History of Kuwait

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Kuwait is a sovereign state in the northeastern Arabian Peninsula, surrounding the Gulf of Kuwait at the head of the Persian Gulf. The geographical region of Kuwait has been occupied by humans since antiquity, particularly due to its strategic location within Mesopotamia.[1] In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Kuwait was a prosperous maritime port city and the most important trade port in the northern Gulf region.[2][3][4]


Historically, northern Kuwait was part of ancient Mesopotamia.[1] During the Ubaid period (6500 BC), Kuwait was the central site of interaction between the peoples of Mesopotamia and Neolithic Eastern Arabia,[5][6][7][8] mainly centered around Bahra 1 in Subiya.[9][10][11] The earliest evidence of human habitation in Kuwait dates back 8000 B.C. where Mesolithic tools were found in Burgan.[12]

Mesopotamians first settled in the Kuwaiti island of Failaka in 2000 B.C.[13][14] Traders from the Sumerian city of Ur inhabited Failaka and ran a mercantile business.[13][14] The island had many Mesopotamian-style buildings typical of those found in Iraq dating from around 2000 B.C.[13] The Neolithic inhabitants of Kuwait were among the world's earliest maritime traders.[15] One of the world's earliest reed-boats was discovered in northern Kuwait dating back to the Ubaid period.[16]

In 4000 BC until 2000 BC, the bay of Kuwait was home to the Dilmun civilization.[17][18][19] Dilmun's control of the bay of Kuwait included Kuwait City's Shuwaikh Port (formerly Akkaz Island),[17] Umm an Namil Island[17][20] and Failaka Island.[17] 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. During the Dilmun era (from ca. 3000 BC), Failaka was known as "Agarum", the land of Enzak, a great god in the Dilmun civilization according to Sumerian cuneiform texts found on the island.[21] As part of Dilmun, Failaka became a hub for the civilization from the end of the 3rd to the middle of the 1st millennium BC.[21] Failaka was settled following 2000 BC after a drop in sea level.[22]

Ancient coins found on Failaka Island.

After the Dilmun civilization, Failaka was inhabited by the Kassites of Mesopotamia,[23] and was formally under the control of the Kassite dynasty of Babylon.[23] Studies indicate traces of human settlement can be found on Failaka dating back to as early as the end of the 3rd millennium BC, and extending until the 20th century AD.[21] Many of the artifacts found in Falaika are linked to Mesopotamian civilizations and seem to show that Failaka was gradually drawn toward the civilization based in Antioch.[24] Under Nebuchadnezzar II, Failaka was under Babylonian control.[25] Cuneiform documents found in Failaka indicate the presence of Babylonians in the island's population.[26] Babylonian Kings were present in Failaka during the Neo-Babylonian Empire period, Nabonidus had a governor in Failaka and Nebuchadnezzar II had a palace and temple in Falaika.[27][28] Failaka also contained temples dedicated to the worship of Shamash, the Mesopotamian sun god in the Babylonian pantheon.[28]

In 4th 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.[29][30][31][32] According to Strabo and Arrian, Alexander the Great named Failaka Ikaros because it resembled the Aegean island of that name in size and shape. Some elements of Greek mythology were mixed with the local cults in Failaka.[33] "Ikaros" was also the name of a prominent city situated in Failaka.[34] Remains of Greek colonization include a large Hellenistic fort and Greek temples.[35]

In 127 BC, the kingdom of Characene was established around the Bay of Kuwait. Characene was centered in the region encompassing southern Mesopotamia,[36] including Failaka island.[37] A busy Parthian commercial station existed on Failaka island.[38]

The earliest recorded mention of Kuwait was in 150 AD in the geographical treatise Geography by Greek scholar Ptolemy.[39] Ptolemy mentioned the Bay of Kuwait as Hieros Kolpos (Sacer Sinus in the Latin versions).[39]

In 224 AD, Kuwait became part of the Sassanid Empire. At the time of the Sassanid Empire, Kuwait was known as Meshan,[40] which was an alternative name of the kingdom of Characene.[41][42] Akkaz was a Partho-Sassanian site; the Sassanid religion's tower of silence was discovered in northern Akkaz.[43][44][45][20][46]

