Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah Image Credit: The White House

Kuwait City: Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah passed away on Tuesday. He was 91.

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah was admitted to hospital on July 18 for medical checks and then, a day later, underwent a successful surgery. On July 23, the Emir was flown to the United States to complete his medical treatment. The Emir’s office did not disclose the reason for the surgery or details of what treatment the Emir was going to receive in the US.

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The Emir’s designated successor Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmed Al Sabah temporarily took over some of the ruler’s constitutional duties on July 18.

Who was Sheikh Sabah?

Sheikh Sabah assumed the position of Emir on January 29, 2006. He was appointed prime minister in 2003 by his half-brother, the previous Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah. He became the 15th Ruler from the Al Sabah dynasty, and the 5th Emir of Kuwait since independence.

Sheikh Sabah was the Minister of Foreign Affairs between 1963 and 1991, and then from 1992 to 2003. With 40 years of experience in international affairs, Sheikh Sabah played a key role in establishing and shaping Kuwait’s foreign policy. He has been applauded as one of the Arab world’s leading diplomats and a global humanitarian.

Kuwait’s leading diplomat

On May 11, 1963, during Sheikh Sabah’s first year in office as Foreign Minister, Kuwait became a member of the United Nations. This was two years after the country gained independence.

Sheikh Sabah played a key role during the 1990 Iraqi invasion, as he mobilised Arab and international support to restore the country’s legitimacy and sovereignty.

For his efforts to strengthen Kuwait’s relationships in the Middle East after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah earned the title “dean of Arab diplomacy”.

After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah has visited Iraq twice, once in 2012 to attend the 23rd Arab League Summit and more recently in July 2019 to meet with Iraq’s Prime Minister at the time Adel Abdul Mahdi and discuss bilateral relations and the growing regional tensions.

Under Sheikh Sabah’s leadership, in 2016, Kuwait hosted a UN sponsored peace talks to mediate between the various factions involved in the ongoing Yemen war. The Emir has also hosted various major donor conferences in an effort to help war-torn countries like Iraq and Syria.

Diplomacy during Gulf crisis

Amidst the 2017 Gulf crisis, Sheikh Sabah established Kuwait as the key mediator between the two sides. The Emir’s efforts to act as mediator were applauded by the United States and France. Kuwait, which has retained ties with Qatar and has often acted as a mediator in regional disputes, has maintained that it wants to resolve the dispute “within the unified Gulf house”.

Kuwait-US ties

The United States and Kuwait have a strong and close relationship that dates back to Kuwait’s independence. Sheikh Sabah has bolstered the relationship between the two countries, as he met on several occasions with former president George W.Bush, former president Barack Obama and President Donald Trump in his capacity as Emir.

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Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington on September 7, 2017.


Sheikh Sabah was presented the ‘Humanitarian Award’ by former United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, in 2014 for his role as a globalhumanitarian leader. In 2013, Kuwait, under the direction of Sheikh Sabah, donated the $110 million in support of Syrian refugees in neighbouring Arab countries. The gesture amounted to the single largest donation by a Gulf country to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised the “wisdom and the courage of His Highness the Emir in deciding to act through the international, multilateral humanitarian system. This indeed raises the voice and the influence of Kuwait in the international community.”

In February 2020, Palestinians in Gaza named a street after Sheikh Sabah for his ongoing efforts to support Palestinian rights. Through the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, Kuwait gave the Palestinians a $200 million grant to rebuild homes and infrastructure that was damaged after the 2014 Israeli bombing of Gaza.

Over the years, Kuwait has donated a significant amount to Iraq after the 2003 invasion. A 2018 conference hosted by Kuwait resulted in countries and development institutions pledging $30 billion in aid.

Investing in Kuwaiti culture

The Diwan Al Amir is the royal palace of the Emir of Kuwait and carries out projects in his name. Under the reign of Sheikh Sabah, the Diwan Al Amiri carried out several cultural projects from the Jaber Al Ahmed Cultural Centre to the Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre. The aim of the projects was to bolster Kuwaiti culture of by promoting music, art and science.

Another cultural project initiated by the Diwan Al Amiri, is the Al Salam Palace. In April 2019, Sheikh Sabah inaugurated the Al Salam palace, a 300-year-old palace that has been transformed into a museum.