With great sadness and sorrow, we mourn the loss of Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah at a critical time for the region and for Kuwait. The passing of His Highness leaves all those who knew him in person, or as the benevolent leader of the state of Kuwait, deeply grief-stricken. He was held in high esteem by the people of Kuwait. His legacy will never be forgotten, and no words, no matter how poignant, can ever do him justice. Long decades of national, regional, Arab and international valiant efforts will immortalize him as a ruler of great stature and wisdom.
I have had the honor to meet this humble and wise leader on several occasions, and I have witnessed an array of unrivaled strengths. He was feared and highly respected, yet he never lost the love of his people. To many, he was a loving father and a resolute statesman. During our last encounter, after a seminar held at the National Council for Culture about conflict resolution and humanitarian intervention, we had a brief discussion about media and journalism in the past. I reminded him of the time he served as a Minister of Information and entrusted me with managing Al-Arabi magazine back in the 1980s. I mentioned that, at the time, he told me “the media can have a healing and a damaging impact on our society.” His response to this anecdote was spontaneous. He said as he laughed “…that might have been true in the past; however, nowadays the media seems to keep inflicting damage due to the heavy reliance on social media.” He was certainly right.
No one can deny that he was a brilliant speaker and communicator; he made sure to remain diplomatic, but not in the traditional sense. He valued candor and honesty over being evasive and tiptoeing around sensitive matters, especially when it came to taking a firm stance on certain issues.
Today, we bid farewell to Kuwait’s great ruler – the man who has worked diligently to fortify and mend Arab relations on multiple fronts. He has always been the first in line during Arab disputes to call for reconciliation and unity. His keenness to unite the ranks of Arabs stems from his deep understanding of Kuwait’s strategic position. He knew that Kuwait would not thrive and prosper in the absence of Arab and regional stability.
It only adds to our sorrow to know that Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad has left us during a time of division and rising tensions in the Arab world and among Gulf countries. The current state of the region saddened him greatly as it went against everything he believed in.
I have personally worked with him, along with a number of colleagues, during the conception of the Gulf Cooperation Council in its early stages. He was vehemently keen on ensuring the success of the council as part of his firm belief in the importance of unity and cooperation as the best means to withstand the tide and cope with the endless changes happening all around us.
He has long been an advocate for unity. For instance, in the 1970s, Sheikh Sabah made sure to personally accompany Bengali leader, Mujibur Rahman, on his own private plane to East Pakistan to request reconciliation after the disputes escalated between both sides. He has also worked closely with the late Egyptian President Abdel Nasser to help him mend Egyptian ties with other Arab countries after being severed. During the Iran-Iraq war, he traveled the world on his plane in an attempt to gather international support and put an end to the war. He played a role in mending rifts in Lebanon, Yemen, and many other countries. He has sponsored one of the best development programs in the region, which helped establish schools and hospitals for the people of Yemen.
Sheikh Sabah continued to lead efforts to engineer a reconciliation between opposing sides. His biggest concern was disputes between Arab states, and he was unwavering in his reconciliatory approach. He believed disputes were a gateway to foreign intervention, thus jeopardizing the region’s stability and peace. He has undoubtedly earned the title “Leader of Reconciliation.”
As for his efforts inside Kuwait, he was a staunch supporter for his brothers, the late Jaber Al-Ahmad and the late Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah and offered them constant advice. When he left his official position, a colleague of mine asked him if he was planning on writing a memoir and his answer was “I may not be heading the government, but I am still the head of the state.” From the moment he assumed power, he has made remarkable reforms, the first of which was separating the premiership from the post of Crown Prince.
He worked hard to uphold the rule of law in all sensitive Kuwaiti matters, while at the same time he continued to implement his strategy of reconciliation and mending rifts abroad. For this reason, he held a reputable position in the region and in the world.
Perhaps it is time to reveal a story that has been kept a secret for years. A few years ago, A Turkish official requested an urgent meeting with Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad. This meeting was held away from the public eye in the presence of a number of elite officials in Turkey with the aim of requesting His Highness’s wise interference. They asked him to offer his advice to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and urge him to listen to specialists and those loyal to him because his latest actions in major issues may prove to be harmful to Turkey’s interests. His Highness responded by thanking the officials for their trust but refused to interfere, explaining that “These are internal matters, and I do not have the right to interfere.” This story reveals Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad’s humbleness, wisdom, clear vision and political prowess.
Finally, it is worth noting His Highness’s contributions across various fields. He has worked diligently to achieve great progress that serves the best interests of Kuwaiti women. He has also achieved tremendous internal reforms that have made Kuwait the great nation it is right now. Furthermore, he showed a special interest in cultural fields. “Al-Arabi” magazine was an unprecedented media initiative that he created. As a person who served under him for nearly 18 years, I can testify that every time we received a complaint by any party about something that was published in Al-Arabi magazine, His Highness requested to meet with me and personally inquired about the matter. His office director at the time Ambassador Suleiman Majed Al-Shaheen can also testify to this.
The late Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad was particularly keen on protecting journalistic freedom and allowing Al-Arabi magazine to operate freely. For this reason, his death during those difficult times brings forth unspeakable grief, anguish, and tears. May God have mercy on his soul, and may his legacy be honored and upheld as part of Kuwait’s legacy.
This piece was originally published in the Saudi Arabian outlet Asharq Al-Awsat.