The longest-serving monarch of the Arab world, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, died Friday at the age of 79, ceding the country to his cousin and former culture minister Haitham bin Tariq al-Said. The latter was sworn in as sultan Saturday, assuming the reins of state in a ceremony attended by high-ranking military and government officials.
There had been speculation concerning the 79-year-old ruler’s health after he made a short trip to Belgium for medical reasons last month.
His death was confirmed by the royal court in an obituary carried by state media early on Saturday.
Oman declared three days of official mourning with flags to be flown at half-mast for 40 days for the Western-backed Qaboos, 79, who ruled since taking over in a bloodless coup in 1970 with the help of former colonial power Britain.
State television broadcast images of the funeral procession driving down a road lined with palm trees. The casket, draped in the Omani flag, was then carried into Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in the capital Muscat, where prayers were being held.
The cause of Qaboos’ death was not specified.
“It is with hearts filled with faith in Allah and his Providence, and with great sorrow and deep sadness — yet with complete satisfaction and absolute submission to the will of the Almighty Allah, that the Diwan of Royal Court mourns His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said,” the royal court said.
Qaboos ruled the Gulf state since deposing his father in a bloodless coup in 1970 and was credited with transforming Oman into a modern country and an influential regional player.
In its statement, the royal court announced “a state of mourning and the halt of official work in the public and private sectors for three days and the flying of flags at half-mast over the forthcoming 40 days.”