Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the architect of the nation’s modern foreign policy and mediator in some of the worst crises to grip the Gulf, died on Tuesday at the age of 91, the royal court announced.
Sheikh Sabah had earned a reputation as a shrewd, unshakeable leader who helped steer his country through the 1990 Iraqi invasion, crashes in global oil markets and crises in Parliament and on the streets.
“With great sadness and sorrow, we mourn... the death of Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Emir of the State of Kuwait,” said Sheikh Ali Jarrah Al-Sabah, Minister in Charge of Royal Affairs, in a televised statement. State television had cut its regular programming and switched to a broadcast of Koranic recital before the announcement.
The Emir had been receiving hospital treatment in the U.S. since July after undergoing surgery in Kuwait City. No details have been disclosed on the nature of his illness or treatment, and the palace did not say where he died.
The Emir, who has ruled the oil-rich Gulf state since 2006, had his appendix removed in 2002, two years after having a pacemaker fitted. In 2007, he underwent urinary tract surgery in the U.S.
Under Kuwaiti law, in the absence of the Emir de facto power is passed to the Crown Prince, the late leader's half-brother Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, 83.
Sheikh Nawaf, an elder statesman who has held high office for decades including the defence and interior ministries, is now expected to be appointed the new ruler.
The 15th leader in a family that has ruled for over 250 years, Sheikh Sabah weathered Kuwait's crises with shrewd judgement and an iron fist.
As the country’s top diplomat for nearly four decades, he fostered close ties with the West, most notably the U.S. which led the international coalition that freed Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in 1991. He later emerged as mediator between the GCC and Iran, and between Saudi Arabia and Qatar following Riyadh's 2017 decision to cut ties with Doha.