Sheikh Mishaal is Kuwait’s crown prince, next generation will wait a little longer

Sheikh Nasser expected to be appointed deputy chief of the National Guard as a prelude to him becoming next in line for the position of crown prince.
Thursday 08/10/2020
 The new Kuwaiti Crown Prince Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah waves as he arrives at the parliament to take oath on October 8. (AFP)
The new Kuwaiti Crown Prince Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah waves as he arrives at the parliament to take oath on October 8. (AFP)

KUWAIT – Gulf sources closely following developments in Kuwait said that deputy chief of the National Guard Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah was able to secure the position of crown prince a few days after the death of Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah and the accession of Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah to the throne as the new Kuwaiti emir.

These sources noted that by choosing Sheikh Mishaal, 81, as crown prince despite his old age, the al-Sabah family in Kuwait has largely opted for stability.

Sheikh Mishaal, who has a strong personality and an overwhelming presence, suffers from kidney problems and is known to be a strict person who prefers to stay out of the spotlight and pay attention to security matters.

The new Kuwaiti emir also suffers from a rare blood disorder for which he has had to undergo several treatment sessions in the United States.

The same sources said choosing two senior family members that are brothers of Sheikh Sabah to take up the two most important positions in Kuwait does not mean the country is not thinking about future prospects when the ruling family will have to call on younger faces to occupy the highest positions of the land.

All eyes are now at on former Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohamed, who was among the names proposed for crown prince and the candidate of the business community in Kuwait.

Kuwaiti political sources expect that Sheikh Nasser would soon be appointed deputy chief of The National Guard, replacing Sheikh Mishaal, as a prelude to him becoming the next in line for the position of crown prince.

The choice of Sheikh Mishaal indicates that a transition to the younger generation has been postponed in Kuwait, unlike in Saudi Arabia, where Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud broke the tradition of transferring power from brother to brother among the sons of the kingdom's founder, Kind Abdulaziz Al Saud, and brought members of the next generations of the house of Saud into the picture. King Salman began by appointing Muhammad bin Nayef, a member of the third generation, as crown prince, only to remove him later and appoint his own son, Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, to the position.

The same sources revealed that there is another important problem facing Kuwait, which is the future prospects of the al-Salem wing of the ruling family and its continued exclusion from the position of emir. An internal agreement previously  existed between the al-Jaber and al-Salem branches of the al-Sabah family to rotate power between the two wings.

The sources indicated that the al-Salem wing may soon be satisfied with the appointment of Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah, 64, a graduate of Harvard University, and son of the former Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Salem, as prime minister.

Kuwaitis are satisfied with the speed at which the crown prince has been chosen, which indicates harmony between him and the new Kuwaiti emir on how to help the country out of its economic crisis on the one hand, and establish more positive cooperation with parliament on the other hand, enabling the country's authorities to work in an appeased atmosphere and address urgent issues.

Experts and diplomats say that the immediate focus will be dealing with local affairs in light of perceived widespread corruption, and concerns over the economy and living conditions in a country where citizens enjoy the benefits of a social welfare system from cradle to grave and in which expatriates form a significant part of the workforce.

Another urgent task awaiting the new authorities is a bill allowing the Kuwaiti government to borrow money from international lenders to cover its significant budget deficit. This bill is facing resistance in the National Assembly.

Cooperation with the National Assembly will be the government’s main key to any reform process in the country. The Kuwaiti parliament has wide powers and is known for its strong criticism of the government. It can block legislation and any member of parliament can subpoena the prime minister or any cabinet ministers for questioning. Clashes between the legislative and executive authorities in Kuwait usually lead to government amendments or the dissolution of parliament.

In 2012, Sheikh Sabah broke the hold of opposition groups in parliament by using his executive powers to amend the voting system, sparking one of the largest protests in the country's history.

Kuwaiti opposition figures say that they have proposed electoral reforms and amnesty for opposition figures during recent meetings with Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah before he became emir of the country, in an attempt to improve parliament’s tense relations with the government that have sometimes turned into sharp differences.

“Reformists and independents are seeking reconciliation (with the government), strengthening freedom of expression, economic and political reforms, combating corruption, and reforming the demographics of the country,” said Ghanem al-Najjar, a former nonresident scholar at the Middle East Center.

“It will be difficult to amend the election law as the election date approaches ... but everything is possible,” he added.

On Tuesday, deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Anas al-Saleh announced he had submitted to the Council of Ministers a draft law to establish the Supreme National Elections Commission, in preparation for submitting it to the National Assembly.

The minister said in a statement that this step comes “to achieve more transparency and integrity and reassure the community of the validity of the (elections) results as the genuine expression of the true will of the voters.”