AL-SABAH FAMILY (Kuwait)

Ruling family of Kuwait. It is said by Kuwaiti tradition that the first ruler of the dynasty, was chosen by a group of tribes which settled on the shores of Kuwait in the early 18th Century. Shaikh Sabah I al-Sabah ruled from 1752 to 1756 and the other tribes became the other great merchant families who dominated Kuwait thereafter.

Today the Al-Sabah family has over twelve hundred members. They are the living descendants (in the male line) of the dynasty’s founder, and they are all officially registered as Sheikh. The title of the ruler was changed in 1965 from Sheikh to Amir, who is chosen by a family council. After Mubarak I (1896-1915) eligibility to rule was restricted to the descendants of his sons: Jabir (1915-16) and Salim (1917-21) (1).

The current Amir of Kuwait is Jaber III ibn Ahmad I Al-Sabah, born in 1929. He succeeded his uncle Sheikh Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah. Ahmad I ibn Jaber II Al-Sabah in 1977, after having been Prime Minister (1965-1978) and Heir Apparent from 1966. The current Heir Apparent is Saad al Abd Allah al Salim, who also holds the post of Prime Minister. Key posts in government are reserved to Al-Sabah Sheikhs.

During the first Gulf War between Iraq and Iran, likewise the other states of the Gulf Kuwait aligned to Iraq. Political tensions linked with the war exacerbated divisions within the Emirate, especially between Shiite and Sunnite. The Amir reformed the National Assembly in 1981 but he dissolved it in 1986. After the invasion of the Emirate in August 1990 he fled to Saudi Arabia, where he remained until the liberation of Kuwait. After the return from exile and he restored the National Assembly (1992). In 1999 he gave women the voting right.

The Amir has recourse to the Koranic permission to polygamy and he has three wives. He has divorced and remarried several times –hence cementing key tribal alliances- and has some dozens of children.

Notes:

(1) There was one exception to this principle of rotation when Sheikh Abdallah was succeeded by his brother, Sheikh Salbah al-Salim (1965-1977).