Kuwait’s new prime minister faces challenges at home and abroad

The infighting puts Sheikh Sabah, whose job often includes mediating between parliament and the government, in a tenuous spot.
Wednesday 20/11/2019
Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah attends the Arab League's foreign ministers meeting to discuss unannounced US blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace, in Cairo, Egypt April 21, 2019. (AP)
Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah attends the Arab League's foreign ministers meeting to discuss unannounced US blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace, in Cairo, Egypt April 21, 2019. (AP)

LONDON - Incoming Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah will be tested from day one as he heads a government rife with instability and facing regional unrest and tensions.

At the top of Sheikh Sabah’s agenda will be Iranian aggression, the war in Yemen and the diplomatic row between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain. He must also contend with unrest that has seen Lebanon and Iraq engulfed in months-long anti-government protests.

Kuwait has not been spared from protests. Protesters demonstrated outside Kuwait’s parliament in early November against alleged corruption, worsening a dispute between royal family members and the prime minister that prompted a cabinet reshuffle. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for next year.

The government stepped down after parliamentarians called for a vote of no-confidence against the Interior minister and a dispute between high-level officials, including the Interior and Defence ministers, over alleged mishandling of public funds went public.

“I suspect the impending parliamentary elections are pressing some of these royal rivalries to the surface,” Kristin Smith Diwan, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told Reuters.

“Royal politics and parliamentary politics are intertwined, due to the power the parliament holds through the constitution to approve the appointment of the crown prince,” Diwan said.

The infighting puts Sheikh Sabah, whose job often includes mediating between parliament and the government, in a tenuous spot. Kuwait Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, is the ultimate authority on state affairs.

The emir, in a speech November 18, said the media and public should avoid the issue and that corruption allegations would be dealt with by the judiciary.

Before promoting Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid, the emir asked Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah to form a new cabinet but the latter declined because of what he said was a media campaign targeting him.

Kuwait’s oil policy, which is determined by the Supreme Petroleum Council, and its foreign policy, directed by the emir, are not expected to significantly change under the new leadership.

Kuwait is unique among its Arab Gulf neighbours in that it has a legislative branch with power to craft law and summon ministers.

--

(With news agencies)

9