I'am very sad to hear of the passing of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos after his long illness. I know many shed genuine tears, and I can understand those tears, as I myself felt that intense weight of sadness that is real grief.
I will remember him as a very handsome man, who looked to be an elegant, gentle man, with a smile never far away. Yet he was clearly a serious, very determined man, though not one who appeared to have the weight of a tiny country and its four million people on his shoulders. Yet here he was, in the heart of the most volatile region in the world, keeping his country, and his people, free of the violence and terror that have become part of the landscape, and culture, of many other countries in this part of the world.
He must have been a brave man too, because he was only young when he assumed control of the country, and hardly anyone would have known him, or known much about him. After all there was no social media in those days. But still, he considered long and wisely, acted with certainty, and changed the lives and futures of so many.
I spoke to an elderly gentleman just days ago, and he told me of their lives, the misery, danger, and deprivation that was their lives in those darker days. He spoke of rice costing a fortune, of eating soup made from boiled grass, and of meat and fish being very rare luxuries. He told me of small towns enclosed within walls to keep them safe, and of never venturing outside the walls between dusk and dawn. He also told of hundreds forced into menial work outside Oman, just to feed their families. These were the people Sultan Qaboos saved! He never just made their lives better, but he gave them life.
As an expat, I cannot know all of the stories of those times, but it is enough to understand what motivated the young prince to act in such a dramatic and forceful manner, but in hearing those stories we also know that having been well-educated, and widely travelled, he could stand by no longer. His thoughts, the conflict that must have tortured him nightly for the years after he returned from overseas, and the realisation that if he was to live with himself he must act, can only be imagined.
During my 10 years here, neither I nor my family have ever felt unsafe or threatened, never been robbed or burgled, physically or verbally abused, and in these regards I feel there are three reasons why. There is a strong and active police force that appears well resourced and coordinated, citizens who are well housed, relatively affluent and have few anxieties, and finally a manner and decorum, maybe based in their religion of Islam, but I am sure based on their following of their Sultan’s example.
I have travelled extensively throughout the Sultanate, spoken to thousands of people, and the reverence and respect held for their Sultan is without exception. Surely there is no other leader in the world who can draw so much loyalty and emotion as did Sultan Qaboos.
We will leave Oman one day, with regret certainly, but also with a great deal of privilege, as we have been fortunate to live under the influence of a wise and wonderful man, one who deserves a place at the right hand of God, bless him.
(Yelena is a photographer and housewife, born in Moscow, and widely travelled, but resident in Oman since 2009. She lives with her husband, Ray, in Birkat Al Mouz.)