A Ruler who put people first

On a wall, inside a church, in my small hometown in Scotland, the battle colours (the flags carried to war) of a British Army regiment, the Cameronians, are proudly displayed, to commemorate all the young men who served, and gave their lives, for their country.
A few years ago, the minister of that Scottish kirk (church) was faced with the prospect of restoring the battle colours, in an effort to preserve them for future generations. The painstaking restoration would require funding in the tens of thousands.

Charles Lavery

So, the minister sat down and wrote a letter. Less than a week later, a cheque arrived for RO13,000. The regimental battle colours were restored and the kind benefactor is still remembered in the weekly prayers by the congregation of that small church.
The minister wrote to the Oman Embassy in London, and His Majesty Sultan Qaboos replied. The Cameronians was the regiment His Majesty Sultan Qaboos chose to serve with after graduating from Sandhurst Military Academy in the United Kingdom, and their distinct tartan can still be seen on the bonnets of serving Oman soldiers.
A small gesture, you may think, but one that enriched the lives of so many, and for generations to come, in a Scottish town far removed from the desert heat of Oman.
I’m sure it is just one of countless gestures made by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, all around the globe, as evidenced by the genuine outpouring of sympathy from world leaders, when they learned of his passing.
To lift the heavy, dark blanket of grief, we must let in some light. His is a legacy of light. We often forget the light created by a single life, when we are consumed by grief at the loss.
His light shone everywhere. One of his first statements after assuming the role of Sultan was to ask women to help rebuild Oman, adding that without them, only 50 per cent of the country would be involved in rebuilding.
That paid dividends. Women in Oman can do anything a man can, in the fields of business, sport, pretty much anywhere, and that’s thanks to His Majesty.
His legacy of light means Oman is measles free at a time when the world is battling to contain new outbreaks. The Ministry of Health made it an offence not to vaccinate your children. They will also vaccinate the children of expatriate workers, free of charge. My youngest daughter was born in Muscat and we used this wonderful service. Again, His Majesty put health first. Education, too. Currently, tens of thousands of young Omanis are scattered across the globe, studying at some of the finest seats of learning, free of charge. The Omani Government pays for this, as well as primary and secondary schooling.
This is something that is taken for granted, but other countries in the world do not have these systems in place.
Recently, there have been some grumbles about the price of fuel in the Sultanate. It costs around RO20 to fill the tank of an SUV. In the UK, for example, that same tank of fuel would cost RO60.
His Majesty put citizens first, and built a country that reflects the very character of the Sultanate; no building is too high, no voice too loud.
When he took the reins, in 1970, Oman was a very different place. I recall a photograph of the InterContinental Hotel, in Muscat, just after it opened. There was only a sandy path leading to it and there was absolutely nothing around it.
The pace of progress was all thanks to one man.
I think his legacy of light is best summed up by a comment a senior Omani businessman made to me, in the wake of Cyclone Mekunu. The comment has been etched into my brain.
“In 1970, if a cyclone blew through Oman, it didn’t matter, as there was nothing to damage. Now, look at the difference,” he said.
Education, empowerment of women, health and putting people first: these basic tenets of care form His Majesty’s legacy of light, and even though the world is a darker place without him, we should remember how he shone a light for so, so many.

The writer is an editor who worked in Oman. He is now working as an editor in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Oman Observer