At a time when the influence of Islam and the Arab world dominate newspaper headlines as a result of bloodshed and terrorist threats, it will come as a welcome relief to learn of Sultan Qaboos. The very term "Sultan" conjures up shades of peacock thrones and riches beyond the dreams of avarice. This incredible scene has almost vanished, but not quite. In today's oil-rich Arabia, one Sultan remains. He is one of the world's very last absolute rulers and presides over daily rituals the Ottomans of old Istanbul would recognise immediately. Arabia's sole surviving Sultan is, however, an arch exponent of the very British practice of discretion and reserve, which is far from surprising given that he owes his throne to the machinations of a very British coup. Indeed, Sultan Qaboos of Oman exercises an iron-clad reticence over his daily routine, his own personal affairs and his people, so much so that his country has been described as the world's most secretive state. It would be quite impossible to divorce the man from the land which he has ruled for the past 32 years, so immediate is his authority, so absolute is his exercise of unfettered power.
But who exactly is Qaboos bin Said Al Said? What of the journey without maps which led him to be complicit in the betrayal and overthrow of his own father? What role did he personally take in the Dhofar war of the 1970s, when he became the first Arab monarch to defeat the armed exponents of Marx and Lenin? And what of his hitherto secret connections with Margaret Thatcher and the incident that became known as the "Thatcher necklace affair"? What is the truth about his emotional condition, the marriage that never really was and the legacy of his time in an English household, where strict Christian principles had to be followed? As the winds of change blow over the Arabian peninsula, what are Sultan Qaboos's thoughts on the future? "Sultan in Arabia" is the very first biography of Qaboos bin Said Al Said. It is an account of a man and ruler who has, until now, been concealed from public view. Its publication is timely, given the very real likelihood that Arabia's very last Sultanate could well soon pass into the sands of time.
John Beasant is the author of The Santo Rebellion- An Imperial Reckoning, Stalin's Silver and Oman- The True Life Drama and Intrigue of an Arab State. Christopher Ling is a former soldier and diplomat.