Oman's Sultan Qaboos, a key figure in Middle East peace negotiations, dies aged 79
Sultan Qaboos was the longest-serving ruler of the Middle East after overthrowing his father in a bloodless coup in 1979
According to the state media of the Sultanate of Oman, the longtime ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said died on Friday evening. He was 79 years old and was the longest-serving ruler in the Middle East. Sultan Qaboos ruled Oman since 1970 when he overtook his father in a bloodless coup with British support.
In recent weeks, there had been concern over his health as the Sultan had reportedly been in Belgium for a prolonged period, before returning to Oman shortly before the New Year.
He was unmarried and did not have any successor and in October 2011, amended the process of choosing his 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.
If the family cannot agree, members of the defense council and the chairmen of the Supreme Court, the Consultative Council and the State Council will open a sealed envelope in which Qaboos secretly recorded his choice and enthrone that person.
The leading contenders to overtake control of the country include three brothers who are cousins of Qaboos: Culture Minister Haitham bin Tariq Al Said; Deputy Prime Minister Asaad bin Tariq Al Said; and Shihab bin Tariq Al Said, a former Oman Navy commander who advises the sultan.
The sultan is the paramount decision-maker in Oman and also holds the positions of the prime minister, supreme commander of the armed forces, minister of defense, minister of finance and minister of foreign affairs.
Using the Arab country's oil wealth, Sultan Qaboos oversaw the transformation of Oman and set it on its path to development. Sultan Qaboos was especially known for his country's neutral stance in the Middle East and was a key figure in the secret talks between the United States and Iran in 2013 that that led to a landmark nuclear deal two years later.