In addition to Partho-Sasanian settlements, Akkaz also contained Christian settlements.[46][47][20] Christian Nestorian settlements flourished in Akkaz and Failaka from the 5th century until the 9th century.[48][47] Excavations have revealed several farms, villages and two large churches dating from the 5th and 6th century.[48] Archaeologists are currently excavating nearby sites to understand the extent of the settlements that flourished in the eighth and ninth centuries A.D.[48] An old island tradition is that a community grew up around a Christian mystic and hermit.[48] The small farms and villages were eventually abandoned.[48] Remains of Byzantine era Nestorian churches were found at Al-Qusur in Failaka. Pottery at the site can be dated from as early as the first half of the 7th century through the 9th century.[49][50]

Battle of Chains[edit]

In 636 AD, the Battle of Chains between the Sassanid Empire and Rashidun Caliphate was fought in Kuwait near the town of Kazma.[51][52] 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 the city of Kazma (also known as "Kadhima" or "Kāzimah") in the early Islamic era.[52][53][54][55][56][57][58] Medieval Arabic sources contain multiple references to the bay of Kuwait in the early Islamic period.[57][58][59] 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.[57][60][61] In the early Islamic period, the bay of Kuwait was known for being a fertile area.[52][62][63]

The Kuwaiti city of Kazma was a stop for caravans coming from Persia and Mesopotamia en route to the Arabian Peninsula. The poet Al-Farazdaq was born in the Kuwaiti city of Kazma.[64] Al-Farazdaq is recognized as one of the greatest classical poets of the Arabs.[64]

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

Portuguese presence in the Persian Gulf , from the XVI century to the XVIII.

In 1521, Kuwait was under Portuguese control.[65] In the late 16th century, the Portuguese built a defensive settlement in Kuwait.[66] In 1613, Kuwait City was founded as a fishing village predominantly populated by fishermen. Administratively, it was a sheikhdom, ruled by local sheikhs from Bani Khalid clan.[67] In 1682 or 1716, the Bani Utbah settled in Kuwait City, which at this time was still inhabited by fishermen and primarily functioned as a fishing village under Bani Khalid control.[68][69] Sometime after the death of the Bani Khalid's leader Barrak Bin Urair and the fall of the Bani Khalid Emirate, the Utub were able to wrest control of Kuwait as a result of successive matrimonial alliances.[69]

Early growth (1716–1945)[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.[70][71][72] By the mid 1700s, Kuwait had already established itself as the major trading route from the Persian Gulf to Aleppo.[73] 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.[74] As a result, Kuwait's maritime commerce boomed.[74]

Between the years 1775 and 1779, the Indian trade routes with Baghdad, Aleppo, Smyrna and Constantinople were diverted to Kuwait.[73][75] The East India Company was diverted to Kuwait in 1792.[76] The East India Company secured the sea routes between Kuwait, India and the east coasts of Africa.[76] After the Persians withdrew from Basra in 1779, Kuwait continued to attract trade away from Basra.[77] 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.[77]

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.[78] Kuwait became prosperous due to Basra's instability in the late 18th century.[79] In the late 18th century, Kuwait partly functioned as a haven for Basra's merchants fleeing Ottoman government persecution.[80] Kuwait was the center of boat building in the Persian Gulf region.[81] Kuwaiti ship vessels were renowned throughout the Indian Ocean.[82][83] Kuwaitis also developed a reputation as the best sailors in the Persian Gulf.[71][84][85] In the 19th century, Kuwait became significant in the horse trade,[86] horses were regularly shipped by the way of sailing boats from Kuwait.[86] In the mid 19th century, it was estimated that Kuwait was exporting an average of 800 horses to India annually.[78]

During the reign of Mubarak, Kuwait was dubbed the "Marseilles of the Persian Gulf" because its economic vitality attracted a large variety of people.[87][88] The population was cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse, including Arabs, Persians, Africans, Jews, and Armenians.[88] Kuwait was known for its religious tolerance.[89]

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.[90] The elite were long-settled, urban, Sunni families, the majority of which claim descent from the original 30 Bani Utubi families.[90] The wealthiest families were trade merchants who acquired their wealth from long-distance commerce, shipbuilding and pearling.[90] They were a cosmopolitan elite, they traveled extensively to India, Africa and Europe.[90] The elite educated their sons abroad more than other Gulf Arab elite.[90] Western visitors noted that the Kuwaiti elite used European office systems, typewriters and followed European culture with curiosity.[90] The richest families were involved in general trade.[90] The merchant families of Al-Ghanim and Al-Hamad were estimated to be worth millions before the 1940s.[90]

