A very British coup

A BBC radio programme broadcast on Monday (re-playable here) has shed some new and intriguing light on Britain's role in the Omani coup of 1970 when Sultan Qaboos deposed his father.

Basically, it was decided that Qaboos would serve British interests better than his father and plans were hatched to send the ageing and paranoid sultan, Said bin Tamur, into luxurious exile at the Dorchester Hotel in London.

The programme makers gained access to secret documents from the time which were later inadvertently released into the public domain then hastily withdrawn again because of their sensitivity. They also spoke to a number of those who were involved on the British side.

British forces "assisting" in Oman had instructions to "switch allegiance" if the coup succeeded, and "to use force to ensure it succeeds if it appears to be failing". 

One of the British interviewees tells the BBC: 

"We would of course maintain the public position that we had no fore-knowledge. The correct form should be observed so as to enable the coup to be presented as an internal matter with the British hand concealed or at least deniable."

In the event, the coup succeeded and British forces did not become directly involved, the programme says. Almost 40 years later, Qaboos is still in power.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 26 November 2009.