Kuwait’s 91-year-old Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah died on Tuesday in a hospital in the United States.
“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, the minister in charge of royal affairs, in a television broadcast.
Born in 1929, Sheikh Sabah is widely regarded as the architect of modern Kuwait’s foreign policy – having served as foreign minister for nearly 40 years between 1963 and 2003 – when he became prime minister.
A longtime widower, Sheikh Sabah lived for years in a palace known as Dar Salwa, which was named after his daughter Salwa, who died of cancer in 2002. He is survived by two sons.
He became Kuwait’s emir in January 2006 after the death of Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah.
In August 2019, Kuwait acknowledged Sheikh Sabah suffered an unspecified medical “setback” that required he be admitted to hospital.
In July 2020, he flew to the United States seeking medical attention after undergoing surgery. A US Air Force C-17 flying hospital transported Sheikh Sabah from Kuwait to Rochester, Minnesota, home of the flagship campus of the Mayo Clinic. The high regard for Sheikh Sabah could be seen in the outpouring of support for him across the Middle East as he suddenly fell ill.
‘Valued discretion and moderation’
Sheikh Sabah drew on his decades as the oil-rich nation’s top diplomat to push for closer ties to Iraq after the 1990 Gulf War and solutions to other regional crises.
His 2006 ascension in Kuwait, a staunch US ally since the American-led war that expelled occupying Iraqi troops, came after parliament voted unanimously to oust his predecessor, the ailing Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, just nine days into his rule.
Yet as Kuwait’s ruling emir, he struggled with internal political disputes, the fallout of the 2011 Arab Spring protests, and seesawing crude oil prices that chewed into a national budget providing cradle-to-grave subsidies.
“He represents the older generation of Gulf leaders who valued discretion and moderation and the importance of personal ties amongst fellow monarchs,” said Kristin Diwan, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington who studies Kuwait. “No question he has suffered from the lack of deference and respect shown by the younger and more brash young princes holding power today.”
The emir had his appendix removed in 2002, two years after having a pacemaker fitted. In 2007, he underwent urinary tract surgery in the United States.