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Kuwait Parliament to Debate Leadership Crisis

The parliament of Kuwait is preparing to debate whether the country's new emir is fit to rule. The country has been embroiled in a leadership crisis since the death of the last emir, Sheikh Jabber Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, more than a week ago.

The 50-member Kuwaiti parliament will meet in a special session Tuesday to decide whether the new emir should be removed because of his health.

Sheik Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Sabah became emir automatically upon the death of his cousin, Sheikh Jabber, on January 15. But he is very ill, and there has been great debate in the ruling family about whether he is physically able to take the oath of office, let alone rule the country.

Scores of ruling family members have asked the prime minister, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, to take charge. He has been Kuwait's defacto ruler for several years.

The new emir, in an apparent bid to cut off the attempts to unseat him, asked parliament to move his swearing-in ceremony forward a day to Monday.

The speaker of parliament rejected that request. He said the swearing-in could not be moved up because invitations for the Tuesday-evening ceremony had been sent.

Senior lawmaker Mohammed Jassem Al-Saqr said he hopes parliament will be able to find a solution.

He says, "It is clear that the ruling family did not succeed in solving this dispute amongst themselves, so now the big burden falls on parliament." "If parliament fails to solve this issue," he says, "Kuwait will enter into a dark tunnel."

The controversy touches on the rivalry between two branches of the ruling family. The emir's position traditionally alternates between them. Sheikh Saad comes from one branch of the family, and the prime minister comes from the other.

Sheikh Saad has also not yet chosen a crown prince. He is not required to do that for a year after taking office.

Member of parliament Hussein Al-Qallaf told reporters that debating the issue in parliament is insulting to the new emir. He said the whole matter, in his words, "weighs heavy on our souls."

He says, "We had hoped that the royal family members would not bring this matter to this level, that we would even be discussing this."

It is the first time in more than a century that Kuwait has faced such a leadership crisis. Government officials have tried to soothe international financial jitters over the succession dispute, but the debate has pushed all of parliament's other business onto the back burner.

Under Kuwait's constitution, it would take a two-thirds vote in parliament to remove the emir. The constitution also says the cabinet can order a medical examination of the monarch, and have the medical team report to parliament. That would likely delay a decision even longer.