History of Kuwait
Part of a series on the
|History of Kuwait|
|Prehistoric and ancient|
|20th century to 1961|
|Kuwait since 1961|
During the Ubaid period (6500 BC), Kuwait was the central site of interaction between the peoples of Mesopotamia and Neolithic Eastern Arabia, mainly centered in As-Subiya in northern Kuwait. The earliest evidence of human habitation in Kuwait dates back 8000 B.C. where Mesolithic tools were found in Burgan. As-Subiya in northern Kuwait is probably the earliest evidence of urbanization in the whole Gulf basin area. Mesopotamians first settled in the Kuwaiti islands of Akkaz and Failaka in 2000 B.C. Traders from the Sumerian city of Ur inhabited Failaka and ran a mercantile business. The island had many Mesopotamian-style buildings typical of those found in Iraq dating from around 2000 B.C. The Neolithic inhabitants of Kuwait were among the world's earliest maritime traders. One of the earliest reed-boats was discovered in northern Kuwait dating back to the Ubaid period.
The earliest recorded mention of Kuwait was in 150 AD in the geographical treatise Geography by Greek scholar Ptolemy. Ptolemy mentioned the Bay of Kuwait as Hieros Kolpos (Sacer Sinus in the Latin versions).
In 4000 BC until 2000 BC, the bay of Kuwait was home to the Dilmun civilization. Dilmun's control of the bay of Kuwait included Kuwait City's Shuwaikh Port (formerly Akkaz Island), Umm an Namil Island and Failaka island. 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.
In 3rd century BC, the ancient Greeks colonized the bay of Kuwait under Alexander the Great, the ancient Greeks named mainland Kuwait Larissa and 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 Greek temples.
In 224 AD, Kuwait became part of the Sassanid Empire. At the time of the Sassanid Empire, Kuwait was known as Meshan, which was an alternative name of the kingdom of Characene. Akkaz was a Partho-Sassanian site; the Sassanid religion's tower of silence was discovered in northern Akkaz.
Battle of Chains, Kadhima
In 636 AD, the Battle of Chains between the Sassanid Empire and Rashidun Caliphate was fought in Kuwait near the town of Kazma. 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 Rashidun victory in 636 AD, the bay of Kuwait was home to a settled city known as "Kadhima" or "Kāzimah" in the early Islamic era. Medieval Arabic sources contain multiple references to the bay of Kuwait in the early Islamic period. The city functioned as a trade port and resting place for pilgrims on their way from Iraq to Hejaz. The city was controlled by the kingdom of Al-Hirah in Iraq. In the early Islamic period, the bay of Kuwait was known for being a fertile area.
The city was a stop for caravans coming from Persia and Mesopotamia en route to the Arabian Peninsula. The poet Al-Farazdaq was born in the city. Al-Farazdaq is recognized as one of the greatest classical poets of the Arabs.
Founding of modern Kuwait
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 a fishing village in present-day Kuwait Bay. In 1716, the Bani Utubs settled in Kuwait. The Utubs gradually migrated in the sixteenth century from Najd to the Persian Gulf coast. The Utubs had previously 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.
The Utub had begun a process of sedentarization long before their arrival in Kuwait. The Utub had been settled cultivators in the towns and oases of Najd, and it was the very act of migration that forced them to temporarily adopt a nomadic lifestyle as they moved to the coastal Gulf regions to escape drought. It is believed that the Utub became experts in maritime trade during their brief stay in Zubara (Qatar) during the course of the migration that eventually ended in Kuwait.
In the eighteenth century, Kuwait prospered and rapidly became the principal commercial center for the transit of goods between India, Muscat, Baghdad and Arabia. By the mid 1700s, Kuwait had already established itself as the major trading route from the Persian Gulf to Aleppo. 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. As a result, Kuwait's maritime commerce boomed.
