The Dean of Arab Diplomacy dies in 91

Known as a peacemaker, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, the 91-year-old ruler of Kuwait, died on Tuesday. He flew to the United States in July 2020, seeking medical attention after having undergone surgery. Sheikh Sabah was transported by a United State Air Force C-17 flying hospital from Kuwait to Rochester, Minnesota, home of the Mayo Clinic’s flagship campus. Kuwait – which has a population of 4.8 million, including 3.4 million foreigners – has the world’s sixth-largest known oil reserves and is a major US ally. The oil-rich nation has been ruled by the Sabah family for the past 260 years. The emir has the last say in political matters. He has the power to override or dissolve parliament, and call elections.

After the 1990 Gulf War and solutions to other regional crises, Sheikh Sabah drew on his decades as the top diplomat of the oil-rich nation to push for closer links to Iraq. Since 2006, he has ruled the oil-rich Gulf Arab state and has overseen its foreign policy for over 50 years. He was dubbed the “dean of Arab diplomacy” for his efforts to restore relations with states that backed Iraq during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, when Kuwait was invaded by Iraqi forces. In regional disputes, including the ongoing diplomatic stand-off between Saudi Arabia, its allies and Qatar, the emir has also often acted as a mediator. Kuwait also refrained from intervening in the civil war in Syria, hosting several humanitarian aid donor conferences instead.

Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah had been prime minister under the previous Emir of Kuwait and for several years had been seen as the de facto ruler. Before then, he served as foreign minister from 1963 to 1991 and from 1992 to 2003. Sheikh Sabah pushed for diplomacy to solve regional problems, such as the ongoing boycott of Qatar by four Arab Nations, and he hosted major donor conferences for war-torn Nations like Iraq and Syria. Earlier, Kuwait television broadcast was interrupted regular programming to cut Quranic verses on Tuesday, a move that often signifies the death of a senior member of the ruling family of the Gulf Arab state. His death comes as the nation continues to fight the pandemic of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 103,981 individuals and caused 605 deaths related to it. More than 95,500 individuals have recovered from COVID-19, the health ministry said.

The life of Sheikh Sabah spanned two very distinct Kuwait’s. He was born on June 16, 1929, just as the pearl-diving industry in the country was collapsing. Kuwait will hit oil within a decade. Eventually, engineers would confirm that the tiny country had the sixth-largest known reserves of oil in the world. After holding several other governmental posts, Sheikh Sabah became Kuwait’s foreign minister in 1963. He would stay for four decades in that position, making him one of the longest-serving foreign ministers in the world.

The greatest crisis in his country came in 1990, when Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, invaded Kuwait and occupied the country for seven months. Fleeing to neighbouring Saudi Arabia with other Kuwaiti officials, Sheikh Sabah collapsed and lost consciousness at one particularly stormy Arab leaders’ meeting. United States troops and their allies stormed into Kuwait on February 24, 1991. A hundred hours later, it ended. Sheikh Sabah and others, even before the US entered Kuwait, began suggesting that a permanent American presence in the region could provide them with protection from Iraq and others. Sheikh Sabah reportedly said, “One learns from the past and learns about it for the future. Arrangements must be considered that would not only make my country stable but also make the entire region stable”. Today, Kuwait hosts some 13,500 American troops, many of them at Camp Arifjan south of Kuwait City, which is also home to the U.S. Army Central’s forward command.

By Jumana Jabeer

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