History of Kuwait

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Kuwait is a country in the Persian Gulf. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Kuwait was a prosperous center of trade and commerce.[1][2][3]

Ancient history[edit]

Ancient coins from Failaka Island

Kuwait was historically part of the region of the Mesopotamia,[4][5][6][7] including the Ubaid period (ca. 6500 BC).[8][9][10] The world's oldest reed-boat was discovered in Kuwait in the north.[11] Mesopotamians first settled in the Kuwaiti islands of Akkaz and Failaka in 2000 B.C.[12] Traders from the Sumerian city of Ur inhabited Failaka and ran a mercantile business.[12] The island had many Mesopotamian-style buildings typical of those found in Iraq dating from around 2000 B.C.[12] The Neolithic inhabitants of Kuwait were among the world's earliest maritime traders.[13]

The earliest recorded mention of Kuwait was in 150 AD in the geographical treatise Geography by Greek scholar Ptolemy.[14] Ptolemy visited the area on the orders of Alexander the Great.[14] Ptolemy mentioned the Bay of Kuwait as Hieros Kolpos (Sacer Sinus in the Latin versions).[14]

In 4000 BC until 2000 BC, the Bay of Kuwait was home to the Dilmun civilization.[15] Dilmun's control of the bay of Kuwait included Kuwait City's Shuwaikh Port (formerly Akkaz Island),[15] Umm an Namil Island[15] and Failaka island.[15] At its peak in 2000 BC, the Dilmun empire controlled the trade routes from Mesopotamia to India and the Indus Valley civilization. The commercial power of the Dilmun civilization began to decline after 1800 BC. Piracy flourished throughout the region during Dilmun's decline. After 600 BC, the Babylonians added Dilmun to their empire. Following the Dilmun civilization, the bay of Kuwait was inhabited by the Kassites of Mesopotamia,[16] and was formally under the control of the Kassite dynasty of Babylon.[16]

Under Nebuchadnezzar II, the bay of Kuwait was under Babylonian control.[17] Cuneiform documents found in Kuwait's islands indicate the presence of Babylonians in the island's population.[18] Babylonian Kings were present in some of Kuwait's islands during the Neo-Babylonian Empire period, Nabonidus had a governor in Failaka and Nebuchadnezzar II had a palace and temple in Falaika.[19][20] The island of Failaka also contained temples dedicated to the worship of Shamash, the Mesopotamian sun god in the Babylonian pantheon.[20]

In 3rd century BC, the ancient Greeks colonized the Bay of Kuwait under Alexander the Great, the ancient Greeks named mainland Kuwait Larissa and the island of Failaka was named Ikaros. According to Strabo and Arrian, Alexander the Great named Failaka Ikaros because it resembled the Aegean island of that name in size and shape. Remains of Greek colonization include a large Hellenistic fort and two Greek temples.[21]

In 224 AD, Kuwait became part of the Sassanid Empire. At the time of the Sassanid Empire, Kuwait was known as Meshan,[22] which was an alternative name of the kingdom of Characene.[23][24] In Shuwaikh Port in Kuwait City, the Sassanid religion's tower of silence was discovered.[25]

Battle of Chains[edit]

Main article: Battle of Chains

In 636 AD, the Battle of Chains between the Sassanid Empire and Rashidun Caliphate was fought in Kuwait near the town of Kazma.[26][27] At the time, Kuwait was under the control of the Sassanid Empire. The Battle of Chains was the first battle of the Rashidun Caliphate in which the Muslim army sought to extend its frontiers.

As a result of the Rashidun victory in the 7th century, Kuwait became known as an early Islamic city known as Kazima or Kadhima.[27][28] Kuwait was known as Kazima for many centuries and was controlled by the kingdom of Al-Hirah in Iraq.[29] During the early Islamic period, Kuwait was well known for being a fertile area.[30] During the 7th century, Muslim armies were stationed in Kuwait due to its strategic location.[27] Kuwait became a famous trading station by the 9th century.[27]

Kazima was a stop for caravans coming from Persia and Mesopotamia en route to the Arabian Peninsula.[31] One of the most prominent Kuwaitis born in Kazima is the poet Al-Farazdaq.[32] Al-Farazdaq is recognized as one of the greatest classical poets of the Arabs.[32]

Maysan

Between the fifth and thirteenth centuries, Kuwait was part of the ecclesiastical province of Mayêan,[33] the province's capital Prut was located near present-day Basra.

