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Kuwait

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This article is about the modern country in the Persian Gulf. For the former autonomous state in southern Arabia, see Qu'aiti. For the series of paintings, see Kuwait (Kanso series).
State of Kuwait
دولة الكويت
Dawlat al-Kuwait
Flag Emblem
Anthem: "Al-Nasheed Al-Watani"
"National Anthem"
Location and extent of Kuwait (red) on the Arabian Peninsula.
Location and extent of Kuwait (red) on the Arabian Peninsula.
Capital
and largest city
Kuwait City
29°22′N 47°58′E / 29.367°N 47.967°E / 29.367; 47.967
Official languages Arabic
Ethnic groups
  • 60% Arab (31.3% Kuwaiti, 27.9% other Arabs)[1]
  • 37.8% Asian
  • 1.9% African
Demonym Kuwaiti
Government Unitary parliamentary
constitutional monarchyb[2]
 -  Emir Sabah al-Sabah
 -  Prime Minister Jaber Al-Hamad al-Sabah
 -  Speaker of the National Assembly Marzouq Al-Ghanim
Legislature National Assembly
Establishment
 -  Independence from the Emirate of Al Hasa 1752 
 -  Anglo-Ottoman Convention 1913 
 -  End of treaties with the United Kingdom 19 June 1961 
Area
 -  Total 17,820 km2 (157th)
6,880 sq mi
 -  Water (%) negligible
Population
 -  2014 estimate 4,044,500 (140th)
 -  2005 census 2,213,403[3]
 -  Density 200.2/km2 (61st)
518.4/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2013 estimate
 -  Total $275.4 billion[4] (52nd)
 -  Per capita $68,098[4] (5th)
GDP (nominal) 2013 estimate
 -  Total $173.438 billion[4] (52nd)
 -  Per capita $44,585[4] (18th)
HDI (2013) Decrease 0.814[5]
very high · 46th
Currency Kuwaiti dinar (KWD)
Time zone AST / KSA (UTC+3)
 -  Summer (DST) not observed (UTC+3)
Date format dd/mm/yyyy (CE)
Drives on the right
Calling code +965
ISO 3166 code KW
Internet TLD .kw
a. Nominal succession within the House of Sabah.
b. Emirate

Kuwait Listeni/kˈwt/ (Arabic: دولة الكويت‎), officially the State of Kuwait, is an Arab country in Western Asia. Situated in the northern edge of Eastern Arabia at the tip of the Persian Gulf, it shares borders with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. As of 2014, Kuwait has a population of 4.1 million people; 1.2 million are Kuwaitis and 2.8 million are expatriates.[6]

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Kuwait was a prosperous trade hub.[7][8] Starting in the early 20th century, its regional economic importance declined, and by 1934 Kuwait had lost its prominence in long-distance trade.[9] Kuwait's economy was devastated by several trade blockades.[10] During World War I, the British Empire imposed a blockade against Kuwait because its ruler supported the Ottoman Empire.[11][12] Following the Kuwait–Najd War of 1919–1920, Saudi Arabia maintained a trade blockade against the country from 1923 until 1937.[10][13] In 1990, Kuwait was invaded by Iraq. The Iraqi occupation came to an end in 1991 after military intervention by United States-led forces.

Kuwait is a constitutional emirate with an elected parliamentary system. Kuwait has a petroleum-based economy. In recent years, the hostile relationship between the parliament and government has hindered the country's development.[14][15] Kuwait is recognized as a high income economy by the World Bank.[16]

History[edit]

Main article: History of Kuwait

Early history[edit]

In 1613, the town of Kuwait was founded in modern-day Kuwait City. In 1716, the Bani Utubs settled in Kuwait. At the time of the arrival of the Utubs, Kuwait was inhabited by a few fishermen and primarily functioned as a fishing village.[17] In the eighteenth century, Kuwait prospered and rapidly became the principal commercial center for the transit of goods between India, Muscat, Baghdad and Arabia.[18][19] By the mid 1700s, Kuwait had already established itself as the major trading route from the Persian Gulf to Aleppo.[20]