In the early 20th century, Kuwait immensely declined in regional economic importance,[83] mainly due to many trade blockades and the world economic depression.[91] Before Mary Bruins Allison visited Kuwait in 1934, Kuwait lost its prominence in long-distance trade.[83] During World War I, the British Empire imposed a trade blockade against Kuwait because Kuwait's ruler supported the Ottoman Empire.[91][92][93] The British economic blockade heavily damaged Kuwait's economy.[93]

The Great Depression negatively impacted Kuwait's economy starting in the late 1920s.[94] International trading was one of Kuwait's main sources of income before oil.[94] Kuwaiti merchants were mostly intermediary merchants.[94] 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.[94] Some Kuwaiti merchant families became rich due to gold smuggling to India.[95]

Kuwait's pearling industry also collapsed as a result of the worldwide economic depression.[95] 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.[95] During the economic depression, luxuries like pearls were in little demand.[95] The Japanese invention of cultured pearls also contributed to the collapse of Kuwait's pearling industry.[95]

Following the Kuwait–Najd War of 1919–20, Ibn Saud imposed a tight trade blockade against Kuwait from the years 1923 until 1937.[91][94] The goal of the Saudi economic and military attacks on Kuwait was to annex as much of Kuwait's territory as possible.[91] At the Uqair conference in 1922, the boundaries of Kuwait and Najd were set.[91] Kuwait had no representative at the Uqair conference.[91] After the Uqair conference, Kuwait was still subjected to a Saudi economic blockade and intermittent Saudi raiding.[91]

In 1937, Freya Stark wrote about the extent of poverty in Kuwait at the time:[94]

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 had the most economic power in Kuwait before oil.[96] 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.[96] The inauguration of the oil era freed the rulers from their financial dependency on merchant wealth.[97]

Al Sabahs[edit]

Al Sabah became Kuwait's dynastic monarchy in 1938.[98] 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 1752.[99]

In 1776, Sabah I died and was succeeded by his youngest son, Abdullah. Shortly before 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 (1776-1814), 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.[99]

Assassination of Muhammad Bin Sabah[edit]

Although Kuwait was technically governed from Basra, the Kuwaitis had traditionally maintained a somewhat moderate degree of autonomous status.[100] 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.[99] 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.[100]

Mubarak the Great[edit]

Mubarak Al-Sabah "the Great" (1837–1915)

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.[99] 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.[99] 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.[99] 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 kaza 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 Warbah. 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.

World War I disrupted elements of Kuwait's politics, society, economy and trans-regional networks.[101]

Kuwait–Najd War (1919–21)[edit]

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 1919–20.

Battle of Jahra[edit]

The Battle of Jahra was a battle during the Kuwait-Najd War. The battle took place in Al Jahra, west of Kuwait City on 10 October 1920 between Salim Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah ruler of Kuwait and Ikhwan Wahhabi followers of Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, king of Saudi Arabia.[102]

A force of 4,000 Saudi Ikhwan, led by Faisal Al-Dawish, attacked the Kuwait Red Fort at Al-Jahra, defended by 2,000 Kuwaiti men. The Kuwaitis were largely outnumbered by the Ikhwan of Najd.

Sheikh Khaz'al turns down the throne of Kuwait[edit]

When Percy Cox was informed of the border clashes in Kuwait, he sent a letter to the Ruler of Arabistan Sheikh Khazʽal Ibn Jabir offering the Kuwaiti throne to either him or one of his heirs, knowing that Khaz'al would be a wiser ruler than the Al Sabah family. Khaz'al, who considered the Al Sabah as his own family, replied "Do you expect me to allow the stepping down of Al Mubarak from the throne of Kuwait? Do you think I can accept this?"[103] He then asked:

...even so, do you think that you have come to me with something new? Al Mubarak's position as ruler of Kuwait means that I am the true ruler of Kuwait. So there is no difference between myself and them, for they are like the dearest of my children and you are aware of this. Had someone else come to me with this offer, I would have complained about them to you. So how do you come to me with this offer when you are well aware that myself and Al Mubarak are one soul and one house, what affects them affects me, whether good or evil.[103]

