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State of Kuwait
دولة الكويت
Dawlat al-Kuwait
Anthem: "Al-Nasheed Al-Watani"
"National Anthem"
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Location and extent of Kuwait (red) on the Arabian Peninsula.
Location and extent of Kuwait (red) on the Arabian Peninsula.
and largest city
Kuwait City
29°22′N 47°58′E / 29.367°N 47.967°E / 29.367; 47.967
Official languagesArabic
Ethnic groups
GovernmentUnitary parliamentary
constitutional monarchyb[1]
 - EmirSabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah
 - Prime MinisterJaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah
LegislatureNational Assembly
 - Anglo-Ottoman Convention1913 
 - Independence from the United Kingdom
19 June 1961 
 - Total17,820 km2 (157th)
6,880 sq mi
 - Water (%)negligible
 - 2014 estimate3,965,022 (140th)
 - 2005 census2,213,403[2]
 - Density200.2/km2 (61st)
518.4/sq mi
GDP (PPP)2011 estimate
 - Total$163.671 billion[3] (58th)
 - Per capita$58,080[3] (5th)
GDP (nominal)2012 estimate
 - Total$173.240 billion[3] (52nd)
 - Per capita$45,824[3] (8th)
HDI (2013)Increase 0.790[4]
high · 54th
CurrencyKuwaiti dinar (KWD)
Time zoneAST / KSA (UTC+3)
 - Summer (DST)not observed (UTC+3)
Date formatdd/mm/yyyy (CE)
Drives on theright
Calling code+965
ISO 3166 codeKW
Internet TLD.kw
a.Nominal succession within the House of Sabah.
b.Emirate / princedom.
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State of Kuwait
دولة الكويت
Dawlat al-Kuwait
Anthem: "Al-Nasheed Al-Watani"
"National Anthem"
Sorry, your browser either has JavaScript disabled or does not have any supported player.
You can download the clip or download a player to play the clip in your browser.
Location and extent of Kuwait (red) on the Arabian Peninsula.
Location and extent of Kuwait (red) on the Arabian Peninsula.
and largest city
Kuwait City
29°22′N 47°58′E / 29.367°N 47.967°E / 29.367; 47.967
Official languagesArabic
Ethnic groups
GovernmentUnitary parliamentary
constitutional monarchyb[1]
 - EmirSabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah
 - Prime MinisterJaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah
LegislatureNational Assembly
 - Anglo-Ottoman Convention1913 
 - Independence from the United Kingdom
19 June 1961 
 - Total17,820 km2 (157th)
6,880 sq mi
 - Water (%)negligible
 - 2014 estimate3,965,022 (140th)
 - 2005 census2,213,403[2]
 - Density200.2/km2 (61st)
518.4/sq mi
GDP (PPP)2011 estimate
 - Total$163.671 billion[3] (58th)
 - Per capita$58,080[3] (5th)
GDP (nominal)2012 estimate
 - Total$173.240 billion[3] (52nd)
 - Per capita$45,824[3] (8th)
HDI (2013)Increase 0.790[4]
high · 54th
CurrencyKuwaiti dinar (KWD)
Time zoneAST / KSA (UTC+3)
 - Summer (DST)not observed (UTC+3)
Date formatdd/mm/yyyy (CE)
Drives on theright
Calling code+965
ISO 3166 codeKW
Internet TLD.kw
a.Nominal succession within the House of Sabah.
b.Emirate / princedom.

Kuwait, officially the State of Kuwait Listeni/kˈwt/ (Arabic: دولة الكويتDawlat al-Kuwayt ), is an Arab country in Western Asia. Situated in the northeastern edge of the Arabian peninsula at the tip of the Persian Gulf, it shares borders with Iraq to the north and Saudi Arabia to the south. The name "Kuwait" is the diminutive of Arabic كوت kūt, meaning "fortress".[5] The country covers an area of 17,820 square kilometers (6,880 square miles) and according to CIA has a population of 2.6 million as of 2012.[1] However, the government of the country claims 3,965,022 people as of January 1, 2014, of which 1,242,490 are nationals.[6]

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Kuwait was a successful center of trade and commerce.[7][8] Kuwait rivaled Basra as an entrepôt for trade between India and the Middle East.[9] In the early 20th century, Kuwait declined in regional economic importance and by 1934, Kuwait had lost its prominence in long-distance trade.[10] Kuwait's economy was devastated by several trade blockades; before these blockades Kuwait was prosperous.[11]

During World War I, the British Empire imposed a trade blockade against Kuwait because Kuwait's ruler supported the Ottoman Empire.[12][13] Following the Kuwait–Najd War of 1919-1920, Ibn Saud imposed a tight trade blockade against Kuwait for 14 years from 1923 until 1937.[11][14] After World War I, Kuwait emerged as an independent sheikhdom under the protection of the British Empire. Kuwait's oil fields were discovered in 1937.

