Kuwait’s new emir to be sworn in at tense time for region

Kuwait’s new Emir Nawwaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah gesture as he takes the oath of office at the parliament, in Kuwait city, Kuwait September 30, 2020, in this still image taken from a video. Kuwait TV/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Kuwait’s new emir takes the oath of office in parliament on Wednesday as the country prepares to lay to rest late ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah who helped steer the Gulf state through some of the Middle East’s most turbulent decades.

The cabinet of the OPEC oil producer and U.S. ally swiftly named designated successor Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah as new ruler on Tuesday following the death of Sheikh Sabah, 91, whose body is due to arrive in Kuwait on Wednesday from the United States were he had been hospitalised since July.

The funeral has been restricted to ruling family members due to COVID-10 concerns. When the previous emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, died in 2006, thousands of Kuwaitis attended the funeral and many, along with expatriates, lined the streets.

Dignitaries from around the world paid respects to the seasoned diplomat and savvy politician, widely respected as a humanitarian who strove to heal rifts in the Middle East, mending ties with former occupier Iraq and trying until his death to resolve a bitter Gulf dispute.

Analysts saw his death following that earlier this year of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos, who also played a moderating and balancing role in the region, as the end of an era in the Gulf where an aggressive younger generation has risen to power, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which have taken hawkish stands against rival Iran.

“Though the incoming power brokers in neighbouring Gulf countries did not always heed his advice, the Emir was a reminder of an order hard-fought to achieve that was the basis for the goodwill international partners bear the region,” wrote Kirsten Fontenrose, director of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Middle East.

Sheikh Nawaf, 83, takes the reins of the small but wealthy nation, which holds the world’s seventh-largest oil reserves, at a time when the government is trying to boost finances strained by low crude prices and the coronavirus pandemic in a country whose citizens enjoy a cradle-to-grave welfare system.

Kuwait’s oil, investment and foreign policy are not expected to change.

Nawaf lacks his brother’s decades of experience as a conciliator and is likely to focus on domestic matters such as choosing a crown prince who can build consensus in the ruling family and work with a parliament that has often clashed with the government and hindered economic reform efforts, diplomats and analysts say.