Determination to Advance Oman’s National Economy and Foreign Policy
The Sultanate of Oman is known for being socially and politically stable in a region that has been troubled by conflicts. On Friday, 10 January 2020, the long-serving Sultan Qaboos Bin Saeed passed away at the age of 79 after a life full of achievements to develop the sultanate. The sultan named his cousin, Haitham Bin Tariq Al Saeed, as his successor in a letter that was opened following his death. His Majesty Sultan Haitham is carrying a big responsibility to safeguard Qaboos’s legacy, maintain internal stability and strengthen the sultanate’s international relations.
Over the past fifty years, since the deceased Sultan Qaboos took over, the sultanate witnessed massive development of infrastructure which in turn contributed to steady economic growth. During this period, the government established modern institutions and improved the quality of education programmes, where more Omanis were able to pursue higher education and be qualified for leading positions in the sultanate. The late sultan was also lauded for his mediating role between conflicting states in the Gulf region, and also for the friendly relationships he had with other countries worldwide.
Sultan Haitham has had extensive experience in foreign relations and policies, which is what he mainly focused on during his first speech as Sultan.
While the new sultan has no problems related to the social structure of foreign policies, unlike most leaders in the Middle East region, he is faced with a great challenge to boost the sultanate’s economy which has been stagnant for quite some time. Public debts are rising and the economy is over-dependent on oil revenues. In this regard, there are a number of factors that may indicate a progressive change in the near future. First, the long and extensive experience of Sultan Haitham in foreign relations and policy whose strength he emphasised in his first speech as the sultan. Second, the availability of highly educated Omanis who are ready to implement these policies.
Born in 1954, Sultan Haitham Bin Tariq is the cousin of the late Sultan Qaboos Bin Saeed. In 1979 he graduated from the Oxford University Foreign Service Programme. He was the first head of the Oman Football Association in the early 1980s and is known as a sports enthusiast. Sultan Haitham served as a special envoy to the late Sultan Qaboos on different occasions and held various positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Political Affairs from 1986 to 1994 and later appointed as the Secretary-General for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1994–2002).
As culture minister, he was the driving force behind the restoration of many historical monuments in Oman. The 65-year-old sultan is the Chairman of the committee for the future vision of “Oman 2040″ which represents a roadmap for social and economic reform for the country. Sultan Haitham is also the honourary president of the Oman Association for the Disabled and the honourary president of the “Omani-Japanese Friendship Association.” All of these positions skills and experiences favour a successful reign of Sultan Haitham to further develop Oman.
Oman 2040 vision states that 93% of economic activity should be funded by non-oil sectors and calls for 42% of Omanis to be employed by private businesses rather than the public sector.
Reports said that the deceased ruler chose Sultan Haitham, who does not have a military background, over experienced military generals because he gave pre-eminence to economic credentials for choosing a successor who will be able to advance growth and ensure prosperity for Omanis. Determined to continue the legacy of his predecessor, Sultan Haitham emphasised during his first speech on the need to further enhance the sultanate’s economy through economic diversification which essentially requires strong relationships with countries all countries in the region and other parts of the world.
In fact, the Oman 2040 vision, whose formation and implementation have been spearheading the by Sultan Haitham since 2013, states that 93 per cent of economic activity should be fueled by nonoil sectors and calls for 42 per cent of Omanis to be employed by private businesses rather than the public sector. Commentators believe that, for effective outcomes of the vision, Oman should get closer to its neighbouring countries especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia, both of them have positive economic growth records.
In Oman, the sultan is the paramount decision-maker and he also holds the positions of the prime minister, supreme commander of the armed forces, minister of defence, finance and foreign affairs. The Omani constitution stipulates that a successor must be named by the royal family within three days of the throne falling vacant. The sultan must be a member of the royal family. The name of Sultan Haitham was announced after a meeting between the members of the royal family in which they decided to accept the choice of the late ruler.