With 44 years on the throne, 74-year-old Sultan Qaboos bin Said in not merely the Sultan in Oman, but also holds the position of Prime Minister, in addition to solely being responsible for foreign affairs, finance, defense and interior portfolios. Sultan Qaboos has been in power for 44 years.
But with almost 7 months of absence since Sultan Qaboos went to Germany for what some said is treatment of cancer, all the aforementioned can go away in a glimpse of an eye.This leaves an entire nation with the most worrying question, who is going to rule next?
"We are not like the others, that we announce the successors for the nation," Foreign Minister Yousuf bin Alawi told Reuters . "What's written in the Basic Law is what is accepted by the traditions of this country and that is how we see the succession handled."
With no children or brothers, Sultan Qaboos has no direct heir to pass the monarchy on to. Although the ruling dynasty has some 50 to 60 males who are eligible to be handed the Sultanate, no clear discussions have taken place. Yet hearsay on the Omani streets suggest that one of Sultan Qaboos’s three cousins, Assad, Shihab and Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, is likely to be next in line.
Former Brigadier-General Sayyid Assad bin Tariq, 62, is a Sandhurst graduate who briefly held command of the Sultan’s Armoured Corps in the 1990s, has been the Personal Representative of the Sultan since 2002. Some experts see him as the frontrunner, partly because he may have the support of the military.
Former Rear-Admiral Sayyid Shihab, 57, was appointed in 1990 as Commander of the Royal Navy of Oman, and then served as Adviser to the Sultan since 2004 and chairs the Research Council.
Sayyid Haitham, 55, served as Undersecretary, then Secretary-General, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and became in 2002 Minister of National Heritage and Culture – the position he currently holds.
"Everybody in Oman knows about them but they do not know them in action," said J.E. Peterson, historian and analyst of the Persian Gulf. "What is affecting the three brothers a little negatively is that they are all involved in business. When you have a business interest, you have enemies," added Peterson.
It is undoubtedly though that whoever is crowned Sultan next has some really huge shoes to fill, seeing that Sultan Qaboos not only is the man who transformed Oman from an isolated sultanate to a modern state, but also contained fierce tribal rivalry across the country. Omanis feel that although their country is less affluent than bordering Saudi Arabia, their ruler has done much more with their wealth.
"It is a difficult situation and Omanis feel they are walking into the future without knowing their leader," believes one Omani academic.