Kuwait Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah 'dies aged 91'

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Kuwait’s 91-year-old ruler Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah has died, according to state television reports.

State television announced Sheikh Sabah’s death on Tuesday after playing Koranic prayers.

An Emri official said: “With great sadness and sorrow, the Kuwaiti people, the Arab and Islamic nations, and the friendly peoples of the world mourn the death of the late His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, emir of the state of Kuwait who moved to the realm of the Lord.”

After ruling the Gulf Arab state since 2006, Sheikh Sabah is expected to be succeeded by his half brother, Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah.

Earlier this year in July, Sheikh Sabah was flown to the US for medical treatment following surgery for a condition in Kuwait. Authorities did not say what was wrong with him.

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah waves upon his arrival to open the parliament’s new term at the Gulf emirate’s National Assembly in Kuwait City in 2019 (AFP via Getty Images)

Sheikh Sabah was known for his diplomatic efforts to resolve a long-standing dispute between Qatar and other Arab nations that continues to this day.

His 2006 ascension in Kuwait came after parliament voted unanimously to oust his predecessor, the ailing Sheikh Saad Al Abdullah Al Sabah, nine days into his rule.

As Kuwait’s ruling emir, he struggled with internal political disputes, the fallout of the 2011 Arab Spring protests and see-sawing crude oil prices that hit a national budget providing cradle-to-grave subsidies.

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Kristin Diwan, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington who studies Kuwait, said: “He represents the older generation of Gulf leaders who valued discretion and moderation and the importance of personal ties amongst fellow monarchs.

“No question he has suffered from the lack of deference and respect shown by the younger and more brash young princes holding power today.”

Kuwait has the world’s sixth-largest known oil reserves and it has been ruled by the Sabah family for the past 260 years.

The country’s greatest crisis came in 1990, when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and occupied the nation for seven months.

Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah attending the 28th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea in 2017 (REUTERS)

Fleeing with other Kuwaiti officials to neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Sabah collapsed and lost consciousness at one particularly stormy meeting of Arab leaders.

On February 24 1991, US troops and their allies stormed into Kuwait. It ended 100 hours later, and America suffered only 148 combat deaths during the whole campaign, while more than 20,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed.

Even before the US entered Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah and others had been suggesting a permanent American presence in the region might provide protection from Iraq and others.

“One learns from the past and learns about it for the future,” Sheikh Sabah reportedly said. “One has to consider arrangements that would make not only my country stable but make the whole area stable.”

Today, Kuwait hosts 13,500 American troops, many at Camp Arifjan, south of Kuwait City, which is also home to the forward command of US Army Central.

A long-time widower, Sheikh Sabah lived for years in a palace known as Dar Salwa, which was named after his daughter Salwa, who died of cancer in 2002. He is survived by two sons.

Additional reporting by Associated Press.