Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah, 79; Modest Longtime Kuwaiti Emir

Kuwaiti women weep and read the Koran while waiting for the start of the funeral procession for the emir.
Kuwaiti women weep and read the Koran while waiting for the start of the funeral procession for the emir. (By Gustavo Ferrari -- Associated Press)
Associated Press
Monday, January 16, 2006

Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah, 79, the emir of Kuwait who survived an assassination attempt in the 1980s and a decade later escaped Iraqi troops invading his oil-rich Persian Gulf state, died Jan. 15, it was reported in Kuwait City. He suffered a brain hemorrhage five years ago.

Kuwait's Cabinet named Crown Prince Saad Abdullah Sabah the new ruler in the tiny oil-rich country -- a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.

The crown prince, a distant cousin chosen by the emir as his heir apparent in 1978, is in his mid-seventies and has colon problems. His poor health has recently led to worries about succession in Kuwait, and it was unclear what the ruling family would decide in the longer term.

The emir was a close friend of the United States even before U.S. forces led the fight to liberate his country in 1991. Kuwait served as the major launching point for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq 12 years later.

Kuwait has remained reliant on U.S. forces for defense, and the close alliance probably will continue under the new emir.

The Sabah family has ruled Kuwait, which has the world's 10th-largest oil reserves, for more than 250 years.

After a Shiite Muslim extremist tried to assassinate Sheik Sabah in a suicide car bombing in May 1985, the emir abruptly changed his habits. He stopped driving his own car to bustling bazaars and cut down on public appearances. He did not like traveling abroad, though he went for medical treatment.

Sheik Sabah was born in 1926, before Kuwait became rich exporting oil. He was educated by private tutors in his father's palace.

Despite the family's wealth and its well-consolidated rule, Sheik Sabah was considered a quiet listener who avoided ostentation. His palace in Kuwait City's Dasman neighborhood near the sea was described as a spacious but ordinary house, and bread and yogurt often satisfied Sheik Sabah at mealtime.

Designated crown prince and prime minister in 1965, he succeeded his uncle as emir on Dec. 31, 1977.

The year before taking over, he set up the Fund for Future Generations -- a financial safety net for Kuwaitis when the oil eventually runs out. He had since ensured that 10 percent of oil revenue went into the fund, which has an estimated balance of more than $60 billion.

Before the 1990-91 Iraqi invasion, the emir and his family presided over an affluent but tightly controlled society. He dissolved the parliament in 1986 for severely criticizing the government. He did not restore it until 1992, a year after Iraqi troops were driven out.

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