The State of Kuwait (Arabic: الكويت ) is a small constitutional monarchy on the coast of the Persian Gulf, enclosed by Saudi Arabia to the south and Iraq to the north. The name is a diminutive of an Arabic word meaning "fortress built near water."
Map of Kuwait
Kuwait was a part of the various Arabian empires for thousands of years. Modern Kuwait was gradually formed during the course of the sixteenth century (AD). It was un-officially established in the eighteenth century (AD), after being recognized by some European navigators. The country was formed when several clans from different Middle Eastern tribes settled near the area now known as the "Kuwait Bay". Tribes came mainly from Central Arabia (specifically the Al-Najd province), Northern Arabia and Persia. Today, Central Arabia mainly constitutes of Saudi Arabia, as Northern Arabia mainly constitutes of Syria and Iraq. Persia is now known as the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, some clans also came from other parts of the world including Syria, Lebanon and Egypt (just to name a few).
The current rulers of the country (the Al-Sabah family) are descended from Sabah I, who was chosen by the community, which was composed mainly of traders. The duties of the rulers include administering the affairs of the State, including foreign affairs and taxation/duties. However, the ruler/Emir has little political role in modern governments due to the influence of State Prime ministers. The method of appointing a ruler in Kuwait was unlike most other Arab emirates of the Persian Gulf, where the rulers seized and maintained their authority by force.
The Al-Sabah family was chosen by the people of Kuwait. This process is known as "mubaya'a", which means "to give one's self" in Arabic. Before the Kuwaiti constitution was drafted, the Al-Sabah family ruled Kuwait in practise (de facto). Anyone else had the ability to be appointed as ruler of Kuwait, as long as the majority of citizens wanted him/her.
The area that is now Kuwait was occupied by tribes and used for spice trading from India. By the eighteenth century, most of the local people made a living selling pearls. But as pearl diving developed in Japan during the 1930s, the Kuwaiti market diminished.
In the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, the British concurred with the Ottoman Empire in defining Kuwait as an "autonomous caza" of the Ottoman Empire and that the Shaikhs of Kuwait were not independent leaders, but rather qaimmaqams (provincial sub-governors) of the Ottoman government. After World War I, the Ottoman Empire was financially crippled and the invading British forces invalidated the Anglo-Ottoman Convention, declaring Kuwait to be an "independent sheikhdom under British protectorate."
Oil later transformed Kuwait into one of the richest countries in the Arab peninsula and in 1953 the country became the largest exporter of oil in the Persian Gulf. This massive growth attracted many immigrant labourers and foreign workers. Having amassed great wealth, Kuwait was the first of the Persian Gulf Arab states to declare independence, on June 19, 1961. This declaration was challenged by Iraq which claimed that Kuwait was an integral part of Iraqi territory. It threatened to invade Kuwait but was deterred by the British, who flew in troops.
An important period in Kuwait's political, social and economic development was the Souk Al-Manakh stock market crash of 1982. This was a major crash that had widespread consequences and has endured in the public memory even decades later.
USAF aircraft (F-16, F-15C and F-15E) fly over Kuwaiti oil fires, set by the retreating Iraqi army during Operation Desert Storm in 1991
After being allied with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War until its end in 1988 (Kuwait paid Iraq to protect it from what it perceived as a threat posed by Iran), Kuwait was invaded and annexed by Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) on August 2, 1990. Hussein's primary justifications included a charge that Kuwaiti territory was in fact an Iraqi province, and that annexation was retaliation for the "economic warfare" that Kuwait (with the help of the United States of America) had waged through slant drilling into oil supplies on Iraqi territories. Hussein deposed the monarchy after the annexation and installed a new Kuwaiti governor.
