dubai          -         Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said, one of the Middle East’s longest-serving rulers who maintained the country’s neutrality in a turbulent region, passed away on Friday and his cousin Haitham bin Tariq al-Said was named as his successor in a smooth transition.

With his death, the region loses a leader seen as the father of modern Oman, who balanced ties between two neighbours locked in a regional struggle, Saudi Arabia to the west and Iran to the north, as well as the United States.

In a televised speech, Haitham promised to uphold Muscat’s policy of peaceful coexistence with all nations while further developing Oman. “We will continue to assist in resolving disputes peacefully,” he said.

Oman and other Gulf states declared three days of official mourning with flags at half-mast for the Western-backed Qaboos, 79, who ruled since taking over in a bloodless coup in 1970 with the help of former colonial power Britain.

His funeral procession passed along Muscat’s main road amid tight security as Omanis thronged the palm tree-lined route, some reaching out their hands and others taking pictures.

The casket, draped in the Omani flag, was carried into Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque where hundreds joined prayers inside. Haitham stood facing the casket, with the traditional curved dagger, or khanjar, strapped to his waist. Qaboos was later buried in a family cemetery.

Omanis took to social media to mourn the death of a ruler who had made regular tours of the country to speak to citizens, often driving his own vehicle in the convoys.

“The first words I heard from my weeping mother after news of the great Sultan Qaboos’ death was: The father of orphans, of the poor, of the downtrodden, of all of us, has died,” a Twitter user, Abdullah bin Hamad al-Harthi wrote.

State media did not give a cause of death. Qaboos had been unwell for years and underwent treatment in Belgium last month.

The sultan was thought to be fighting cancer. The British-educated sultan is credited with reforming Oman when he came to power in 1970 during a palace coup, overturning harsh laws that banned electricity, radios, eyeglasses and umbrellas, according to the Associated Press. He was also instrumental as an important liaison who worked to balance diplomatic ties between Iran and the United States.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed deep sorrow and grief over the demise of Sultan Qaboos bin Saeed, saying that he was a visionary leader who transformed Oman into a modern state.

PM Imran Khan in his tweet said that Oman had lost a loving leader and Pakistan had lost a long-time friend. “May his soul rest in eternal peace Ameen.”

President Dr. Arif Alvi and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also expressed his condolences on the sad demise of Sultan Qaboos.