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Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah

Kuwait’s 91-year-old ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah died 29 September 2020. His designated successor is his brother, Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah. Sheikh Sabah was the 15th leader in a Kuwaiti family that has ruled for more than 250 years. A longtime widower, he lived for years in a palace known as Dar Salwa, which was named after his daughter Salwa, who died of cancer in 2002. Sheikh Sabah is survived by two sons. In August 2019, Kuwait acknowledged Sheikh Sabah suffered an unspecified medical “setback” that required he be admitted to hospital.

The health of Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah is stable and improving, the country’s prime minister told state television on 05 September 2020. Al-Sabah was in the United States after flying there last month to receive treatment. The Kuwaiti emir authorized his crown prince to temporarily take over some responsibilities in the meantime. The 91-year-old emir had ruled the US ally and OPEC oil producer since 2006 and steered its foreign policy for more than 50 years. In October of last year, Sheikh Sabah had suffered a health setback while in Kuwait and was admitted to a hospital in the United States during his trip for a meeting with US President Donald Trump. After receiving treatment, the emir then returned to Kuwait.

Shaykh Saad served as Crown of Prince of Kuwait from 1977 - 2006 and as Prime Minister from 1977 - 2003. Shaykh Saad was credited with playing a major role in the reconstruction of Kuwait following its liberation in 1991. Estimated to be 81 years old, some thought Shaykh Salem might be a short-term solution to the issue of succession, placating the Salem branch of the Al-Sabah family by allowing the traditional alternation with the Jaber branch. If this scenario happens, the key questions will then be who becomes Crown Prince, and will the positions of Crown Prince and Prime Minister, separated in 2003, be re-merged.

His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad was born in Kuwait [by some accounts] on June 16, 1929. He became Prime Minister, as per Amiri Decree dated July 13, 2003. He became Minister of Guidance and Information, January 17, 1962. He is well known for his considerable experience in the field of foreign policy and diplomacy. For around forty years, His Highness's name and image have been inextricably linked to that of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although he has occupied a number of other positions, it is for his work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that he is most renowned for.

He was named Foreign Minister, January 28, 1963, and his Highness continued to assume this post throughout all the governments that were formed since the Independence until April 20, 1991. Many diplomats who were contemporaries of His Highness emphasize his determination in developing Kuwait's foreign relations, particularly with regards to the Permanent Members of the Security Council. H.H. Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah had only been in charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for five years before Kuwait's political stability became assured and the country's progress became defined.

At almost every inaugural session of the UN General Assembly, which takes place each year, an official Kuwaiti delegation headed by His Highness Sheikh Sabah delivers Kuwait's speech. His Highness's first speech at the UN expressed full awareness of the role played by the international organization. He stated: "Kuwait's participation in international activities clearly indicates that Kuwait's independence and membership of the UN are not an end by themselves, but are rather a means by which Kuwait can share responsibility in improving the lives of the people in our country and in other countries." His Highness believes strongly in tolerance, diversity and the necessity of cultural integration, not cultural conflict. Despite the challenges he has faced, His Highness has proved time and time again his immense ability in the twin fields of Kuwait's Domestic and Foreign Affairs.

His Highness played a vital role in founding the Common Ministerial Council for the G.C.C and the European Union, which aims to consolidate and maximize economic ties between the participating countries. Numerous economic agreements have been signed by the two groups as a result of the Council's work. His Highness's political strategy was centered on helping Arabic countries — this often took the form of providing loans to needy states. He also took on conciliatory and mediatory roles during regional and Arabic conflicts. He is a firm advocate of the power and importance of Arab unity in overcoming conflict and disagreement.

His Highness the Amir condemns terrorism and stands against the Western media's portrayal of Islam as a religion that encourages terrorism. Instead, he is determined to ensure that Islam is seen as a faith of tolerance, magnanimity and kindness. His Highness Sabah Al Ahmad succeeded in obtaining international support for Kuwait after it was aggressively invaded, which resulted in the Security Council issuing decision N 678 on 29 November 1990.

Shaykh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah was the de facto ruler of Kuwait since 2001. Shaykh Sabah -- appointed PM in 2003 -- was the first non-Crown Prince to hold that position; this anomaly occurred as a result of the then-CP's mental incapacitation. After days of rampant speculation, the Amir appointed Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah Prime Minister on 13 July 2003, the first time the position has ever been entrusted to someone other than the Crown Prince. The decision by the Amir came after a tumultuous episode in which the leading Jabir and Salim branches of the ruling Sabah family engaged in a struggle behind the scenes for control of the office of Prime Minister, and possibly, future control of the office of Crown Prince. The al-Salim branch of the family was strongly resisting the proposed transfer of the premiership to Sheikh Sabah, who like the Amir comes from the al-Jaber branch of the ruling al Sabah family.

Shaykh Saad Abdullah Al Sabah succeeded the previous Amir, Shaykh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al Sabah following his death in 2006. Shaykh Saad served only nine days as Amir and was deposed by Parliament due to poor health shortly before an official letter of abdication was received. After the death of former Amir Shaykh Jaber, Shaykh Sabah was the most viable candidate for Amir during the tumultuous two weeks that Shaykh Saad al-Abdullah al-Salem Al Sabah was Amir (prior to being declared physically and mentally incapacitated). Many Kuwaitis felt that Shaykh Sabah was overly ambitious and though he was the heir apparent to the throne, handled his ascension to the Amirship with less grace and more ambition than appropriate (he actually released Shaykh Saad's health records to the National Assembly), and it was the well-positioned Shaykh Nasser (who had been in the Amiri Diwan since 2003), who smoothed the family feathers ruffled by Shaykh Sabah's disruptive path to power.

