Sultanate of Oman, the second largest state in the Arabian Peninsula and also a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a regional actor whose importance is becoming increasingly relevant in the Middle East. Dohfar Rebellion of 1976 is the last conflict that reached Oman, a country which, under the leadership of Sultan QABOOS bin Said al Said, founded a regional foreign policy not affected by civil wars from Yemen, by the three Gulf wars or by the sectarian fight and jihadi ideologies that have swept across the Middle East. Moreover, within this context, Oman has maintained close relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran, while being a reliable ally of the United States.
All these aspects allowed the regime from Muscat to pose as a regional mediator (a status that Turkey wanted, but whose foreign policy has failed at least for now creating the tension between Ankara and countries such as Syria, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Libya or Israel), successfully bringing Washington and Tehran on the negotiating table and facilitating an agreement on the nuclear dossier. According to international media, Oman is hosting secret negotiations between the US and Houthi rebels, the outcome of which could bring long-awaited stability in Yemen.
Oman has a shaky economy without large reserves of hydrocarbons. Therefore, Oman was affected by the 2011 Arab Spring protests. However his political skills made Sultan QABOOS to overcome this setback.
When protests swept the country’s major cities, Sultan QABOOS allowed them, without intervening militarily. He strengthened Shura Council’s powers by replacing part of the old members and then arrested some leader’s street. Taking advantage of the financial support received from the GCC, the Sultan managed to become the Arab leader whose image was least affected.
Under the leadership of a charismatic leader, educated in the West and with real political skills, Oman has a chance to build strong institutions to ensure good governance. However, we cannot speak of a risk free future. Sultan QABOOS himself, whose age exceeds 70 years, is sick and he receives treatment in Berlin, Germany. His successor will have to strengthen the foreign policy in a context in which Yemen still seems to be a failed state and geopolitical dynamics are volatile, amid escalating tensions between the Sunni and the Shiite axis.
Its geographical location, which gives access to the strait of Hormuz and the Indian Ocean, puts Oman not only on the maritime route linking the Persian Gulf to the West, but also on the route that links the Indian subcontinent to Africa or Europe to Asia Pacific. This positioning offers Oman an important chance for economic development. Strengthening its institutions and ensuring a peaceful political transition remains essential for Oman.
Unfortunately, the marriage between QABOOS and his cousin KAMILA was a short one, without giving birth to any child, a legitimate heir to the throne. Thus, according to tradition, after the Sultan’s death, the royal family will have to reach a consensus to inherit the throne within three days, and, if this will not be achieved, they will open an envelope in which the Sultan directly designates his successor. The names from the envelope are secret. At the moment, there are three names bandied about as favorites to be appointed as QABOOS` successor: ASSAD bin Tariq (businessman), HAITHAM bin Tariq (incumbent Minister of Culture) and SHIHAB bin Tariq (former head of the Navy).
From this standpoint, Oman political future remains uncertain. A future crisis in Muscat would be possible to create insecurity in one of the most stable Arab states. Finally, the Saudi military intervention in Bahrain in 2011 shows that Riyad is not willing to accept that any GCC state to enter in the Iranian sphere of influence.
In conclusion, only the political reason and the good governance will lead Oman to an increasing economic development. Yet, domestic political failure could bring instability into its borders.