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.[21] As a result, Kuwait's maritime commerce boomed.[21] Between the years 1775 and 1779, the Indian trade routes with Baghdad, Aleppo, Smyrna and Constantinople were diverted to Kuwait.[20][22] The East India Company was diverted to Kuwait in 1792.[23] The East India Company secured the sea routes between Kuwait, India and the east coasts of Africa.[23] After the Persians withdrew from Basra in 1779, Kuwait continued to attract trade away from Basra.[24]

Kuwait was the center of boat building in the Gulf region.[25][26] During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, ship vessels made in Kuwait carried the bulk of trade between the ports of India, East Africa and the Red Sea.[27][28][29] Kuwaiti ship vessels were renowned throughout the Indian Ocean.[30] Regional geopolitical turbulence helped foster economic prosperity in Kuwait in the second half of the 18th century.[31] Kuwait became prosperous due to Basra's instability in the late 18th century.[32] In the late 18th century, Kuwait partly functioned as a haven for Basra's merchants fleeing Ottoman government persecution.[33] According to Palgrave, Kuwaitis developed a reputation as the best sailors in the Persian Gulf.[30][34][35]

During the reign of Mubarak Al-Sabah, Kuwait was dubbed the "Marseilles of the Gulf" because its economic vitality attracted a large variety of people.[36] In the early 20th century, Kuwait immensely declined in regional economic importance,[9] mainly due to many trade blockades and the world economic depression.[10] Before Mary Bruins Allison visited Kuwait in 1934, Kuwait lost its prominence in long distance trade.[9] During World War I, the British Empire imposed a trade blockade against Kuwait because Kuwait's ruler supported the Ottoman Empire.[11][12] The British economic blockade heavily damaged Kuwait's economy.[12]

The Great Depression negatively impacted Kuwait's economy starting in the late 1920s.[13] International trading was one of Kuwait's main sources of income before oil.[13] Kuwaiti merchants were mostly intermediary merchants.[13] 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.[13] Some Kuwaiti merchant families became rich due to gold smuggling to India.[37] Kuwait's pearling industry also collapsed as a result of the worldwide economic depression.[37] 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 pearls.[37] During the economic depression, luxuries like pearls were in little demand.[37] The Japanese invention of cultured pearls also contributed to the collapse of Kuwait's pearling industry.[37]

Following the Kuwait–Najd War of 1919–1920, Ibn Saud imposed a trade blockade against Kuwait from the years 1923 until 1937.[10][13] The goal of the Saudi economic and military attacks on Kuwait was to annex as much of Kuwait's territory as possible.[10] At the Uqair conference in 1922, the boundaries of Kuwait and Najd were set.[10] Kuwait had no representative at the Uqair conference.[10] Ibn Saud persuaded Sir Percy Cox to give him two-thirds of Kuwait's territory.[10] More than half of Kuwait was lost due to Uqair.[10] After the Uqair conference, Kuwait was still subjected to a Saudi economic blockade and intermittent Saudi raiding.[10]

In 1937, Freya Stark wrote about the extent of poverty in Kuwait at the time:[13]

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.

Golden Era (1946–1982)[edit]

From 1946 to 1982, Kuwait experienced a period of prosperity driven by oil and its liberal atmosphere.[38][39][40] In popular discourse, the years between 1946 and 1982 are referred to as the "Golden Era".[38][39][40][41] In 1950, a major public-work programme began to enable Kuwaitis to enjoy a modern standard of living. By 1952, the country became the largest oil exporter in the Persian Gulf region. This massive growth attracted many foreign workers, especially from Palestine, Egypt and India. In June 1961, Kuwait became independent with the end of the British protectorate and the sheikh Abdullah Al-Salim Al-Sabah became an Emir. Under the terms of the newly drafted constitution, Kuwait held its first parliamentary elections in 1963. Kuwait was the first Gulf country to establish a constitution and parliament.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Kuwait was the most developed country in the region.[42][43] Kuwait was the pioneer in the Middle East in diversifying its earnings away from oil exports.[44] The Kuwait Investment Authority is the world's first sovereign wealth fund. From the 1970s onward, Kuwait scored highest of all Arab countries on the Human Development Index.[43] Kuwait was the capital of higher education, arts and culture in the Gulf region.[43] Kuwait University, established in 1966, attracted students from neighboring countries.[43] Local theatre thrived.[38][43][45] Kuwait's theatre industry was well-known throughout the Arab world.[38]

