Oman’s Looming Succession Crisis Is a Warning Sign in an Already Fractured Gulf

Oman’s Looming Succession Crisis Is a Warning Sign in an Already Fractured Gulf
A traditional Omani dagger and a scarf bearing images of Sultan Qaboos, Muscat, November 5, 2016 (Press Association photo by John Stillwell via AP).

Three years ago, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, Oman’s 76-year-old ruler, left for an eight-month stint of medical treatment in Germany. It wouldn’t be his last. Since then, the sultan’s continued deteriorating health and lack of a clear heir—he has no children and has kept any plans for a successor vague—have fueled a succession debate both within Oman and among its neighbors. Now, amid the significant rift in the Gulf resulting from the Saudi- and Emirati-led blockade of Qatar, the potential for a looming succession crisis in Oman could affect not just domestic stability in the Gulf’s quietest state, but also its neighbors’ policies and wider U.S. interests in the region.

The question of Omani succession is not new. Since Qaboos’ first extended trip to Germany in 2014, each subsequent trip abroad for medical treatment has sparked renewed debate over his health and the future of the country. The Omani government’s lack of transparency has made it difficult to determine who the primary candidate for succession could be. Qaboos’ uncle, Prince Tariq bin Taimur al Said, has three sons— Asad, Haitham and Shihab bin Tariq al Said—who are most often listed as frontrunners.

But the biggest threat to Oman’s stability has less to do with the successors themselves—whatever their views on governing and policy may be—and more with potential upheaval during any transition. A tumultuous leadership change could lead to more dissent within Oman or create a window of opportunity for meddling by its powerful neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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