Saturday, June 12, 2010

Time Travelling on Empathy

When I came upon these paragraphs in Pauline Searle's 'Dawn Over Oman', I felt so sad for the monarch of Oman of the past 40 years. It took me back to America, my silent dead phase, when I'd longingly look at other people's families and friends who'd express emotional support and understanding every step of the way - for bad semesters, burnouts, and moments of madness.

First let us go back to 1962 and to Sandhurst in England, where the young Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the only son of Sultan Said, was passing out as a second lieutenant in the Cameronians. Watching the new officers on their big day were members of their families and close friends as well as military dignitaries, but for the young man from Arabia there was no family present, only a middle-aged British major and his wife who had been detailed by his father to keep an eye on him and who were to exert such a tremendous influence on both father and son in the years to come. Major F. C. L. Chauncey, who had originally come to Muscat as British Consul in 1949, had retired in 1958 from the Foreign Service but, owing to his close friendship with Sultan Said, had returned almost immediately to Oman as the Sultan's personal adviser. Cast in the old colonial mould, for better and for worse, Major Chauncey, ex-Indian Army, took his job very seriously. He and Sultan Said were very much akin in character - autocratic, obstinate, but with great integrity and even greater determination that Oman should progress only in their way and in their time.

With surprising forethought, Sultan Said decided to send his son round the world for three months to broaden his horizons. Accompanying the young man were the Chaunceys to guide the young Qaboos and to restrain any youthful enthusiasm which the Sultan himself so distrusted. But this broad-minded action towards his only son was to be the last.


The young Qaboos personified to the Sultan the dangers of the future. At all costs he was not to be contaminated by the modern world. There was only one way to prevent this: to keep him isolated. Qaboos, who by this time was living near the palace in Salalah, little realised that this would be his home for the next eight years.

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