Saudis and Emiratis may change line of succession in Kuwait

October 6, 2020 - 0:13

TEHRAN – As the oldest crown prince in the world became emir in Kuwait, the race to choose his successor started, a race that could tempt some regional players to interfere in the process of determining who will lead the oil-rich country in the decades to come.

Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah died at 91 on September 29, leaving the tiny OPEC-member nation at crossroads in terms of choosing the next crown prince. Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, the former crown prince, took office as emir shortly after Sheikh Sabah passed away. Before becoming emir, he was the oldest crown prince in the world at 83. He took over as emir without any difficulty. Everything went smoothly. 

However, the vacancy of the position of the crown prince has sparked a deep, behind-the-scene race to choose the next leader of Kuwait. This race was exacerbated by the fact that the current emir is old and sick, though he is currently in good health conditions. But sooner or later, he may suffer from serious health problems. 

Sheikh Nawaf has not chosen his successor yet but according to the constitution of Kuwait, he has up to one year to choose his crown prince. Former emirs of Kuwait have appointed their crown prince shortly after they ascended to the throne. The late Sheikh Sabah chose his crown prince 22 days after he became emir and Sheikh Jaber chose his crown prince 47 days after his ascension to the throne. So we can expect the new emir to name his successor in the coming months.

The Kuwaiti media outlets have largely avoided discussing the issue of succession to the throne in the country, rather focusing on creating consensus among ruling elites with regard to the transition of power. However, publications and news media outlets outside Kuwait -mainly associated with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates- had raised the issue long before the demise of Sheikh Sabah in September.

“Admission of Kuwait’s emir to hospital revives the issue of succession,” read a headline of the London-based al-Arab newspaper on July 19, 2020. The newspaper is widely known for its close ties with the UAE.

It shed light on a number of powerful figures within the ruling family who are contending for the position of crown prince after the Sheikh Nawaf took office. 

Citing Kuwaiti sources, the newspaper said, “The issue of who will succeed Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad is settled in favor of his brother Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad, who is currently the crown prince, but the question is who will be the crown prince of Nawaf Al-Ahmad, who in turn suffers from a rare disease in the blood. This disease forced the Kuwaiti crown prince to receive treatment in the United States over the past years.”

It also discussed three figures who could possibly be nominated as the new crown prince. The Muslim Brotherhood group and Qatar support Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad, al-Arab said, while the sages of the ruling family are pushing for the nomination of Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah, the former foreign minister of Kuwait. Businessmen and some power circles in the ruling family favor former Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad, who are capable of establishing “balanced ties” with Kuwait’s neighbors, the newspaper said. 

On July 27 the newspaper ran another story on the issue of succession in Kuwait, turning the spotlight on a new figure who is currently being touted as the next crown prince. It added Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmed al-Jaber to the list of contenders.
The newspaper said, “Sheikh Mishaal, who has a strong personality, accompanied the emir to the United States, where he was treated at the ‘Mayo Clinic’ hospital, while Sheikh Nasser Al-Sabah and Nasser Al-Mohammad remained in Kuwait.”

According to al-Arab, the Muslim Brotherhood hates Sheikh Mishaal and it has launched a campaign to prevent him from becoming crown prince. 

The Arab Weekly, another pro-UAE outlet, also touted Sheikh Mishaal, saying that he leads the race for crown prince. 

Citing political sources, the outlet said, “The sources confirmed to The Arab Weekly that Deputy Chief of the National Guard Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, who had accompanied the late emir during his stay in the United States for medical treatment, is considered to have the best chances of becoming the new crown prince.”

It also said that the issue of who will become crown prince is expected to “be solved soon.”

“Diplomatic circles did not rule out a resolution to the situation with Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmad becoming Crown Prince and Nasser al-Mohammad becoming prime minister. They explain that Sheikh Mishaal is a strong-willed figure and carries a lot of influence inside the al-Sabah family, which makes him very likely to win the race for crown prince. They point out that on his arrival from the United States with the body of the late emir, many members of the family greeted him at the airport in a sign of loyalty,” the Arab Weekly said. 

Al-Arab and other Emirati-affiliated news outlets highlight the anti-Muslim Brotherhood inclinations of Sheikh Mishaal, whom the proponents to the Muslim Brotherhood consider as the “head of hidden government,” according to al-Arab. 

“Sheikh Mishaal is now pushing for a speedy settlement of the issue, as he knows that time is not necessarily on his side, particularly with the activity of the Muslim Brotherhood movement seeking to stop him from becoming the next crown prince,” the Arab Weekly asserted, citing diplomatic circles. 

Unlike his rivals, Sheikh Mishaal does not have good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, which, along with his tepid attitude toward Iran, makes him a perfect choice for the Saudis and Emiratis. The Saudi inclination toward Sheikh Mishaal was on full display during a telephone conversation between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Sheikh Mishaal. 

The MBS held a telephone conversation with Sheikh Mishaal to express condolences over the demise of the emir. The conversation raised questions over a Saudi plan to help Sheikh Mishaal become the next crown prince of Kuwait. 

All contenders for the position of crown prince are old and represent an older generation of the ruling family. Therefore, it’s highly likely that the next crown prince of Kuwait would be the last emir of the older generation, which means that the next crown prince would likely be the one to pass the power to a younger crown prince that could rule for a longer period. This may be the reason why the Saudi and Emirati media outlets are so interested in the process of nominating the next crown prince of Kuwait. If they succeed in touting their choice, the Saudis and Emiratis will be sure of Kuwait being on their side for decades to come.

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