Kuwait appoints new emir after death of long-time ruler

Kuwait City. Editorial credit: Anson Fernandez Dionisio

Kuwait has sworn in its new emir, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, after his half-brother, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, died in the United States at the age of 91.

Sheikh Sabah, who ruled for 14 years, died on Tuesday in Minnesota where he had been undergoing treatment in hospital since July.

Kuwait’s new leader, 83-year-old Sheikh Nawaf, was sworn in this morning during a session of the National Assembly. The Gulf state has already begun a 40-day period of national mourning.

Kuwait is an oil-rich country which is a hereditary monarchy but which has one of the strongest parliaments in the region.

Sheikh Nawaf, who was named heir apparent in 2006, served as defence minister when Iraqi troops rolled into the oil-rich emirate in 1990, and also as interior minister in the face of challenges from armed groups.

Significant policy changes are not expected during his reign, with Kuwait set to maintain a pro-U.S position and neutrality between its powerful neighbours Iran and Saudi Arabia.

It is also unlikely that Sheikh Nawaf will sanction normalisation with Israel which is extremely unpopular with the Kuwaiti public where there is significant support for the Arab world’s historic position of insisting on a resolution of the Palestinian cause before giving diplomatic concessions to Israel.

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Born in 1929, the late Sheikh Sabah is widely regarded as the architect of modern Kuwait’s foreign policy having served as foreign minister for nearly 40 years between 1963 to 2003, when he became prime minister.

His country’s greatest crisis came in 1990 when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and occupied the nation for seven months. The royal family fled to Saudi Arabia but on February 24, 1991, U.S. troops and their allies stormed into Kuwait and expelled the Iraqis.

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