Even as many Arab states have succumbed to sectarian violence and political tumult, the Sultanate of Oman has stood out as a beacon of tranquility and tolerance. Oman’s stability is largely attributed to the popularity of its leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said.
When Qaboos seized power in 1970, Oman was an isolated and impoverished state beset by a Marxist insurgency. Yet, over the course of his 44-year reign, Qaboos has been credited with using Oman’s oil wealth to transform his nation into a rich country with a vibrant tourism industry and a high standard of living. Under Qaboos’ stewardship, Oman has also conducted an independent foreign policy that serves a unique role in the region.
However, sustaining such stability after Qaboos’ reign inevitably ends may prove challenging. Qaboos has no male siblings or children, and he is the world’s only absolute monarch without an officially designated heir to the throne. Therefore, much uncertainty surrounds Oman’s future.
For years, experts have warned of a potential succession crisis should Qaboos die. A power vacuum in Muscat could fuel an internecine struggle among members of the royal family, the military, various tribes and the economic elite if no consensus is reached about who will inherit the throne. As nearly all political authority in Oman rests in Qaboos’ hands, the lack of a strong No. 2 man in Oman’s government fuels speculation that any potential successor will lack the legitimacy to fill Qaboos’ shoes.
Now that Qaboos, 73, has been undergoing “medical tests” in Germany since July 10, concerns that he may be terminally ill are rising. Oman’s government claims that the sultan is in “good health,” despite a diplomatic source in Muscat saying that Qaboos has colon cancer. In August, a Lebanese daily reported that the cancer had spread, leaving Qaboos unable to independently move his body for a span of seven months. When Qaboos missed the Eid holiday in early October, suspicions were further stoked that the sultan’s health condition was indeed serious.