Picture of Sultan Qaboos, 79, who ruled Oman since overthrowing his father in a bloodless coup in 1970 [File: Robin Utrecht/EPA]
The monarch had ruled the sultanate since 1970 and transformed it into a modern state.
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. Later on Saturday, Oman named Haitham bin Tariq Al Said as the country’s new ruler, Omani state television announced. The former culture minister, 65, has been sworn in before the ruling family council on Saturday morning. State television said authorities had opened a letter by Sultan Qaboos naming his successor, without elaborating, before announcing Haitham bin Tariq as the new ruler.
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 Muscat after medical treatment in Germany and Belgium.
In October 2011, Qaboos, who has no children or brothers, amended the process of succession. But he had not publicly announced who that successor would be. 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 had said the sultan’s three cousins – Assad, Shihab and Haitham bin Tariq al-Said – stood 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.”