Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Case of Royal Arab Racism?

An important event has gone by largely unnoticed by the local and international press regarding the succession to the throne of Kuwait, after the death of its Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah, who appears to have been loved and respected by his people....

The late Emir Jaber al-Sabah.

The news of his death was naturally accompanied by the picture of the man in the picture above, the late emir's cousin and heir to the throne, Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah.

Then it was only a day or two afterwards that this man, Prime Minister Sabah al-Sabah, popped in the news as having been chosen the new emir of Kuwait, by a "secret" meeting of the Kuwaiti royal family, citing reasons of poor health of the 76 year old Saad al-Sabah, who is suffering from colon troubles among other ailments.

While such a story of a smooth transition of power by the Kuwaiti heir-apparents would be regarded as logically pragmatic and admirably magnanimous on the part of Crown Prince Saad, its happening in this closed manner in our part of the world, where Kings/Presidents/and Brother Leaders usually don't voluntarily part with their seat of power until they meet their Maker, looked awfully fishy to me...

Years ago, an Egyptian friend who lived in Kuwait for a good part of his life informed me that Sheikh Saad, whom I hadn't known until this succession story, was hated in Kuwait because of the dark colour of his skin. Have I mentioned that the Arabs are racist? Well, they are. My friend told me that there are seven degrees of Kuwaiti nationality (or was it Saudi, I'm not sure). Imagine that, seven official degrees of nationality, like passing through the Seven Heavens, to become a pure Bedouin in a turban. Their oil must have really gotten to their heads. Egyptian and Indian labourers are practically treated there like slaves.

My suspicions of the transfer of power came true today, when I read that crown prince Sheikh Saad, pulled off a surprise in an official speech calling on parliament to swear him in as the new emir of Kuwait, breaking a story of a rift between two parties in the royal family, one supporting the succession of Saad and other supporting Sabah.

Not surprisingly, our national institution of editorial whoring, otherwise known as Al Ahram, appeared today to be taking the side of Sabah al-Ahmad in the center of the same page where it was reporting the story of this struggle for power between the two groups. Not least, I am sure, because the Kharafi family, which owns...practically taking the side of Sabah. This little editorial square is a praising account of the "illustrious" career of Prime Minister Sabah, who is no young man himself, born in 1929.

In concluding words, I fully support Sheikh Saad's rightful claim to his throne.

And finally, I would like to hear the opinions of anyone who is knowledgeable of Kuwaiti affairs about whether they think there is any truth to these allegations of racism behind the scenes, as they are in the end, just speculation...


Freedom for Egyptians said...


I like your insightful posts. Freedom

Jewaira said...

Yes, Sheikh Sabah is not young but he has been the de facto ruler for several years now.

It is no secret that both the late Emir Sheikh Jaber and the new Emir Sheikh Saad have been very ill.

There is some concern that Sheikh Saad's health will not allow him to perform his duties as Emir. He is suffering from colon problems and Alzheimer's disease.

I assure you that it is nothing to do with his skin colour. Really, that is the most outrageous analysis I have read yet.

Seneferu said...

Freedom, thanks.


Like I said, this post is speculation based on an allegation I heard years ago of racism against a Kuwaiti royal heir, whom by these events I gather is Sheikh Saad. Do you find any truth to this allegation that Sheikh Saad has been unpopular in Kuwait because of his colour? You would know this better than I.

As for the allegation of racism in general, I just finished reading today's issue of the Egyptian newspaper El Masry El Yom, that has the a full page dedicated to stories of torture that innocent Egyptian workers endured in the gulf. To be fair, 3 of them were in Saudi and the other was last seen in Yemen. But we frequently read similar stories that happen against Egyptian workers in Kuwait. I recommend you get a copy of this issue and read it.

I Love Q8 said...

