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Sultan Qaboos’ Death Grants the Omani Throne to Haitham bin Tariq

Sultan Qaboos’ death was announced on January 10, bringing a new face as the Sultanate’s leader— Haitham bin Tariq al Said.

Already under a havoc, the Middle East witnessed the death of it’s longest-serving leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who breathed his last at the age of 79 on Friday. Shortly after he was put to rest, the Sultanate got its new royal ruler.

Sultan Haitham sworn in on Saturday, vowing to continue the realm and diplomatic ideologies of his predecessor. The 65-year-old is an Oxford-educated veteran and a sports enthusiast. He had long career in public, where he most recently served as the cultural minister of Oman.

“We will follow the path of the late sultan,” the sultan stated in his first speech as a leader.

Believed to have the same diplomatic qualities as that of Sultan Qaboos, Haitham pledged to follow the non-interference policy of the late sultan. The ruler expressed to believe in “our country’s foreign policy of peaceful living among nations and peoples… and not interfering in the internal affairs of others, respecting nations’ sovereignty and international cooperation”.

The quick transition of power in Persian Gulf’s nation comes when a number of conflicts are erupting across the region, including the latest escalations between Iran and the United States. For years, Oman has walked the road of neutrality and maintained good relations with other countries including neighbors, while the region has gradually been sinking in deep waters of instability and destruction.

Sultan Haitham took on his shoulders, the weight of Oman’s peaceful existence that Sultan Qaboos maintained for over nearly 50 years. “Oman is in this mixing bowl where they can’t really lean either way because of their historical relationships and their geographic position,” said Michael Stephens, a researcher for the Middle East at the Royal United Services Institute. “Oman survives by being quiet, not by being noisy, and I don’t see why he would tear up that playbook.”

The monarchy’s new ruler also has in line a greater challenge at home, where economic stagnation and low oil prices have induced large government deficits and an upsurge in unemployment among youth population.

His predecessor, Sultan Qaboos took power by overthrowing his father in a bloodless coup with British support in 1970, when he promised to establish a modern government. Since then, he transformed Oman from medieval-style feudalism to a government with globally-aligned policies. His governance accelerated his vision of modernization and expanded the nation’s political influence.

A research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Elana DeLozier said, “Sultan Qaboos created a modern economy from scratch. Sultan Haitham will now need to reform that economy in order to ‘right the ship’.”

Sultan Qaboos died of illness that has never been disclosed publicly. He spent eight months in Germany between 2014 and 2015 for his treatment, and also visited Belgium for medical checkup last month.

Death of an unmarried monarch with no heir, led to a succession of his choice that remained a closely guarded secret believed to have been known only to late sultan. On Saturday, the Defense Council opened the sealed envelope in presence of the Royal Family Council, revealing the name of Haitham bin Tarik al Said as the heir.

The council skipped the step of allowing a family council convened to choose the successor and opted to directly open the sealed letter with Sultan Qaboos’ preference for quick selection of the new ruler.

The Sultanate of Oman has now fallen under the reign of Haitham, who has been considered capable of the responsibilities that the monarch took care of for nearly half a century.

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