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The Financial Express

Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah dies

| Updated: September 30, 2020 09:45:24


Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah dies

Kuwait’s ruling Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah died at a hospital in the United States on Tuesday.

“With great sadness and sorrow, we mourn … the death of Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, emir of the State of Kuwait,” said Sheikh Ali Jarrah al-Sabah, the minister in charge of royal affairs, in a television broadcast, report Al Jazeera and Reuters.

91-year-old Sheikh Sabah had ruled the Gulf Arab oil producer and US ally since 2006. His designated successor is his brother, Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

Born in 1929, Sheikh Sabah is widely regarded as the architect of modern Kuwait’s foreign policy – having served as foreign minister for nearly 40 years between 1963 and 2003 – when he became prime minister.

A longtime widower, Sheikh Sabah lived for years in a palace known as Dar Salwa, which was named after his daughter Salwa, who died of cancer in 2002. He is survived by two sons.

He became Kuwait’s emir in January 2006 after the death of Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah.

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 high regard for Sheikh Sabah could be seen in the outpouring of support for him across the Middle East as he suddenly fell ill.

‘Valued discretion and moderation’

Sheikh Sabah drew on his decades as the oil-rich nation’s top diplomat to push for closer ties to 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 oust 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 who studies Kuwait. “No question he has suffered from the lack of deference and respect shown by the younger and more brash young princes holding power today.”

The emir had his appendix removed in 2002, two years after having a pacemaker fitted. In 2007, he underwent urinary tract surgery in the United States.

When the emir was absent in the past, 83-year-old Crown Prince Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the emir’s half-brother, was appointed acting ruler as per the country’s constitutional law. Sheikh Nawaf is an elder statesman who has held high office for decades, including the defence and interior portfolios.

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 armed group ISIL (ISIS). Sheikh Sabah also played a role in raising aid funds for Syrians suffering as a result of that country’s civil war, hosting international donor conferences in 2013 and 2014, and pledging hundreds of millions of dollars of Kuwaiti wealth.

One of his greatest challenges as a diplomat, however, 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.

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