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State of Kuwait

Dawlat al-Kuwayt

CAPITAL: Kuwait (Al-Kuwayt)

FLAG: The flag, adopted in 1961, is a rectangle divided equally into green, white, and red horizontal stripes, with a black trapezoid whose longer base is against the staff and equal to the breadth of the flag, and whose shorter base is equal to the breadth of the white stripe.

ANTHEM: National Anthem, melody only; no words.

MONETARY UNIT: The Kuwaiti dinar (kd) has 1,000 fils. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 fils, and notes of 250 and 500 fils and of 1, 5, 10, and 20 Kuwaiti dinars. kd1 = $3.44828 (or $1 = kd0.29) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but imperial weights and measures also are in use, and some US measures are recognized.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Emir's Accession Day, 25 February. Movable religious holidays include Muslim New Year (1st of Muharram); Laylat al-Miraj; Milad an-Nabi; 'Id al-Fitr; and 'Id al-'Adha'.

TIME: 3 pm = noon GMT.


Kuwait is situated at the western head of the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf. Its area is estimated at 17,820 sq km (6,880 sq mi). Comparatively, the area occupied by Kuwait is slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey. Kuwait extends 205 km (127 mi) senw and 176 km (109 mi) nesw. Islands that form part of Kuwait include Faylakah (an archaeological site that is the only inhabited island), Bubiyan, Maskan, 'Auha, Al-Warbah, Al-Kubr, Umm al-Maradim, Umm al-Nami, and Qaruh. Bounded on the e by the Persian Gulf, on the s and w by Saudi Arabia, and on the nw and n by Iraq, Kuwait has a total land boundary length of 462 km (287 mi) and a coastline of 499 km (310 mi).

Kuwait's boundary with Iraq remains unsettled. Following Kuwait's declaration of independence in June 1961, the emir requested assistance from the United Kingdom to ward off an Iraqi invasion; the British forces were later replaced by troops from Arab League states. The United Nations upheld Kuwait's sovereignty, and in October 1963, Iraq formally recognized Kuwait's independence. In March 1973, there were armed clashes on the IraqKuwait border, but a settlement was announced in June 1975; negotiations to demarcate the border have continued intermittently. Again in August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, asserting their right to reclaim it as their territory. US-led international forces responded with a massive air attack in January 1991, and Iraq was defeated. Some Iraqi officials continued to assert their claim to Kuwait, and relations between the two countries remained tense. On 27 May 1993, the UN Security Council reaffirmed the established border between the two nations. In 1994, Iraq formally accepted the UN-demarcated border but continues to periodically challenge the rhetoric of the agreement.

Kuwait's capital, Kuwait City, is located on the Persian Gulf coast.


Kuwait consists almost entirely of flat rolling desert and mud flats. There is a 1,137-m (450-ft) ridge at Mina' al-Ahmadi and a 290-m (951-ft) prominence in the southwest corner. There are no permanent rivers or lakes, but there are some desert wadis that collect water during the rains.


During the summer, which lasts roughly from May to October, the air generally is dry, but southeasterly winds often raise day-time humidity to 90% for a few weeks in August or September. Between November and April, the climate is pleasant, with cool nights and warm sunny days. In December and January, night temperatures occasionally touch the freezing point. Summer temperatures range from 29°c (84°f) in the morning to more than 49°c (120°f) in the shade at noon. Frost, almost unknown on the coast, is common in the interior. Annual rainfall, which averages less than 25 cm (10 in), comes in the form of showers or storms between October and April. Cloudbursts have amounted to as much as 6.4 cm (2.5 in) of rain in one day, and can heavily damage roads and houses. The prevailing northwest wind (shamal) is a cooling breeze in summer.


Plants and animals are those common to the arid parts of Arabia. There is little vegetation except camel thorn in the desert and some shrubs along the coastal strip. Between October and March, however, when sufficient rain falls at intervals, the desert is transformed: Grass and foliage are plentiful, flowers and plants appear in great variety, and in the spring truffles and mushrooms can be found.

The fox and jackal have decreased in numbers; other mammals found in Kuwait include gerbils, jerboas, and desert hares. Reptile species include various lizards, geckos, and snakes. Fish are plentiful. Among the species of migratory birds are swallows, wagtails, chiffchaff, skylarks, wrens, eagles, cormorants, hoopoes, and terns.

As of 2002, there were at least 21 species of mammals, 35 species of birds, and over 200 species of plants throughout the country.


The Persian Gulf War of 1991 and its aftermath caused severe environmental problems for Kuwait, releasing large quantities of oil into the environment and threatening the water supply. Kuwait has no renewable water resources and must rely on wells and desalination of sea water. The nation has some of the largest and most advanced desalination plants in the world, which provide much of its water.

In 2003, only about 1.5% of the total land area was protected by the state. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species include 1 type of mammal, 12 species of birds, 1 type of reptile, and 6 species of fish. the slender-billed curlew and hawksbill turtle are on the endangered list. the Saudi gazelle has become extinct in the wild.


The population of Kuwait in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 2,589,000, which placed it at number 136 in population among the 193 nations of the world. This number includes over one million nonnationals who live and work in the country. In 2005, approximately 2% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 26% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 150 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 1.7%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 4,610,000. The population density was 145 per sq km (376 per sq mi). the vast majority of the population resides along the coast.

The UN estimated that 96% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005 and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.67%. The capital city, Kuwait (Al-Kuwayt), had a population of 1,222,000 in that year.


With the discovery of oil and the consequent rise in living standards, Kuwait acquired a large immigrant population, attracted by jobs, free education for their children, and free medical care. The number of foreign residents more than doubled during the 1970s, and in 1994 they accounted for an estimated 56.4% of the population. After the Persian Gulf war, Kuwait deported tens of thousands of foreign workers from countries whose leaders had backed Iraq in the conflict. Of the estimated 400,000 Palestinians living in Kuwait before the 199091 Gulf War, reportedly only about one-sixth were allowed to remain. Only about 120,000 of the 220,000 prewar Bedouins (mostly nomads from Syria, Jordan, and Iraq) were allowed to stay. These stateless Arabs had remained in Kuwait under Iraqi occupation and were suspected of collaboration. Most other foreign workers were able to return to their home countries. By 1996, however, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, and others had filled the void that the previous foreign workers had left behind. Kuwait carried out amnesty plans for illegal foreigners in 1988, 1996, and 2002.

In 2000, there were 1,108,000 migrants living in Kuwait. This accounted for 57.9% of the population. The number of refugees that year was 2,800. In 2004, there were 1,519 refugees and 157 asylum seekers. The number of persons of concern to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was 102,676, made up of 80,000 stateless Bedouins, 13,000 Iraqis, 6,000 Palestinians, and 2,000 Somalis. In 2005, the net migration rate was an estimated 14.96 migrants per 1,000 population. the government views the immigration level as too high.


Ethnic Kuwaitis are mostly descendants of the tribes of Najd (central Arabia) but some descend from Iraqi Arabs. Still others are of Iranian origin. The number of non-Kuwaitis are divided roughly in half between Arabs and non-Arabs such as Iranians, Indians, Pakistanis, and Filipinos. According to the latest estimates, about 45% of the population are Kuwaiti, 35% are other Arab, 9% South Asian, 4% Iranian, and 7% other. It has also been estimated that over 100,000 people are considered to be bidoon residents, that is Arabs who have long-standing residency in the nation but no documented proof of nationality.


Arabic is the official language. The Arabic spoken in Kuwait is closer to classical Arabic than to the colloquial Arabic spoken in many other parts of the Middle East. English is generally used by businesspeople, employees of oil companies, foreign residents, and students, and it is the second language taught in the schools.


Islam is the state religion. According 2004 figures, Muslims represented about 64% of the total population, with a majority believed to be Sunni Muslim. About 3035% of Muslim citizens were of the Shia branch. The Christian population includes between 250,000 and 500,000 people. Catholic groups include Roman Catholic, Maronite, Coptic, Armenian, Greek, Malabar, and Malankara congregations. Orthodox groups include the Greek, Armenian, Coptic, and the Indian Orthodox Syrian Church. the National Evangelical Church (Protestant) has about 20,000 members. Other Protestant groups include the Anglicans, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, and Marthoma. Other religious groups include Hindus, Baha'is, Sikhs, and Buddhists.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, but this right is limited in some cases by the government, in that religious practices are not permitted to conflict with public policy or morals. Blasphemy, apostasy (of Muslims), and proselytizing are illegal, with the exception of the Islam Presentation Committee, which encourages the conversion on non-Muslims to Islam. Family law is administered through the Islamic court system. Religious affairs are overseen by the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs. Only four non-Muslim groups have the full legal recognition in the government: the Roman Catholic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, and the National Evangelical Church. While these groups are offered a certain amount of freedom, there are quotas in place that limit the number of clergy and staff each group can have. Other groups are generally allowed to worship freely in private homes. Certain Muslim holidays are celebrated as national holidays.


Kuwait has a modern network of roads, with all-weather highways running north to Iraq and south to Saudi Arabia. Roadways extended 4,450 km (2,777 mi) in 2002, including 3,590 km (2,230 mi) of paved roads. In 2003, there were some 770,375 passenger cars and 200,315 commercial vehicles in use. Land transport accounts for a significant share of Kuwait's imports and exports. There are no railways.

Kuwait has five ports, including a cargo port at Ash-Shuwaykh, on Kuwait Bay, and an oil port at Mina' al-Ahmadi that is equipped with a huge pier at which eight large tankers can be loaded simultaneously. In 2005, Kuwait had 39 merchant ships in service of 1,000 GRT or more, with a capacity of 2,319,082 GRT. Kuwait has regular calls from ocean shipping, and local sailing craft carry goods between Kuwait and the neighboring sheikhdoms, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Sea transport accounts for most of Kuwait's foreign trade.

In 2004, there were an estimated seven airports. As of 2005, a total of four had paved runways, and there were also four heliports. The principal airport, Kuwait International Airport, is located south of the city of Kuwait. Air transportation is highly advanced, with Kuwait Airways providing service to and from the major Middle Eastern and European cities. In 2003, the airline carried about 2.198 million passengers on domestic and international flights.


The historical records of the Arab coast of the Persian Gulf are meager. Archaeological discoveries on Faylakah Island reveal an ancient civilization about 2800 bc that had trade links with the Sumerians. By the 6th century bc, this part of the Gulf was a principal supply route for trade with India. There is evidence of early migrations to the East African coast by the seafaring inhabitants. The historical turning point for the entire Arabian Peninsula was the conversion of the people to Islam in the 7th century ad, during the lifetime of Muhammad.

Kuwait's recent history starts in 1716, when several clans of the tribe of Aniza migrated from the interior of the Arabian Desert to a tiny Gulf coastal locality, later to be called Kuwait (a diminutive of the word kut, meaning "fort"). In 1756, the settled tribesmen rallied around the As-Sabah family and chose as their ruler Sheikh Sabah 'Abd ar-Rahim, founder of the present ruling dynasty. During the latter part of the century, raids by land and by sea resulted in the decline of Kuwait, but after the British suppression of piracy in the region, trading and shipbuilding prospered.

During the period in which Sheikh 'Abdallah as-Sabah ruled Kuwait (186692), a dynastic battle raged in Arabia between the rival houses of Ar-Rashid and As-Sa'ud. The Ottoman Turks, supporting Ibn Rashid, sought to extend their control over the coastal area to the south of Kuwait. Fearing that his territory would be lost to the Turks who considered it part of their province of Basra, Sheikh Mubarak as-Sabah (r.18961915) asked to be taken under British protection. The British were concerned not only because of the Turkish claims but also because the Russians were seeking to set up a coaling station in Kuwait, and both the Germans and the Turks had planned to make it a terminus of the BerlinBaghdād railroad. In 1899, Sheikh Mubarak agreed not to alienate any of his territory or to receive representatives of any foreign power without British consent. In return, the British offered their services as well as an annual subsidy to support the sheikh and his heirs.

On 19 June 1961, the protective treaty relations with the United Kingdom were terminated by mutual consent, and Kuwait declared itself fully sovereign and independent. By this time, the sheikhdom had already become a major oil producer and had acquired a controlling interest in the petroleum industry. Iraq refused to recognize Kuwait's independence, asserting it had inherited the Ottoman claim to the territory. Baghdād's threat of an invasion was foiled by the dispatch of British troops and later the support of the Arab League for Kuwait. Iraq then appeared to acquiesce in Kuwait's sovereignty, although border issues were never definitely resolved. During the next two decades, Kuwait succeeded in establishing an open and prosperous economy, based in large part on foreign, especially Palestinian and Egyptian, labor.

During the Iran-Iraq War, Kuwait, albeit technically neutral, rendered important assistance to Baghdād, including the transshipment of goods and the provision of over $6 billion in loans. As a response, members of Kuwait's large Shia minority and other radical dissidents waged a war of terrorism against the government. Throughout the 1980s, there were bombings, assassination attempts, hijackings, and sabotage against oil facilities.

In 1987, Iranian attacks on Persian Gulf shipping led Kuwait to request US protection for its supertankers. Washington agreed, and when a "reflagged" Kuwaiti vessel was attacked, American forces retaliated against an Iranian offshore oil rig.

With the end of the war, IraqKuwait relations were stable until 1990, when Saddam Hussein accused his neighbor of waging economic warfare against Iraq by illegally drilling oil from the shared Rumailia field, overproducing oil to drive down prices and unfairly demanding repayment of wartime loans. Tensions could not be defused by negotiations or mediation and on 2 August 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, asserting that they were rightfully reclaiming their territory. Kuwaiti defense forces offered little resistance and most senior officials fled the country.

The United States led an international coalition of Arab and other nations to demand the withdrawal of Iraqi forces. After a lengthy buildup of forces, Iraq was assaulted by massive air and land forces; after six weeks, its defenses collapsed and Kuwait was liberated in February 1991. Kuwait's leaders returned to find a disgruntled population that resented their abandonment and demanded greater political participation. Enormous physical damage had been inflicted on the country, including over 700 oil well fires that did serious ecological damage before being extinguished after almost nine months' effort.

The regime, and many Kuwaitis, turned harshly against those suspected of collaboration with Iraq. As a consequence, much of the large Palestinian community was ejected from the country. Relations with Iraq naturally remained tense, with some Baghdād officials continuing to assert their claim to Kuwait. On 27 May 1993, the United Nations Security Council reaffirmed the decision of a Boundary Demarcation Commission establishing the border between the two nations. Kuwait's vulnerability to possible attack from Iraq or Iran drew the nation closer to the United States, which has been willing to offer enhanced security collaboration.

In October 1994, Iraq began moving 60,000 troops to within 32 km (20 mi) of the Kuwaiti border. The UN Security Council voted unanimously to condemn Iraq's actions, and the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries came to Kuwait's assistance. Kuwait agreed to allow the United States to station a squadron of 24 warplanes there as part of a broad effort to curb Iraqi military power. The plan kept reserves of American warplanes and a division's worth of tanks and armor stationed in the region. On 10 November 1994, Iraq agreed to recognize the independence and current borders of Kuwait, a major step apparently aimed at allowing at least some UN sanctions against Iraq to be lifted. However, in August 1995, Iraqi troop movements along the Kuwaiti border caused alarm again, and the United States began sending ships carrying equipment and supplies to the Persian Gulf. In April 1996, an international military exercise (involving forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Italy, and other Arab nations) was held in Kuwait. The UN also renewed its multi-national force of border observers in April 1996 to oversee the 14-km (9-mi) demilitarized zone that separates Kuwait from Iraq.

Although some of its neighbors in the Persian Gulf began to pursue a rapprochement with Iraq over the following years, Kuwait maintained its vigilance against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Early in 1998, it granted expanded staging areas to the United States in anticipation of possible military action in response to Iraq's failure to cooperate with UN weapons inspections. At the end of 1998, it supported NATO air strikes against Iraq over the same issue. In January 1999, Kuwait placed its military on full alert in response to renewed threats from Iraq. As of 2000, a special UN commission had awarded $15.7 billion in reparations for damages suffered in Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. In January 2003, Iraqi and Kuwaiti officials resumed talks on the fate of people who had gone missing during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 199091. Kuwait claims Iraq must account for more than 600 Kuwaitis who disappeared during the occupation. Iraq insists it holds no such detainees, and accuses Kuwait of failing to account for more than 1,000 Iraqis.

On 8 November 2002, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1441, calling on Iraq to disarm itself immediately of weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons), to abide by all former UN resolutions regarding the country since the end of the 1991 Gulf War, and to allow for the reintroduction of UN and IAEA weapons inspectors (they were expelled from the country in 1998). The United States adopted a firm position toward Iraq's disarmament, which it disputed, and by March 2003, was preparing for war. Since Kuwait's liberation from Iraq in 1991, it has become the world's largest per capita defense spender. As of 2003, Kuwait had purchased Patriot antimissile batteries, F/A-18 warplanes, and Apache attack helicopters for a military force estimated at 15,500, with 23,700 in reserves. However, Kuwait was not expected to take part in the expected US-led invasion of Iraq; instead, its forces were to defend the country from retaliation or other forms of attack by Iraq. By early March 2003, nearly 140,000 US and British military personnel had arrived in Kuwait.

On 21 January 2003, a civilian contractor for the US military was killed and another wounded when their car was fired upon outside Kuwait City. A Kuwaiti man was arrested and claimed responsibility for the shooting, expressing support for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization. Kuwait is concerned about a rise in Islamic fundamentalism and anti-American sentiment.

On 19 March 2003, the United States launched air strikes on Baghdād, and the war in Iraq began. Iraq fired a number of missiles at Kuwait, and one struck a mall in Kuwait City but resulted in no deaths. Most of the missiles were destroyed by defensive Patriot missiles. The regime of Saddam Hussein was toppled on 9 April, and the military stage of the war ended soon after. Plans for the reconstruction of Iraq and for the establishment of a legitimate government were in the making in April, but it was acknowledged such progress could take years.

In May 1999, the emir of Kuwait dissolved the National Assembly in the wake of a long-standing political deadlock between government and opposition forces. However, the opposition gained even more ground in national elections held in July, with both Islamists and liberals gaining additional seats. Among the matters awaiting parliamentary consideration was a controversial decree by the emir that would allow women to vote and run for office by the next election, scheduled for 2003. Parliament on 23 November 1999 voted against the emir's decree to grant full political rights to women.

Traditionally, the emir has appointed the crown prince as prime minister. In July 2003, he appointed Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah prime minister, separating the post from the role of heir to the throne for first time since independence. In the legislative elections on 5 July 2003, 148 candidates ran for 50 places. Voter turnout was 81%, electing new candidates to half of the Assembly seats: procabinet, 20 seats; Islamist, 16 seats; independents, 12 seats; and liberals, 2 seats. In May 2005, parliament approved constitutional amendments to give women full political rights. In June, the first woman cabinet minister was appointed. Women will be able to take part in parliamentary elections scheduled to take place in 2007 and local elections in 2009.

In January 2005, lethal gun battles erupted between suspected Islamist militants and police. In October 2005, the future leadership of Kuwait was brought into question as the aging leadership of the royal family, all in their late seventies, suffered from debilitating illnesses.


According to the constitution of 16 November 1962, Kuwait is an independent sovereign Arab state under a constitutional monarch. Executive power is vested in the emir, who exercises it through a Council of Ministers. Succession is restricted to descendants of Mubarak as-Sabah; an heir apparent must be appointed within one year of the accession of a new ruler. The emir appoints a prime minister after traditional consultations and appoints ministers on the prime minister's recommendation. Emir Sabah as-Salim as-Sabah died in December 1977 after a reign of 12 years and was succeeded by Emir Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir as-Sabah. the as-Sabah family, advised by wealthy merchants and other community leaders, dominates the government.

The National Assembly (Majlis) consists of 50 elected representatives. Elections are held every four years among adult literate males who resided in Kuwait before 1920 and their descendants; candidates must be Kuwaiti males at least 21 years of age. As a result, the electorate only accounts for about 10% of Kuwait's total population. In 1996, naturalized citizens who did not meet the pre-1920 qualification but had been naturalized for 30 years became eligible to vote. The assembly may be dissolved at any time by the emir. It was dissolved in 1976, as part of a political crackdown that followed the government's announced support of Syrian intervention in Lebanon. Elections were held in February 1981 and a new assembly was convened after elections in 1985; it was dissolved once again in 1986 as a result of national tensions over the Iran-Iraq War. It remained suspended until elections in October 1992. In 1993, the new Assembly actively produced new legislation, including a national budget. The emir suspended the Assembly once again in 1999, but new elections were held within two months.


Political parties are prohibited, but opposition groups are active in the nation's political life. Several political groups act as de facto parties: Bedouins, merchants, Sunni and Shiite activists, and secular leftists and nationalists. Political opinions are freely expressed in informal gatherings in the homes of government officials and leading citizens.

Progovernment forces gained ground over Muslim fundamentalist candidates in the elections of 8 October 1996. Following the 1999 elections, the Assembly was split almost evenly among pro-government, liberal, and Islamic members. Progovernment forces held 13 seats, with the rest held by Islamic and liberal parties and unaffiliated independents.

The Islamists are divided between the Ikhwan, which traces its political antecedents to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, and two Salafigroups that draw inspiration from Saudi Arabia. Current political groupings include the Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM) and the Islamic Popular Group (of the Salafitendency), two Sunni organizations; the Islamic National Alliance, the main faction for Shia Muslims; the Kuwait Democratic Forum (KDF), a loose association of groups with Nassarist and pan-Arabist foundations; and the National Democratic Group, composed of generally secular progressives with liberal tendencies. The rest are independents or are tribal confederations.


There are five governorates (Ahmadi, Al-Jahrah, Al-Kuwayt, Hawalli, and Al-Farwaniyah), but political authority is highly centralized in the capital. A tradition of diwaniyya, or family or tribal gatherings, serves as a forum for debate in society, largely oriented around the proceedings of parliament.


The system of Muslim law (Shariah) was augmented by 1959 legislation that established courts of law, regulated the judicial system, and adopted modern legal codes. In each administrative district of Kuwait, there is a summary court composed of one or more divisions, each presided over by one judge. The summary courts deal with civil and commercial cases and leases. A tribunal of first instance has jurisdiction over matters involving personal status, civil and commercial cases, and criminal cases, except those of a religious nature and cases in which the amount involved exceeds kd1,000. The High Court of Appeals is divided into two chambers, one with jurisdiction over appeals involving personal status and civil cases, the other over appeals involving commercial and criminal cases. State security court decisions may be appealed to the Court of Cassation. Ordinary criminal cases may be appealed to the High Court of Appeals. the five-member Superior Constitutional Court is the highest level of the Kuwaiti judiciary. the Superior Constitutional Court interprets the constitution and deals with disputes related to the constitutionality of laws, statutes, and by-laws. A military court handles offenses committed by members of the security forces. Religious courts, Sunni and Shia, decide family law matters, but there is also a separate domestic court for non-Muslims. There is no Shia appellate court. Shia cases are adjudicated by Sunni courts of appeals.

