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 trade port.[1][2][3]

Antiquity[edit]

During the Ubaid period (6500 BC), Kuwait was the central site of interaction between the peoples of Mesopotamia and Neolithic Eastern Arabia,[4][5][6][7] mainly centered in As-Subiya in northern Kuwait.[8][9][10] The earliest evidence of human habitation in Kuwait dates back 8000 B.C. where Mesolithic tools were found in Burgan.[11] As-Subiya in northern Kuwait is the earliest evidence of urbanization in the whole Persian Gulf basin area.[7] Mesopotamians first settled in the Kuwaiti island of 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] One of the world's earliest reed-boats was discovered in northern Kuwait dating back to the Ubaid period.[14]

The earliest recorded mention of Kuwait was in 150 AD in the geographical treatise Geography by Greek scholar Ptolemy.[15] Ptolemy mentioned the Bay of Kuwait as Hieros Kolpos (Sacer Sinus in the Latin versions).[15]

In 4000 BC until 2000 BC, the bay of Kuwait was home to the Dilmun civilization.[16][17][18] Dilmun's control of the bay of Kuwait included Kuwait City's Shuwaikh Port (formerly Akkaz Island),[16] Umm an Namil Island[16][19] and Failaka island.[16] At its peak in 2000 BC, the Dilmun empire controlled the trade routes from Mesopotamia to India and the Indus Valley civilization. Dilmun's commercial power 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.[20][21][22][23] 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.[24]

In 224 AD, Kuwait became part of the Sassanid Empire. At the time of the Sassanid Empire, Kuwait was known as Meshan,[25] which was an alternative name of the kingdom of Characene.[26][27] Akkaz was a Partho-Sassanian site; the Sassanid religion's tower of silence was discovered in northern Akkaz.[28][29]

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.[30][31] 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 city known as "Kadhima" or "Kāzimah" in the early Islamic era.[31][32][33][34][35][36][37] Medieval Arabic sources contain multiple references to the bay of Kuwait in the early Islamic period.[36][37][38] 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.[36][39][40] In the early Islamic period, the bay of Kuwait was known for being a fertile area.[31][41][42]

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.[43] Al-Farazdaq is recognized as one of the greatest classical poets of the Arabs.[43]

Founding of modern Kuwait (1613–1716)[edit]

In 1521, Kuwait was under Portuguese control.[44] In the late 16th century, the Portuguese built a defensive settlement in Kuwait.[45]

In 1613, the town of Kuwait was founded in the present-day location of Kuwait City. Kuwait was initially under the control of the Bani Khalid clan, who built a fishing village in present-day Kuwait Bay. The beginning of the eighteenth century witnessed the contention of Kuwait by the Bani Utub confederation. The Utub had previously been expelled from Umm Qasr by the Ottomans due to their predatory habits of preying on caravans in Basra and trading ships in Shatt al-Arab.[46] The Bani Utub then relocated to Basra, where 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.[47] They migrated to Kuwait in 1716. As a result of successive matrimonial alliances, they were able to wrest control of Kuwait from the Bani Khalid some time during the mid-eighteenth century. The Al Jalahma and Al Khalifa families relocated to Zubarah in 1766, leaving the only remaining Utub of Al Sabah as sole proprietors of Kuwait.[48]

Early growth (1716–1937)[edit]

Port City[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.[49][50][51] By the mid 1700s, Kuwait had already established itself as the major trading route from the Persian Gulf to Aleppo.[52] 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.[53] As a result, Kuwait's maritime commerce boomed.[53]

Between the years 1775 and 1779, the Indian trade routes with Baghdad, Aleppo, Smyrna and Constantinople were diverted to Kuwait.[52][54] The East India Company was diverted to Kuwait in 1792.[55] The East India Company secured the sea routes between Kuwait, India and the east coasts of Africa.[55] After the Persians withdrew from Basra in 1779, Kuwait continued to attract trade away from Basra.[56] 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.[56]

Marine Museum in Kuwait City. Demonstrates the founding of Kuwait as a sea port for merchants.

Regional geopolitical turbulence helped foster economic prosperity in Kuwait in the second half of the 18th century.[57] Kuwait became prosperous due to Basra's instability in the late 18th century.[58] In the late 18th century, Kuwait partly functioned as a haven for Basra's merchants fleeing Ottoman government persecution.[59] Kuwait was the center of boat building in the Persian Gulf region.[60] Kuwaiti ship vessels were renowned throughout the Indian Ocean.[61][62] Kuwaitis also developed a reputation as the best sailors in the Persian Gulf.[50][63][64]

In the 19th century, Kuwait became significant in the horse trade,[65] horses were regularly shipped by the way of sailing boats from Kuwait.[65] In the mid 19th century, it was estimated that Kuwait was exporting an average of 800 horses to India annually.[57]

During the reign of Mubarak, Kuwait was dubbed the "Marseilles of the (Persian) Gulf" because its economic vitality attracted a large variety of people.[66][67]

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.[68] The elite were long-settled, urban, Sunni families, the majority of which claim descent from the original 30 Bani Utubi families.[68] The wealthiest families were trade merchants who acquired their wealth from long-distance commerce, shipbuilding and pearling.[68] They were a cosmopolitan elite, they traveled extensively to India, Africa and Europe.[68] The elite educated their sons abroad more than other Gulf Arab elite.[68] Western visitors noted that the Kuwaiti elite used European office systems, typewriters and followed European culture with curiosity.[68] The richest families were involved in general trade.[68] The merchant families of Al-Ghanim and Al-Hamad were estimated to be worth millions before the 1940s.[68]

