Omanis in shock as they mourn death of Sultan Qaboos

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The streets of Muscat were deserted on Saturday morning as Omanis grieved over the death of Sultan Qaboos after five decades of rule that transformed his country into a modern state.

All shops in the capital were closed, there was no traffic on the roads and the normally bustling streets were empty as the country began three days of mourning.

Most residents stayed indoors watching television broadcasts highlighting the ruler's achievements and live coverage of his funeral.

“From limited resources, Qaboos built the country from scratch and turned into a modern state. He also united feuding tribes and made them work together towards a unified goal," said Saif Al Saifi, 72, an Omani political commentator. "He also championed foreign policies to make Oman the arbitrator of peace in the region,” he told The National.

The prayer over the coffin of Sultan Qaboos. AFP / Oman TV

Oman's newly sworn-in Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said carries the coffin of his cousin, the late Sultan Qaboos, during the funeral in Muscat, Oman. Reuters

Omanis bid farewell to their leader during the funeral of Sultan Qaboos. AFP / Oman TV

Members of the Omani military carry the coffin of Sultan Qaboos. AFP

Omanis take part in the funeral of Sultan Qaboos at the Grand Mosque in the capital Muscat. AFP

The coffin of Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said is carried to a mosque through the crowd in Muscat, Oman. Oman TV via AP

People attend the funeral of Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said at Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat. Oman TV via AP

Oman's newly sworn-in Sultan Haitham bin Tariq arrives to the Grand Mosque in the capital Muscat to take part in the funeral of Sultan Qaboos. AFP / Oman TV

A motorcade carries the body of Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Muscat. Oman TV via AP

A motorcade carries the body of Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Muscat. Oman TV via AP

Omanis gather in front of the Sultan Qaboos Mosque to perform the funeral prayer for the country's ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Muscat, Oman. AFP

Omanis gather to enter the Sultan Qaboos Mosque to perform the funeral prayer. AFP

Omanis gather to enter the Sultan Qaboos Mosque to perform the funeral prayer. AFP

Omanis gather to enter the Sultan Qaboos Mosque to perform the funeral prayer. AFP

Omanis walk towards the Sultan Qaboos Mosque to perform the funeral prayer. AFP

The Omani flag is seen at half-mast in the capital Muscat. AFP

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Omanis comforted each other in messages of condolence exchanged on social media.

“We will never see another leader like Qaboos,” Mohammed Al Rawahi wrote on WhatsApp. "He was a gift from the heavens for us. He is one of those leaders who unselfishly dedicated his life for his people.”

Asif Zardari, a Pakistani expatriate based in Muscat, said he had never seen its streets so empty.

“This is a country in deep shock. Everybody is indoors and no one is in the mood to come out,” said Mr Zardari, 61, an IT engineer who has lived in Oman since 1979.

Deep in the interior of Oman, some mosques opened their doors hours before the noon prayers for communal reading of the Quran as a form paying of respect to their late ruler.

“Some people have been in this mosque since 5am today. It is fully packed," said Hafidh Al Jardani, a resident of the town of Duqm. "They are reading the Quran to pray for the sultan.”

The late sultan’s paternal cousin, 65-year-old Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, who was announced as his successor on Saturday morning, is seen by many Omanis as the “most experienced and versatile” among the senior members of the royal family, said Sharifa Al Siyabi, an Omani political commentator.

“We support the choice of Haitham as our next sultan. What is important now is the stability of the country and for the policies of Qaboos to continue,” Ms Al Siyabi told The National.

“He is most experienced and most versatile from the royal family and he is a natural choice as the new sultan,” she said.

Oman's new sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said makes his first speech in front of the Royal Family Council in Muscat, Oman. Oman TV via AP

Oman's new sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said swears in at the Royal Family Council in Muscat, Oman. Oman TV via AP

Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said is seen while welcoming Britain's Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall at Bait Al Noor church in Muscat, Oman, in 2016. AP Photo

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is received by Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, right, upon arriving in Muscat for an official visit in 2014. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court — Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed, Vice Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, right, stands for a photograph with Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said during the opening ceremony of the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2017. Photo by Abdullah Al Junaibi

Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq al Said offers condolences to Sheikh Tahnoon bin Mohamed Al Nahyan, Ruler's Representative in Al Ain Region, on the passing of Sheikha Hessa bint Mohamed Al Nahyan, at Mushrif Palace in 2018. Hamad Al Kaabi / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, right, and Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq al Said attend the final day of Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in Shams Tower in 2016. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi

Saudi Arabia's King Salman Bin Abdulaziz meets Haitham bin Tariq Al Said to receive condolences after one of his brothers, Saudi Prince Turki bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, passed away, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2016. Getty Images

Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, center right, is seen next to Britain's Prince Charles while welcoming him and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at Bait Al Noor church in Muscat. AP Photo

Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said receives Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, upon arrival in Muscat, Oman in 2019. EPA

Britain's Prince Harry is being welcomed by Sayyid Haitham Bin Tariq Al Said upon his arrival in Oman in 2014. AFP

Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said looks on during the Closing Ceremony at Al-Musannah Sports City on day nine of the 2nd Asian Beach Games Muscat 2010 in Muscat, Oman. Getty Images

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Diplomats say that Sultan Haitham’s past record as a “political moderator” during his time in the ministry of foreign affairs had “tipped the balance” in his being named successor to Sultan Qaboos.

“He has the right background and the mental stability to be the successor of the late sultan. He has worked with foreign powers during his time in the foreign affairs ministry and is well accepted by the United States, Britain, France and Oman’s neighbours such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and even Iran,” a foreign diplomat based in Muscat, who did not want to be identified, told The National.

According to Omani law, the choice the new sultan rests with the royal family, who had three days to name a successor.

Ms Al Siyabi said Sultan Haitham would also have an “extra backing” from his older brother, As’ad bin Tariq Al Said, 69, who is expected to continue his role as the Personal Representative of the Sultan of Oman.

“Haitham will always find his brother as a pillar of support in his role as Personal Representative of the Sultan. As’ad was a military strategist and well versed in security matters,” she said.

The sultan's older brother is a Sandhurst graduate who served as a major general in the Omani armed forces before assuming his present position.

Updated: January 11, 2020 02:55 PM

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