Sheikh Nasser, Kuwait’s key reformer and son of late emir, dies

Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al Sabah, 72, had emerged as an influential reformer in the oil-rich Gulf state and held several posts.

Sheikh Nasser held various government posts, including minister of defence and deputy prime minister [File: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]

Kuwait’s Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al Sabah, the eldest son of the late emir who emerged as an influential reformer in the oil-rich Gulf state, has died, the state news agency reported on Sunday. He was 72.

Sheikh Nasser, who held various government posts over the years including minister of defence and deputy prime minister, had been considered a top contender for crown prince following his father Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah’s death in September, at the age of 91.

Although he drew popular support for his ambitious mega-projects and anti-corruption efforts, he was passed over for his uncle, Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah, a more cautious choice of heir apparent at a turbulent time for Kuwait’s politics and the wider region.

Born in 1940, Sheikh Meshaal is the younger brother of the late emir.

KUNA, Kuwait’s state-run news agency, did not specify how Sheikh Nasser died, but he was known to be in fragile health after having a lung tumour removed two years ago.

In a country that depends on oil for some 90 percent of its revenues, Sheikh Nasser championed bold plans to diversify Kuwait’s economy by building up a business hub with a free zone and deep seaport in the country’s north.

But with many in Kuwait’s parliament committed to the status quo, his ideas repeatedly ran aground even as fears mounted that the country was falling behind its more powerful and better-developed neighbours, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Last year, Sheikh Nasser’s public allegations of government corruption vaulted him into the national political scene as he pressed for investigations into the suspected embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars from a military fund.

His efforts backfired when his father, the emir, removed him from government, but he retained a substantial following and continued to make public statements about the need to fight corruption both in Kuwait’s sprawling bureaucracy and the ruling family.

Fighting corruption featured prominently in the parliamentary elections earlier this month, which saw opposition candidates take nearly half of parliament’s seats.

The wealthy OPEC member nation is facing several issues, including a liquidity crisis caused by low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic.

Kuwait has recorded almost 148,000 COVID-19 infections and 921 deaths to date.

Source: News Agencies