Later this year, Sultan Qaboos of Oman will celebrate 46 years in power, making him the longest reigning ruler in the Arab world. In addition to the distinction of longevity, Qaboos bin Said has numerous other virtues which have brought him to international prominence, not least among the esteemed panel that decide the nominations for the annual Nobel Peace Prize.
By Pat Lancaster
The Nobel Peace prize, which will be announced in October, was created at the behest of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel and has been awarded annually since 1901. According to Nobel’s instruction, the Peace Prize is awarded to the person who in the preceding year “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
When he acceded to power in 1970 Sultan Qaboos became ruler of a country that had failed to keep pace with progress. His father, Sultan Said, unlike his Gulf neighbours, had failed to instigate the process of modernisation when the proceeds of oil revenue began to pour into Oman government coffers, just a few years earlier. Said was no fan of modernisation. In 1970, there were few roads in Oman, only a handful of schools and even fewer hospitals. To further complicate things, a savage war was being fought in Dhofar in the south of the country, against a communist insurgency.
Qaboos immediately set to work. The rebellion was quelled in Dhofar and work on establishing the foundations of what has become an enviable 21st century infrastructure, were swiftly embarked upon.
From the time he came to power in July 1970, Sultan Qaboos has worked hard to open up all areas of his own country and to develop friendly relations with the rest of the world. During Said’s reign Oman had become isolated. Under the direction of Qaboos, Oman’s foreign policy for almost half a century has been to extend the hand of friendship to all countries on the basis of non-interference in internal affairs, mutual respect, peaceful co-existence and good neighbourliness.
Qaboos has worked to maintain the best of relations with his Gulf neighbours, including Iran. He has also frequently worked towards rebuilding broken bridges between other nations that find themselves at odds. US Senator of State, John Kerry, roundly praised the Sultan for his work in helping bring together the Islamic Republic and the West in a series of often tricky negotiations, that eventually led to the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran in January this year.
This standpoint is nothing new; as far back as 1978 and the signing of the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel, Oman was among only three Arab states that refused to cut diplomatic relations with Egypt. A similar situation existed during the Iran-Iraq war, which raged from 1980 to 1988, when the Sultanate maintained diplomatic relations with both sides.
A graduate of the UK’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, who served for a time in the British Army, Sultan Qaboos has long insisted that Oman’s Armed Forces are kept on a state of alert at all times, backed up by some of the most cutting edge equipment available anywhere in the world. The capability and the expertise for battle exists but it has never been the policy of Qaboos bin Said to nurture conflict. He is by nature and by reputation a negotiator, an arbitrator and a peacemaker.
Qaboos’s record, stands for itself. He has transformed his own country from the sleepy, desert backwater of 1970 into the vibrant, dynamic 21st century state we know today. A country where multi-lane highways link every region both coastal and mountainous; where healthcare is free and available to all; where every Omani child is assured a free education to university level, where thriving ports and industrial areas continue to develop and grow, providing employment and inspiration for a workforce ideally placed as a hub between the markets of the Middle East, Africa and the Far East.
Internationally, Qaboos was worked tirelessly and relentlessly to further peace and to bring people of opposing views closer to achieving a workable solution to their problems. If there is a more worthy receipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, inside the Arab world or outside it, I have yet to learn of that person’s name.