Guardian of the Strait

Muscat Daily - - SALUTE TO QABOOS -

Oman is strate­gi­cally lo­cated on the Strait of Hor­muz - the nar­row se­away through which much of the world’s oil sup­ply passes - and be­tween re­gional ri­vals Iran and Saudi Ara­bia.

The Late Sul­tan main­tained good ties with both na­tions, a bal­anc­ing act that made his cap­i­tal a must-stop for West­ern and Arab diplo­mats as well as mil­i­tary chiefs alike.

His Majesty Sul­tan’s first for­eign trip was to Iran, whose shah - along with the Bri­tish - helped him quell the Marx­ist in­sur­gency in the restive Dho­far re­gion.

Those ties en­dured through Iran’s 1979 Is­lamic revo­lu­tion.

Mus­cat would serve as the back chan­nel for talks be­tween the United States and Iran in the lead-up to a land­mark 2015 nu­clear deal.

The Late Qa­boos also worked to pre­serve ties with Saudi Ara­bia and the rest of the wealthy six-nation Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil to which Oman be­longs, but stuck to his prin­ci­ple of non­in­ter­fer­ence.

In 2015, Oman was the only GCC coun­try not to join a Saudiled mil­i­tary coali­tion against Iran­backed Shi­ite Huthi rebels in Ye­men. It lever­aged this neu­tral­ity to me­di­ate the re­lease of mul­ti­ple for­eign hostages cap­tured by Ye­men’s war­ring fac­tions.

Mus­cat also main­tained close mil­i­tary and eco­nomic ties with Bri­tain and the US.

Un­like other Arab states, Qa­boos did not con­test Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Is­rael, open­ing a trade of­fice in Tel Aviv in the mid-1990s - shut­tered in 2000 dur­ing a Pales­tinian upris­ing.

The Sul­tan as­sumed power as an un­known and spent his first years cul­ti­vat­ing the re­spect of his coun­try­men, from the moun­tain­ous in­te­rior to the coast.

“In the early years, he went vil­lage to vil­lage and he had a weekly ra­dio ad­dress - that was the only way to reach the en­tire pop­u­la­tion at the time,” said Mus­cat-based pub­lic pol­icy an­a­lyst Ahmed al Mukhaini.

Qa­boos chan­nelled revenues from fledg­ling oil ex­ports into infrastruc­ture, tak­ing the coun­try from hav­ing just a hand­ful of pri­mary schools and some eight kilo­me­tres of paved roads to a mod­ern state with well over 1,000 schools and a mas­sive high­way net­work. The Sul­tan also com­mis­sioned an opera house for Mus­cat, its packed cal­en­dar a tes­ta­ment to his sup­port for the arts.

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