Abdullah al Maatouq, who heads the International Islamic Charity Organisation, leads the funeral prayers.—AFP
Abdullah al Maatouq, who heads the International Islamic Charity Organisation, leads the funeral prayers.—AFP

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait’s late ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, an acclaimed diplomat and mediator, was laid to rest on Wednesday, shortly after his half-brother was sworn in as the new emir.

Sheikh Sabah, who ruled the oil-rich nation for 14 years, died on Tuesday after undergoing treatment in hospital in Minnesota from July.

A Kuwaiti government Airbus A340 carrying his remains from the United States landed in the capital, where roads were cleared to allow passage of a convoy to the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque for funeral prayers.

The new emir, 83-year-old Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad Al-Sabah — who was sworn in at the National Assembly earlier on Wednesday — was at the airport to receive the body along with other Kuwaiti officials, all wearing masks in line with anti-coronavirus measures. The late emir’s remains were then buried at the Sulaibikhat Cemetery, in a simple ceremony at the public facility, in keeping with tradition.

The royal court said the funeral was largely restricted to the emir’s relatives — a move likely designed to avoid large crowds due to the global health crisis.

Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani — embroiled in a Gulf diplomatic dispute in which Kuwait has mediated — took part in the funeral prayers, according to official Qatari media.Sheikh Nawaf, who has held high office for decades but earned a reputation for modesty, was visibly emotional as he addressed the National Assembly.

“I promise you that I will do my best and everything in my power to preserve Kuwait, its security and stability, and to ensure the dignity and well-being of the people,” he said after taking the oath of office.

He called for unity in facing the region’s challenges and committed himself to Kuwait’s “democratic approach” in the address before lawmakers, who wore masks and were spaced in line with social distancing.

Kuwait, unlike other Gulf states, has a lively political arena with a fully elected parliament that enjoys wide legislative powers and can vote ministers out of office.

Sheikh Nawaf, who was named heir apparent in 2006,takes over as Kuwait faces the repercussions of the coronavirus crisis, which triggered a sharp decline in oil prices and severe economic consequences for Gulf states.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2020