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Sultan Qaboos’ Frail Health Raises Questions On Oman’s Political Future

Oman is bracing itself for big news. The country’s ruler of 50 years, Sultan Qaboos bin Said is suffering from frail health, stirring up speculation over who will succeed him. Qaboos reportedly cut short a visit to Belgium, where he traveled to conduct medical tests, and returned to his country, amid rumors that his days are numbered.

Who Will Succeed Sultan Qaboos?

Qaboos came to power in Oman in 1970 after ousting his father in a British-backed coup. Nonetheless, he has never appointed an heir since then. He does not have children to succeed him. Oman’s royal family has to name a successor within three days after the country’s top spot becomes vacant, according to Article No. 6 of the Omani constitution.

Qaboos has already asked the family to do this. He also has the right to name a successor who will take over if the royal family fails to agree on the person who will rule the country. Qaboos has already nominated a successor and written his name. An envelope containing the name of this person will be opened only when and if the royal family fails to choose a successor.

Omanis Fear Political Turmoil Ahead

The fear now is that the Qaboos’ nominee will not be approved by the royal family, which could open the door wide for a power struggle in a country whose political waters have remained stable, even stagnant, for the past five decades.

This confusion and lack of clarity is fueling political insecurity and worries across Oman. Not knowing whether the sultan is even still alive, Omani citizens have taken to social media in recent days to express their worries and fears. One social media user called on Omani authorities to mention the facts about the health of the Omani ruler.

“Omanis are afraid,” wrote another. “This is about time the royal court issued a statement in which it can assure us that the sultan is well.”

Sultan Qaboos’ Accomplishments In Oman

In his 50 years of rule, Sultan Qaboos transformed Oman from a primitive and poorly developed backwater to a very modern and developed nation. He revolutionized Oman’s health and education sectors and established a modern infrastructure, using revenues from his country’s oil sector.

Nonetheless, Oman’s political system has been closed for decades. Sultan Qaboos held absolute power. He did not allow a shred of political sharing or opposition. Almost all government powers are concentrated in the sultan’s hands. He is the minister of defense, the chief of staff of the army and was the foreign minister for a long time in the past.

The Omani State Council, the upper house of parliament, is made up of 83 members, all of whom are appointed by the sultan. The 86 members of the Consultative Assembly, the lower house of parliament, are elected every four years.

Oman faces a potential transition of power at a time of major regional tumult. Over his years in power, Qaboos kept his country away from regional conflict and alliances, which was shocking at times.

He did not attend most of the summits of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the six-nation union of the Arab Gulf, in the past ten years or so. Qaboos is also fond of bucking council political trends, including when it comes to relations with Iran, a country with which he nurtures close ties, even as most GCC states, with the exception of Qatar, consider it an enemy.

Sultan Qaboos’ Rejection Of Saudi Arabia’s War In Yemen

In March 2015, Qaboos turned down a Saudi request for joining the Saudi-led coalition against the Shiite Houthi group in Yemen. Oman even maintains warm relations with the Houthis. In October 2018, Qaboos further shocked many Arabs when he received Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the royal palace in Muscat, the capital of Oman. Muscat is the first Gulf capital to openly receive an Israeli head of state.

Now, with the Omani ruler’s health deteriorating rapidly, Omanis do not know which path their country will take in the coming days and whether Oman’s policies will be the same after Qaboos.