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Le Monde
Le Monde
16 Dec 2023

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The emir of oil-rich Kuwait, Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, died on Saturday, the royal court said, after three years in power. He was 86.

"With great sadness and sorrow, we mourn [...] the death of Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, Emir of the State of Kuwait," said a statement aired on Kuwaiti state television. State television had cut its regular programming and switched to a broadcast of Quranic verses before the announcement.

In November, Sheikh Nawaf was admitted to the hospital "due to an emergency health problem," according to the official KUNA news agency, which did not elaborate on his illness. He was later declared in stable condition. Given his age, his health has commonly been a concern during his term. State-run news previously reported that he had travelled to the United States for unspecified medical checks in March 2021.

Born in 1937, Sheikh Nawaf was the fifth son of Kuwait's late ruler from 1921 to 1950, Sheikh Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah. He started his political career at the age of 25 as governor of Hawalli province, where he remained until 1978 when he started a decade as interior minister.

Sheikh Nawaf was named crown prince in 2006 by his half-brother Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah and took over as emir when Sheikh Sabah died in September 2020 at the age of 91. He had to steer the economy through a crisis caused by a fall in oil prices that same year.

The current crown prince, Sheikh Mishal Al Ahmad Al Sabah – another half-brother – is 83, and much attention will now be focused on whether a younger generation ruler is brought in by the family.

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Kuwait – a conservative country where sovereign powers remain concentrated in the hands of the ruling Al Sabah family – is home to the most active and powerful parliament in the Gulf.

However, repeated standoffs between elected lawmakers and cabinet ministers installed by the ruling family have stymied development efforts and scared off investors. Following a succession of resigning governments and dissolved parliaments, Kuwait's current cabinet is its fifth in a year. The political deadlock has delayed necessary reforms and blocked development projects, leaving infrastructure and education in disrepair and much of the population disgruntled.

The nation, home to some 4.2 million people, has the world’s sixth-largest known oil reserves. It has been a staunch US ally since the 1991 Gulf War expelled the occupying Iraqi forces of Saddam Hussein. Kuwait hosts some 13,500 American troops in the country, as well as the forward headquarters of the US Army in the Middle East.

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Le Monde with AP and AFP