DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Oman announced Saturday that culture minister Haitham bin Tariq Al Said has been named as the new ruler of the Arabian country and the successor to longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos.
The announcement came as Omanis lined the streets of the capital, Muscat, to catch a glimpse of the motorcade carrying the body of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who died hours earlier at the age of 79.
Qaboos was the Middle East’s longest-ruling monarch, seizing power in a 1970 palace coup. He was known internationally for his diplomatic balancing in the volatile Persian Gulf. The ruler often served as a facilitator of talks between adversaries Iran and the U.S.
Soldiers stood guard along the streets and troops stood in machine gun nests atop SUVs as citizens and residents of Oman gathered along a highway to see the motorcade carrying the sultan’s body for burial.
Oman state TV said authorities had opened a letter by Sultan Qaboos bin Said naming his successor, without elaborating. State TV then announced shortly after that Haitham bin Tariq Al Said is the country’s ruling sultan.
Oman’s Defense Council had earlier said it met with the Royal Family Council, inviting its members to select a successor.
According to Oman’s succession laws, if the family council cannot agree on a successor the country’s authorities are to unseal a letter written by Sultan Qaboos containing his choice for successor.
Al Said, who was serving as the Minister of National Heritage and Culture, often played an important diplomatic role, representing Oman abroad and welcoming Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, for example, upon their arrival to the country for a visit in 2016.
A top diplomat in the United Arab Emirates described Qaboos as a “wise and inspiring leader” and extended his country’s sincere condolences to the people of Oman.
“Today we lost a historic and renaissance figure of high class with the death of Sultan Qaboos,” UAE’s Minister of State or Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash wrote on Twitter.
In the United States, former President George W. Bush issued a statement saying that he and former first lady Laura Bush are saddened by the sultan’s death.
“He was a stable force in the Middle East and a strong U.S. ally. His Majesty had a vision for a modern, prosperous, and peaceful Oman, and he willed that vision into reality,” Bush said, adding that he and his wife visited him in Muscat last fall.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell contributed from Dubai.