Kuwait and Saudi Arabia between two crises

Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, may he rest in peace, could have acted like Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, Qatar’s crown prince in 1990 and its real ruler, but he didn’t. Back then, during the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Doha in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Sheikh Hamad tried to blackmail the five GCC leaders at the summit, and he did not accept to discuss the liberation of Kuwait unless those present acknowledge Qatar’s rights to the Hawar and Fasht al-Dibal islands from Bahrain. King Fahd was the first one to storm out of the room in anger as he viewed this as an insulting move.

Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait represented a precious chance for anyone to bargain. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia believed being loyal to pledges, respecting the GCC principles and protecting states from chaos, no matter what the disputes’ motives are, meant it was a must to stand against the invasion of Kuwait. Of course, it was in Riyadh’s interest to defeat Saddam. There was also a less dangerous option which was to co-exist with Saddam.

Without Saudi Arabia’s desire and approval, it would not have been possible to confront the invasion as the kingdom hosted 500,000 soldiers, including 200,000 American soldiers, who liberated Kuwait in four days.

Resisting the invasion

King Fahd is a historical character because he tolerated threats and managed the confrontation with Saddam who was quick to cancel Kuwait’s identity and flag, destroyed its legitimacy and invented an alternative legitimacy and replaced its currency. The king was keen that the ruling family of Sabah remain present and united because it was the symbol of Kuwait’s legitimacy. He hosted the family in the mountainous city of Taif which was a secure location far from Saddam’s attacks and intelligence agents. He allowed the Kuwaiti government in exile to operate from Taif and contributed to reviving the symbols of Kuwait’s legitimacy, such as the dinar, and published some dailies and reactivated its channels. Kuwaiti military personnel, including the pilots who heroically fought from Ali Al Salem Air Base to confront Saddam’s invasion, gathered in Saudi Arabia. King Fahd also supported the resistance against the invasion.

The most dangerous decision which King Fahd made was summoning American troops to Saudi Arabia. This was a huge responsibility. Many royal family members asked him: “You are the king, and we accept your decisions so are you certain of this? Are you certain that if you bring the Americans into the kingdom, you will be able to get them out of it?”


Kuwait confronts seismic hazards, and it needs the GCC’s unity and stability the most. Saddam is gone, but much worse and more evil men have succeeded him.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

While war preparations were underway and as the Americans arrived, parties in support of Saddam in Saudi Arabia voiced hostility towards Saudi Arabia. The Muslim Brotherhood accused Saudi Arabia of apostasy and launched inciting campaigns against it. These accusations and campaigns were led by Hassan al-Turabi in Sudan and Rached Ghannouchi in Tunisia. They used media platforms and cassettes to serve this propaganda and distributed statements via fax machines. Ali Saleh, Saddam’s ally in Yemen, threatened Saudi Arabia so the king froze relations with him and ended the presence of around 2 million Yemenis. Voices spoke out against the Saudi government and protests were seen for the first time in Riyadh and its mosques. Young clerics spoke out against fighting to liberate Kuwait and said “it was not acceptable to fight for Kuwait which does not rule according to God’s sharia.” People protested in several Arab capitals against Saudi Arabia. Many Arab governments stood by Saddam. Even during the urgent Arab League session in Cairo, only a small majority – 12 of 20 countries – supported Kuwait’s cause. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak played a significant role at the time as despite objections, he refused attempts to confuse the cause and imposed voting by raising hands instead of making a decision based on consensus.

King Fahd risked his countries’ stability and capabilities as the chances of liberating Kuwait were weak. There was the possibility that there would not be a liberation battle or that it would last for a long time, like Iran’s war. There was also the possibility of defeat. It could have been possible not to achieve complete victory or for Saddam not to entirely exit Kuwait. It was also possible that Saudi Arabia will not be safe after the war. King Fahd was a brave leader who made a historical decision as he could have done like Sheikh Hamad in Qatar and bargain with Saddam in exchange for Kuwait but he didn’t. We are all proud of his decision to stand by Kuwait.

We, observers in the Gulf, are therefore very surprised when we hear some Kuwaitis voice support of Qatar instead of condemning its actions that target the security and existence of the four countries which supported Kuwait during its darkest days. Yes, Kuwait has a moral debt to repay and we expect it to repay part of it. If interests and not morals are the reason they support Qatar, then we advise them to open their eyes, think well and balance between their future interests – between what’s more important and Qatar’s promises and temporal temptations. Kuwait confronts seismic hazards, and it needs the GCC’s unity and stability the most. Saddam is gone, but much worse and more evil men have succeeded him.

This article is also available in Arabic.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:54 - GMT 06:54
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