The death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia turns the focus of succession speculation in Arabia to the Sultanate of Oman. Sultan Qaboos, the longest-serving ruler in the Middle East, has been in Germany for unspecified health reasons since last summer. While the Saudi succession was transparent, Oman’s is opaque.
Qaboos was born on Nov. 18, 1940, in Salalah, the capital of Oman’s western province of Dhofar, which borders on Yemen. He is the 14th-generation descendant of the founder of the Al Bu Sa’idi dynasty that created the sultanate in the 1600s after expelling the Portuguese from Muscat. He was educated in India and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, then spent a year with the British Army of the Rhine in Germany. When he returned home to Salalah, his father kept him isolated and under virtual house arrest in the palace. The father was notoriously averse to any modernization of the country.