Successor pledges continuity as political and religious leaders bid farewell to Oman’s Sultan Qaboos

The monarch, who passed away at the age of 79, modernised his country and mediated in reginal conflicts. Christians praise the “unique leader”. His successor Haitham ben Tarek pledges to follow in his footsteps and promote peaceful solutions to regional crises.

Muscat (AsiaNews) – Religious and political leaders from around the world have paid homage to Qaboos bin Said Al Said, the Sultan of Oman who passed away last Friday at the age of 79.

One of the oldest and most enlightened monarchs in the region, he was able to modernise his country whilst keeping neutrality vis-à-vis regional powers, so much so that the country was nicknamed ‘Switzerland of the Middle East’.

His cousin Haitham ben Tarek, who is also and Minister of Culture and Heritage, was sworn in as the new sultan on Saturday.

A memorial service for the late monarch was held in Alam palace, which is used for official ceremonies, drawing several heads of state and government from the region and elsewhere, including Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zay, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who met the new sultan, as well as Great Britain's Prince Charles and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also attended the service.

Melkite Greek Catholic Church Patriarch Youssef Absi was one of the Christian religious leaders who paid tribute to the late sultan. The “Arab world has lost [...] a unique leader,” said the prelate, adding that the sultan built a modern state, promoted initiatives capable of "bridging the rifts" in the Arab world, and reduced “escalation in our conflict-infested region".

Pope Tawadros II, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, sent his message of condolence. In it, he described Qaboos as "a symbol of strength and unity" for the country.

Sultan Qaboos was born in 1940. After graduating from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, England, he joined the British army.

He took his father's place in a coup in 1970. From the beginning, he tried to re-establish relations with western states.

Under his reign he reformed a previously underdeveloped nation, turning it into a leading tourist destination and a key player in the Middle East.

His mediation was fundamental in the release of Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian priest abducted in Yemen.

The new Sultan, Haitham ben Tarek, was sworn shortly after bidding farewell to his cousin. In his first speech, the new leader stressed that he would follow the example of his predecessor, whilst trying to start a new phase of development for the nation.

Analysts and observers describe the new sultan as a cultured man, calm and capable of ensuring continuity to Oman’s recent role as mediator.

"We will follow the path of the late sultan," Haitham said, reiterating his country’s traditional policy of non-interference, which enabled it to have good relations with both the peninsula’s main power, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

He expressed support for "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".

He added that under his reign, Oman would continue to "promote peaceful solutions" to regional and global crises.

Oman represents a model among Gulf States, both in the fight against terrorism and religious freedom. A socially conservative nation, its citizens struggle to defend values ​​and traditions whilst demanding gender equality. Unlike Saudi Arabia where the religious police (mutaween) are very present, Omani authorities interfere little in people’s lives.

Some 55,000 Catholics, expatriates and migrant workers, live in the sultanate. That is equal to 2 per cent of the population. Overall, Christians are 6.5 per cent, followed by Hindus at 5.5 per cent. Most of the population, approximately 75 per cent, are Muslim.