Kuwait on Wednesday saw the swearing in of its new Emir, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, after his half-brother, Sheikh Sabah, died in the US at the age of 91.
AFP reports that Sheikh Nawaf was visibly emotional as he addressed the National Assembly a day after the death of the emir, an acclaimed diplomat and mediator who ruled for 14 years.
“The precious confidence that the people of Kuwait have entrusted in us will be guarded with our lives,” the 83-year-old said after taking the oath of office.
Sheikh Nawaf pledged allegiance to the nation, in the address before lawmakers, even as the remains of Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah a
were expected to arrive in Kuwait City Wednesday, on a flight from Minnesota where he had been undergoing treatment in hospital since July.
According to the royal court, the funeral will be “restricted to the emir’s relatives” in a bid designed to avoid large crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic. The country has already begun a 40-day period of national mourning.
Sheikh Sabah was reputed to be a shrewd, unshakeable leader who helped steer his country through the 1990 Iraqi invasion, crashes in global oil markets and upheavals in parliament and on the streets.
World leaders and Kuwaitis alike have hailed the legacy of the late emir, architect of the nation’s modern foreign policy and mediator in some of the worst crises to grip the Gulf.
“This man was the safety valve of the Arab world, not just for Kuwait,” Bandar al-Dahani, a Kuwaiti citizen, told AFP.
“God willing, that goodness will be in Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf and he will follow the emir’s path.”
The new leader is popular within the ruling Al-Sabah family and is reported to have been a consensus choice for ruler. He reportedly holds a reputation for modesty and has largely maintained a low profile.
Generational transition looms
Sheikh Nawaf, who has held high office for decades, takes over with Kuwait facing the repercussions of the coronavirus crisis, which triggered a sharp decline in oil prices and severe economic consequences for Gulf states.
The elder statesman, 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 Islamist militants.
Major policy changes are not expected during his reign, even after the Gulf underwent a seismic shift with Kuwait’s neighbours, the UAE and Bahrain, opting to establish relations with Israel.