In a first, Oman's sultan names foreign, finance ministers

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Oman’s sultan on Tuesday named foreign and finance ministers for the first time, putting officials in positions long wielded by his late predecessor.

Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said also issued 28 decrees renaming and reorganizing ministries in a nation he took over in January, following the death of longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who died after 50 years in power.

Previously, Sultan Qaboos held the position of foreign minister, with Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah serving as a minister of state for foreign affairs. He also maintained control of the finance ministry, likely a sign of his desire to hold onto power after deposing his father in a 1970 palace coup.

“I think there was a long delay in making changes in Oman due to the sultan’s long illness,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, an analyst at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “Sultan Haitham is making up for lost time very quickly.”

In his decree Tuesday, Sultan Haitham named Badr al-Busaidi as the country’s new foreign minister. For finance minister, Sultan Haitham named Sultan bin Salim al-Habsi.

It’s not immediately clear what effect the appointments will have, though Sultan Haitham has been focused on reshaping Oman’s government since taking the throne. That’s even as international events swirl around the sultanate’s borders — such as tensions between Iran and the U.S. and the neighboring United Arab Emirates beginning to open diplomatic ties to Israel.

Oman remains a key interlocutor between the West and Iran, as well as Yemen’s Houthi rebels, assisting in getting prisoners released in the past.

Sultan Haitham has said he plans to continue the noninterference foreign policy path set by Sultan Qaboos. Oman under the late sultan declined to take part in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, nor did it join four Arab nations in its boycott of Qatar.

Sultan Qaboos did, however, host Israeli Prime Minister in a surprise visit in late 2018. Yusuf bin Alawi just Monday called both Israeli and Palestinian officials to reiterate Oman’s position that it supports Palestinians’ hope to have its own state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Oman also faces financial struggles as global oil prices remain low. Credit-rating agency Moody’s in June downgraded Oman and put its outlook as negative, warning the sultanate’s efforts at dealing the economic crisis was “slow and fell short of stabilizing government debt levels.” Debt now stands around 60% of the country’s gross domestic product.

Stabilizing Oman’s economy likely will require foreign help, though accepting money from the Emirates or Saudi Arabia could see those nations trying to reshape the sultanate. However, Oman likely will try to resist any effort to impose any change on its foreign policy as it remains “fundamental to the interests of the state to maintain its room to maneuver,” Diwan said.

“The country can’t any more afford to live off of an oil wealth that’s dwindling,” she said.


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