The Prince of Arab Diplomacy

These are nervous days in the Arabian Gulf, as Saudi Arabia and its allies including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain continue to enforce a blockade of Qatar. Amid a summer of simmering tensions in the Middle East, the potential for rhetoric to spill into violence has prompted urgent calls for mediation and a de-escalation of the crisis.

The mantle of mediator has so far been carried by the leader of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, a figure respected by all sides in the dispute and one feted by western governments for his diplomatic talents. This ambassadorial flair was honed over four decades as the Gulf nation’s foreign minister, marking Sheikh Sabah as one of the longest-serving foreign ministers in the world and earning him the affectionate nickname ‘The Prince of Arab Diplomacy’.

After weeks spent shuttling quietly between all parties to the dispute, Sheikh Sabah this week reiterated his hope that the crisis could be resolved through dialogue. The Gulf nations had “one destiny”, he said, because of their historical ties and cross-border family relations. In a speech marking the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan, he also prayed for efforts “to preserve our Gulf states [and] their peoples and to avoid all that disrupts their strong relations and threatens their security and safety”.

The European Union, meanwhile, has endorsed Kuwaiti-led efforts to bring an end to the standoff, with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urging a solution from within the Gulf region and not by outside powers. Gulf countries, she said, have the “strengths and wisdom to find a political way out of this crisis”.

Also this week UK Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to the Amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, welcoming his leading role in mediating between Gulf states to find a solution to the ongoing isolation of Qatar, and offering to support this process. According to Downing Street, the two leaders agreed on the need for all sides to take steps to restore Gulf Cooperation Council unity at the earliest opportunity, with a view to ensuring the long-term stability of the region.

Prime Minister May also congratulated Sheikh Sabah on his election to the UN Security Council next year. In these tumultuous times the elevation of such a widely respected mediator to the body charged with preserving world peace and security, can only be a cause for hope.

The excerpt below from The Amir of Humanity book highlights the significant efforts Sheikh Sabah has made in the pursuit of peace and diplomacy over the course of a long life in public service.

Kuwait has established a deserved reputation as a valuable neutral party, a mediator in regional and global disputes, and a voice of calm in moments of strife. It has disavowed extremism and terrorism, and embraced rationality and objectivity in all its dealings.
For example, the country would emerge as one of the key drivers of a 1984 resolution supporting Iraq in its defence against Iranian aggression, and outlining a roadmap to peace.
Sheikh Sabah, along with the foreign ministers of other Arab nations, worked tirelessly to safeguard security and stability in the region, and eventually end the bloody conflict.
Of course, Kuwait’s high standing with other nations would one day be highlighted in the most testing of circumstances. The 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq drew instant and overwhelming worldwide condemnation. The Gulf state received unparalleled international support, as evidenced by the formation of a wide-ranging international alliance to liberate its territory and restore the legitimate Kuwaiti leadership.
Such a reaction speaks overwhelmingly to the effectiveness of the foreign policy crafted by the Amir — a policy dedicated to establishing security and stability, and encouraging cooperation, peace, conflict resolution and international diplomacy.
Sheikh Sabah’s approach to diplomacy and Kuwait’s role on the global stage, can perhaps best be summarised by the man himself.
Speaking at the UN, just a few months after his appointment as Foreign Minister, he told delegates:
“Kuwait’s participation in international activities clearly indicates that Kuwait’s independence and membership of the UN are not an end by themselves, but are rather a means by which Kuwait can share responsibility in improving the lives of the people in our country and in other countries.”
In foreign policy, then, Kuwait has proved a firm advocate of Arab and Islamic values since its independence in June 1961. This is reflected in — and stems from — the country’s constitution, which declares that Kuwait is an Islamic state and part of the wider Arab Nation. It stands alongside its Arab and Muslim brothers, embraces them in times of sorrow, and soothes them in times of conflict.

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