“The passing of Sultan Qaboos of Oman, who ruled the country for nearly half a century, has left the Gulf without one of the its most neutral rulers. Regional tensions between Qatar and its neighbours, and rivalry between the Sunni states and Iran, have made the region’s interrelations highly volatile and Oman was a mediating presence ; it offered a kind of neutral territory where everyone could come to potentially iron out their differences. Just how unique Sultan Qaboos’ diplomatic style was in the region may become clearer if his successor, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, ends up taking sides in the competing rivalries that crisscross the Gulf.
“Obviously, Oman is itself plagued with many of the same problems as its neighbours in terms of shortcomings in the legal system, corruption in the government and law enforcement, and lack of protections in human rights and freedoms. But Qaboos was a mild ruler compared to, say Mohammed bin Salman or the government of Bahrain. His response to protesters during the Arab Spring were largely positive, if merely symbolic; we did not see serious crackdowns against activists. While the country is deeply conservative and religious, Oman has been seen as one of the most tolerant in the Gulf, with the basic rights of citizens generally respected.
“It was Qaboos’ impartiality in foreign relations that made his regime significant in the region, and I hope that Haitham bin Tariq Al Said will carry on in that role; particularly as tensions with Iran become heightened, and while countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia are increasingly belligerent in spreading their influence. Having an unbiased player in the Gulf is crucial, and Qaboos fulfilled that need. My hope is that the next government will preserve Oman’s neutrality and commit itself to greater reforms in the country to increase freedoms and improve human rights.” - Radha Stirling