In the 1960s and 1970s, Kuwait's press was described as one of the freest in the world.[45] Kuwait was the pioneer in the literary renaissance in the Arab region.[46] In 1958, Al Arabi magazine was first published, the magazine went on to become the most popular magazine in the Arab world.[46] Many Arab writers moved to Kuwait for freedom of expression because Kuwait had greater freedom of expression than elsewhere in the Arab world.[47][48] Kuwait was a haven for writers and journalists from all parts of the Middle East. The Iraqi poet Ahmed Matar left Iraq in the 1970s to take refuge in the more liberal environment of Kuwait.[49]

Kuwaiti society embraced liberal and Western attitudes throughout the 1960s and 1970s.[50] Most Kuwaiti women did not wear the hijab in the 1960s and 1970s.[51][52] At Kuwait University, mini-skirts were more common than the hijab.[53]

1980s to present day[edit]

In the early 1980s, Kuwait experienced a major economic crisis after the Souk Al-Manakh stock market crash and decrease in oil price.[54]

During the Iran-Iraq war, Kuwait supported Iraq. Throughout the 1980s, there were several terror attacks in Kuwait, including the 1983 Kuwait bombings, hijacking of several Kuwait Airways planes and attempted assassination of Emir Jaber in 1985. Kuwait was a regional hub of science and technology in the 1960s and 1970s up until the early 1980s,[55] the scientific research sector significantly suffered due to the terror attacks.[55]

Oil fires in Kuwait in 1991, which were a result of the scorched earth policy of Iraqi military forces retreating from Kuwait.

After the Iran-Iraq war ended, Kuwait declined an Iraqi request to forgive its US$65 billion debt.[56] An economic rivalry between the two countries ensued after Kuwait increased its oil production by 40 percent.[57] Tensions between the two countries increased further in July 1990, after Iraq complained to OPEC claiming that Kuwait was stealing its oil from a field near the border by slant drilling of the Rumaila field.[57]

In August 1990, Iraqi forces invaded and annexed Kuwait. After a series of failed diplomatic negotiations, the United States led a coalition to remove the Iraqi forces from Kuwait, in what became known as the Gulf War. On 26 February 1991, the coalition succeeded in driving out the Iraqi forces. As they retreated, Iraqi forces carried out a scorched earth policy by setting oil wells on fire.[58] During the Iraqi occupation, more than 1,000 Kuwaiti civilians were killed.[59] In addition, more than 600 Kuwaitis went missing during Iraq's occupation,[60] approximately 375 remains were found in mass graves in Iraq.

In March 2003, Kuwait became the springboard for the US-led invasion of Iraq. Upon the death of the Emir Jaber, in January 2006, Saad Al-Sabah succeeded him but was removed nine days later by the Kuwaiti parliament due to his ailing health. Sabah Al-Sabah was sworn in as Emir. In 2011–2012, there were protests. The parliament was dissolved in December 2011 due to protests against the parliament. The prime minister stepped down following protests.

Politics[edit]

Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy and has the oldest directly elected parliament among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The Al Sabah is Kuwait's ruling family. Legislative power is vested in the National Assembly parliament and Emir in accordance with the Constitution of Kuwait. The appointment of a new Emir needs the approval of the Kuwaiti parliament (per article 4 of the Constitution). The parliament effectively removed Saad al-Sabah from his post in 2006 due to his illness. The Constitutional Court and the Emir both have the authority to dissolve the National Assembly but must subsequently call a national election. A cabinet of ministers aid the Prime Minister.