While the 1962 constitution guarantees an independent judiciary, the executive branch retains control over its administration and budget. the emir, after recommendation of the Justice Ministry, appoints judges in the regular courts. Kuwaiti nationals receive lifetime appointments; non-Kuwaiti judges receive renewable terms of one to three years.

The constitution gives the authority to pardon and commute sentences to the emir. The Special State Security Court was abolished in 1995.


Kuwait's all-volunteer armed forces totaled 15,500 active personnel in 2005. The Army had 11,000 personnel and was equipped with 368 main battle tanks, up to 450 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 321 armored personnel carriers, and 218 artillery pieces. The Air Force numbered an estimated 2,500 and had 50 combat-capable aircraft, including 39 fighter ground attack aircraft, in addition to 16 attack helicopters. The Navy had an estimated 2,000 personnel, with major naval units including 40 patrol/coastal vessels. Paramilitary forces consisted of an estimated 6,600-member National Guard. The UN provided troops and observers in Kuwait. In addition, the United States maintained a military presence with 25,250 troops stationed in the country. The defense budget in 2005 was estimated at $4.27 billion.


Kuwait was admitted to the United Nations (UN) on 14 May 1963 and is a member of ESCWA and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as UNESCO, UNIDO, IAEA, FAO, IFC, IMF, the World Bank, ILO, and WHO. It belongs to the Arab League, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, the African Development Bank, the Arab Monetary Union, the Council of Arab Economic Unity, the Central African States Development Bank (BDEAC), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), G-77, OPEC, WTO, and OAPEC; in 1981, it was a leader in forming the Gulf Cooperation Council with Saudi Arabia and four other Gulf states.

Kuwait played a key role in Operation Iraqi Freedom (200203) by offering land use and finances for the US-led coalition forces. The nation has also continued to support reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Kuwait is part of the Nonaligned Movement. In environmental cooperation, Kuwait is part of the Basel Convention, the Montréal Protocol, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change and Desertification.


The discovery of oil in 1934 transformed the economy. Kuwait's enormous oil reserve of 94 billion barrels and huge quantities of natural gas have provided the base for an economic presence of worldwide significance. The Kuwaiti standard of living was among the highest in the Middle East and in the world by the early 1980s. Oil wealth has stimulated trade, fishery development, and service industries. The government has used its oil revenues to build ports, roads, an international airport, a seawater distillation plant, and modern government and office buildings. The public has also been served by the large-scale construction of public works, free public services, and highly subsidized public utilities, transforming Kuwait into a fully developed welfare state. Prudent management of budgetary allocations and development priorities, as well as substantial interest from overseas investment, helped cushion the adverse impact of the collapse of the Souk al-Manakhan unregulated curbside securities marketin 1982, the collapse in world oil prices during the mid-1980s, and the 198088 Iran-Iraq War. In addition, acquisition of 5,000 retail outlets in Western Europe (marketed under the name "Q-8") and expansion into the manufacture and sale of refined oil products have bolstered the Kuwaiti economy.

Oil extraction and processing accounts for about 50% of GDP, 95% of export earnings, and 75% of government revenues. Kuwait's economy suffered enormously from the effects of the Gulf War and the Iraqi occupation, which ended in February 1991 with the destruction of much of Kuwait's oil production capacity and other economic infrastructure. The damage inflicted on the economy was estimated at $20 billion. Real growth in GDP was estimated at 9% in 1994. Economic improvement from 1994 to 1997 came largely from growth in the industrial and financial sectors. the Difficult Debts Law, which aided investors with losses incurred during the Iraqi invasion and an informal stock crash in the early 1980s, significantly improved investor confidence. Reversing this trend, GDP shrank 16% due to a large decline in world oil prices. The loss was more than restored by the recovery of oil prices beginning in the second half of 1999. GDP rose 17.22% in 1999, and then an extraordinary 26.88% in 2000. Inflation rose to 4.7% in 1999, but declined to 2.7% in 2000. GDP growth in 2001 was 5.43% and inflation was down to 2%. From 1999 to 2001, per capita GDP rose from $13,082 to $17,880. Kuwait's portfolio investments have generally served to double the income it receives from its basic oil industry.

While the GDP growth rate slumped in the negatives in 2001 and 2002 (-1.0% and0.4% respectively), it quickly recovered, jumping to 9.9% in 2003, and 7.2% in 2004; in 2005, the economy was expected to expand by 4.0%. As a result of this boom, income per capita has also improved, reaching $20,088 in 2004, and an estimated $23,347 in 2005. Inflation and unemployment have been kept under control (reaching 1.2% and 2.2%, respectively, in 2004) and do not pose a major problem to the economy. Although Kuwait is a country with a high standard of living, it is still dependent on food and water imports. In the future, it plans to open up oil exploitations in the northern part of the country.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005, Kuwait's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $51.6 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $22,100. the annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 4.5%. the average inflation rate in 2005 was 3.5%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 0.5% of GDP, industry 52.1%, and services 47.4%.

Foreign aid receipts amounted to $4 million or about $2 per capita.

The World Bank reports that in 2003, household consumption in Kuwait totaled $20.70 billion or about $8,637 per capita based on a GDP of $41.7 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1980 to 1990, household consumption grew at an average annual rate of -1.4%.


In 2005, Kuwait's labor force was estimated at 1.67 million workers, approximately 80% of whom were not Kuwaiti nationals. Although there was no data available on the occupational breakdown of the country's workforce, as of 2002, Kuwaiti nationals accounted for 93% those employed in the public/government sector. The government-owned oil industry dominates the economy. The unemployment rate was estimated at 2.2% in 2004.

Although workers are legally permitted to join unions, less than 5% of the labor force are union members. Virtually all are affiliated with the Kuwait Trade Union Federation, the only trade federation allowed by law. The government performs a pervasive supervisory role of all unions, both subsidizing union expenses and carefully monitoring union activities. The right to strike is severely limited, and strikes rarely occur. About 10% of union members are foreign workers, but foreign workers must be in Kuwait for five years before they can join a union and then may not vote in elections or hold official positions. The right to strike is limited.

In general, all workers are entitled to a 48-hour workweek, compensation for overtime, sick leave, termination pay, and access to arbitration for settlement of disputes. However, many laborers from developing countries are willing to tolerate poor or unhealthy working conditions in order to earn a wage that is significantly higher than in their own countries. the minimum working age is 18, although children who are at least 16 may work limited hours in nonhazardous occupations. Foreign workers must be at least 18 to work in Kuwait. In 2002, the public-sector minimum wage was about $742 per month for citizens and $296 per month for noncitizens. Health and safety standards are lax in regard to foreign workers.


Only 1% of the total land area is utilized for the cultivation of crops; permanent pasture land amounts to 7.6% of total land area. Despite the absence of rivers and streams and the paucity of rain, the development of agriculture has been actively pursued. the government apportions arable land at nominal prices on a long-term basis among farmers to stimulate production of vegetables and other crops. It also provides farmers with long-term loans and low-cost irrigation. The state has supplied extension services and demonstration centers for new farming techniques in an attempt to increase agricultural production. Nevertheless, farming contributes less than 1% of the non-oil GDP. Agricultural output in 2004 included 185,620 tons of vegetables and melons and 16,900 tons of fruit.


When the desert is green (from the middle of March to the end of April), about one-fourth of Kuwait's meat supply is provided locally. The 2005 livestock population included: cattle, 28,000; sheep, 900,000; goats, 150,000; and chickens, 32,500,000. Kuwait's poultry production has recovered from damages inflicted during the 1990 invasion. Production in 2005 was estimated at 80,535 tons, exceeding the previous high of 21,000 tons in 1989. A small number of Bedouins raise camels, goats, and sheep for meat and milk.


Small boats catch enough fish to satisfy local demand. Species caught include sardines, mackerel, tuna, shark (for the fins exported to China), barracuda, and mullet. Crabs, crayfish, and oysters are plentiful, and undik and zubaidi (butterfish) are both tasty and very popular. Shrimp are produced for a growing export market. the fish catch in 2003 totaled 6,095 tons, down from 8,466 in 1993 but up from the low of 2,034 in 1991, the year of the Iraqi invasion.


There are no natural forests in Kuwait. The government's afforestation projects cover an area of about 5,000 hectares (12,300 acres). Imports of forest products totaled $108 million in 2004.


In addition to petroleum and natural gas, the country's main commodities, Kuwait produced caustic soda, chlorine, cement, clays, clay products, fertilizer, lime, salt, and sand and gravel. the cement and fertilizer production plants were damaged by retreating Iraqi troops during the 1991 Gulf War. Cement production in 2004 was estimated at 1.6 million metric tons, unchanged from 2003. Ammonia production (nitrogen content) in 2004 was 413,400 metric tons, and output of urea (nitrogen content) was 320,000 tons metric tons.


The Persian Gulf is geologically unique. Sedimentary deposits are combined with large, relatively unbroken folding that results in underground oil reservoirs 16 to 240 km (10150 mi) long, containing billions of barrels of oil. Kuwait's known petroleum deposits are among the worlds largest. As of 1 January 2005, Kuwait's proven oil reserves came to an estimated 99 billion barrels. However, another 2.5 billion barrels are held in the SaudiKuwaiti neutral zone or "divided zone," thus putting Kuwait's proven oil reserves at 101.5 billion barrels. The neutral zone covers an area of 6,200 sq mi and holds an estimated 5 billion barrels of oil and 1 trillion cu ft of natural gas. Kuwait possesses about 8% of the known global resources of petroleum.

Although Kuwait's crude oil production capacity in 2005 was estimated at 2.5 million barrels per day (includes half of the neutral zone), as a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Kuwait's crude oil output is limited by a production quota. As of March 16, 2005, that quota was set at 2.207 million barrels per day. However, for the period January through May 2005, oil output was estimated at an average of 2.6 billion barrels per day, of which 2.5 billion barrels per day was crude oil. Domestic demand for oil was estimated for 2005 at 293,000 barrels per day. Crude oil refining capacity, as of 1 January 2005, was estimated at 889,200 barrels per day. Kuwait's cost of production is perhaps the lowest in the world because its vast pools of oil lie fairly close to the surface and conveniently near tidewater. the oil rises to the surface under its own pressure and, owing to a natural gradient, flows downhill to dockside without pumping. Kuwait exports more than 60% of its oil to Asian countries, although exports are also sent to Europe and the United States.

Kuwait also has large reserves of natural gas. As of 1 January 2005, Kuwait's natural gas reserves were estimated at 55.5 trillion cu ft, which included 0.5 trillion cu ft in the neutral zone. In spite of its large natural gas reserves, production and domestic consumption are relatively modest. In 2002, output and demand for natural gas by Kuwait came to an estimated 293 billion cu ft each. the vast amount of this gas is found and produced along with oil. However, Kuwait is looking to expand its production and consumption of natural gas so as to free up more oil for export. The country is also hoping to cut the flaring or burning-off of natural gas.

All electric power is produced thermally from oil or natural gas. Generating capacity has grown dramatically during the past two decades and is estimated to have reached 9.4 million kW in 2002. Electric power production increased from 30.6 billion kWh in 2000, to an estimated 32.4 billion kWh in 2002. All electric power is generated by burning fossil fuels. Most of the country is provided with electrical service; electric refrigeration and air conditioning are widely available. An extensive diesel power generating system serves outlying villages.


Although oil extraction continues to be the economic mainstay, Kuwait has diversified its industry. Small-scale manufacturing plants produce ammonia, fertilizer, paper products, processed foods, and other consumer goods. In 2002, the food processing industry was expanding, with growth sectors including vegetable oils, beverage bases, breakfast cereals, poultry parts, cheese, frozen vegetables, and snack foods. In 2002, Kuwait had three oil refineries with a total refining capacity of 828,000 barrels a day, including 773,000 barrels per day of crude oil distillation, 41,000 barrels per day of catalytic cracking capacity, and 14,000 barrels per day of reforming capacity. The major refinery products were fuel oil, gas oil, naphtha, kerosene, and diesel fuel. Industrial products include desalinated water, chemical detergents, chlorine, caustic soda, urea, concrete pipes, soap, flour, cleansers, asbestos, and bricks. The construction industry is highly developed.

Manufacturing all but stopped during the Iraqi invasion due to shortages of inputs and looting of equipment. After liberation, the sector was hard hit by the departure of Palestinian skilled labor. Low international oil prices have cut down on the value of industrial exports, but increases from the latter half of 1999 have produced windfall returns. In 2000, industry accounted for 60% of GDP.

The share of the industry in the GDP remained relatively stable in subsequent years (although the industrial production growth rate slumped at -5% in 2002), reaching 60.5% in 2004; agriculture is virtually nonexistent in Kuwait, accounting for only 0.4% of the economy in 2004; services came in second with a 39.1% share in the GDP. Around 80% of the 1.42 million working people are represented by non-Kuwaitis.


High technology in Kuwait has been largely confined to the oil industry and has been imported, along with the scientists and technicians needed to install and operate oil refineries and related facilities.

The Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, founded in 1967 at Safat, promotes and conducts scientific research in the fields of food resources, water resources, oil-sector support, and environmental studies. The Agriculture Affairs and Fish Resources Authority has an experimental research station in Safat.

Kuwait University, founded in 1962 at Safat, has colleges of science, engineering and petroleum, medicine, and allied health sciences and nursing. The College of Technological Studies, in Shuwaikh, was founded in 1976. The Telecommunications and Navigation Institute, at Safat, was founded in 1966.

In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 29% of college and university enrollments. In 2002, research and development spending totaled $73.448 million, or 0.19% of GDP. Of that total, 80% came from government sources, with the rest from business. In that same year, there were 73 researchers and 180 technicians per million people.


Until the early 1960s, the traditional small shop or market stall dominated retail trade. In recent decades, however, modern business centers with hundreds of new shops and offices have opened, and some smaller villages have developed retail stores with impressive stocks of foreign goods. Franchising is also becoming well established, though most of the franchise market is currently held by American fast-food and restaurant firms. The city of Kuwait is the distribution center for the emirate and serves the transit trade of nearby states.

Usual business hours in summer (May to October) are from 6 am to 12 noon and from 4 pm to 6 pm; and during the rest of the year, from 7 am to 12 noon and from 3 pm to 6 pm. Stores are closed Fridays.


For many years, Kuwait maintained a boycott of imports from Israel. However, after liberation from Iraqi occupation in 1991, Kuwait relaxed its trade policies so that Israeli companies previously subject to boycott were permitted to do business in Kuwait. Kuwait also announced a trade embargo against the countries it regarded as having supported Iraq during the occupationJordan, Yemen, Tunisia, Sudan, Algeria, and Mauritania. Major export partners in 1997 were Japan (24%), India (16%), the United States (13%), South Korea (11%), and Singapore (8%). Imports came primarily from the United States (22%), Japan (15%), the United Kingdom (13%), Germany (8%), and Italy (6%).

The export of fuels sustains Kuwait, accounting for the vast majority of commodity exports (91%). Kuwait is the source of 3.3% of the world's crude petroleum exports. Polymers are another important export (4.8% of Kuwait's exports).

In 2004, Kuwait's exports grew to $27.4 billion (FOBFree on Board), while its imports were more than half that, at $11.1 billion (FOB). The bulk of exports went to Japan (20.5%), South Korea (13.7%), the United States (12.4%), Singapore (11.3%), Taiwan

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 16,164.5 7,869.0 8,295.5
Areas nes 7,358.6 7,358.6
Japan 3,275.6 752.2 2,523.4
United States 1,777.1 834.6 942.5
Netherlands 895.0 125.7 769.3
Other Asia nes 621.7 91.1 530.6
Singapore 351.7 64.7 287.0
Korea, Republic of 330.4 215.1 115.3
Sa'udi Arabia 163.9 508.7 -344.8
France-Monaco 159.1 282.8 -123.7
United Arab Emirates 129.6 282.1 -152.5
() data not available or not significant.

(9.9%), Pakistan (3.3%), and the Netherlands (3.3%). Imports included food, construction materials, vehicles and parts, and clothing and mainly came from the United States (12.9%), Germany (11.9%), Japan (7.9%), the United Kingdom (5.5%), Saudi Arabia (5.5%), Italy (5%), France (4.5%), and China (4.1%).


Kuwait enjoys a highly favorable payments position because of its huge trade surpluses. The Kuwaiti dinar is completely covered by the country's reserve fund, 50% of which must be in gold.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2001, the purchasing power parity of Kuwait's exports was $16.2 billion, while imports totaled $7.4 billion, resulting in a trade surplus of $8.8 billion.

Current Account 7,567.0
     Balance on goods 11,261.0
         Imports -9,698.0
         Exports 20,959.0
     Balance on services -4,641.0
     Balance on income 3,326.0
     Current transfers -2,379.0
Capital Account 1,429.0
Financial Account -11,332.0
     Direct investment abroad 4,990.0
     Direct investment in Kuwait -67.0
     Portfolio investment assets -13,379.0
     Portfolio investment liabilities 336.0
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets -2,812.0
     Other investment liabilities -399.0
Net Errors and Omissions 511.0
Reserves and Related Items 1,824.0
() data not available or not significant.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001, Kuwait had exports of goods totaling $16.2 billion and imports totaling $6.93 billion. The services credit totaled $1.79 billion and debit $5.34 billion.

Exports of goods reached $30.2 billion in 2004 and were expected to grow to $43.4 billion in 2005. Imports were expected to reach $11.8 billion in 2005, up from $10.9 billion in 2004. Kuwait has thus managed to keep both a positive resource balance ($19.3 billion, and $31.6 billion, respectively), and a positive current account balance ($18.8 billion in 2004, and an expected $31.1 billion in 2005). Foreign exchange reserves (excluding gold) reached $8.2 billion in 2004, covering almost 10 months of imports.


The Central Bank of Kuwait, established in 1969, formulates and implements the nation's monetary policy, regulates the currency, and controls the banking system. There are seven commercial banks with 96 branches in Kuwait, of which one is a single-branch operation belonging to a joint-venture bank (the Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait). Apart from this special case, foreign banks are not permitted to operate within Kuwait or to own shares in Kuwaiti banks. Kuwaiti bank shares are typically closely held, either by the government and its agencies or by the merchant families who founded them. The preeminent bank is the National Bank of Kuwait, which at the end of 1999 accounted for one-third of all Kuwaiti bank branch assets.

The Central Bank of Kuwait only took on a serious regulatory role in 1984, after a debt crisis engulfed commercial banks, all of which had exposure to the collapsed informal stock market. However, the Central Bank's powers are limited, and, although it considers some of the banks to be too weak to be competitive, so far it has been unable to force mergers.

There are three specialized banks, one of which, Kuwait Finance House, operates as a commercial bank restricted to Islamic financial transactions. The other two, Industrial Bank of Kuwait and Kuwait Real Estate Bank, were created to provide long-term credit at a time when the supply of fresh capital from the public sector was not constrained. In the more austere environment since the war, they function like a US investment bank. The idea of establishing more Islamic banks has been welcomed. the International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $5.4 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $30.0 billion. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 4.62%. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 4.25%.

Kuwait's official securities exchange, the Kuwait Stock Exchange (KSE), first introduced in 1962, was founded in 1977 and handles only government bonds and securities of Kuwaiti companies. An unofficial and unregulated securities exchange, the Souk al-Manakh, listing the stocks of 45 Gulf companies outside Kuwait and considered highly speculative, collapsed suddenly in August 1982. At the time of the crash, some 6,000 investors and $94 billion in postdated checks drawn in anticipation of future stock price increases were said to be involved. In order to limit the effect of the collapse on the Kuwaiti economy, the government created a special rescue fund to pay compensation to small investors for validated claims. All trading operations of the KSE were suspended on the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990. the KSE recommenced trading on 28 September 1992. On the exchange, 1995 was a banner year. The combined effect of rapidly expanding credit and privatization resulted in a 36% increase in the stock price index and a 226% increase in trading volume. By the end of 2001, 88 companies were listed with a total capitalization of kd26.7 billion ($86.9 billion) and a trading value of kd11.7 billion ($38 billion). Only Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) citizens are permitted to buy shares in Kuwaiti companies.


The insurance sector is closed to foreign institutions. As of 2000, the insurance sector was dominated by three companies: Ahlia Insurance, Gulf Insurance, and Kuwait Insurance Co. Marine, fire, accident, and life insurance policies constitute the bulk of all policies issued. Third-party liability insurance for motor vehicles is compulsory. In 2003, the value of all direct premiums written totaled $320 million, of which nonlife premiums accounted for $240 million. In 2002, Al-Ahleia was the top nonlife insurer, with gross written nonlife premiums of $45.9 million. In that same year, Gulf was the country's top life insurer, with gross written life premiums of $35.6 million.


Much of the recent improvement in public finances has been the result of higher oil prices and production rather than government reforms. In 1994, the Kuwaiti government began to consider various austerity measures, which became a source of debate in parliament. Several plans called for reductions in government subsidies and welfare benefits, increases in taxes, privatization of state-owned businesses, and banking-sector reforms. Subsidies are one of the most contentious and politicized austerity measures; in 1995, the Ministry of Finance stated that the country annually spent $1.8 billion on utility subsidies and free health care. the Kuwaiti cabinet passed a reform package in 1999, including a reduction in subsidies and increasing taxes on luxury goods. A government surplus of about 15% if GDP in 2000 was reduced to a deficit of over 2% in 2001 as a result of soft world oil prices.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Kuwait's central government took in revenues of approximately $47.2 billion and had expenditures of $20.7 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately $26.4 billion. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 17.6% of GDP. Total external debt was $14.93 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 1999, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were kd3,063 million and expenditures were kd3,930 million. The value of revenues was us$9,324 million and expenditures us$11,963 million, based on a official exchange rate for 1999 of us$1 = kd0.32850 as reported by the IMF. Government out-lays by function were as follows: general public services, 13.2%; defense, 17.3%; public order and safety, 9.4%; economic affairs, 9.9%; housing and community amenities, 4.8%; health, 7.2%; recreation, culture, and religion, 3.1%; education, 14.8%; and social protection, 20.4%.

