Sultan Qaboos, a towering figure who transformed the Persian Gulf nation of Oman into a modern state in five decades of unbroken rule, has left for his heavenly abode. His passing leaves a huge vacuum in a nation of 4.6 million, which his successor will find hard to fill. The elderly patriarch, during half a century that he stayed on at the helm, introduced massive developments in his country and played a vital part in maintaining stability in a neighbourhood riven by conflicts.
Sultan Qaboos will forever be known for being the great moderniser of Oman and a key arbitrator between feuding neighbours, both in times of war and peace. When he took charge in 1970, Oman was mostly underdeveloped. But within a short span, he embarked upon a massive drive to change the country’s fortunes by ploughing oil money back into building vital infrastructure, educational institutions, hospitals, banks, and air and seaports.
The National, an Abu Dhabi-based English-language newspaper, made an apt comment: ‘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.’
Sultan Qaboos’ greatest legacy, perhaps, will be the peaceful and stable Oman he has left behind. Now it’s up to Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, a cousin of the late sultan, who has stepped into the deceased leader’s shoes, to promote the peace agenda of his predecessor.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2020.