Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, passes away at the age of 86.

The death of Sheikh Nawaf, who had served as the emir of the oil-rich Gulf state since 2020, has been announced on state TV.

According to the royal court, Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, passed away at the age of 86.

The cause of his death has not been immediately disclosed.

Sheikh Nawaf’s successor has been named as Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who has been Kuwait’s de facto ruler since 2021, when the frail emir handed over most of his duties.

The announcement was made on Saturday after Kuwait TV interrupted regular programming with verses from the Qur’an.

Sheikh Nawaf had been hospitalized for an undisclosed illness in late November. Since then, the nation had been eagerly awaiting news about his health.

Previously, state-run news reported that he traveled to the US for unspecified medical checks in March 2021. The wellbeing of Kuwait’s leaders remains a sensitive matter in the tiny Middle Eastern nation, which borders Iraq and Saudi Arabia and has experienced power struggles behind palace doors.

Following the death of his predecessor, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, in 2020, Sheikh Nawaf was sworn in as emir. Sheikh Sabah, known for his diplomatic skills and efforts in peacemaking, was greatly mourned throughout the region.

Although Sheikh Nawaf had previously served as Kuwait’s interior and defense minister, he was not seen as actively involved in government beyond those roles. However, his appointment as emir was largely uncontroversial, although his advanced age led analysts to predict a relatively short tenure.

Kuwait, with a population of 4.2 million people, possesses the sixth-largest known oil reserves in the world.

It has been a staunch ally of the United States since the 1991 Gulf War, which resulted in the expulsion of Iraqi forces led by Saddam Hussein. Kuwait is home to 13,500 US troops and serves as the forward headquarters of the US army in the Middle East.

Since assuming office in 2020, Sheikh Nawaf pursued a foreign policy that maintained balanced relations with various countries while eight governments were formed domestically under his rule.

As per Kuwait’s constitution, the crown prince automatically becomes the emir but assumes power only after taking an oath in parliament. The new emir has up to a year to appoint an heir.

Analysts and diplomats suggest that both Sheikh Nawaf and his crown prince, Sheikh Meshal, appeared to bring Kuwait into closer alignment with Saudi Arabia, a regional powerhouse.

The choices of crown prince and prime minister by the new emir, who will be responsible for managing the government’s often turbulent relationship with parliament, will be closely watched as a younger generation of the ruling family vies for position.

Factional struggles within the Sabah family have frequently played out in parliament as contenders for succession build their political influence and domestic support.

Prior to relinquishing most of his constitutional duties to his designated successor, Sheikh Nawaf sought to achieve a détente on the domestic political front. This included issuing an amnesty that pardoned dissidents, a long-standing demand of opposition figures.

However, the stalemate persisted, leading Sheikh Meshal to dissolve parliament and call for early elections in June in an attempt to put an end to political disputes.

Kuwait prohibits parliamentary parties but remains one of the region’s most politically liberal states, with a vibrant political discourse and the most powerful elected legislative assembly in the area, consisting of Sunnis, Shias, liberals, and Islamists.

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