The Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said al Said, has died aged 79, according to the country’s state media.
The sultan died on Friday evening after “a wise and triumphant march rich with generosity that embraced Oman and extended to the Arab, Muslim and entire world and achieved a balanced policy that the whole world respected”, the state-run Oman News Agency said.
His cause of death was not disclosed.
There had been concerns over his health in recent weeks and he had reportedly been in Belgium for treatment, but travelled back to Oman shortly before the new year.
Oman, on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula and a key Western ally, has announced a three-day period of national mourning.
Sultan Qaboos was the longest serving leader in the Middle East, having ruled the country since 1970 after taking over the leadership from his father in a peaceful coup.
Image: Queen Elizabeth and Sultan Qaboos in 2010
Born in Oman in 1940, he travelled to the UK in 1958 to attend Sandhurst and joined the British Army where he was posted to the 1st Battalion The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and served in Germany for a year.
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He returned to Oman in 1966 and was placed under virtual house arrest by his ruling father, to separate him from government affairs.
Growing tired of his father’s leadership and with a desire for change, he launched a coup against him in 1970, backed by the UK and was thought to be planned by British security forces and prime minister Harold Wilson.
The sultan’s leadership is credited with drastically improving living standards in the country by reforming a nation that was home to only three schools and harsh laws banning electricity, radios, eyeglasses and even umbrellas.
He used oil revenues during his reign to build schools, roads and hospitals, as well as encouraging the development of private enterprises.
Image: Sultan Qaboos was said to be struggling with his health
He also outlawed slavery in the same year he came to power – once an important part of the Omani economy.
But unemployment, which sparked demonstrations in 2011, remains high and the state has increasingly relied on external borrowing as oil prices have fallen.
Sultan Qaboos had no children, and had not publicly appointed a successor. However, he will have secretly recorded his choice in a sealed letter should the royal family disagree on the succession line.
The royal family will now have three days to appoint a successor, according to a statute from 1996.
If they family fail to do so, a council of military and security officials, supreme court chiefs and heads of two assemblies will put in power the person appointed by the sultan in his letter.
Analysts worry about royal family discord and a resurgence of tribal rivalries and political instability, now a new ruler has to be chosen.
Source : Sky News