KUWAIT – Kuwait’s new emir was sworn in at parliament on Wednesday as the country prepared to lay to rest late ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who helped steer the U.S.-allied Gulf state through some of the Middle East’s most turbulent decades.
The cabinet swiftly named designated successor Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah as ruler on Tuesday following the death of Sheikh Sabah, 91, whose body is due to arrive in Kuwait on Wednesday from the United States were he had been hospitalised since July.
Nawaf, 83, pledged to work for the OPEC member country’s prosperity, stability and security after taking the oath of office, raising both hands to his head as lawmakers applauded.
“Our dear nation today faces difficult situations and dangerous challenges that can only be overcome … by unifying ranks and working hard together,” he told the National Assembly.
The funeral has been restricted to ruling family members due to concerns about coronavirus, which along with low oil prices has strained the wealthy petroleum producer’s finances.
When the previous emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, died in 2006, thousands of Kuwaitis attended the funeral and many, along with expatriates, lined the streets.
“We honestly feel like we’re gong to be lost without his guidance,” said Fajer, a Kuwaiti woman.
Dignitaries from around the world paid respects to the seasoned diplomat and savvy politician, widely respected as a humanitarian who strove to heal rifts in the Middle East, mending ties with former occupier Iraq and trying until his death to resolve a bitter Gulf dispute.
Analysts saw his death following that earlier this year of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos, who also played a moderating and balancing role in the region, as the end of an era in the Gulf where an aggressive younger generation has risen to power, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which have taken hawkish stands against rival Iran.
“Though the incoming power brokers in neighbouring Gulf countries did not always heed his advice, the Emir was a reminder of an order hard-fought to achieve that was the basis for the goodwill international partners bear the region,” wrote Kirsten Fontenrose, director of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Middle East.
Sheikh Nawaf takes the reins of the small nation, which holds the world’s seventh-largest oil reserves, at a time when the government is trying to boost the finances of a country whose citizens enjoy a cradle-to-grave welfare system.
Kuwait’s oil, investment and foreign policy are not expected to change.
Nawaf lacks his brother’s experience as a conciliator and is likely to focus on domestic matters such as choosing a crown prince who can build consensus in the ruling family and work with a parliament that has often clashed with the government and hindered economic reform efforts, diplomats and analysts say.