MIDDLE EAST: WHY WE NEED A SHEIKH SABAH

NAWAF Al-SABAH WRITES — Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait, died September 29. Why should the world, not just Kuwaitis, care?

The Sheikh left behind him a force for peace and stability as well as improved relationships with allies across the globe.  For example, he helped resolve a bitter dispute between Qatar and other Arab nations and is considered the architect of the nation’s modern foreign policy. Also, the Sheikh has helped Kuwait, a staunch US ally, benefit from joint military exercises in order to enhance a bilateral partnership and help build military capacities and readiness.  Coincidentally, he died while hospitalized in the US, in Minnesota.

Unlike his contemporaries in the Arab world, the Emir did not have a checkered history of human rights abuses. Sheikh Sabah never issued a crackdown on dissenters and political rivals. Instead, he tried to moderate disputes, such as the standoff between Qatar and the GCC states. He used his experience as a figure of the old guard to help resolve the standoff and called an end to the sea, land and air blockade imposed on Qatar. He inspired others to work toward disaster relief, peace efforts and advances in public health. He led donor conferences for Syria that led to pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars, helping to ease the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

As a constitutional monarchy, Kuwait is one of the few Middle East countries that prides itself on being a bastion of peace and stability in the region. An Arabian country located on the Persian Gulf, Kuwait has not only undergone great economic and social reforms but has also developed positive relations with nations of different faiths. In addition, with its petroleum-based economy and leadership in the GCC countries, Kuwait’s dinar has become the highest valued currency in the world. Even threats of terrorism, which have become common in the Islamic and Arab world, did not roil the country, even during the Arab Spring protests.

It must be said, then, that Sheikh Sabah helped to ensure protection for the tiny country with the world’s sixth-largest known oil reserves. No other figure in Kuwait has so successfully navigated regional and international tensions.

Without him, will Kuwaitis feel vulnerable to external pressures? Maybe, but with international community support, Sheikh Sabah’s championship in navigating political affairs may keep the country safe.

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