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Thu 31 Mar 2011 09:24 AM

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Middle East leaders must change to survive, Kuwaiti royal says

World missed its chance to avoid blood on the streets of Libya, says Sheikh Fahad

Middle East leaders must change to survive, Kuwaiti royal says
Kuwaiti prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. Kuwait royal Sheikh Fahad Al Salem Al Ali Al Sabah said the regions leaders must reform to survive

The world missed its moment to push Muammar Gaddafi to enact
political changes in Libya that might have averted the bloody rebellion and
costly international military intervention now underway, Kuwaiti Sheikh Fahad
Al Salem Al Ali Al Sabah said.  

Fahad, a member of the Kuwaiti royal family and founder of the
Center for Dialogue Among Civilizations and Defense of Liberty, called the
demands for greater freedom and representation in the Middle East and North
Africa “a chain” moving across the region that won’t spare any regime that
fails to address legitimate demands of its people.

Regimes that don’t change will “be forced to change by the
people,” he said. Middle Eastern and North African leaders, he said, are
“hearing the message.”

Fahad noted that the US was able to persuade Gaddafi in 2003
to accept responsibility and to pledge compensation for the bombing of Pan Am
Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and to abandon pursuit of biological,
chemical and nuclear weapons.

“The whole world missed an opportunity” to press Gaddafi
then to make political changes that would have allowed for greater
representation and perhaps addressed the demands underlying the rebellion that
began earlier this year, Fahad said.

He said the world was “too late” in its response to the
Libyan crisis, and that with “blood now on the streets,” it will be “a long
time before Libya stabilizes,” regardless of when the fighting ends.

In Washington and European capitals, debates are occurring
on whether to arm Libyan rebels in addition to providing air cover, to tip the
balance in their favour.

Fahad said he doubted any Arab state would send troops or
weapons to help the rebels, and cautioned the West against doing so, saying the
world doesn’t know enough about the opposition’s membership.

Western powers involved in pressing for Gaddafi’s ouster see
the Libyan opposition as strong and growing, according to a senior European
diplomat who briefed reporters today on condition of anonymity. Libya’s
opposition Transitional National Council appears to be made up of serious
people who are committed to a democratic transition and keeping the country
united, and Western officials haven’t seen evidence of significant al-Qaeda
influence, the diplomat said.

Fahad said that while his foundation has donated food,
clothing and medicine to assist Libyans caught in the fighting, it has no plans
to send military assistance to the opposition.

Fahad, who was taken as a prisoner of war by Iraq from
November 1990 through June 1991, was elected to the board of the Commercial
Bank of Kuwait, where he served on the executive committee, before moving to
the National Guard and then became the country’s director of agriculture
affairs and fisheries.

The sheikh said he thinks oil prices will continue to rise
on instability in oil-producing nations in the Mideast and North Africa, and
said Americans will feel the impact.

Fahad, a son of Sheikh Salem Al-Ali, head of the Kuwaiti
National Guards, is a senior member of the Al-Salem branch of the Sabah family,
and owns a newspaper and television station in Kuwait.

His Center for Dialogue, with offices in Kuwait, New York
and Paris, has a declared mission to “combat ignorance” and “overturn constant
brainwashing of populations orchestrated by extremists” through greater press
freedom and expanded political representation.

Fahad said he has “tried to promote this in Kuwait first,
because I believe that to fix your house gives you more credibility” before you
seek “to fix your neighbor’s house.” He said his country, a constitutional
monarchy, can be “a role model for the Middle East and the Gulf.”

Freedom House, a Washington-based human rights group, ranked
Kuwait this year among 17 percent of countries in the Middle East and North
Africa that are “partly free,” with greater political and civil liberties than
in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, other US allies in the region.

Fahad said his country still “needs more change, more
reform,” especially regarding transparency of finances of government employees
and the ruling family.

“We are very weak on fighting corruption,” he said,
asserting that “forces benefiting from corruption want to change the
constitution of Kuwait” to limit democracy.

Kuwait’s parliament is regarded as the most independent in
the Gulf, and a number of lawmakers have asked to question three cabinet
ministers, all members of the ruling family, on April 5. Local newspapers have
carried reports that the cabinet may resign or the emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed
Al- Jaber Al-Sabah, may dissolve parliament before April 5.

As popular unrest against poverty and autocratic rule has
swept the Arab world this year, protesters who rallied in Kuwait City on March
8 said they were seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad
al-Sabah, not the overthrow of the government or the monarchy.

The prime minister has survived two non-confidence votes in
parliament since his appointment by the emir in 2006. Members of the Al-Sabah
family hold other key Cabinet posts and the emir has the final say in all
political matters in the Gulf Arab state, which is OPEC’s fifth-largest
producer.

Fahad warned that Yemen, whose longtime ruler President Ali
Abdullah Saleh is facing a popular revolt, is “on the same path of Libya.” The
world, he said, should support dialogue among Saleh and his opposition to avoid
a repeat of the violence in Libya.

Fahad was visiting Capitol Hill today to speak with US
lawmakers about unrest in the Middle East and his suggestions for promoting
dialogue and democracy in the region.

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