Muscat: Oman lost a partner in peace-making and the world lost a master mediator in Kuwait’s Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah who left for heavenly abode on Tuesday.
Both countries’ belief in deescalation, dialogue, trust-building and diplomacy helped them to persuade rivals to sit around a table for peaceful resolution of conflicts in the region.
He tirelessly worked for the unity of Gulf countries through his shuttle diplomacy and dialogue. He strived to protect the ‘ Al bayt Al Khaleeji (Gulf House) which is our home’ from collapsing. In his opening speech to Kuwait Parliament in 2017, he said “the mediation of Kuwait is not merely a traditional mediation by a party between two parties. We are not a party but one party with two brothers.” He hoped that everyone would be fully aware of the risks of escalation with resulting implications of regional and international damage to the Gulf and its people.
The Emir warned that the history and future generations of the Gulf and the Arabs will not forgive anyone who contributes, even with one word, to fuel conflict or be part of it. He believed that GCC is a promising glimmer of hope in the darkness of Arab action and a model to be followed in cooperation.
He added that there is a greater need to approach the crisis in a calm manner and to avoid the conflict in an attempt to overcome the situation, saying “what brings us together is stronger than what divides us.”
The emir was a respected mediator seen as the leader with the best chances of negotiating a settlement in many conflicts, given his long-time service as Kuwait’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister (1965-2003) and prime minister (2003-2006).
“Kuwait and Oman have carved subtly different niches for themselves in the maelstrom of Gulf politics, in contrast to the muscular approach to regional affairs taken by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Oman, during the long rule of Sultan Qaboos bin Said (1970-2020), focused on facilitating talks between adversaries by passing messages and creating the space and conditions for meetings to occur, with the hosting of US-Iran backchannel negotiations in 2012-13 a prominent example.
Kuwait has placed greater emphasis on mediation with Emir Sabah al Ahmad, himself a former foreign minister of 40 years’ standing, often engaging in shuttle diplomacy,” wrote Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a middle east scholar recently.
The Kuwaiti mediation draws from a long history of successful intervention in dozens of conflicts across the regions. Kuwait also played a key role in the negotiations to set up the UAE Federation in 1971 and the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Abu Dhabi in 1981.
During the 1991 Gulf War, Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, then Kuwait’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, had demonstrated his diplomatic clout by garnering international support and building up coalition forces from 35 nations led by the United States to free his country from the Iraqi invasion.
The late Emir also demonstrated humanitarian leadership in Syria, Iraq which faced terrible consequences of conflict. Communities in ruins; economies in freefall. Women and children struck down by bombs, guns and chemical weapons. Terrorised families running for their lives.
In response to this death and chaos, Kuwait led by the late Emir showed remarkable acts of kindness and generosity. Syria’s neighbours have opened their borders to millions of refugees.
Humanitarian aid workers continue to support millions of people inside Syria with food, clean water and medical care every month. Kuwait has shown exemplary humanitarian leadership in supporting these operations under the compassionate and passionate leadership of the late emir. Kuwait may be a small country in size but she has a big and broad and compassionate heart.
In the past several years, Kuwait has donated hundreds of millions of dollars for humanitarian operations, not only in the Middle East, but in Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan.
Kuwait’s leadership and funding has saved tens of thousands of lives, and has galvanised others to participate in coordinated international action. “At a time when so many of our appeals are under-funded, it is good to know we can count on Kuwait’s generosity, and particularly His Highness, the Emir of Kuwait,” the then UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon said.
The present United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, on an official visit to Kuwait in 2017, expressed gratitude to not only the Gulf country’s leadership in humanitarian action, but the “dialogue […] and promotion of understanding Kuwait has shown in relation to all conflicts in the region…It’s not only the humanitarian leadership of Kuwait, it’s the wisdom, the dialogue, the promotion of understanding that Kuwait has shown in relation to all conflicts in the region,” explained Guterres, adding: “Kuwait has no agenda. The agenda of Kuwait is peace; is understanding.”
Bestowing Legion of Merit to Kuwait’s Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah President last week, Donald Trump said, “A leader in the Middle East for decades, the emir has been a truly unwavering friend and partner to the United States…the emir is also an unparalleled diplomat, having served as his nation’s foreign minister for 40 years. His tireless mediation of disputes in the Middle East has bridged divides under the most challenging circumstances.” The Legion of Merit is a rarely awarded decoration that can only be bestowed by the president, typically to chiefs of state or heads of government of other countries. The honour was last awarded in 1991.