Omani new Basic Law, a new phase in Omani modern history, a way to escape potential problems

Dr.Moataz Salama

With the issuance of the Omani Royal Decree on the “Basic Law of the State”, on January 11, 2021, which established highly detailed mechanisms regarding the transfer of power and decided to appoint a crown prince for the first time in the history of the Sultanate, the Sultanate of Oman is entering a new phase in its modern history. The previous Basic Law of the State promulgated by Royal Decree No. 101 of 1996 did not provide the position of the Crown Prince.

Old incentives

It was not possible to know who is the new Sultan until after the death of the Sultan, and the mechanism specified for this could pose problems in the transfer of power, in the event of abrupt political vacuum.

Given the special status of Sultan Qaboos, who did not have an heir and remained in power for nearly 50 years (from July 23, 1970 until his death on January 10, 2020), the Sultan was not obliged to introduce the Order of Succession system and he sought to maintain stability, avoided provoking instability among his family. As for Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, he has four sons, and he is one of those who saw the problems that the previous regime might pose at specific times.

In examining the events of Sultan Haitham’s assumption, we come to the conclusion that reaching a concensus inside family council regarding the process of transferring power may not be practical enough. This is what became clear when the council decided to open the will of Sultan Qaboos before the three days set as a maximum time limit for the family council agreement, which means that one of the two mechanisms for choosing the Sultan is difficult to bet on, and it was the consensus mechanism on his nomination within the family council as the latter finds himself forced to open the will of the Sultan in the end   ,fearing occurrence of disagreement over him or inconsistency with the will. It may pose sensitivities to judgment if it is opened for some reason, especially if the family council’s choice does not match it, so in all cases, only the agreement to open the Sultan’s will remains. Moreover, the three days scheduled for the family council’s approval of naming the sultan seem long under the circumstances of the transfer of power, in the event of incompatibility, and the vacancy of the Sultan’s chair after the death of the sultan.

In addition to the potential of disagreement within the family council and the lapse of the three days following the death of the sultan without consensus, there are burdens related to the procedures for securing the royal will for the transfer of power throughout the life of the sultan and after his death. At the meantime, the previous system did not specify when the sultan makes his will, and in which years of his rule he shall do so while there is a possibility of a sudden vacuum following the death before the will was placed and some people around the Sultan might be aware with the content of the will before it was opened. Moreover, this system also leaves the affairs of the country attached to an unknown will and unknown content. Besides, leaving the matter of supervision over the process of transferring power after the death of the Sultan in the hands of the Defense Council may also pose some problems for the council with the family. Fortunately, it did not exist when Sultan Haitham was chosen.

It is true that many of these concerns and possibilities are mostly hypothetical in light of the smooth transition of power in the Sultanate and the special nature of Omni government, society and traditions, which do not suppose a political conflict of that kind other countries witness, but it was not possible to guarantee that things would go smoothly in all cases.

Thus, the Family Council assigned the Defense Council, following the death of Sultan Qaboos, the mission of opening the will, according to what was stipulated in article 6 of the Basic Law of the State and of taking measures to confirm who was recommended by the Sultan in coordination with the Family Council. Indeed, the will opening session was held in the presence of the Defense Council and was headed by the Minister of the Royal Office, Acting Chairman of the Defense Council, the President of the State Council, the Speaker of the Shura Council and the President of the Supreme Court and his two oldest deputies, in the presence of members of the royal family, witnessing the procedures. Then, the will came out with Haitham bin Tariq, Sultan of Oman.

The new statute

According to what was published in the Omani Official Gazette, on January 12, 2021, the new Basic Law of the State in the Sultanate provided in details and elaborated mechanisms for the transfer of power in all possible cases. Whether in the event of the death of the Sultan (Article Five), or in the event of a temporary impediment preventing him from exercising his powers (Article Eight), or in the event of the transfer of power to those under the age of twenty-one (Article Six), it is difficult to imagine other cases of power transfer other than those cases dealt with the new statute, and this system has established provisions that cannot be disputed regarding the Order of Succession and the transfer of power.

In this regard, the fifth article affirmed that “the system of rule  is sultanate and hereditary in the male descendants of Sultan Turki bin Said bin Sultan,” and it is the same text that was present in the previous statute, but the new system added the following three provisions:

1- The power is transferred from the sultan to his eldest son, then the eldest son of this son, and so on class after class, and if the eldest son dies before the mandate passes to him, it passes to his eldest son, even if the deceased has brothers.

2- If the one who has the rule of power does not have children, then the rule passes to the oldest of his brothers, and if he does not have brothers, it passes to the oldest child of his eldest brother, and if the eldest of his brothers does not have a son then to the eldest children of his other brothers, according to the order of the age of the brothers.

3- If the person who has the  turn in the Order of Succession does not have brothers or nephews, the ruling authority shall be transferred to the uncles and their children in the order specified in the second clause of this article.

Meanwhile, article number 6 stipulates that, “If the of power is transferred to someone under the age of twenty-one, the powers of the Sultan shall be exercised by the Guardianship Council, which the Sultan has appointed by a lofty will. If the Sultan didn’t appoint a Guardianship Council before his death, the Family Council shall appoint a Guardian Council of one of the sultan’s brothers and two cousins.