Founding of modern Kuwait[edit]

Al-Hashemi-II Marine Museum in Kuwait City. Demonstrates the founding of Kuwait as a Sea port for merchants.

In 1521, Kuwait was under Portuguese control.[34] In the late 16th century, the Portuguese built a defensive settlement in Kuwait.[35]

In 1613, the town of Kuwait was founded in modern-day Kuwait City. Kuwait was initially under the control of the Bani Khalid clan, who built fishing villages in present-day Kuwait Bay. In 1650, the Bani Utubs settled in Kuwait. The Bani Utub settlers gradually migrated in the sixteenth century from Najd to Basra and Kuwait. The Bani Utubs had originally migrated to Basra, they occupied 2000 houses and were described as a powerful group who owned 150 ships, which they used for merchant shipping and for transporting goods for Basra's merchants.[36]

Economic prosperity[edit]

In the eighteenth century, Kuwait prospered and rapidly became the principal commercial center for the transit of goods between India, Muscat, Baghdad and Arabia.[37][38] By the mid 1700s, Kuwait had already established itself as the major trading route from the Persian Gulf to Aleppo.[39] During the Persian siege of Basra in 1775—1779, Iraqi merchants took refuge in Kuwait and were partly instrumental in the expansion of Kuwait's boat-building and trading activities.[40] As a result, Kuwait's maritime commerce boomed.[40]

Between the years 1775 and 1779, the Indian trade routes with Baghdad, Aleppo, Smyrna and Constantinople were diverted to Kuwait.[39][41] The East India Company was diverted to Kuwait in 1792.[42] The East India Company secured the sea routes between Kuwait, India and the east coasts of Africa.[42] After the Persians withdrew from Basra in 1779, Kuwait continued to attract trade away from Basra.[43] The flight of many of Basra's leading merchants to Kuwait continued to play a significant role in Basra's commercial stagnation well into the 1850s.[43]

Regional geopolitical turbulence helped foster economic prosperity in Kuwait in the second half of the 18th century.[44] Kuwait became prosperous due to Basra's instability in the late 18th century.[45] In the late 18th century, Kuwait partly functioned as a haven for Basra's merchants fleeing Ottoman government persecution.[46] By 1800, it was estimated that Kuwait's sea trade reached 16 million Bombay rupees.[39] Kuwait's pre-oil population was ethnically diverse.[47] The population consisted of Arabs, Persians, Africans, Jews and Armenians.

Kuwait was the center of boat building in the Gulf region.[48] Ship vessels made in Kuwait carried the bulk of international trade between the trade ports of India, East Africa, and Red Sea.[49][50][51] Boats made in Kuwait were capable of sailing up to China.[52] Kuwaiti ship vessels were renowned throughout the Indian Ocean for quality and design.[53][52] Kuwaitis also developed a reputation as the best sailors in the Persian Gulf.[54][55][37]

In the 19th century, Kuwait became significant in the horse trade,[56] horses were regularly shipped by the way of sailing boats from Kuwait.[56] In the mid 19th century, it was estimated that Kuwait was exporting an average of 800 horses to India annually.[44] Kuwait was divided into three areas: Sharq, Jibla and Mirqab.[57] Sharq and Jibla were the most populated areas.[57] Jibla was inhabited by immigrants from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Bahrain. Sharq was mostly inhabited by Persians (Ajam).[57]

In the early 20th century, Kuwait was dubbed the "Marseilles of the Gulf" because its economic vitality attracted a large variety of people.[58] In a good year, Kuwait's annual revenue actually came up to 100,000 riyals,[46] the governor of Basra considered Kuwait's annual revenue an astounding figure.[46] A Western author's account of Kuwait in 1905:[47]

Kuwait was the Marseilles of the Persian Gulf. Its population was good natured, mixed, and vicious. As it was the outlet from the north to the Gulf and hence to the Indies, merchants from Bombay and Tehran, Indians, Persians, Syrians from Aleppo and Damascus, Armenians, Turks and Jews, traders from all the East, and some Europeans came to Kuwait. From Kuwait, the caravans set out for Central Arabia and for Syria.

