KUWAIT,(Reuters) – New emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah vowed on Monday to work towards a modern, more democratic Kuwait but also told oil-rich Kuwaitis it was high time to roll up their sleeves and work harder.
The ruler of the important Gulf Arab oil producer and U.S. ally was speaking after accepting the resignation of the cabinet. The 15th emir of the Sabah dynasty is likely to name a prime minister before the end of this week.
“Nations with far less capabilities have surpassed us. We should not stay as we are; it is our duty to turn Kuwait into a focal point of serious work,” Sheikh Sabah, 77, told the nation in a televised speech.
“My brothers, let’s all work for a new Kuwait.”
Sheikh Sabah, who was sworn in on Monday as ruler, added: “We are entering a new era in which we keenly look forward to achieving all our aspirations and hopes in creating a modern state.”
He is seen leaving unchanged the oil policy and pro-Western stance of Kuwait, which has about 10 percent of world oil reserves.
Sheikh Sabah, prime minister since 2003, had been de facto ruler for four years because of the ill health of the late emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah and his heir and cousin Sheikh Saad al-Abdulla al-Sabah, who was deposed by parliament on Tuesday on health grounds after nine days as emir.
Analysts say the most likely candidate to be nominated as premier was Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the emir’s brother and outgoing interior minister.
The new era should be “full of cooperation, fraternity and love among citizens who enjoy equal rights and duties, guard democracy and freedom of expression with no difference between men and women as all are equal,” Sheikh Sabah said.
“The leader cannot succeed in his mission without real cooperation from his people.”
When prime minister, Sheikh Sabah pursued economic and political reforms that included pushing through parliament a decree granting women the vote in 2005.
He introduced laws to open up the economy in a bid to regain Kuwait’s 1970s status as the Gulf hub before the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and the 1990 Iraqi invasion scared off investors.
Obstacles to foreign investment remain, chiefly government red tape. uwait now faces formidable competition from more established trade, financial and leisure hubs in the region such as Dubai and Bahrain.
As emir, Sheikh Sabah is expected to introduce further reforms amid calls for power-sharing in the Gulf Arab state that has been ruled for more than two centuries by one dynasty.
Some politicians have voiced hope that the new emir would respond to long-standing calls to appoint a non-Sabah as premier. Kuwait is the first Gulf Arab state with an elected parliament, but the ruling family holds key cabinet posts in addition to the posts of emir, crown prince and prime minister.
Sheikh Sabah assumed leadership as the country of less than 1 million citizens, who enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, is set to post a record budget surplus of over $25 billion in this fiscal year which ends in March.
Sheikh Sabah has up to a year to name a crown prince. His appointment as emir ended a crisis that began when ailing Sheikh Saad became ruler on Jan. 15.