Revenue and Grants 3,063 100.0%
     Tax revenue 116 3.8%
     Social contributions 189 6.2%
     Other revenue 2,758 90.0%
Expenditures 3,930 100.0%
     General public services 518 13.2%
     Defense 679 17.3%
     Public order and safety 369 9.4%
     Economic affairs 390 9.9%
     Environmental protection
     Housing and community amenities 187 4.8%
     Health 281 7.2%
     Recreational, culture, and religion 123 3.1%
     Education 582 14.8%
     Social protection 801 20.4%
() data not available or not significant.


Companies that are registered in Kuwait or in countries that are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and are wholly owned by Kuwaiti and/or citizens of GCC countries are not subject to income tax. However, foreign companies carrying on trade or business in Kuwait are subject to varying corporate tax rates based on defined income levels and where the operations are located. Operations on the Kuwaiti mainland are subject to tax rates contained in the Amiri Decree No. 3 of 1955, which range from 055%, covering 11 income levels. Operations located on the islands of Kubr, Qaru, and Umm Al Maradim are subject to the tax rates contained in Law No. 23 of 1961, which has two income levels and rates of 20% and 57%. Foreign companies doing business in the portion of the offshore area of the partitioned neutral zone that is under Saudi Arabian administration are subject to a tax of 50% of what they would pay under Amiri Decree No. 3 of 1955. Capital gains derived from the sale of assets and shares are treated as normal business profits subject to the appropriate tax rate. Other taxes include social security levies of 10.5% on employers; a 1% levy on a shareholding company's profit, payable to the Kuwait Foundation for Scientific Research; and a 2.5% employment tax on net annual distributable profits. Kuwaiti citizens are exempt from paying taxes. The government passed a law to introduce limited taxation in 2000, in the form of sales taxes.


Customs duties are generally 5% ad valorem, but many goods are admitted duty free. the tariff on cigarettes was increased to 100% (from 70%) as of July 1997. Imports of liquor are prohibited by law. Protective tariffs may be levied at up to 25%.


Through tax concessions, Kuwait welcomes foreign investment in heavy and light industries but continues to resist foreign investment in the oil sector. In May 2000, the government passed the Indirect Foreign Investment Law, allowing the purchase of up to 100% of the stock of companies listed on the Kuwait Stock Exchange, except for banks. In March 2001 the government passed a liberalized Foreign Investment Law that, together with a five-year privatization plan announced July 2001, expected to substantially increase foreign investment in Kuwait. Previously, foreign investment was not permitted in certain sectors, such as banking or insurance, and was restricted to less than 49% of ownership shares in permitted areas. Foreign investors are no longer required to have a Kuwaiti sponsor but are subject to a 55% corporate tax that Kuwaiti companies do not pay. Major foreign investors in Kuwait as of 2001 included Japan's Arabian Oil Co. and US-owned Texaco. In July 1995, the Union Carbide Corp. and Kuwait's Petrochemical Industries Co. began construction of a $2 billion petrochemical plant, the biggest joint venture involving a foreign company to date in Kuwait. Foreign investment totaled $110 million in 1995. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has historically been low and not encouraged by a government concerned with the "Kuwaitization" of the economy. In 1997, FDI was reported at $20 million, rising to $59.1 million in 1998, and reaching $72.3 million in 1999. However, FDI inflow fell to $16.3 million in 2000, and then in 2001 turned into a net outflow of -$39 million.

Low inward investment contrasts with remarkably high outward investment, though the government does not publish any statistics for these activities. Kuwaiti outward investment consists of portfolio investments held by the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), other direct investments by other government entities, and outward investments by private citizens. The KIA portfolio was estimated to have reached about $60 billion in 2002. Entities like the Kuwait Petroleum Corp. have sizeable investments in production, refining and marketing activities abroad, but only the roughest estimates as to their value can be made. Investments by private citizens are thought to at least equal the government's holdings.

New estimates place outward public investments at around $80 billion. At the same time, investments made outside Kuwait by the private sector are estimated to have grown to around $100 billion.


Since the mid-1970s, Kuwait has restrained its spending on economic development and fostered a policy of controlled growth. From 1977 to 1982, allocations for development projects remained steady at $1.72.5 billion annually, of which 76% was spent on public works, electric power plants, and desalination and irrigation projects. Development plans for the 1980s, stressing industrial diversification, included the expansion of local oil refineries and major projects in petrochemicals, electricity, water supply, highway construction, and telecommunications. Overseas, refining and marketing operations were stepped up.

Postwar economic planning was hampered by the expulsion of the mainly Palestinian middle-ranking civil servants in various government departments. The Industrial Bank of Kuwait played a major role in the industrial redevelopment of the emirate following the war. Diversification and privatization continue to be the strategic goals of the government to increase employment and counter the abrupt swings in the economy due to the heavy dependence on the oil sector. Increased foreign investment has come to be seen as essential to these goals. In May 2000, the government passed the Foreign Investment Law, allowing foreign investors to buy up to 100% of companies listed on the Kuwait Stock Exchange (KSE), except for banks. The government, however, controls which companies are publicly traded. In March 2001, the Foreign Direct Investment Law was passed, allowing up to 100% ownership of a company operating in Kuwait, although with the disincentive that the profits of the foreign company would be subject to a 55% tax. In July 2001, the government announced a five-year privatization program.

Toward the end of 2005, plans were made to build one of the largest refineries in the region. The project, financed by state-owned Kuwait National Petroleum Co. (KNPC), will cost around $6 billion and when completed will refine 615,000 barrels per day. The economy as a whole is expected to grow at steady rates in coming years (around 3.5% in 2006 and 2007), despite slumping government expenditures and possible constraints in the rate of expansion of the oil industry.


Kuwait has a widespread system of social welfare that is operated on a paternalistic basis and financed by government oil revenues. Social insurance legislation provides for old-age, disability, and survivor pensions, for which the worker pays 5% of earnings, the employer pays 11% of payroll, and the government provides a subsidy. Retirement benefits ranged from 6595% of earnings, depending upon the length of employment. The government pays for medical care in case of work injury.

Women are denied equal rights and legal protection under Kuwaiti law and do not have the right to vote. Women must first obtain their husband's permission before applying for a passport. Kuwaiti women married to foreign men suffer legal discrimination, are not entitled to government housing subsidies, and are required to pay a residency fee. Women (including foreign women) who wear Western clothing are often subject to harassment. Domestic abuse is common. Rape and abuse of foreign domestic workers is widespread. In 2004, it was still common for employers to confiscate and withhold the passports of domestic servants preventing them from leaving the country.

Bedouin minorities face considerable legal discrimination. They are not entitled to citizenship, but beginning in 2004, they were able to enroll their children in school, and health care became available in 2005.


Kuwait has a highly advanced public health service that is extended to all Kuwaiti residents, regardless of citizenship. the entire population has access to health care services. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 3.3% of GDP. the urban population has access to safe water and adequate sanitation. As of 2004, there were an estimated 153 physicians, 391 nurses, 32 pharmacists, and 29 dentists per 100,000 people.

The incidence of typhoid fever and most infectious diseases is comparatively low; however, influenza is common and measles has resulted in a high fatality rate among children up to age five. Immunization rates for children up to one year of age were as follows: tuberculosis, 93%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 98%; polio, 98%; and measles, 97%. The rates for DPT and measles were 94% and 95%, respectively. Common diseases were malaria and measles.

Life expectancy in 2005 was 77.03 years, and infant mortality was estimated at 9.95 per 1,000 live births. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, 21.8 and 2.5 per 1,000 people, respectively. The total fertility rate in 2000 was 2.7 children per woman during childbearing years. In 2001, the HIV prevalence was estimated at 0.12 per 100 adults.


For centuries, housing in Kuwait consisted primarily of small cottages, mud huts, and a few larger dwellings built of coral and plastered with cement and limestone. However, improved housing for the general population has been a main government objective since 1970, and many of the traditional Arab houses have been replaced with new government model housing.

The National Housing Authority built about 50,000 dwelling units in 197785. Between 1989 and 1994, 25,213 applications were presented for the housing distribution program. According to the 1995 census, there were 255,477 households in Kuwait. the total number of dwellings that year was 251,682, of which 234,153 were private and 17,529 were collective dwellings. Including vacant dwellings and those under construction, the total number was 287,574 in 1995. About 50% of all housing units were apartments, 19% were villas, 15% were traditional dwellings, 10% were annexes, and 4% were shacks and other marginal dwellings. In 200001 there were 8,875 government housing projects and 3,118 new dwellings constructed.


Kuwait offers its citizens free education, including free food, clothing, books, stationery, and transportation from kindergarten through the fourth year of college. Schools below university level are segregated by sex. Four years of primary school are compulsory. Students may then move on to four years of intermediate school and four years of secondary school. For the last two years of schooling, students may choose a specialized curriculum in science, arts, or religious studies. The Ministry of Education oversees all aspects of secondary education, both public and private, for general and Islamic schools. The school year runs from September to June.

In 2001, about 73% of children between the ages of four and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 83% of age-eligible students. In 2001, secondary school enrollment was about 79% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 96% of all students complete their primary education. the student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 13:1 in 2003.

Kuwait University (opened in 1966) is the only university in the country. There are several colleges offering programs, as well as a Cadet Academy sponsored by the military. Kuwaiti students who complete their secondary school science courses in the upper 80% of their class and arts courses in the upper 70% are eligible to study abroad at government expense. In 1999, about 21% of the tertiary-age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program: 12% men and 32% women. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 82.9%, with 84.7% for men and 81% for women.

As of 1999, public expenditures on education were estimated at 6.5% of GDP.


The National Library of Kuwait has over 150,000 volumes, 90% of them in Arabic; it has established 22 branches throughout the country. The Kuwait University Library system has over 294,000 volumes. The Arab Planning Institute in Safat has a library of about 48,000 volumes. Other schools and oil companies maintain special libraries.

The Kuwait National Museum in Kuwait City displays ancient Kuwaiti artifacts (recovered from excavations on Faylakah Island), as well as exhibits concerning Islamic art, and local plant, bird, and animal life. The Kuwait Museum of Islamic Art in Kuwait City was founded in 1983. The Educational Science in Safat Museum was established in 1972 and features sections on natural history, space, oil, health, and meteorology.


The government administers telephone, television, radio, postal, and telegraph services. In 2003, there were an estimated 198 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 578 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

Government-controlled Kuwait Television operates three networks and Radio Kuwait offers one station, with programs in English, Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. There are private stations for both radio and television, including a private satellite television channel launched in 2004. In 2003, there were an estimated 570 radios and 418 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 162.8 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 228 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 52 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

As of 2002, Kuwait had eight daily newspapers. Major Arabic dailies (with estimated 2002 circulation) include Al-Anbaa (the News, 106,830), Al-Rai al-'Amm (Public Opinion, 86,900), Al Jameheer (83,000), Al-Qabas (Firebrand, 79,700), Al-Seyassa (Policy, 70,000), and Al-Watan (the Homeland, 59,940). English-language dailies include the Arab Times (41,920), and Kuwait Times (28,000). The popular monthly magazine Al-'Arabi (350,000 in 1995), similar to the Reader's Digest, is widely read in Kuwait.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and with a few exceptions, citizens are said to freely criticize the government in all media. A Press Law, revised in 2003, prohibits the publication of any materials that criticizes the emir or is deemed an insult to God or Islam.


There is a chamber of commerce and industry in the capital. Workers are represented through a number of associations, including the Kuwait Trade Union Federation. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor encourages and supports cultural and recreational organizations and sponsors theatrical activities for youth. the Kuwait National Commission for Education, Science, and Culture is the primary organization for the advancement of science, art, and culture. Organizations such as the Kuwait Medical Association promote research and education in specialized fields. the multi-national Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences and the Arab Center for Medical Literature are in Kuwait. National youth organizations include the National Union of Kuwaiti Students and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts Associations. There is a national chapter of the Red Crescent Society.


By 1992, the second anniversary of the Iraqi invasion, many of the physical scars of war and occupation had already been erased. the government has restored many of the country's extensive prewar accommodations and amenities. Kuwait City offers gardens and parks, along with landmarks such as the Kuwait Towers; Seif Palace was built in 1896 and boasts original Islamic mosaic tilework. A valid passport and visa are required of all visitors.

In 2001, a total of 2,069,051 foreign visitors arrived in Kuwait. Tourist receipts totaled $328 million in 2003. Hotel rooms numbered 1,988 with 2,857 beds.

According to the US Department of State, the estimated cost of staying in Kuwait in 2004 was $344 per day.


During the reign of Emir Sir 'Abdallah as-Salim as-Sabah (18701965), Kuwait attained a prominent position among the great oil-producing nations of the world, and the state adopted a social welfare program founded on a unique patriarchal system; the emir was revered as a man of simplicity, devotion, and deep concern for his people. He was succeeded as emir by Sabah as-Salim as-Sabah (191377), from 1965 to 1977; Jabir al-Ahmad al-Sabah (19262006), from 1977 to 2006; and Sabah IV Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah (b.1929), who became emir in 2006.


Kuwait has no territories or colonies.


Cordesman, Anthony H. Kuwait: Recovery and Security After the Gulf War. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.

Fernea, Elizabeth Warnock (ed.). Remembering Childhood in the Middle East: Memoirs from a Century of Change. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Hourani, Albert Habib. A History of the Arab Peoples. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002.

Isiorho, S.A. Kuwait. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002.

Kennedy, Paul D. Doing Business with Kuwait. 2nd ed. Sterling, Va.: Kogan Page, 2004.

Khadduri, Majid. War in the Gulf, 1990-91: the Iraq-Kuwait Conflict and its Implications. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Marcovitz, Hal. Kuwait. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mason Crest Publishers, 2003.

The Middle East. Washington, DC.: CQ Press, 2005.

Moore, Pete W. Doing Business in the Middle East: Politics and Economic Crisis in Jordan and Kuwait. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Seddon, David (ed.). A Political and Economic Dictionary of the Middle East. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

Tétreault, Mary Ann. Stories of Democracy: Politics and Society in Contemporary Kuwait. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: State of Kuwait
Region: Middle East
Population: 1,973,572
Language(s): Arabic, English
Literacy Rate: 78.6%
Number of Primary Schools: 286
Compulsory Schooling: 8 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 5.0%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 2,694
Libraries: 18
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 142,308
  Secondary: 224,293
  Higher: 29,509
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 77%
  Secondary: 65%
  Higher: 19%
Teachers: Primary: 10,798
  Secondary: 21,187
  Higher: 1,691
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 13:1
  Secondary: 11:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 77%
  Secondary: 65%
  Higher: 24%

History & Background

The modern State of Kuwait lies at the northwestern end of the Persian Gulf, or the Arabian Gulfas the Arabs prefer to call the body of water separating the Arabian Peninsula from Iran. In ancient times Iran was known as the Kingdom of Persia, from which the descriptor Persian came to be used in the West as the proper adjective for describing the Gulf. But to the Arabs, it is the Arabian Gulf, and to avoid causing offense on either side, the Persian/Arabian Gulf is usually referred to as merely the Gulf.

Flanked to the north and northwest by Iraq, and bordering Saudi Arabia to the south and southwest, Kuwait occupies a position of strategic importance in the Gulf region. The land area of Kuwait amounts to 17,818 square kilometers (6,969 square miles). With a coastline of 195 km, Kuwait's access to the waters of the Gulf is a coveted asset. The ease of oil-export enjoyed by the Gulf littoral states is an added bonus for the petroleum producing nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). From the west, the desert plain of Kuwait slopes from 300 meters above sea level to the shores of the Gulf. The southern regions of Kuwait are generally flat, although there are a number of depressions, sand dunes, and escarpments in the northwest. Off the coast of the mainland are nine islands belonging to Kuwait: Failaka, Bubiyan, Miskan, Warba, Auhha, Umm al-Maradim, Umm al-Naml, Kubbar, and Qaruh.

Kuwait's head of state is HH (His Highness) Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah. Arabic is the official language, and Islam is the state religion, although there are a very few non-Muslim Kuwaitis, Christians originally of Iraqi or Lebanese origin. There are also Christians, Hindus, and Parsees among the expatriate communities who are allowed to practice their religious faiths with a fair degree of freedom. The population of Kuwait as of 1997 was 2,152,775, and at 3.35 percent, Kuwait has one of the highest population growth rates in the world. But of the total population in 1997, only 745,189 were Kuwaiti nationals, the rest being expatriate workers residing in the country, providing their services in areas such as banking and commerce, or providing the manual labor needed in areas such as construction and cleaning. The exact population statistics are hard to determine due to factors such as illegal entry of foreign workers and a large number of stateless Arabs collectively referred to as bidoon, or "without [nationality]." These stateless Arabs are a mix of descendants of desert Bedouin who never registered as citizens in the 1960s, as well as immigrants from surrounding countries. Asian and foreign Arab workers comprise by some estimates around 90 percent of the labor force in Kuwait. More conservative estimates place the foreign labor population at around 70 percent of the total populace.

Foreign laborers have quite literally built modern Kuwait, including the ultramodern city buildings and the country's infrastructure of roads, communications networks, and industrial operations. Without foreign workers, Gulf states such as Kuwait would not enjoy the level of prosperity that they do. Foreign workers provide the hard labor needed in the Gulf region for any profit to be realized from the geological stroke of fortune that has placed more than half of the world's known oil reserves in the hands of the Gulf states. But the harsh treatment of foreign laborers has drawn increasing international attention. Gulf states have been known to violate workers rights, housing them in squalid labor camps, withholding pay, providing dismally low wages for grueling and dangerous work in what might be described as a modern form of slavery or indentured servitude. Rioting in Kuwait by enraged laborers in the late 1990s shocked Kuwait, particularly because it is the only Gulf country where trade unions are legal.

In a tense, war-torn region of the world, the security of the Gulf region's extremely affluent oil states has been threatened in recent times by the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), by the hegemonic designs of Iraq and the Gulf War (1990-91), and by serious social problems hidden beneath an outward appearance of prosperity, Westernization, and modernization. The purported historical claims to Kuwait that Iraq resurrected periodically throughout the twentieth century, most dangerously in the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, constitutes a repeated serious threats to Kuwaiti sovereignty. Even since the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait by coalition forces, the saber-rattling of Kuwait's aggressive northern neighbor continues. For example, Baghdad labeled Kuwait's celebration of Liberation Day on February 26, 2001, as "provocative." Without the U.S.-led intervention and eventual expulsion of Iraqi forces, Kuwait would have been annexed as the de facto nineteenth province of Iraq. If past history is an indicator of future actions, Kuwait may face further challenges to state sovereignty in the early years of the twenty-first century.

In its past history Kuwait was but a small town with a wall around it, referred to as Qurain (or also Grane ) in the 1600s. Qurain is derived from the Arabic word qarn, meaning a high hill. The name Kuwait is derived from the Arabic kout, meaning a fortified house built next to water. The plural of kout, or akwat, is the source of Kuwait, and the term was used to refer to towns comprising a number of castles and fortified homes surrounded by walls. Thus, the historical description of Qurain (Grane) or Kuwait (kout/akwat) as a fortified town adjacent to water came to be used as the proper name of not only the city of Kuwait, but also the state of Kuwait itself.

The country has benefited from the oil revenues generated since the discovery of oil in 1938. Other areas of economic development in Kuwait in addition to oil exports have included manufacturing industries, petrochemicals, foodstuffs, building materials, trade, real estate, communications, and transport. Although Kuwait has generally recovered, economically speaking, from the Iraqi invasion and occupation of 1990-91, the rebuilding and the financing of the war effort drained hundreds of billions of dollars from Kuwaiti financial reserves, a serious blow to what had been an extremely comfortable state of existence.

It was on June 19, 1961 that Kuwait transitioned from its status as a British protectorate since 1897 to become an independent, sovereign state. A draft constitution was approved on November 11, 1961, outlining Kuwait's system of governance as a "fully independent Arab State with a democratic style of government, where sovereignty rests with the nation, which is the source of power." In the Amir, or national head of state, is vested the legislative authority in combination with the elected National Assembly. Executive power resides exclusively with the Amir, his cabinet, and his ministers.

In this context of a constitutional democracy, with the super affluence brought about through oil revenues, Kuwait was transformed from a poor city-state dependent upon fishing, pearling, and trade for subsistence, into an ultramodern nation-state able to provide the highest level of social services and welfare benefits that money can buy for its citizensnot to mention a comfortable level of living for about 1.5 million expatriates living and working in Kuwait. The early development and independence in relation to other Gulf states resulted in the states of the lower Gulf looking to Kuwait as a model for their own social welfare systems, particularly education. Social development has been a priority of the Kuwaiti government, and oil wealth has made possible the use of the latest technologies and resources in education and the social services sectors. However, that wealth has also created uniqueand even enviable, from the developing world's vantage pointchallenges for the government and citizens of Kuwait. In education, at the outset of the twenty-first century, the challenge has been one of reforming the educational institutions and training centers in order to align them with the needs of the labor market in the process of moving young, educated nationals into gainful and productive employment.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The Constitution of Kuwait, adopted on November 11, 1962, outlines the system of governance as a constitutional, democratic monarchy. As an emirate (analogous to a state or province), Kuwait has as its head the amir, who according to the constitution must be of the al-Sabah family descended from the late Mubarak al-Sabah. Islam is the state religion, and Shari'a (Islamic law) is the main source of legislation. As an Arab nation, the official language is Arabic, and the country is a part of the greater Arab nation and Islamic umma (Islamic nation/community). By a fortunate turn of events, Kuwait's status as a democracy came to be a valuable asset during the course of the Iraqi occupation. Kuwait garnered American support through a public relations drive and "free Kuwait" education campaign. During the Gulf War some journalists asked why the United States should support a nondemocratic form of monarchical rule. Kuwaiti representatives were able to respond with an explanation of the constitutionally affirmed status of Kuwait as a democracy.

In the constitution of Kuwait, in line with the Islamic principles of societal governance as decreed by the Quran, the state is seen as holding the responsibility for educating and protecting the Kuwaiti youth. Article 10 summarizes the protective duties of the state with regard to morals, physical well-being, and spiritual well being: "The State cares for the young and protects them from exploitation and from moral, physical, and spiritual neglect."

Articles 13 and 14 specifically state the government's commitment to provide education, and to promote the arts and sciences. Article 13 states that "education is a fundamental requisite for the progress of society, assured and promoted by the State." Article 14 continues by saying that "the State shall promote science, letters, and the arts and encourage scientific research therein."