The National Assembly consists of fifty elected members, who are chosen in elections held every four years. Government ministers are also granted membership in the parliament and can number up to sixteen excluding the fifty elected members. According to the Constitution of Kuwait, nomination of a new Emir or Crown Prince by the Al-Sabah family has to be approved by the National Assembly. Any amendment to the Constitution can be proposed by the Emir but it needs to be approved by more than two-thirds of the elected members of the National Assembly before being implemented.[61]

Human rights in Kuwait has been the subject of criticism, particularly regarding migrant workers rights and the Bedoon. 60% of Kuwait's population is Arab (including Arab expats), the remaining 40% consists of non-Arab expatriates, mainly South Asian migrant workers. The kafala system leaves migrant workers prone to exploitation. Many human rights organizations have criticized Kuwait for failing to protect migrant workers from exploitation.

Law[edit]

Kuwait follows the "civil law system" modeled after the French legal system,[62][63][64] Kuwait's legal system is largely secular.[65][66][67] Sharia law governs only family law for Muslim residents,[66][68] non-Muslims in Kuwait have a secular family law. For the application of family law, there are three separate court sections: Sunni, Shia and non-Muslim.[69] According to the United Nations, Kuwait's legal system is a mix of British common law, French civil law, Egyptian civil law and Islamic law.[70]

The court system in Kuwait is secular.[71][72] Unlike other Gulf states, Kuwait does not have Sharia courts.[72] Sections of the civil court system administer family law.[72] Kuwait has the most secular commercial law in the Gulf.[73]

Foreign relations[edit]

Location of diplomatic missions of Kuwait:
  Kuwait
  Embassy

Foreign affairs relations of Kuwait is handled at the level of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The first foreign affairs department bureau was established in 1961. Kuwait became the 111th member state of the United Nations in May 1963. It is a long-standing member of the Arab League and Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf.

Before the Gulf War, Kuwait was the only "pro-Soviet" state in the Gulf.[74] Kuwait acted as a conduit for the Soviets to the other Gulf states and Kuwait was used to demonstrate the benefits of a pro-Soviet stance.[74] Between 1961 and 1991, Kuwait had an uneasy relationship with the United States characterized by mistrust and hostility.[75] In July 1987, Kuwait refused to allow U.S. military bases in its territory.[76][77] As a result of the Gulf War, Kuwait currently hosts thousands of US military personnel and contractors within active U.S. facilities.

Military[edit]

The Military of Kuwait traces its original roots to the Kuwaiti cavalrymen and infantrymen that used to protect Kuwait and its wall since the early 1900s. These cavalrymen and infantrymen formed the defense and security sources in metropolitan areas; charged with protecting outposts outside the wall of Kuwait.

The Military of Kuwait consists of several joint defense forces. The governing bodies are the Kuwait Ministry of Defense, the Kuwait Ministry of Interior, the Kuwait National Guard and the Kuwait Fire Service Directorate. The Emir of Kuwait is the commander-in-chief of all defense forces.

Geography[edit]

Main article: Geography of Kuwait
Satellite image of Kuwait

Kuwait City is located on Kuwait Bay, a natural deep-water harbor. 90% of Kuwait's population live within the Kuwait Bay coast. The country is generally low lying, with the highest point being 306 m (1,004 ft) above sea-level.[2] It has nine islands, all of which, with the exception of Failaka Island, are uninhabited.[78] With an area of 860 km2 (330 sq mi), the Bubiyan is the largest island in Kuwait and is connected to the rest of the country by a 2,380 m (7,808 ft) long bridge.[79] The land area is considered arable[2] and sparse vegetation is found along its 499 km long coastline.[2]

Kuwait's Burgan field having a total capacity of approximately 70 billion barrels (1.1×1010 m3) of proven oil reserves. During the 1991 Kuwaiti oil fires, more than 500 oil lakes were created covering a combined surface area of about 35.7 km2 (13.8 sq mi).[80] The resulting soil contamination due to oil and soot accumulation had made eastern and south-eastern parts of Kuwait uninhabitable. Sand and oil residue had reduced large parts of the Kuwaiti desert to semi-asphalt surfaces.[81] The oil spills during the Gulf War also drastically affected Kuwait's marine resources.[82]

