Kuwait’s moderate ruler is dead

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Kuwait’s 91-year-old emir, known as one of the more moderate rulers in the region, is dead. Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah’s 83-year-old half-brother takes over the throne.

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Kuwait’s Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah photographed during the Arab summit in Tunisia last year. Photo: Fethi Belaid / Pool Photo via AP / NTB

Kuwait’s now-deceased emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah along with Prime Minister Erna Solberg and German Prime Minister Angela Merkel at a donor conference for Syria in 2016. Photo: Nina E. Rang√ły / NTB

Sabah took over as emir of the oil-rich Gulf state when his half-brother died in 2006. As foreign minister for nearly 40 years, and then prime minister before becoming emir, he is considered the architect behind Kuwait’s modern foreign policy.

During his time in power, Sabah largely managed to steer Kuwait clear of the conflict between the region’s two powerful rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which ended with the United States and other Western countries coming to the rescue, he tried as foreign minister to repair relations with Baghdad.

Unlike other countries in the region, Kuwait has also had a good relationship with Iran, and the emir tried on several occasions to mediate when conflicts arose.

Peace mediator

In 2016, Sabah hosted peace talks between the Yemeni Saudi-backed government and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, and the following year he sought to mediate in the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Sabah also hosted several international donor conferences to help the victims of the war in Syria, as well as a donor conference to secure funds for reconstruction following the Islamic State’s ravages in Iraq.

Little Kuwait, which is the size of old Sogn og Fjordane counties, even contributed almost 20 billion kroner to reconstruction in the neighboring country that once invaded them.

Female voting rights

As prime minister, Sabah was the first to give a woman a seat in the government, and he also helped give the country’s women the right to vote and the opportunity to stand for election. This happened the same year that Sabah took over as emir.

Kuwait’s National Assembly is today considered one of the most active in the Arab part of the world, but despite this, it is largely the emir who has the last word.

Sabah garnered international praise for his great willingness to donate to the UN and his efforts as a peace broker, but he also garnered criticism for throwing opposition figures in prison and restricting the country’s freedom of expression.

Shortly after the court announced Sabah’s death, his half-brother, Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, 83, was sworn in as the country’s new emir, according to state media. He has been Crown Prince since 2006.

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