The Uqair protocol[edit]

In response to Bedouin raids, the British High Commissioner in Baghdad, Percy Cox, imposed[104] 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.[105]

1930–1939: Iraq–Kuwait Reunification Movement[edit]

Throughout the 1930s, Kuwaiti people opposed the British imposed separation of Kuwait from Iraq.[106] In 1938, the "Free Kuwaiti Movement" was established by Kuwaiti youth who opposed British rule and submitted a petition demanding the Iraqi government reunifies Kuwait and Iraq.[106][107] Due to fears of armed uprising in Kuwait, the Al Sabah agreed to the establishment of a legislative council to represent the "Free Kuwaiti Movement" demanding the reunification of Iraq and Kuwait.[106] The council's first meeting in 1938 resulted in unanimous resolutions demanding the reunification of Kuwait and Iraq.[106]

In March 1939, a popular armed uprising erupted within Kuwait to reunify with Iraq.[106] The Al Sabah family, along with British military support, violently put down the uprising, and killed and imprisoned its participants.[106] King Ghazi of Iraq publicly demanded the release of the Kuwaiti prisoners and warned the Al Sabah family to end the repression of the "Free Kuwaiti Movement".[106][107]

Modern era[edit]

Golden era (1946–82)[edit]

Between 1946 and 1982, Kuwait experienced a period of prosperity driven by oil and its liberal atmosphere; this period is called the "golden era".[108][109][110][111] In 1950, a major public-work programme allowed Kuwaitis to enjoy a modern standard of living. By 1952, the country became the largest oil exporter in the Persian Gulf. 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 to establish a constitution and parliament.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Kuwait was the most developed country in the region.[112][113][114] Kuwait was first Middle East country to diversify its revenue away from oil exports,[115] establishing the Kuwait Investment Authority as the world's first sovereign wealth fund. From the 1970s onward, Kuwait scored highest of all Arab countries on the Human Development Index,[114] and Kuwait University, founded in 1966, attracted students from neighboring countries. Kuwait's theatre industry was renowned throughout the Arab world.[109][114]

In the 1960s and 1970s, Kuwait's press was described as one of the freest in the world.[116] Kuwait was the pioneer in the literary renaissance in the Arab region.[117] In 1958, Al Arabi magazine was first published, the magazine went on to become the most popular magazine in the Arab world.[117] Additionally, Kuwait became a haven for writers and journalists in the region, and many, like the Iraqi poet Ahmed Matar,[118] moved to Kuwait for its strong freedom of expression laws, which surpassed those of any other country in the region.[119][120]

Kuwaiti society embraced liberal and Western attitudes throughout the 1960s and 1970s.[121] Most Kuwaiti women did not wear the hijab in the 1960s and 1970s.[122][123] At Kuwait University, mini-skirts were more common than the hijab.[124]

Oil and the social structure of Kuwait were closely interlinked. According to an authoritative of the region such a structure resembled a form of 'new slavery' with a 'viciously reactionary character'. 90 per cent of the capital generated from oil for investment abroad was concentrated in the hands of eighteen families. The manual as well as a significant section of the managerial workforce was predominantly foreign, mainly Palestinians who were denied citizenship.[125]

In August 1976, in reaction to heightened assembly opposition to his policies, the emir suspended four articles of the constitution concerned with political and civil rights (freedom of the press and dissolution of the legislature) and the assembly itself.[126] In 1980, however, the suspended articles of the constitution were reinstated along with the National Assembly.[126] In 1982 the government submitted sixteen constitutional amendments that, among other things, would have allowed the emir to declare martial law for an extended period and would have increased both the size of the legislature and the length of terms of office.[126] In May 1983, the proposals were formally dropped after several months of debate.[126] Nonetheless, the issue of constitutional revisions continued as a topic of discussion in both the National Assembly and the palace.[126]


In the early 1980s, Kuwait experienced a major economic crisis after the Souk Al-Manakh stock market crash and decrease in oil price.[127]

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,[128] the scientific research sector significantly suffered due to the terror attacks.[128]