Between the years 1775 and 1779, the Indian trade routes with Baghdad, Aleppo, Smyrna and Constantinople were diverted to Kuwait. The East India Company was diverted to Kuwait in 1792. The East India Company secured the sea routes between Kuwait, India and the east coasts of Africa. After the Persians withdrew from Basra in 1779, Kuwait continued to attract trade away from Basra. 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.
Regional geopolitical turbulence helped foster economic prosperity in Kuwait in the second half of the 18th century. Kuwait became prosperous due to Basra's instability in the late 18th century. In the late 18th century, Kuwait partly functioned as a haven for Basra's merchants fleeing Ottoman government persecution. Kuwait was the center of boat building in the Persian Gulf region. Kuwaiti ship vessels were renowned throughout the Indian Ocean. Kuwaitis also developed a reputation as the best sailors in the Persian Gulf.
In the 19th century, Kuwait became significant in the horse trade, horses were regularly shipped by the way of sailing boats from Kuwait. In the mid 19th century, it was estimated that Kuwait was exporting an average of 800 horses to India annually.
|“||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
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. The elite were long-settled, urban, Sunni families, the majority of which claim descent from the original 30 Bani Utubi families. The wealthiest families were trade merchants who acquired their wealth from long-distance commerce, shipbuilding and pearling. They were a cosmopolitan elite, they traveled extensively to India, Africa and Europe. The elite educated their sons abroad more than other Gulf Arab elite. Western visitors noted that the Kuwaiti elite used European office systems, typewriters and followed European culture with curiosity. The richest families were involved in general trade. The merchant families of Al-Ghanim and Al-Hamad were estimated to be worth millions before the 1940s.
In the early 20th century, Kuwait immensely declined in regional economic importance, mainly due to many trade blockades and the world economic depression. Before Mary Bruins Allison visited Kuwait in 1934, Kuwait lost its prominence in long distance trade. During World War I, the British Empire imposed a trade blockade against Kuwait because Kuwait's ruler supported the Ottoman Empire. The British economic blockade heavily damaged Kuwait's economy.
The Great Depression negatively impacted Kuwait's economy starting in the late 1920s. International trading was one of Kuwait's main sources of income before oil. Kuwaiti merchants were mostly intermediary merchants. 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. Some Kuwaiti merchant families became rich due to gold smuggling to India.
Kuwait's pearling industry also collapsed as a result of the worldwide economic depression. 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. During the economic depression, luxuries like pearls were in little demand. The Japanese invention of cultured pearls also contributed to the collapse of Kuwait's pearling industry.
Following the Kuwait–Najd War of 1919-1920, Ibn Saud imposed a tight trade blockade against Kuwait from the years 1923 until 1937. The goal of the Saudi economic and military attacks on Kuwait was to annex as much of Kuwait's territory as possible. At the Uqair conference in 1922, the boundaries of Kuwait and Najd were set. Kuwait had no representative at the Uqair conference. Ibn Saud persuaded Sir Percy Cox to give him two-thirds of Kuwait's territory. More than half of Kuwait was lost due to Uqair. After the Uqair conference, Kuwait was still subjected to a Saudi economic blockade and intermittent Saudi raiding.
|“||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 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.
Kuwait's merchants had the most power and influence in Kuwait before the discovery of oil. 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. The financial influence of the merchants came from their control of trade and imports, duties on which sustained the sheikhs. Because wealth was imbedded in movable property, refuge was tolerated by neighbouring sheikhs, 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 Sabah became Kuwait's monarchy in 1938. 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.
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.
- The assassination of Muhammad Bin Sabah
Although Kuwait was nominally governed from Basra, the Kuwaitis had traditionally maintained a relative degree of autonomous status. 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. 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.
- Mubarak the Great
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. 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. 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. 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.
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
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.
The Uqair protocol
In response to 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. In 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.
Discovery of oil
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 exportation 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.
By early 1961, the British had withdrawn their special court system, which handled the cases of foreigners 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 Amir of Kuwait requested assistance from the British Government. Britain rapidly deployed troops, aircraft and ships to the area (Operation Vantage). 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.
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 Soviet Union and United States.
