In the words of Asrar Al-Qabandi: "Allah, Al-Watan, Al-Emir!" ("God, the Country, the Emir.") This was her motto during her days of the resistance. If you don’t know who Asrar is - I implore you to go forth and find out. She was a national hero and her life was worth what will amount to a brief internet quest. She echoes the sentiment felt by many Kuwaitis about Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
My personal history with this country stretches back most of my life, so it is only logical that I should form an opinion of its rulers. I have always held an affection for the ruler who passed away this week. Sheikh Jaber’s accolades since the beginning of his rule in 1977 are well known. The affection his people (and others like myself) felt for him may not be as apparent – at least in English language periodicals. There just isn’t enough being said in English to reveal the heart of this country – often referred to in the Western media as a "tiny oil-rich country".
Long before I ever came to Kuwait, I had known members of the Sabah family and through them, I have felt their love and admiration for Sheikh Jaber. They spoke of his kindness and genuine concern for his people and his country. Diplomats of various nationalities discussed his humble attitude; some bowing their heads when speaking of him.
The closest I have felt to Sheikh Jaber was during the Gulf War when he stood before the United Nations, in tears, asking for the worlds help in liberating his country. At that time, there was concern that he appeared weak by showing emotions in a global forum. I thought not. I admired him for his genuine heartfelt sadness and grief. Although he was a figure head, he felt (and was not ashamed to display) the same raw, sandblasted emotions that all of us who suffered losses during that time did. He showed a human side that I believe is lacking in many of leaders of today. I remember how people showed their affection for the Emir during that time while I was in Washington, DC. Sheikh Jaber’s picture was everywhere; T-shirts and photos of him whenever there was a demonstration or gathering. Then, I started to think back about how long I "knew" the Emir (while growing up in the States). Although we went through terms and terms of US presidents, the Emir had been in power since 1977. So, if he had such an impact on me personally – on the other side of the world – how had he impacted Kuwaitis? I grew up seeing clips of the Emir surrounded by colorfully-dressed, smiling and singing little kids who obviously adored him.
Within a week of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, the Kuwaiti government was working from Taif in Saudi Arabia. The Emir worked with the US (George Bush Sr.) and other global leaders to come to the aid of his country. Effectively, he saved his own country through negotiations and cleaver lobbying. The Emir was loved. The resistance fighters wrote slogans (like Asrar’s) as graffiti to psychologically terrorize the Iraqis during the occupation. For his name and his photo alone, they risked their lives. Love doesn’t get much deeper than that.
I never met Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah personally, although I blew him flying kisses on the Gulf Road whenever I saw his motorcade drive by – usually on my way to work in the mornings with my Kuwaiti friend, Nahid, who thought that I was out of my mind. I didn’t care. Maybe one day he would see me and smile and my task would have been complete.
As the official condolences take place and as people here jostle to determine who will be put into the ruling seats, much of the display appears superficial; Perhaps people want to back the winning horse in the race. There are other terms for it, but that is what happens when the old pass the reins to the new. Newcomers to Kuwait may not understand the implication of these historic days.
I called Kuwaiti friends to offer my personal condolence. I received many similar words of comfort from Kuwaiti friends right after 9/11 – even though I was here in Kuwait and relatively removed from the situation at the time. It is about connections. It is about humanity. All of my friends are saddened by a national loss.
What does Kuwait’s future hold without Sheikh Jaber? I’m sure that the politics and progress will continue in capable hands. Time marches on. This is a decade of amazing change in Kuwait; a time that I am very happy to be in the midst of. However, I find it hard to imagine a Kuwait without Sheikh Jaber’s picture on billboards and signage (and in almost every shop) waving hello. It is as if an old and trusted friend has gone.