H. C. Armstrong, Lord of Arabia[47]

In the first decades of the twentieth century, Kuwait had a well-established elite: wealthy trading families who were linked by marriage and shared economic interests.[59] The elite were long-settled, urban, Sunni families, the majority of which claim descent from the original 30 Bani Utubi families.[59] The wealthiest families were trade merchants who acquired their wealth from long-distance commerce, shipbuilding and pearling.[59] They were a cosmopolitan elite, they traveled extensively to India, Africa and Europe.[59] The elite educated their sons abroad more than other Gulf Arab elite.[59] Western visitors noted that the Kuwaiti elite used European office systems, typewriters and followed European culture with curiosity.[59] The richest families were involved in general trade.[59] The merchant families of Al-Ghanim and Al-Hamad were estimated to be worth millions before the 1940s.[59]

Downfall of economy[edit]

A piece of clothing used by Kuwaiti divers searching for pearls. In Al-Hashemi-II Marine Museum in Kuwait City.

In the early 20th century, Kuwait immensely declined in regional economic importance,[52] mainly due to many trade blockades and the world economic depression.[60] Before Mary Bruins Allison visited Kuwait in 1934, Kuwait lost its prominence in long distance trade.[52] During World War I, the British Empire imposed a trade blockade against Kuwait because Kuwait's ruler supported the Ottoman Empire.[60][61][62] The British economic blockade heavily damaged Kuwait's economy.[62]

The Great Depression negatively impacted Kuwait's economy starting in the late 1920s.[63] International trading was one of Kuwait's main sources of income before oil.[63] Kuwaiti merchants were mostly intermediary merchants.[63] As a result of European decline of demand for goods from India and Africa, the economy of Kuwait suffered. The decline in international trade resulted in an increase in gold smuggling by Kuwaiti ships to India.[63] Some Kuwaiti merchant families became rich due to gold smuggling to India.[64]

Kuwait's pearling industry also collapsed as a result of the worldwide economic depression.[64] At its height, Kuwait's pearling industry led the world's luxury market, regularly sending out between 750 and 800 ship vessels to meet the European elite's need for luxuries pearls.[64] During the economic depression, luxuries like pearls were in little demand.[64] The Japanese invention of cultured pearls also contributed to the collapse of Kuwait's pearling industry.[64]

Following the Kuwait–Najd War of 1919-1920, Ibn Saud imposed a tight trade blockade against Kuwait from the years 1923 until 1937.[60][63] The goal of the Saudi economic and military attacks on Kuwait was to annex as much of Kuwait's territory as possible.[60] At the Uqair conference in 1922, the boundaries of Kuwait and Najd were set.[60] Kuwait had no representative at the Uqair conference.[60] Ibn Saud persuaded Sir Percy Cox to give him two-thirds of Kuwait's territory.[60] More than half of Kuwait was lost due to Uqair.[60] After the Uqair conference, Kuwait was still subjected to a Saudi economic blockade and intermittent Saudi raiding.[60]

In 1937, Freya Stark wrote about the extent of poverty in Kuwait at the time:[63]

Poverty has settled in Kuwait more heavily since my last visit five years ago, both by sea, where the pearl trade continues to decline, and by land, where the blockade established by Saudi Arabia now harms the merchants.

Some prominent merchant families left Kuwait in the early 1930s due to the prevalence of economic hardship. At the time of the discovery of oil in 1937, most of Kuwait's inhabitants were impoverished.

Early government[edit]

Merchants[edit]

Kuwait's merchants had the most power and influence in Kuwait before the discovery of oil.[65] Al Sabah family rule remained limited until well into the 1930s because the merchants, owing to their financial power, were the primary sources of income in Kuwait.[65] Many of the merchants migrated from Basra to Kuwait to continue trade. One of the well known merchants, Hussain Al-Roumi, was known as the leader in sea trade throughout the region, sustaining the economy for decades before the discovery of oil. The financial influence of the merchants came from their control of trade and imports, duties on which sustained the Shaikh. Because wealth was imbedded in movable property, refuge was tolerated by neighbouring Shaikhs, and Britain intervened only when important interests were at stake, secession was an effective merchant tactic. A large secession could reduce the area's economic and military power and create a refuge for future dissidents.

