Guardian of the Strait
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.