Kuwait gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1961. In 1990, Kuwait was invaded and annexed by neighboring Iraq. The seven month-long Iraqi occupation came to an end after direct military intervention by United States-led forces. Around 773 Kuwaiti oil wells were set ablaze by the retreating Iraqi army, resulting in a major environmental and economic catastrophe.[15] Kuwait's infrastructure was badly damaged during the war and had to be rebuilt.[16] Twelve years later, Kuwait saw another massive foreign military presence as it served as a springboard for the U.S.-led campaign in 2003 to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy[17] with a parliamentary system of government. Kuwait City serves as the country's political and economic capital. Kuwait is often described as the most liberal country in the region.[18] The country has the world's fifth largest oil reserves.[19] Kuwait is the eighth richest country in the world per capita.[20] Kuwait is classified as a high income economy by the World Bank and is designated as a major non-NATO ally of the United States.[21]


Kuwait was historically the site of settlements from the Mesopotamian Ubaid period (ca. 6500 to 3800 BC).[22][23] The earliest evidence of sailing has been found in Kuwait, the world's oldest reed boat was found in Subiya in northern Kuwait.[24] The Kuwaiti island of Failaka was first inhabited by Mesopotamians in 2000 BC.[25]

In 224 AD, Kuwait fell under the control of the Sassanid Empire.[26] In 636 AD, the Battle of Chains between the Sassanid Empire and Rashidun Caliphate was fought in Kuwait near the town of Kazma.[27][28] As a result of the Rashidun victory in the seventh century, an early Islamic settlement known as Kazima was founded in Kuwait, Kuwait was known as Kazima for many centuries.[28][29] Kuwait was a famous trading station in the 9th century.[28]

Economic prosperity[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.[30]

In the eighteenth century, Kuwait prospered and rapidly became the principal commercial center for the transit of goods between India, Muscat, Baghdad and Arabia.[31] By the mid 1700s, Kuwait had already established itself as the major trading route from the Persian Gulf to Aleppo.[32] Between the years 1775 and 1779, the Indian trade routes with Baghdad, Aleppo, Smyrna and Constantinople were diverted to Kuwait due to the Persian occupation of Basra.[32] The Persian invasion of Basra in 1775 greatly benefited Kuwait's economy.[32]

In addition to the diversion of trade routes, many of Basra's leading merchants moved to Kuwait.[32] The English Factory was diverted to Kuwait in 1792, which consequently expanded Kuwait's resources beyond fishing and pearling.[32] The English Factory secured the sea routes between Kuwait, India and the east coasts of Africa.[32] This allowed Kuwaiti vessels to venture all the way to the pearling banks of Sri Lanka and trade goods with India and East Africa.[32]

Kuwait was the center of boat construction in the Gulf region.[33] Before the dominance of steamships, Kuwaiti wooden boats were considered superior in ocean travel.[10] Ship vessels made in Kuwait carried the bulk of international trade between India, East Africa, and Red Sea trade ports.[34][35] Boats made in Kuwait were capable of sailing up to China, thus Kuwaitis were players in world trade.[10] Kuwait's boat building industry was well known for its design and craftsmanship.[10] Kuwaitis were regarded the best shipbuilders and sailors in the Gulf.[36] The East India Company officer, Lewis Pelly regarded Kuwaitis the best sailors in the Gulf.[36]

Kuwait was also the center for all caravans carrying goods between Basra, Baghdad and Aleppo.[37] Kuwait partly functioned as a haven for merchants from Basra fleeing Ottoman government persecution.[38] Kuwait was also significant in the horse trade.[39] Horses were regularly shipped by the way of sailing boats from Kuwait.[39] In the mid 19th century, it was estimated that Kuwait was exporting an average of 800 horses to India annually.[40]

The strategic location of Kuwait and geopolitical turbulence in the region helped foster economic prosperity in Kuwait.[32] Kuwait became wealthy due to Basra's instability.[37] It was estimated that Kuwait's sea trade reached 16 million Bombay rupees by 1800, a substantial amount at that time.[32] Economic prosperity during the late 18th century attracted many immigrants from Iran and Iraq to Kuwait.[32] Kuwait's pre-oil population was ethnically diverse.[41] The population consisted of Arabs, Persians, Africans, Jews and Armenians.[41]

Kuwait was divided into three areas: Sharq, Jibla and Mirqab.[42] Sharq and Jibla were the most populated areas.[42] Sharq was inhabited by Bani Utub families and large numbers of Persians (Ajam).[42] The number of Arabs in Sharq was very small compared to Persians.[42] Jibla was inhabited by immigrants from different parts of Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Bahrain.[42] Mirgab was lightly populated by butchers.