Hi there Seneferu,
This post just made feel the way I feel whenever I see AlJazeerah (which I don\'t anymore). So I\'m hoping that you\'re just asking these questions and not accusing anyone of anything, since most of your alleged \"facts\" are clearly just accusations or what you\'ve heard from someone who got it from someone else.
Sheikh Saad is loved by his people and always will hold a special place in our hearts just like Sheikh Jaber did, why else would he have been Crown Prince all these years? Right now it\'s tough in Kuwait, we have a small glitch in the constitution stating that the newly appointed emir should be able to pronounce the outh of office in front of parliament, but here\'s where the problem lies, NOT (as u said) on skin colour but on wether he can literally pronounce the outh of office or not (is he conciously aware? is he mentally capable?). You know It\'s so easy to get facts straight (this was also mentioned in the BBC).

You said \"Well, they are. My friend told me that there are seven degrees of Kuwaiti nationality (or was it Saudi, I\'m not sure)\"
If you\'re not sure then don\'t write it! SEVEN?! That\'s just silly! Just recently (a few months ago) some Egyptian and Indian nationals got the Kuwaiti nationality.

like passing through the Seven Heavens, to become a pure Bedouin in a turban um, actually Bedouins only constitute part of the Kuwaiti population and Kuwait is located in the part of the muslim world where they don\'t wear turbans, we wear something called Ghitra held by a black ring called Eqal.

We too would love Sheikh Saad to be our Emir but somone has to run the country and to be realistic Sheikh Sabah is FULLY qualified to do just that. favourite sentence in this post! the last one :)

Jewaira said...

I understand that you were just "thinking" out loud, perhaps wondering if what you heard was true.

I don't blame you; if you have never been to Kuwait then your only impression is what you get through the media, other people, and perhaps Kuwaitis you may have met.

I just found it both amusing and outrageous that someone would infer that because he is dark skinned then he is unwanted to be ruler.

I would just like to clarify that Sheikh Saad is esteemed and well-loved. He is the son of the beloved late Amir Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah who oversaw the implementation of the Kuwaiti constitution; the very constitution which gave legality to the removal of Sheikh Saad from position of Amir due to health reasons.

It is really with heavy hearts for all Kuwaitis that he was relieved of his duties. There are many lesson to be learned from the events of last week and we hope that this will mean an oncoming period of reform on all levels.

Come to think of it, how many military leaders in developing countries could resist the power vaccum and the tension in the past few days and NOT even seize the chance at a coup d'etat? We are relieved now that matters turned out the way they did.

If Sheikh Saad were capable of taking his position as leader, he would have from day one. This way, he retains his dignity and remains the way we should remember him - with love and respect.

As for stories of mistreatment of Egyptian workers, I have no doubt that there are many such stories involving all sorts of workers, employees and even students from all nationalities. It happens all over the world; including Egypt.

Yes, as responsible human beings, we should all stand up against injustice and speak up against abuse. But we should also learn all sides of the story too to get a proper understaning of the facts.

I am sorry to have gone on so :) Perhaps it would have been better to email you.

Seneferu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seneferu said...

Hi Jewaira,

Your comments are welcome and I am learning from what you have to say.

I removed some racial references from my last post on this issue because I have no solid evidence to back up my suspicions. However, I remain convinced in the back of my head that a racial element may have been involved in the discrimination that took place against Sheikh Saad. Call this hard-headedness? I don't know, perhaps so... but I think there is more to it than that.

Being from the Gulf, I think you should know more than I about the importance of 3asabiya and bloodline in Arab cultural and hierarchical thought. Where slavery was banned probably only a few decades ago, racial bloodlines and the concept of servitude is quite synonymous with slavery until this day (the ill treatment of Egyptian workers comes to mind). And while I believe you that Sheikh Saad may be loved and esteemed in Kuwait, maybe old traditional ideas are still entrenched in some of the older generations, especially when it concerns political rulership over themselves and the state.

Whether this is just some more ignorant dribble on my part, it remains to be seen...