Tue, Jan 17, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Kuwaitis say farewell to much-respected emir

PROBLEMS AHEAD Sheik Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah's death on Sunday has created a succession crisis, unresolved by the appointment of the crown prince as the new emir


A woman cries at the funeral of the late emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, on Sunday. The emir, who rebuilt the Gulf state after US-led forces drove Iraqi occupying troops from the country in 1991, died on Sunday at the age of 78.


Hours after Kuwait's longtime ruler died on Sunday, officials announced that the crown prince had been elevated to the post of emir, heading off a short-term crisis, but raising longer-term questions about leadership of the country, one of the world's richest in oil.

Thousands of people turned out to mourn the death of the emir, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who ruled for almost three decades. The tremendous funeral procession stretched far behind the flag-draped body as it was carried to a final, unmarked grave. Jaber, 79, died after a long illness.

Kuwait announced a 40-day period of mourning, and government offices will close for three days. Flags were lowered to half-staff.

But the government also moved to end any speculation about the line of succession, following the constitutional instruction to make the crown prince, Sheik Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, the next emir.

The new emir, however, is 75, in ill health and by many accounts physically incapable of governing. He would be expected to nominate the next crown prince -- but the decision will, instead, probably be made by Kuwait's inner circle, primarily members of the ruling family and diplomats political analysts said.

Most analysts said they expected the prime minister, Sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, 75, who has run the day-to-day affairs of the country since 2003 when Saad no longer could, to be named the next crown prince.

But the change in leadership could exacerbate tensions between two branches of the ruling family that share power and possibly aggravate a generational split between the younger princes, who want to ascend in the power structure, and the elder family members, political analysts said.

That leaves uncertainty over the future leadership of a country that controls one-tenth of the world's known oil reserves and is a crucial Persian Gulf ally of the US.

"It is going to be a difficult situation," said Ghanim Al-Najjar, a political science professor at Kuwait University. "There is no consensus on anything."

The potential problems began to emerge in public last year, when a senior member of the ruling family expressed concern that the emir and the crown prince were both ill -- raising speculation that the prime minister would leapfrog over the crown prince. The prime minister, who is fitted with a pacemaker, insisted that that would not occur.

Now political analysts said that while he was expected to become the next in line, there was no certainty he would also retain the post of prime minister. That could lead to jockeying for power within the ruling elite.

While the political handicapping had begun, the attention of most Kuwaitis on Sunday was focused on the funeral for the emir who led them through the turbulent years of the Iran-Iraq war, through the occupation of their country by Iraqi forces, and through the general turmoil that continues to buffet the region.

Following afternoon prayer on Sunday, a white van carrying the body of the emir cut through dense masses of weeping Kuwaitis waiting at the Sulaibikhat Cemetery, the largest public Sunni Muslim cemetery in Kuwait.

The security officers held hands forming a human wall and struggled to keep the mourners from approaching the emir's body, which was wrapped in a Kuwaiti flag and placed in an open box.

Waves of men wearing the traditional checkered red-and-white and plain-white Arab head coverings rushed to participate in carrying the emir's coffin on their shoulders.

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