Kuwait’s Sheikh Sabah: The GCC has misplaced a ‘voice of knowledge’ | Center East

The people of Kuwait reacted sadly after the death of Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah at the age of 91. Earlier this year, the oil-rich Gulf nation’s leading figure flew to the US to seek medical care, after several health tests and treatments in recent years.

“This morning a friend of mine told me they had taken off his ventilator so it was imminent, pray for him,” Kuwaiti financial practitioner Issam Altawari told Al Jazeera. “There is a sense of sadness,” he said after the announcement of Sabah’s death on Tuesday.

The late ruler, who was born in 1929 and served as Kuwait’s foreign minister for almost 40 years, took power in 2006. He was considered the architect of modern Kuwait foreign policy and a respected voice in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region and throughout the Middle East.

“Sheikh Sabah was a man of peace who is known as a mediator in every conflict in the GCC. It is a great loss to the citizens and expatriates here in Kuwait. He will be missing, ”Michelle Fe Santiago, a Filipino journalist who has lived in Kuwait since 1999, told Al Jazeera.

Defender of a United GCC

In June 2017, a coalition of Arab countries led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia imposed a sea, land and air blockade on Qatar accusing the emirate of supporting “terrorists” and forging close ties with Iran. Doha has denied all allegations.

The blockade countries announced a list of 13 demands to end the regional crisis, including the closure of the Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera Media Network, the curtailment of diplomatic relations with Iran, the closure of a Turkish military base in Qatar and the severance of all relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Hezbollah.

“We know that not all of these 13 demands are acceptable,” said Sheikh Sabah of requests that would affect Qatar’s sovereignty. During the crisis, the statesman acted as a critical mediator and called for a peaceful solution to the three-year blockade.

“It gave Kuwait the reputation of a centrist state in Arab politics,” Clemens Chay, a research fellow at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore, told Al Jazeera.

Returning to Kuwait in 2019 after receiving medical treatment in the US, Sheikh Sabah said, “It is no longer acceptable or tolerable to have an ongoing dispute between our fraternal GCC states. It has weakened our capabilities and undermined our profits. “

A French diplomat familiar with Kuwait told Al Jazeera: “Since 2017, Kuwait has made incessant diplomatic, political, economic and technical efforts to maintain the multilateral regional framework of the Gulf Cooperation Council despite all attacks from other regional actors.”

The diplomatic crisis between Qatar and the Gulf Cooperation Council still lingers, but leading US diplomat for the Middle East, David Schenker, recently expressed cautious optimism that the siege of Qatar by neighboring Arab states could end soon.

According to the French diplomat, the concept of multilateralism has been engraved on Kuwaiti identity since the Gulf War 1990-1991, and the late Kuwaiti ruler was “one of the last advocates of multilateralism in the Gulf and Middle East”.

New generation of golf rulers

On January 10, Oman’s Qaboos bin Said Al Said, the second defender of the GCC for regional unity and peaceful dialogue, passed away at the age of 79.

The loss of the late Omani ruler and Sheikh Sabah, known as the “Sage of the Region”, gives way to a new and more confident generation of Gulf rulers incarnated by Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

“We’re seeing a new era of regional policy for the Gulf,” said Chay.

At a time when the Gulf Cooperation Council is experiencing its worst political crisis in decades, the region remains a regionally respected figure to promote dialogue and multilateral cooperation.

“The GCC has always been at the center of Kuwait politics. I’m sure the new emir will follow suit, ”said Altawari. He noted that the country firmly believes in the Gulf Cooperation Council as “a concept, a way forward for Kuwait and the rest of the region”.

The country’s 83-year-old Crown Prince, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, has been named the new emir by the country’s cabinet to succeed his half-brother.

“There’s no indication that any future leadership wants to change Kuwait’s stance,” Kristin Diwan, a senior researcher at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, DC who studies Kuwait, told Al Jazeera.

“People are starting to prepare mentally”

Sheikh Sabah’s death comes as Kuwait and the GCC region continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic that infected more than 103,981 people in the country of 4.1 million people. The double blow of the health crisis and low oil prices resulted in an economic downturn.

Earlier this month, Kuwait cut about $ 3 billion from its 2020-2021 budget as the economy, at nearly $ 140 billion, is now in deficit of $ 46 billion. Deutsche Bank estimates that Kuwait’s economy will shrink by 7.8 percent this year.

The late emir was quoted by state news agency KUNA as saying, “Kuwait is facing the great and unprecedented challenge of protecting our economy from the external shocks caused by this virus, particularly the decline in oil prices and the value of investments and assets . ”

Oil-rich GCC countries have long relied on hydrocarbon revenues to maintain generous welfare systems and employ a large proportion of their citizens. Last year, oil revenues made up 89 percent of Kuwait’s revenues. With experts predicting a global slowdown in oil demand in the coming decades, the Gulf States are faced with the daunting challenge of reinventing their economies.

“People are starting to prepare mentally, sacrifices are made,” said Altawari.

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