Al-Sabahs[edit]

Al Sabah became Kuwait's monarchy in 1938.[66] One tradition has it that political power went to the Sabahs as part of an explicit agreement in 1890; merchant families focused on the trade while the House of Sabah and other notable Kuwaiti families provided protection of city housed within Kuwait's wall. The man chosen was a Sabah, Sabah I bin Jaber. Sabah diplomacy may have also been important with neighbouring tribes, especially as Bani Khalid power declined. This selection is usually dated to 1756.[67]

In 1762, Sabah I died and was succeeded by his youngest son, Abdullah. Shortly after Sabah's death, in 1766, the al-Khalifa and, soon after, the al-Jalahima, left Kuwait en masse for Zubara in Qatar. Domestically, the al-Khalifa and al-Jalahima had been among the top contenders for power. Their emigration left the Sabahs in undisputed control, and by the end of Abdullah I's long rule (1762–1812), Sabah rule was secure, and the political hierarchy in Kuwait was well established, the merchants deferring to direct orders from the Shaikh. By the 19th century, not only was the ruling Sabah much stronger than a desert Shaikh but also capable of naming his son successor. This influence was not just internal but enabled the al-Sabah to conduct foreign diplomacy. They soon established good relations with the British East India Company in 1775.[67]

The assassination of Muhammad Bin Sabah Although Kuwait was nominally governed from Basra, the Kuwaitis had traditionally maintained a relative degree of autonomous status.[68] In the 1870s, Ottoman officials were reasserting their presence in the Persian Gulf, with a military intervention in 1871—which was not effectively pursued—where family rivalries in Kuwait were breeding chaos. The Ottomans were bankrupt and when the European banks took control of the Ottoman budget in 1881, additional income was required from Kuwait and the Arabian peninsula. Midhat Pasha, the governor of Iraq, demanded that Kuwait submit to Ottoman rule. The al-Sabah found diplomatic allies in the British Foreign Office. However, under Abdullah II Al-Sabah, Kuwait pursued a general pro-Ottoman foreign policy, formally taking the title of Ottoman provincial governor, this relationship with the Ottoman Empire did result in Ottoman interference with Kuwaiti laws and selection or rulers.[67] In May 1896, Shaikh Muhammad Al-Sabah was assassinated by his half-brother, Mubarak, who, in early 1897, was recognized, by the Ottoman sultan, as the qaimmaqam (provincial sub-governor) of Kuwait.[68]

Mubarak the Great
Main article: Mubarak al-Sabah

Mubarak's seizure of the throne via murder left his brother's former allies as a threat to his rule, especially as his opponents gained the backing of the Ottomans.[67] In July, Mubarak invited the British to deploy gunboats along the Kuwaiti coast. Britain saw Mubarak's desire for an alliance as an opportunity to counteract German influence in the region and so agreed.[67] This led to what is known as the First Kuwaiti Crisis, in which the Ottomans demanded that the British stop interfering with their empire. In the end, the Ottoman Empire backed down, rather than go to war.

In January 1899, Mubarak signed an agreement with the British which pledged that Kuwait would never cede any territory nor receive agents or representatives of any foreign power without the British Government's consent. In essence, this policy gave Britain control of Kuwait's foreign policy.[67] The treaty also gave Britain responsibility for Kuwait's national security. In return, Britain agreed to grant an annual subsidy of 15,000 Indian rupees (£1,500) to the ruling family. In 1911, Mubarak raised taxes. Therefore, three wealthy business men Ibrahim Al-Mudhaf, Helal Al-Mutairi, and Shamlan Ali bin Saif Al-Roumi (brother of Hussain Ali bin Saif Al-Roumi), led a protest against Mubarak by making Bahrain their main trade point, which negatively affected the Kuwaiti economy. However, Mubarak went to Bahrain and apologized for raising taxes and the three business men returned to Kuwait. In 1915, Mubarak the Great died and was succeeded by his son Jaber II Al-Sabah, who reigned for just over one year until his death in early 1917. His brother Sheikh Salim Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah succeeded him.

