Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, according to the British establishment one of the finest, wisest, kindest men in the world, has died. Flags were flown at half-mast on public buildings and the prime minister, Prince Charles and the Chief of the Defence Staff flew out to offer their heartfelt condolences.
According to Boris Johnson’s official statement, Qaboos was “exceptionally wise…the father of the nation who sought to improve the lives of the Omani people”.
They even wheeled out the multimillionaire war criminal, Tony Blair, who praised him as “a leader of vision and purpose…a man of culture, humanity and deep conviction who strove to make his nation and the world better and more peaceful…kind, thoughtful and with a big heart. He had great wisdom and insight”. Blair could almost be talking about himself!
This rubbish was, of course, loyally and uncritically parroted by the British press and TV news. And they all studiously followed the Foreign Office line of not mentioning the fact that Qaboos was, as was well-known, gay. He was, in fact, a world-class hypocrite — a gay autocrat ruling over a country where anyone else’s homosexuality would get them three years in prison.
The first thing to realise about all these eulogies is that they were not really talking about the Playboy Sultan at all, but about Oman’s oil industry. What then is the truth about Oman and its British connection?
Oman was a British neo-colony, seen as strategically important for the maintenance of British domination over the Middle East. It was not ruled by British officials but through the agency of then Sultan, Said bin Taimur, a corrupt, brutal autocrat who ruled Oman from 1932 to 1970, kept in power by British troops.
The fact that slavery was still legal and that medieval torture was still routine in the country’s prisons was of no consequence to either Labour or Tory governments because the country was too important.
In the mid-1950s the British actually crushed a full-scale rebellion with heavy bombers destroying villages, crops and live-stock, something never reported in Britain.
The discovery of oil changed everything, making the country even more important. When a leftist rebellion and guerrilla war broke out in the province of Dhofar, the Sultan came to be seen as a liability.
As far as the British were concerned the country’s oil wealth should be used to defeat the rebels, to undermine their support by building roads and opening schools and hospitals, but the Sultan refused.
On 23 July 1970, when most of Dhofar was already in rebel hands, the British staged a coup, deposed Said and installed his son, Qaboos bin Said, in power.
Qaboos had been educated in Britain, went to Sandhurst and served briefly as a British Army officer. He would do what he was told, or so British officials thought.
In fact, he was a great disappointment, revealing himself to be interested only in self-gratification. In 1971, when the situation was at its most desperate, some 20 percent of the country’s new wealth was spent on building royal palaces with millions more spent on yachts and jet-setting around the world.
Nevertheless, the country’s massive oil revenues did provide the money needed to defeat the rebellion, something celebrated as one of Britain’s great post-war military victories, part of the mythology surrounding the SAS.
One point worth noting is that Islamism was relentlessly deployed against the leftist rebels, who were supporters of women’s equality; indeed many of their fighters were women. Their campaign was even condemned as a Jewish plot as revealed in the Protocols of Zion. The British went along with this.
What of today? Oman, we are told, is a modern country and Qaboos was a model ruler. The fact that he was an autocrat ruling over a police state is neither here nor there if oil is in the ground.
He was a billionaire, the owner of a fleet of luxury yachts, including two of the largest in the world, more accurately described as floating palaces, in fact. The Al Said, built in 2007–8, cost some $300 million and provides luxury accommodation for more than 60 guests.
And yet in 2016 the Global Slavery Index estimated that there were still 26,000 slaves in Oman.