In 1986 the constitution was again suspended, along with the National Assembly.[126] As with the previous suspension, popular opposition to this move emerged; indeed, the prodemocracy movement of 1989-90 took its name, the Constitutional Movement, from the demand for a return to constitutional life.[126] This opposition became more pronounced following the Iraqi occupation, which abrogated all constitutional rights, and following Kuwait's return to sovereignty in 1991.[126] In early 1992, many press restrictions were lifted.[126] After the October 1992 election, the National Assembly exercised its constitutional right to review all emiri decrees promulgated while the assembly was in dissolution.[126]

After the Iran–Iraq War ended, Kuwait declined an Iraqi request to forgive its US$65 billion debt.[129] An economic rivalry between the two countries ensued after Kuwait increased its oil production by 40 percent.[130] 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.[130]

Gulf War (1990–91)[edit]

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.[105] 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.[131]

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

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. Aerial bombardments began on 17 January 1991, and after several weeks a U.S.-led United Nations (UN) coalition began a ground assault on 23 February 1991 that achieved a complete removal of 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).[132]

A Palestinian exodus from Kuwait took place during and after the Gulf War. During the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait,[133] 200,000 Palestinians voluntarily fled Kuwait due to various reasons (fear or persecution,[133] food shortages, medical care difficulties, financial shortages, fear of arrest and mistreatment at roadblocks by Iraqis).[133][134][135] 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.[136][137][138]

Prior to the Gulf War, Palestinians numbered 400,000 of Kuwait's population of 2.2 million.[139] The Palestinians who fled Kuwait were Jordanian citizens.[140] In 2012, 80,000 Palestinians resided in Kuwait.[141]

After Gulf War (1992–present)[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 and 2012, there were protests. The parliament was dissolved in December 2011 due to protests against the parliament. The prime minister stepped down following protests.

Bedoon (stateless people)[edit]

The State of Kuwait formally has an official Nationality Law which grants non-nationals a legal pathway to obtain citizenship.[142] However, access to citizenship in Kuwait is autocratically controlled by the Al Sabah ruling family, it is not subject to any external regulatory supervision.[143][142] The naturalization provisions within the Nationality Law are arbitrarily implemented and lack transparency.[142][143] The lack of transparency prevents non-nationals from receiving a fair opportunity to obtain citizenship.[144][143] Consequently, the Al Sabah ruling family have been able to manipulate naturalization for politically-motivated reasons.[143][145][146][147][148][144][149][150][151] In the three decades after independence in 1961, the Al Sabah ruling family naturalized hundreds of thousands of foreign Bedouin immigrants predominantly from Saudi Arabia.[147][152][143][149][145][150][146][144][151][153] By the year 1980, as many as 200,000 immigrants were naturalized in Kuwait.[152] Throughout the 1980s, the Al Sabah's politically-motivated naturalization policy continued.[152][143] The naturalizations were not regulated nor sanctioned by Kuwaiti law.[143][145][147][153] The exact number of naturalizations is unknown but it is estimated that up to 400,000 immigrants were unlawfully naturalized in Kuwait.[153][147] The foreign Bedouin immigrants were mainly naturalized to alter the demographic makeup of the citizen population in a way that makes the power of the Al Sabah ruling family more secure.[148][143][145][147] As a result of the politically-motivated naturalizations, the number of naturalized citizens exceeds the number of Bedoon in Kuwait.[144] The Al Sabah ruling family actively encouraged foreign Bedouin immigrants to migrate to Kuwait,[152] the Al Sabah ruling family favored naturalizing Bedouin immigrants because they were considered loyal to the ruling family unlike the politically active Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian expats in Kuwait.[152] The naturalized citizens were predominantly Sunni Saudi immigrants from southern tribes.[151][147][145] Accordingly, there are no stateless Bedoon in Kuwait belonging to the Ajman tribe.[145]