Further on in the constitution, Article 40 outlines the right of every Kuwaiti citizen to obtain an education. Also highlighted are the commitments to eradicating illiteracy. The exact text of Article 40 reads as follows:

  1. Education is a right for Kuwaitis, guaranteed by the State in accordance with law and within the limits of public policy and morals. Education in its preliminary stages is compulsory and free in accordance with the law.
  2. The law lays down the necessary plan to eliminate illiteracy.
  3. The State devotes particular care to the physical, moral, and mental development of the youth.

The Kuwaiti government's role as benefactor to artistic and scientific endeavor, protector of youth, and provider of educational and training services, has transformed the social services sector of Kuwait into one of the most generous welfare systems in the world. For Kuwaiti citizens, education is not just a privilege, but a guaranteed constitutional right.

Educational SystemOverview

Since the oil boom that began in the 1950s the social changes in Kuwait have accelerated rapidly. Before the super affluence caused by oil, Kuwait was a poor sheikdom, economically and technologically undeveloped, a state with people eking out a living through fishing, pearling, herding, and trading. The developments of the 1950s and decades following attracted many Arabs from poorer countries of the Middle East, so that by 1970 less than half of the 738,662 residents were national Kuwaitis. Times were changing fast, and Kuwait was moving toward a comfortable, sedentary urban lifestyle, leaving the "grunt" work to the foreign laborers.

Early Educational Foundations: From having only a few Quranic schools providing religious instruction and basic Arabic literacy tutelage at the onset of the twentieth century, Kuwait entered the twenty-first century with one of the most generous, comprehensive, and technologically sophisticated educational infrastructures in the Middle East. In 1912 the Al Mubarakiyya school was founded as Kuwait's first modern educational institution. Al Mubarakiyya was funded by merchants to supply clerks who had a basic foundation in commerce, good arithmetic skills, and letter drafting skills. Later, subjects such as history, geography, and art courses were introduced to the curriculum. The first school in Kuwait to offer English began in 1921, the Al Ahmadia School, and shortly after that the first girls' school was founded, offering instruction in Arabic, home economics, and Islamic studies.

In the 1930s, after the devastation of the pearlingbased Kuwaiti economy, the modern period of education in Kuwait was underway. Education was placed under state control in 1935, marking the beginning of public education. Teachers from Palestine founded an educational mission, students were sent abroad to receive an education, and new schools were founded. Four primary schools opened their doors. Three of these schools had a combined total of some 600 boys, and the other primary school was for girls with 140 pupils. A national education department was instituted in 1936 to oversee the government schools, and teachers from Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Palestine initiated the development of a program for secondary education in Kuwait. By 1945 there were 17 schools in the country.

Development continued intermittently until the rapid changes of the 1950s. From then rapid acceleration of educational development ensued with the founding of special education facilities, the founding of the first kindergarten schools, and the opening of the first technical college in academic year 1954-55. There were 80 students enrolled in the first year, and the program grew quickly to accommodate an increasing number of fields of study. In 1956 the Institute for the Blind was inaugurated with the enrollment of 36 children. By 1973 approximately 1,644 special needs studentsdeaf, blind, or otherwise handicappedwere enrolled in 11 institutes of special education. In 1963 Kuwait started adult education programs for women, following similar programs begun for men in 1958. By 1960, their education system had enrolled 45,000 students, 18,000 of which were girls. The education department officially became the Ministry of Education in 1962, and the ministry was to chart the directions for educational development over the course of the decades ahead.

State Education: Looking back 20 years from the turn of the millennium to analyze the involvement of Kuwaiti nationals in the educational process is a reminder of the progress that has been made, especially in terms of the ratio of national to expatriate teachers. In 1982, there were 24,367 teachers of whom 6,478 were Kuwaiti. By academic year 1997-98 there were a total of 27,359 teachers in state schools (excluding another estimated 10,000 more teaching in private schools), of whom 17,357 were Kuwaiti. From an approximate ratio of 1:3.76 (Kuwaiti to expatriate) in 1982, the ratio changed to approximately 1.7:1. The state succeeded in promoting the Kuwaitization of the educational process in terms of more than doubling the number of Kuwaiti teachers from the early 1980s to the late 1990s. The dependence on foreign professional educators was reduced, but as will be demonstrated shortly, the Kuwaitis' greater involvement in the teaching profession occurred mainly at the lower levels of education, particularly in the primary schools of Kuwait, and the entry of men especially into the teaching profession was strictly at the lower levels of schooling.

The transformation of Kuwait into a modern society replete with a dazzling variety of educational institutions results from the government's early decision to distribute the oil revenues among the citizenry through investments in education as well as healthcare, social welfare, and housing. By the late 1990s there were 300,000 students in state schools in an education system to which the government devoted 5.5 percent of the GNP, 8.9 percent of the total yearly government expenditure.

Education is offered to all Kuwaitis free of charge, and as it has been since 1966, education is compulsory for ages 6-14. Today, educational development represents the foundation of the Kuwaiti government's commitment to utilizing the country's human resource base and meeting the social developmental challenges of the new millennium. The state guarantees an educational slotat every level of educationfor every citizen of Kuwait who wishes to pursue an education. And the number of schools alone testifies to the government's willingness to accommodate the educational needs of its people.

General education in Kuwait comprises elementary, intermediate, and secondary school instruction. In 1995 there were 861 state and private schools and institutions falling into these three categories. Of these schools and institutions, 586 were government schools enrolling 280,709 students (140,979 female, 139,730 male). In the private schools there were 113,857 students (52,991 female, 60,866 male). Beyond the general level of education, institutions such as Kuwait University, applied educational centers, and colleges offer training in fields such as technology, education, commerce, health studies, communications, surveying, electrical and hydroengineering, industry, and nursing. As of academic year 1995-96, 4,355 students were enrolled in these applied educational facilities, 4,248 of whom were Kuwaiti.

At the university level, Kuwait University, established in 1966, has evolved to the point where it offers a range of academic courses. Students can choose from academic courses such as studies in the humanities, scientific and educational specializations, or specializations in the social sciences. In the academic year 1995-96, 16,691 students registered for studies at Kuwait University, and of these students, 15,163 were Kuwaiti while 906 students came from neighboring Gulf countries. The teaching staff comprised 845 educational professionals from various Arab and foreign countries.

Private Education: Private education is an important component of the education system in Kuwait. Private schools are subsidized by the government, and they enroll roughly one third of the school age children in Kuwait at the elementary, intermediate, and secondary levels. The following sampling of the relevant enrollment data with regard to private schooling in Kuwait for the 1998-99 school year was obtained from Kuwait Information Office Education Statistics.

  • Grades N-12 at the Al-Bayan Bilingual School had an enrollment of 1,131 students.
  • Grades pre-K-12 at the Fawzia Sultan International School had an enrollment of 48 students.
  • Grades K-U6 at the New English School had an enrollment of 1,750 students.
  • Grades K-12 at the American International School in Kuwait had an enrollment of 1,155 students.
  • Grades pre K-12 at the American School in Kuwait had an enrollment of 1,270 students.
  • Grades K-A level at the British School in Kuwait had an enrollment of 1,300 students.
  • Grades N-12 at the Universal American School had an enrollment of 1,200 students.

Other private schooling alternatives exist such as the Gulf English School, the American Academy for Girls, and the Kuwait French School. Parents who wish to enroll their children in private schools have the option of choosing from schools using various curricula and languages of instruction.

Outlook for the Twenty-First Century: As much as the prosperity of the Gulf oil states has enabled rapid development and a high level of social services, it has also created a great number of serious challenges to the stability of the Gulf states. The external appearance of wealth and modern development in Gulf states is deceptive in certain respects. While it is true that Kuwait possesses 9.5 percent of the world's proven oil reserves (out of the 64.9 percent of all the Gulf states combined) and many of its residents are fabulously wealthy, the revenues from oil are very modest when compared to the GDPs of the developed world. The fluctuating price of oil inhibits the reliability of long-term planning and development, especially when the price per barrel bottoms out on the world market as it did in the 1980s and 1990s. Gary G. Sick points out that the Gulf states have operated on a deficit budget since the mid-1980s due to low oil prices. He also states that the combined GDP of the Gulf states (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iran, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain) is scarcely the size of Switzerland's, a country of just more than 6 million people. What gives the Gulf states their illusion of wealth is the fact that a relatively small number of people control substantial petroleum reserves and easy access to world markets via Gulf shipping. The Gulf states have had to deal with the budgetary uncertainties accompanying the vagaries of the oil market; they have had to grapple with problems created by the dominance of the public sector; the dominance of foreign labor; unemployment both visible and hidden; inadequate revenues for burgeoning populations; and an absence of popular participation in the governing process with the notable exception of Kuwait, which as a constitutional democracy has an elected representative body.

The public sector continues to dominate the job market, stifling productivity and efficiency. With the oil revenues and the influx of foreign workers in the 1970s, government jobs became little more than sinecures: "It was common knowledge that most Kuwaiti civil servants did practically no work in their jobs" (Nath 1978). In the 1970s the Kuwaitis, as other Gulf nationals in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for example, were well on their way to becoming sedentary, content to live off the social welfare provisions of the state, relying overwhelmingly on the labor and services of the highly motivated expatriates who in turn remitted most of their earnings back to their home countries.

The Arab Gulf states' citizens have thus come to a unique and socially troublesome place of becoming minorities in their own countries, depending on imported labor in both the private and public sectors. In 1995, an estimated 82 percent of the Kuwaiti workforce were expatriates, on a par with other Arab Gulf nations (UAE 90 percent; Qatar 83 percent; Saudi Arabia 69 percent; Bahrain 60 percent). Unemployed and nominally employed nationals who have come to depend on the state for easy jobs and comprehensive welfare are a dangerous variable in the social equation, especially when changes could come to force a reduction in benefits. There are also the dangers of the dominant foreign worker population being seen as adversely affecting the Arab Gulf cultures and traditions, and the attraction of the fundamentalist Islamic movements offering an alternative to the perceived Western "evils" which might also be blamed for bringing on social and other problems. There is also the possibility of real employment being desired yet unattainable due to a social system that has not provided nationals with skills to match the actual needs of the labor market, but instead has acclimated them to a comfortable lifestyle with little work required.

In the last decades of the twentieth century, Arab Gulf states saw an astounding rise in their populations due to an official policy of promoting population growth through incentives such as marriage funds and stipends for each child. There were also tremendous opportunities for obtaining a high-quality, high-technology education in state-of-the-art facilities, and going abroad for further training was an option for both graduates and undergraduates. But the new waves of graduates, having received from their state schools a nominal college or university education, were unmotivated to enter private sector employment. And just as unmotivated as graduates were to take up private sector jobs, employers were equally unmotivatedif not actually more soto hire Gulf nationals. They could hire Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, and other nationalities for much less cost and hassle. A Gulf national wanted a higher salary, costly benefits, short and flexible work hours, and a "cushy" work atmosphere. For such a dilemma, "[t]he solution was as clear as it was painful: higher standards and more practical educational training for national students to make them more competitive; unrelenting reduction in the number of work visas awarded to foreign laborers; and a leveling of the wage/benefit disparity between nationals and nonnationals... the short-term effects would be sectoral labor shortages, inflation, and outrage from the powerful commercial interests. None of the governments were willing to pay that price" (Sick 1997).

The social unpopularity of such decisions meant that none of the Arab Gulf states were willing to take such measures. Hence, conferences addressing education in GCC countries cite the mismatch between education and training in their countries with the labor force markets. Little correlation existed in the first years of the twenty-first century between the actual needs of the labor market and the preparatory educational and training programs of the state. Calls for reform have resulted in a shift in focus from university education to training in technical colleges and institutions. Technological innovations and stiff competition in the international markets are forcing governments to upgrade the vocational and technical qualifications of the workforce, as is particularly evident in the Gulf.

The upgrading of educational and training systems is a priority at the beginning of the twenty-first century, but the challenges of doing so are enormous. How will traditional attitudes, socioreligious values, and societal norms be accounted for? Despite school enrollment rates being high, and despite a general education being freely available as a basic right of citizens, will the actual quality of that education be improved in the near future? Will students be receptive to the training and education received so as to obtain skills and qualifications rendering them as competitive candidates in an expatriate dominated job market? More importantly, will they want to work in the private sector as opposed to the bureaucratized, state-controlled government sectors? And will schools be able to graduate high-achieving workers who are more than functionally literate, and more than merely nominal college or university graduates? These are some important questions which must be addressed in reforming and upgrading the educational and training systems of the Arab Gulf states.

Privatization of schools is an option for escaping the stifling control of government bureaucracy. In a bureaucratic system, with students who are not concerned about eventually obtaining a job that they will not even really needand who will be given a job regardless of their educational performanceteachers themselves can lose motivation and the sense of dignity in their profession. Education is more than filling up school buildings with students and teachers, and creating jobs entails much more than filling up large office buildings with workers. But it seems sometimes that this is what is happening when the motivation to work and to learn is absent. Bureaucratic state-control is a great problem when there is little, if any, external accountability and quality assurance. Instead, student results on highly subjective and unreliable national examinations are used to evaluate the quality of educational services. The all encompassing State may be a benevolent provider, but critics have noted what might be called the "spoiled child syndrome" in the demeanor of many Gulf students and citizens at large. When everything is free in an "easy come, easy go" way, and when the amount of work or the efficiency of performance are not correlated with an increase in benefit, then the self-motivation of students and teachers is generally low.

But in a state such as Kuwait, that faces the threat of an aggressive, covetous Iraq, a sort of collective motivation to exist and retain sovereignty seems to have arisen. Sitting back comfortably on the cushion of petrol-wealth ease is no longer an option when serious threats to national sovereignty and regional stability exist. How such motivation will be expressed in the education sector in the early twenty-first century remains to be seen.

Preprimary & Primary Education

According to the Kuwait Information Office Education Statistics, in the 1997-1998 school year there were 144 male and female preschool-kindergarten schools, which provided a total of 1,387 classrooms. The total number of students (both male and female) attending pre-school-kindergarten was 42,226. The total number of pre-school-kindergarten teachers was 2,871. Of this number 2,720 were Kuwaiti and 151 were non-Kuwaiti. There were 1,608 male elementary school classrooms and 1,593 female elementary school classrooms. Of this student population 39,621 were Kuwaiti and 2,605 were non-Kuwaiti. In elementary schools, the total number of male students was 47,388; most of these were Kuwaiti, numbering 39,970. The number of non-Kuwaiti male students was 7,418. There was a total of 3,396 elementary school teachers for male students. Of these 3,016 were Kuwaiti and 380 were non-Kuwaiti. The total number of female student in elementary schools was 47,064. As with the male student population most of these were Kuwaiti, numbering 39,872. The number of female non-Kuwaiti students was 7,192. There was a total of 4,165 elementary school teachers for female students. Of these, 3,801 were Kuwaiti and 364 were non-Kuwaiti.

Significantly, teachers at the lower levels of education in government schools are mainly Kuwaiti, but at the higher levels of education this trend is reversed among male Kuwaiti educators and evened out with regard to the ratio of foreign female teachers to female Kuwaiti educators. It seems that Kuwaiti women have more of a predilection for the teaching profession than Kuwaiti men at higher levels of education.

For women in Kuwait, teaching has been, and continues to be, a more acceptable line of work than other professions, because schools offer a gender-segregated environment conducive to the Arab Gulf tradition of cloistering females away at home behind veils of socio-religious propriety. In the early days of the 1970s oil revenue increase, educated women were more a sign of modernization and wealth than an indicator of economic need. But the shift in emphasis now is on moving qualified, educated professionalsincluding womeninto the expatriate dominated workforce. Teaching is still seen in many ways as the most suitable profession for women in the Arab Gulf states.

Outside of government schools, governmentsubsidized private schools in Kuwait fill an important role in providing educational services, educating about one-third of the school-age children of Kuwait. The private schools provide an alternative to the state-controlled educational sector for those parents who desire a particular educational track for their children, for example, an American, British, Indian, Pakistani, or Filipino/school curriculum. Many expatriates living in Kuwait with their families have the option of placing a child in a school that follows a curriculum much the same as schools in their own countries. So when expatriates return home, their children will be able to easily make the transition to their own national schools. For Kuwaiti parents, enrolling their children in an English medium school not only carries prestige, but it is a way of ensuring early exposure to and fluency in the language that has become the common language of international communication.

Secondary Education

According to the Kuwait Information Office Education Statistics, in the 1997-1998 school year there were 79 male and 85 female middle schools, which provided 1,488 male and 1,453 female classrooms. The total number of male students attending middle school was 45,689. Of this student population 38,389 were Kuwaiti and 7,300 were non-Kuwaiti. The total number of middle school teachers for males was 3,464. Of these 771 were Kuwaiti and 2,693 non-Kuwaiti. In comparison, the total number of female students attending middle school was 45,000. Of this student population 37,894 were Kuwaiti and 7,106 were non-Kuwaiti. The total number of middle school teachers for females was 4,881. Of these 3,759 were Kuwaiti and 1,122 were non-Kuwaiti. Additionally, there were 57 male and 59 female high schools, which provided 571 male and 671 female classrooms. The total number of male students attending high school was 33,810. Of this student population 29,106 were Kuwaiti and 4,704 were non-Kuwaiti. The total number of high school teachers for males was 3,876; of these 666 were Kuwaiti and 3,210 were non-Kuwaiti. In comparison, the total number of female students attending high school was 36,844, of which 31,759 were Kuwaiti and 5,085 were non-Kuwaiti. The total number of high school teachers for females was 4,706, of which 2,624 were Kuwaiti and 2,082 were non-Kuwaiti.

The trend higher up the educational system is one of increasing dependence on expatriate educational professionals, particularly male teachers, whereas among Kuwaiti educators the trend is clearly one favoring female educators.

Higher Education

Kuwait University is the major institution of higher education with programs and courses of study in the arts and sciences, education, law, Shari'a, commerce and economics, engineering and petroleum, and medicine. The university was founded in 1966 with an enrollment of 418 (242 male, 176 female). In the early 1980s there were just over 10,000 students enrolled for study at the university, and by the late 1990s Kuwait University's enrollment was nearly 18,000. The university today comprises a coeducational system of education effected through the delivery of instruction at five different campuses. In the academic year 1996-97 the university faculty comprised 942 professors and instructors, 796 of whom were male, and 146 female.

The following summarizes some of the relevant data with regard to the students enrolled in Kuwait University in the academic year 1996-97. The data were obtained from Kuwait Information Office Education Statistics. In science, there were 1,778 Kuwaiti students and 289 non-Kuwaiti students enrolled. In the arts, the numbers were 2,368 Kuwaiti students and 215 non-Kuwaiti students. Numbers for other disciplines include the following:

  • Education: 2,505 Kuwaiti students and 356 non-Kuwaiti students.
  • Law: 764 Kuwaiti students and 34 non-Kuwaiti students.
  • Shari'a: 1,071 Kuwaiti students and 100 non-Kuwaiti students.
  • Commerce and Economics:2,182 Kuwaiti students and 159 non-Kuwaiti students.
  • Engineering & Petroleum: 1,845 Kuwaiti students and 148 non-Kuwaiti students.
  • Medicine: 425 Kuwaiti students and 15 non-Kuwaiti students.
  • Allied Medicine: 223 Kuwaiti students and 81 non-Kuwaiti students.
  • Total Students for All Subjects: 13,261 Kuwaiti students and 1,397 non-Kuwaiti students.

There are twice as many Kuwaiti women studying at the university level as men. For the women, education represents the preferred major, followed by majors in the arts and sciences as well as commerce and economics. For Kuwaiti men, the preferred major is engineering and petroleum, followed by commerce and economics, the arts and sciences, and Shari'a. The low enrollment for men in education holds out little hope for more Kuwaiti men entering the educational profession in the near future, meaning the dependence on foreign male teachers will likely continue.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Kuwait belongs to the Arab GCC, founded in 1981, and whose other members include Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The objectives of the GCC call for "coordination, integration and unity between the member states in all fields." This cooperation occurs in economic and financial affairs, commerce, customs, communications, education, and culture among other areas. Joint organization relating to education includes the Arabian Gulf University and the GCC Education Bureau. The ministers of education from GCC countries hold regular sessions as do the ministers and officials from other government departments.

Thus, in the administration of education in GCC countries such as Kuwait, emphasis is given to the coordination and calibration of educational systems with other GCC members. Arab Gulf states have a common heritage in terms of background and governmental style, and in terms of similar solutions to the similar social and economic challenges that they face. All Arab Gulf states depend heavily on foreign labor, and they all have been focusing in recent years on indigenization and nationalization of their workforce. Hence, the Kuwaitization of Kuwait's workforce is emphasized and effected through a reforming of the educational and training systems to align better with labor market needs, an alignment which is needed in other GCC states as well.

The following statistics show the education level of the Kuwaiti workforce. The data was obtained from Kuwait Information Office Education Statistics.

  • No Formal Schooling: 9,564 Kuwaitis and 495,159 non-Kuwaitis have no formal schooling, which is 40.7 percent of the total labor force.
  • Below High School: 81,432 Kuwaitis and 278,079 non-Kuwaitis have a below high school education, which is 28.9 percent of the total labor force.
  • High School: 39,373 Kuwaitis and 142,518 non-Kuwaitis have a high school education, which is 14.6 percent of the labor force.
  • University/Professional: 79,003 Kuwaitis and 116,191 non-Kuwaitis have obtained a university/professional education, which is 15.8 percent of the total labor force.
  • Labor Force Totals: the entire Kuwaiti labor force consists of 209,836 Kuwaitis and 1,033,740 non-Kuwaitis, for a total of 1,243,126 workers.

With 8.9 percent of the government budget directed toward education, educators are well financed in the initiative to address the disparity between education and other sectors of Kuwaiti society. The low achievement standards, stifling bureaucratic controls, high levels of dropouts, and student failure are problems that the wise use of financial resources should be able to address. There exists no consensus among GCC states as to how to best address some of the common challenges in education, but research suggests privatization, development of relevant curricula, and better correlation of education with input from employers as potential ways to begin addressing some of the common educational issues in GCC member states.