The Anglo-Ottoman convention

Despite the Kuwaiti government's desire to either be independent or under British rule, in the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, the British concurred with the Ottoman Empire in defining Kuwait as an autonomous caza of the Ottoman Empire and that the Shaikhs of Kuwait were not independent leaders, but rather qaimmaqams (provincial sub-governors) of the Ottoman government.

The convention ruled that Shaikh Mubarak had authority over an area extending out to a radius of 80 km, from the capital. This region was marked by a red circle and included the islands of Auhah, Bubiyan, Failaka, Kubbar, Mashian, and Warba. A green circle designated an area extending out an additional 100 km, in radius, within which the qaimmaqam was authorized to collect tribute and taxes from the natives.

Kuwait–Najd War (1919-1920)[edit]

Main article: Kuwait–Najd War

The Kuwait-Najd War erupted in the Aftermath of World War I, when the Ottoman Empire was defeated and the British invalidated the Anglo-Ottoman Convention. The power vacuum, left by the fall of the Ottomans, sharpened the conflict between Kuwait and Najd (Ikhwan). The war resulted in sporadic border clashes throughout 1919-1920.

Battle of Jahra[edit]

Main article: Battle of Jahra

The Battle of Jahra was a battle during the Kuwait-Najd War. The battle took place in Al Jahra, west of Kuwait City on October 10, 1920 between Salim Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah ruler of Kuwait and Ikhwan Wahhabi followers of Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, king of Saudi Arabia.[69]

A force of 4000 Saudi Ikhwan, led by Faisal Al-Dawish, attacked the Kuwait Red Fort at Al-Jahra, defended by 2000 Kuwaiti men. The Kuwaitis were largely outnumbered by the Ikhwan of Najd.

The Uqair protocol[edit]

In response to the various Bedouin raids, the British High Commissioner in Baghdad, Sir Percy Cox, imposed the Uqair Protocol of 1922 which defined the boundaries between Iraq, Kuwait and Nejd. On 1 April 1923, Shaikh Ahmad al-Sabah wrote the British Political Agent in Kuwait, Major John More, "I still do not know what the border between Iraq and Kuwait is, I shall be glad if you will kindly give me this information." More, upon learning that al-Sabah claimed the outer green line of the Anglo-Ottoman Convention (4 April), would relay the information to Sir Percy.

On 19 April, Sir Percy stated that the British government recognized the outer line of the Convention as the border between Iraq and Kuwait. This decision limited Iraq's access to the Persian Gulf at 58 km of mostly marshy and swampy coastline. As this would make it difficult for Iraq to become a naval power (the territory did not include any deepwater harbours), the Iraqi King Faisal I (whom the British installed as a puppet king in Iraq) did not agree to the plan. However, as his country was under British mandate, he had little say in the matter. Iraq and Kuwait would formally ratify the border in August. The border was re-recognized in 1932.

In 1913, Kuwait was recognized as a separate province from Iraq and given autonomy under Ottoman suzerainty in the draft Anglo-Ottoman Convention, however this was not signed before the outbreak of the first World War. The border was revisited by a memorandum sent by the British high commissioner for Iraq in 1923, which became the basis for Kuwait's northern border. In Iraq's 1932 application to the League of Nations it included information about its borders, including its border with Kuwait, where it accepted the boundary established in 1923.[70]

Discovery of oil[edit]

In 1937, the 15-year trade blockades against Kuwait were lifted and Kuwait's large oil reserves were discovered by the US-British Kuwait Oil Company. Exploration was delayed until after World War II, the use of oil only began in 1951. Between World War II and 1948, Kuwait's inhabitants were still largely impoverished. A few years after the end of World War II, oil exploration finally began. In 1951, a major public-work programme began to enable Kuwaitis to enjoy a better standard of living. By 1952, the country became the largest exporter of oil in the Persian Gulf region. This massive growth attracted many foreign workers, especially from India.

