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Sheikh Sabah earned a reputation as a shrewd, unshakeable leader who helped steer his country through the 1990 Iraqi invasion, crashes in global oil markets and upheavals in parliament and on the streets.
World leaders and Kuwaitis alike have hailed the legacy of the late emir, architect of the nation's modern foreign policy and mediator in some of the worst crises to grip the Gulf.
"This man was the safety valve of the Arab world, not just for Kuwait," Bandar al-Dahani, a Kuwaiti citizen, told AFP.
"God willing, that goodness will be in Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf and he will follow the emir's path."
Generational transition looms
Sheikh Nawaf, who has held high office for decades, takes over with Kuwait facing the repercussions of the coronavirus crisis, which triggered a sharp decline in oil prices and severe economic consequences for Gulf states.
The elder statesman, who was named heir apparent in 2006, served as defense minister when Iraqi troops rolled into the oil-rich emirate in 1990, and also as interior minister in the face of challenges from Islamist militants.
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Sheikh Nawaf is popular within the ruling Al-Sabah family and is reported to have been a consensus choice for ruler.