Kuwait mourns veteran defender of Arab unity

KUWAIT: Kuwait’s Emir Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad al Sabah’s death plunged his country into mourning for a leader regarded by many Gulf Arabs as a savvy diplomatic operator and a humanitarian champion. The emir had been in hospital there since July following surgery in Kuwait that month. Flags were flying at half-mast in Kuwait, which announced 40 days of mourning. “Goodbye, Emir of Humanity,” read a large banner on a street near the Kuwait Stock Exchange.
Kuwait Towers, a seaside landmark normally lit at night, went dark. Condolences poured in from Arab leaders and several countries in the region announced mourning periods. Shaikh Sabah sought to balance relations with Kuwait’s bigger neighbours – forging close ties with Saudi Arabia, rebuilding links with former occupier Iraq and keeping open dialogue with Iran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in an Arabic-language tweet, lauded Sheikh Sabah for fostering “moderation and balance” in Kuwait and the region. “Today we lost a big brother and a wise and loving leader … who spared no effort for Arab unity,” said Jordan’s King Abdullah, also on Twitter.
Sabah kept strong ties with the United States, which led a coalition that ended Iraq’s 1990-91 occupation of Kuwait and used the Gulf state as a launch pad for the 2003 Iraq invasion.
Under Kuwait’s constitution the crown prince automatically becomes emir but assumes power only after taking an oath in parliament, for which elections are due this year. “I don’t see a major change in foreign policy under the new emir, largely because Kuwaiti foreign policy is pretty popular domestically and regionally and is seen as effective,” Courtney Freer, Research Fellow at LSE Middle East Centre, told Reuters. The succession is not expected to affect oil policy or foreign investment strategy through the Kuwait Investment Authority, one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds.
The new emir’s choice of crown prince and premier – who would be tasked with managing the government’s often difficult relationship with parliament – will be watched closely. “The new Emir will accede to the throne facing several tough challenges, including the coronavirus crisis, low oil prices, and delicate foreign politics,” London-based Capital Economics said in a research note.
An immediate priority would be a long-awaited debt law allowing Kuwait to tap global markets to finance a budget deficit, it said. Parliament, which analysts say has posed an obstacle to reform efforts, has repeatedly rejected the law. 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. — Reuters