In the early 20th century, Kuwait was dubbed the "Marsielles of the Gulf" because its economic vitality attracted a large variety of people.[43] In a good year, Kuwait's annual revenue actually came up to 100,000 riyals,[38] the governor of Basra considered Kuwait's annual revenue an astounding figure.[38] A Western author's account of Kuwait in 1905:[44]

Kuwait was the Marseilles of the Persian Gulf. Its population was good natured, mixed, and vicious. As it was the outlet from the north to the Gulf and hence to the Indies, merchants from Bombay and Tehran, Indians, Persians, Syrians from Aleppo and Damascus, Armenians, Turks and Jews, traders from all the East, and some Europeans came to Kuwait. From Kuwait, the caravans set out for Central Arabia and for Syria.

H. C. Armstrong, Lord of Arabia[44]

Kuwait was a central part of the trade in frankincense from Oman, textiles from China, and Indian spices, all destined for lucrative European markets.[7] 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.[45] The elite were long-settled, urban, Sunni families, the majority of which claim descent from the original 30 Bani Utubi families.[45] The wealthiest families were trade merchants who acquired their wealth from long-distance commerce, shipbuilding and pearling.[45] They were a cosmopolitan elite, they traveled extensively to India, Africa and Europe.[45] The elite educated their sons abroad more than other Gulf Arab elite.[45] Western visitors noted that the Kuwaiti elite used European office systems, typewriters and followed European culture with curiosity.[45] The richest families were involved in general trade.[45] The merchant families of Al-Ghanim and Al-Hamad were estimated to be worth millions before the 1940s.[45]

Downfall of economy[edit]

In the 20th century, Kuwait immensely declined in regional economic importance,[10] mainly due to many trade blockades and the world economic depression.[11] Before Mary Bruins Allison visited Kuwait in 1934, Kuwait lost its prominence in long distance trade.[10] During World War I, the British Empire imposed a trade blockade against Kuwait because Kuwait's ruler supported the Ottoman Empire.[12][13] The British economic blockade heavily damaged Kuwait's economy.[13]

The Great Depression negatively impacted Kuwait's economy starting in the late 1920s.[14] International trading was one of Kuwait's main sources of income before oil.[14] Kuwaiti merchants were mostly intermediary merchants.[14] 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.[14] Some Kuwaiti merchant families became rich due to gold smuggling to India.[46]

Kuwait's pearling industry also collapsed as a result of the worldwide economic depression.[46] 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.[46] During the economic depression, luxuries like pearls were in little demand.[46] The Japanese invention of cultured pearls also contributed to the collapse of Kuwait's pearling industry.[46]

Following the Kuwait–Najd War of 1919-1920, Ibn Saud imposed a tight trade blockade against Kuwait from the years 1923 until 1937.[11][14] The goal of the Saudi economic and military attacks on Kuwait was to annex as much of Kuwait's territory as possible.[11] At the Uqair conference in 1922, the boundaries of Kuwait and Najd were set.[11] Kuwait had no representative at the Uqair conference.[11] Ibn Saud persuaded Sir Percy Cox to give him two-thirds of Kuwait's territory.[11] More than half of Kuwait was lost due to Uqair.[11] After the Uqair conference, Kuwait was still subjected to a Saudi economic blockade and intermittent Saudi raiding.[11]

In 1937, Freya Stark wrote about the extent of poverty in Kuwait at the time:[14]

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 prominent 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.

Discovery of oil[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 use 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.

Independence and beyond[edit]

On 19 June 1961, Kuwait became independent with the end of the British protectorate; the sheikh Abdullah III Al-Salim Al-Sabah, became an emir, and the country joined the Arab League. Iraq laid claim that Kuwait was part of its territory, but formally recognized Kuwait's independence and its borders in October 1963. Under the terms of a newly drafted constitution, Kuwait held its first parliamentary elections in 1963. The exploitation of large oil fields improved Kuwait's economy. Kuwait settled its boundary disputes with Saudi Arabia and agreed on sharing equally the Saudi–Kuwaiti neutral zone's petroleum reserves. During the 1970s, the Kuwaiti government nationalized the Kuwait Oil Company, ending its partnership with British Petroleum.

In the early 1980s, Kuwait experienced a major economic crisis after the Souk Al-Manakh stock market crash and decrease in oil price.[47] This prompted the Emir Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah to recall the National Assembly in 1981. However, the crisis was short-lived as Kuwait's oil production increased steadily to fill the gap caused by decrease in Iraq's and Iran's oil production due to the Iran–Iraq War. The National Assembly was dissolved again in 1986.

