Leaderwho struck a fine balance

When you look at neighbouring countries, you realise fully how HM Sultan Qaboos gave Oman one of the greatest gifts, yet I feel that it is one of the most overlooked within his legacy: He gave them a home to come back to, a country that kept its identity and its uniqueness, in a region where rapid progress and changes have robbed others of what constituted their national identity. The late Sultan managed to bring forward his country without stripping its people of what made Omanis so unique: Their calm, reflective nature, their strong ties to their families and villages, their
moderate and tolerant version of Islam, their welcoming and hospitable nature, and their cultural traditions.

One of his famous saying is: “Make progress and safeguard tradition” (HM Sultan Qaboos, interview with Foreign Affairs, 1997), and we can see this in his carefully thought out urban planning policies, where no high rises were allowed, where a harmony in colours and shapes was maintained, where the new Royal Opera House resembles a traditional castle, with a modern twist. A visit to the National Museum and its Renaissance exhibition, which showcases the mind-blowing pace of the changes of the last 50 years, will leave you in awe. Your head will spin when you are trying to comprehend the tremendous changes that have taken place in Oman since 1970, and yet, a sense of national identity remains and has even been strengthened by the Sultan.

It is this unique paradox that I feel embodies one of his most amazing accomplishments. For me, the Grand Mosque symbolizes his quest in maintaining the national identity while modernising Oman. It is a tribute to the Islamic religion, elegant, grand, yet intimate, awe inspiring yet not overwhelming. It is a building that calls for you to get closer, to look at the details of the mosaics on the walls, to look up to realise how the choice of colours makes a corridor so pleasantly symmetrical. The choice of stones, of shapes, of spaces. The beauty of the gardens, the joyfulness of the flowing water. Walk fast, and you will miss a thousand details, expect gold at every angle and youwill missthe true beauty of a building who will only reveals itself if you slow down and let it speak
to you. It doesn’t scream “Look at me, I am dripping in gold”, it whispers “Welcome, be at peace.’’

I think this building symbolizes perfectly what the late Sultan Qaboos has done for his beloved country: He allowed unprecedented changes to take place, especially when it comes to women’s education, developed roads and hospitals, tourism and industries. But he managed to strike a very delicate balance and kept a country that would be recognizable by its inhabitants, where they would still feel that they belonged. A country that welcomed the modern world but kept its identity, its aesthetics, its vision of the world, its place in each family’s heart.

In a brave new world where a lot of people have lost their roots and look for the comfort and validation of a family through an online community, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has given Omanis the most precious gift of all: A strong and secure feeling of belonging, a country to call home, a deep pride in their national identity. He gave them a country to miss when they are studying abroad, a village where family roots still run deep, a true sense of being linked to their past, and he spared them the unspeakable grief of longing for a country that no longer exist.

Omanis have a country to call home, and a thoughtful and visionary leader to thank for it, a feeling best illustrated when they mourn him as Baba Qaboos, the father of modern Oman and the keeper of traditions. May his soul rest in peace.

The writer is a Canadian working with the Natural and Medical Sciences Research Center, of the University of Nizwa, having previously been Head of Section (French), in the Department
of Foreign Languages.

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