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. 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.
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 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).
A Palestinian exodus from Kuwait took place during and after the Gulf War. During the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, 200,000 Palestinians voluntarily fled Kuwait due to various reasons (fear or persecution, food shortages, medical care difficulties, financial shortages, fear of arrest and mistreatment at roadblocks by Iraqis). After the Gulf War in 1991, nearly 200,000 Palestinians fled Kuwait, partly due to economic burdens, regulations on residence and fear of abuse by Kuwaiti security forces.
Prior to the exodus, Palestinians numbered 400,000 of Kuwait's population of 2.2 million. The Palestinians who fled Kuwait were Jordanian citizens. In 2012, 80,000 Palestinians resided in Kuwait.
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Before oil was discovered in Kuwait 53 years ago, the country was largely a nation of merchant traders. Its natural harbor made Kuwait a hub of Middle East commerce and a center for boat building.
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Home to one of only two natural ports in the Persian Gulf, Kuwait has for hundreds of years been a commercial and cosmopolitan center.
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From about 4000 to 2000 B.C. the civilization of Dilmun dominated 250 miles of the eastern coast of Arabia from present-day Kuwait to Bahrain and extended sixty miles into the interior to the oasis of Hufuf (see fig. 2).
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Centered in the fertile Tigris- Euphrates Valley, but with access to the Persian Gulf and extending south to Meshan (modern Kuwait), the Sassanid Empire's economic prosperity rested on agriculture; its location also proved well suited for commerce.
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In 224 he defeated the Parthian army of Ardavan Shah (Artabanus V), taking Isfahan, Kerman, Elam (Elymais) and Meshan (Mesene, Spasinu Charax, or Characene).
- Abraham Cohen (1980). Ancient Jewish Proverbs.
The large and small measures roll down and reach Sheol; from Sheol they proceed to Tadmor (Palmyra), from Tadmor to Meshan (Mesene), and from Meshan to Harpanya (Hipparenum).
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Although the town of al-Hira might have been too far northward to be considered a part of Eastern Arabia it is dealt with here as such because the kingdom of al- Hira controlled Kazima (Kuwait).
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During the early Islamic period, Kazima had become a very famous fertile area and served as a trading stations for travelers in the region.
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Kuwait became an important trading port for import and export of goods from India, Africa and Arabia.
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For owing to Basra's misfortunes, Kuwait and Zubarah became rich.
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- Mary Bruins Allison (1994). Doctor Mary in Arabia: Memoirs. p. 1.
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- "The Palestinian Diaspora". p. 67.
During autumn 1990 more than half of the Palestinians in Kuwait fled as a result of fear or persecution.
- "The PLO in Kuwait". May 8, 1991.
But in September and October 1990, large numbers of Palestinians began to leave. In addition to the fear of arrest, and their mistreatment at roadblocks by Iraqis, food shortages were becoming serious and medical care difficult. Kuwaitis and Palestinians alike were penniless. They were forced to sell their cars and electrical appliances at improvised markets to anyone who had cash, even to Iraqi civilians coming from Iraq to buy on the cheap. Thus by December 1990, Kuwait's Palestinian population had dwindled from a pre-invasion strength of 350,000 to approximately 150,000.
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- "Encyclopedia of the Palestinians". pp. 289–290.
- "The Palestinian Diaspora". p. 67.
Regulations on residence were considerably tightened and the general environment of insecurity triggered a continuous Palestinian exodus.
- "Kuwait: Building the Rule of Law: Human Rights in Kuwait". p. 35.
There was a great exodus of Palestinians from Kuwait during July and August, partly attributable to fear of abusive actions by the Kuwaiti security forces, but also brought about by economic necessity.
- Yann Le Troquer and Rozenn Hommery al-Oudat (Spring 1999). "From Kuwait to Jordan: The Palestinians' Third Exodus". Journal of Palestine Studies. pp. 37–51.
- "Palestinians Open Kuwaiti Embassy". Al Monitor. 23 May 2013.