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Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Emir of Kuwait, dies at 91

Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait who led his small oil-rich country on an independent path through Middle Eastern rivalries and feuds for four decades as foreign minister and then ruler of the country , died on Tuesday. He was 91 years old.

An official statement read on state television announced his death. According to Kuwait’s state news agency KUNA, the emir had undergone surgery and was then flown to the United States for medical treatment in July.

His death is expected to elevate his 82-year-old half-brother, Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, to the leadership of Kuwait. While the policies of the incoming emir were not yet apparent, analysts predicted that Kuwait would continue to act as a mediator in its turbulent neighborhood, skillfully navigating between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on one side and the enemies of those. Arab states, Iran and Qatar. , on the other.

A Persian Gulf country of 4.2 million people excavated between Saudi Arabia to the south and Iraq to the north, Kuwait has the sixth largest oil reserve in the world, giving it immense wealth that has guaranteed it a degree of independence from its more powerful neighbors.

Despite periods of upheaval, Kuwait has remained politically stable. With an elected parliament, political party-like blocs, and sometimes vigorous public debate, Kuwaitis can participate in their government to a greater extent than their Gulf Arab neighbors, who are ruled by absolute monarchies.

And the country has remained an important ally of the United States since 1991, when US-led forces repelled an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait during the Gulf War. Today Kuwait is home to around 13,000 American soldiers.

James A. Baker III, who was secretary of state during the war, said in a statement Tuesday that Sheikh Sabah was “always an outspoken and trusted ally.”

“Whether it’s working to calm the difficult rivalries between competing nations or committing to rescuing refugees from war-torn countries,” he added. “Sheikh Sabah has remained focused on helping us build a better world.”

That stability has been tested, however. Under Kuwait’s political system, the emir appoints the Sabah family as prime minister and keeps the last word on state affairs, an arrangement that has fueled longstanding tensions between the appointed government and the elected parliament. And that imbalance led, in the second half of Sheikh Sabah’s reign, to its greatest internal crisis – when the Arab Spring riots that swept across the Middle East in 2011 reached Kuwait, bringing to light the open questions about the of the power of the ruling family. .

Kuwaiti protesters and opposition lawmakers, fueled by what they saw as attempts by the government to interfere with a parliamentary election and corruption scandal among members of parliament, he pushed for constitutional amendments to loosen the family’s grip in power and bring the country closer to a complete parliamentary system.

The protests brought tens of thousands of Kuwaitis to the streets, forcing the emir to replace the prime minister and dissolve parliament. Two years of unrest followed, during which the emir used emergency laws to change electoral rules in a way the opposition said preferred candidates for government.

An opposition-dominated parliament was dissolved, protesters repeatedly confronted police in the streets, and dozens of protesters were arrested for criticizing the emir.

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