Is the Sultan of Oman Gay?

sultan_qaboos2Sultan Qaboos of Oman took power from his mad father in a palace coup in the 1970s and has ruled Oman as an absolute monarch ever since. Oman is known to be a relatively poor country that recently discovered hydrocarbon deposits, with historically violent religious elements that have remained dormant through the current sultan’s reign. Sultan Qaboos is also a bachelor — while most emirs of the region his age have several wives, Oman’s Sultan is famous for divorcing his wife shortly after taking power and remaining single ever since, with no successor to take his place. Also, if you discuss Oman and its politics here in the Middle East, one of the first hushed comments you’ll hear is that the Sultan of Oman is widely rumored to be gay.

This is not rare, random gossip from an unreliable source. Go to google and type in “Sultan Oman,” and the first recommended search that pops up is “sultan oman homosexual.” Follow through sultan oman homosexualthat search and you’ll find a few online articles that address the topic, but the primarily web pages are random blog comments from people who sound knowledgable. To pass on these rumors and more, here are a few: the King apparently has a cadre of very attractive bodyguards; his harem is full of men, with women there as helpers and only to avoid widespread scrutiny; the Sultan is rumored to be a pedophile who goes off boys once they hit puberty; that people won’t introduce their sons to him; and much more.

This is, of course, worthy of a blog post not [only?] because of the tabloid headline, but because both gays and lesbians can be jailed for up to three years in Oman. That’s a step more progressive than Saudi Arabia, where it can be punished with execution, but it also gets to a the culture of homosexuality in the Middle East, and an important question: is it easier to be gay and successful in a country where homosexuality is taboo and not public? Homosexual behavior is actually not uncommon in the Middle East, where women are covered, there is little socialization between genders, and the relief of male sexual frustration is often accomplished in the same way as in all-male prisons in the US. Or so it is widely reported, believed, and discussed. Yet because there are no open homosexuals showing themselves in public, people don’t instinctively categorize people as “gay” v.s. “straight” and thus there is less concern about being identified as one.

The Sultan of Oman and his alleged homosexuality makes me think, together with successful homosexuals in recent US history (e.g. James Buchanan, Roy Cohn, and many more) that it may be easier to engage in private homosexual behavior without being scrutinized in a society with no “lifestyle homosexuals.” Even if the Sultan of Oman is not gay, he feels no need to deny or act to quash the rumors, and he has not suffered any condemnation by the very conservative religious elements in Oman. Indeed, even they may tolerate his homosexuality because it is seen as a mere “hobby” or personal preference, not a lifestyle that threatens his status as a man in society or as a national leader.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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12 Responses to Is the Sultan of Oman Gay?

  1. Roy Berman says:

    It’s very well known that homosexual sex has long been common in the Arab world, and some nearby regions. When homosexuality was still illegal in the US, the international zone in Tangier was a haven for many western homosexuals, who took advantage of the widely available male prostitutes and general lack of authority to indulge in behavior that was taboo back home. William Burroughs write a series of stories (including part of his novel Naked Lunch) set in a fictionalized, more hallucinatory version of Tangier that he simply called The Interzone, that was largely about this phenomenon.

  2. Peter says:

    I was under the impression, and perhaps mistakenly so, that William S. Burroughs had a preference for Arab men. (Whatever that is worth…perhaps the idea that descriptions of homosexual Arabs in modern literature have been around at least since the time of Naked Lunch.)

  3. Ed says:

    Oh God.
    You do know there is a difference between being gay and being a pederast, right?
    I mean there are men who sleep with little girls.
    Does that make them heterosexual or does that make them pederasts?
    I suppose if you really wanted to be accurate, you could call them heterosexual pederasts but I doubt many heterosexual men would be too chuffed at being identified with them.
    And please, let’s not have a long diatribe here about the ancient Greeks, Romans or modern-day Afghan Talibans. They have absolutely nothing with contemporary gay identity – gay men love other men (ie very much post-pubescent), not little boys.

  4. Curzon says:

    Thanks for the clarification Ed. Yes, if the Sultan does indeed like little boys, that makes him a pedophile, or at least something other than an (ordinary??) homosexual. Howeve, the rumors are rampant — most rumors circulate not around his preference for boys, but for his handsome bodyguards and harem of men.