Independence[edit]

By early 1961, the British had withdrawn their special court system, which handled the cases of foreigners resident in Kuwait, and the Kuwaiti Government began to exercise legal jurisdiction under new laws drawn up by an Egyptian jurist. On 19 June 1961, Kuwait became fully independent following an exchange of notes with the United Kingdom.

When Kuwait became independent in 1961, Iraq claimed Kuwait, under the rationale that Kuwait had been part of the Ottoman Empire subject to Iraqi suzerainty. Iraq appeared to be mobilizing for a military invasion and on 27 June 1961 the emir of Kuwait requested assistance from the British Government. Britain rapidly deployed troops, aircraft and ships to the area (Operation Vantage).[71] In 1963, after Iraqi prime minister Abd al-Karim Qasim had been killed in a coup, Iraq reaffirmed its acceptance of Kuwaiti sovereignty and the boundary it had agreed to in 1913 and 1932, in the "Agreed Minutes between the State of Kuwait and the Republic of Iraq Regarding the Restoration of Friendly Relations, Recognition, and Related Matters." In the 1960s and 1970s however there were still periodic border clashes.[70]

Gulf War[edit]

In 1983, Kuwait supported Iraq in the Iran–Iraq War. As a consequence of this, Iran attacked Kuwait's oil tankers and Kuwait was forced to seek protection from the United States, which sent warships to the Persian Gulf.

The invasion of Kuwait and annexation by Iraq took place on 2 August 1990. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's primary justifications included a charge that Kuwaiti territory was in fact an Iraqi province, and that annexation was retaliation for "economic warfare" Kuwait had waged through slant drilling into Iraq's oil supplies. However, the initial casus belli was claimed to be support for a Kuwaiti rebellion.[70] The monarchy was deposed and an Iraqi-backed puppet leader named Alaa Hussein Ali was installed as head of the "Provisional Government of Free Kuwait." Iraq annexed Kuwait on 8 August. The war was traumatic to the Kuwaiti population. The underground resistance was punished by summary executions and torture. Almost all Kuwaitis at the time lost some family member. In addition, half the population, both native and foreign-born fled.[72]

U.S. President George H.W. Bush condemned the invasion, and led efforts to drive out the Iraqi forces. Authorized by the United Nations Security Council, an American-led coalition of 34 nations fought the First Persian Gulf War to reinstate the Kuwaiti Emir. Following several weeks of aerial bombardment, a U.S.-led United Nations (UN) coalition began a ground assault on 23 February 1991 that completely removed Iraqi forces from Kuwait in four days. After liberation, the UN, under Security Council Resolution 687, demarcated the Iraq-Kuwait boundary on the basis of the 1932 and the 1963 agreements between the two states. In November 1994, Iraq formally accepted the UN-demarcated border with Kuwait, which had been further spelled out in Security Council Resolutions 773 (1992) and 833 (1993).[73]

A Palestinian exodus from Kuwait took place during and after the Gulf War. During the Gulf War, more than 200,000 Palestinians voluntarily fled Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait due to harassment and intimidation by Iraqi security forces,[74] in addition to getting fired from work by Iraqi authority figures in Kuwait.[74] After the Gulf War, the Kuwaiti authorities forcibly pressured nearly 200,000 Palestinians to leave Kuwait in 1991.[74] Kuwait's policy, which led to this exodus, was a response to alignment of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the PLO with the dictator Saddam Hussein, who had earlier invaded Kuwait.

Prior to the exodus, Palestinians numbered 400,000 of Kuwait's population of 2.2 million.[75] The Palestinians who fled Kuwait were Jordanian citizens.[76] In 2013, there were 280,000 Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin in Kuwait.[77] In 2012, 80,000 Palestinians (without Jordanian citizenship) lived in Kuwait.[78] In total, there are 360,000 Palestinians in Kuwait as of 2012-2013.

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Al-Hijji, Yacoub Yusuf ; translated by Fahad Ahmad ʻIsa Bishara. (2010). Kuwait and the sea : a brief social and economic history. London: Arabian Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9558894-4-8. 

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