Kuwait’s Amir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah passes away at 91

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Kuwait's amir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah passes away at 91
Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Emir of the State of Kuwait

Kuwait’s Amir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah passes away at 91

Kuwait’s Amir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, the ruler of Kuwait who drew on his decades as the oil-rich nation’s top diplomat to push for closer ties to Iraq after the 1990 Gulf War and solutions to other regional crises, died Tuesday at the age of 91.

The Emir was admitted to hospital on July 18 for medical checks and then, a day later, underwent a successful surgery. On July 23, the Emir was flown to the United States to complete his medical treatment. The Emir’s office did not disclose the reason for the surgery or details of what treatment the Emir was going to receive in the US.

“With the utmost sadness and grief for the Kuwaiti people, the Islamic and Arab world and people of friendly nations, the Emiri Diwan mourns the death of Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, the emir of Kuwait,” his office said.

In a Middle East replete with elderly rulers, Sheikh Sabah stood out for his efforts at pushing for diplomacy to resolve a bitter dispute between Qatar and other Arab nations that continues to this day.

Sheikh Sabah was named emir in 2006. Even before that, he had assumed the role of de-facto ruler when other leading family members were too ill or frail to do the job. He took the leadership mantle after Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Sabah, who was emir for nine days, was voted out of office by parliament on the grounds that he was too ill to rule.

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Yet as Kuwait’s ruling emir, he struggled with internal political disputes, the fallout of the 2011 Arab Spring protests and seesawing crude oil prices that chewed into a national budget providing cradle-to-grave subsidies.

State television announced his death after playing Quranic prayers. Sheikh Sabah is expected to be succeeded by his half brother, the crown prince Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah.

Kuwait – which has a population of 4.8 million, including 3.4 million foreign workers – has the world’s sixth-largest known oil reserves and is a major US ally. It has been ruled by the Sabah family for the past 260 years.

Kuwait’s parliament has the most powers of any elected body in the Gulf and opposition MPs openly criticise the Sabahs.

However, the ruling family retains full control over key government and executive posts and the emir has the last say in political matters. He also has the power to override or dissolve parliament, and call elections.