Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Kuwait from The Macquarie Dictionary

a monarchy (emirate) in south-western Asia, on the north-western coast of the Persian Gulf; a British protectorate before independence in 1961; annexation by Iraq in 1990 ended in 1991 when coalition of forces, sanctioned by the UN and led by the US, expelled Iraqi army.

17~818 km2 Arabic, also English Kuwaiti dinar Kuwait City

Summary Article: Kuwait
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Country in southwest Asia, bounded north and northwest by Iraq, east by the Gulf, and south and southwest by Saudi Arabia.

Government Under its 1962 constitution, Kuwait has a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, headed by an emir from the al-Sabah dynasty. The constitution assigns executive power to the emir, who governs through an appointed prime minister and cabinet of up to 15 ministers. There is a single-chamber national assembly comprising 50 members elected by suffrage (restricted to Kuwaiti citizens) from five 10-seat constituencies, for a four-year term. Members of the cabinet also sit in the national assembly. The national assembly has powers to initiate legislation, question ministers, and dismiss the prime minister, but the emir has the final word on policies. The ruling al-Sabah family nominates a new emir who must receive backing from a majority in the national assembly. If this backing is not received, the royal family must submit other candidates. Amendments to the constitution also require two-thirds approval by the national assembly. Women did not have the vote until 2005. Political parties are not permitted, but political blocs exist within parliament.

History The region was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire from the 16th century; the ruling al-Sabah family founded the sheikdom of Kuwait in 1756. The ruler made a treaty with the UK in 1899, enabling it to become a self-governing protectorate until it achieved full independence in 1961.

Sheikh Abdullah al-Salem al-Sabah took the title of emir in 1961 when he assumed full executive powers. He died in 1965 and was succeeded by his brother, Sheikh Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah. He, in turn, died in 1977 and was succeeded by Crown Prince Jabir, who appointed Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Salem al-Sabah as his heir apparent. In 1986 Sheikh Jabir suspended the national assembly after it had criticized his government's policies. In 1990 pro-democracy demonstrations were dispersed by the police.

Discovery of oil Kuwait's economy was built initially on pearl fishing, which collapsed in the 1930s. But oil was discovered in 1938, and its large-scale exploitation began after 1945, transforming Kuwait City from a small fishing port into a thriving commercial centre. The oil revenues have enabled ambitious public works and education programmes to be undertaken. Kuwait has used its considerable wealth not only to improve its infrastructure and social services but also to attempt to secure its borders, making, for example, substantial donations to Iraq, which in the past had made territorial claims on it. It has been a strong supporter of the Arab cause generally.

Iran–Iraq War During the 1980–88 Iran–Iraq War, Kuwait was the target of destabilization efforts by the revolutionary Iranian government. Some Shi'ites conducted a terrorist bombing campaign as part of an effort to incite the Shiite minority in Kuwait; 17 were arrested 1983 and their freedom was the demand in several hijacking incidents that followed. In 1987 Kuwait sought US protection for its tankers in the wake of attacks on Gulf shipping. Several Kuwaiti tankers were reflagged, and the US Navy conducted convoys through the Gulf. Iranian missiles also struck Kuwaiti installations, provoking fears of an expansion of the conflict.

Gulf War On 2 August 1990 Iraqi president Saddam Hussein reactivated the long-standing territorial dispute and invaded and occupied the country. The emir and most of his family escaped to Saudi Arabia. With more assets outside than in Kuwait, the government in exile was able to provide virtually unlimited financial support to Kuwaitis who had fled and to countries willing to help it regain its territory. On 28 February 1991, US-led coalition forces liberated Kuwait.

About 600 oil wells were sabotaged by the invading Iraqis. Smoke from burning oil created a pall over the whole country, and it was not until November 1991 that Kuwait was able to extinguish all the fires. Kuwait subsequently spent over $5 billion repairing damaged oil infrastructure. Palestinian guest workers who had remained in Kuwait were subjected to reprisals by returning Kuwaitis for alleged collaboration with the Iraqis, and of 350,000 Palestinians in Kuwait before the invasion, only 80,000 remained in 1992.

Limited democracy restored The first parliamentary elections since 1986 were held in October 1992, with opposition candidates winning a majority of the seats in Kuwait's national assembly. Islamic candidates made significant gains, filling 19 of the opposition seats. However, less than 14% of the population was eligible to vote, with the franchise restricted to Kuwaiti men over 21, and Kuwait remained basically an absolutist state.