Authorized by the UN Security Council, an American-led coalition of thirty-four nations fought the Persian Gulf War to remove Saddam's control from Kuwait. After six weeks of fierce fighting in early 1991, the coalition forced Iraq to withdraw its troops from Kuwait on February 26, 1991. During their retreat, the Iraqi armed forces exacted a scorched earth policy by setting fire to Kuwaiti oil wells. The fires took more than nine months to extinguish fully and the cost of repairs to the oil infrastructure exceeded $5.12 billion. Certain buildings and infrastructural facilities (including Kuwait International Airport) were also severely damaged during the war. Kuwait remains under the governance of the Emir, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jabir Al-Sabah (since 29 January 2006) as an independent state and is of strategic importance to the United States.
Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy and has the oldest directly elected parliament of the Persian Gulf Arab countries. Chief of state is the Amir (Amir), a hereditary title. The Amir also known as Sheikh appoints the prime minister, who until recently was also the crown prince. A council of ministers aids the prime minister in his task as head of government which must contain at least one of elected members of the parliament. The number of ministers must not exceed ⅓ of the elected members of the parliament.
The parliament has the power to dismiss the prime minister or anyone of his cabinet through a series of constitutional procedures. According to the constitution, nomination of a new crown prince or head of state (Emir) by the ruling family has to be confirmed by the National Assembly. If he does not win the votes of an absolute majority of the assembly, the Emir (or the royal family members) must submit the names of three candidates to the National Assembly, and the Assembly must select one of these to be the new crown prince. The parliament known as the Majlis Al-Umma (National Assembly), consists of elected fifty members, who are chosen in elections held every four years. Government ministers, according to the Constitution of the State, are given automatic membership in the parliament, and can number up to fifteen.
Prior to 2005, only 15% of the Kuwaiti citizen population was allowed to vote, with all women, "recently naturalized" citizens (i.e. those of less than thirty years' citizenship), and members of the armed forces excluded. On May 16, 2005, Parliament permitted women's suffrage by a 35-23 vote, subject to Islamic law and effective for the 2006 Parliamentary Election. The decision could raise Kuwait's voter rolls from 139,000 to as many as 339,000 if all eligible women register; the total number of Kuwaitis is estimated at more than 960,000. Recently, the former Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah announced the appointment of Dr Massouma Mubarak as planning minister and minister of state for administrative development affairs. The appointment of a woman as a cabinet minister was a major breakthrough in Kuwaiti political system and it makes Kuwait the third country in the conservative Persian Gulf Arab monarchies to have a woman cabinet minister. On the other hand, the government has managed to pass laws in the years 2005-2006 that restrict the freedom of speech. Laws such as the new media law, has become a huge obstacle for writers and citizens who might consider criticizing the government's performance. Lately there have been plenty of news papers writers sent to court for stating their opinions regarding the government or specific ministries performance. A court order to shut down a leading Kuwaiti news paper AlWatan for three days (first in Kuwait's history). Moreover a magazine editor was sent to jail for criticizing the government action towards a specific incident, which is also one of the first in Kuwait's history.
South-eastern Kuwait from space. The majority of Kuwait's population lives in coastal areas
Geography and climate
Kuwait consists mostly of desert and little difference in altitude. It has nine islands, the largest one being Bubiyan, which is linked to the mainland by a concrete bridge. (Following Kuwait's liberation in 1991, the island was converted to a military base from which civilians are barred.)
The islands are:
Kuwait enjoys a variable cold climate. Summers (April to October) are extremely hot and dry with temperatures exceeding 51°C (124°F) in Kuwait City. Winters (November to February) are cool with limited precipitation and the temperature level dropping below 21°C (70°F). The spring season is cool and pleasant.
Kuwait is divided into six governorates (muhafazat, sing. muhafadhah):
The major cities are the capital Kuwait City and Jahrah (a thirty-minute drive northwest of Kuwait City). The main residential and business areas are Salmiya and Hawalli. The main industrial area is Shuwaikh within the Al Asimah Governorate.
