Kuwait's ruler Emir Sheikh Sabah dies; PM Narendra Modi expresses grief

Sheikh Sabah, 91, had ruled the Gulf Arab oil producer and steered its foreign policy for more than 50 years. His designated successor is his brother, Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

Kuwait's ruler Emir Sheikh Sabah dies; PM Narendra Modi expresses grief
Image courtesy: Reuters

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday (September 29) evening expressed grief over the demise of Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Amir of the State of Kuwait.

In a tweet, the Prime Minister said, "Today, the State of Kuwait and the Arab world has lost a beloved leader, India a close friend, and the world a great statesman. His Highness played a leading role in strengthening our bilateral relations, and always took special care of the Indian community in Kuwait."

"My heartfelt condolences on the sad demise of His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Amir of the State of Kuwait. In this moment of grief our thoughts are with the Al-Sabah family and the people of the State of Kuwait," PM Modi added.

Kuwait`s ruling Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah has died, his office said in a statement on Tuesday. Sheikh Sabah, 91, had ruled the Gulf Arab oil producer and steered its foreign policy for more than 50 years. His designated successor is his brother, Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

"With the utmost sadness and grief for the Kuwaiti people, the Islamic and Arab world and people of friendly nations, the Emiri Diwan mourns the death of Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, the emir of Kuwait," his office stated.

According to Reuters, Sheikh Sabah sought to balance relations with Kuwait`s bigger neighbours -- forging the closest ties with Saudi Arabia, rebuilding links with former occupier Iraq and keeping an open dialogue with Iran. Sheikh Sabah tried to mediate in a Gulf dispute that saw Riyadh and its allies impose a boycott on Qatar.

The new Emir`s choice of Crown prince and prime minister -- who would be tasked with managing the government`s often difficult relationship with parliament -- will be watched closely, especially at a time when Kuwait`s finances have been strained by low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic.

Notably, flags were flying at half-mast in Kuwait. The emir had been in hospital in the United States since July following surgery for an unspecified condition in Kuwait that month. Condolences poured in from across the Arab world for "the emir of humanity", and several countries in the Gulf and wider region announced mourning periods.

Sabah kept strong ties with the United States, which led a coalition that ended Iraq`s 1990-91 occupation of Kuwait and used the Gulf state as a launchpad for the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump awarded the US Legion of Merit, Degree Chief Commander, to Sheikh Sabah in what the White House said was the first time the honour has been given since 1991. The Emir`s eldest son, Sheikh Nasser, accepted the award.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised the emir as “an extraordinary symbol of wisdom and generosity, a messenger of peace, a bridge builder”.

Notably, the Kuwaiti dinar fell against the US dollar in the forward market on Tuesday and Kuwaiti stocks plunged, ahead of the official announcement of the emir`s death.

Under Kuwait`s constitution the crown prince automatically becomes emir but assumes power only after taking an oath in parliament, for which elections are due this year.

Diplomats and Kuwait experts say they expect Sheikh Nawaf, 83, to assume power as heir in a smooth transition.

The succession is not expected to affect oil policy or foreign investment strategy through the Kuwait Investment Authority, one of the world`s biggest sovereign wealth funds. Oil policy is set by the Supreme Petroleum Council, appointed by the emir.

The new emir`s choice of the Crown prince and prime minister - who would be tasked with managing the government`s often difficult relationship with parliament - will be watched closely, especially at a time when Kuwait`s finances have been strained by low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic.

Although most political power in Kuwait is in the hands of the Emir, its Parliament is one of the most influential elected bodies among Gulf monarchies.

(With Reuters Inputs)