In the early 20th century, Kuwait immensely declined in regional economic importance,[62] mainly due to many trade blockades and the world economic depression.[69] Before Mary Bruins Allison visited Kuwait in 1934, Kuwait lost its prominence in long distance trade.[62] During World War I, the British Empire imposed a trade blockade against Kuwait because Kuwait's ruler supported the Ottoman Empire.[69][70][71] The British economic blockade heavily damaged Kuwait's economy.[71]

The Great Depression negatively impacted Kuwait's economy starting in the late 1920s.[72] International trading was one of Kuwait's main sources of income before oil.[72] Kuwaiti merchants were mostly intermediary merchants.[72] 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.[72] Some Kuwaiti merchant families became rich due to gold smuggling to India.[73]

Kuwait's pearling industry also collapsed as a result of the worldwide economic depression.[73] 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.[73] During the economic depression, luxuries like pearls were in little demand.[73] The Japanese invention of cultured pearls also contributed to the collapse of Kuwait's pearling industry.[73]

Following the Kuwait–Najd War of 1919-1920, Ibn Saud imposed a tight trade blockade against Kuwait from the years 1923 until 1937.[69][72] The goal of the Saudi economic and military attacks on Kuwait was to annex as much of Kuwait's territory as possible.[69] At the Uqair conference in 1922, the boundaries of Kuwait and Najd were set.[69] Kuwait had no representative at the Uqair conference.[69] Ibn Saud persuaded Sir Percy Cox to give him two-thirds of Kuwait's territory.[69] More than half of Kuwait was lost due to Uqair.[69] After the Uqair conference, Kuwait was still subjected to a Saudi economic blockade and intermittent Saudi raiding.[69]

In 1937, Freya Stark wrote about the extent of poverty in Kuwait at the time:[72]

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.

Merchants[edit]

Kuwaiti merchants had the most power in Kuwait before oil.[74] 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.[74] The inauguration of the oil era freed the rulers from their financial dependency on merchant wealth.[75]

Al-Sabahs[edit]

Al Sabah became Kuwait's monarchy in 1938.[76] 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.[77]

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.[77]

The assassination of Muhammad Bin Sabah

Although Kuwait was nominally governed from Basra, the Kuwaitis had traditionally maintained a relative degree of autonomous status.[78] 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.[77] 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.[78]

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.[77] 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.[77] 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.[77] 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.

Anglo-Ottoman convention (1913)[edit]

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 Sheikh 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 (1919–1921)[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.[79]

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 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.[80]

Discovery of oil (1937)[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 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.

Modern era[edit]

Golden Era (1946–1982)[edit]

From 1946 to 1982, Kuwait experienced a period of prosperity driven by oil and its liberal atmosphere.[81][82][83] In popular discourse, the years between 1946 and 1982 are referred to as the "Golden Era".[81][82][83][84] 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 Arab state in the Persian Gulf area to establish a constitution and parliament.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Kuwait was the most developed country in the region.[85][86][87] Kuwait was the pioneer in the Middle East in diversifying its earnings away from oil exports.[88] 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.[87] Kuwait University, established in 1966, attracted students from neighboring countries.[87] Kuwait's theatre industry was well-known throughout the Arab world.[81][87]

In the 1960s and 1970s, Kuwait's press was described as one of the freest in the world.[89] Kuwait was the pioneer in the literary renaissance in the Arab region.[90] In 1958, Al Arabi magazine was first published, the magazine went on to become the most popular magazine in the Arab world.[90] Many Arab writers moved to Kuwait for freedom of expression because Kuwait had greater freedom of expression than elsewhere in the Arab world.[91][92] 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.[93]

Kuwaiti society embraced liberal and Western attitudes throughout the 1960s and 1970s.[94] Most Kuwaiti women did not wear the hijab in the 1960s and 1970s.[95][96] At Kuwait University, mini-skirts were more common than the hijab.[97]

1982–1989[edit]

In the early 1980s, Kuwait experienced a major economic crisis after the Souk Al-Manakh stock market crash and decrease in oil price.[98]

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,[99] the scientific research sector significantly suffered due to the terror attacks.[99]

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.[100] An economic rivalry between the two countries ensued after Kuwait increased its oil production by 40 percent.[101] 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.[101]

Gulf War (1990–1991)[edit]

Main article: Gulf War

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.[80] 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.[102]

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 liberate Kuwait. 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).[103]

A Palestinian exodus from Kuwait took place during and after the Gulf War. During the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait,[104] 200,000 Palestinians voluntarily fled Kuwait due to various reasons (fear or persecution,[104] food shortages, medical care difficulties, financial shortages, fear of arrest and mistreatment at roadblocks by Iraqis).[104][105][106] 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.[107][108][109]

Prior to the Gulf War, Palestinians numbered 400,000 of Kuwait's population of 2.2 million.[110] The Palestinians who fled Kuwait were Jordanian citizens.[111] In 2012, 80,000 Palestinians resided in Kuwait.[112]

After Gulf War (1992–present day)[edit]

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.

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

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