One Dinar note
Kuwait, for the size of the country, is a very rich and a relatively open economy with proven crude oil reserves of 96 billion barrels (15 km³), estimated to be 10% of the world's reserves. Petroleum accounts for nearly half of GDP, 95% of export revenues, and 80% of government income. Kuwait's climate limits agricultural development. Consequently, with the exception of fish, it depends almost wholly on food imports. About 75% of potable water must be distilled or imported. Higher oil prices put the FY99/00 budget into a €1.7 billion ($2 billion) surplus. The FY00/01 budget covers only nine months because of a change in the fiscal year. The budget for FY01/02 envisioned higher expenditures for salaries, construction, and other general categories. Kuwait continues its discussions with foreign oil companies to develop fields in the northern part of the country. By 1990, the country earned more from foreign investment than from oil exports. The expenses of the Iraqi invasion and postwar reconstruction placed a heavy economic burden on the country, but by the mid-1990s Kuwait had resumed its pre-invasion prosperity. Gross domestic product (GDP) for 2005 was $53.31 billion, giving Kuwait a per-capita GDP of $22,800. The labour force totals 2,335,648 people, with only about two fifths of this number equalling the citizens that are of Kuwaiti Nationality.The Central Bank of Kuwait in the capital city issues Kuwait’s currency, the Kuwaiti dinar. The dinar is currently valued at 0.351676 KWD per 1EUR and at 0.292010 KWD per 1USD.
Since the government owns the oil industry, it controls most of the country's economy; in all, about 75 percent of the GDP. Kuwait’s oil exports vary depending on internal needs – almost all of Kuwait’s energy is derived from oil – and on international demand and prices and production quotas fixed by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which Kuwait is a member. OPEC’s quotas, however, are difficult to enforce, and Kuwait and other countries have been accused of violating them. In 2002 oil production was 692 million barrels.
Kuwait's chief oil companies are:
Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) - International marketing and mother company.
Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) - Crude oil exploration and development company.
Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC) - Runs oil refineries across Kuwait.
Petrochemicals Industries Company (PIC) - Petrochemical and fertilizer manufacturer.
Kuwait Petroleum International (KPI, also known as "Q8") - Runs refining and marketing business overseas.
Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company (KUFPEC) - International oil exploration company.
EQUATE PETROCHEMICAL COMPANY (EQUATE) - A petrochemical company formed by PIC and Dow Chemical.
Petroleum Training Centre (PTC) _ Responsible for all training and career development within the KPC companies.
Kuwait Oil Tanker Company (KOTC) - Crude oil shipping
Kuwait Aviation Fuelling Company (KAFCO) - Aircraft fuel
Kuwait Gulf Oil Company (KGOC) - Oil and gas exploration and production in the Saudi-Kuwaiti neutral zone; joint venture with Saudi Arabia.
Oil Sector Services Company (OSSC) - Handles all construction projects, maintenance, security, fire-fighting, and medical services to all oil sector employees and their families.
Oil Development Company (ODC)
As of the end of 2005, Kuwait had a total population of 2.992 million people which included approximately 2 million non-nationals. Kuwaiti citizens are therefore a minority of those who reside in Kuwait. The government only rarely grants citizenship to non-citizens (who are generally referred to as expatriates). About 57% of the Kuwaiti population is Arab; Arab expatriates include a large group of stateless Arabs, locally known as Bidoon (an Arabic word meaning "without" and distinct from "Bedouin"), along with Egyptians, Lebanese and other Arabs.
Other large groups of expatriates include Assyrians, Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Filipinos. In the mid-1980s, there were approximately 12,000 ethnic Armenians in Kuwait. A mass exodus during the Gulf War shrank the Armenian population, which today consists of roughly 5,000 ethnic Armenians. In 2003, more than 400,000 Indian nationals lived in Kuwait, making them the largest expatriate community there. Kuwait formerly had a large Palestinian population, though most of them were forced out of the country after PLO leader Yassir Arafat's support for Iraq during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.