Most stateless Bedoon in Kuwait belong to northern tribes.[154][155][156][157][158][159][160] The northern tribes are predominantly Shia Muslims.[161] A minority of stateless Bedoon in Kuwait belong to Kuwait's 'Ajam community.[162] The Kuwaiti judicial system's lack of authority to rule on citizenship further complicates the Bedoon crisis, leaving Bedoon no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship.[144] Although non-nationals constitute 70% of Kuwait's total population, the Al Sabah ruling family persistently denies citizenship to most non-nationals including those who fully satisfy the requirements for naturalization as stipulated in the state's official Nationality Law. The Kuwaiti authorities permit the forgeries of hundreds of thousands of politically-motivated naturalizations,[144][153] while simultaneously denying citizenship to the Bedoon.[144][153] The politically-motivated naturalizations were noted by the United Nations, political activists, scholars, researchers, and even members of the Al Sabah family.[144][143][145][147][148][146][163][149][152][150][153] It is widely considered a form of deliberate demographic engineering. It has been likened to Bahrain's politically-motivated naturalization policy.[143][148][151] Within the GCC countries, politically-motivated naturalization policies are referred to as "political naturalization" (التجنيس السياسي).[143]

It is widely believed that the Bedoon in Kuwait are denied citizenship mainly because most Bedoon are Shia Muslims.[164][165][166][167][154][168] The Bedoon issue in Kuwait is largely sectarian.[166][164][167][154][169] 60-80% of Kuwait's Bedoon are Shia Muslims.[164][166][165][154][168] Many Bedoon in Kuwait are pressured to hide their Shia Muslim background.[170] The Bedoon issue in Kuwait “overlaps with historic sensitivities about Iraqi influence inside Kuwait; many who continue to be denied Kuwaiti nationality are believed to have originated from Iraq”.[171] The stateless Bedoon are generally categorized into three groups: stateless tribespeople, stateless police/military, and the stateless children of Kuwaiti women who married Bedoon men.[172] The stateless Bedoon constituted 80-90% of the Kuwaiti Army in the 1970s and 1980s up until the 1990 Gulf War.[172] At the time, Kuwaiti government preferred to identify these stateless people as "Bedoon".[172][173]

Under the terms of the Kuwait Nationality Law 15/1959, all the Bedoon in Kuwait are eligible for Kuwaiti nationality by naturalization.[174] Kuwait's Bedoon believe that most stateless people who get naturalized are Sunnis of Persian descent or tribal Saudis, but not Bedoon of Iraqi tribal ancestry.[175]

According to several human rights organizations, the State of Kuwait is committing ethnic cleansing and genocide against the stateless Bedoon.[176][157][177] Since 1986, the Kuwaiti government has refused to grant any form of documentation to the Bedoon including birth certificates, death certificates, identity cards, marriage certificates, and driving licences.[177] The Kuwaiti Bedoon crisis resembles the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar (Burma).[174] The Bedoon face many restrictions in employment and travel.[177] They are not permitted to educate their children in public schools and public universities.[177] The Bedoon are banned from obtaining driving licenses.[177] In recent years, the rate of suicide among Bedoon has sharply risen.[177] In 1995, the British government reported that there are over 300,000 stateless Bedoon.[178] According to Human Rights Watch in 2000, Kuwait has produced 300,000 stateless Bedoon.[179] According to the Kuwaiti government, there are only 93,000 documented Bedoon in Kuwait. There have been various reports of disappearances and mass graves of stateless Bedoon, therefore it is believed that the Kuwaiti government kidnapped and murdered many Bedoon and buried them in mass graves.[176][180][181][182][183][184][160]

From 1965 until 1985, the Bedoon were treated like Kuwaiti citizens and guaranteed citizenship, they had free access to education, health care and all other privileges of Kuwaiti citizens.[177] At the height of the Iran–Iraq War, the Bedoon were reclassified as "foreigners" in the Kuwaiti government's databases and denied Kuwaiti citizenship.[177] The Kuwaiti government has actively engaged in an ethnic cleansing policy against the Bedoon.[177] The government policy is to impose false nationalities (legally ineffective) on the Bedoon.[185] In 1985, the then emir Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah escaped an assassination attempt. Later that same year, the government changed the Bedoon's status from that of legal residents without nationality to illegal residents.[186] By 1986, the Bedoon were fully excluded from the same social and economic rights enjoyed by Kuwaiti citizens because the Al Sabah ruling family needed to isolate the Bedoon from the rest of the society. The Iran–Iraq War threatened Kuwait's internal stability and the country feared the sectarian background of the stateless Bedoon.[186]