Nonformal Education

A 1998 article in the Economist entitled "High in the Gulf" described young Kuwaitis as a "drug dealer's delight: rich, westernized and bored." The problem of drug use in Kuwait has received increasing attention from public officials who are responding through the initiation of a public education campaign. The government has a drug rehabilitation clinic operated by a British company, and the clinic reportedly has about 1,000 regular Kuwaiti patients with an average of 15 new drug addiction cases reported each month. The frankness and openness with which this conservative Islamic nation is addressing the drug use of its youth is remarkable, and other Gulf countries seem to be taking notefor example, the United Arab Emirates, which also has major problems with drug addiction among young people.

Other notable nonformal education projects and programs in Kuwait include a number of religious schools, the Institute for the Blind, institutes for the deaf and hearing-impaired, and centers for special needs and handicapped children. Also, there are adult education and illiteracy eradication centers that provide courses for illiterate adults and handicapped people. There are also eight youth centers that in 1995-96 accommodated 8,297 young men and women, and there were also 36 training centers enrolling 8,297 students, managed by the government offices overseeing youth and education related affairs. Additionally, there are sport federations, sport clubs, and specialized youth centers such as rehabilitation centers, various sport, medical, and health awareness centers, and a Boy Scout chapter with 2,600 members.

Teaching Profession

Some of the trends that characterize the teaching profession in Kuwait have already been mentioned based on the educational statistical data available for 1997-98, namely the tendency for Kuwaiti women to prefer educational vocations and the reliance on foreign teachers. Fewer Kuwaiti men are employed as teachers, and there are relatively small numbers of men enrolled in Kuwait University as education majors. The higher up the educational ladder, the less the participation of Kuwaiti nationals appears as another general trend that emerges from the educational statistics. But viewed diachronically, from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, the greater trend has been nearly a threefold increase in the number of Kuwaiti educators, a definite success in the plan to involve more nationals in the education system.

If Kuwaitization of the educational sector is to progress further in the near future efforts must be made to attract more male nationals to obtain educational qualifications and enter the teaching profession. Otherwise, the need for qualified teachers will continue to be filled by qualified nonnationals. This is not a bad situation for the nonnationals because the pay is generally good and the standard of living high. Also, Kuwaiti men who do not enroll as education majors are freed for service in other sectors such as the military, the police, or the commercial sectors. Why certain patterns and trends in Kuwaiti education have emerged from the statistical data are areas for further inquiry, and comprehensive explanation of such patterns and trends will be very useful for educational planning in Kuwait as well as other GCC member states.


The security of Kuwait in the twenty-first century has social dimensions of which education and other social services are important components. Oil revenues have enabled GCC states such as Kuwait to provide a range of social services, but with the accelerated development and modernization have come new challenges and alterations to longstanding sociocultural and religious traditions. Tangible declines in the level of welfare services for people who have come to hold high expectations from their government could be disastrous for the social stability of Gulf states. A generous welfare system may keep citizens happy and comfortable, but it can also reinforce negative attitudes toward work. Educating citizens with regard to choices, options, and challenges is needed, particularly with regard to the needed alignment of the educational and training programs with labor market needs. Some Arab Gulf states, Kuwait and Bahrain for example, have taken steps to involve citizens in the political decision-making processes, and this will be a stimulus to hopefully even greater involvement in areas such as education.

Although the expatriate dominated workforce seems likely to continue in the near future, education can help resolve some of the frictions resulting from perceived social and cultural changes. Kuwait has had the good fortune to benefit from rapid development due to oil revenues, and the financial resources exist to meet the educational challenges of the day with a technologically advanced educational infrastructure, with qualified teaching professionals, and with an increasingly involved citizenry.

Training and educational quality assurance, integration of training and educational systems with labor market needs, a reduction in the bureaucracy of educational management, curriculum reform, review of testing procedures, and coordination between schools and employers are suggested reforms that may help Kuwaiti and other Arab Gulf nationals to free themselves from the dangerous dependence on foreign labor and the dangerous disillusionment with the comfort level provided by a benevolent state. There are some positive signs that Kuwait may be more willing than other GCC states to take some of the necessaryyet difficult and unpopularmoves needed to ensure a greater degree of social stability. Although some of the excellent traditional qualities of the Gulf Arabs seem to have been assimilated by modernization, a degree of Westernization, and a high standard of living in the age of oil super affluence, the Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait testify to a resolve and spirit of resistance in the face of adversity that bodes well for Kuwait's ability to grapple with social challenges of the future.


Al-Sulayti, Hamad. "Education and Training in GCC Countries: Some Issues of Concern." In Education and the Arab World: Challenges of the Next Millennium, 271-278. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, 1999.

"High in the Gulf." The Economist 346 (February 28, 1998).

"Kuwait." In Arab Gulf Cooperation Council: The 19th GCC Summit, 44-69. London: Trident Press, 1998.

Levins, John. Days of Fear: The Inside Story of the Iraqi Invasion and Occupation of Kuwait. Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Motivate Publishing, 1997.

Nath, Kamla. "Education and Employment among Kuwaiti Women." In Women in the Muslim World, eds. Lois Beck and Nikki Keddie, 172-188. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1978.

Sick, Gary. G. "The Coming Crisis in the Persian Gulf." In The Persian Gulf at the Millennium: Essays in Politics, Economy, Security, and Religion, eds. Gary G. Sick and Lawrence G. Potter, 11-30. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.

Yamani, Mai. "Health, Education, Gender, and the Security of the Gulf in the Twenty-first Century." In Gulf Security in the Twenty-first Century, eds. David E. Long and Christian Koch, 265-279. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, 1997.

John P. Lesko

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State of Kuwait

Major City:
Kuwait City

Other Cities:
Ahmadi, Al-Khiran, Jahra


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated August 1994. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


Modern KUWAIT was settled early in the 18th century by desert nomads from Saudi Arabia, but archaeological evidence suggests habitation for more than 3,000 years. Its name is derived from the word "kut," meaning small fortress, which was built by the Sheikh of the Bani Khalid in 1672. Today, the country is one of the wealthiest and most progressive in the Middle East. It has been fully independent since 1961, when the British ended a six-decade protectorate sought by the Kuwaitis, who had spent a century under the threat of Turkish and Arabian tribal domination.

Oil, first exported in 1946, is the mainstay of the economy. Oil pays for free medical care, education, and social security; there are no taxes, except customs duties.

The 1990 Iraqi invasion and subsequent Persian Gulf War brought Kuwait into the world's spotlight. The seven-month occupation by the Iraqis left the country with destruction and rebuilding costs in the billions of dollars. Buildings were not only damaged but also looted by Iraqis; oil wells bombed; and communication, power, and water supply connections severed. Up to a decade will be needed to rebuild and repair the damage.


Kuwait City

Greater Kuwait City extends 15 miles along the Bay of Kuwait and a similar distance down the coast of the Arabian Gulf, where a succession of smaller towns comprise with it a growing metropolitan area where most Kuwaitis live. It is the most important city in the State of Kuwait. The old city outgrew its mud walls with the advent of the country's oil prosperity in the late 1950s, though a few gates have been preserved as historical monuments. The city has continued to expand along the coast, and new suburban communities have grown up adjacent to it. In contrast to the flat, arid countryside are ever-changing colors of the sea and green areas of trees, flowers, and grass in the city and the older suburbs. It's population in 2000 was estimated at 1,187,000.


Subject to seasonal variations and occasional shortages, a wide variety of foods is readily available in Kuwait. Good fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables are available on the local market. Canned and frozen vegetables from the U.S., Europe, and Australia are sold. Frozen meat and poultry are imported from Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, or the U.S. Pork products are prohibited. The Kuwait Danish Dairy offers a large selection of ice cream, yogurt, cream, sour cream, and milk with different degrees of fat content. All items are reconstituted and quality is good. Soft drinks are available.

Each district of Kuwait has grocery stores and a larger cooperative shopping center complex. One American-type supermarket also exists.

The sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited in Kuwait.


Although summers are long and hot in Kuwait, winters are chilly and occasionally rainy. The same type of clothing worn in Washington, D.C. (without snowsuits and snow boots) is suitable. Summer clothing is worn for about 7 months of the year. You will need more than the usual amount of clothing necessary in the U.S. Wash-and-wear clothes do not last as long as in the U.S. since they must be washed frequently in the summer. (Water tanks on the roof produce hot water during summer.) During November-March, fall, winter, and spring clothing, including topcoats and rainwear, is worn.

A wide variety of fabric is available at reasonable cost. Local dressmakers and tailors have been used with varying degrees of success, but good tailors are expensive.

Lightweight summer suits for office and evening wear, and slacks and sport shirts for casual wear, will meet summer dress requirements. Acceptable dry-cleaners can be found. Tails and morning dress are not worn in Kuwait. Medium to lightweight American fall, spring, and winter suits are appropriate for cooler months. English and continental men's shoes, underwear, shirts, neckties, socks, and ready-made suits are available, but they can be expensive, and the selection of sizes, styles, and quality varies.

Conservative dress is the rule. Bring summer cotton dresses, slacks, skirts and blouses, and pant-suits for all occasions. Shorts are not worn publicly but can be worn at poolside or on private beaches. Sleeveless dresses or blouses are not suitable for street wear; wear short jackets or shawls to cover bare shoulders. For evening wear, cocktail dresses with sleeves are appropriate. Kuwaiti women are fashion conscious, and London and Paris designs and skirt lengths will be seen at most evening parties. In winter, pantsuits, slacks, dresses, skirts, blouses, and coats are worn. Stores selling women's clothing offer a variety of European-made dresses, skirts, and suits at medium to high prices.

Lingerie (some American-made) is available at reasonable prices, but selection is limited. Most women prefer to wear cotton or cotton blends. Stockings are available at reasonable prices. Formal hats and gloves are seldom worn. European shoes are available at varying prices. Dress or casual sandals do not last long, but reasonably priced local replacements are available.

Clothing for children and babies is available at reasonable prices. Shoes for children are available but are extremely expensive and tend to be of inferior quality. Narrow sizes are almost impossible to find, and shoe repair is substandard. Winter coats, jackets, or windbreakers are needed. Mandatory school uniforms (navy blue slacks or skirts with blue or white shirts) must be purchased locally. No slipovers or T-shirts can be worn in Kuwaiti schools. Navy blue cardigan sweaters are accepted for in-class wear during cooler months. For outdoors, a lightweight, flannel-lined windbreaker for fall and spring and a heavier jacket/coat of your choice for winter is sufficient to get through the year. Physical education uniforms are white shorts and plain white T-shirts for boys, and navy blue shorts and white blouses for girls. These must be purchased locally and are worn for gym only.

Supplies and Services

It is said that everything is available in Kuwait, if you look long and hard enough, but supplies are often limited, and particular items may be out of stock at any given time. Despite minimal import duties, prices are high, as overhead and profit margins are large and transportation costs great. Adequate stocks of toiletries, cosmetics, shaving supplies, medicines, and household entertainment needs are available.

Most common brands of American and British cigarettes and some American brands of cigars, pipe tobacco, and smoking accessories are available at prices comparable to, or lower than, U.S. prices.

Several satisfactory women's beauty shops exist. A shampoo and set costs $15 and up. Haircuts range from $15 to $42. Men's haircuts cost from $10 to $20, and styling is about $25.

Religious Activities

Both Roman Catholic and Protestant church services are conducted in Kuwait City and in the oil town of Ahmadi, a 45-minute drive south. In Kuwait City, interdenominational Protestant services are held at the National Evangelical Church on Sunday evenings. The Roman Catholic Church, with daily services, is located near the Sheraton Hotel. St. Paul's Church (Anglican) is located in Ahmadi. Its rector holds monthly services in various homes in Kuwait City.


American children attend the American School of Kuwait (ASK), established in September 1964 as a joint Embassy and American business effort. Enrollment (K-12) has exceeded 900. The student body, which represents 35 countries, is about 30% American. Virtually all teachers except Arabic language and Islamic studies teachers are certified American teachers. The school provides instruction for kindergarten through grade 12. The curriculum is that of a U.S. general academic, college preparatory public school. It does not offer separate classes for native and nonnative speakers of English. Religious instruction is offered for Muslim students. Arabic, French, and Spanish are taught as foreign languages with Arabic being mandatory from grade 4. French is an elective from grade 9. High school Advanced Placement courses are offered. Most graduates go on to colleges and universities in the U.S. or other countries.

ASK is housed in two campuses, one for grades K-5 and one for grades 6-12. It has a gymnasium, theaters, a playground, a swimming pool, and labs for art, computers, ESL, music, reading, science, and special education. The school sponsors an activities program for students of all ages for the payment of an additional activities fee. The school year is divided into two semesters of 18 weeks each. The school year begins in August/September and ends in June.

Some American children also attend the Universal American School (UAS). UAS received full accreditation in November 1985 and like ASK is a member of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. The school provides instruction for kindergarten through grade 12. The curriculum is also that of a U.S. general academic, college preparatory public school. Approximately 85 percent of the faculty is American. Enrollment exceeds 600 students. The school does not offer separate classes for native and nonnative speakers of English. Religious instruction is offered for Muslim students. Advanced Placement courses are available for juniors and seniors.

UAS has a media center (audiovisual), laboratories, a playground, art room, and a gymnasium. The school year is divided into two semesters of 18 weeks each. The school year begins in September and ends in June.

The American International School, a private independent college preparatory day school, offers education from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The International Baccalaureate program and the Advanced Placement program are available for students in grades eleven and twelve. The current enrollment of over 800 students is served by a faculty 80 percent recruited from North America.

Among Kuwait's numerous private schools are several on the British model and a French school. Several private English-speaking pre-schools are also available.

Special Educational Opportunities

No special facilities exist for advanced or for emotionally, physically, or mentally handicapped American children. Limited help exists for children with learning disabilities. Tutors for catchup work are hard to find. Courses at Kuwait University are taught in Arabic and English depending on the faculty. The Voltaire Institute, attached to the French Embassy, offers instruction in French.


Soccer and basketball are the only major sports in which Kuwaitis participate regularly. Competition in soccer is between Kuwaiti and other national teams, and is not open to U.S. employees and their families. Ice hockey teams have been formed and include skaters from the U.S., Sweden, and Canada. Activities that one can enjoy are swimming, fishing, snorkeling, tennis, horseshoes, squash, darts, scuba, golf, water skiing, and sailing, although care must still be taken in water sports due to unexploded ordnance. Many people play tennis, even in midsummer. Bowling leagues function during most of the year. Softball teams have games scheduled from September to April. An ice skating rink is available, and horseback riding is popular.

If foreigners are discreet, photographs can be taken in Kuwait. Some Kuwaitis, especially women, object to being photographed. Local police might warn against picture-taking in the suq (market). In certain areas, including military compounds and ports, photography is prohibited, and in a few cases, film has been confiscated. Muslims regard all things pertaining to their religion as sacred; this applies to mosques, and you should therefore seek permission to enter or take photos of Kuwait's many mosques. No objections arise when photographing at private parties or outings where only friends are present.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Many touring and outdoor activities were curtailed after the Gulf War because of the presence of unexploded ordnance throughout the country.

The Tareq Rajab collection is privately owned and open to the public at the Rajab Museum in Jabriya. This collection is Islamic with emphasis on ceramics, early Korans and historical documents, and the tracing of the trade routes through jewelry. The Bedouin jewelry collection (mainly silver) is one of the most extensive in the world.

One of the most unique cultural places in Kuwait is the Sadu House, the center for traditional Kuwaiti bedouin weavings. On certain days visitors can watch the women weave. The house also offers a short film on the history of bedouin weaving, a research lab, and a number of exhibition rooms.

Green Island, enclosing a large lagoon, is constructed out into the sea. A fun place to bring children, it features an observation point, paddleboats, and a scaled-down ruined castle surrounded by a moat. Another fun place for children is the recently reopened Kuwait Zoo.

Khiran Resort, about 45 minutes outside of Kuwait City, also reopened recently. A typical beach resort, it offers bungalows and villas for rent, a swimming pool, a playground, a cafeteria, beachfront, recreation areas, and special bicycles for rent.

The Kuwait Towers, Kuwait's most identifiable landmark, serve as an excellent vantage point overlooking the rest of the city. The top sphere has a snack bar with a revolving observation area; there is also a fancy (non-revolving) restaurant.

Three of Kuwait City's gates and a section of the mud wall remain as a reminder of the Wahhabi and Saudi invasion of Kuwait over 65 years ago. The wall, constructed in 1920, remained standing until 1957.

About a half-hour drive from Kuwait City is a group of private shipbuilding establishments on the edge of Kuwait Bay. Here wooden dhows are still constructed with simple tools by skilled craftsmen.

Al Jahra lies about 78 miles west of Kuwait City and was the scene of a famous 1920 battle between Kuwait and Bedouin forces. On Fridays a large and active camel market is held in the center of town. Nearby is the Red Palace, an old fortress of the village.

Another popular Friday activity is the Friday suq, a Kuwaiti-style flea market with a traditional open market flavor.

Indoor gardening is a satisfying outlet for apartment dwellers. Most have found that anything that will grow and flourish in the ground can be coaxed to thrive indoors as well. Nurseries and flower shops are abundant. Potting soil is expensive. Prudent care and programming can assure continuous enjoyment of some kind of flowering plant year round. Limits to indoor gardening are dictated only by light available within a given area and your imagination and perseverance. Excellent investments for the prospective outdoor and indoor gardener are the Sunset books of Desert Gardening, Gardening in Containers, and House Plants.

Outdoor gardening is practical during winter since the weather is cooler and damper.


Kuwait has few indigenous cultural activities accessible to non-Arabic speakers. Musical and artistic groups periodically come to give performances to residents of all nationalities. Public lectures in English are provided occasionally by guest lecturers at Kuwait University. Most cultural activities are do-it-yourself. An amateur theater group performs about four times a year; an amateur choir meets weekly and performs occasional concerts.

Kuwait has no professional orchestra. Many public movie houses in Kuwait show mostly Indian and edited English-language films. Bridge is a popular pastime.

Eating out is also a popular form of recreation and entertainment in Kuwait. Restaurants are expensive. All international hotels (Sheraton, Kuwait International Hotel, Holiday Inn, SAS Hotel, and Meridien) have dining rooms plus coffee shops. These establishments regularly offer specials on food from foreign countries.

Many people find that various fast food places (Kentucky Fried Chicken, Arby's, Baskin Robbins, Wendy's, Hardee's, Pizza Hut) are excellent and maintain good food and health standards.

Social Activities

The American Women's League is an association of women who are U.S. citizens or are married to U.S. citizens. Social in nature, since fund-raising for charitable causes is not deemed necessary by the Kuwaiti Government, the league holds monthly meetings throughout fall, winter, and spring and features general-interest programs. Occasionally, it organizes barbecues, outings, fashion shows, and other similar activities.

Kuwait is an excellent place to begin or continue tennis instruction; prices are comparable to those in the U.S. Bike riding is limited because paved areas on the compound are minimal, and traffic is hazardous on public roads.

Younger children have few adjustment problems in Kuwait, even though the range of activities for them is limited. There is, however, an active Little League, as well as scouting for both girls and boys. Teenagers find life more confining. The school provides limited non-coed social and extracurricular outlets. On weekends and evenings, social life is limited to shopping, movies, video, TV, and swimming (in season). TV programs include a few hours of English-language shows; 30 minutes of cartoons each evening are the high point of the sunset hour for the younger set. Sesame Street, in Arabic, appears daily. The swimming season, however, extends from the beginning of April through October, and the compound swimming pool is a social and recreational center for dependents of all ages during summer.

Most entertaining is informal. Buffets are the most common form of dinner party. Sit-down dinners are a hazard unless you know your guests, as Arabs are casual about accepting invitations or sending regrets. The formally set table frequently may have several empty placesor may be squeezed to add two moreby the time dinner is served. Cocktail buffets are a common way of handling large groups.

Kuwait's traditionally family-oriented, cosmopolitan society offers opportunities to form excellent professional and personal relationships. In addition, both Arab and other expatriate communities are active socially.

Special Information

Kuwait is a modern, progressive, and in many ways a Western-appearing country. The religious heritage of Islam, however, has given Arabs a different culture and a strict code of ethics. Although they differ from those in the West in many respects, the rules of common sense and politeness will enable a visitor to enjoy Kuwait.

Hospitality is the basic rule of life in the desert, and this custom has been carried forward. Avoid overly admiring or praising the private belongings of your host, or the host may feel compelled by the dictates of his culture to make a gift of the object you admire. You should not refuse an offer of food or drink unless it is necessary. Shopkeepers sometimes offer tea or coffee to shoppers while they are browsing.

Males should not inquire or appear curious about women members of an Arab family. Western women should dress modestly and be discreet whenever they go outside their homes.

During the Holy Month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset. During the day, it is not permissible for anyone (including non-Muslims) to eat, drink, or smoke in public.


AHMADI , situated in eastern Kuwait off the Persian Gulf, offers a contrast to the dry regions of the nation. The pleasant gardens, villas, and tree-lined avenues lure Kuwaitis here to enjoy its peace and tranquility. An industrial and self-sufficient city of 305,000 residents (1985 census), Ahmadi was established as Kuwait's oil town. It developed around the oil industry which provided houses and other facilities for its employees. Crude oil is shipped from Ahmadi's port. Due to rapid growth, Ahmadi will more than likely be merged with the nearby capital in the future.

Situated about 50 miles south of Kuwait City, AL-KHIRAN was once an uninhabited desert area visited only by a few swimmers fond of its clear waters. In 1981 urbanization of the city began and its sandy coast was revamped into a modern tourist resort offering a wide range of facilities. This new town has been designed to eventually accommodate 115,000 residents.

One of Kuwait's oldest towns, JAHRA (Al-Jahra) is situated eight miles west of the capital. Archaeo-logical findings in Jahra suggest that it flourished during pre-Islamic times. Traditionally an agricultural city, Jahra's urban development has replaced most of its farm land with modern buildings. Some farms may still be found in the eastern part of the city, but new projects and commercial endeavors are being developed by the government. One of Kuwait's most outstanding tourist landmarks is the Qasr Al-Ahmar (Red Palace). It commemorates the 1920 battle of Jahra. The palace serves as a exhibition center as well as hosting festivals. The city has an approximate population of 280,000 (1985 census).


Geography and Climate

Kuwait is located in the northeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bounded on the north and west by Iraq, on the South by Saudi Arabia, and on the east by the Arabian Gulf. With an area of about 7,780 square miles, it is slightly smaller than New Jersey.