The official language is Arabic, although English is widely spoken and understood. Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi Bengali, Malayalam and other South Asian languages are largely spoken by expatriates from the Indian subcontinent. About 85% of Kuwait's population are Muslims 70% Sunni and 30% Shia). The remaining population is primarily comprised of Christians and Hindus from the expatriates.
The skyline of Kuwait City. At 372 m (1,220 ft), the Liberation Tower (seen in background) is the world's thirteenth-tallest free-standing structure
Kuwait's infrastructure was severely damaged during the First Gulf War. Hundreds of oil wells were set on fire and the country's oil production had come to standstill. Much has changed since the end of the Gulf War. The Kuwaiti government has spent billions of dollars to construct an elaborate roadway system and in 2003, the telecommunication industry achieved an incredible growth rate. Kuwait City boasts more than a dozen five-star hotels and resorts and several skyscrapers dominate the city's skyline. Kuwait Infrastructure Maintenance Management System overlooks the oil-rich country's infrastructure. Kuwait's energy sector is the main source for 47% of the country's annual income.
Kuwait has also planned one of the biggest sea front projects in the world, Madinat al-Hareer. If completed, this project would include the world's tallest tower, and numerous housing, health, education, environmental, business, and tourism centres.
Kuwait’s transportation system is modern and efficient, with a road system that is well developed by regional standards. Roads total 4,450 kilometers (2,765 mi), of which 81% are paved and 350 kilometers (217 mi) are freeways. The network includes over 250 bridges. Most people travel by automobile.
There is no railway system in Kuwait, however the government announced plans to construct an underground metro in an effort to ease traffic congestion. An international airport is located in the southern outskirts of the Kuwait city metropolitan area and Kuwait Airways is the national airline owned by the government. In 2004 Kuwait allowed the first privately owned airline, (Jazeera Airways), to base itself in and operate out of the country. The country has three modern seaports, one of which specializes in oil exports.
Oil revenues have allowed Kuwait to build an extensive educational system, yielding a literacy rate of 90 percent. Public schooling is free and compulsory from the age of 6 to 13, and several private schools also teach this age group. The English School is Kuwait's longest established private school. It was founded in 1953 and is the only not-for-profit school in the country. Control of the school lies with a Board of Governors rather than an owner. It was originally established by a group of parents and has expanded over the years in line with the increasing population and the decline in the trend of sending children to boarding school in their home countries. Initially the upper age limit was eight, but now the school covers ages 2 to 13.
The majority of expatriate children between these ages in Kuwait attend the school. It was one of the first day-schools to offer a western style curriculum. Within a few more years, many other American/English schools had started appearing and these schools and Kuwait's public schools students compete with each other in yielding high grades in order for the students to gain scholarships from the government to study in prestigious Universities around the world. Kuwait University is Kuwait's only public university, but has a prestigious reputation in the Middle East. The medical school, in particular, provides up-to-date training for students. Both the extensive library system at Kuwait University and the collection at Kuwait National Museum (1957) were heavily damaged and looted during the Iraqi occupation in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. There are now more universities in Kuwait and they are AUK (American University of Kuwait), GUST (Gulf University for Science and Technology), ACK (Australian College of Kuwait), AOU ( Arab Open University). The Gulf University for Science and Technology is the first private university established in Kuwait.
Kuwait has ten TV channels (four controlled by the Ministry of Information); two modern English FM stations (mostly targeting Westerners residing in Kuwait, one playing current pop music while the other plays jazz and other light music); a few Arabic radio stations; five daily newspapers published in Arabic; and three daily newspapers published in English (including the Arab Times, Kuwait Times and The Daily Star). The newspapers exercise self-censorship. Although no newspaper is permitted to criticize the executive authority, the criticism of other members of the ruling family is permitted. All newspapers in Kuwait were established with a "princely decree". For the past thirty years there have been demands to allow the establishment of other newspapers, but with no response from government.
There is also one private radio station, Marina FM, named after the shopping complex "Marina Mall".
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