Climate[edit]

Main article: Climate of Kuwait

The spring season in March is warm with occasional thunderstorms. The frequent winds from the northwest are cold in winter and hot in summer. Southeasterly damp winds spring up between July and October; hot and dry south winds prevail in spring and early summer. The shamal, a northwesterly wind common during June and July, causes dramatic sandstorms.[83] The temperature in Kuwait during summer is above 25 (77 F). The highest recorded temperature was 54.4 (129.9 F) which is the highest temperature recorded in Asia.[84][85]

Governorates[edit]

Kuwait is divided into six governorates. The governorates are further subdivided into areas.

Economy[edit]

Main article: Economy of Kuwait
Al Hamra Tower is the tallest sculpted tower in the world.

Kuwait has a petroleum-based economy, petroleum and fertilizers are the main export products. The Kuwaiti dinar is the highest-valued currency unit in the world.[86] Petroleum accounts for nearly half of GDP and 94% of export revenues and government income.[87] The Kuwait Stock Exchange is the second-largest stock exchange in the Arab world.

Kuwait was the pioneer in the Middle East in diversifying its earnings away from oil exports.[44] However the country has struggled to diversify its economy since the Gulf War. In recent years, the hostile relationship between the elected parliament and government has prevented the implementation of economic reforms.[88]

In the past five years, there has been a significant rise in entrepreneurship and small business start-ups in Kuwait.[89][90] The informal sector is also on the rise,[91] mainly due to the popularity of Instagram businesses.[92][93][94] Many Kuwaiti entrepreneurs are using the Instagram-based business model.[95]

International holdings

The Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) is Kuwait's sovereign wealth fund specializing in foreign investment. The KIA is the world's oldest sovereign wealth fund. Since 1953, the Kuwaiti government has directed investments into Europe, United States and Asia Pacific. As of 2014, the holdings were valued at $548 billion in assets.[96]

Kuwait is the Arab world's largest foreign investor, with $8.4 billion in FDI outflows in 2013.[97] Kuwait consistently tops regional rankings in FDI outflows. In 2013, Kuwait almost tripled its foreign investments.[97] Over the last 10 years, Kuwait has doubled investments in the UK to more than $24 billion.[98][99] In 2014, Kuwait became the largest foreign investor in China's RMB market.[100]

Diversification[edit]

Kuwait was the pioneer in the Middle East in diversifying its earnings away from oil exports.[44] However the country has struggled to diversify its economy since the Gulf War. In the 2000s, the hostile relationship between the elected parliament and government prevented the implementation of economic reforms.[87]

Since the July 2013 election of a less combative parliament, there has been significant progress in the development of key projects.[88][101] Kuwait has become home to many fast-growing projects (most in the Gulf region), despite falling oil prices.[102][103] A record $33.4bn-worth of contracts are expected to be awarded in 2014, only $8.7bn-worth contracts were awarded in 2013.[88] According to MEED, the surge in activity is mainly due to good relations between the parliament and government.[88] In December 2014, it was announced that 100% foreign ownership of a company is now permitted.[104] The Kuwaiti government also approved foreign property ownership.[105]

Kuwait's non-oil economic growth reached the regional GCC average in 2013.[106] There are signs that the non-oil economy is gaining momentum under the more pro-government parliament.[107] Kuwait’s non-oil growth, which accelerated notably in 2013, is expected to maintain its momentum in the next two years.[108][109]

Demographics[edit]

Kuwaiti youth celebrating Kuwait's independence and liberation, 2011

Kuwait's 2014 population was 4.1 million people, of which 1.2 million were Kuwaitis, 1.1 million Arab expatriates, 1.4 million Asian expatriates, and 76,698 Africans.[110]

Ethnic groups[edit]

60% of Kuwait's population is Arab (including Arab expats).[1] In 2013, there were 700,000 Indians, 500,000 Egyptians, 200,000 Bangladeshis, 160,000 Filipinos, 140,000 Syrians and 120,000 Pakistanis living in Kuwait.[111] The Kuwaiti government intends to reduce the expat population.