During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Kuwait supported Iraq. In 1983, the Shiite Dawa Party carried out a series of bombings, in opposition to Kuwait's support of Iraq.[48] After the war ended, Kuwait declined an Iraqi request to forgive its US$65 billion debt.[49] An economic rivalry between the two countries ensued after Kuwait increased its oil production by 40 percent.[50] Tensions between the two countries increased further in July 1990, after Iraq complained to OPEC that Kuwait was stealing its oil from a field near the border by slant drilling of the Rumaila field.[50]

Oil fires in Kuwait in 1990, which were a result of the scorched earth policy of Iraqi military forces retreating from Kuwait.

On 2 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.[51] During the Iraqi occupation, about 1,000 Kuwaiti civilians were killed and more than 300,000 residents fled the country.[52]

The Emir and the government returned in March 1991 and imposed a three-month period of martial law.[53] Kuwait paid the coalition forces US$17 billion for their war efforts.[53] Under domestic and international pressure, Emir Jaber gave the green light to parliamentary elections in 1992. In 1993 the UN demarcated the new Kuwait-Iraq border, and Iraq officially recognised Kuwait's independence and the UN-demarcated borders in 1994.

The Emir once again dissolved the National Assembly in 1999; liberals predominated in the resulting parliamentary elections.[54] In March 2003 Kuwait became the springboard for the US-led invasion of Iraq. Islamist and pro-government candidates fared well in the parliamentary elections of 2003. In May 2005, parliament approved a law allowing women to vote and run for parliament for the first time. In June the first woman cabinet minister, Massouma al-Mubarak, was appointed.

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. Sheikh Nawaf Al-Sabah was named as crown prince and his nephew Nasser Al-Sabah was named as prime minister.

Parliamentary elections were held in 2006. The opposition – a loose alliance of reformists, liberals and Islamists – won nearly two-thirds of the seats despite government attempts to curb media freedoms.[55] The 2008 parliament was dissolved by the Emir due to constant clashes between the government and the elected MPs.[56] The parliament was dissolved again in 2009 due to corruption allegations. Four women MPs – Kuwait's first – won seats in the parliamentary elections of 2009.[57]

In 2011–2012 there were protests inspired by the Arab Spring. The parliament was dissolved in December 2011 due to protests against the parliament. The prime minister stepped down following protests and allegations of high-level corruption.[58] In parliamentary elections in February 2012, the opposition won a majority. In October 2012, the Emir dissolved the parliament, paving the way for snap elections. The elections of December 2012 were boycotted by the opposition protesting against proposed changes to the electoral law which would give official candidates an advantage.


Satellite image of Kuwait

Located in the north-east corner of the Arabian Peninsula, Kuwait is one of the smallest countries in the world in terms of land area. It lies between latitudes 28° and 31° N, and longitudes 46° and 49° E. The flat, sandy Arabian Desert covers most of Kuwait. The country is generally low lying, with the highest point being 306 m (1,004 ft) above sea-level.[1] It has nine islands, all of which, with the exception of Failaka Island, are uninhabited.[59] 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.[60] The land area is considered arable[1] and sparse vegetation is found along its 499 km long coastline.[1] Kuwait City is located on Kuwait Bay, a natural deep-water harbor.

Kuwait has some of the world's richest oil fields with the 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).[61] 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.[62] The oil spills during the Gulf War also drastically affected Kuwait's marine resources.[63]


The spring season in March is warm and pleasant with occasional thunderstorms. The frequent winds from the northwest are cold in winter and spring and hot in summer. Southeasterly winds, usually hot and damp, 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.[64] 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 of any Middle Eastern country.

Climate data for Kuwait City
Average high °C (°F)19.5
Average low °C (°F)8.5
Precipitation mm (inches)30.2
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.1 mm)53331000013322
Mean monthly sunshine hours198.4223.2217228272.8303306.9300.7285251.1216192.22,994.3
Source #1: World Meteorological Organization[65]
Source #2: Hong Kong Observatory[66]


The Bayan Palace serves as the seat of the Government of Kuwait

Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy and has the oldest directly elected parliament among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The head of state is the Emir or Sheikh, a hereditary office. A council of ministers, also known as cabinet ministers, aids the Prime Minister, and appoints and dismisses diplomats. The Al Sabah family has been Kuwait's monarchy since 1938,[67] before 1938 Kuwait's local merchants enjoyed a supremacy over the Al Sabah family.[67]

Legislative power is vested in the National Assembly parliament and the Emir in accordance with the Constitution. The appointment of a new Emir needs the approval of the Kuwaiti parliament (per article 3 of the Constitution), therefore the parliament has the authority to remove an Emir from his post. The parliament effectively removed Saad al-Sabah from his post in 2006 due to his illness. Kuwait's judiciary system is independent from government influence and is often viewed as the most independent judiciary system in the Arab world.[68] The judicially independent Constitutional Court and the Emir both have the authority to dissolve the National Assembly but must subsequently call a national election.

