Kuwaiti emir names top security official as crown prince

Kuwait City (AFP) –


Kuwait's new emir, Sheikh Nawaf, on Wednesday named his half-brother Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Jaber Al-Sabah, a long-serving top security official, as crown prince.

Sheikh Meshal, 80, has been deputy chief of the Kuwait National Guard since 2004, largely staying out of the political scene and away from disputes within the royal family.

The Sabah ruling family "blessed" 83-year-old Sheikh Nawaf's decision, the official Kuwait News Agency said Wednesday, a day ahead of a parliamentary session to approve the choice.

"The new crown prince (if confirmed by parliament) is more of a running mate for Sheikh Nawaf rather than an investment in Kuwait's future," tweeted Andreas Krieg of King's College London.

In recent years, the ruling family has been flaunting its differences, with lurid accusations of corruption and political conspiracies lodged by some of its members against others.

Kuwait, unlike other Gulf states, has a lively political life with an elected parliament that enjoys wide legislative powers and can vote ministers out of office. Political rows often burst into the open.

Sheikh Nawaf was sworn in on September 30 after the death of his half-brother, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, who died at the age of 91 after two months in hospital in the US.

The succession comes at a time when the oil-rich country is grappling with the hot topics of whether to establish ties with Israel and how to respond to a slump in oil prices amid the coronavirus crisis.

Sheikh Meshal, who was close to the late ruler and accompanied him to the US where he received treatment, is the seventh son of the 10th emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Ahmad al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

He is considered the most powerful man in the National Guard -- an elite corps in charge of defending the emirate's territory.

The position of chief is symbolically held by Salem al-Ali Al-Sabah, the eldest member of the Sabah ruling family.

"Meshal is seen as part of the security apparatus" and does not have good relations with Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood, said Cinzia Bianco, a research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

"Certainly closer to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates than to Iran as other candidates."

Kuwait has long balanced relations with regional arch-rivals Riyadh and Tehran.

It has also played a mediatory role in a diplomatic divide between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours, after Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Doha in 2017 over accusations it supports extremists.

Sheikh Meshal spent many years in the interior ministry, where he rose through the ranks to head the department of general investigation from 1967 until 1980 and was credited for strengthening its function as a state security service.

In 2016, he travelled abroad and underwent a "successful operation", but details of the treatment were not disclosed.