuwaiti Government, he added, recalled with deep admiration the brave stance by the Sultanate during Sultan Qaboos’ era, rejecting the blatant aggression by the defunct Iraqi regime against the State of Kuwait. The State of Kuwait, on behalf of His Highness the Amir, His Highness the Crown Prince and the people of Kuwait wholeheartedly offer condolences and solace to the Omani Government and people.

His Highness the Amir sent Saturday a cable of condolences to the new Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tareq Al Said, lamenting the death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said. His Highness, in the cable, expressed great grief over the passing of Sultan Qaboos, expressing his deep condolences to the Omani leadership and people.

His Highness Sheikh Sabah said that the late Sultan Qaboos was a brother and a personal friend with whom he shared admiration and respect, affirming that the world as well as the Gulf, Arab and Islamic nations had lost a very important figure and leader who dedicated his life to the causes of the Arab and Islamic countries. His Highness the Amir commended the achievements of Oman during the reign of Sultan Qaboos and also remembered the strong stance of Oman in support of Kuwait during the (1990) Iraqi invasion and subsequent participation of Omani forces in the liberation of Kuwait. His Highness Sheikh Sabah also recalled Sultan Qaboos bin aid of Kuwaiti citizens and his efforts to host them in Oman during occupation of Kuwait.

The Kuwaiti Amir affirmed his feelings of sorrow to Sultan Haitham bin Tareq, the leadership of Oman and people. His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber A-Sabah and His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah sent cables of similar sentiments to Sultan Haitham bin Tareq.

National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanim sent condolences to chairman of the Council of State and head of the Consultative Assembly of Oman on the death of Sultan Qaboos bin.

Speaking on behalf of the MPs, Al-Ghanim expressed sorrow over the demise of the ‘builder’ of Omani renaissance — Sultan Qaboos — who was known for his wisdom and exceptional relations with the Kuwaiti leadership and citizens.

Sultan Qaboos, the Mideast’s longest-ruling monarch who seized power in a 1970 palace coup and pulled his Arabian sultanate into modernity while carefully balancing diplomatic ties between adversaries Iran and the US, died aged 79. Oman’s state-run news agency announced his death early Saturday, but offered no cause. The royal court declared three days of mourning.

Oman’s longtime willingness to strike its own path frustrated Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, longtime foes of Iran who now dominate the politics of regional Gulf Arab nations. How Oman will respond to pressures both external and internal in a nation Sultan Qaboos absolutely ruled for decades remains in question. “Maintaining this sort of equidistant type of relationship … is going to be put to the test,” said Gary A.

Grappo, a former US ambassador to Oman. “Whoever that person is going to have an immensely, immensely difficult job. And overhanging all of that will be the sense that he’s not Qaboos because those are impossible shoes to fill.” The sultan had been believed to be ill for some time, though authorities never disclosed what malady he faced. A December 2019 report by the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy described the sultan as suffering from “diabetes and a history of colon cancer.”

In this photo made available by Oman News Agency, Omani officials pray over the grave of Sultan Qaboos after his burial in Muscat, Oman on Jan 11. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Mideast’s longest-ruling monarch who seized power in a 1970 palace coup and pulled his Arabian sultanate into modernity while carefully balancing diplomatic ties between adversaries Iran and the US, died aged 79. (AP)

Peace policy
Oman’s new ruler, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, vowed Saturday to uphold his predecessor Sultan Qaboos bin Said’s foreign policy approach, which steered the Arab country through choppy Gulf waters by balancing close relations with both the United States and Iran.

The new ruler, who was Oman’s culture minister, spoke after being named successor to Sultan Qaboos, the Middle East’s longest-ruling monarch whose death was announced Saturday. He died at the age of 79 after years of an undisclosed illness.

Sultan Haitham’s message to Omanis and the world was clear: Oman would continue down the path laid by Qaboos as a facilitator of peace. “We will follow the same line as the late sultan, and the principles that he asserted for the foreign policy of our country, of peaceful coexistence among nations and people, and good neighborly behavior of non-interference in the affairs of others,” he said in his first public remarks as sultan.

The 66-year-old shook hands with family members and top security brass before witnessing ceremonial cannon fire. The Al Said family has ruled Oman since the eighteenth century, and once ruled over Zanzibar too, off the coast of Tanzania. Oman sits on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, with Iran to its east. It shares borders with Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Sultan Qaboos shaped Oman’s policy of diplomatic balancing. Under his leadership, Oman was a facilitator of talks between adversaries Iran and the United States. Oman is a close ally of Washington and viewed as a valuable regional player. In the capital Muscat, soldiers stood guard and troops stood with machine guns atop SUVs as Omanis gathered along a highway to see the motorcade carrying the sultan’s body for burial.

Thousands also gathered at the Sultan Qaboos Mosque where funeral prayers were held Saturday. The mosque is an architecturally stunning complex of white marble and manicured gardens that reflects how the sultan modernized his country without eschewing its cultural heritage or building towering skyscrapers like other neighboring Gulf capitals. Following Islamic tradition, Qaboos was buried before nightfall. His successor was announced by afternoon Saturday. “It is a sad day in Oman, but also represents a new beginning with a new leader,” a presenter on the state TV said soberly. The speed and manner in which his successor was named suggest the Al Said family wanted to project a sense of unity, continuity and stability as tensions run high in the Persian Gulf, particularly between the US and Iran in the last days of Sultan Qaboos’ life.

“The need for an Omani ‘neutral space’ for dialogue and message passing is more important than ever,” Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a Gulf expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said. After Qaboos’ burial, state TV broadcast video from the intricate succession process. The country’s Defense Council, in the presence of the Royal Family Council, was shown opening a sealed letter in which Qaboos names his choice for successor. The Defense Council then read the contents of the letter aloud before all those present in the meeting, announcing Haitham bin Tariq Al Said as the dynasty’s heir. The Royal Family Council had called on the Defense Council to unseal the letter, according to Oman’s state news agency.

Qaboos’ choice of successor was a closely guarded secret believed to have been known only to the sultan, who did not have any children. According to Omani succession laws, the royal council could have met and selected an heir from among them, only consulting the letter if they could not agree within three days. Instead, they chose to defer to the letter and air its reading on Omani state TV — a move underscoring how beloved Qaboos was and which helps lend more legitimacy to his successor.

Sultan Haitham is a career diplomat who’d long been tapped as one of the front-runners for succession. His role as minister of national heritage and culture helped project Omani influence. Haitham is a cousin of Qaboos, according to Gulf media reports.

The Oxford graduate spent 16 years in various roles with the foreign ministry, starting in 1986. He was the ministry’s undersecretary for political affairs and its secretary general. He has sometimes also chaired Cabinet meetings. Unlike other Gulf Arab rulers and their heirs, he has not overseen important defense and security portfolios. He has been described as quieter and less assertive than other members of the royal family.

By Saeed Mahmoud Saleh
Arab Times Staff and Agencies

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