In the year 1995, the British government formally announced that there are more than 300,000 stateless Bedoon from Kuwait.[178] At the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, it was announced that the Al Sabah ruling family deported 150,000 stateless Bedoon to refugee camps in the Kuwaiti desert near the Iraqi border with minimal water, insufficient food, and no basic shelter.[178][160] The Kuwaiti authorities also threatened to murder the stateless Bedoon if they returned to their houses in Kuwait City.[178][160] As a result, many of the stateless Bedoon fled to Iraq where they still remain stateless people even today.[187][188]

MP George Galloway stated:[178]

Of all the human rights atrocities committed by the ruling family in Kuwait, the worst and the greatest is that against the people known as the Bedoons. There are more than 300,000 Bedoons--one third of Kuwait's native population. Half of them--150,000--have been driven into refugee camps in the desert across the Iraqi border by the regime and left there to bake and to rot. The other 150,000 are treated not as second-class or even fifth- class citizens but not as any sort of citizen. They are bereft of all rights.[178]

It is a scandal that almost no one in the world cares a thing about the plight of 300,000 people, 150,000 of them cast out of the land in which they have lived. Many were born to Kuwaiti mothers, and many of those families have lived in the Kuwaiti area for many centuries. Indeed, given the ruling family's penchant for spending time on the Riviera or in the west end of London, many of them have spent a great deal more time in Kuwait than many of the members of the ruling family.[178]

At the time, Human Rights Watch reported the following:[178]

"The totality of the treatment of the Bedoons amounts to a policy of denationalization of native residents, relegating them to an apartheid-like existence in their own country. The Kuwaiti government policy of harassment and intimidation of the Bedoons and of denying them the right to lawful residence, employment, travel and movement, contravene basic principles of human rights . . . Denial of citizenship to the Bedoons clearly violates international law . . . Denial of citizenship and lawful residence to Bedoon husbands and children of women who are Kuwaiti citizens violates rules against gender-based discrimination."[178]

The report continues:[178]

"Denying Bedoons the right to petition the courts to challenge governmental decisions regarding their claims to citizenship and lawful residence in the country violates the universal right to due process of law and equality before the law.[178] By retroactively implementing restrictive citizenship and residency laws, Kuwaiti authorities deprive Bedoons of their vested rights to state citizenhip and residence."[178]

Human rights organizations have severely criticized Kuwait for its handling of the issue.[177] The Bedoon issue is considered a major humanitarian crisis due to the repressive policies of the Al Sabah ruling family.[176]

In 2004, the Bedoon accounted for 40% of the Kuwaiti Army.[189] There were allegedly 110,729 "documented" Bedoon in Kuwait. All stateless Bedoon are at risk of persecution and breach of human rights.[190]

Although the Al Sabah ruling family claims that it will naturalize up to 4,000 stateless Bedoon per year, this remains highly unlikely in reality.[175][191]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Al-Hijji, Yacoub Yusuf (2010). Kuwait and the sea: a brief social and economic history. London: Arabian Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9558894-4-8.
  • Abu-Hakima, Ahmad Mustafa (1965). History of eastern Arabia, 1750-1800: the rise and development of Bahrain and Kuwait. Ahmad Mustafa Abu-Hakima.


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  2. ^ Furlong, TOM (14 April 1991). "The Rocky Road That Faces Many Kuwaiti Merchants". Los Angeles Times. 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.
  3. ^ "Kuwait: A Trading City". Eleanor Archer. 2013. Archived from the original on 25 July 2020.
  4. ^ Ronald B. Lewcock (1978). Traditional Architecture in Kuwait and the Northern Gulf. p. 13. ISBN 9780090646807. Kuwait had become the most important port in the northern part of the Gulf and the fame of its seafaring community spread far and wide.
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  6. ^ Robert Carter. "Boat remains and maritime trade in the Persian Gulf during the sixth and fifth millennia BC" (PDF).
  7. ^ Robert Carter. "Maritime Interactions in the Arabian Neolithic: The Evidence from H3, As-Sabiyah, an Ubaid-Related Site in Kuwait".
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  9. ^ Robert Carter (2002). "Ubaid-period boat remains from As-Sabiyah: excavations by the British Archaeological Expedition to Kuwait". Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies. 32: 13–30. JSTOR 41223721.
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