Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, Oman’s authoritarian leader, is responsible for the success of the country in the past few decades and has been well-respected among the Omanis, according to Gary Grappo, the former United States Ambassador to Oman who spoke in Schwartz on Wednesday. Now, Grappo says that after a year of absence due to illness, Qaboos has become aloof and has stopped meeting with people.
“Oman is a country that was tailor made for its leader and the leader was made perfectly for this country,” said Grappo. “It’s impossible to overstate his influence in this country. His hand is everywhere in that country. A diplomat once told me that there will just simply never be another Qaboos in Oman, and he’s probably right.”
Grappo said that he doesn’t know what’s going to happen when Qaboos dies and that the “transition is going to be an earthquake.”
Qaboos rose to power after he overthrew his father Said bin Taimur, in the 1970 Omani coup d’état. After 49 years in power, Qaboos has transformed the country’s economy and culture. According to Grappo, what has made Qaboos a unique leader was his patience in decision making, which was “annoying for the United States, who likes to ‘turn things on a dime.’”
He brought the per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $320—which was one of the lowest in the world—to between $23,000 and $24,000. Grappo said that Qaboos’s time in Great Britain heavily influenced the country’s culture.
Since Oman is small and vulnerable, according to Grappo, its foreign policy is based on a policy of “friend of all, enemies of none.” Grappo said Qaboos prides himself on spending more on health and education than the military. Qaboos even launched a program where Air Force pilots fly children in remote areas to school. Nevertheless, Grappo says that their armed forces are strong and professional.
“All of our military folks tell me that [Oman] has the best trained, most professional armed forces in the entire gulf and probably in the entire Middle East,” said Grappo. “But they’re very small.”
Grappo explained that under Qaboos, Oman is developing new sectors: ports, for revenue based on the original sea-fairing tactics the country used before oil became its primary source of revenue. The first port ranked in the top 30 container ports in the world within a short time frame according to Grappo. Grappo said that this port was so successful that Qaboos built another one, operating hotels, navy aircraft carriers and submarines. Grappo said that he expects that Oman will build an oil pipeline from Saudia Arabia to this port in order to maximize efficiency in Saudi Arabia’s transport of oil to other countries from the Oman port.
Grappo emphasized Qaboos’s satisfactory human rights report. In Oman, long prison sentences are nearly non-existent, the death penalty is extremely rare, women are appointed in many respected positions in his cabinet, Omanis are free to practice any religion they please and he even appointed leaders of the rebellion against his government in 1970 into his cabinet.
Qaboos will not name his successor, his family council will. If the family council cannot agree within three days, the council will open an envelope with recommendations from Qaboos on who he believes should be his successor. If they disagree with the first name that they pick out, they will open a second envelope. That person will be the new Sultan of Oman.