KUWAIT – Kuwait’s ruling Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah has died, his office said on Tuesday, plunging his country into mourning for a leader seen by many Gulf Arabs as a savvy diplomatic operator and a humanitarian champion.
Sheikh Sabah, 91, had led the wealthy oil producer and US ally since 2006 and directed its foreign policy for more than 50 years. His designated successor is his brother, Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah.
“With the greatest sadness and sorrow for the Kuwaiti people, the Islamic and Arab world and the peoples of friendly nations, Emiri Diwan mourns the death of Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, Emir of Kuwait” , his office told me.
The emir had been hospitalized in the United States since July after surgery for an unspecified condition in Kuwait the same month.
Sheikh Sabah has sought to balance relations with Kuwait’s larger neighbors – forging the closest ties with Saudi Arabia, rebuilding ties with the former occupier of Iraq and maintaining an open dialogue with the ‘Iran.
He tried to mediate a Gulf dispute that saw Riyadh and its allies impose a boycott on Qatar and made fundraising for humanitarian aid in Syria one of Kuwait’s priorities.
Condolences poured in from all over the Arab world, and several countries in the Gulf and the wider region have announced periods of mourning.
“Today we have lost a big brother and a wise and loving leader … who spared no effort for Arab unity,” King Abdullah of Jordan said in a Twitter post.
The Kuwaiti dinar fell against the US dollar in the futures market on Tuesday and Kuwaiti stocks plunged, ahead of the official announcement of the emir’s death.
There was no immediate official announcement of the succession process, but diplomats said they expected Sheikh Nawaf, 83, to assume power as heir in a smooth transition .
The succession is not expected to affect oil policy or foreign investment strategy through the Kuwait Investment Authority, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds. Oil policy is defined by the Supreme Petroleum Council, appointed by the Emir.
The choice of the new emir of the crown prince and prime minister – who would be tasked with handling the government’s often difficult relationship with parliament – will be closely watched, especially at a time when Kuwait’s finances have been strained by low oil prices and the coronavirus. pandemic.