Kuwaiti National Guard figure picked as next crown prince
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Kuwait's deputy chief of the National Guard, who served for years in the oil-rich country's security service, was named crown prince on Wednesday, the Kuwaiti news agency reported, a cautious selection at a tumultuous time for Kuwait's politics and the world further region.
The nomination makes Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah the possible heir to the new emir, 83-year-old Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, who was brought to power after the death of his half-brother.
Although Sheikh Nawaf had a full year to choose a successor, he selected Sheikh Meshal in a record-breaking eight days, ending the frenzied speculation that has gripped Kuwaiti social media.
Before Sheikh Meshal can be officially named crown prince, lawmakers must approve the election during its final session on Thursday before the formation of a new government - a rare vote for the region's Arab monarchies, where the question of succession is typically decided behind the palace becomes doors.
After the session, the Kuwaiti parliament will dissolve before the elections, which are expected to take place in late November.
At 80, the inconspicuous Sheikh Meshal, another half-brother of the late Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, strengthens the traditional ranks of the royal family and is widely viewed as a conventional and safe choice. While his health remains unclear, he recently underwent a kidney transplant, according to a May 2018 article by the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy.
Given his career building the Home Office for over a decade, very little is known about his political preferences. Unlike other top candidates for the post, he has stayed away from the country's tumultuous politics and the royal family's public feuds over corruption allegations.
Bader al-Saif, assistant professor of history at Kuwait University, described the UK-trained minister as a rare high-ranking member of the royal family and a political old guard unaffected by the country's corruption scandals.
"He's an insider and an outsider at the same time," said al-Saif, noting that the country's National Guard remains a respected institution above the political struggle. "The unchecked corruption requires the introduction of a name that is fresh and has no associations."
Even so, Sheikh Meshal is not a newcomer to the Kuwaiti government. He was a close confidante of Sheikh Sabah during his tenure and accompanied him on official diplomatic visits as well as to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where the emir received medical treatment after the operation and later died.
His selection delays any generation change in Kuwait and increases the contrast with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are now actually led by ambitious young princes. Under the late Sheikh Sabah, who enjoyed great respect as an experienced diplomat in a region divided on the basis of political and sectarian aspects, Kuwait managed to pursue an independent foreign policy despite pressure from more belligerent regional heavyweights.
"Changes will take place in an orderly, gradual manner," said al-Saif. "This is the Kuwaiti way."
The election of Sheikh Meshal is also a sign that Kuwait will look inward for years to come. A worsening coronavirus outbreak, escalating tensions between parliament and cabinet and falling oil prices have drawn attention to Kuwait’s domestic ills. The parliamentary deadlock has stalled the passage of a national debt bill necessary to raise $ 65 billion and mitigate the country's looming liquidity crisis, and calls for political reform are mounting.
Also on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Kuwait City and was the youngest political figure to pay tribute to Sheikh Sabah after visits by Saudi Arabians, Emirates, Qatar and other Arab officials. Erdogan's meeting with the new ruling emir further underscores the late Sheikh Sabah's ability to navigate regional political rivalries, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates facing off against Iran and Qatar.
Erdogan later went to Qatar, where he met with his ruling emir. Turkey has supported the tiny Gulf state in the face of years of blockade by its neighbors for its support for Islamists. Ankara and Doha are on the same side in Libya's tortuous proxy war, too, supporting the United States-backed government in Tripoli.
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