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 monarchy 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 members of the National Assembly before being implemented.[69]

There have been several conflicts between the Emir, the government and the National Assembly over various policies. The National Assembly was suspended from 1976 to 1981, from 1986 to 1991 and from May 1999 to July 1999, due to irresolvable conflicts between some members of the government and the Assembly.[70] Approximately half of those who reside in Kuwait do not hold Kuwaiti citizenship and thus cannot vote in parliamentary elections.

When voting was first introduced in Kuwait in 1985, Kuwaiti women had the right to vote.[71] Moves to change the male-dominated political structure culminated in the re-granting of full political rights to women in 2005. In May 2005, the Parliament decided by a 35–15 vote to give women the right to vote and stand as candidates in elections. The decision raised Kuwait's eligible voter population from 139,000 to about 339,000. In 2006, the number of Kuwaiti citizens was estimated to be more than 960,000. In 2005, the former Prime Minister Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah announced the appointment of the first female cabinet minister, Massouma Mubarak. She was designated Planning Minister and Minister of State for Administrative Development Affairs.[72] During the 2008 parliamentary elections, 27 of the 275 candidates were women. However, none of them won.[73] In the parliamentary elections in May 2009, four female candidates won their seats and became Kuwait's first female lawmakers.[74]

More generally, the growing assertiveness of parliament has led to frequent confrontations with the government. The Assembly was dissolved again by the Emir in May 2009, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah and the rest of the Cabinet.[75] Nationwide elections were held on 16 May 2009.[76]

In April 2010, Kuwait's government deported 17 Egyptians for trying to organize a local chapter of Mohamed ElBaradei's National Association for Change in Kuwait.[77]

After opposition candidates made major gains in the elections of February 2012, the Constitutional Court annulled the elections and later the Emir made changes to the election law, changing the number for votes given from a person from four to one. This prompted a largely opposition boycott of the new elections in December 2012.[78]

Kuwait follows the civil law system based on French and Egyptian models.[79] Kuwait's legal system is a mix of British common law, French civil law, Egyptian civil law and Islamic law.[80] Kuwaiti courts are competent to hear all disputes concerning personal status, and civil, criminal and commercial matters. For the application of personal status laws, there are three separate sections: Sunni, Shia and non-Muslim.[81]

Foreign relations[edit]

Location of diplomatic missions of Kuwait:

The State of Kuwait became the 111th member state of the United Nations on 14 May 1963. It is a long-standing member of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. It is also a key member of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, also known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), along with Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Having modeled the GCC on the European Union, member states enjoy free trade, and citizens of GCC member states can travel to other GCC countries with their civil identification, not requiring visas.

Kuwait's relationship with its neighbors has been influenced by the Arab-Iran conflict. After the Iranian revolution of 1979, Kuwait began supporting the Arab regime of Iraq's Saddam Hussein in its subsequent eight-year war with the hardline regime of Iran. Despite prior tensions, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia provided considerable financial support to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Kuwait's ties with Iraq remained severed after the 1991 Gulf War, until the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Kuwait enjoys a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia, which provided considerable support for the deposed royal family of Kuwait.

Kuwait and Iran have full diplomatic and trade relations although there was tension during the Iran-Iraq war.[82] Kuwait's ties with states that supported Saddam Hussein's invasion, such as Yemen and the Palestine Liberation Organization, remain testy, although Kuwait has always refused to establish ties with Israel.

Kuwait enjoys a strong relationship with the United States, playing host to major U.S. military bases. Following U.S. leadership in the effort to liberate Kuwait, both nations have forged close political and economic relations. Although most Arab nations expressed opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Kuwait supported it and provided its territory as a launching pad for the invasion.


The State of Kuwait spends close to US$ 5 billion for defense. Its military consists of the Kuwaiti Army, with an estimated strength of 15,000 personnel, the Kuwaiti Navy, with 2,000 naval personnel and 400 coast guards, and the Kuwaiti Air Force, with an estimated strength of 2,500 personnel. The Kuwaiti National Guard is the main internal security force. Owing to its demographics and small population, Kuwait has not been able to build a sizeably large military and therefore collaborates extensively with foreign nations to preserve its security. After liberation from Iraq, Kuwait signed long-term defense cooperation agreements with the United States, Britain and France, and purchased military equipment from Egypt, Russia and the People's Republic of China as well.


Kuwait City as seen from Shuwaikh

Kuwait is divided into 6 governorates (muhafazah). The governorates are further subdivided into districts.

of 2005
Kuwait, administrative divisions - Nmbrs - colored.svg
1Al JahraaAl Jahra12 130272 373
2Al Asimah (Al Kuwayt)bAl Kuwait200261 013
3Al FarwaniyahAl Farwaniyah190622 123
4HawalliHawalli District84487 514
5Mubarak Al-KabeerMubarak Al-Kabeer94176 519
6Al AhmadiAl Ahmadi5 120393 861
TOTAL17 8182 213 403


Al Hamra Tower is the tallest sculpted tower in the world.

