Kuwait condoles loss of Ras Al-Khaimah ruler No risk seen

KUWAIT CITY, Oct 27, (Agencies): His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah sent a cable of condolences to UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nuhayyan on the passing away of Sheikh Saqr Al-Qasimi, the ruler of Ras Al-Khaimah, the UAE’s fourth largest emirate.
The Amir sent a similar cable to Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi, who was appointed Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler in June 2003, and had become ruler of the emirate.
His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah sent similar cables.
Sheikh Saqr al Qasimi, believed to be in his late 90s, had ruled the northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah for more than 60 years, dating back to before the UAE’s inception in 1971. He had been in hospital for several months.
Analysts do not see Sheikh Saqr’s death as posing any risk to the overall political stability of the UAE, even though Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is considered the least stable emirate of the seven-member federation.
Ras Al Khaimah, the closest emirate to Iran, effectively has been under the leadership of Saud since his older half brother, Sheikh Khalid, was deposed as crown prince in 2003 by decree.
Khalid has campaigned for several years to regain the leadership, but most analysts believe it is unlikely he will win power. Some believed his quest — and his popularity in the emirate — could complicate any transition.
A source close to Sheikh Khalid told Reuters on Wednesday his palace in Ras Al Khaimah had been surrounded by military vehicles. An eyewitness said there was also an additional security presence around the residence of Sheikh Saud.
In 2003, the federal government dispatched tanks to guard the palaces of the then newly appointed crown prince Saud, now in his 50s, a day after Khalid was dethroned.
Analysts said this time the succession process would most likely be smooth.
“I don’t foresee any real problems, I think the issue has been settled. The authorities in Abu Dhabi and at a federation level will not allow any sign of friction or instability,” Emirati politics professor Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said.
Sheikh Khalid spent several years abroad before recently returning to the UAE, although he had stayed in the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah. He returned to his Ras Al Khaimah palace on Wednesday, the source close to him said.
UAE blogger Ahmed Mansour, who comes from Ras Al Khaimah, said he did not see any real impact of the change in ruler on a federal level.
“This is just a continuation of what has been going on since 2003,” he said.
“Abu Dhabi has been supporting Sheikh Saud from the start and they stood by him during the events of 2003. Nothing has changed in terms of the reasons behind this support.”
Ras Al Khaimah, one of the poorer emirates of the UAE, sits on the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil passes.
The emirate’s economy is based on industries like cement, pharmaceuticals, and glass, and building a regional manufacturing and shipping hub. Its gross domestic product accounts for 1.5 percent of the UAE’s economy.
The government announced an official mourning period of a week with flags at half mast and said it would close government ministries and institutions.
The emirate has its own sovereign wealth fund, the Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA), which has a portfolio of around $2 billion.
In official recognition of Sheikh Saud’s succession to the post of emir, the UAE’s Federal Supreme Council “expressed its full support for Sheikh Saud as ruler of Ras al-Khaimah,” in a statement carried by the news agency.
Sheikh Saud’s elder brother, Sheikh Khaled, had proclaimed himself emir in a video message posted on his website soon after his father’s death.
“On (my father’s) passing away, I should assume his duties and obligations as the ruler of Ras al-Khaimah in accordance with the law and constitution of the United Arab Emirates,” Sheikh Khaled said in the video.
Sheikh Khaled did not attend his father‚Äôs funeral, a source close to the sheikh’s entourage said.
Three cousins asked him to attend alone, but he said he wanted to go with security and other supporters, according to the source.
Hundreds of people, among them Dubai ruler and UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed Al-Maktoum, gathered at the Sheikh Zayed mosque for Sheikh Saqr’s funeral.
It was guarded by police with M-4 and M-16 assault rifles, with a military helicopter circling overhead. Blue and white camouflage-painted vehicles, some carrying heavy machine guns, were deployed at a roundabout not far from the mosque.
Riad Kahwaji, head of the Dubai-based think-tank INEGMA, said Sheikh Khaled’s bid for the throne would amount to little more than a “media campaign” unless he gets the consent of UAE leaders.
“If the tribal leaders in Ras al-Khaimah and the rest of the UAE support the current crown prince as a ruler, then the situation will not escalate,” Kahwaji said. “Until now we have not heard any voices in Ras al-Khaimah calling for the return of Sheikh Khaled.”
Sheikh Khaled accuses his brother of turning the emirate into a “rogue state” that Iran uses to circumvent UN sanctions.
In Wednesday’s message, he said: “I have watched with growing concern as Ras al-Khaimah has recently strayed from my father’s lifelong mission of always putting the people first.”
Sheikh Khaled had some time ago employed US firm Mercury Public Affairs to support his efforts to return to power.
Mercury has claimed in a report that there are numerous small companies with close ties to Iran in Ras al-Khaimah’s free trade zone, which are used to bypass sanctions.
The report also alleges that Iranian agents are deployed in the emirate.
But Kahwaji says the allegations are groundless.
“There were international bodies which came here to investigate this matter but they found nothing,” he said. “There is no concrete proof of cooperation with Iran.”

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