Qabous Ben Saïd, precious craftsman of a bridge between the Arab, Persian and Western worlds


Posted today at 11:52 a.m., updated at 1:56 p.m.

Dean of the Arab sovereigns, in power for almost fifty years, the sultan of Oman, Qabous Ben Saïd Al-Saïd, died Friday January 10 at the age of 79 years from cancer, was an atypical figure on the scene Near East politics. This despot of the Ibadi faith, a branch of ultraminoritary Islam, knew how to make his small country, on the borders of the Arabian Peninsula, a bridge between the Arab, Persian and Western worlds, against the sectarianism in vogue in the region.

He was born in 1940 in Salalah, the great port of the South, which was then the capital of what is known as the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman. The time when his illustrious ancestor, Sultan Said Benn Sultan (1806-1856) reigned over an immense empire, from Bandar-e Abbas, on the Persian Gulf coast, to Zanzibar and Mombasa, on the eastern coast of Africa , is only a distant memory. Crude and retrograde feudal, Qabous's father, Sultan Said Ben Tamour, maintains his country in a state of deliberate backwardness. It prohibits any opening to progress and to the outside world, with the exception of the United Kingdom, the official protector of the kingdom, which helps it to suppress the uprising of the Jebel Akhdar between 1954 and 1959.

Sultan Qaboos Ben Said Al-Said during his youth, on the lap of his father, Sultan Said Ben Tamour (photo undated).
Sultan Qaboos Ben Said Al-Said during his youth, on the lap of his father, Sultan Said Ben Tamour (photo undated). HANDOUT / AFP

After studying in Pune, India, Qabous was sent to the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, British Surrey, the compulsory passage for sovereign apprentices from the Arabian Peninsula. After leaving this prestigious school in 1962, he served a year in the British army, in Germany, then left for a world tour. Upon his return to the country in 1965, he was placed under close surveillance by his father, faced with a new rebellion, of Marxist inspiration, in Dhofar, the southern mountainous region, of which Salalah was the chief town. Profiting from the panic caused by the rebels' progression, Qabous launched a palace revolution in 1970, which led to the dismissal of his father, forced to go into exile in London.

Reportage : In Oman, the new Salalah revolution
The Sultanate of Oman.
The Sultanate of Oman. World Infographic

Immediately, he moved the capital to Muscat and renamed his country the Sultanate of Oman. The first years of his reign were devoted to the fight against the Dhofar guerrillas, which had the support of communist South Yemen and China. In partnership with SAS (Special Air Service), an elite British unit, a counterinsurgency strategy is being implemented. In addition to conventional military operations (ambushes, aerial bombardments, cutting of supply lines from Aden, the capital of South Yemen), there are more civil initiatives (anti-communist propaganda through the use of traditional religious values, medical assistance to peasants in the djebel), which gradually cut the revolt from its popular base.


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