Iraqi border incursions halted In January 1993 incursions by Iraq into Kuwait were halted after a series of US-led air strikes against Iraqi missile and radar sites. Iraqi troops massed near the border in October 1994, arousing fears of another invasion, but prompt action by the US-led international community removed the threat and secured a formal recognition of Kuwait by the Iraqi government.

2003 US invasion of Iraq and parliamentary election In 2003, Kuwait was the only Arab nation to publicly support the US-led invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and it was an important staging base for coalition forces.

In the elections of July 2003, Islamist candidates did well, with liberals suffering significant losses. Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah was appointed prime minister, the first time since independence that the title was not given to the heir to the throne.

Women's right to vote In May 2005, the parliament passed a law allowing women to vote and stand for parliamentary seats. The country's first female cabinet minister was appointed in 2005, and in the municipal elections of April 2006 women voted for the first time.

New emir In January 2006, the emir Sheikh Jaber died. Although he was initially succeeded by the crown prince, Sheikh Saad, concerns about Sheikh Saad's health led to the national assembly voting to replace him with the 76-year-old Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah after only a few days. Sheikh Sabah had been Kuwait's foreign minister 1963–2003 and its prime minister from 2003. Sheikh Saad died in May 2008.

In February 2006, Sheikh Sabah appointed his nephew Sheikh Nasser Muhammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah as prime minister and appointed his half-brother Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah as crown prince and heir apparent. Sheikh Sabah maintained Kuwait's pro-Western stance and encouraged greater foreign inward investment.

The May 2009 national assembly elections resulted in four female deputies being elected for the first time. Despite its oil wealth, Kuwait was affected adversely by the global financial crisis of 2008, to which its central bank responded with a $5 billion economic stimulus package.

The 2011 Arab Spring of popular protests against entrenched regimes affected Kuwait. In February 2011 stateless Bedouin protested in Kuwait city against their exclusion from the emir's goodwill grant of 1,000 dinars ($3,600) plus one year's free food to citizens to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Kuwait's liberation from Iraqi occupation. The situation became more serious from September 2011 when thousands of Kuwaitis took part in anti-government marches, culminating on 16 November 2011 in demonstrators and some opposition deputies briefly occupying the national assembly, demanding the resignation of the prime minister and government. The emir responded by accepting Sheikh Nasser's resignation on 28 November 2011, replacing him with Jaber al-Mubarak, the defence minister since 2006, and also dissolving the national assembly, pending new elections in February 2012.

Repeated parliamentary elections During 2012–13, three elections were held to the national assembly, after the Constitutional Court intervened to rule invalid the first two elections. The first election, in February 2012, had a high turnout of 59% and was won by the Islamist-led opposition. However, it was declared invalid in June 2012 by the Constitutional Court which ruled unconstitutional the emir's December 2011 dissolution of the assembly.

The second election, in December 2012, was boycotted by the opposition after a change in the electoral law which reduced the number of candidates a voter could choose from four to one. Turnout fell to 43% and in June 2013 the constitutional court annulled the results. The third election, held in July 2013, saw turnout rise to 52% and secular and liberal candidates polled strongly, winning nine seats to become the main bloc after 30 pro-government independents.

Participation in Saudi-led air offensive in Yemen In March 2015, Kuwait joined with other Gulf states to take party in a Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrike offensive against the Houthis (Shia tribesmen from North Yemen) who had overthrown the government in Yemen.

On 26 June 2015, 27 worshippers were killed at a Shia mosque in Kuwait by a Sunni extremist suicide bomber who supported the extremist Islamic State (IS). Seven people connected with the bombing were later convicted and sentenced to death.

In the November 2016 national assembly elections, opposition candidates won 24 of the 50 seats. Salafist (an ultra-conservative movement within Sunni Islam) and Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood candidates won half of the opposition seats. One woman was elected to the national assembly. The Shia minority won six seats (down three).


water towers in Kuwait

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Kuwait
Philip's World Factbook 2008-2009

The colours of Kuwait's flag are pan-Arab. The green symbolizes Kuwaiti hospitality. The white represents the commitment to peace. The...

Full text Article Kuwait
Philip's Encyclopedia

The State of Kuwait is a small, oil-rich Arab country at the head of the Persian Gulf. It consists of a mainland area and several offshore...

Full text Article Kuwait
Encyclopedia of Environment and Society

LOCATED IN THE strategically important oil region of the Persian Gulf, Kuwait achieved its independence in 1961. In August 1990, Iraqi forces...

See more from Credo