The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, died at the age of 86

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait, died on Saturday after three years of quiet rule focused on trying to resolve the small, oil-rich nation’s internal political disputes. He was 86 years old.

Kuwaiti state television began its programs with Quranic verses before a sombre official made the announcement.

It is with great sadness and sorrow that we, the people of Kuwait, the Arab and Islamic nations, and the friendly peoples of the world, mourn the late His Highness the Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, who passed away to his Lord. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Al-Sabah, Minister of the Amiri Diwan, who read the brief statement today, said.

The authorities did not mention the cause of death.

Deputy Ruler of Kuwait and his half-brother Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-JaberHe, now 83, was the world’s oldest crown prince. State-run Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) said that Sheikh Mishal, who was a long-time leader in the country’s security services, was appointed emir on Saturday afternoon, and is now one of the last leaders of the Gulf Arab states to be over 80 years old.

In late November, Sheikh Nawaf He rushed to the hospital For unspecified disease. Since then, Kuwait has been waiting for news about his health. State-run news previously reported that he traveled to the United States for unspecified medical examinations in March 2021.

The health of Kuwait’s leaders remains a sensitive issue in the Middle Eastern country bordering Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which has witnessed internal power struggles behind the palace doors.

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Those of Sheikh Nawaf’s life, who were born before oil completely transformed Kuwait from a commercial center into an oil state, began to fade with age. This, combined with other Gulf Arab states putting younger, more assertive rulers in power, has put more pressure on the Al-Sabah family to pass power to the next generation.

In neighboring Saudi Arabia, King Salman, 87, is widely believed to have placed day-to-day rule of his country in the hands of his 38-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Sheikh Nawaf was sworn in as Emir in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, after the death of his late predecessor Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. The breadth and depth of emotion over the loss of Sheikh Sabah, known for his diplomacy and peacemaking, was felt across the region.

Sheikh Nawaf previously served as the Minister of Interior and Defense of Kuwait. His political fortunes were never certain despite being part of the ruling Al-Sabah family. As Minister of Defence, Sheikh Nawaf oversaw the rapid collapse of his forces during Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s invasion of his country in August 1990. He faced widespread criticism for his decisions during the war.

A letter sent to the country’s ruler at the time claimed that Sheikh Nawaf ordered tank crews not to fire on approaching Iraqi forces. The reason behind the alleged order remains unclear. Battle-hardened Iraqi forces, after years of war with Iran, were easily able to overpower the country.

A US-led multinational force later expelled the Iraqis from Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. Al-Sabah newspaper never published the results of its investigation into the government’s actions regarding the invasion.

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“Our main goal is liberation. After our return, we will repair our house,” Sheikh Nawaf said in 1991. “You have to reform yourself and correct any previous mistakes.”

He faced a demotion, then did not hold a Cabinet-level position for nearly a decade after that, serving as deputy chief of the country’s National Guard. Even upon his return, analysts felt that he was not particularly active in government, although his humble style later found favor with some Kuwaitis who eventually moved on from his wartime performance.

Sheikh Nawaf was largely an uncontroversial choice for the position of emir, although his advanced age led analysts to suggest that his term would be short. He had – he had the third shortest term of any emir since the Al Sabahs ruled Kuwait starting in 1752.

During his tenure, he focused on domestic issues while the country struggled through political disputes – including reform of Kuwait’s social welfare system – which prevented the sheikhdom from incurring debt. This has left it with little in its coffers to pay bloated public sector salaries, despite generating enormous wealth from its oil reserves.

In 2021, Sheikh Nawaf issued the long-awaited amnesty decree. Pardon and commutation of sentences The authorities arrested nearly thirteen Kuwaiti dissidents in a move aimed at defusing the major government confrontation. He issued another decision shortly before his illness, with the aim of resolving this political impasse, which also witnessed Kuwait holding three separate parliamentary elections under his rule.

Badr Al-Saif, assistant professor of history at Kuwait University, said: “He earned his title, and he has a title here, and they call him the Prince of Pardon.” “No one in the modern history of Kuwait has gone to this extent to communicate with the other side and open up.”

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Kuwait is seen as having the freest parliament in the Gulf region which relatively allows opposition.

Meanwhile, Gulf Cooperation Council countries, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, restored their relations after years of boycotting Doha, easing regional tensions and allowing Sheikh Nawaf to focus on issues at home.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak offered his condolences.

Sunak said in a statement issued by his office: “His Highness was a great friend of the United Kingdom and we will remember fondly all he did for our bilateral relationship and his work to promote stability in the Middle East.”

Kuwait, which has a population of about 4.2 million and is slightly smaller than the US state of New Jersey, has the sixth largest known oil reserve in the world.

It has been a strong ally of the United States since the Gulf War in 1991. Kuwait hosts about 13,500 American soldiers in the country, in addition to the advanced headquarters of the American army in the Middle East.

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Jill Lawless contributed to this report from London.

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