Kuwait’s Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah became the oil-rich nation’s new ruling emir Tuesday night, reaching the highest post in the country after decades in its security services.
Sheikh Nawaf, 83, had served as the crown prince since 2006, jumping a traditional order of alternating rule between the Al Jaber and the Al Salim branches of the country’s ruling family.
While his taking of the throne came as prescribed by Kuwait’s constitution, there likely will be negotiations behind the scenes in the weeks ahead over who will become the country’s next crown prince.
Those discussions likely will take time as Kuwait mourns its late ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, who died Tuesday at the age of 91 , and weighs who best represents a country that had carefully positioned itself amid regional rivalries.
Sheikh Nawaf “may provide a welcome respite of unity in transition,” wrote Kristin Smith Diwan, a scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “Yet, 83 years old and without any clear national program, his reign is unlikely to deter the sharp competition already underway to claim the title of his successor.”
State television carried an address by Anas Khalid al-Saleh, Kuwait’s interior minister and deputy Prime Minister, announcing Sheikh Nawaf had taken the position just hours after Sheikh Sabah’s death.
Sheikh Nawaf, like his half-brother Sheikh Sabah, was born before Kuwait discovered the oil that would make this small nation among the richest in the world. Born June 25, 1937, Sheikh Nawaf became a governor of Kuwait’s Hawalli region and later the country’s interior minister, a position he held for nearly a decade.
As interior minister, Sheikh Nawaf negotiated in 1980 with two Jordanians who hijacked a Boeing 727 heading from Beirut to Kuwait City. The hijackers ultimately gave up the plane without harming any passengers on board. Sheikh Nawaf negotiated in other hijackings as well.
Kuwait separately faced militant bombings during his time as interior minister, which authorities blamed on Iran.
Sheikh Nawaf served as Kuwait’s defense minister beginning in 1988. He’d be in the role in 1990, when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and occupied the nation for seven months.
"Our citizens inside Kuwait are disobeying orders and not following instructions and they are being mistreated,” Sheikh Nawaf said at the time.
On Feb. 24, 1991, U.S. troops and their allies stormed into Kuwait. It ended 100 hours later. America suffered only 148 combat deaths during the whole campaign, while over 20,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed.
Sheikh Nawaf briefly served as social affairs and labor 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.
Sheikh Nawaf is married, with four sons and one daughter. He hasn’t been known for making any major political decisions while serving as crown prince.
Sheikh Nawaf is “is seen by many in Kuwait as an uncontroversial choice as emir, albeit probably serving only a short term considering his age,” analysts Simon Henderson and Kristian Coates Ulrichsen wrote in an analysis last October for the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy. “His uncertain health may also affect both the length and the vigor of his time as emir.”
The analysts added: “These facts, together with his easy-going personality, make it more likely that whoever becomes his crown prince will have the opportunity to more forcefully shape the direction of Kuwaiti leadership.”