Tributes paid to Kuwait’s ‘Emir of Humanity’

The death of Kuwait’s Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, in September 2020 marked the passing of one of the Arab world’s most influential diplomats and a humanitarian champion.

Sheikh Sabah, 91, who had ruled Kuwait since 2006 and steered its foreign policy for more than 50 years, was a voice for compassion, tolerance and peace in a region often beset by conflict and tensions. Widely known as the ‘dean of Arab diplomacy’ he played a central and conciliatory role in many disputes, leading by example with his efforts to pursue stability and peace between states.

His greatest legacy, however, is arguably that of his philanthropy, which extended from supporting some of the world’s most vulnerable and needy communities, to rallying global aid responses.

Under Sheikh Sabah’s leadership, Kuwait became a leading humanitarian actor, galvanising huge financial assistance from around the globe to support relief efforts for Syrian refugees, following the outbreak of civil war in 2011.

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In Jordan, which is hosting more than 650,000 Syrian refugees, Kuwait is the leading funder of UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and remains one of the its largest supporters globally.

The country has also given generously to people in Palestine, Iraq, Yemen, Japan, Turkey, the Philippines, and Somalia.

Sheikh Sabah’s generous support for the UN response in Syria and elsewhere blazed a new trail in a region, where governments had traditionally preferred to give bilaterally or to fund their own aid efforts, helping to pave the way for more co-operative relationships within emergency response.

In recognition of his humanitarian work, in 2014, the emir was named by the UN as a Global Humanitarian Leader, and Kuwait was designated an International Humanitarian Centre.

“Kuwait has shown exemplary humanitarian leadership in supporting these operations under the compassionate and passionate leadership of His Highness, the Emir,” noted the then-UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.

“Kuwait may be a small country in size, but she has a big, broad and compassionate heart.”

The emir’s work in the humanitarian space has not only changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world, but also earned him the respect of global statesmen, past and present.

Commenting in 2017, former US President Jimmy Carter described Sheikh Sabah as “a global humanitarian leader”.

“His support of disaster relief, peace efforts and advancing public health are an inspiration. Other world leaders can learn from the wise example set by my friend,” he said. – PA