Religion[edit]

Main article: Religion in Kuwait
Mosque in Kuwait

The majority of Kuwait's citizen population is Muslim; there are no official figures, but it is estimated that 60%–70% are Sunni and 30%–40% are Shias.[112]

In 2001, there were 525,000 Sunni Kuwaiti citizens, 300,000 Shia Kuwaiti citizens and 820,000 Kuwaiti citizens in total thus Sunnis formed 64% and Shias formed 36.5% of the Kuwaiti citizen population.[113] In 2002, the US Department of State reported that Shia Kuwaitis formed 30%–40% of Kuwait's citizen population,[114] noting there were 525,000 Sunni Kuwaiti citizens and 855,000 Kuwaiti citizens in total (61% Sunnis, 39% Shias).[114] In 2004, there were 600,000 Sunni Kuwaitis citizens, 300,000–350,000 Shia Kuwaiti citizens and 913,000 Kuwaiti citizens in total.[115]

Kuwait has a native Christian community, in 1999 there were 400 Christian Kuwaiti citizens.[116] There were 256 Christian Kuwaiti citizens living in Kuwait in June 2013.[117] There is also a small number of Bahá'í Kuwaiti citizens,[118] it is likely that 18 Kuwaiti citizens follow the Bahá'í religion.[117][note 1] There are 400 Bahá'ís in total in Kuwait.[118]

Kuwait also has a large community of expatriate Christians (est. 450,000), Hindus (est. 600,000), Buddhists (est. 100,000), and Sikhs (est. 10,000).[118]

Languages[edit]

Kuwait's official language is Modern Standard Arabic. Kuwaiti Arabic is Kuwait's colloquial dialect. Kuwaiti Sign Language is used by the deaf community. English is widely understood and often used as a business language.

Culture[edit]

Main article: Culture of Kuwait

Within the Gulf Arab states, the culture of Kuwait is the closest to the culture of Bahrain; this is evident in the close association between the two states in terms of accents, food, and clothes, in addition to the similar degrees of openness in the two societies.[119]

Theatre[edit]

Kuwait is known for its home-grown tradition of theatre.[120] Kuwait is the only country in the Gulf with a theatrical tradition.[121] The theatrical movement in Kuwait constitutes a major part of the country's cultural life.[122] Theatrical activities in Kuwait began in the 1920s when the first spoken dramas were released.[123] Theatre activities are still popular today.[122]

Kuwait Towers, the country's most famous landmark.

Soap operas[edit]

Kuwaiti soap operas (المسلسلات الكويتية) are the among the most-watched soap operas in the Arab world.[124] Although usually performed in the Kuwaiti dialect, they have been shown as far away as Tunisia with success.[125]

Literature[edit]

Kuwait was the pioneer of literary renaissance in the region.[126] In 1958, Al Arabi magazine was first published, the magazine went on to become the most popular magazine in the Arab world.[46] In the 1970s, writers moved to Kuwait where they enjoyed greater freedom of expression than elsewhere in the Arab world.[47]

Arts[edit]

Kuwait has the oldest modern arts movement in the Arabian Peninsula.[127] Beginning in 1936, Kuwait was the first Gulf country to grant scholarships in the arts.[127] The Kuwaiti artist Mojeb al-Dousari was the earliest recognized visual artist in the Gulf region.[128] He is regarded as the founder of portrait art in the region.[129] In 1943, al-Dousari launched Kuwait's first art gallery.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b c d "Kuwait". CIA World Factbook. 
  3. ^ "Population of Kuwait". Kuwait Government Online. 
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  1. ^ 2013 Census shows only three religion categories: "Muslim", "Christian" and "Other". Reasonably assuming majority of "Other" Kuwaiti citizens is Bahá'í.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]