Kuwait has a GDP (PPP) of US$167.9 billion[1] and a per capita income of US$81,800,[1] making it the 5th richest country in the world, per capita.[1] In 2011, estimated exports stood at US$94.47 billion and imports were around US$22.41 billion.[1] Petroleum, petrochemical products, fertilizers and financial services are major export commodities. Kuwait imports a wide range of products ranging from food products and textiles to machinery. Kuwait's most important trading partners are Japan, United States, India, South Korea, Singapore, China, the European Union, and Saudi Arabia.[1] Japan is the largest customer of Kuwaiti oil followed by India, Singapore and South Korea.[83] Kuwait city is ranked as one among the 25 largest GDP cities in the world along with New York, Tokyo, Moscow, Chennai and other financial hubs including Singapore and Dubai.[84]

According to the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom, Kuwait has the second-most free economy in the Middle East.[85] In March 2007, Kuwait's foreign exchange reserves stood at US$213 billion.[86] The Kuwait Stock Exchange, which has about 200 firms listed, is the second-largest stock exchange in the Arab world with a total market capitalization of US$235 billion.[87] In 2007, the Kuwaiti government posted a budget surplus of US$43 billion.[88]

Non-petroleum industries include shipping, construction, cement, water desalination, construction materials and financial services.[1] Kuwait has a well developed banking system. The National Bank of Kuwait is the largest bank in the country and one of the largest in the Arab world.[89] Other prominent financial institutions based in Kuwait include the Gulf Bank of Kuwait and Burgan Bank, which is named after the largest oilfield in the country.

The government is keen on decreasing Kuwait's dependence on oil to fuel its economy by transforming it into a regional trading and tourism hub. The planned US$77 billion Madinat al-Hareer (City of Silk) is the largest real estate development project in the Middle East.[86] The Central Bank issues Kuwait's currency, the Kuwaiti dinar. As of May 2012, the dinar is the highest-valued currency unit in the world.[90]

Petroleum industry[edit]

An oil refinery in Mina-Al-Ahmadi, Kuwait

Kuwait has proven crude oil reserves of 104 billion barrels (15 km³),[1] estimated to be 10% of the world's reserves. According to the Kuwaiti constitution, all natural resources in the country and associated revenues are government property.[91] Being a tax-free country, Kuwait's oil industry accounts for 75% of government revenue. Petroleum and petrochemicals accounts for 43% of GDP and 90% of export revenues.[92] Increase in oil prices since 2003 resulted in a surge in Kuwait's economy.[93]

Kuwait currently pumps 2.9 million bpd and its full production capacity is a little over 3 million bpd, including oil production in the neutral region that it shares with Saudi Arabia.[94] Kuwait oil production is expected to increase to 4 million bpd by 2020.[95] To realize this production target, Kuwait Petroleum Corporation plans to spend US$51 billion between 2007 to 2012 to upgrade and expand the country's existing refineries.[96] However, the country's economy was badly affected by the global financial crisis of 2008.[97] In 2009, the Central Bank of Kuwait devised a US$5.15 billion stimulus package to help boost the economy.[98]


A highway in Kuwait City.

Kuwait has an extensive, modern and well-maintained network of highways. Roadways extended 5,749 km, of which 4,887 km is paved.[1] In 2000, there were some 552,400 passenger cars, and 167,800 commercial taxis, trucks, and buses in use. On major highways the maximum speed is 120 km/h. Since there is no railway system in the country, most of the people travel by automobiles.[99] The government plans to construct US$11 billion rail network which will include the Kuwait Metropolitan Rapid Transit System Project for its capital.[100][101] Bus services are provided by private company Citybus and state-owned Kuwait Public Transportation Corporation.[102][103]

Kuwait has speed cameras in all highways and main roads and traffic lights, which captures the cars that speed or cross a red light, the Kuwaiti government spent over US$450 million on these speed cameras in cooperation with the traffic police. There is only one civil airport in Kuwait.[104] Kuwait International Airport serves as the principal hub for international air travel. State-owned Kuwait Airways is the largest airline in the country. In 2001, the airline carried 2,084,600 passengers on domestic and international flights.[99] In 2004, the first private airline of Kuwait, Jazeera Airways, was launched.[105] Another private airline, Wataniya Airways of Kuwait was founded in 2005 and ceased operations in March 2011.[106]

Kuwait has one of the largest shipping industries in the Persian Gulf region. The Kuwait Ports Public Authority manages and operates ports across Kuwait.[107] The country’s principal commercial seaports are Shuwaikh and Shuaiba which handled combined cargo of 753,334 TEU in 2006.[108] Mina Al-Ahmadi, the largest port in the country, handles most of Kuwait's oil exports.[109] Construction of another major port located in Bubiyan island started in 2005. The port is expected to handle 1.3 million TEU when operation starts in 2008.[110]