Thus, the articles of the Basic Law of the State specify detailed rules for the transfer of power in various situations, including those that may be difficult to envisage occurring before the lapse of hundreds of years. This tight formula prevents conflict as the succession is confined to the eldest son of the sultan, then to his eldest son in the event of his death before the rule passes to him. Then the reign is not transferred to the second eldest son of the Sultan except in the case of not having sons “the one who has the mandate to rule” (the Crown Prince). If there are no brothers for the crown prince, the reign passes to the eldest son of the eldest brother, and if the eldest of his brothers does not have a son, then to the eldest son of his other brothers, according to the order of the age of the brothers. Thus, the rule is transferred to the sons of the Sultan according to age and their sons in succession according to the age in the order stipulated, until it moves to the uncles and their sons in the order specified in the second clause, in the event that the Sultan does not have sons or grandsons.

According to this system, Sultan Haitham issued a royal order appointing his eldest son Dhi Yazan as crown prince in the Sultanate, so he became the youngest crown prince in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and he was also the youngest minister in the government of the Sultanate of Oman since he was appointed to the position of Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth in August 2020. The biography of Yazan indicates that he was born on August 21, 1990. Previously, he worked as a second secretary at the Omani embassy to Britain, and he holds a BA in political science from the University of Oxford.

By adopting this system, the Sultanate advanced to a new situation, after the previous regime left the “right” open to those “responsiblorfor solving problems and making agreements” among the members of the family council to choose the next ruler who will succeed the current one. Before, the Omanis were not aware of the next sultan until after the Sultan’s departure or his abdication, and the Sultanate was considered the only country in the world with the monarchical sultanistic system, that doesn’t appoint a crown prince or an official heir to the throne. For a long time, some attributed the reason for not identifying a successor to Sultan Qaboos to the Ibadi school, which calls for choosing a ruler in consultation between the those responsible or solving problems and making agreements.

Comments

The new formula leads to more smoothness in the process of transfer of power, as it addresses potential vacuums that were hidden in the previous regime, especially in cases of temporary barriers that prevent the Sultan from exercising his powers, and this is the case that the new regime addresses by “replacing him with the Crown Prince. Nevertheless, there are four positive observations can be made to this formula and two other observed points may raise some problems:

The positive notes are:

Firstly: This formula – especially in limiting the order of succession in the eldest son, and in the sequence given, guarantees a higher level of stability of rule and a smooth transfer of power, as the previous situation opened the door to many interpretations, especially in the last years of Sultan Qaboos’s rule, and such open door as per the previous formula in countries with hereditary systems poses various problems at critical times.

Secondly: The new formula for the transfer of power consecrates the stability of rule in terms of identifying the political succession in specific branches and of abolishing the roles of the family council and the defense council in agreeing on the person of the Sultan or the necessity to open his will after his death, whereas the previous formula involved problems that were difficult to avoid at all times or at least under other circumstances that followed the death of Sultan Qaboos.

Thirdly: The formula of the new Basic Law opens the door to the possibility that the Sultan might voluntarily relinquish power to his crown prince, whether in the event of a temporary impediment that prevents him from exercising his power (his situation the previous Basic Law did not address, which led Sultan Qaboos to remain in power until the last day of his life and this could pose many problems) or in the case of the existence of an independent desire of the Sultan to relinquish power to his Crown Prince. Actually, the presence of the crown prince in advance makes such cases pass smoothly and safely.

Fourthly: The new formula provides a good opportunity to train the crown prince to rule, as it leaves him in most cases many years and perhaps decades of experience and training in running the state, although the previous arrangement also provided an opportunity for those chosen by the Sultan in his will to train and approach the ruling system through the relationship with the Sultan, but this was done without specifying his position within the system and without others’ knowledge about his official position included in the secret will, and within the limits of the files that the Sultan decided to review. As for the new system of the crown prince, it allows him to be trained in the affairs of government and the state in light of an official awareness of his status, so he exercises his powers according to his status and constitutional duties stipulated in the regime, and then he comes to the position ready and with full fitness.

As for the two observations that may raise some problems, they are as below:

Firstly, the new formula limits the ability of subsequent sultans to choose only the oldest son to be the successor. Even though the constitutional monarchy in Britain which follows almost the same mechanisms in political succession doesn’t cause any problems, it could raise practical problems in the Omani reality.

It obliges the Sultan to choose the eldest son as a Crown Prince although he may not be preferred by the Sultan to succeed him or he does not have the qualifications to rule or he has a problem or a health problem that prevents him from assuming power. This matter does not apply to the case of Sultan Haitham and his eldest son Dhi Yazan, but it may happen with Sultans are coming, which may open the door to special cases in the practical application later.

Secondly: This formula opens in force at specific times for the “Guardianship Council” to assume the powers of the Sultan, in the event that someone under the age of twenty-one assumes the rule, as stipulated in Article Six of the Basic Law. Although this formula guarantees the transfer of power and the preservation of the throne until the crown prince reaches the age of eligibility to exercise powers, as prevailed in other countries, this formula is likely to pose problems related to the administration of affairs of the royal court in an inconsistent manner.

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