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New Sultan, Old Policy? Oman Policy Under New Leader

Alwaght– After the death of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of on Friday, his cousin Haitham bin Tariq Al Said was named as his successor. The small Arab country had forty years of stable policy under Qaboos but now the speculations are being made internationally about what way the new leader will take in the national foreign policy for the future.

New leader 

Oman’s royal family council, which includes 50 members from his Qaboos relatives, had three days to name a successor for the late sultan. According to the Omani laws, the new sultan has to be part of the ruling family, a Muslim, adult, wise, and the legitimate son of Omani parents. According to the above-mentioned laws, over 80 were qualified to replace him. However, the specific conditions of Oman and also the recommendations by the late sultan had influence in naming the replacement.

There was a sealed envelope left by Sultan Qaboos determining the status of succession to minimize the differences after his death. After the Royal Council and Defense Council meetings, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said was named the new sultan. He was born in 1954 in the capital Muscat and was a renowned figure in the Al Said ruling family.

Bin Tariq is a graduate of the University of Oxford. He continued his higher education in 1979 at Pembroke College. He held political, cultural, sports, and diplomatic posts for years. He goes back to the Al Said family that returns to Ahmed bin Said the first founder of Oman state.

Haitham bin Tariq occasionally worked as the envoy to Sultan Qaboos to other countries. He headed the Oman Football Association between 1983 and 1986. He also headed the committee tasked with arranging the 2nd Asian Beach Games in 2010. He also worked for eight years as the deputy foreign minister for political affairs. This political activity started after his sports posts. In 1994, Sultan Qaboos appointed him “minister responsible for foreign affairs, while the sultan remained the foreign minister. From 2002 until a replacement was named for him he acted as minister of culture.

The new sultan’s policies 

In his first address after being named the new Sultan, bin Tariq announced he is committed to the policy of non-interference adopted by his predecessor. He added that such a policy is based on peaceful co-existence and that Oman respects the national sovereignty of the states and international cooperation and does not want to meddle in other countries’ home affairs. “Oman will continue the path of Sultan Qaboos,” bin Tariq vowed.

As over the past few months Sultan Qaboos’s health deteriorated, the debate over the succession of four highlighted rivals began to gain grounds. Naming each of them could mean Oman was embarking on a new political course. One of them, who is the key rival to bin Tariq, is Assad bin Tariq Al Said who was Sultan Qaboos cousin and the deputy foreign minister for international cooperation and relations. He had military academic education and records and was a representative of the late Qaboos in important international conferences. Other rivals to Haithem were Shahab bin Tariq, the former navy commander, Taimur bin Assad.

A couple of months before death of the sultan, Rai al-Yaum newspaper wrote that the Saudi and Israeli alliance seeks Assad bin Tariq succession and that is because of his military experience, his education in the same university with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and his willingness to join the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. But this did not take place. Oman relies on oil and trade for income which means it should not engaged in risky conflicts and its official faith is Ibadi Islam which is ideologically incompliant with the Saudi-headed coalition states. Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia and the UAE tried hard to get Muscat off neutrality to join their anti-Yemeni aggression, Sultan Qaboos opted not to join the devastating aggression against Yemen.

Oman’s royal council had an important role in determining Oman’s foreign and home policy. Due to the lack of political parties, its role in the succession process was vital. Its naming of the successor to the late leader meant a fundamental direction for the country’s future policy was set. It indicated that Muscat is unwilling to pick a security-dominated path in foreign policy after Qaboos death.

Sultan Qaboos’s charisma and his bright record in leading the country to economic boom and high-standard living conditions cause the people and the elites to expect bin Tariq to continue the policy of neutrality and further improve the economy. His economic records especially his leading the Oman Vision 2040 committee show that his picking by the royal council and possibly by the Qaboos-left envelope indicate that he will continue neutrality and keep the concentration on the economy.

Oman’s policy towards Iran as an important regional state with strategic and geopolitical significance for over the past forty years has been stable. The new leader is expected to continue this policy with Iran.

The new sultan does not have the Qaboos’s charisma, however. The late sultan had the last word and influence in the determination of Oman’s policies and decisions. But in the current conditions, the royal council will gain a bigger role and powers. The parliament, which replaced the Consultation Council since 1991, is expected to gain broader influence in the new conditions.

Having in mind that just unlike Qaboos the new sultan comes from a large family, the rivals would be concerned about the concentration of power in his hand. Though the Omani laws set ways to prevent individual power solidification, the power struggle in Oman will show face in the future, possibly feeding the greed by the Arab alliance to seek sway over the country’s foreign policy.

The positive implications of “friend to all, enemy to nobody” policy has already proven it can be crucial to secure political stability, security, and growth for the country in the middle of chaotic regional and international conditions. So, continuation of the policy of neutrality is expected to remain the policy of choice for Oman’s policy-making institutions.

 

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