Sultan in Suffolk
Qaboos’s grandfather Taimur bin Faisal acceded to the throne when he was aged twenty seven. He really did not enjoy the business of being a sultan and spent long periods away from the country to the consternation of the British. He abdicated aged 46 to go and live in India with a Japanese wife. He was not a good example to his son Said.
Qaboos’s father, Said bin Taimur, attended Mayo College in India from 1922 to 1927 where he mastered English and Urdu. He was to go to Beirut for further education but his father, Taimur bin Faisal, feared western influence especially christianity. He had his son’s English books burned and packed him off to Bagdhad to learn about Arabic literature and Arab history.
Said bin Taimur, Qaboos’s father, came to the throne aged twenty one in 1932 when his father abdicated and went off to India with his Japanese lady. His limited education was inevitably matched with a very limited experience of governance. Through no fault of his own he had been ill-prepared to take over the throne and the business of government. He inherited a situation where, whilst he was an absolute monarch, his government was in debt to the Muscati merchants and his system of government was, even by the standards of the time, primitive.
He was, however, a determined young man and set about trying to sort things out.
His management of the country was through the agency of the “walis” who were the senior officials or governors in the various areas or “wilayats” of Oman. Legal disputes came before the “quadis” or judges in each wilayat. It was a system that had stood the test of time but time had moved on.
His main pre-occupation was the national debt which was largely held by those Muscati merchants.
His source of revenue used to be, before the “oily boys” came to the country, largely from customs dues. Goods coming into the country, goods, often dates, going out of the country. Goods moving from one part of the country; hinterland, to the coast and vice versa. Goods moving from one wilayat to another wilayat.
Zakhat, a semi-religious tax, was also levied
This was rated at 5% or 10% according to the potential produce from the land and whether it was watered by pump or by falaj.
He managed by dint sophisticated double entry book keeping, land grab and other creative means to remove the debt in a couple of years. It became apparent in the 60’s that his main income stream was going change and not to come from customs dues but from, in Middle Eastern terms, modest amounts of oil.
On what did he spend his surplus income ?
The simple answer is that he didn’t. He made some vague promises but did not deliver. There were few black top roads. Few schools and few hospitals. Even if he wanted to, he did not have an effective civil administration that could put such essential necessities of a modern state into place. He was not going to delegate authority or allow others to oversee it either. He was a suspicious absolute monarch who liked to play things close to his chest.
He spent some money on a skeleton army and literally put the rest under the bed in his palace, Al Hisn, in Salalah, where he resided most of the time guarded by his faithful “khadim” or slaves.
What of his elder son Qaboos ? He was going to inherit at some time or another and perhaps Sultan bin Taimur, conscious of his own inadequate training and experience, was determined that Qaboos should not come to the throne unprepared. Perhaps the British, his advisors, hoped that they could have a hand in the future sultan’s upbringing which would make him an anglophile ?
Qaboos’s early education commenced with instruction by an elderly Islamic scholar in Salalah. This was followed by a period in Pune as a student of Shankar Dayl Sharma.
It would appear that Said bin Taimur was anxious that then his son should experience an education heavily influenced by the British. An ex-British consul from Muscat, Major Chauncey, and the Foreign Office decided up suitable tutors for him prior to his going to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.
We then come to the “Sultan in Suffolk” era when at the age of 17 he was dispatched to Felsham near Bury St Edmunds to live in “Felsham House” (?) with an elderley ex-colonial shoolmaster and his wife, Philip and Laura Romans. Felsham is a pretty little village with a church, a pub and a garage and is about as isolated as you can get in Suffolk. The nearest market town is Bury St Edmunds which is extremely attractive. Qaboos had ended up in an exemplar of prosperous well managed middle England. In his non-military time in England, when not being “crammed” by Philip Romans, he was to experience the mechanisms of administration locally and later in Warwickshire and Bedfordshire.
Bury St Edmunds
His stint in Suffolk was followed by his time at Sandhurst and following that a quick and limited world tour accompanied by Major Chauncey and his wife before he returned to Salalah at the age of twenty four. The future sultan had been “educated” with a heavy bias towards the British.
One can only assume that he shared what he had learned and had experienced with his father when he returned to Salalah. This, after all, was something that his father, precipitated onto his throne at the age of twenty one, had not benefitted.
Said bin Taimur had deliberately educated his son, in a manner that had been denied him, then started to prepare his son for succession to the throne by further developing his education through experience. His further experiences were then curtailed and he was in effect confined to accommodation in Salalah. This restriction appears to have been compounded by a limit on the visitors that he could receive. What was it between father and son that occasioned this ? Had Qaboos developed radically different ideas that were at variance with those of his father? Was his father following his accustomed pattern of not giving positions of authority to Omanis and extending this even to his son?
Said bin Taimur’s main pre-occupation at the time was probably the rebellion in Dhofar. His simplistic way of dealing with this was similar to the example of Generals Curtis LeMay and Westmoreland in Vietnam; “Bomb them back into the stone age, ……… and their hearts and minds will follow”.
It wasn’t working and the rebellion was not being suppressed. If we are to take as an example Qaboos’s future direction of the war and conduct as a sultan, it may be a pointer to his way of thinking when he returned from his time in England. Perhaps his British influenced education had encouraged him to think that “Hearts and Minds” was the way forward not the brutalisation of those who had different views ?
He had seen what benefits came from a democratically administered society whilst he lived in Suffolk. His autocratic father did not have his son’s education and experience which would have allowed him to modernise the way in which, through the exercise of absolute power, he ran the country. Qaboos’s opinions would have been at variance with his father’s and because of this we are led to believe that his father used his overwhelming authority to control much of what Qaboos did, whom he saw and how much he took part in the government of Muscat and Oman. He had a frustrated, energetic young man in the wings whom he sought to contain.
Said bin Taimur had set up the perfect storm by refusing to listen to the man he had so painstakingly educated and then had experiences that he himself had been denied.
The content on this page has been culled from the various books that are mentioned in the “Sources” section of this website. The book by Uzi Rabi – The Emergence of States in a Tribal Society – gives an account of Said bin Taimur and his rule which allows for an understanding of his methods. It perhaps also suggests reasons for Qaboos’s management of his state independent of British influence.