Thank you for your reading and interest in the news Oman’s long night: from rumour to reality as a nation learns of Sultan Qaboos’ death and now with details
Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Mobile phone screens began lighting up before dawn, from stone homes in the remote fjords of the Musandam Peninsula to houses in dark forests of the southern Dhofar governorate.
A nation had gone to bed with uncertainty.
At 1 pm on Friday, the military and police had been called onto duty across the nation and people braced for bad news. Against a backdrop of regional tensions after strikes between Iran and the United States, and Tehran's downing of a passenger plane that killed 176 people last week, few expected the news to be the death of Sultan Qaboos.
The ruler returned last month from a short treatment in Belgium but officials assured the public all was well and the sultan was recovering.
On his return, people took to the streets of Muscat to honour of his health, as they did on his return from treatment in Germany in 2014.
Saif Al Muwali, 37, saw the first mummers of the Sultan’s death on social media at around 4 am. Within minutes, he was sat in front of the television, blurry-eyed, with his wife and children.
Regular programming stopped and programming switched to the Quran. The news most feared had come to pass, Sultan Qaboos was dead.
“People heard things about the Sultan but it wasn’t real news and about a week and a half ago we heard that the Sultan was good and everything was fine,” said Mr Al Muwali, an Arabic language instructor in Muscat. “News like this was somewhat expected but we didn’t know when exactly it would happen.”
Sadness was tempered with concern about the future.
Sultan Qaboos had ruled since 1970, serving as prime minister, defence minister and finance minister. He was without children or brothers and had never publically named a successor.
The sultan had written the name of his chosen heir and sealed it in envelopes to be opened only in the case of indecision.
The sealed envelope was opened hours after his death, naming his cousin Haitham bin Tariq Al Said as Oman’s next leader.
The quick and smooth transition came as a relief.
While Muscat is a sprawling coastal capital, in many ways it is still like a village. News travels quickly.
Saeed Al Amri, 27, heard of Sultan Qaboos' death on Friday from a friend who worked in the palace. Mr Al Amri was on vacation in Jeddah. His sadness, coupled with concern and worry, kept him awake until dawn.
“I think people were afraid in the last weeks because they didn’t know the future, who is [to rule] after the Sultan,” said Mr Al Amri. “They were rumours that said the royal family wouldn’t agree on someone or that some neighbouring countries would interfere but, thanks to God, the new Sultan was chosen today [Saturday] and the royals all agreed on him.”
Despite sadness, Mr Al Amri said he was optimistic about change ahead.
Unemployment, a youth bulge and dependence on dwindling oil supplies have been long term concerns for Omanis.
“In the last few years, let’s be honest, the Sultan was sick so there were a lot of problems, like unemployed people,” said Mr Al Amri.
“We need someone who is fresh and who is younger so change is good. The news, of course, is sad because Sultan Qaboos did amazing things for us and for Oman,” he said. “But now it’s time for change and I’m very optimistic. I think now is one of the best times to be young in Oman.”
People crowded the motorway as the late Sultan was carried from the Bait Al Barakat royal palace in Seeb to the Sultan Qaboos Mosque.
The funeral was closed to the public but worshippers across the country offered prayers for the late Sultan at local mosques through Saturday afternoon.
For Al Muhanad Al Badi, 28, an English teacher on the Batinah coast, the speeches by officials were a reassurance that Oman would maintain its policy of neutrality in a volatile region.
“I was relieved when I heard in the speech that they would follow the same path in terms of foreign policy,” said Mr Al Badi. “I was happy to hear that. Economic opportunities would be the second most important thing to me after not being involved in a war.”
Now, people look to the future.
“The new sultan means new changes,” said Mr Al Amri, an administrator at Oman Football Association. “We need the new Sultan to make changes and he’s going to. So I think there’s always a sunny day after the storm. I would say the last few years were really stormy. It’s not going to be worse. That’s what I believe.”
Updated: January 11, 2020 09:19 PM
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