Kuwait’s new ruler on Wednesday named veteran security chief Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad as crown prince, retaining power firmly within the ruling family’s oldest ranks and signalling the OPEC member state is unlikely to pursue disruptive change.
The selection of the octogenarian Sheikh Meshal, deputy head of the country’s National Guard and the eldest of several rumoured candidates for the job, must be approved by the Gulf Arab state’s parliament.
It “was blessed by the Al Sabah family,” state news agency KUNA cited a statement from the emir’s office as saying.
The new emir, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, assumed power following the death of his brother Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad last week, at a time of tension between Kuwait’s larger neighbours Saudi Arabia and Iran and as the government tries to shore up finances strained by low oil prices and COVID-19.
Diplomats and analysts say that due to his low-key style and age, Sheikh Nawaf, 83, may delegate a larger portion of responsibilities to his heir apparent, who would have to act swiftly to tackle domestic issues.
The parliament speaker had said that if the emir announced a crown prince on Wednesday, then lawmakers would vote on his choice on Thursday, the last day of parliament’s term.
Sheikh Meshal, also a brother of the late emir, became deputy head of the National Guard in 2004 and previously served as head of State Security for 13 years. Kuwait experts said he had in the past declined offers of senior positions, steering clear of political battles and public-facing roles.
He had accompanied Sheikh Sabah to the United States in July where the late ruler was hospitalised until his death aged 91.
The new emir is expected to uphold oil policy and a foreign policy shaped by Sheikh Sabah that strove for Arab detente and balanced ties between Saudi Arabia, Iran and former occupier Iraq.
Sheikh Meshal’s rise stands in contrast to some other Gulf states, most notably neighbour Saudi Arabia, where ruling families are starting to give top jobs to younger princes.
Sheikh Nawaf was shown on state television on Wednesday meeting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who arrived in Kuwait from Qatar to offer condolences on Sheikh Sabah’s death.
Turkey has sided with Doha in a Gulf row that has seen Saudi Arabia and its allies impose a boycott on Qatar since mid-2017, a bitter rift which Sheikh Sabah tried in vain to resolve.
Kuwait’s emir and crown prince are expected to focus on domestic issues with parliamentary elections due this year and at a time the government is trying to tackle a liquidity crunch.
A pressing matter, diplomats and analysts say, is debt legislation that had met resistance in parliament and which would allow Kuwait to tap international debt markets to help it finance the budget deficit.
Frequent clashes between cabinet and parliament, the Gulf’s oldest and most powerful legislature, have led to successive government reshuffles and dissolution of parliament, hindering investment and reform efforts.