Shoppers at "The Avenues", a local mall

As of 2013, Kuwait's population was estimated by the CIA to be 2.7 million people, which included 1.3 million non-nationals.[1] According to the CIA, 55% of Kuwait's population are Kuwaiti citizens.[1] Kuwaiti's own government population estimates differ greatly, in January 2014 there were 3.9 million people nationwide, of which 1.2 million are Kuwaitis, 1.4 million Asian expatriates, 1.1 million foreign Arabs and 76,698 Africans.[6] The government rarely grants citizenship to foreigners.[111] The net migration rate of the country stood at 16.01.[112]

Ethnic groups[edit]

Kuwaiti people are very ethnically diverse.[113] 80% of the total population in Kuwait is Arab (including Arab foreigners), 9% South and East Asian expatriates, and 4% are Iranian expatriates.[1] In 2009, 580,000 Indian nationals were residing in Kuwait, making them the single largest expatriate community in 2009.[114][115] In 2003, there were also an estimated 250,000 Pakistanis, 260,000 Egyptians, 100,000 Syrians and 80,000 Iranians in Kuwait.[116] After the Gulf War in 1991, Kuwaiti authorities forcibly pressured nearly 200,000 Palestinians to leave Kuwait.[117][118] In 2012, there were 80,000 Palestinians residing in Kuwait.[119]


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.[120]

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.[121] In 2002, the US Department of State reported that Shia Kuwaitis formed 30%-40% of Kuwait's citizen population,[122] noting there were 525,000 Sunni Kuwaiti citizens and 855,000 Kuwaiti citizens in total (61% Sunnis, 39% Shias).[122] In 2004, there were 600,000 Sunni Kuwaitis citizens, 300,000-350,000 Shia Kuwaiti citizens and 913,000 Kuwaiti citizens in total.[123]

Kuwait has a native Christian community, in 1999 there were 400 Christian Kuwaiti citizens.[124] There were 256 Christian Kuwaiti citizens living in Kuwait in June 2013.[125] There is also a small number of Bahá'í Kuwaiti citizens,[126] it is likely that 18 Kuwaiti citizens follow the Bahá'í religion.[125][note 1] There are 400 Bahá'ís in total in Kuwait.[126]

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).[126]

Christians who belong to groups recognised by the government are allowed to build official places of worship, although Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists are not. The government imposes quotas on the number of clergy and staff recognised religious groups can bring into the country. Members of unrecognised congregations reported that they were able to worship without government interference provided they did not disturb their neighbors or violate laws regarding assembly and proselytizing.[126]


Kuwait's official language is Modern Standard Arabic. Kuwaiti Arabic is Kuwait's colloquial dialect. Kuwaiti Arabic is a mixture of southern Mesopotamian dialect and Peninsular Arabic,[127] mixed with some Indian and English words. Kuwaiti Sign Language is used by the deaf community. English is widely understood and often used as a business language.


MarineTime Museum in Kuwait City.
Kuwait Towers, one of the country's most famous landmarks.

The influence of Islamic and Arab Culture on its architecture, music, attire, cuisine and lifestyle is prominent as well.[128] The most distinctive characteristic of local Kuwaiti culture are diwaniya, which involve large reception rooms used for male social gatherings attended mostly by family members and close friends.[129]

Seafood has been the mainstay of the Kuwaiti diet for centuries.[130] The Arabs in the Persian Gulf region played a crucial role in the spice trade between India and Europe, and spices have remained an important ingredient of Kuwaiti cuisine. Traditional Kuwaiti cuisine includes machboos diyay, machboos laham, and maraq diyay laham, which borrow heavily from South Asian cuisine and Arab cuisine. Imawash is another popular dish. As in other Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Kuwait takes part in the tradition of Qarqe'an during the month of Ramadan. According to Forbes magazine, 74.2% of Kuwait's total population have an unhealthy weight.[131]

Before the discovery of oil, pearling formed a crucial part of Kuwait's economy. Pearl fishery, known as ghaus, suffered decline after the advent of Japanese pearl farming.[132] However, Kuwait's pearl industry laid the foundation of its rich maritime history. Dhows, large wooden ships made from teak wood imported from India,[132] became an indistinct part of Kuwait's maritime fleet and dhow building is still practiced in this Persian Gulf state.[133]

Kuwait's architecture is largely inspired by Islamic architecture. The most prominent landmark in country, the Kuwait Towers, were designed by Swedish architect Sune Lindström and are a unique blend of traditional minaret and modern architectural designs. The National Assembly of Kuwait, another famous landmark building, was designed by the famous Danish architect Jørn Utzon and completed in 1982.