The country is a sandy, riverless desert interspersed with small hills. Vegetation is sparse. Kuwait's climate is typical of the region. Summer (April-October) temperatures often exceed 120°F, although daytime temperatures of 110°-115° 120°F are more common. Mean annual rainfall is 4-5 inches and occurs mostly during December and January. Short autumn and spring seasons (November, February, and March) are delightful. During winter (December and January), clear, sunny days are common, but it is often cold enough to require a light winter coat in the mornings and evenings. In the early morning the frost point is occasionally reached. Sand and dust storms occur throughout the year, especially between March and August. Periods of high humidity occur, but during the hottest months (June, July, and August), humidity levels range between 45 percent and 50 percent.


Foreign nationals comprise approximately 55% of Kuwait's population of 2 million (2001 est.). The largest foreign groups are Egyptians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indians, Syrians, Lebanese, and Filipinos. The largest Western community is Americans (about 6,200), followed by British. French, Germans, and Canadians are also represented. Kuwaiti citizens include recently settled Bedouin and long-established townspeople with antecedents in central Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. This variety of origins is reflected in religion: about 45% of Kuwaitis are Sunni Muslims; about 40% are Shi'ite Muslims. Although Sunnis comprise the ruling elite, many Shi'a have acquired great wealth and the influence money brings. Other religions practiced include Christianity, Hindi and Parsi.

Arabic is the official language, but English is widely understood and spoken. The literacy rate, estimated at more than 78%, is one of the highest in the Arab world, and exceeds Population growth is 3.5%.

Kuwait's standard of living approaches that of the most developed Western states in many respects. Most families own a car. Homes of wealthy Kuwaitis are large and, in some cases, palatial. While there are pockets of relative poverty, Kuwait's generous system of government social programs guarantees a minimum standard of living that is high by Third World standards.

Public Institutions

Kuwait, independent since 1961, is a constitutional hereditary emirate, ruled by emir's drawn form the al-Sabah family, which has ruled Kuwait since 1756. Succession as emir is restricted by the 1962 constitution to descendants of the late Mubarak al-Sabah "the Great." The emir selects the prime minister in consultation with senior members of the ruling family. By tradition, the emir's successor, the crown prince, also serves as prime minister. The ruling family's selection of a crown prince is subject to parliamentary approval. Kuwait's emirs have traditionally governed in consultation with members of several commercially powerful families and other influential community leaders. With the emergence of Kuwait as an economically wealthy state, based initially on its vast oil resources and subsequently on its overseas investments, actual power was increasingly centered in the hands of the ruling Al-Sabah family.

Kuwait's National Assembly, the seat of Kuwaiti legislative power, has served both to institutionalize traditional consultative participation with the ruling family and to act as an outlet for popular expression. Its 50 popularly elected deputies are chosen by an electorate composed of the approximately 82,000 adult male Kuwaiti citizens who can trace their Kuwaiti ancestry back to 1920. (Kuwait has not granted suffrage to females or "second class" male Kuwaiti citizens.) The entire Cabinet sits in the Assembly ex officio.

The judicial system includes courts of the first degree (magistrates, civil, domestic and commercial courts), a Misdemeanors Court of Appeal, a High Court of Appeal and a Court of Cassation. Kuwait has a civil law system with Islamic law playing a significant role in personal matters. According to the Kuwait constitution, however, Islamic law is not the only source of Kuwaiti law.

Officially, political parties are banned. Nonetheless, political activity finds an outlet in social clubs and religious societies as well as through family or neighborhood fora, known as "diwaniyyas." A number of political "groupings," both secular and Islamic, act as political parties during elections and in the National Assembly. Labor unions are permitted in several sectors but, since they are financed by the Government, seldom act independently.

The government has recently begun to advocate extending the right to vote and hold public office to women. However, in 1999, the Assembly rejected an emiri decree granting women's rights.

Kuwait's democracy, albeit limited, is much more open and participa-tory than are the regimes of its neighbors. In a single generation, oil-related wealth has brought vast change to the once poor, isolated members of the society. The large expatriate population has also exposed Kuwaitis to numerous social and cultural forces. With its high per capita income, Kuwait has distributed its wealth among the population through education, medical care, housing, and guaranteed employment for citizens.

Arts, Science, and Education

A traditional Arab sheikhdom, Kuwait has a cultural life of its own. Kuwait has several artists who work in their own homes or in government-sponsored art studios and who give occasional public showings.

Arab and Western music is heard on radio and TV and in public settings in connection with special events. Western music is also presented at various times during the year, primarily by performers sponsored by Western embassies, cultural centers, or major international hotels.

Kuwait has made great strides in its pursuit of scientific knowledge. Most scientific subjects are offered at the undergraduate level at Kuwait University, while research is carried on at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) and in projects funded by the Kuwait Fund for the Advancement of Science (KFAS).

Education is free for all Kuwaiti children. Most foreign dependents attend private schools that charge rates approved by the Ministry of Education. At the university level, Kuwaiti nationals attend Kuwait University free, while other nationalities pay a fee. Scholarships are available for many students from other Islamic and Arab countries. Kuwaiti students scoring in the upper *)% in sciences and upper 70% in arts courses during their secondary schooling years are eligible to study abroad at the governments expense, and many other Kuwaitis do so at their own expense. In 1995, over 12,000 students were enrolled at Kuwait University. In 1992, about 4,000 were studying in the U.S. on scholarship or privately funded programs.

Commerce and Industry

Modern Kuwait was founded about 1740 by desert nomads from Saudi Arabia, but archaeological evidence indicates habitation for over 3,000 years. Because of its Gulf location, fishing, pearl diving, and trading became the most important occupations. Oil was discovered in 1938, but production was insignificant until after World War II. Since 1950, the country has developed rapidly. Today, Kuwait's prosperity depends on oil and income generated by oil revenues invested primarily in the U.S. and Europe. The oil sector provides more than 90%% of Kuwait's export earnings and a comparable proportion of total government revenues. Many other commercial and economic activities serve the petroleum industry and its employees.

Existing industries include water-desalination plants, oil refineries with desulfurizing plants, an LPG plant, an ammonia plant, a chemical fertilizer factory, cement, brick, and concrete block production, bottling plants, and various light industries.

Kuwait has the world's highest per capita imports. The local market reflects Kuwait's free trade outlook. The United States is Kuwait's second largest trading partner, after Japan, owing to Kuwait's purchases of American aircraft, industrial equipment, cars, air-conditioners, and other durable consumer goods. The U.S. also exports substantial services to Kuwait. A wide range of products from the U.S., Europe, neighboring countries, and the Far East are also available. Kuwaiti importers choose their goods almost entirely by price and local demand, not by national origin.



Driving is on the right; roads and highways are excellent, and several major highways exist. Most principal roads are divided highways with four to six lanes. Excellent all-weather highways lead south and west to Saudi Arabia. The accident rate in Kuwait is one of the world's highest, due to excessive speed, lax enforcement, and a lack of basic training of many drivers. Practice defensive driving to avoid accidents.

Visitors can use international driving permits issued by their respective countries within the time limit of their visas; however, the visitor must have liability insurance. It is illegal to drive in Kuwait without a license and car registration documents. If you are stopped and cannot produce them, you may be taken to a police station and held until they are presented on your behalf.

If you are in an accident, Kuwaiti law mandates that you must remain at the scene until the police arrive.

The use of seat belts in the front seats is mandatory in Kuwait. Speed limits are posted. Making a right turn on a red light is not permitted unless there is a special lane to do so with a yield sign. Parking is not allowed where the curb is painted black and yellow. Digital cameras for registering traffic violations, including speeding, are in use on Kuwaiti roads.

Driving while under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense, which may result in fines, imprisonment, and/or deportation. Repeat traffic violations or violations of a serious nature may also result in the deportation of an expatriate offender.

When a driver flashes his/her high beams in Kuwait, it is meant as a request to move your car into a slower lane to allow the driver with the flashing beams to proceed ahead.

Kuwait has one of the highest rates of cellular telephone ownership per capita in the world. Although using a cellular telephone while driving is not yet illegal, a law requiring the use of a hands free accessory with the cellular telephone while driving is expected to be enacted.

Local emergency service organizations may be contacted by dialing 777. Ambulance crews do not respond as quickly as in the United States and are often not trained paramedics.

The government-owned Kuwait Public Transportation Company operates bus service throughout the Kuwait City metropolitan area on 50 different routes and is widely used by the low-income expatriate labor force. Two types of taxi service are available: (1) orange taxis work a fixed route and pick up passengers anywhere along that route and may be shared, and (2) call taxis are available at major hotels and pick up passengers at other locations on telephonic request. Unaccompanied women should not use taxis after dark.


For destinations outside Kuwait, air transportation is commonly used, and adequate connections can be made to most points. Kuwait is served by a number of international airlines. For travel to the U.S. from Kuwait, the traveler can connect with American carriers in several major European cities. No train service operates from Kuwait.


Telephone and Telegraph

Local telephone service is good and costs about US$100 annually. Long-distance telephone service to Europe and the U.S. via satellite is excellent. Trunk calls can also be placed to most countries; reception is good. A 3-minute call to the U.S. costs about US$11, and US$3.50 for each additional minute. Most businesses and hotels, including the Kuwait International Hotel, have a fax machine.

U.S. carriers such as AT&T, MCI, and Sprint are not allowed to offer services within the country by order of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Communication.

Kuwait currently has three licensed Internet Service Providers. Internet access prices remain, however, since the Ministry of Communications retains control of both local telephone service and marine cable and satellite telecommunications in and out of Kuwait.

Radio and TV

TV (KTV) has been broadcasting since 1961, and began color transmission in 1974. It is government controlled and operates on PAL 62 lines standard. KTV currently broadcasts on two channels. Channel 1 is exclusively Arabic, but includes a few non-Arabic programs dubbed or subtitled in Arabic. Channel 2 is almost exclusively foreign-language programs, about 90 percent of which are in English with Arabic subtitles. Channel 1 begins transmission each day at 4 pm (earlier on Thursdays and Fridays), while Channel 2 begins daily at 5 pm Both channels finish transmitting at about midnight, later on Thursdays. Each channel carries one-half hour of news nightlyat 9 pm in Arabic on Channel 1 and at 8 pm in English on Channel 2. Many American programs are shown on KTV, chiefly on Channel 2. They consist mainly of cartoons, family situation comedies, police stories, and wildlife programs. An increasing number of better quality U.S. made-for-TV serials are also beginning to appear on KTV.

Kuwait Radio broadcasts daily in English, Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. Western rock is popular, and classical music is played regularly on the FM station. Voice of America, BBC, and other foreign radio services can be heard and reception is good.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

The Kuwaiti press has traditionally had the reputation of being the most active and unfettered in the Arab world. Kuwait has two English-language daily newspapers. Five dailies and numerous weekly, biweekly, and monthly periodicals are published in Arabic. The International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal (European edition), and the international editions of Time, USA Today, and Newsweek are available in Kuwait within a day or two of publication. Many other English-language periodicals and newspapers are available, but from 1-3 months after publication.

American and British books on a variety of subjects are available at selected bookshops at 50 to 100 percent above publisher prices. No public libraries carry collections in English, although a small British Council library offers membership at a fee.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Several local hospitals can provide basic emergency or routine care.

Families with infants may wish to bring a full supply of preferred nutritional supplements and vita-mins, many of which are unavailable in Kuwait. Local water is fluoridated but does not supply the currently recommended one part per million of fluoride ion. Use of water filters does not alter the fluoride content, but if you choose to use bottled water, you may wish to bring a supply of fluoride drops.

Bring an extra set of glasses or contact lenses, and have a prescription ready for refill of glasses or contacts. If you or a family member are taking a long-standing medication or allergy injection, bring a supply and arrange beforehand for regular refills.

Community Health

Respiratory infections, colds, coughs, sore throats, etc., lead the list of common complaints. Middle ear and external ear infections, sinusitis, and bronchitis are not uncommon. Dust aggravates the respiratory tract, complicating ordinary infections. Allergic and asthmatic persons may also have increased problems due to dust. May through September is hot and dry, increasing the incidence of uri-nary tract stones, heat stroke, and exhaustion. Common-sense measures are effective in preventing these conditions. High dry heat can cause serious problems of dehydration if preventive measures are not undertaken. Gastrointestinal infections are not common.

Preventive Measures

Fruits and vegetables should be cleaned well before eating. Meat should be well-cooked. Fly and insect control is rudimentary. Obtain immunizations for typhoid, polio, and tetanus. Have the basic series given in the U.S. Gamma globulin should be given every four months for prevention of hepatitis. Malaria suppressants are not necessary in Kuwait. No immunizations are required, but it is recommended that childhood immunizations be updated. Additional recommended immunizations are meningococcal and the Hepatitis B series.

To prevent sunburn, bring along a strong (SPF of at least 15) sunblock lotion. Local pharmacies carry some sunscreens, but the complete range may not always be available. Protective clothing is also a must, and a sun hat is useful during summer months.


Passage, Customs & Duties

Travel to Kuwait is usually by air. There are direct, nonstop flights to Kuwait on most days of the week from London and Paris, with less frequent flights to Bangkok, Rome, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Athens, Geneva, New Delhi, and Bombay. Some of the more popular international airlines serving Kuwait are Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France, KLM, Kuwait Airways, Emirate Air, Air India, Gulf Air, and Olympic Airways. The most direct route from the U.S. east coast to Kuwait is via the Atlantic with connections made at any of the European cities serving Kuwait. This is the safest and surest way of travel.

Passports and visas are required for U.S. citizens traveling to Kuwait. For further information on entry requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of Kuwait at 2940 Tilden St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 966-0702, or the Kuwaiti Consulate in New York City, telephone (212) 973-4318. Information also may be obtained from the Consulate's Internet home page at

Alcohol, pork products, and pornography are illegal in Kuwait. Religious proselytizing is not permitted. Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis, including Americans, charged with criminal offenses or placed under investigation, or involved in financial disputes with local business partners, are subject to travel bans. These bans, which are rigidly enforced, prevent the individual from leaving Kuwait for any reason until the matter is resolved. In purely financial disputes, it may be possible to depart the country if a local sponsor authorizes funds equal to the amount in dispute.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy and enroll in the Embassy's emergency alert network in order to obtain updated information on travel and security in Kuwait. Initial registration may be done on-line at The U.S. Embassy in Kuwait is located at Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa Street, Plot 14, Block 14, Bayan, Kuwait. The mailing address is P.O. Box 77, Safat 13001, Kuwait. The primary telephone numbers are 965-539-5307 or 539-5308. The after-hours number is 965-538-2097. Additional information may also be obtained through the Embassy's Internet web site at


Pets may be brought, but obtain a veterinarian's certificate of good health and rabies vaccination before the animal is sent and have them with you when your pet arrives. No restrictions are placed on entry of pets and no quarantine is required. The climate is severe for pets. Veterinary services in country are limited, so have your U.S. veterinarian recommend medications that your pet may need. Pet food and kitty litter are readily available.

Currency, Banking and Weights and Measures

The unit of currency is the Kuwaiti dinar (KD), which is issued in notes of 20, 10, 5, 1, ½, and ¼ KD. The Kuwaiti dinar is divided into 1,000 fils and currently is equivalent to about US$3.87.

Foreign banks are not permitted in Kuwait. Travelers checks can be cashed without difficulty.

Kuwait uses the metric system of weights and measures. Gasoline is sold by the liter; temperature is cited in degrees Centigrade; distances are measured in kilometers.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Feb. 25 Kuwait National Day

Feb. 26 Kuwait Liberation Day

Id al-Adha*

Hijra New Year*

Mawlid an Nabi*

Lailat al-Miraj*

Lailat ul-Bara'h*


Id al-Fitr*

*variable, based on the Islamic calendar


These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Abu Hakima, Ahmad. History of Eastern Arabia. Beirut: Khayats, 1965.

. The Modern History of Kuwait 1795-1965. Luzacs: London, 1983.

Al-Naqeeb, Khaldoun Hassan. Society and State in the Gulf and the Arab Peninsula: A Different Perspective. Routledge: New York, 1990.

American University. Area Handbook for the Persian Gulf States. U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C., 1985.

Assiri, Abdul-Reda. Kuwait's Foreign Policy. Boulder, CO: West-view, 1989.

Badeau, John. The American Approach to the Arab World. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

Bonner, Raymond. Report From Kuwait: A Woman's Place. The New Yorker. November 16, 1992.

Busch, Briton C. Britain and the Persian Gulf, 1894-1914. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

Cottrell, Alvin. The Persian Gulf States. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.

Crystal, Jill. Oil and Politics in the Gulf: Rulers and Merchants in Kuwait and Qatar. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1990.

Dickson, H.R.P. Kuwait and Her Neighbors. London: Allen and Unwin, 1956.

Dickson, Violet. 40 Years in Kuwait. Allen and Unwin: London, 1971.

El-Mallakh, Ragaei. The Absorptive Capacity of Kuwait: Domestic and International Perspectives. D.C. Heath and Company: Toronto, 1981.

. Economic Development and Regional Cooperation: Kuwait. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.

Fenelon, K. G. The Trucial States. Beirut: Khayats, 1967.

Foreign Office Confidential Print. The Affairs of Kuwait 1896-1905. London: Cass & Company, 1971.

Freeth, Zahra. Kuwait Was My Home. London: Allen and Unwin, 1956.

Graz, Liesl. The Turbulent Gulf. St. Martin's Press: New York, 1990.

Hakima, A. The Modern History of Kuwait. London: Luzac and Co., 1983.

Hay, Sir Rupert. The Persian Gulf States. Washington, DC: Middle East Institute, 1959.

Hewins, Ralph. A Golden DreamThe Miracle of Kuwait. London: W.H. Allen & Company.

Holden, David. Farewell to Arabia. New York: Walker & Company, 1966.

Ismael, Jacqualine. Kuwait Social Change in Historical Perspective. Syracuse University Press: Syracuse, 1982.

Jameel, Jacqualine. Kuwait, Social Change in Historical Perspective. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1982.

Kaplan, Marion. Twilight of the Arab Dhow. National Geographic Magazine. September 1974.

Kuwaiti Documents Project. Kuwait: Statehood and Boundaries. Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences: Kuwait, 1992.

Longhurst, Henry. Adventure in Oil: The Story of British Petroleum. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1959.

Mansfield, Peter. Kuwait: Vanguard of the Gulf. London: Hutchison, 1990.

Moubarak, Walid Elias. Kuwait's Search for Security, 1961-73. University Microfilms International: Ann Arbor, 1979.

Polk, William R., Davie M. Stamler, and Edmund Asfour. Backdrop to Tragedy, the Struggle for Palestine. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1957.

Rush, Alan. Al-Sabah History and Genealogy of Kuwait's Ruling Family 1752-1987. London: Ithaca Press, 1987.

Schofield, Richard. Kuwait and Iraq: Historical Claims and Territorial Disputes. Royal Institute of International Affairs: London, 1991.

Slot, B.J. The Origins of Kuwait. E.J. Brill: Leiden, The Netherlands, 1991.

Van Der Meulen, D. The Wells of Ibn Saud. London: John Murray, 1957.

Viorst, Milton. A Reporter at Large: After the Liberation. The New Yorker. September 30, 1991.

Williers, Alan. Sons of Sinbad. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969.

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State of Kuwait

Dawlat al-Kuwayt



Kuwait lies at the northwestern corner of the Persian Gulf. With a total area of 17,820 square kilometers (11,073 square miles), it covers an area slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey. To the south and southwest, it shares a 222-kilometer (138-mile) border with Saudi Arabia. To the north and west, there is a 242-kilometer (150-mile) borderline with Iraq. Most major towns, including the capital, Kuwait City, are located along the Gulf, toward the south.


Kuwait's population totaled 2,041,961 in July 2001, of which almost 60 percent were foreign residents. The population increased 1.6 percent per year between 1980 and 1997. The population growth rate was estimated by the CIA to be 3.38 percent in 2001. Most of the growth stems from the arrival of foreign immigrants who come to Kuwait looking for jobs, rather than from a high birth rate. Nevertheless, an estimated 70 percent of the population is under the age of 24.

In 1998, the population density of Kuwait was 102 inhabitants per square kilometers (264 per square mile), with most people living in towns; the urbanization rate is 97 percent. The majority is Muslim (85 percent), with an almost equal split between Sunni Muslims (45 percent) and Shiites (40 percent). Christian, Hindu, Parsee, and other religious minorities make up the remaining 15 percent.


Kuwait is a small, open economy that depends to a large extent on oil. Worldwide, Kuwait's oil reserves are second only to those of Saudi Arabia, representing about 10 percent of total global reserves. Oil accounts for nearly half of the gross domestic product (GDP), more than 90 percent of exports, and 75 percent of government income. Over the last 20 years, the government has tried to broaden the country's importance as a player at all levels of the oil industry by purchasing petroleum distribution networks and gas stations in other parts of the world.

In 1990, Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait and was then driven out by United Nations (UN) forces under the leadership of the United States. A decade later, Kuwait has fully recovered: the economy is on the upswing and the infrastructure has been restored. Kuwait operates the world's most generous state welfare system for its indigenous population. Nationals enjoy access to a free (local) telephone service, electricity at 10 percent of production cost, and water supplies at a third of cost. In addition, as the constitution stipulates, nationals are provided with lifetime guaranteed employment in the civil service, with subsidized housing for married employees.

Like many other Gulf states, Kuwait is heavily dependent on international oil prices. Therefore, it needs to develop a viable non-oil related industrial base and is pressed hard to create jobs for the growing number of young nationals entering the job market every year. The government is, in principle, committed to economic reform. It presented a package of structural reforms to the National Assembly in 1999, which are designed to enhance overall efficiency and growth potential. However, implementation has been slow, and privatization programs have met stiff resistance because of fears over job losses between nationals and the possible elimination of consumer subsidies .


The State of Kuwait is a hereditary constitutional monarchy, headed by an emir chosen from the Al-Sabah family. The current emir is Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, who acceded to the throne in 1977. Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah is head of state and head of the executive council of ministers, and he rules by decrees agreed to by the council of ministers and, in theory at least, approved by the 50-member National Assembly.

Kuwait can be considered a typical rentier state, that is, a state benefitting from large revenues from the sale of natural resources, in this case oil. As in another oil-dependent sheikhdom, Bahrain, the government distributes the income to its citizens by providing them with jobs and welfare and keeping taxation low. In return, Kuwait's citizens are tied to the state and remain loyal to an undemocratic regime. The concept may be captured in the phrase, "no taxation, no representation."

