Here’s how S.Arabia and UAE helped appoint Sheikh Mishaal as Kuwait’s crown prince

October 11, 2020 - 10:48

TEHRAN – In a carefully devised plan, the Saudis and Emiratis handled the transition of power in Kuwait following the passing of its emir on September 29, successfully appointing their favorite man as Kuwait’s new crown prince. 

On October 6, the Tehran Times reported that the Saudis and Emiratis might change the line of succession in Kuwait by paving the way for a previously unknown security official to become the crown prince of the country. The official, Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmed al-Jaber, was appointed as the Kuwait crown prince after he received remarkable support from his backers in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. 

On October 7, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, the new emir of Kuwait, announced that he nominated Sheikh Mishaal as the crown prince of the country, putting an end to a fierce behind-the-scene competition among several powerful men within the ruling family who all were aspiring to become crown prince. The Kuwaiti emir has issued an emiri decree stipulating that Sheikh Mishaal has been appointed as Kuwait’s crown prince. 

The ruling family of Al Sabah has endorsed the new crown prince. The Parliament of Kuwait also unanimously pledged allegiance to Sheikh Mishaal, who was sworn in before the lawmakers. 

In the days and months leading to his appointment, Sheikh Mishaal received support from Saudi Arabia and to some extent from the United Arab Emirates. The two countries threw their weight behind Sheikh Mishaal months before the former emir passed away. It seems that they have devised a very complicated plan since at least July when Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, 91, was admitted to a hospital in the U.S. 

A closer examination of Saudi and Emirati media outlets show that the plan had many stages and was implemented step by step. 

Step one: raise the issue

As Kuwait announced that its emir was admitted to hospital, the Saudis and Emiratis gradually shed light on the issue of succession in Kuwait in July, with a London-based UAE-affiliated newspaper running a story under the headline “Admission of Kuwait’s emir to hospital revives the issue of succession.”
The newspaper, al-Arab, said at the time that the power struggle in Kuwait was centered around the position of crown prince, not the emir. Because the former crown prince, Sheikh Nawaf, who later ascended to the throne after the demise of Sheikh Sabah, is suffering from “a rare disease in the blood,” and most importantly the position of crown prince will soon fall vacant.

Citing Kuwaiti sources, al-Arab 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.” 

The al-Arab story came at a time when Kuwaiti news media outlets had largely avoided discussing the issue of succession to the throne in the country; rather they focused on creating consensus among ruling elites with regard to the transition of power.

Step two: discredit other contenders

The newspaper also discussed potential contenders for the positions of crown prince only to tarnish their image through associating them with groups that are considered to be a source of division in Kuwait and beyond.
It named many figures such as Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad, Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah, and Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad. But all these individuals were discredited by al-Arab. It said Sheikh Ahmad is supported by the Muslim Brotherhood group and Qatar, the two archrivals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. According to the newspaper, while the sages of the ruling family were pushing for the nomination of Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah, businessmen and some power circles in the ruling family favor former Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad. 

Step three: promote your favorite choice

No one was able to create consensus among the ruling family and balance Kuwait’s foreign relations. Therefore, there was a need for a new figure. 

Enter Sheikh Mishaal. 

A little bit more than a week later, al-Arab ran another story on the issue of succession in Kuwait, turning the spotlight on a new figure who was being touted as the next crown prince. It added Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmed al-Jaber to the list of contenders.

“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,” al-Arab said on July 27, long before the demise of Sheikh Sabah, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood group hates Sheikh Mishaal and it has even launched a campaign to prevent him from becoming crown prince.
Step four: reveal your choice

In the run-up to the nomination of Shiekh Mishaal, Saudi- and UAE-affiliated media outlets intensified their efforts to promote Sheikh Mishaal. 

The Arab Weekly, another pro-UAE outlet, 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.”

“They [diplomatic sources] 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,” wrote The Arab Weekly, adding, “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.”

One day later, the emir of Kuwait appointed Sheikh Mishaal as crown prince, a move that was widely welcomed by the Saudis and Emiratis. In fact, Saudi Arabia began contacting Sheikh Mishaal even before he was nominated for crown prince. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman held a telephone conversation with Sheikh Mishaal to offer condolences over the passing of Sheikh Sabah. This was an unusual act. Because foreign leaders usually held such calls with the leaders of a country that has just lost one of its high-ranking officials, not with low-ranking officials such as Sheikh Mishaal, who was the deputy chief of the National Guard at the time of the call. This was also the reason why a lot of analysts interpreted the call as a sign that Saudi Arabia supports Sheikh Mishaal in his quest to become crown prince. 

Sheikh Mishaal’s animosity toward the Muslim Brotherhood, and his security experience, along with his tepid attitude toward Iran, made him a perfect choice for the Saudis and Emiratis, who rushed to congratulate him after his appointment as crown prince. 

The Mishaal appointment is also important to Emiratis and Saudis because he will likely be the last emir of the older generation. He is 80 years old while the current emir is 83 years old. Assuming that Sheikh Mishaal will ascend to the throne, the next emir after him will likely to be of the younger generation, which means that the power will be passed to the younger generation of the ruling family under the supervision of a pro-Saudi emir. Of course, this does not mean that the crown prince is going to publicly embrace the Saudi policies in the region. First of all, he needs to become emir and consolidate his power. Then he may align himself more assertively with those who helped him take over as crown prince in the first place. 


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