Kuwaiti Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, died on Tuesday at the age of 91, state media announced.
“With great sadness and sorrow we mourn to the Kuwaiti people, the Arab and Islamic nations, […] the death of the late His Highness Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Emir of the State of Kuwait,” read a royal court statement carried by the official Kuwait News Agency.
The Kuwaiti Cabinet announced a 40-day national mourning and the closure of government departments for three days starting on Tuesday, according to the news agency.
On Sept. 14, the Kuwaiti Cabinet announced that the health of the emir, who led the country since Jan. 29, 2006, was “improving.”
On July 23, al-Sabah headed to the US to continue treatment, based on the advice of the medical team treating him after a successful surgery.
Sheikh Sabah steered his tiny oil-rich country on an independent path through the Middle East’s rivalries and feuds for four decades as the country’s foreign minister and then ruler.
His death is expected to elevate his 82-year-old half brother, Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, to Kuwait’s leadership.
While the incoming emir’s policies were not yet apparent, analysts have predicted that Kuwait would continue to act as a mediator in its turbulent neighborhood, deftly navigating between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on one side and those Arab states’ enemies, Iran and Qatar, on the other.
A Persian Gulf country of 4.2 million people burrowed between Saudi Arabia to the south and Iraq to the north, Kuwait has the world’s sixth-largest known oil reserves, giving it immense wealth that has granted it a degree of independence from its more powerful neighbors.