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Oman’s Sultan Qaboos dies: state media

Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman has died, according to an announcement by Omani state television and the state news agency early on Saturday. “With sadness … the Omani Sultanate court mourns … our Sultan Qaboos bin Said … who God chose to be by his side on Friday evening,” the agency said. It added…

Oman’s Sultan Qaboos dies: state media

Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman has died, according to an announcement by Omani state television and the state news agency early on Saturday.
“With sadness … the Omani Sultanate court mourns … our Sultan Qaboos bin Said … who God chose to be by his side on Friday evening,” the agency said.
It added that Qaboos died 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”.
A three-day period of mourning has been declared in Oman and the country’s flag will be flown at half-mast for 40 days.
Oman’s royal family will have to decide in 72 hours who will replace Qaboos.
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Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said dies at 79

Qaboos, the longest-ruling Arab monarch, had been ill for some time and was believed to have been suffering from colon cancer. He had spent a week in Belgium undergoing medical treatment in early December.
Sultan Qaboos, 79, ruled Oman since overthrowing his father in a bloodless coup in 1970.
Since assuming power, Qaboos transformed Oman from an isolated backwater, with little or no infrastructure, into a modern state.

But his prolonged absence for treatment has stirred questions over succession in the country of 4.5 million people.
He had recently returned to the capital, Muscat, after medical treatment in Germany and Belgium.
Transition of power
In October 2011, Qaboos, who has no children or brothers, amended the process of succession. But he has not publicly announced who that successor would be.

THREAD ON OMANI SUCCESSION.Sultan Qaboos appointed a Prime Minister in 1970-71 (his uncle, Tariq bin Taimur) and married (briefly) in 1976 but did not have issue. It is the sons of Tariq bin Taimur who are often spoken of as possible successors to Sultan Qaboos.
— Kristian Ulrichsen (@Dr_Ulrichsen) January 11, 2020

The sultan, whose closest relatives are his cousins, appointed five top officials to a council that would be involved in confirming the new sultan in case of any royal family dispute.
Under Omani law, if the royal family fails to agree on a successor, the position will then go to the person whose name is in two sealed letters written by Qaboos.
Oman observers say the sultan’s three cousins – Assad, Shihab and Haitham bin Tariq al-Said – stand the best chance.
“I imagine that the succession itself will be a smooth process within Oman,” Kristian Coates Ulrichsen of the Texas-based Rice University’s Baker Institute told Reuters news agency.
“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.”

Qaboos, the longest-ruling Arab monarch, was rarely seen in public in recent years due to his illness [File: Hamid al-Qasmi/EPA]

Al Jazeera’s Diplomatic Editor James Bays, reporting from the United Nations, said the death leaves a political vacuum not just in his country but also in the region.
“He is a very big loss in the region. Oman played an outsized role in the region, particularly in the Gulf and the wider Middle East,” Bays said, pointing out that Qaboos played a crucial role in secret negotiations leading to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“I think people are worried particularly at this time of turbulence, at a time when relations between the US and Iran are so bad, when in recent days the two countries have seen come so close to war.”
Bays also noted that the death of Qaboos comes at a time when the Gulf Cooperation Council has become deeply divided following the Saudi Arabia-led blockade against Qatar.
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Oman’s new Sultan faces diplomatic, economic challenges

Muscat, Oman – Oman’s late ruler Sultan Qaboos al-Said was lauded for the mediating role he played between conflicting parties in the Gulf region, during his near-50 year rule which also saw the emergence of an educated, middle class.  Qaboos, who died on Friday according to Omani state media, came to power in 1970 in…

Oman’s new Sultan faces diplomatic, economic challenges

Muscat, Oman – Oman’s late ruler Sultan Qaboos al-Said was lauded for the mediating role he played between conflicting parties in the Gulf region, during his near-50 year rule which also saw the emergence of an educated, middle class. 
Qaboos, who died on Friday according to Omani state media, came to power in 1970 in a palace coup against his father.
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Oman’s Sultan Qaboos dies aged 79: State media

He used the country’s oil revenues to build state institutions and develop the country’s infrastructure, but struggled in the last years of his life to diversify Oman’s economy and reduce its dependence on the same hydrocarbons that had fuelled Oman’s ascent in the decades before. 
The new Sultan, Haitham bin Tariq named by Qaboos in a letter opened following his death, will now have to undertake serious economic reforms to safeguard Qaboos’s legacy and maintain internal stability, analysts said.

