Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait, passed away peacefully on 29 September 2020 in the United States, where he was receiving medical treatment, aged 91 after ruling for 14 years.
Widely regarded as the ‘Dean of Arab Diplomacy’, Sheikh Sabah was the very personification of his calming and softly-spoken demeanour, always assuming the mediation role and the voice of reason in the affairs of Kuwait, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region and the wider Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) fraternity.
This role was especially important during the last two decades of rising political and economic tension in the world and region, including the global financial crisis in 2008, the Gulf War and the capture of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003, the civil wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as the collapse of oil prices earlier this year in the wake of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
Sheikh Sabah was born on 16 June 1929 in Kuwait City, the son of Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and Munira Al-Ayyar. The al-Sabah family had ruled Kuwait for over 250 years. Sheikh Sabah was the great-grandson of the founder of modern Kuwait, Mubarak al-Sabah, who signed a “Treaty of Friendship” with Britain in 1899 that saw it become a protectorate.
During that time Kuwait was primarily a pearl diving and trading outpost under British rule, during which Sheikh Sabah received his formal education and established his reputation as an avid anglophile. Following independence from Britain in 1961 and the dramatic rise of oil prices in 1973, Kuwait started its journey of economic and societal transformation, which saw it become the country with the sixth largest oil reserves in the world.
Sheikh Sabah was always committed to peaceful dialogue and unity of the GCC. He emerged as the regional mediator very often in difficult situations – a reputation which was nurtured during his near 40-year tenure as Kuwait’s foreign minister from 1963 to 2003. He played a prominent role in the establishment of the GCC in 1981. Saddam Hussein’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990 saw the House of al-Sabah forced into exile in Saudi Arabia, only to return after the liberation of Kuwait by US-led Operation Desert Storm.
Kuwait was one of the pioneers of Islamic banking, with strong support from the ruling al-Sabah family and the National Assembly. Kuwait Finance House is the second oldest Islamic commercial bank, licenced in 1976 after Dubai Islamic Bank in the UAE in 1975. Today Kuwait has several dedicated Islamic banks and financial institutions including Ahli United Bank, Kuwait International Bank, Warba Bank and Boubyan Bank.
Sheikh Sabah had two siblings and four offspring, two of whom have passed away. His spouse Sheikha Fatuwah bint Salman died in 1990.
Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Ruler of Kuwait, born 16 June 1929; died 29 September 2020.”