Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah nominated as Kuwait’s crown prince

Kuwaiti parliament will vote on nomination Thursday.
Wednesday 07/10/2020
A file picture of Kuwait’s Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah., who was nominated to be the country’s crown prince. (TAW)
A file picture of Kuwait’s Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah., who was nominated to be the country’s crown prince. (TAW)

DUBAI – Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah on Wednesday nominated Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah as crown prince, according to Amiri Diwan, which serves as the royal palace of the Kuwaiti emir.

The nomination will be put to a vote at the Kuwaiti National Assembly (parliament) on Thursday.

According to the Kuwaiti constitution, if the nomination does not gain a majority of votes in the National Assembly, the emir must submit three other names, one of which parliament must approve.

Sheikh Mishaal, 80, is the seventh son of the 10th ruler of Kuwait and a brother of the previous emir who passed away on September 29.

He has served as deputy chief of the Kuwait National Guard since 2004.

The nomination makes Sheikh Mishaal the possible heir apparent to the new emir, 83-year-old Sheikh Nawaf, who was propelled to power a week ago following the death of his half-brother.

Two members of Kuwait’s ruling al-Sabah family pledged support for Sheikh Mishaal for the position of crown prince.

“We pledge allegiance to Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad,” tweeted Faisal al-Hamoud al-Sabah, governor of the country’s Farwaniya governorate.

Another family member, Khaled al-Sabah, tweeted “we pledge allegiance to both of you” above pictures of Sheikh Mishaal and Sheikh Nawaf.

Senior members of the al-Sabah dynasty convened earlier on Wednesday to discuss the position of crown prince, a Kuwaiti source said.

Before Sheikh Mishaal can be officially named as the new leader, lawmakers must approve the choice during their final session on Thursday, ahead of the formation of a new government — a rare vote for the region’s Arab monarchies in which succession is typically decided behind palace doors.

Following the session, Kuwait’s parliament will dissolve itself ahead of elections tentatively set for late November.

Sheikh Mishaal, the fourth sibling to ascend from the same branch of the royal family, is widely seen as a conventional and safe choice.

Given his career in the interior ministry, very little is known about his policy preferences.

Unlike other top contenders for the post, he has steered clear of the country’s tumultuous politics and the royal family’s public feuds over corruption allegations.

His selection delays any generational change in Kuwait, reinforcing the contrast with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, now in effect led by powerful young princes.

— Multiple challenges —

Close to the late emir Sheikh Sabah new ruler Sheikh Nawaf, Kuwait experts say, he is expected to help guide state affairs in the US-allied OPEC member state.

“The emir will listen to his views, he will have an impact in that way,” said Kuwaiti political scientist and former UN envoy Ghanim Alnajjar.

“His focus will be security, the judiciary and other domestic issues.”

Sheikh Mishaal, who attended Britain’s Hendon Police College, was credited with helping reform Kuwait’s National Guard, and Kuwaiti journalist Faisal al-Qanae once described him as the “biggest enemy” of cronyism and lawbreaking.

Under the late Sheikh Sabah, who commanded great respect as a seasoned diplomat in a region divided along political and sectarian lines, Kuwait managed to pursue independent foreign policies despite the pressures of more belligerent regional heavyweights.

A worsening coronavirus outbreak and plunging oil prices have sharpened attention on Kuwait’s domestic grievances.

Gridlock in parliament has blocked the passage of a public debt law needed to raise $65 billion and mitigate the country’s looming liquidity crisis, and calls are growing for political reform.

Diplomats and analysts say the immediate focus will be on domestic issues with perceived corruption, living standards and the economy the top priorities for most Kuwaitis in a country with a cradle-to-grave welfare system and where expatriates constitute a big part of the workforce.

Deutsche Bank has estimated that Kuwait’s nearly $140 billion economy could shrink by 7.8% this year in what would be one of the worst economic crunches among Gulf oil exporters.

Key will be cooperation between cabinet and the outspoken parliament, the Gulf region’s oldest legislature that wields power to block bills and question ministers. Clashes have led to successive government reshuffles or dissolution of parliament.

The body was often in the past dominated by opposition groups until Sheikh Sabah in 2012 broke their hold by using executive powers to amend the voting system, sparking some of the largest protests in the country’s history.

Kuwaiti opposition figures have proposed electoral reforms and a pardon for dissidents in recent meetings with Sheikh Nawaf before he assumed power.

“Reformers and independents are looking for reconciliation (with the government), enhancing freedom of speech, economic and political reforms, combating corruption, demographics,” Alnajjar said.

“It will be difficult to amend the electoral law with elections coming up … but anything is possible.”