  5. spandrell says:

    Pederasty is being attracted to children,
    but statistically a majority of them like little boys rather than girls.
    Nothing good comes from denying it.
    We should separate the two and create a term for people sexually attracted to little boys.

  6. Ed says:

    …or at least something other than an ordinary homosexual? Nice.

    If the man beds children – and I quote your own post “the Sultan is rumored to be a pedophile who goes off boys once they hit puberty” – that certainly does not make him gay or even, to quote you again, an un-ordinary homosexual.

    Gay men sleep with other men. They do not sleep with children.

    A person who sleeps with children is a pedophile. The gender of the child is irrelevant, in neither case is it acceptable.

    Your headline is inaccurate. It should read “Is The Sultan of Oman a Pedophile?”

    Beyond the ludicrous notion that it might somehow be ‘easier’ to be gay in a country where homosexuality is taboo (because having to sneak around and fear for your liberty and perhaps your life is so very easy, isn’t it?) to use pedophilia as an introduction to a discussion on homosexuality is not only inaccurate, it is insulting. Should we begin a discussion of heterosexuality by opening with a discussion of rape?

    And Spandrell, thanks for magnificently missing the point. Bravo to you sir!

  7. Curzon says:

    I think you are the one missing the point Ed — the rumor that he likes little boys is less than one sentence in this post. He may indeed be a pederast, and I applaud your accuracy of language. That is one of the many rumors regarding his preferences. If there is a word that would be accurate to describe someone who could be either a homosexual or a pederast or both, please advise.

  8. Roy Berman says:

    Pedarasty DOES specifically refer to adult men having sex with young boys. Pedophile is the generic term. So, to be clear, all pedarasts are homosexuals, but only a very small portion of homosexuals are pedarasts.

  9. Curzon says:

    One more issue that Ed raised is that the word “gay” is an incorrect label for the Sultan, which is probably correct. The word gay is more identified with public homosexual culture in Western and other developed countries, whereas homosexual is a descriptive word of fact. The most accurate post title/question would be, “Is the Sultan of Oman homosexual?”

  10. The term “gay” taken outside of its cultural context is not helpful at all. Even “homosexual” may not capture the reality here. The tradition in Persia, and the countries in its cultural orbit, including the Arab-speaking Gulf, is for romantic love to be between a mature man and a young man or boy. Wikipedia had this: “”As a rule, the beloved is not a woman, but a young man. In the early centuries of Islam, the raids into Central Asia produced many young slaves. Slaves were also bought or received as gifts. They were made to serve as pages at court or in the households of the affluent, or as soldiers and bodyguards. Young men, slaves or not, also, served wine at banquets and receptions, and the more gifted among them could play music and maintain a cultivated conversation. It was love toward young pages, soldiers, or novices in trades and professions which was the subject of lyrical introductions to panegyrics from the beginning of Persian poetry, and of the ghazal.” In a culture where couples are married off to their first cousins, and the pairs are identified by the family group from an early age, and where women are secluded, and unauthorized male-famale contact is severely restricted, there is zero prospect of romantic involvement between men and women. The practice of man/boy or mature man/young man sexual and romantic pairing occurs across the entire Arab and Persian cultural zones — though it is theoretically disallowed under Islam. Richard Francis Burton — a worthy Victorian adventurer to cite here — called this huge swath of Eurasia the Sodatic Zone, meaning the region where sodomy between mature men and young men or boys (pre-pubescent boys often painted and dressed as girls) was universally practiced. The Sultan of Oman seems to be a normal person from his cultural background, who enjoys the wealth and privacy to engage in these sexual practices, which are kept private, are theoretically disallowe, yet celebrated in centuries of love poems.

    There is nothing in the West which is analogous to this.

  11. Curzon says:

    Lex, indeed — this type of practice can be seen everywhere from ancient Greece to pre-modern Japan. It’s interesting the various value systems, both religious and independently cultural, across the globe, that have resulted in abolishing the public practice or at least pushing it underground.

  12. kay says:

    I worked for the Sultan and he always had a retinue of “the boys” who always travelled with him. They were not children, rather older teens, who wore double Rolexes. The Sultan was definitely not interested in the women who worked for him.