Sawt is the most prominent style of Kuwaiti music and is performed by oud (plucked lute) and mirwas (a drum), with a violin later supplementing the arrangement. The Bedouins are known for an instrument called the rubabah, while the use of oud, tanbarah (string instrument) and habban (bagpipe) are also widespread.[134]


The traditional attire for men is the dishdasha, an ankle-length garment woven from wool or cotton. This attire is particularly well-suited for Kuwait's hot and dry climate. The traditional male headdress involves the ghutrah headscarf and the agal circlet, often with a gahfiah skullcap underneath to help keep the headscarf in place. The ghutrah is a square scarf made from cotton; it may be worn differently according to the situation, but most commonly it is folded into a triangle and placed centrally on the head so that the ends hang down equally over the shoulders. The agal is a double circlet of black cord, worn on the ghutrah to hold it in place.[135]

Women sometimes wear the aba, a black cloak covering most parts of the body, over a dress; the traditional floor-length daraa’ or the more festive thobe. A hejab headscarf is worn with this, with some adding a bushiya face veil or instead wearing the face-veil portion of the burqa.[135]

Western style clothing is very popular among the youth of Kuwait.[citation needed]


Kuwait has one of the most vocal and transparent media in the Middle East.[16]

In 2014, Kuwait was ranked 91st of 180 by Reporters Without Borders in the freedom of press index, highest in the Arab League and in the Middle East and North Africa region (above Israel at 96).[136] Though the government funds several leading newspapers and satellite channels,[137] Kuwaiti journalists enjoy greater freedom than their regional counterparts. The state-owned Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) is the largest media house in the country. The Ministry of Information regulates media and communication industry in Kuwait.[138] In 2013, Kuwait was named the 77th freest country by Reporters Without Borders in the Press Freedom Index list out of 179 countries, making Kuwait the freest in freedom of press in the Middle East region.[139]

In Kuwait TV broadcasting was launched in 1957.[140] In 1998, there were 15 media stations, which are 6 am and 11 FM radio stations and 13 television stations. In 2000, there were 624 radios and 486 television sets for every 1,000 people. In 2011, there were 514,700 land telephone line and 4.935 million mobile telephone subscribers. In 2009, there were 1.1 million Internet subscribers served by three service providers.[141]

Kuwait has ten satellite television channels of which four are controlled by the Ministry of Information. State-owned Kuwait Television (KTV) offered first colored broadcast in 1974 and operates five television channels.[142] Government-funded Radio Kuwait also offers daily informative programming in four foreign languages including Arabic, Urdu, Tagalog and English on the AM and SW.

In 2009, Kuwait had seventeen newspaper companies in circulation. Kuwait is represented by three English dailies: Kuwait Times, Arab Times and Al-Watan Daily. There are 16 Arabic daily newspapers besides the English newspapers. A press law forbids insulting references to God and Islamic prophet Muhammad. Another law which made leading newspaper publishers eligible for hefty fines for criticizing the ruling family was lifted in 1992. Leading newspapers continue to impose self-restraint while remaining uncritical of the emir.[143] However, no such restraint is observed while criticizing the government.[142]


Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha are two of the major festivals in Kuwait. Each year, the people of Kuwait celebrate 25 and 26 February, as the national and liberation day, respectively. On 10 November 2012, Kuwait marked the golden jubilee of its constitution with a spectacular KD 4.06-million ($15-million) fireworks display, featuring 77,282 fireworks, which earned the state a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.[144][145]


The adult literacy rate in 2008 was 93.9%.[146] Kuwait is directing its attention towards Inclusive Education, which provides opportunity to all children, irrespective of their social class, including children with special needs. Kuwait education system is marked by several achievements in recent years. As of 2005/06 Kuwait allocates 13% of all public expenditure to education, which is comparable to the allocation of public funds to education in many OECD countries but lower than other Arab countries. For the same years the public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP was 3.9% in 2005/12 which is well below the percentage of GDP spent by OECD countries on education.

Kuwait is facing challenges in improving the quality of education at all levels and to build capacities of students' from a young age. The Ministry of Education is also making efforts to incorporate women into the educated workforce through various programs, for instance the 1989 initiative to establish daytime literacy clinics for women. The Kuwaiti government also offers full scholarships to students accepted in universities in United States, United Kingdom and other foreign institutes. The scholarships cover all aspects of life, including textbooks, health insurance, accommodation and pocket money. The Kuwait Scholarship, offering full financial and moral support to its students, has thus made Kuwait a popular destination for secondary education, as the scholarship is not exclusive to Kuwaiti citizens. The criteria of acceptance into the scholarship is the student's secondary school grade point average.

According to the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities, the top-ranking universities in the country are Kuwait University (1871th worldwide), the College of Technological Studies (3769th) and Arab Open University Kuwait (6725th).[147]

See also[edit]


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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.

External links[edit]