Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Question of Succession

Following the recent 40 year celebration of the amazing Omani Renaissance under the wise rule of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, there were a few nice articles (here (FT) and here (MEED), for example) in the external media about the issue of Oman's succession.

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.


  1. Royal Watcher no longer in RuwiOctober 15, 2010 at 6:28 AM

    Interesting stuff, although I thought that Sayyid Fahd was more or less disqualified because of his non-Omani (European?) wife - something that also likely puts his dishy son Kamal out of the running...

  2. I really fear for Oman when HM is gone. Despite what is written and what is expected there will be, traditionally, feuds!

    After what HM has achieved for his people I only hope the successor has the same feeling in his blood.

  3. I wonder if something will happen to Dhofaris if HM left us.

  4. One would hope that numbers of potential candidates have spent time, for example, working in the civil service of another country to gain experience, as did, I believe, the current Sultan. One would hope that there are candidates out there who have been .. . um ... 'groomed'. I worry that most of the possibilities out there know little of good governance, but a lot about fast cars and ....

  5. Sayyid Fahad is not qualified because of his French wife Betty. Same for Sayyid Kais Bin Tariq (brother of Shihab, Haitham, Asaad).

    Some believe Sayyid Asaad's son Taimur (married to the Sultan's Dhofari first cousin on his mother's side, Salma Al Mashani) is a candidate. HM oversaw the marriage ceremony himself back in ... 2005?

    As for the rest of us Omanis, I think we're not ready for a new Sultan. Perhaps the Omani government can be restructured and one of the old chaps you mentioned could be prime minister? Sultan Qaboos will always be a one hit wonder, and we'll never be able to fully accept another Sultan.

  6. Sayyid Fahd's candidacy gets doubted because he's not HM's real uncle.

  7. This is a fantastic post, and I was looking forward to more of this kind of thing once I'd heard you left. Judging by the fact that there's only 3 comments so far, I'm guessing Omantel may have blocked access within Oman, at least temporarily...

  8. We grew up only knowing this Sultan.
    This is something everyone tends to ignore.

    Hope everything turns well..

  9. You wrote, that HM "having recovered from a long spell of illness a couple of years ago (most likely as a complication of his diabetes)." May I ask, where did you get this information from? Is there any reliable source for this statement?

  10. What about Talal bin Tariq Al Said, Why do we not hear anything about him? he is first born son of Tariq bin Taimur Al Said yet we hardly see or hear anything of him.

  11. Please school some of us Africans. I would like to understand. So, who is the most senior here? The Sultan, HM (His Majesty)? Where does Al Sayyid Asa'ad bin Tariq Al Said(HH - His Highness) fit in? Is he businessman or strictly a government man? What businesses does he have or represent on behalf of . . .

  12. Taimur ibn Asaad is too young to be the new king in my opinion. He doesn't have the experience and wouldn't be the most suitable candidate. HH Sayyid Asa'ad bin Tariq Al-Said would be the most suitable in my opinion because he has the necessary credentials to become the new leader. He's in his prime and could be a great leader for years to come. Filling the current Sultan's Qaboos's shoes is going to be almost impossible,but Sayyid Asa'ad is the best of the possible succesors in my opinion.

  13. The better is the winner ....

  14. long live Our Sultan .....


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