World Leaders Arrive in Kuwait to Pay Respects After Emir’s Death

By Ahmed Hagagy, Alexander Cornwell and Phil Stewart

 – Foreign dignitaries arrived in the Persian Gulf state of Kuwait to offer condolences for the death of emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who was buried earlier on Sunday.

Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah, 83, Kuwait’s day-to-day ruler during much of Sheikh Nawaf’s reign due to his ill-health, has succeeded his half-brother as emir.

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani were in Kuwait to separately meet with Sheikh Meshal.

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The Iraqi prime minister and Iranian foreign minister also offered their condolences. Kuwait was invaded by Iraq in 1990 and occupied by Baghdad until 1991. The Persian Gulf state still has maritime border disputes with both of its neighbours.

U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived where he was met by Foreign Minister Sheikh Salem Abdallah al-Sabah and Defence Minister Sheikh Ahmed al-Fahad al-Sabah.

“On behalf of President Biden, I convey heartfelt condolences,” Austin told his Kuwaiti counterpart.

Sheikh Nawaf “will be missed but we will build upon his legacy,” Austin added.

Jordan’s King Abdullah, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also visited the OPEC oil producer. Kuwait has been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause.

“Kuwait acts as a stabilizer, providing ballast against the cross-cutting winds of the Persian Gulf politics,” said Kristin Diwan, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “Its proactive and largely constructive ties with Iraq and Iran have proved helpful in the face of sharp regional disputes.”

Sheikh Nawaf, whose six-decade career in public service included stints as minister of defence and interior, was buried in Sulaibikhat cemetery in a coffin draped in the Kuwaiti flag, after prayers at Bilal bin Rabah mosque. He died aged 86.

The cause of his death on Saturday has not been disclosed.

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Sheikh Meshal, who attended the burial and prayers alongside members of the ruling Al Sabah family, had been de facto ruler of the U.S.-allied Gulf state since late 2021, when a frail Sheikh Nawaf handed over most of his duties.

As he formally takes the helm of the OPEC member with the world’s seventh-largest oil reserves from his half-brother, Sheikh Meshal is expected to preserve key Kuwaiti foreign policies, including support for Gulf Arab unity, Western alliances and good ties to Riyadh – a priority relationship.

Kuwaiti academic Bader Al Saif said the new emir was expected to continue government efforts to streamline the public sector, a policy that had been pursued by Sheikh Nawaf.

Sheikh Meshal would also likely continue reconciliation efforts, including with its diverse political class, exiled and jailed critics, and within the ruling family, he said

The late Sheikh Nawaf was 83 when he became emir in 2020, at the time the oldest ruler to take power in Kuwait. He was known domestically as a consensus-builder who sought to repair a long strained relationship between parliament and government. He also pardoned dozens of dissidents and critics during his reign.

Sheikh Nawaf’s three-year reign as emir was relatively short by Kuwait standards. His predecessor and brother, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, reigned for 14 years and shaped the Gulf state’s foreign policy for two generations.


Abdullah Sabah Al-Mulla, a 56-year-old Kuwaiti professor, said the nation has lost a “great father”.

“He did not put a barrier between him and anyone. To him, all the people were equal,” he told Reuters.

Eid Abdullah Al Fraih, a 60-year-old Kuwaiti retiree, said he was captivated by the late emir’s humility and compassion and that he believed Sheikh Meshal would continue his predecessors efforts to improve ties between the government and parliament.

“Kuwait will be prosperous (under his reign). The (political and economic) situation will improve, God willing,” he said.

Under the constitution, the emir chooses his successor, the crown prince, but traditionally the ruling family convenes a meeting to build consensus. Parliament also has to approve it.

Rulers of other Gulf states such as Saud Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have in recent years picked their own sons as their designated successors.

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