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COPE: A Tribute To Omani Sultan Qaboos, Ally And Patron Of Progress

By  Jordan Cope
John Stillwell – WPA Pool/Getty Images

Progress never comes easy — especially in the Middle East. That is why much credit is due to the late Sultan Qaboos of Oman, who died this past Friday. A patron of progress and peace, an ally of the West, and a visionary, Sultan Qaboos potentially primed the Persian Gulf for its ongoing renaissance, which remains characterized by increasing progress, tolerance, and pro-Western sentiment. For this, he deserves plaudits.

Sultan Qaboos was destined for ushering change — he beat to a different tune, ascending the throne as a possibly gay man whose colorful clothes illuminated the hostile environment he inherited. Then, slavery existed and Omani law banned electricity, radios, eyeglasses, and even umbrellas. Under Sultan Qaboos, these realities quickly became no more. He advanced Omani society, transforming it from one previously rooted in extreme traditionalism to one that, while outward-looking in nature, maintained a relatively non-interventionist persona. Under Qaboos, Oman became one of the world’s safest and wealthiest countries, and it now celebrates higher purchasing power parity per capita rates than Finland. He also provided Oman stability, ruling since 1970 and thereby becoming the region’s longest ruling head of state. In sum, he put Oman on a stable path that produced tremendous social and economic progress.

Qaboos’ aspirations for progress were also regional in scope, advancing the cause of peace. He negotiated and secured the release of Western hostages in neighboring countries, often dipping into his own pocket to do so. And while he maintained economic and political ties with Iran, he also leveraged his relationship for good, using his influence to help free Westerners detained therein.

Qaboos, while idealistic at times, did propel stronger ties with the West. Qaboos, a “close ally,” advanced U.S. military interests, allowing the U.S. access to two strategic ports and an “overland route that would enable … forces [in future conflict] to reach the Persian Gulf without transiting the Strait of Hormuz.” The Strait of Hormuz, which has been subject to the threat of closures by Iran, remains one of the world’s most important bodies of water, “through which 30% of all seaborne crude oil shipments pass.” He also sponsored American students to learn Arabic in Oman, thereby fostering stronger future ties between the two countries.

Most radically, Qaboos challenged the status quo, openly associating and largely normalizing (albeit still unofficial) ties with Israel. In 2018, Qaboos invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Muscat, the first invitation extended to an Israeli premier in 20 years. And while greeting Netanyahu later in Warsaw at a security conference that highlighted the Iranian security threat, Qaboos implied the need to recognize Israel. He boldly proclaimed before a media entourage, “people in the Middle East have suffered a lot because they stick to the past. I will now say this is a new era for the future.” According to the head of the Mossad, Israeli-Omani ties have since culminated in the “renewal of formal relations” and a “representative office of the [Israeli] foreign ministry” in Oman. While Oman has denied such claims, it now allows Israel’s national airline to use Omani airspace and has invited Israeli officials to discuss the possibility of a rail connecting Israel with the Gulf states. Hence, through nourishing ties with the U.S., and de-stigmatizing its ally Israel, Qaboos’ Oman spearheaded progress, peace, and its U.S. alliance.

Other neighboring countries have seemingly followed Qaboos’ example of social reform and heightened tolerance. In recent years, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) of Saudi Arabia, Oman’s neighbor, has imitated Sultan Qaboos and his reforms — allowing women to drive, legalizing movie theaters, curbing religious police, and also de facto recognizing of Israel. Recently, MBS noted that “the Israelis have the right to have their own land.” The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain have also seemingly followed Oman’s lead. Key leaders have hosted Israeli diplomats and media at conferences and have also idealized the potential of official ties with Israel. While it is uncertain whether Qaboos directly inspired these results, he certainly paved the path that many now seem to follow. It should therefore be no coincidence that the heads of state of Bahrain, Israel, and the UAE, as well as the crown prince of Saudi Arabia have reflected on Sultan Qaboos’ death or have sent condolences.

While the future of the Middle East remains uncertain, Oman’s future appears somewhat optimistic. Its new leader, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, has pledged to reinforce his predecessor’s vision: “We will follow the same line as the late sultan, and the principles that he asserted for the foreign policy of our country, of peaceful coexistence among nations and people, and good neighborly behavior.” So long as the new sultan keep his promise, America can rest assured of a forecast of impending peace and progress — a vision that could magnify throughout the region.


Jordan Cope is currently a law student at the University of Texas at Austin, where he also completed his undergraduate degree. Having graduated with a B.A. in international relations, Jordan also minored in Middle Eastern studies and can speak Arabic and Hebrew. He has also published research on the security implications of Palestinian foreign aid. He can be followed @JordanCope12.

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