Oman declares three days of mourning for Sultan Qaboos

At the same time, Haitham will be in charge of upholding the country’s foreign policy – which can be summarised as “an enemy to no one and a friend to all” – amid a polarising conflict in the region
“A neutral Muscat able to pass messages and facilitate dialogue is more important today than ever given the acute tensions between the US  and Iran that so nearly caused a new conflict in the final days of Sultan Qaboos’s life,” Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy who studies the Gulf, told Al Jazeera.
During his last three years, Qaboos was visited by diametrically opposed leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 
Condolences poured in from current or former top officials of all these states following Qaboos’s passing – a testament to his command of international relations that will weigh on the shoulders the new sultan. 
Gulf diplomacy
In his inaugural address, Haitham pledged to stay the course on the country’s foreign policy and continue to “assist in resolving disputes peacefully.” 
This stance has in the past caused friction between Oman and its gulf neighbours, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, especially on issues related to Iran and Qatar. 

The late Sultan of Oman Qaboos bin Said Al Said (right) was lauded for his skills in diplomacy and willingness to meet leaders from all sides including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) seen her visiting Oman in October 2018 [File: Hamid Al-Qasmi/EPA]

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have sought to push back against growing Iranian Influence in the region and have blockaded Qatar since 2017, alleging the small peninsular nation was funding terrorism.
Oman has kept lines of communication open with Iran since before the current regime took over in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and refused to take part in the Qatar blockade.
“It is well understood that the UAE and KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)… have strong interests in influencing the decisions of Oman’s foreign policy,” Nabeel Noweirah a research associate at the Gulf International Forum, a Washington- based think-tank, told Al Jazeera.
But Ulrichsen said a recent openness to dialogue in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh may reduce the pressure on the new sultan to pick a side.
“[Oman’s] ability to make connections and pass messages has caused friction in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in the past, but the recent shift towards diplomatic engagement in both capitals means there may be less discord over Oman-Iran ties than might have been the case a year or two ago,” Ulrichsen said. 
Added to the smouldering divisions around Oman, Haitham will have to deal with a growing economic crisis at home.
Sluggish growth and low oil prices in recent years have have led to series of unbalanced budgets with increasingly large deficits.
This has spurred unsustainable borrowing which has earned the country one of the worst credit trends in the region.

Haitham bin Tariq sworn in as Oman’s new sultan

Economic focus
Neil Quillam, a Chatham House Middle East fellow and CEO of Castlereagh Associates Consultancy, told Al Jazeera that the choice of Haitham, an Oxford-educated holder of several government portfolios, showed an intention to put the economy first.
Haitham has “more of the attributes needed to face Oman’s challenges,” than other people who were though to be in the line of succession, because he served at the head of a committee in charge of implementing a 20-year development plan, Oman 2040, Quillam said.
This is in addition to his extensive foreign affairs experience gained during nearly two decades at the foreign ministry.
Many had speculated that Qaboos’s first cousin Asaad bin Tariq, who has served as Qaboos’s special representative and deputy prime minister for external relations and international cooperation since 2017, would be picked.
The choice of Haitham over Asaad bin Tariq – who has more military expertise – shows that Qaboos gave  “pre-eminence to economic credentials for choosing a successor,” Quillam said. 
Failing to address the country’s economic woes could “exacerbate current public discontent, threatening to foment dissent and demonstrations that could destabilise the state,” he added
But for now it is likely the vast majority of Omanis are behind the new leader, largely due to the legitimacy bestowed on him by the fact that he was selected by Qaboos, who many Omanis see as a father figure beyond reproach. 
“It’s likely that Omanis of all backgrounds will come closer together, at least initially,” Ulrichsen said. “The fact that Haitham bin Tariq is Sultan Qaboos’s own choice as successor gives him a degree of legitimacy that may give him space while he builds legitimacy based on performance.”
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