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Kuwait’s ruling emir, 86, was hospitalized due to emergency health problem but is reportedly stable

The Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah.Jaber Abdulkhaleg/Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The ruling emir of oil-rich Kuwait was hospitalized Wednesday “due to an emergency health problem” but later reported to be in stable condition, renewing the longstanding concerns over his health since he became ruler in 2020.

The report by the state-run KUNA news agency did not elaborate on the problem faced by 86-year-old Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah. However, Sheikh Nawaf has handed over power several times during his rule to his deputy while facing medical checks and other issues.

Given Sheikh Nawaf’s age, the emergency renews concerns about his health. State-run news previously reported that he traveled to the United States for unspecified medical checks in March 2021.

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The health of Kuwait’s leaders remains a sensitive matter in the tiny Mideast nation bordering Iraq and Saudi Arabia which has seen internal power struggles behind palace doors.

Sheikh Nawaf was sworn in as emir following the 2020 death of his predecessor, the late Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah. The breadth and depth of emotion over the loss of Sheikh Sabah, known for his diplomacy and peacemaking, was felt across the wider Middle East.

Sheikh Nawaf's term, meanwhile, has largely been quiet as Kuwait struggles through political disputes — including the overhaul of Kuwait’s welfare system — which prevented the sheikhdom from taking on debt. That's left it with little in its coffers to pay bloated public sector salaries, even as Kuwait generates immense wealth from its oil reserves.

In 2021, Sheikh Nawaf issued a long-awaited amnesty decree, pardoning and reducing the sentences of nearly three dozen Kuwaiti dissidents in a move aimed at defusing a major government standoff.

Kuwait, a nation home to some 4.2 million people that’s slightly smaller than the U.S. state of New Jersey, has the world’s sixth-largest known oil reserves.

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It has been a staunch U.S. ally since the 1991 Gulf War expelled the occupying Iraqi forces of Saddam Hussein. Kuwait hosts some 13,500 American troops in the country, as well as the forward headquarters of the U.S. Army in the Middle East.