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Shaykh Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah

The death of Shaykh Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Amir of Kuwait since 1977, on 15 January 2006 was widely anticipated and seemed unlikely to have a major impact on the country's internal affairs, its external relations, or U.S. interests. Crown Prince Shaykh Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, who suffered from serious health problems himself, automatically became the next Amir as per the 1964 succession law. Saad was the son of the 11th emir, Sheikh Abdullah al-Salem al-Sabah, and an African mother, Jamila. Educated at the Mubarakiya school in Kuwait and at Hendon Police College in north London, he later successively led the police, interior and defence ministries. In 1978 he became crown prince (until 2006) and prime minister (until 2003).

Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah contributed to the establishment of the constitution as a member in the drafting committee. In January 1978, then Amir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah nominated Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah as Crown Prince. In February of the same year, Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah was appointed Prime Minister to form the 10th Government in Kuwait’s history since independence. Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah kept the two posts until 2003, when the Prime Minister’s post was separated from the Crown Prince thus paving way for appointment of current Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah as Prime Minister, who formed the country’s 21st government.

Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah occupied senior posts even before becoming a Crown Prince in 1978, especially in the security field. He was deputy police chief in 1945-49. He became Interior Minister in 1962 and a Defense Minister in 1964, making him the architect of Kuwait’s modern security policy. However, Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah, a security officer himself, paid a great attention to the development of the military and security institutions. He established the Police School in 1956 and kept on developing the police force and established, for example, the Criminal Evidence Department in 1961. The Supreme Defense Council was established in 1963 and contributed to the development of the defense policy.

Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah was a true statesman who was also known as the ‘Liberation Hero’ because he masterminded the liberation of State of Kuwait from the Iraqi occupation in 1990-91. The Father Amir, at the early hours of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, insisted that then Amir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah leave Kuwait to maintain legitimacy of the country. During Iraq’s seven-month occupation, Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah embarked on several international tours to explain Kuwait’s just causes. He also supervised conditions of the Kuwaiti people inside Kuwait, as well as supported the Kuwaiti resistance in every means possible. Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah was the first senior government official to return to Kuwait following the liberation and declared martial laws in order to restore security and stability in Kuwait.

Then Amir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad appointed in April 1991 Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah as Prime Minister of a government tasked with rebuilding the country. Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah was up to the task. He worked relentlessly to rebuilding the country and its institutions, restored order and dealt with the largest environmental disaster, the gigantic fire and oil leak caused when Iraqi forces torched over 700 oil wells just before leaving the country.

In 2001, he suffered serious brain damage from a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair. He did not speak and did not appear to comprehend others' speech. Nonetheless, the charade that he still exerted influence continued. There were almost weekly news items of cables from the Crown Prince to world leaders and pictures of him receiving senior Al-Sabah family government officials. More recent newspaper photos showed him being propped forward by an aid/bodyguard to kiss the Amir after the Amir's return to Kuwait. In a 2005 meeting with former President George Bush, the Crown Prince was unable to speak, although he seemed cognizant of the President's presence, and was only able to stand with the support of his son and an aide. The Crown Prince suffered brain damage from excessive hemorrhaging brought on by colon disease in 2001.

Due to the Crown Prince's health condition, many predicted Shaykh Saad would abdicate the amirship in favor of Prime Minister Shaykh Sabah. However, Shaykh Sabah had been loathe to push for changes at the top. He has told an interviewer that there is no Kuwaiti tradition of "former" rulers and he appeared comfortable exerting effective control, at least until now.

While the Amiri succession was unlikely to significantly affect power at the top, it was expected to have a greater impact on the distribution of power in the Council of Ministers for two reasons. First, if Shaykh Saad abdicates in favor of Shaykh Sabah, the positions of both the Crown Prince and the Prime Minister would need to be filled. Since the leading candidates for the positions were currently top ministers, any appointment would necessitate replacing at least one minister and could result in a shift in ministerial portfolios.

It was unclear, however, who might fill these positions, which may militate for Shaykh Sabah to continue to serve as PM even if named Crown Prince. The amirship had traditionally alternated between the Jaber and Salem branches of the Al-Sabah family; however, some suggested this is merely an historical coincidence. There were, in fact, few potential candidates for either position from the Salem branch, although Foreign Minister Shaykh Dr. Mohammed Al-Salem Al-Sabah, who had a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, is a notable exception. Shaykh Dr. Mohammed, the leading figure among the younger generation of Al-Sabah, was considered by many to have the experience and vision necessary to lead Kuwait in the twenty-first century. One other (unlikely) candidate from the Salem branch is Shaykh Ali Salem Al-Ali Al-Salem Al-Sabah, the son of National Guard Chief Shaykh Salem Al-Ali and a former Minister of Communications and Minister of Finance; he did not currently hold a government position.

The other leading candidates for the positions of Crown Prince and Prime Minister were from the Ahmed line of the Jaber branch. One candidate is First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Shaykh Nawaf Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, though some political analysts thought that Shaykh Nawaf was "weak" and was "not a decision maker." Shaykh Nawaf would be acceptable to the Salem branch due to his close relationship with Shaykh Saad. Another candidate was Deputy Chief of the National Guard Shaykh Mishal Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, who would in any case be "the real strong man" behind Shaykh Nawaf if the latter was appointed to either position. Energy Minister Shaykh Ahmed Al-Fahd Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah was also rumored to be a potential candidate. Shaykh Ahmed had expended considerable effort to build support both within the ruling family and among Kuwaiti society more broadly; however, at 42, many considered him too young for either position. Some also question his commitment to reform and note that he had been implicated in several corruption scandals.

On 29 January 2006, Shaykh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah became the 15th Amir of Kuwait after taking the constitutionally-mandated Amiri oath in front of Parliament and approximately 1,000 invited guests. Shaykh Sabah was nominated by the Council of Ministers on January 24 after Parliament unanimously voted the ailing Amir-designate, Shaykh Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, medically unfit for the position. Shaykh Sabah's nomination was unanimously approved by Parliament in a session preceding the Amiri oath-taking session.

The Amir passed away at his residence in Al-Shaab Palace the morning of May 13, 2008 and an official mourning was declared, ending a life full of achievements that every Kuwaiti would always remember.

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Page last modified: 09-09-2019 19:03:25 ZULU