The Omani succession: The Middle East’s most important envelopes

By Guy Wilkinson

The Sultanate of Oman is a quiet oasis of peace in a region ablaze with conflict. However, with the longest living monarchical reign in the Middle East, many expect the death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said to be imminent, particularly after his bout of colon cancer in 2014.

With no heir to the throne, there is a myriad of rumours surrounding the palace as to who will be the successor. The most commonly accepted idea is that there are two envelopes, both containing a letter with a name on each. The first letter is held in the royal palace in Muscat, the second in the royal palace in Salalah. It is not known if the letters contain the same name or two different names. However, a council of relatives and senior ministers will meet to choose a successor, and if no successor is chosen within three days, the mysterious letters will come into effect.

The flaws in this succession process are numerous, but the consequences could be catastrophic. Internally, Oman has reached a crossroads. When Qaboos came to power in 1970, Oman has 4km of paved roads (around the palace), 2 schools, a literacy rate of 34% and a child mortality rate of over 20%. Under Qaboos’s leadership, Oman now has 1230 schools, a literacy rate of 94.8%, and has 59 hospitals.

Whilst the Sultan’s legacy will undoubtedly be the success of his modernization policies, there is still a significant religious orthodox following in the interior of Oman. If this more radical wing of the Ibadi sect of Islam chooses to become susceptible to extremist influences, this could threaten the long-term prosperity of the country. Only in 2005 were around 30 citizens arrested on suspicion of terrorist activities. Despite this, Oman is actually incredibly tolerant of all Muslim sects, with a small group of Shiites holding some of the key ministerial positions, and Sunni’s enjoying the same freedom as the native Ibadis.

Oman’s stability is of vital importance to the region and to key international players. Not only has it successfully mediated the negotiation for multiple US and British citizens in Iran, but it also managed to bring the United States of America and Iran together to strike the nuclear deal in 2015. Oman is also strategically placed to ensure the continued flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. Without such peaceful coexistence between Oman and Iran, the price of oil could skyrocket if the tankers navigating these waters were to be interrupted. Which path Oman chooses to take in the future following the death of the Sultan is clearly important, not just for the country, but the region, and perhaps the whole world.

Photograph: Sam Oman via Flickr

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