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Kuwait: Challenges and hopes in Post-Nawaf era

World and Arab leaders mourned the passing of the late Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, who was laid to rest on Sunday after a prolonged illness.

In recent years, Kuwait encountered several political challenges. However, the genuine sentiments expressed in bidding farewell to the late Emir were evident in the spontaneous nickname bestowed upon him, “the Emir of Amnesty.”

Soon after the announcement of Sheikh Nawaf’s passing, Kuwaitis swiftly expressed their mourning and highlighted his numerous virtues. On social media, a slogan was posted, seemingly embodying the sentiment of Kuwaitis: “Farewell to the Emir of Amnesty, Welcome to the Emir of Reform.”

In a span of fewer than 20 years, Kuwait experienced the loss of three emirs: the late Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad, who passed away in January 2006; the late Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad, in 2020; and most recently, Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad, who departed on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023.

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Sheikh Nawaf, the 16th Emir from the Al Sabah family, marked the sixth ruler after Kuwait gained independence and established its modern constitution in 1961. His tenure of nearly three years in power stands as the shortest reign in Kuwait’s recent history.

After a brief period of his rule, it became apparent that Sheikh Nawaf was battling an illness, a fact known to Kuwaiti society. Consequently, widespread sympathy extended towards him during his illness and upon his passing.

Understanding the gravity of his health condition, he entrusted some of his authorities to Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, who shouldered a significant responsibility in steering the country’s affairs.

Kuwait, a nation characterised by diverse perspectives and approaches at the upper echelons of leadership, faced a pivotal moment with the passing of Sheikh Nawaf.

Immediately after the announcement of his demise, and without any prior coordination, a majority of Kuwait’s diwaniyas closed their doors as a mark of mourning for the departed Emir. Diwaniyas serve as communal forums where individuals convene to engage in discussions and exchange views on public matters.

The years during Sheikh Nawaf’s rule witnessed significant internal political turmoil, marked notably by the dissolution of the Kuwaiti National Assembly on multiple occasions.

A prevalent perception among a considerable portion of Kuwaiti society deemed these conflicts as a futile waste of time, lacking a compelling rationale. Consequently, early elections were called repeatedly, characterising this period with a series of crises.

The Emir of Amnesty

A few days before his passing, Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad issued a far-reaching amnesty that extended to nearly all political convicts, regardless of the scale of their offences. This act earned him the moniker “the Emir of Amnesty” among the public.

The late Emir devoted most of his life in service to his nation. His tenure began as governor of Hawally, an area characterised by a diverse population of citizens and residents.

Remarkably, he held this position for nearly 20 years. Subsequently, he assumed the roles of the Minister of Interior and Minister of Defence on multiple occasions. Throughout his various positions, he was widely recognised for his integrity, disciplined approach to work, as well as his tolerance and simplicity.

With the passing of the late Nawaf Al Ahmad, Kuwait has embarked on a new era with the appointment of Sheikh Mishaal Al Sabah as the 17th Emir from the Al Sabah ruling family and the seventh following the country’s independence. Many Kuwaitis hold hope that this era will signify a period of reform and accomplishment across various administrative and political spheres.

There exists a pressing need for substantial reforms encompassing multiple sectors. These reforms are crucial for the modernisation and refinement of the education system, the enhancement of the public health sector while ensuring stringent oversight of private health care institutions. Moreover, an imperative lies in revitalising a faltering public administration and resolving economic inconsistencies.

Foremost among the reforms is the necessity for political transformation, particularly in advancing the legislative system. Additionally, establishing harmony between state institutions, often at odds with contradictory decisions, is essential.

There’s a crucial requirement to revitalise Kuwait’s soft power, comprising active diplomacy and cultural contributions. These facets have historically granted Kuwait an influential voice in its vicinity, serving as wings for its growth and influence.

The upcoming task is formidable. After the constitutional inauguration of Kuwait’s leader, Sheikh Mishaal Al Sabah, at the National Assembly, the government will resign in the ensuing days, paving the way for the appointment of a new government or the reassignment of existing positions based on the Emir’s perception.

An eagerly anticipated step for Kuwaitis is the naming of the new Crown Prince, a decision of significant importance. Expectations for the new era are vast, underpinned by unwavering and absolute confidence in the capabilities of the new Emir to navigate the nation towards broader horizons.

Kuwaitis look forward to a wise leadership focused on ensuring Kuwait’s security and safety while fostering progress and prosperity.

Mohammad Alrumaihi is a thinker, author and Professor of Political Sociology at Kuwait University

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