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For Kuwait’s new emir, Saudi ties are seen as key

SHEIKH Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah was named Kuwait’s new emir on Saturday after the death of his brother Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah aged 86.

Sheikh Meshal, 83, spent much of his career helping build the Gulf state’s security and defence apparatus before stepping into the public eye when he became crown prince three years ago.

He was thrust further into the spotlight when he was handed most of the frail Emir Sheikh Nawaf’s duties in November 2021.

Sheikh Meshal became Kuwait’s third emir in just over three years. Until 2020, the post had been held for 14 years by Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad, a prominent figure in the Arab world known for helping lead Kuwait out of the ruins of Iraq’s 1990 invasion.

As he takes the helm of the OPEC oil producer, Sheikh Mehshal is expected to preserve key Kuwaiti foreign policies including support for Gulf Arab unity, Western alliances, and good ties to Riyadh – a relationship seen as a top priority to him.

He may also look to expand ties to China as it seeks a bigger role in the region, especially after Beijing sponsored a deal that normalised ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March.

Sheikh Meshal signed several economic agreements during a visit to China in September when he attended the opening ceremony of the Asian Olympic Games.

“He desires stability, and stresses the importance of Kuwait’s relationship with Saudi Arabia in particular,” a Kuwaiti source said, adding that Sheikh Meshal was concerned about the regional situation and afraid of wars in the region.

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A Western diplomat described Sheikh Meshal as an early riser with a methodical work style. “He pays attention to details, sometimes to the very small details,” the diplomat said. While Sheikh Sabah had been closer to diplomatic work, Sheikh Meshal was closer to the military, the diplomat said.

Sheikh Meshal was deputy chief of the National Guard from 2004-2020 and head of State Security for 13 years after joining the interior ministry in the 1960s. He had been offered several senior roles in the past but declined them, experts say