A distinguished leader, who won the respect of the international community and the love of his people, has been summoned to heaven at the great age of 91. It was a sad day for me personally when I heard that the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah had finally lost the long battle against the illness for which he was receiving treatment in the United States of America.
His wisdom, generosity and natural peacemaking abilities will be greatly missed. I would ask his family members and all our Kuwaiti brothers and sisters to accept my heartfelt condolences on their loss. I was privileged to meet him at my hotel in Beirut some years ago and was impressed by his warm yet dignified personality.
Sheikh Sabah was one of the Gulf’s old-school heads of state who felt a strong kinship with his Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) counterparts and worked towards making the GCC a cohesive, unified and influential entity. He was a unifier who always tried to being disputing parties together without taking sides.
Throughout the last half a century when he served as Kuwait’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister until he was sworn-in as Amir and Commander of the Armed Forces in 2006, he was always a calming influence during the worst of storms.
On his watch Kuwait adopted a role as mediator between Lebanese factions and Yemeni warring parties, he was instrumental in resolving disputes between Bangladesh and Pakistan, and he tried hard to bring Qatar back into the Gulf fold. His tireless efforts to bring nations together did not escape US President Donald Trump who honored him with the prestigious Legion of Merit for “his tireless mediation of disputes”
The late Amir was also a renowned humanitarian who was highly praised by former US President Jimmy Carter and a succession of United Nations Secretaries General. Syrian refugees have been some of the biggest beneficiaries of his generosity and subsequent to the 2013 public uprisings in Egypt that unseated the Muslim Brotherhood government at a time when Cairo was on its economic knees heading for bankruptcy, Kuwait joined Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain that together came forward with an aid package totaling more than $12bn.
Emirates, especially those of my generation, feel particularly close to the people of Kuwait with whom we shared bread during the 1991 Gulf War and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Kuwaitis and other coalition partners on the battlefield to defeat Saddam Hussein’s invading army. I was delighted to host Kuwaiti guests in my hotels until they were able to return home. In truth, as a child, I hated being confined in school when I could be racing camels, running with my falcon and dog hunting bustard or wreck diving but I very much appreciated the accomplished teachers that were sent by Kuwait to ensure we had a solid educational grounding. They were inspirational and for that we owe Kuwait a large debt.
Kuwaitis have always put a high value on education. I have many friends from Kuwait who are all well educated, knowledgeable and well spoken. Indeed, they are masters of intelligent, thought-provoking discussions. My wish for them and for all Kuwaitis is that the legacy of Sheikh Sabah will live on for years to come in the hearts and minds of his successors. He has constructed the foundations of a modern, tolerant society, now is the time to build upon the blocks of fairness and justice he laid down.
As I say goodbye to an exceptional human who guided his nation safely through various storms I would also congratulate Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah on his accession and wish him well in his role as Amir. May Allah guide his hands and heart on to a path of peace, justice and prosperity!
By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor