Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, 79, the much loved ruler of Oman and the longest serving in the Middle East, passed away on Friday, leaving behind a legacy of peace, progress and prosperity. Ever since he came to the throne, he has been responsible for transforming Oman from a basic pre-technology nation to a modern, progressive state.
Charismatic, dignified and elegant, Sultan Qaboos dominated Oman’s political life and charted a course of neutrality and non-interference as far as foreign policy was concerned. He won the respect and admiration of world leaders for his delicate balance of diplomatic ties between Iran and the Western world. A graduate of the Royal Military Academy of Sandhurst in England, Sultan Qaboos championed women’s rights and put in place a series of social reforms that broadened Oman’s influence worldwide and consolidated its position as a global force to be reckoned with.
When Sultan Qaboos took over, Oman had little connection with the outside world. Torn by tribal divisions and armed insurrections, the country had only two primary schools, two hospitals and 10 km of tarmac road. But with revenues from oil, he transformed the nation into an open, multicultural, forward thinking nation attracting considerable foreign investment and cutting-edge technology. In fact, in 2010, the United Nations Human Development Report noted that Oman had developed more in 40 years than any other country.
Under Sultan Qaboos, Oman had among the highest per capita military spending in the world with a 2016 budget of $6.75bn out of total state budget of $30.9bn. His intervention post the Iranian Revolution in 1979 resulted in the signing of a 10-year facilities agreement with the US, the first of its kind between the US and an Arab country. Qaboos’s tactical diplomacy gave Oman the title of Switzerland of the Middle East particularly after he hosted a bilateral dialogue between the US and Iran from 2012 that produced the interim deal over Iran’s nuclear programme.
He was also quick to quell the Arab Spring in 2011 by quickly responding with socioeconomic measures such as raising minimum wages and creating 50,000 new jobs.
Sultan Qaboos leaves behind a strong legacy, one that will be tough to carry forward given people’s expectations and a nation that admired and adored him as their ‘Baba Qaboos.’