Sultan of Oman remembered as a 'good friend' by the Queen

Chris Robertson, news reporter

The Queen has paid tribute to her "good friend" the former ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos, who died on Friday.

The ruler died after "a wise and triumphant march rich with generosity that embraced Oman and extended to the Arab, Muslim and entire world", the state-run Oman News Agency said.

His cause of death was not disclosed.

The Queen said she was deeply saddened by his death, adding that he ruled Oman with "wise leadership" and "commitment to peace and understanding between nations and between faiths".

She said: "I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said.

"His devotion to Oman, to its development and to the care of his people was an inspiration.

"He will be remembered for his wise leadership and his commitment to peace and understanding between nations and between faiths.

"He was a good friend of my family and of the United Kingdom, and we are thankful for all he did to further strengthen the bond of friendship between our countries.

"My State Visit to Oman in 2010 remains a cherished memory."

A member of the royal family is expected to travel to Oman for Sultan Qaboos' funeral.

The country's authorities moved quickly to appoint a new ruler, with state TV saying Haitham bin Tariq al Said would be his successor.

Sultan Haitham, in a speech broadcast after his cousin's funeral, promised to maintain the Gulf Arab state's foreign policy, which he said was built on peaceful co-existence and maintaining friendly ties with all nations.

There had been concerns over Sultan Qaboos' health in recent weeks and he had reportedly been in Belgium for treatment, but travelled back to Oman shortly before the new year.

Oman, on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula and a key Western ally, has announced a three-day period of national mourning.

Sultan Qaboos was the longest serving leader in the Middle East, having ruled the country since 1970 after taking the leadership from his father in a peaceful coup.

Born in Oman in 1940, he travelled to the UK in 1958 to attend Sandhurst and joined the British Army where he was posted to the 1st Battalion The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and served in Germany for a year.

He returned to Oman in 1966 and was placed under virtual house arrest by his ruling father, to separate him from government affairs.

Growing tired of his father's leadership and with a desire for change, he launched a coup against him in 1970. It was backed by the UK and was thought to be planned by British security forces and prime minister Harold Wilson.

The sultan's leadership is credited with drastically improving living standards in Oman by reforming a nation that was home to only three schools and harsh laws banning electricity, radios, eyeglasses and even umbrellas when he took power.

He used oil revenues during his reign to build schools, roads and hospitals, as well as encouraging the development of private enterprises.

He also outlawed slavery in the same year he came to power - once an important part of the Omani economy.

But unemployment, which sparked demonstrations in 2011, remains high and the state has increasingly relied on external borrowing as oil prices have fallen.

Sultan Qaboos had no children, and had not publicly appointed a successor. However, he secretly recorded his choice in a sealed letter should the royal family disagree on the succession line.

There were a number of potential candidates to replace the ageing Sultan and it was not clear whether the transition would be smooth

Oman retained diplomatic relations with Iran and Iraq during the 1980-88 war between the two countries, with Iran and the US after they fell out in 1979 and helped broker the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran, Russia and the West.

Analysts say several of the countries in the region have interests in the outcome of the succession, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, at a time of heightened tensions.

Haitham bin Tariq, 65, has strong ties with the UK, having given his support to the University of Oxford's Islamic Studies centre over several years, having graduated from the university's Foreign Service Programme in 1979, according to Arab News.

Last year, the Anglo-Omani Society hosted a reception attended by Haitham bin Tariq and the Duke of York.

A cousin of Sultan Qaboos, before his latest appointment, Haitham was his country's minister of heritage and culture.

In December, he welcomed Prince William to Oman when the UK's second in line to the throne paid a visit and has also welcomed Charles and Camilla.