Kuwait had rarely known such a dynamic, calm, and cautious personality. He was raised alongside the departed Amir and experienced everything with and was also with His Highness Shaykh Saad Al-Abdullah throughout all the stages of international relations and has benefited from both of them. In short, he was a man with a pivotal role in the rule of Kuwait. He was said to be "a school of Arab diplomacy to whom all seeking knowledge" flocked. He lived through the domestic politics of Kuwait with great ability.

By all accounts, by 2008 the Amir had become increasingly passive - some would suggest "passive aggressive," - in dealing with the political challenges confronting Kuwait. Some attribute this to ongoing depression following his beloved daughter Selwa's death five years earlier, others attribute it to health concerns and heart surgery several years back, and still others say it is simply because he was getting old and tired (at that time, his age was 79 or 82, depending on who you ask). He may simply assess that rule by fiat is no longer possible with Kuwait,s changing demographic. Whatever the cause, all agree the Amir no longer had the passion and energy for ruling that seemed to characterize his term as Prime Minister / Crown Prince, although others suggest he continues to micromanage on personnel appointments. His role may in fact be larger but simply not visible; his nickname within family circles is "the Crocodile" because of his tendency to come up quietly smiling and then "whack with his tail" anyone who gets out of line.

There was no indication otherwise that either health or age are constraints, apart from the occasional absence due to medical checkups or unspecified illness. In 2008 alone, the Amir maintained an active schedule, traveling to Great Britain, the United States, Mongolia, Morocco, Turkey, UAE, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Syria. He routinely received ambassadorial credentials and received senior US leaders, including the President and the First Lady, separately; Secretaries of State, Defense, Homeland Security, as well as General Petraeus and Admirals Mullen and Fallon. He hosted foreign dignitaries from all over the world, including Iranian FM Manouchehr Mottaki and U/S Ali Redha Shykh Attar, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Spanish King Juan Carlos, Iraqi PM Nouri Al-Maliki, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, Jordan's King Abdullah and GCC leaders.

By 2009 some Kuwaitis were putting some blame for the country's sense of drift on the shoulders of the Amir. Since open criticism of the Amir continues to be illegal, such reflections are muted and often expressed only in private, but the sense of public frustration over the Amir's decision to retain his ineffectual nephew Shaykh Nasser in the PM slot hangs in the air. Adding to many Kuwaitis' frustration is the belief that even if Shaykh Nasser were to stand down, the ruling Al Sabah family had few viable alternative candidates.

Some more perceptive observers note that political gridlock is exacerbated by the competing factions within the ruling family -- principally among the Amir, the PM, Deputy Prime Minister Shaykh Ahmed Al-Fahad Al Sabah, and the Amir's half-brother Shaykh Misha'al (with a sprinkling of overt and covert financial and political manipulation by the Amir's two surviving sons, Nasser and the shadowy Hamad). While many Kuwaiti thinkers would like to see a competent and dynamic non-ruling family member appointed to the PM role, they realize that Al Sabah opposition and long tradition render such an outcome unlikely anytime soon.

In a quiet way, some Kuwaitis began to mutter that Kuwait's senior leadership is self-centered, as well as lacking in vision. By all accounts, the Amir had proven to be something of a disappointment weighed against the expectations of someone reputed for his decisiveness over a nearly 40 year term as Foreign Minister.

The contrast between the image of the previous Amir, Shaykh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, with that of his younger half-brother and current Amir, Shaykh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, was not favorable to the later. Shaykh Jaber, as Amir, reportedly lowered his "Amiri appropriations" salary from 11 to eight million KD/per year, whereas Shaykh Sabah, when he ascended to power in 2006, raised his Amiri appropriations from 11 to 50 million KD/year. In what some observers suggested was a slight to Shaykh Sabah, Kuwaitis are increasingly festooning their car windows with images of the deceased but still venerated Shaykh Jaber.

There is a widespread sentiment shared by liberals and conservatives alike that Kuwaitis are dissatisfied with what they deem is weak, incompetent leadership. In charting the course for the future, the Amir must decide whether to continue his paternalistic consensus-oriented and passive-aggressive approach to leadership -- which many Kuwaitis view as the road to ruin -- or take on a "tough love" tack that involves making some difficult, non-consensual decisions, which would break with long-established precedent in this small society of but 1.1 million citizens.

The Amir appeared to use the PM as a sort of political lightening rod in his efforts to balance power and manage his fractious parliament. Moreover, and more fundamentally, the Amir liked the PM on a personal level and knows that the PM is loyal to him; the PM has served with Shaykh Sabah in different capacities for the nearly 44 years the Amir served as FM. He seemed likely to retain the PM, barring a catastrophic event, because the PM and his cabinet absorb much of the criticism of the government that might otherwise tar the Amir. The Amir may also fear that a stronger PM (such as a Shaykh Ahmad al-Fahad, or Foreign Minister Shaykh Dr. Mohammed Sabah al-Salem Al Sabah) would usurp some of the authority of the Amir, much as the Amir himself did when he was PM.

It is likely that the Amir appointed his younger, weaker half brother Shaykh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber Al Sabah as Crown Prince (CP) for this reason. By tradition, it was incumbent on the Amir to choose a crown prince from the al-Salem vice al-Jaber branch. The Amir side-stepped this tradition to select his brother. CP Shaykh Nawaf and PM Shaykh Nasser, both non-threatening personalities, were appointed by the Amir, reportedly without Al Sabah family consultation, on the same day in February 2006.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 17:42:11 ZULU