Kuwait’s Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah has been sworn in as the ruling emir of the tiny oil-rich country, propelled to power by the death of his half-brother after a long career in the security services.
At 83, Sheikh Nawaf is not expected to deviate from the diplomatic path charted by his predecessor, the late Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, but his accession touched off speculation about who will become the next crown prince in a country known for its lively elected parliament and relative independence in a region of Gulf Arab monarchies.
The late Sheikh Sabah will make his final journey to Kuwait later, his coffin flying back from Rochester, Minnesota, home of the Mayo Clinic where he had been receiving medical treatment after surgery.
Although his funeral would typically draw tens of thousands of mourning Kuwaitis and scores of foreign leaders and dignitaries, because of the coronavirus pandemic the burial will be a private service restricted to relatives, said Kuwait’s state-run news agency Kuna.
The breadth and depth of emotion over the loss of Sheikh Sabah, known for his deft diplomacy and peacemaking, was reflected in condolence messages that streamed in from countries on opposite ends of regional bitter disputes, including Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Sheikh Nawaf took office as the new ruler of Kuwait in the parliament building before rows of applauding legislators, clad in their traditional white robes and surgical masks because of the pandemic.
He bowed slightly, touching his hands to his head in a sign of respect. With a low voice, he delivered a short address offering tribute to his late half-brother and promising to “preserve the security of Kuwait”.
“Kuwait throughout its history has seen serious and tough challenges, which we have succeeded in overcoming through co-operating together,” said Sheikh Nawaf, reading from prepared remarks. “Today, our dear country also faces risks and challenges that there is no way to bypass except through unity.”
After the ceremony, Sheikh Nawaf, in his flowing robe, strode into a black Mercedes as groups of soldiers delivered a salute.
Sheikh Nawaf’s ascent to the throne bookended a political career that spanned from interior minister to defence minister, dating back to 1991 when US troops and their allies invaded Kuwait.
Sheikh Nawaf briefly served as social affairs and labour minister after the war, then as the deputy chief of Kuwait’s National Guard and again as interior minister. He became the crown prince under Sheikh Sabah in February 2006, but was not known for making any major political decisions while serving as crown prince.