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Oman’s Sultan Qaboos dies at 79

Oman’s Sultan Qaboos dies at 79

He was the longest reigning monarch in the Arab world

Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Omani leader who turned an isolated Middle Eastern country torn by civil war into a stable oil exporter and an ally to both the U.S. and Iran, has passed away at age 79.

The Sultan’s death happened on Friday and was announced by the official Oman News Agency. His death follows a years-long struggle with an illness widely speculated to have been colon cancer and ends almost half a century of rule over a nation strategically located near key oil shipping lanes at the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

There’s no designated heir as Qaboos had no known brothers or children, prompting analysts to expect one of his cousins will eventually succeed him in a so-far secret palace transition. Oman’s Defense Council has invited the royal family to convene to choose a successor, state TV reported.

The written constitution Qaboos introduced requires the ruling family to choose a successor within three days of the throne falling vacant. Should it fail to do so, a successor designated by Qaboos in a letter to the family council will be installed. It’s widely believed that one of three cousins will most likely become sultan.

Qaboos was born on Nov. 18, 1940, in Salalah, southern Oman, according to his official biography. He attended school in Oman and England before entering the U.K.’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

After graduating, he joined the British Army and served in Germany for a year. In the 1960s, he returned to Oman, then under heavy British influence, but was kept under virtual house arrest by his father, Said bin Taimur, who had become increasingly reclusive and paranoid.

Qaboos was just 29 when he overthrew his father in a 1970 palace coup supported by London and aided by Oman’s British-controlled armed forces. The U.K. saw the older monarch as an inept leader unable to deal with the insurgencies the country faced. In 1976, Qaboos married a cousin, but they were soon divorced.

Using bountiful oil revenue, Qaboos transformed a country with barely any paved roads into an independent nation of 4 million people with a $79bn economy. Producing a little under a million barrels of oil a day, Oman is the Middle East’s largest oil and natural-gas producer that’s not a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

As energy wealth enriched Oman, he boosted spending on health and education while opting out of the race among Gulf neighbours to build the tallest skyscraper or biggest mall. Oman’s capital, Muscat, is a quiet city of low-rise buildings suspended between rocky mountains and the sea.

A lover of classical music, Qaboos founded the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra in 1985. He also was said to enjoy riding and shooting.

During his rule, Oman instead often served as a neutral mediator in the region, earning it a “Switzerland of the Middle East” moniker. It sponsored cease-fire talks during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and hosted secret discussions between the U.S. and Iran that paved the way for the landmark nuclear deal in 2015. The sultanate didn’t participate in the Saudi-led boycott of Qatar from 2017, and saw its trade with the gas-rich nation soar.

Regional leaders expressed their condolences on Saturday.

With inputs from Bloomberg

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