Kuwait, Saudi Arabia between two crises
Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, may he rest in peace, could have done what Qatar’s then-Crown Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa did following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Back then, during a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting in Doha, Sheikh Hamad tried to blackmail the five GCC leaders at the summit by refusing to discuss liberating Kuwait unless they acknowledged Qatar’s rights to the Hawar and Fasht Al-Dibal islands from Bahrain.
King Fahd was the first to storm out of the room, considering this an insulting bargain.
Saudi Arabia saw its support for Kuwait as being loyal to pledges, respecting GCC principles and protecting states from chaos, no matter the reasons or motives behind the disputes. Of course, it was in Riyadh’s interest to defeat Saddam, but the less risky option would have been to coexist with him.
It would not have been possible to confront the invasion without Saudi Arabia’s desire and approval. The Kingdom hosted half a million troops, including 200,000 from the US, who liberated Kuwait in four days. King Fahd is a historic figure because he is the one who tolerated threats and managed the confrontation with Saddam, who was quick to cancel Kuwait’s identity and flag, destroy its legitimacy and replace its currency.
The king was keen to maintain the ruling Al-Sabah family and its unity, given that it is the symbol of Kuwait’s legitimacy. He hosted the family in Taif, a secure location away from Saddam’s attacks and intelligence agents. The king allowed Kuwait’s government in exile to fully operate from the city, and contributed to reviving Kuwait’s symbols by issuing the dinar, publishing some dailies and re-establishing its channels.
Kuwaiti military personnel, including the pilots who heroically fought from Ali Al-Salem air base against Saddam’s invasion, all gathered in Saudi Arabia. King Fahd supported the resistance against the invasion. His most dangerous decision was summoning US troops to the Kingdom; this was a huge personal responsibility. Several high-ranking Saudi royals asked him whether he was sure of his decision, and if he was able to get them out later on.
King Fahd could have copied Sheikh Hamad and bargained with Saddam in exchange for Kuwait, but he did not. He was a brave leader who made a historic decision to stand by Kuwait; we are all proud of this. As such, it is surprising to hear some Kuwaitis supporting Qatar today.
As US troops arrived and war preparations were underway, Saddam’s supporters in Saudi Arabia protested. Led by Sudan’s Hassan Al-Turabi and Tunisia’s Rached Al-Ghannouchi, the Muslim Brotherhood launched incitement campaigns against the Kingdom, accusing it of apostasy. Saddam’s ally in Yemen, then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, threatened Saudi Arabia, prompting the king to freeze relations with him and deport around 2 million Yemenis.
For the first time in Riyadh, protests erupted against the Saudi government, and young clerics spoke out against fighting to liberate Kuwait because it was not governed by Shariah law. People protested in several Arab capitals against Saudi Arabia, not against Kuwait. Many Arab governments supported Saddam. During an urgent Arab League session in Cairo, only a thin majority of 12 countries supported Kuwait’s cause.
Despite objections, then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak played a significant role in rejecting attempts to confuse the cause, and imposed voting by raising hands instead of reaching a consensus.
King Fahd risked his country’s stability, given that the chances of liberating Kuwait were slim, that there might not be a war, or that it would last a long time, like the Iran-Iraq war. There was the possibility of defeat, incomplete victory, Saddam not entirely leaving Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia not coming out of the war safe.
King Fahd could have copied Sheikh Hamad and bargained with Saddam in exchange for Kuwait, but he did not. He was a brave leader who made a historic decision to stand by Kuwait; we are all proud of this. As such, it is surprising to hear some Kuwaitis supporting Qatar today, instead of condemning its actions that threaten the security and existence of four countries. Kuwait has a moral debt to repay, and we expect it to do so.
If interests rather than morals are driving support for Qatar, we advise Kuwaitis to open their eyes and think about their future interests. Kuwait is not stable. It is the country that needs the GCC’s unity and stability the most. Saddam is gone, but his successors are much worse and more evil.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.