Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said passes away at 79

Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said, one of the Middle East’s longest serving rulers, passed away on Friday after a prolonged illness, state media said. 

"With great sorrow and deep sadness... the royal court mourns His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who passed away on Friday," a court statement said.  

Three days of official mourning have been declared, with flags flown at half-mast for 40 days for the Western-backed Qaboos, 79, who had ruled since taking over in a bloodless coup in 1970 with the help of former colonial power Britain. 

Last month he returned home after undergoing medical checks and treatment in Belgium.

There were reports he was suffering from cancer.

Sultan Qaboos was unmarried and had no heir or designated successor. 

According to the sultanate's Basic Statute, the Royal Family Council, comprising about 50 male members, should choose a new sultan within three days of the throne falling vacant. 

The high military council, in a statement carried on state media on Saturday, called on Oman’s ruling family council to convene to choose a successor. 

If the council fails to agree, a council of military and security officials, supreme court chiefs and heads of the two consultative assemblies will put in power the person whose name has been secretly written by the sultan in a sealed letter.

According to Oman observers, sultan’s three cousins: Assad, Shihab and Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, stand the best chance.

“I imagine that the succession itself will be a smooth process within Oman,” Kristian Coates Ulrichsen of the Texas-based Rice University’s Baker Institute told Reuters. 

“Sultan Qaboos had such charismatic authority and became so synonymous with Oman as a modern nation-state that it will naturally be difficult for any successor to replicate that, at least at the beginning,” Ulrichsen said. 

The sultan’s death comes at a time of heightened tension in the region between Iran and the United States and US ally Saudi Arabia.

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