The National Dawn
Kuwait, September 30, 2020
Global leaders paid rich tributes to Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah who died Tuesday.
The 91-year-old Emir was ailing for some time.
Kuwait’s Minister in charge of Royal Affairs Sheikh Ali Jarrah al-Sabah, in the television broadcast said, “With great sadness and sorrow, we mourn … the death of Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, the Emir of the State of Kuwait.”
Kuwait’s constitution says the Crown Prince automatically becomes Emir and assumes power after taking oath in parliament.
The GCC-member country’s Cabinet named Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, 83, to succeed his brother. Kuwait’s State television announced the Cabinet’s decision.
Crown Prince candidates include Sheikh Sabah’s son and former deputy prime minister Nasser Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, a prominent leader in Kuwaiti politics.
A long-time widower, Sheikh Sabah lived for years in a Palace Dar Salwa, named after his daughter Salwa, who died of cancer in 2002. Sheikh Sabah has two sons.
Tributes flowed for the late Emir Sheikh Sabah from all across the Middle East.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has expressed condolences over the death of Emir of Kuwait, praising the late leader for his moderate policies.
Sheikh Sabah was the 15th leader in a Kuwaiti family that has ruled for more than 250 years.
In a post on his Twitter account on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Zarif said the passing away of Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah saddened him. The late Emir of Kuwait painted an image of moderation and equilibrium for Kuwait and the region.
Known as the “Wise Man of the Region”, Middle East observers describe the 1929-born Emir Sheikh Sabah as the architect of modern Kuwait’s foreign policy having served as foreign minister for nearly 40 years between 1963 to 2003, when he became prime minister.In August 2019, Kuwait acknowledged Sheikh Sabah suffered an unspecified medical “setback” that required he be admitted to hospital.
In July 2020, he flew to the United States seeking medical attention after undergoing surgery. A US Air Force C-17 flying hospital transported Sheikh Sabah from Kuwait to Rochester, Minnesota, home of the flagship campus of the Mayo Clinic.
The Emir had his appendix removed in 2002, two years after having a pacemaker fitted. In 2007, he underwent urinary tract surgery in the US.
Sheikh Sabah drew on his experience of decades as the nation’s top diplomat to push for closer ties with Iraq after the 1990 Gulf War and solutions to other regional crises.
His 2006 ascension in Kuwait, a staunch US ally since the American-led war that expelled occupying Iraqi troops, came after Parliament voted unanimously to overthrow his predecessor, the ailing Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, just nine days into his rule.
Yet, as Kuwait’s ruling Emir, he struggled with internal political disputes, the fallout of the 2011 Arab Spring protests, and seesawing crude oil prices that chewed into a national budget providing cradle-to-grave subsidies.
“He represents the older generation of Gulf leaders who valued discretion and moderation and the importance of personal ties amongst fellow monarchs,” said Kristin Diwan, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, DC, who studies Kuwait. “No question he has suffered from the lack of deference and respect shown by the younger and brash young princes holding power today.”
“Kuwait’s leadership will prioritise stability both on the domestic front and in regional politics. The focus will be on the home front,” Diwan said. “There will be a lot to manage domestically as parliamentary elections are expected in the next two months.”
The new Emir’s choice of crown prince and prime minister – who would be tasked with managing the government’s difficult relationship with parliament – will be watched closely, especially at a time when Kuwait’s finances have been strained by low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic.
Although most political power in Kuwait is in the hands of the Emir, its parliament is one of the most influential elected bodies among Gulf monarchies.
Sheikh Sabah had pushed for diplomacy to solve regional issues, such as the continuing boycott of Qatar by four Arab nations.
The Emir hosted a summit in 2018 that saw $30bn pledged to help rebuild Iraq after the war against the ISIL (ISIS) armed group. Sheikh Sabah also played a role in raising aid funds for civil war ravaged Syrians. He hosted international donor conferences in 2013 and 2014, and pledging hundreds of millions of dollars of Kuwaiti wealth.
“The Emir has been recognised as a unique diplomat over the past decades… The way he reconciled with Iraq and the way he came out from being perceived as a victim to hosting a donor conference and pledging millions for the reconstruction of Iraq, that is why he became known as the wise man of the region,” Sultan Barakat from the Doha Institute think-tank told Al Jazeera.
One of his greatest challenges as a diplomat came with the boycott of Qatar that began in 2017. Sheikh Sabah positioned himself as a mediator for the political dispute, which he warned in a White House appearance in 2017 could have led to an armed conflict.
“Thank God, now, what is important is that we have stopped any military action,” Sheikh Sabah said.
Those mediation efforts have yet to resolve the crisis, but he did manage to get Qatar’s prime minister to shake hands, on live television, with Saudi King Salman at a 2019 meeting in Mecca.
“We believe that wisdom will prevail,” Sheikh Sabah once said.
Sheikh Sabah’s death comes as the nation continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 103,981 people and caused 605 related deaths in the country of 4.1 million. Its health ministry said more than 95,500 people have recovered from COVID-19.
In 2014, the United Nations named Sabah a “humanitarian leader” in recognition of his support for the organisation’s humanitarian efforts around the world.
UN Secretary-General says ‘Sheikh Sabah was messenger of peace’
In his tribute to Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “The emir of Kuwait was an extraordinary symbol of wisdom and generosity, a messenger of peace, a bridge builder.”
Guterres, who was UN High Commissioner for Refugees for 10 years, lauded the late Kuwaiti emir’s contributions to humanitarian work.
The UAE’s leaders paid tribute to Sheikh Sabah, who they said was a beacon of tolerance, wisdom and peace.
The President, Sheikh Khalifa, said the Arab world had lost a leader of great stature who always strove to mend fences.
He said Sheikh Sabah worked tirelessly for his country and all Arab nations until the last moment of his life and he mourned his death with great sadness.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said he was a compassionate ruler and the heart of the Arabian Gulf.
“May God have mercy on the compassionate father of Kuwait … We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return,” said Sheikh Mohammed on Twitter.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, also paid tribute.
“Our sincere condolences go to the Al Sabah family and the people of Kuwait,” said Sheikh Mohamed on Twitter.
“Sheikh Sabah epitomised wisdom, tolerance, and peace and he was a great pioneer of Gulf cooperation.
“He served Kuwait with honour and grace, and his work will never be forgotten. May God have mercy on him.”