His Majesty is still relatively healthy, having recovered from a long spell of illness a couple of years ago (most likely as a complication of his diabetes). But he is now in his 70s, and unfortunately will not be with us forever. Hence the question of who will succeed him as ruler of Oman. This is not something that is considered a topic for the Omani media.
According to Article 5 of Oman’s basic law, the successor must be a male descendant of Turki bin Said, Sultan from 1871-88.
HH Sayyid Turki bin Said. He successfully deposed the pretender Immam Al Qais in 1870 to establish the Al Said line of rulers of Oman.
This requirement has, by now, enabled a pretty broad field of potential rulers. So in 1996, the heirless Sultan Qaboos updated the constitution stating the royal Al Busaidy family should unanimously choose a successor within 48 hrs. If they don't, the Army assumes command and opens a safe containing a letter with his Majesty's nominated 2 potential successors. Apparently there are two such safes, one in Muscat and the other in Salalah (just to be sure no switcheroos take place). This was a big improvement on the previous set-up, where by default the army would naturally have taken control immediately.
"When I die, my family will meet. If they cannot agree on a candidate, the Defense Council will decide, based on a name or names submitted by the previous sultan. I have already written down two names in descending order, and put them in sealed envelopes in two different regions."from Judith Miller, "Creating Modern Oman: An Interview with Sultan Qabus," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 76, No. 3 (May/June 1997), p. 17. [taken from secondary sources]
As the Sultan has no brothers (just 3 sisters) the inside track follows the principal of primogeniture. The accepted front runners for the succession are therefore the sons of Qaboos' uncle Prince Tariq bin Taimur Al-Said (and ex-Prime Minister of Oman, who died in 1980). Namely Asa’ad, 56, Shihab, 55, and Haitham, 54.
So who are these potential candidates? There is not a lot of info available.
HH Sayyid Asa'ad bin Tariq Al Said (on right). Asa’ad is the Sultan’s personal representative. And also perhaps not a big fan of the gym.
HH Sayyid Shihab bin Tariq Al Said (second from left), a personal adviser to HM, and who was head of the Oman Royal Navy until 2004. The best looking of the 3, and a military man too. The favourite, IMHO.
HH Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said (on right), currently Minister of Heritage and Culture. He is also the 50% owner of Cyclone LLC, the company infamously responsible for the failed Blue City development. This perhaps questions his judgement and business skills.
The 'dark horse' in the potential succession would be His Majesty's current 'number 1' HH Sayyid Fahd Bin Mahmood al-Said, 66, Deputy Prime Minister and the one you always see in the papers filling in for HM at events too numerous to mention.
HH Sayyid Fahd Bin Mahmood al-Said, Deputy Prime Minister of Oman.
Given his clear involvement in the day to day running of the Government, and his age, I would imagine HH Fahd would be better as someone HM could rely on being the new 'number 1' to whoever succeeds as Sultan. But he is also technically qualified to become Sultan too.
Fahd is certainly the only potential familial successor to have any real experience of senior governmental administration and diplomacy, as HM has retained most significant Government positions for himself, ie HM is also Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Defense minister, Finance minister, and Chairman of the Central Bank.
A 2004 article by Mark Katz in the Middle East Review of International Affairs summarises many of the issues perceived by external intellectuals about the question of succession.
I personally hope HM consciously retreats from the increasing isolation he seems to have experienced from 'ordinary Omanis', a trend exacerbated by his illness and encouraged by his coterie of advisors, senior Ministers and the powerful oligarchs. The brilliant and daring young Turks who helped him come to power, and fought alongside him on the battlefields on Dhofar are now old, privileged and entrenched. He would do well to reconnect with their modern equivalents, in the Universities and, dare I say it, online.
In addition, he should continue, and accelerate, to build the structures he has begun that can potentially move Oman towards a more stable Constitutional Monarchy from its current status of Absolute Monarchy; whereby accountability for initiating and finalising legislation is vested in a significantly more empowered and elected Majlis, backed up by a truly professional civil service. Unfortunately the powerful people around HM, those who would have to execute such a plan, are best served by the continuation of the present system of concentration of power, while they enrich themselves and their heirs within the current structure. This means any progress in this regard is more likely to stall than accelerate. The sclerotic press establishment maintain the status quo at every opportunity.
So, a belated happy 40 yr Anniversary Oman. The past 4 decades have seen the country arise spectacularly from a long poverty of material and intellectual privation. HM has laid for Oman the firmest of foundations using the revenue from oil. Stable, civilised, and tolerant. Plus a frankly brilliant foreign policy which has created the GCC, and steered for Oman a path between the imperial powers of the UK and USA vs Iran and Saudi. HM is one smart diplomat and soldier.
But, as the oil and gas revenue ceases to keep up with population growth, and the old allies of America and the UK suffer from their own poverty and hence reduce their strategic largesses, Oman needs to look to how this nation can be sustained over the next 4 decades.
I would also direct interested readers to an excellent thesis submitted in May 2010 analysing "OMAN’S FOREIGN POLICY BETWEEN 1970-2008" by EMİN AKSEKİ of the north Cypriot MIDDLE EAST TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY.
Its not a topic that gets a lot of local or global academic attention, and young Emin has done a pretty darned good job.