The Sultan of Oman, who recently took over an entire city hotel for his entourage while he was being treated at the Leuven university hospital, has died at home of cancer, Oman state TV announced.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said was 79. He came to power in 1970 in a bloodless coup that deposed his own father. According to local media, he is succeeded by his cousin, Haitham al Said. The Sultan was unmarried and had no children to succeed him.
His health had reportedly been bad since 2014, and he had undergone treatment in Germany for an unspecified ailment. When he came to Belgium for what the foreign affairs ministry said were “medical examinations” it was assumed he was suffering from cancer, in which the Gasthuisberg wing of the Leuven university hospital is specialised.
His presence in the city was, however, more remarked upon because of the disruption his arrival caused on the local hospitality scene. His entourage had taken over the hotel The Fourth in the city centre in its entirety from the beginning of December until the end of January, including all tables at the hotel’s restaurant Tafelrond. As a result, hundreds of members of the public who had booked rooms and tables for the Christmas and New Year period had their reservations cancelled.
The unexpected departure, meanwhile, was seen as a sign that whatever treatment he had come to Leuven for had not been successful. That now appears to be the case. Oman’s Diwan, the name of the royal household, issued a statement announcing his death. No cause was given, but local reports speculated that he was suffering from colon cancer. The government ordered three days of national mourning, and flags in the sultanate will fly at half-mast for 40 days.
The Sultan’s death comes as tensions between the United States and Iran are at flashpoint – Oman played a mediating role between the two nations in the first half of the last decade, leading up to the signing of the nuclear agreement in 2015 which the Trump administration has since scrapped. The new Sultan faces the immediate task of picking up that role again, even before mourning for his cousin is over.