The coffin of Sheikh Nawaf is carried out of the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque in Kuwait City ahead of burial during his funeral on December 17, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

AL SIDDEEQ, Kuwait: Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah was laid to rest on Sunday at a private funeral attended by select relatives, a day after he passed away.

Draped in a Kuwaiti flag, the coffin of Sheikh Nawaf was carried into a Kuwait mosque for prayers ahead of a burial ceremony that was broadcast on state television.

Men pray by the tomb of Sheikh Nawaf at Sulaibikhat cemetery in Kuwait City on December 17. Image Credit: AFP

Attendance was limited to members of the ruling family, making for an intimate and low-key farewell for the ruler who reigned for three years. The speaker of Kuwait’s parliament was also present.

“The choice reflects the late emir’s low profile character,” said Bader Al Saif, a history professor at Kuwait University.

Sheikh Nawaf... 'emir of pardons'. Image Credit: AFP

The incoming emir Sheikh Meshal, who is expected to deliver his oath before parliament on Wednesday, attended the service.

He will receive condolences on Monday and Tuesday from the wider public.

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During Sunday’s burial ceremony, rows of relatives stood at Shiekh Nawaf’s final resting ground and performed prayers.

Some crouched before his grave, cupping their hands, and reciting verses from the Quran.

Across Kuwait City, large digital billboards displayed pictures of the late ruler, dubbing him the “emir of wisdom, forgiveness and peace”.

Flags where lowered to half-mast amid a 40-day mourning period that will also see government offices shut until Tuesday.

Speaking outside the mosque where the funeral took place, Kuwaiti citizen Ghanem Al Sulaimani said he was saddened by the man he called the “emir of humility and forgiveness”.

“He left a great legacy... distinguished by his great love for his people,” he told AFP

Born in 1937, Sheikh Nawaf took over as emir in September 2020 upon the death of his half-brother, Sheikh Sabah, at the age of 91.

A popular figure

He issued numerous amnesties for political prisoners, earning him the nickname “emir of pardons”.

One of his last moves before his death was the signing of a draft decree approved by cabinet late last month, demanding the release of dozens of political prisoners.

Sheikh Nawaf was defence minister when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, setting off a war that drew in armies from around the world to end the occupation.

And he was interior minister when Kuwait faced a severe threat from Islamist militants in 2005.

The episodes deeply marked the country, but Sheikh Nawaf’s low-profile style meant he remained a relatively popular figure.

Abdullah Sabah Al Mulla, a 56-year-old Kuwaiti professor, said the nation has lost a “great father” in Sheikh Nawaf.

“He did not put a barrier between him and anyone. To him, all the people were equal,” he said.

World leaders pay respects to Sheikh Nawaf

Dignitaries from around the world paid respects to Sheikh Nawaf, whose six decades in public service included minister of defence, interior, labour and deputy chief of the national guard.

UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has mourned with great sadness and sorrow the passing of Sheikh Nawaf, praying to Allah Almighty to rest his soul in Paradise and to grant patience and solace to Al Sabah family, the State of Kuwait, and its people

The Presidential Court issued the following statement: With hearts that believe in Allah’s will and destiny, President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan mourns the passing of His Highness Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Jaber, who passed away on Saturday. At the directives of President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, as of today (Saturday), the UAE will observe a three-day state mourning with the flag flown at half-mast at all official departments, embassies, and UAE’s diplomatic missions outside the country.

US President Joe Biden described Sheikh Nawaf as a “valued partner and true friend of the United States”, and pledged to “continue to strengthen the longstanding ties” between the countries.

“We convey our deepest condolences to the royal family, the leadership and the people of Kuwait,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on the social media platform X.

Sheikh Nawaf became emir in September 2020 following the death of his brother, Sheikh Sabah, who had ruled for more than a decade and shaped the state’s foreign policy for more than 50 years.

Sheikh Nawaf was seen by diplomats as a consensus builder.