No political parties are allowed in Kuwait although informal groupings do exist. The largest are the religiously motivated Islamic Patriotic Coalition, the Islamic Constitutional Movement, and the Islamic Popular Grouping, also called the Salafi. The Kuwait Democratic Forum is the largest secular political group and is the voice of liberal and Arab nationalist opinions. The legislature, Majlis Al-Umma, is a unicameral National Assembly of 50 elected members, plus appointed cabinet ministers, serving for a 4-year period. The Assembly's legislative power is restricted, since the emir can simply dissolve it at will and rules by decree. In fact, the National Assembly was temporarily dissolved by decree of the emir in 1976, 1986, and 1999. Kuwaitis under the age of 21 and women cannot vote. Though the issue of women's suffrage (right to vote) is heavily debated, in January 2001, Kuwait's constitutional court followed a lower-court ruling refusing to grant women their voting rights.

The Kuwaiti emir also has ultimate authority over major decisions relating to oil. In December 1975, the country nationalized its domestic and foreign oil assets and created the Kuwait Petroleum Company (KPC), which is an umbrella company for subsidiaries handling oil production and marketing. The economy is heavily dominated by state-owned enterprises.


Kuwait's infrastructure is modern and well developed. Within a few years after liberation from the Iraqi occupation, Kuwait managed to restore facilities and services to pre-war standards.


A network of 3,800 kilometers (2,361 miles) of good paved roads and modern multi-lane expressways link all areas of the country, extending south and west from Kuwait City to neighboring cities and to Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The portsShuwaykh, Shuaybah, and Mina Al-Ahmadihandle commercial shipping and petroleum exports.


Kuwait has several major electric power-generating plants. These incorporate desalination operations, which remove salt from seawater to provide the country with drinking water. Currently, the country has enough electric capacity from plants fired by natural gas or oil, but with demand rapidly rising as the population increases, expansion projects are already underway to increase capacity. To meet demand, the Middle East Eco-

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Cable Cable subricribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Kuwait 374 660 491 N/A 138 27.6 104.9 23.76 100
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Saudi Arabia 57 321 262 N/A 31 N/A 49.6 1.17 300
Iraq 19 229 83 N/A 0 N/A N/A 0.00 N/A
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

nomic Digest (MEED) estimates that Kuwait will need to spend US$3.6 billion over the next 10 years to install 5,000 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity to add to the 6,900 MW that was already available at end-1999.


Before 1990-91, the telephone system had more than 250,000 subscribers, with work under way to increase this number to more than 500,000. Since demand is running at only 400,000 lines, the emphasis is on upgrading rather than expanding the system. There is a mobile cellular system in operation, which had 150,000 subscribers in 1996. By 2000, Kuwait had 3 Internet service providers and 5,000 hosts registered under their own domain. The Ministry of Communications retains control over these services and access is expensive, but the Internet is hugely popular and, according to the U.S. State Department's Country Commercial Guide for 2001, the number of individual users is expected to jump to 300,000 by 2003.


The economy of Kuwait relies heavily on industry and services. In 1996, agriculture accounted for none of the country's GDP, while industry accounted for 55 percent and services accounted for 45 percent. Agriculture only contributed 0.4 percent to the GDP in 1999, while industry accounted for 51.4 percent, and services for 48.2 percent. These figures, however, can be misleading, since oil dominates the Kuwaiti economy. Except for petroleum industries, Kuwait's only other industrial enterprises are desalination, salt production, food processing, and construction.


Because Kuwait is desert and has almost no water, agriculture has seen minimal development. As a result, Kuwait imports over 96 percent of its food, while over 75 percent of its drinking water has to be distilled or imported.

Pollution, dating from the deliberate oil spillage and torching of wells under Iraqi occupation, has further hindered agricultural development in the aftermath of the war.

In the 1970s, over-fishing by many states in the Gulf considerably reduced catches of fish and shrimp. In the late 1980s, war and environmental damage, including oil spills, also harmed the fishing industry. Large-scale commercial fishing takes place as far afield as the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea but serves domestic demand.


Industrial development in Kuwait has faced formidable obstacles. The country, so rich in oil, is poor in most other resources. The small domestic market restricts production for local consumption to small-scale operations, while the small Kuwaiti labor force , possessing limited skills, and high labor costs are further constraints.


Kuwait's oil production of 2.095 million barrels per day (bpd) in 1998 accounted for 3 percent of total world output. Although Iraqi forces set fire to over 60 percent of Kuwaiti oil wells and thus destroyed about 2 percent of Kuwait's total reserves, the country holds about 10 percent of known world reserves. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that Kuwait's importance as a world oil producer will steadily increase. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia hold about 80 percent of the world's excess production capacity, which means that the 2 countries can easily produce more or less oil at will, thus influencing the prices in the world markets. The emirate plans to invest US$15 billion over the period 1995-2005 to increase its output capacity to 3.5 million bpd. There are also plans to modernize 3 refineries to increase total domestic processing capacity from 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1 million bpd and to allow for environmentally cleaner products. At present, Kuwait produces about 2 million barrels of crude oil per day. With oil prices remaining high throughout 2000, earnings amounted to an estimated KD5.4 billion (US$17.5 billion).

The emirate also ranks among the nations with the world's largest natural gas reserves. Most of its gas is used for domestic needs rather than export, but Kuwait estimates that it has 1.5 trillion cubic meters, or 1.1 percent of global reserves.


Most industry is concentrated in petrochemicals and production of fertilizers. The Petro-chemical Industries Company (PIC), a subsidiary of the Kuwait Petroleum Company (KPC) and the leading industrial enterprise, is involved in the production of petroleum-based fertilizers. Kuwait's capacity to produce fertilizer stands at approximately 1.65 million tons per year. In recent years, however, the market has been hit by technical problems, weak prices, and the imposition of European Union (EU) tariffs . Other light industries include chemicals, food processing, textiles, furniture, paper, mineral and metallic products, cement, sulphur processing, detergents, and construction materials.


Aside from oil, services dominate the Kuwaiti economy. Most people are employed by the government, whose over-staffed bureaucracy and generous welfare system provides most Kuwaitis with their income. Since there is hardly any tourism, banks and financial services are the only commercial services involving the private sector .


By the 1980s, Kuwait's banks were among the Gulf region's largest financial institutions. Because of the high oil revenue in the 1970s, many private individuals with money to dispose began to speculate. This action prompted a small crash in the official stock market in 1977 and a much larger crash in the alternative stock market, the Souq al-Manakh in 1986. The debts from the crash (US$64 billion) left all but one bank in Kuwait technically insolvent and held up only by support from the Central Bank. A government imposed reform program for the banking sector was still incomplete in 1990 when the Iraqi invasion changed the entire financial picture.

After liberation, new plans were announced for reform, which involved the government purchase of the banks' outstanding debts, but the reform has not yet been completed. Only the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK), the largest commercial bank, which handled the exiled government's finances during the crisis, survived both crises intact. The NBK, with current assets of over US$12 billion, is one of the 5 biggest banks in the Arab world and ranks in the top 250 banks worldwide. the jointly owned Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait and 6 other Kuwaiti banks are also in the top 1,000.


Ever since the era of oil began after World War II, the priceless mineral has been Kuwait's main export product. Thanks to the huge revenue from oil sales, the government accumulated surplus money and invested abroad. Many of these reserve investments were cashed in during the Iraqi occupation and the liberation period to meet the expenses of Kuwait and the allied coalition. By the mid-1990s the value of exports exceeded the costs of imports by US$4 billion. Trade surplus hit a low in 1998, due to declining oil prices but began rising again in 1999. Figures show a US$2.7 billion increase to US$13.5 billion in the value of exports, and a US$1 billion drop in imports, which totaled US$8.1 billion, compared to 1998. By 2000, the World Factbook estimated

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Kuwait
Exports Imports
1975 9.184 2.390
1980 19.663 6.529
1985 10.487 6.005
1990 7.042 3.972
1995 12.931 7.784
1998 9.529 6.130
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

that exports totaled US$23.2 billion and imports totaled US$7.6 billion.

Because of Kuwait's small domestic manufacturing sector, the country's imports for its high-income economy are finished products, which come primarily from the United States and Japan. In 1999, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, 15.4 percent of imports came from the United States, 10.2 percent from Japan, 7.3 percent from Germany, and 7.1 percent from the United Kingdom. Japan, however, led Kuwait's export markets, absorbing 22.8 percent, followed by the United States at 11.5 percent, Singapore 8.2 percent, and the Netherlands 7.3 percent.


The Kuwaiti dinar's exchange rate is pegged to the U.S. dollar and has remained stable throughout the last few decades. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has praised the Central Bank of Kuwait, established in 1959, for its successful policies in keeping the Kuwaiti currency stable. One dinar roughly equals 3 dollars.

Kuwait is one of the few major capital-exporting countries, that is, the state has more income at its disposal than it spends, and this surplus money is invested overseas or lent to the international banking sector. The Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) controls 2 portfolios, the Reserve Fund for Future Generations and the State

Exchange rates: Kuwait
Kuwaiti dinars (KD) per US$1
Jan 2001 0.3057
2000 0.3067
1999 0.3044
1998 0.3047
1997 0.3033
1996 0.2994
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

General Reserve Fund. The combined value of these funds is estimated at between US$60billion and US$90 billion; although impressive, these figures are well below the pre-1990 Gulf War peak of US$117 billion. KIA's investments include bonds and international stocks listed on the New York and London stock exchanges, as well as real estate property, in Europe and North America. The (official) Kuwait Stock Exchange is small and is characterized by intensive trading, of only a limited number of stocks, among local investors.


In a state such as Kuwait, class based on private property and wealth becomes less important than the power of access to the state that distributes the large (oil) revenues. Although Kuwait is a wealthy country and poverty is almost non-existent, there are still important divisions within society. There are divisions between long-settled tribal families and those who only settled in the last 3 decades and do not benefit from long established ties to the powerful. Some of the latter have not even been granted Kuwaiti citizenship and are usually called Bidoon, meaning "without" (nationality) and thus face grave disadvantages. Another important determinant of proximity to the state apparatus is the sectarian division between Sunni Muslims and Shiites. The Shi'a community (immigrants from neighboring countries) has often been excluded from the government bureaucracy that provides Kuwaiti Sunnis with work and social security.

The provision of social services to Kuwaiti citizens, compared with most Western countries, is extensive. The state welfare system especially cares for the needy, providing direct transfers to widows and students, and aiding families in need because of divorce, old age, disability, parental death, illness, or financial difficulty. Educational and marital status are taken into account in granting aid.


Kuwait's vast wealth has attracted many immigrants from poorer countries who come looking for work. Thus,

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Kuwait 21,838 16,922 10,736 N/A N/A
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Saudi Arabia 9,658 11,553 7,437 7,100 6,516
Qatar N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

after decades of immigration , at least 55 percent of the total population of Kuwait are foreign, and the rate within the workforce is even higher (84 percent). In the private sector, 94 percent of employees are expatriates, working in shops, services and, frequently, as domestic servants. Only about 26 percent of Kuwaitis participate in the workforce, as opposed to 70 percent for expatriates. The Kuwaiti participation rate , although still low, has been gradually increasing (it was 22 percent in 1989) owing to a rise in female participation in the workforce. For cultural and social reasons this rate is still low, and, because of Kuwait's oil wealth, many women do not need to work.

Kuwaiti citizen workers95 percent are government employeesare entitled to join unions. However, according to the U.S. State Department's Country Commercial Guide for 2001, in June 1998, there were only 50,000 union members. There is a legal minimum wage in the government sector, but none in the private sector. Public health care is free to citizens, but a health insurance charge is levied on employers to cover expatriates (most workers in the private sector). Foreigners thus do not benefit equally from the state social services, which favor Kuwaiti nationals.

About 40 percent of Kuwaitis are under the age of 14, and young Kuwaitis are seeking jobs in steadily increasing numbers. These factors are a cause for growing government concern, and the government will at some point have to abandon its guarantee of a public sector job for every university-educated citizen. One recent measure is the "Kuwaitization" of the economy, promoting the employment of Kuwaitis over foreign labor in the private sector and limiting immigration. It has been nearly impossible for foreign workers to obtain Kuwaiti citizenship; those who do achieve it are not entitled to vote for another 20 years.


1756. Part of the Ottoman Empire since the 16th century, Kuwait gains semi-autonomy under the Sheikh of the Sabah family.

1899. The ruling Sabah family accepts British protection to counter the spread of Turkish influence and grants control of external relations to Britain.

1918. The end of World War I ends what is already nominal Turkish control over Kuwait.

1938. Oil is discovered in Kuwait, but World War II interrupts further exploration. Drilling resumes after the war and Kuwait soon develops into a thriving commercial center. The government begins to use oil revenue to develop the country's infrastructure and a modern and comprehensive welfare system.

1960. Kuwait becomes a founding member of the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC) on 14 September.

1961. Kuwait's status as a British protectorate ends, and the country assumes independence on 19 June. The ruling sheikh becomes the emir and assumes full executive power.

1961-63. Iraq moves troops to the border, threatening to annex Kuwait but draws back due to international pressure and a coup within Iraq.

1974-75. The Supreme Petroleum Council is created, followed by the nationalization of domestic and foreign oil assets and the creation of the Kuwait Petroleum Company (KPC).

1977. Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah becomes emir, succeeding Sheikh Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah.

1990-91. Iraq invades Kuwait. The international community condemns the invasion and, led by the United States, deploys armed forces to Saudi Arabia. The allied forces launch an aerial bombing campaign against Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq on 17 January 1991. On 24 February 1991, American-led ground forces enter Kuwait, and on 28 February Iraq agrees to accept UN resolutions concerning Kuwait.

1999. A draft law granting women full political rights is narrowly rejected in December.


At the beginning of the 21st century, Kuwait is facing major challenges. Political reform, including women's right to vote, is under debate and cannot be put off in the long run. Economic reform is even more pressing. Kuwait's oil reserves will last for another 100 years, but the country has to restructure its economy and reduce its dependence on oil. Many young Kuwaitis will demand their share in the country's wealth and need to be provided with work opportunities and prospects if they are not to challenge the country's political power structures. The government is currently debating various reform packages in both the economic and political arenas. And, however much resistance there may currently be to economic reform, privatization and liberalization might prove to be the only way to sustain the country's wealth in a post-oil era.


Kuwait has no territories or colonies.


Chalk, Nigel Andrew, and others. Kuwait: From Reconstruction to Accumulation for Future Generations, Washington, D.C.: IMF Occasional Papers No. 150, April 1997.

Cordesman, Anthony H. Kuwait: Recovery and Security after the Gulf War. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997.

Crystal, Jill. Kuwait: The Transformation of an Oil State. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Kuwait. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed October 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Kuwait. <>. Accessed August 2001.

U.S. Library of Congress, Federal Research Division. Kuwait: A Country Study. <>. Accessed January 2001.

Markus R. Bouillon

Ralph Stobwasser


Kuwait City.


Kuwaiti dinar (KD). One Kuwaiti dinar is divided into 1000 fils. Bills come in denominations of 1/4, 1/2, 1, 5, 10, and 20KD. There are coins of 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 fils.


Oil and oil-related products and fertilizers.


Food and livestock, construction materials, vehicles and parts, clothing.


US$29.3 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$23.2 billion (f.o.b., 2000). Imports: US$7.6 billion (f.o.b., 2000).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: State of Kuwait
Region (Map name): Middle East
Population: 2,041,961
Language(s): Arabic, English
Literacy rate: 78.6%
Area: 17,820 sq km
GDP: 37,783 (US$ millions)
Number of Television Stations: 13
Number of Television Sets: 875,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 428.5
Number of Satellite Subscribers: 498,000
Satellite Subscribers per 1,000: 243.9
Number of Radio Stations: 18
Number of Radio Receivers: 1,175,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 575.4
Number of Individuals with Computers: 250,000
Computers per 1,000: 122.4
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 150,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 73.5

Background & General Characteristics

Kuwait is a Middle Eastern country strategically bordered on the east by the Persian Gulf and precariously sandwiched between Iraq on the north and west, and Saudi Arabia on the south and west. Hosting a land area of 6,877 square miles, a desert-like climate, and a population of 2,500,000 Kuwait has provided a theater for ongoing territorial disputes, disputes which have impacted the free flow of information in that and surrounding countries.

Although English is widely spoken, the official language of Kuwait is Arabic. The population is 85 percent Muslim, with Protestant and Catholic Christianity, Hindu, Parsi and other religions combined accounting for the remaining 15 percent. The literacy rate for Kuwaitis is approximately 79 percent.


Kuwait is classified as a constitutional monarchy and has been a fully independent country since June 19, 1961. No political parties are allowed and voting is restricted to qualifying Kuwaiti males over age 21. Although the state of Kuwait's civil legal system is significantly related to Islamic law, compulsory Islamic law for criminal justice has not been formally adopted.

Significant historical developmental periods of Kuwait demonstrate a diversity of political, financial, ethnic and religious influences. These eras include: early civilizations when the land now known as Kuwait was part of the B.C., West Asian Sumer Kingdom; the middle 18th century settlement by the Utub, an Arab group splintered from the Anizah tribe; 1756 when Sheikh Sabah bin Jaber I was chosen ruler; 1899 when Britain joined with Kuwait to help protect Kuwait's sovereignty which was threatened by Turkey; and 1961 which marked Kuwait's separation from Britain, although Britain continued to provide protection when Kuwait was threatened by Iraq. During the 1980s, Kuwait supported Iraq in its conflict with Iran, but Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations worsened and Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. Iraq's invasion impacted almost all aspects of Kuwaiti cultural, physical and political lifestyles, resulting in temporary media shut downs. After Iraq's occupation ended, the Kuwaiti government took steps to restore law and order and to move toward a population consisting of a majority of Kuwaitis, to be in part achieved by reducing the number of foreign persons allowed in Kuwait. In 2002, Kuwaitis constituted about 35 percent of the population. Issues of national security, immigration restrictions, and the influence of Islam in Kuwait, are among factors impacting the rebuilding of the modern press in Kuwait.

Newspapers and Other Publications

Modern Kuwait's print media had its beginning in the 1920s, expanding in the 1960s (Kamaliour & Mowlana) with the emergence of a number of publications. Most newspapers in Kuwait are individually owned, allowing for a wide range of expressions of opinion, but are limited to some degree in that speaking against the government or Islam is not allowed. Independent newspapers were somewhat challenged after Iraq's invasion, when the Kuwaiti government became involved in publishing news. However, government newspapers were discontinued because they could not compete with privately owned publications.

Arabic daily newspapers from Kuwait include: Al-Rai Ala-Am (Public Opinion ) which started publication in 1961 and hosted a 2001 circulation of about 87,000; Al-Seyassah (Policy ), founded in 1965, with a circulation of 70,000; and Al-Qabas (Starbrand ), a somewhat liberal publication founded in 1972. Before the Iraqi invasion in 1990, Al-Qabas reportedly had a circulation of about 120,000, compared to its 2001 circulation of 79,000. In 2002, its online Arabic Al-Qabas site reported 30,000 weekly hits.

Another Arabic newspaper, Al-Watan (The Home-land ), started publication in 1974 and had a 2001 circulation of 60,000. Al-Anbas (The News ) was founded in 1976 and had a 2001 circulation of about 107,000. Other newspapers include Al Dostoor, a general interest publication; and Al Iklisadia, a business publication.

Newspapers published in English include the Kuwait Times, founded in 1961, with a 2001 circulation of 28,000; Kuwait Today ; and the Arab Times, founded in 1977 reporting a circulation of 42,000. The Washington Post is also received in Kuwait.

Weekly publications include Al-Mousaher, an economic publication; Murat al-Umma (Mirror of the Nations) with a circulation of 80,000; and Al Yaqza (The Awakening ), a general and political publication founded in 1966, reporting in 2001 a circulation of 91,000. Al-Mujtamaa is a weekly Islamic magazine.

Other magazines include Al-Arabia (Pioneer ), founded in 1958 reporting in 1994 a circulation of 360,000. The widely read educational journal which was halted because of the Iraqi invasion but restarted publication in 1991. Other publications include general interest magazines Al Forgan, Anhaar and Mishkat Al Rai ; Al-Nahda, Al-Moukhtalef, OusratyAnnasHayataniaAl-Majales, and Al-Balagh, a general and Islamic publication with a 2002 circulation of 29,000.

Other sources of information in Kuwait include the State of Kuwait Official Gazette , a Sunday weekly journal published since 1954 by the Ministry of Information (2002 circulation of 5,000), and Kuwait Magazine, published monthly since 1961. The Ministry of Defense publishes a monthly magazine, Homat Alwatan.

Economic Framework

The economy of Kuwait has moved from a poor nomadic lifestyle resulting from the desert-like condition of its land, to a somewhat thriving sea port based on its location on the Persian Gulf, to a somewhat diminished level after WWII, to one of the wealthiest nations in the world based on the discovery of oil in the 1930s. According to F.E. Kazan (Kamaliour & Mowlana), Oil is the prime mover that led to the economic prosperity of Kuwaiti society, attracted a diversified population to Kuwait, led to the increase in the literacy and urbanization rates, and finally led to progress in the levels of socioeconomic and political development. All these factors, in turn, ushered in the progress of Kuwaiti mass media. Further, by maintaining its ties with the East and with the West, Kuwait has been able to provide economic security and a high standard of living for its citizens.

Press Laws and Censorship

As a primary regulator of the media, the 1991 Kuwaiti constitution guaranteed freedom of press, but only within the limits of the law. Although freedom of the press is a concept associated with Kuwait, and in spite of the fact that the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) is considered to be independent, certain agency structures and national laws limit free exercise. For instance, KUNA as a part of the Ministry of Information has historically controlled Radio Kuwait and the Kuwait Television stations.

In 1956 the first press law was passed. Then the 1961 Press and Publishing Law provided for such sanctions as fines and imprisonment for publishing materials critical of the government, rulers, other Arab states, allies of Kuwait or religious figures.

Another press law passed in 1976 provided for suspending the licenses of media sources who broke press laws, but later these restrictions were softened and the media began to monitor itself to some degree. However, beginning in 1986, the Ministry of Information required all publications to submit copy to the ministry in advance for approval and forbade criticism of the ruler and his family, other Arab leaders, and Islam, as well as the acceptance of foreign funding.


Kuwaiti press laws have been enforced in a number of cases. For instance, the World Press Freedom Review reported an incident in which a publication which might be viewed as lending support to Iraq was banned from Kuwait; an incident in which a university professor was sentenced to prison for allegedly defaming Islam and others were fined for allegedly writing immoral poetry (2000); incidents in which a television station was banned for insulting the Emir, an offense against the Kuwaiti Constitution (1999); and an incident in which the editor-in-chief of a leading daily newspaper was sentenced to prison for allegedly insulting the Divine Being (1998).

