Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq announced on January 11, 2021, the appointment of a crown prince in a move that is the first of its kind in the sultanate’s history.
According to the Omani News Agency (ONA), “The Sultan of the country Haitham bin Tariq issued two decrees introducing a new Basic Law for the state and Council of Oman Law so as to meet the requirements of the sultanate in the next stage.”
The decree of the Basic Law reportedly includes, “setting up a specific and stable mechanism for the transfer of power in the sultanate, and the establishment of a mechanism for the appointment of the crown prince, clarification of his duties and powers, and reaffirmation of the principle of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary as a basis for rule.”
The identity of the crown prince was revealed the following day as the sultanate published a new “fundamental law” stipulating the line of succession. On January 12, official media said the governance would now be “passed from the sultan to the eldest of his sons, then to the eldest of the latter’s sons, and so on.” That makes Dhi Yazan bin Haitham bin Tariq the crown prince of Oman.
“The naming of a crown prince of course strikes against Omani practice since the beginning of the Al Bu Sa`id dynasty two and half centuries ago, and against Sultan Qaboos’ declared aversion to naming a crown prince in his 1995 interview,” J.E. Peterson, a historian and political analyst specializing in the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf, told Inside Arabia.
“Of course, naming a crown prince brings Oman in line with GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] practice and that may well be the intention here.”
“It is true that the eldest son of a suitable Arab mother has tended to succeed since fratricide and other unusual means to succession were ended in 1871, but none of these accessions were based on a public declaration by the incumbent sultan and, in theory at least, occurred with the deliberation and bay`ah [oath of allegiance] of the ruling family,” Peterson, who also served as the Historian of the Sultan’s Armed Forces, added. “Of course, naming a crown prince brings Oman in line with GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] practice and that may well be the intention here.”
These appointment announcements come one year after Sultan Haitham bin Tariq ascended to the throne following the remarkable Sultan Qaboos bin Said’s death. The late sultan—who ruled Oman for around half a century—was exceptional in several ways. He succeeded in uniting the sultanate and attempted to do the same for the region. Despite the name of the successor to Sultan Qaboos not being publicly known until the sultan’s death, the transition of power was smooth and peaceful.
Sultan Haitham came to power at a time when the region was going through severe regional tensions. Since he ascended to the throne, he has made several changes in Oman. However, in his first speech as sultan, he pledged to follow the non-interference policy that Sultan Qaboos adopted. “We will follow the path of the late sultan,” Sultan Haitham said. He expressed support for his “country’s foreign policy of peaceful living among nations and peoples . . . and not interfering in the internal affairs of others, respecting nations’ sovereignty and international cooperation.” He also noted that the sultanate would continue to “promote peaceful solutions” to regional and global crises.
It is important to note that under Sultan Qaboos’ reign, external observers were concerned about the opacity of the succession process. Hence, the recent appointment of a crown prince should dispel fears of a destabilizing succession in the future. Undoubtedly, such a move will contribute to the long-term stability of the sultanate. For his part, Sultan Haitham has further consolidated his rule by this constitutional reform.
The recent appointment of a crown prince should dispel fears of a destabilizing succession in the future.
“Sultan Qaboos did not announce his successor while alive out of respect for a centuries-old custom among the ruling Al Sa’id dynasty. But the recommendation he left was adopted almost immediately by the family following his death. Given the considerable consternation that arose as his health declined in his later years, the volatile nature of the region [though not Oman], and perceptions of the sultanate without a designated successor, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq seems to have chosen a wise course now,” Gary Grappo, former US Ambassador to Oman, told Inside Arabia.
“By announcing a successor — his son, as is also customary within the Al Sa’id tradition — Omanis and the rest of the world may have greater certainty over the country’s future, the continuity of its policies, and its longer-term stability. The challenge now is grooming the crown prince for the responsibilities he’ll one day take on.”
The 30-year-old crown prince holds a B.A. in Political Science from Oxford University, in the United Kingdom. Before his father ascended to the throne, Dhi Yazan bin Haitham was a diplomat at the Omani Embassy in London. In August 2020, Sultan Haitham restructured his government by issuing 28 royal decrees. The changes came as part of efforts to address the sultanate’s looming challenges, including high unemployment, fiscal deficit, and maintaining a foreign policy of neutrality amid regional conflicts. Dhi Yazan was appointed as a minister for the newly created Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Youth.
The appointment of Dhi Yazan as the crown prince is likely going to be a popular choice with the country’s younger generation. His new role could impact the political hierarchy within the Omani royal family. It is also likely going to significantly impact the sultanate’s political decision-making. While Dhi Yazan is still a new face to many, what remains to be seen is the role he will play in Oman’s future.