New Kuwait Emir Sheikh Meshal accepts cabinet resignation following inauguration

In his first speech as Emir, he had criticised public appointments that ‘don't meet the simplest standards of justice and fairness’

Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Meshal sworn in

Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Meshal sworn in
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Kuwait's new emir, Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmad Al Sabah, accepted the cabinet's resignation on Wednesday, state news agency Kuna reported.

The cabinet will continue as a caretaker government until a new one is formed, said the agency.

Sheikh Meshal took the oath of office as Kuwait’s new Emir on Wednesday, after the passing of his predecessor and half brother Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah.

Kuwait's Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, the late emir's son, handed in the cabinet's resignation following the inaugural address of Sheikh Meshal, in which he criticised what he said was “harm to the interest of the people and the country”.

After being sworn in as the country's 17th ruler at a special session at the National Assembly in Kuwait City, Sheikh Meshal referred to public appointments and promotions that “don't meet the simplest standards of justice and fairness”, in his speech.

“After this unprecedentedly clear first speech by the emir of Kuwait that criticised the government, the PM has just tendered the government’s resignation,” said Bader Al Saif, a history professor at Kuwait University.

Sheikh Meshal pledged to temporarily halt promotions and new appointments, following a previous signing of a decree on December 5 ordering a three-month pause in state hiring. This is open to extension.

“We have warned on many occasions that crises, challenges and dangers surround us,” Sheikh Meshal said, stressing “the necessity to reconsider our current reality in all its aspects”.

Sheikh Meshal is faced with the task of pulling the country out of long-standing political paralysis and reforming a bloated public sector that have turned Kuwait into one of the Gulf's most laggard states.

“We emphasised in our previous speeches that there are obligations that must be carried out by the two authorities for the benefit of the nation and the citizens, and we did not see any change or course correction,” he told the National Assembly.

Under Article 60 of Kuwait's constitution, the crown prince automatically becomes emir but assumes power only after taking an oath in parliament.

“Accountability is important in the framework of law on any negligence of people's interests,” Sheikh Meshal said.

“This is one of the strongest first speeches given by an incoming ruler. The 14-minute speech includes a eulogy, a call for national unity, and abidance by constitution and continuity of foreign policy,” Prof Al Saif said.

Sheikh Meshal paid tribute to Sheikh Nawaf but also alluded to disagreements over governance.

Kuwait has faced political uncertainty amid disputes between opposition politicians and senior government officials, including members of the ruling family who served in previous cabinets.

In June, Kuwait formed its fifth government in less than a year under Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al Sabah.

A general election last September, held after Sheikh Nawaf dissolved the previous parliament, delivered a mandate for change with 27 newcomers to the 50-member assembly.

But in March, the constitutional court annulled the decree dissolving the previous parliament and reinstated it.

A few weeks later, the ruling Al Sabah family dissolved the parliament again, setting up the most recent vote in June, in which most of the legislators elected in September regained their seats.

Who is Sheikh Meshal?

Sheikh Meshal, 83, has spent much of his career helping to build the Gulf Arab state's security and defence apparatus.

He was head of state security for 13 years after joining the Interior Ministry in the 1960 and deputy chief of the National Guard since 2004.

A graduate of England's Hendon Police College, Sheikh Meshal has been credited with helping to reform National Guard.

After his graduation, he rose through the ranks at the Interior Ministry to become head of the General Investigations Unit with the rank of colonel in 1967 until 1980. The unit was transformed into Kuwait’s State Security during his tenure and he served as its first director.

In January 2004, he was appointed by Sheikh Jaber, Emir at the time, as Deputy Chief of the National Guard with the rank of minister. He held the position until he named as Crown Prince by Sheikh Nawaf in October 2020.

Next crown prince

Sheikh Meshal has become emir at the same age as his predecessor three years ago. He has up to a year to nominate a crown prince, who must be approved by parliament.

Constitutionally, Kuwait's succession procedure is unique among Gulf and Arab states. Article 4 stipulates that a crown prince’s nomination only becomes official if the National Assembly “swears fealty to him by a consenting majority of the members composing the National Assembly sitting in special session”.

Should a nominated crown prince not secure the consent of the majority in the National Assembly, the constitution requires Sheikh Meshal to nominate at least three descendants of Sheikh Mubarak Al Sabah, one of whom must be approved as the next heir apparent by a majority vote in parliament.

While Sheikh Meshal’s succession was orderly, Kuwaitis are now waiting to see who he will choose as crown prince.

“The incumbent Emir has a golden opportunity to undertake a long-awaited generational shift already completed across the Gulf states,” said Prof Al Saif.

“This shift has never been as important to the country given the sensitivities – and associated competition – that comes with succession politics.”

Updated: December 20, 2023, 7:11 PM