Paul McLoughlin –
In the summer of 2010, I arrived in Muscat and found a place where hospitality, pride, kinship, and love for late night conversations over coffee were in abundance, even if the country was not yet truly a global brand as it is today.
The longer I stayed, the more I cracked away at the outer shell of my perceptions finding stories, places and traditions that make Oman a place of its own. Since then, Oman has carved out a name on the global stage as a champion of peace due to the efforts of Sultan Qaboos, something that will go down as one of his most enduring legacies.
The pride and passion the people in Oman felt for His Majesty Sultan Qaboos and the achievements made during in five decades as leader were striking but understandable. Few countries have achieved so much in such little time and during Sultan Qaboos’ near 50-year reign, the Sultanate was to become a prosperous nation, wholeheartedly embracing modernity but still abiding to its rich traditions. It is these traits that have made Oman an increasingly tantalising place for tourists and contributed to its positive reputation abroad.
There are also few places in the world where expatriates have felt so entwined with a national journey and former Oman residents still speak fondly of the Sultanate, regarding it as a second home.
Such memories have contributed to the strong personal, cultural and business ties the Sultanate retains with these communities across the world, the Anglo-Omani Society in London being one example. Many words have been written on the passing of HM Sultan Qaboos, and the former Oman residents I have spoken to have shared fond memories of the former leader and a resoluteness to continue a bilateral exchange between their home countries and Oman.
Over the past weeks, I have witnessed expatriates in Oman stand side-by-side with their Omani friends in mourning the death of HM Sultan Qaboos. This warm relationship reflects the efforts made by the late Sultan to treat foreigners with respect and complimenting Oman’s “friends with all” foreign policy.
This paradigm has been shaped by the Omani people’s sense of moderation, humility, contemplation and respect. The Sultan promoted this onto a global stage by understanding and articulating the hopes and concerns of other countries and fostering a discreet foreign policy that was to shape Oman’s positive image across the world.
Wherever I have travelled in the region, I have learned that Omanis are renowned for their warmth, respect and humility. It is this marriage of foreign policy and national temperament that have made the sultanate’s efforts to promote regional stability and peace so trusted and effective.
HM Sultan Qaboos’ reputation as a man of peace has given the Sultanate the status of a true friend and confidante for many countries in the world, from Iran to the US.
His ability to strike a balance between the various interests in the region was a difficult task during his years in power
but have contributed to making the Gulf region one of the most stable and prosperous parts of the world.
Oman’s foreign policy under HM Sultan Qaboos was seen to be motivated by the principles of peace and trade, helping temper tensions in the region and validate the need for regional cooperation and dialogue. An example of this was in 2013, when I journeyed by sea from Muscat to Musandam, the rocky Omani enclave perched between the UAE and Iran.
Musandam had made international news due to the province’s location along the Strait of Hormuz and jutting out towards Iran, a country that was locked in tensions with the US. As we coursed along the strait’s calm waters there was little interruption bar the odd murmur of passing oil tankers and the chattering engines of gracefully moving dhows. Some hours later, we arrived in the capital Khasab and found all to be quiet.
Despite the governorate’s geographical proximity to the straits, Musandam couldn’t feel further removed from the geopolitical turmoil we had read about. When it was later revealed that HM Sultan Qaboos had been involved in facilitating talks between the two sides, it was obvious that the calm in Musandam was due to Omanis confidence that their leader would help fix the problem.
Oman’s role in striking the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers fixed Sultan Qaboos’ reputation on the world stage as a peacemaker. He was viewed as a wise ruler intent on making his neighbourhood a safer place and his achievements became a boon for moderates. There are many who were sceptical of the deal, but few would opt for the uncertainty of the current status quo and it is likely that the US and Iran will return to this agreement in the future.
Besides the natural bounty and cultural richness of the interior, Oman is also a country that looks out to the oceans, making trade and cultural exchange key principles in its interactions with the world. Over the decades, Omani businesses and workers have benefited from the country’s inner peace, safe waters, and a genuinely global market due to HM Sultan Qaboos’ friendly foreign policy.
As the Sultanate moves into new age, these principles will be key to Oman’s continued prosperity. Oman’s peaceful nature will help attract tourists and investment for years to come, while the industry and innovation of its people will help expand its opportunities for trade. Sultan Qaboos left Oman with an array of modern ports and industrial complexes along its coast, which will be key to its future.
The ports of Duqm, Salalah, Muscat and Sohar will offer huge returns in the future and open more doors to business and tourism. Recent cultural developments such as the Royal Opera House Muscat, the National Museum and Grand Mosque will meld with the forts, nature, and traditions of Oman, to bring tourists to the country and project a positive image back.
This was perhaps a parting message from HM Sultan Qaboos that Oman’s future lies in its continued coexistence and engagement with the world. His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik stressed during his inauguration that Oman will continue with the foreign policy set by HM Sultan Qaboos during his reign, something that was warmly welcomed across the world.
The writer is a former Observer reporter who now works in London.