The 83-year-old new leader succeeds Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, 91, who died yesterday in the United States where he had been hospitalised since July. Considered the "dean of Arab diplomacy,” the late emir was able to maintain relations with Washington, Riyadh, Tehran and Doha, a path the new leader is likely to follow. However, he is not expected to join the Abraham Accords.
Kuwait City (AsiaNews) – The new emir of Kuwait, 83-year-old Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, took the oath of office today in Parliament, as the country prepares for 40 days of national mourning to honour his predecessor, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, who passed away yesterday at the age of 91.
The elderly emir travelled to the United States this summer for medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
“The precious trust that the people of Kuwait have placed in us will be preserved as the apple of our eye,” said the successor when the remains arrived at Kuwait airport this afternoon.
According to sources close to the Royal Palace, only the emir’s closest relatives will attend the funeral to avoid crowds and gatherings because of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
Born in 1929, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah was the great-grandson of the founder of modern Kuwait, Sheikh Mubarak al-Sabah, who signed the Anglo-Kuwaiti Agreement of 1899, which turned the country into a British protectorate.
Appointed foreign minister in 1963, two years after independence, he led the country for the next 50 years, except for a brief interlude during the Iraqi occupation of 1990-1991.
In 2006 he became emir after the death of Sheik Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and the abdication of his cousin Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salim Al-Sabah after only nine days.
He was dubbed the "dean of Arab diplomacy" for his efforts at restoring relations with states that had backed Iraq during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, when Kuwait was invaded by its neighbour.
He often played the role of mediator over the years, the last time when Saudi Arabia (and its allies) and Qatar broke off relations over the latter’s relations with Iran. He did the same as the two competed for paramountcy among Sunni Muslim countries.
In light of the policy of neutrality, Kuwait also steered clear of Syria's civil war, favouring instead diplomacy as well as donor conferences for humanitarian aid.
Arab and other world leaders expressed their condolences, including King Abdullah of Jordan who twitted in Arabic: “Today we lost a big brother and a wise and loving leader... who spared no effort for Arab unity”.
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, tweeted: "Sheikh Sabah epitomised wisdom, tolerance, and peace and he was a great pioneer of Gulf cooperation."
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called the late emir “an extraordinary symbol of wisdom and generosity, a messenger of peace, a bridge builder".
Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah is succeeded by Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed, crown prince since 2006, a half-brother who has occupied several top positions in the country’s hierarchy, including Defence Minister in 1990 when his country was invaded by Saddam Hussein.
Born in 1937, the new emir will face many challenges if he wants to secure a stable future for a country with a population of 4.8 million, including 3.4 million foreign workers.
Despite having the sixth largest oil reserves in the world, Kuwait too has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse of oil prices.
In foreign policy, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed is expected to keep the line drawn by his predecessor, maintaining relations with regional and world powers, from the United States and Saudi Arabia to Iran and Qatar.
With respect to the Abraham Accords, he is not expected to follow the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain because of strong grassroots hostility to the agreements and strong support for the Palestinian cause and the demand for a Palestinian state next to Israel.