State-Press Relations

Private media enjoys a great deal of freedom in Kuwait, yet is subject to governmental sanctions for violating news and publication laws. The press is economically dependent on state financial subsidies.

Attitude Toward Foreign Media

Kuwait depends to a large degree on its Western allies for defense. For instance, in 2002, The Associated Press reported that the United States planned to sell Kuwait missiles to help Kuwait protect itself against hostile neighbors. Such factors as Kuwait's continuing ties with both the East and the West present a sometime complex and incongruent situation for the media. Although foreign media is welcome in Kuwait, evidenced by Broadcasts from the BBC World Service, Voice of America, All India Radio and Pakistan Radio being received in Kuwait, sanctions for violation of Kuwait's publication laws apply. Kuwait extends accreditation to foreign correspondents, but there are instances in which publications and journalists have been banned from entering Kuwait.

Foreign bureaus include the Middle East News Agency, Egypt; New China News Agency; AFP, France; and the Associated Press, USA. Russia, Turkey, Libya and Germany are also represented. Online foreign news sources include Al Bawaba (Arabic/English) and Arabia (Arabic/English), as well as English sites: Kuwait Daily, Middle East News Online, MoreoverOne World, theWashington Post, and Zawya.

News Agencies and Associations

The Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) was established in 1976 as an independent institution, but functions as an arm of the Ministry of Information. The agency conducts research and provides information on general and special political and socioeconomic issues. In 1986, KUNA provided about 50,000 information releases, and was to become the leading Middle Eastern news agency. There is also an independent Kuwait Journalist Association.

Broadcast Media

The broadcast media in Kuwait does not have a history of independence. The Ministry of Information in Kuwait Aowns, finances, controls and manages radio and television media in Kuwait (Kamaliour & Mowlana).


The first radio broadcasts in Kuwait originated in 1951, and after Kuwait's liberation from Britain in 1961, the radio medium grew. After the Iraqi invasion in 1990, Kuwait radio continued to broadcast from other countries in efforts to encourage Kuwaiti citizens to remain loyal and reject Iraq's occupation of their country.

In 2002, Kuwaiti radio stations provide public programs 24 hours a day. There are various Arabic radio stations such as Radio Kuwait which broadcasts news, music and talk radio; a Super Station FM 99.7 which began in 1994; Radio Kuwait (English); two English FM stations; plus the American Armed Forces Radio.


Kuwaiti television originally started in 1957 as a private enterprise, but after Kuwait gained its independence from Britain, control was given to the government. Iraq destroyed television facilities during the 1990 invasion, but after Iraqi occupation ended, Kuwait's links with the West again proved beneficial as it received financial support in rebuilding efforts. In 1998, efforts were made within Kuwait to allow television to be a private industry by the year 2000, but these efforts were subject to governmental approval.

There are 13 Kuwait Television broadcast stations, plus several satellite channels. Programs in Arabic and English are provided, including a sports station and the Kuwait Satellite Channel which started transmission in 1992.

Electronic News Media

In addition to television and radio, the development of movies and VCRs provided additional avenues for electronically communicating information. However, the introduction of the Internet provided unprecedented opportunities for freedom of the press throughout the world. In 2000, there were three Internet service providers and some 100,000 users in Kuwait.

The Palestinian/Israeli conflict has impacted the media in the Middle East, resulting in news releases which demonstrate the overlapping connections between the Kuwaiti government, the West, other Arab states and the press. For instance, in 2002, KUNA reported that Kuwaiti officials opposed using oil as a weapon to force Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories.

Electronic News Media

The State of Kuwait provides information and images about history and culture. An English window for KuwaitOnline provides information on a variety of online resources. These include: Al-Forgan Magazine, the first online Islamic Magazine at the State of Kuwait; Online First Aid ; Al-Qadisia Club, an online sports club; and an interactive site KOL Corner for expressions of opinion.

Education & TRAINING

The University of Kuwait offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Department of Mass Communication. In addition, a graduate program in mass media was being prepared for addition to the curriculum. Students are taught how to translate news from Arabic to English and English to Arabic, and an internship program is required. A state of the arts computer lab is equipped for teaching electronic publishing, image processing and multimedia applications using Macintosh and Pentium formats. Undergraduate courses in advertising, radio, television, public relations and propaganda, research methodology, theory, Kuwaiti mass media history, ethics, law, and mass communication technology are taught. The Media Law emphasis provides information regarding Kuwaiti governmental regulation of print and broadcast media, including sanctions for violating publication laws.


Just as the country of Kuwait is geographically triangularly sandwiched between Iraq, Saudia Arabia and the freedom of the sea, Kuwaiti mass media seems to be sociologically triangularly sandwiched between Kuwait's political and economic loyalty to its citizens; its religious loyalty to Islam and other Arab nations; and its dedication to the concept of freedom of speech fundamental to democracy and Kuwait's ties with the West. In 2002, the ongoing tension between these competing ideological perspectives required Kuwaiti media to perform unique three ring, journalistic balancing acts.


The American School of Kuwait. Life in Kuwait, 2002. Available from

Amman, J. Latest Internet content and technology group in the middle east formed by Arab, American and European investors, 2000. Available from

ArabNet. Kuwait Culture, Media, 2002. Available from

Central Intelligence Agency. The World Fact Book 2001, Directorate of Intelligence, 2002. Available from

Kamalipour, V.R., and H. Mowlana, eds. Mass Media in the Middle East: A comprehensive handbook by F.E. Kazan. Westport, CT: Greenword Press, 1994.

Kuwait Information Office. Kuwait at a Glance, 2002. Available from

"News and Media from Kuwait," 2002. Available from

A Review of the Events of 2001: Facts in brief on Middle Eastern countries. Chicago: World Book, Inc, 2002.

World Press Freedom Review, 2002. Available from

Duffy Wilks

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Arab country situated at the northern end of the Persian/Arabian Gulf.

The state of Kuwait (dawlat al-Kuwayt) is located at the northern tip of the Persian Gulf. Its name in Arabic means "small fort," perhaps referring to an outpost left by sixteenth-century Portuguese sailors. Kuwait borders Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Land and People

Kuwait's 7,800 square miles of territory are mostly flat except for a ridge in the north overlooking the Bay of Kuwait and a hill about 300 meters high in the southwest. The bay is Kuwait's most distinctive geographic feature, providing a sheltered harbor that many regard as the best port in the Persian Gulf. Kuwait has little available freshwater but, with 96.5 billion barrels of proven petroleum reserves, it produces most of its freshwater supplies from sea-water in conjunction with electricity generation.

Summers are hot, with temperatures regularly topping 45 °C (113 °F) and sometimes exceeding 50 °C (122 °F). During other times of year, temperatures are moderate, especially at night, and, occasionally in winter may dip below freezing. Annual rainfall is about three inches per year, but varies locally from mere traces to downpours averaging several inches at a time. There is frequent wind and dust
storms are common, especially during the spring and summer.

Before Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Kuwaiti citizens made up about 28 percent of the population of 2.1 million. Palestinians, peaking at about 400,000 persons, constituted the largest immigrant community, many having come to Kuwait after the 1948 and 1967 ArabIsrael wars. Kuwait also hosted an estimated quarter-million stateless Arabs, the bidun ("without"for without citizenship). Bidun worked primarily as police and military personnel and were treated almost as citizens. When oil prices collapsed in 1986, the government tried to curb guest-worker immigration and encouraged bidun to emigrate. Following liberation in February 1991, most Palestinians were deported in retaliation for Yasir Arafat's support of Saddam Hussein's invasion, while bidun continued to suffer discrimination. Guest workers came increasingly from Egypt and South Asia. By 2003 the population had returned to 2.1 million but the proportion of citizens was approximately 40 percent. Nearly all native
Kuwaitis are Muslim; approximately 15 to 20 percent are Shiʿite and the rest Sunni. Most guest workers also are Muslim.

Few nomads remain in Kuwait. Most of the population is urban, concentrated in Kuwait City and its closely adjoining suburbs. Suburbs also are burgeoning in what formerly were called "outlying areas" farther from the city center. Building is booming south of the city, inland as well as along the coast; in Ahmadi, home of the Kuwait Oil Company; and in the rapidly urbanizing zone between Kuwait City and Jahra.


During the third millennium b.c.e., what is now Kuwait was part of a highly developed culture based on maritime commerce and linked to ancient Sumer. Kuwait's modern history began in the early eighteenth century when several clans of the al-Utub tribal grouping (part of the Aniza tribal confederation to which the Al Saʿud belong), left drought-and famine-stricken central Arabia and settled on the northern Gulf coast. The Al Sabah were formally established as rulers in 1756. They directed Kuwait's affairs in consultation with members of other paramount clans who, like them, had become merchants.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Al Sabah proved adept at the maneuvering necessary for a small state to survive next to powerful Saudi and Rashidi neighbors. They were especially successful in capitalizing on the rivalry between the imperialist Ottomans and British. In 1899 Mubarak Al Sabah (Mubarak the Great) reached the first in a series of secret agreements with the British relinquishing authority over Kuwait's foreign relations and potential oil reserves to Britain in exchange for protective services and secret subventions. The Kuwaiti-British bond remained in effect until 1961. It ensured that the succession to the rulership would remain with Mubarak's direct descendants. The British helped to set up and run the state's administration but neglected to demarcate Kuwait's borders when states in its region were created by the victors of World War I. A general agreement on Kuwait's boundaries was reached by British, Saudi, and Iraqi representatives at the Uqayr Conference (1922), shrinking Kuwait's territory. But the ambiguity of Kuwait's borders invited attempts by both the Saudis and Iraqis to shrink Kuwait further and, with the 1990 Iraqi invasion, to extinguish its independent existence altogether.


Nineteenth-century Kuwait enjoyed enviable prosperity from maritime trade, pearling, and fishing. Its economy was devastated by World War I, Saudi raids, and the introduction of Japanese cultured pearls in the late 1920s. The Great Depression in the United States also affected Kuwait, but oil was discovered in 1938, promising a new prosperity. Amir Ahmad al-Jabir had granted the concession to develop Kuwait's oil to the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), a joint venture between British Petroleum (formerly the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company) and the American-owned Gulf Oil Corporation. Kuwait's oil production expanded rapidly following the nationalization of Iranian oil by Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1951. Conflicts with KOC's operators underlay Kuwait's decision to become a founding member of OPEC in 1960. It nationalized foreign oil properties in the 1970s and, in 1980, established a holding company, the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC), for all its hydro-carbon assets, including those located abroad. In the 1990s Kuwaitis began debating the wisdom of inviting foreign oil companies back to produce oil in Kuwait on a contract basis and, by the turn of the century, debate over oil privatization had become a staple of parliamentary politics.

The government invested Kuwait's oil income directly, by expanding domestic and foreign oil holdings through KPC and its various subsidiaries; indirectly, it made large purchases of foreign blue-chip securities. Most of the latter are held by the Reserve Fund for Future Generations (RFFG), established in 1976 to ensure Kuwait's post-hydrocarbon prosperity. By law, the RFFG receives 10 percent of annual government revenue; it is the only reserve of its kind anywhere in the Gulf. By the early 1980s, Kuwait's portfolio income exceeded its income from oil and gas.

This changed following the 1990 Iraqi invasion. RFFG funds were tapped to provide approximately $26 billion toward liberation efforts. Billions more were spent during the war to support Kuwaitis in and outside the country and, after the war, to extinguish 732 oil well fires, to repair or replace industrial and civilian infrastructure, and to indemnify Kuwaitis through direct payments and large salary increases. Even before the invasion, financial mis-appropriations through insider trading, sweetheart contracts, and alleged embezzlement had eaten into Kuwait's financial reserves. This continued following liberation despite parliamentary oversight and a strengthened audit bureau. Whereas before the invasion Kuwait held approximately $100 billion in the RFFG and in the state's General Reserve Fund, its postliberation assets were estimated at only $30 to $35 billion. Owing to these financial reversals, Kuwait today is more dependent on oil revenues than it was twenty years ago.

Other investments had equally ambiguous results. Kuwait has made extensive indirect investments in human capital, offering citizens generous social services, medical benefits, and free education from kindergarten through postgraduate school. Literacy rates grew rapidly, and life expectancy in 2003 reached seventy-seven years. Full employment was a government goal but, like social services, became harder to provide after liberation because of straitened capital availability and soft oil markets. Kuwaiti economic policy also is affected by changing attitudes toward personal responsibility, including policies affecting the private sector, curtailing subsidies, and imposing user fees.

Kuwait's foreign aid history has undergone a similar transition over the past four-plus decades since the 1960s. Oil-rich Kuwait invested in projects in other Muslim countries, but few were profitable. It also pioneered direct assistance through foreign-aid programs. It hosts university students from abroad and was the first developing country to establish its own international aid organization, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development. Yet
as with direct investment projects, Kuwait (along with its OPEC peers) found itself criticized by aid recipients for demanding that they adhere to international standards of compliance with loan and grant requirements. Even before Kuwait incurred large economic liabilities from the Iraqi invasion and occupation, Kuwaitis had begun to reconsider their foreign aid policies.

Government and Politics

Kuwait's dynastic, patriarchal system of government remains firmly in the hands of the Al Sabah, strengthened first by British support and then by Kuwait's oil wealth. Merchant attempts to recover their authority continue to be stymied. Although the 1962 constitution established an elected National Assembly, the parliament's ability to curb the rulers' power was undermined by two multiyear amiri suspensions of civil liberties guarantees. The parliament's power is diluted in several other ways: The amir's cabinet appointments are ex officio members; and an informal tradition gave a monopoly on the prime ministry to the crown prince until 2003. Elections are enthusiastically contested. Native-born Kuwaitis and sons of naturalized Kuwaiti citizens who are twenty-one years of age or older may vote in parliamentary elections but, despite an equal rights provision in the constitution, women are forbidden by law to vote or run for parliamentary office.

The two constitutional suspensions provided opportunities for the amir to manipulate the voter base. Elections held in 1981 after a five-year parliamentary hiatus were run in redrawn districts incorporating thousands of newly naturalized bedouin. Four years into the second suspension, the amir tried to quash the parliament altogether, holding new elections in June 1990 for an extraconstitutional "National Council" lacking the National Assembly's legislative powers. The Iraqi invasion ended this experiment; a new National Assembly was elected in October 1992.

The 1992 election marked a significant political watershed for Kuwait. Antigovernment candidates, about half of them Islamists, won thirty-five of the fifty seats. The ideological balance between Islamist and secularist parliamentarians (there are no legal parties in Kuwait, although a minority of candidates associate themselves with political clubs whose stands on issues they share) brought policy making to a virtual halt through much of the 1992 parliament's four-year term. Its successor, the 1996 parliament, was equally deadlocked on major issues, prompting the amir to dismiss the body in 1999 and call for new elections within sixty days, the first constitutional transition of this kind. The 1999 parliament also reflected a close balance between liberal and Islamist forces, but members of both coalitions were notably more flexible than their predecessors. Cross-coalitions centered mainly on economic issues were occasionally able to mobilize parliamentary majorities.

The most serious domestic political problem faced by Kuwait and other Gulf monarchies is uncertainty over ruler succession. Rulers and heirs apparent are mostly old and ailing, and the size of ruling families, along with evidence of clashing personal ambitions, heightens insecurity about future governance.

Foreign Relations

Kuwait's foreign relations reflect its changing economic circumstances and the resumption of direct intervention by major powers from outside the region. Prior to the Iraqi invasion, Kuwait used "checkbook diplomacy," hoping to buy off enemies and win friends among its neighbors. The 19901991 Iraqi invasion and widespread Arab popular support for it illustrated the failure of that strategy. Kuwait's long-standing nonaligned policy was undermined by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kuwait's current strategic dependence on the United States, which spearheaded the coalition of forces liberating Kuwait in 1991, leaves it vulnerable to direct pressure to conform to U.S. policy wishes. Since then, Kuwait has since faced pressure to increase arms purchases and provide access to more than a third of its territory as a platform for the 2003 U.S. and British invasion of Iraq. Given rising prospects for violent conflict in the Middle East, should the absence of regionally based security arrangements continue, Kuwaiti near-term foreign policy autonomy is, for all practical purposes, foreclosed.

see also al sabah family; al sabah, mubarak; gulf crisis (19901991); kuwait fund for arab economic development; kuwait petroleum corporation; mossadegh, mohammad.


Anscombe, Frederick F. The Ottoman Gulf: The Creation of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Al-Assiri, Abdul Reda. Kuwait's Foreign Policy: City-State in World Politics. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1990.

Crystal, Jill. Kuwait: The Transformation of an Oil State. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1992.

Herb, Michael. All in the Family: Absolutism, Revolution, and Democracy in the Middle Eastern Monarchies. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.

Tétreault, Mary Ann. Stories of Democracy: Politics and Society in Contemporary Kuwait. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

malcolm c. peck
updated by mary ann tÉtreault

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Kuwait or Kowait (kŏŏwāt´), officially State of Kuwait, constitutional emirate (2005 est. pop. 2,336,000), 6,177 sq mi (16,000 sq km), NE Arabian peninsula, at the head of the Persian Gulf. Kuwait is bounded by Saudi Arabia on the south and by Iraq on the north and west. The capital is Al-Kuwait, or Kuwait City.

Land and People

The country is a low, sandy region that is generally barren and sparsely settled. It has a warm climate, dry inland and humid along the coast. The population is about 80% Arab; however, somewhat more than half the population are non-Kuwaitis. Native Kuwaitis have an extremely high per capita income, pay no taxes, and enjoy numerous social services. Since the development of the oil industry, large numbers of foreigners have found employment in Kuwait; non-Kuwaitis represent about 80% of the labor force. Foreign ethnic groups include South Asians, Iranians, and others. Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken. Some 85% of the population is Muslim, with about twice as many Sunnis as Shiites. There are Christian, Hindu, and Parsi minorities.


Kuwait's traditional exports were pearls and hides, but since 1946 it has become a major petroleum producer and oil now dominates the economy. The country is mostly desert, with some fertile areas near the Persian Gulf coast; there is virtually no agricultural industry aside from fishing.

Kuwait has the third largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The main concession for oil exploitation was held by a joint British-American firm until 1974, when Kuwait took control of most of the operations; it had previously retained a large part of the oil profits. Much of the profits have been devoted to the modernization of living conditions and education in the country. The petroleum industry, which accounts for about 95% of Kuwait's export revenues, was severely damaged in the Persian Gulf War. However, by the end of 1992, the country had repaired nearly all the damage to its war-ravaged oil fields and its oil output was at about prewar levels. Huge amounts of natural gas complement Kuwait's oil and petrochemical production.

To provide against the possible future exhaustion of the oil reserves, in the 1960s the government launched a program of industrial diversification and overseas investment. Present industries include shipbuilding and repair, water desalinization, food processing, construction, and fertilizer production. Food, construction materials, vehicles, and clothing are the principal imports. Kuwait's major trading partners are Japan, the United States, South Korea, Taiwan, and Germany.


Kuwait is a monarchy governed under the constitution promulgated in 1962. The emir, the hereditary monarch of the Mubarak line of the ruling al-Sabah family, serves as head of state. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the monarch; until 2003 the prime minister traditionally was the crown prince. The unicameral legislature consists of the 50-seat National Assembly, whose members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. There are no official political parties, although several political groups act as de facto parties. Administratively, the country is divided into six governorates.


The development of the nation of Kuwait dates to the early 18th cent. when the town of Kuwait was founded by Arabs. The present ruling dynasty was established by Sabah abu Abdullah (ruled 1756–72). In the late 18th and early 19th cent. the emirate, nominally an Ottoman province, was frequently threatened by the Wahhabis. In 1897, Kuwait was made a British protectorate. In June, 1961, the British ended their protectorate, and Kuwait became an independent emirate, with Emir Abdullah al-Salim al-Sabah as its ruler. However, the British supplied troops in July at the request of the emir when Iraq claimed sovereignty over Kuwait. A short time later the British forces were replaced by detachments from the Arab League, of which Kuwait is a member. In Oct., 1963, Iraq officially recognized the nation of Kuwait.

Oil-rich Kuwait was a founding member (1961) of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The country's oil revenues have been used to provide financial aid to other Arab countries, and the nation became a supporter of Palestinian causes. Although Kuwait has maintained strong ties with Western nations, it also established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1963, the first of the Persion Gulf states to do so. In 1965, Emir Sabah Al-Salim al-Sabah succeeded to the throne. Kuwait took part in the oil embargo against nations that had supported Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and during the war Kuwaiti troops stationed in Egypt along the Suez Canal fought against Israeli forces. Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah succeeded to the throne in 1977 on the death of Emir Sabah. In 1981, Kuwait became a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Kuwait supported Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, which caused the country's oil income to decrease by nearly 50%. An oil refinery was attacked by Iran in 1982, Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf came under Iranian fire, and Iran instigated terrorist activity in Kuwait through radical Muslim groups. An assassination attempt on Emir Jaber occurred in May, 1985. In 1987, Kuwait sought U.S. protection for its oil tankers in the Persian Gulf; U.S. forces patrolled the gulf's waters until the end of the war in 1988.

In 1989, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein accused Kuwait of flooding the international oil market and consequently forcing oil prices down. Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, and Hussein declared Kuwait annexed. Many native Kuwaitis, including the royal family, fled. Western and Arab coalition forces, the largest part of which were American, drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War. Thousands of foreign workers who were based in Kuwait fled to Iran, Turkey, and Jordan, or were housed in temporary refugee camps throughout the Middle East. Iraqi forces devastated the country, setting fire to Kuwaiti oil wells before retreating. Over 80% of all wells were destroyed or damaged, causing phenomenal environmental hazards. The emir returned to Kuwait from Saudi Arabia in Mar., 1991. The Palestinians remaining in Kuwait after the war were expelled because of the Palestine Liberation Organization's support of Iraq.

In the war's wake, Kuwait concentrated on restoring its oil industry and on rebuilding the country. Parliamentary elections in 1992 resulted in the victory of a majority of the opposition candidates, but despite promises of democratic reform, the al Sabah family continued to dominate the government. In Oct., 1994, Iraq massed elite troops along the border with Kuwait, but it removed them when Kuwait and the United States moved forces into the area. Parliament was dissolved by the emir in May, 1999; new elections held in July gave Islamist and liberal candidates the most seats. Also in 1999, the emir issued an edict giving Kuwaiti women the right to vote and to run for office, but parliament failed to ratify it. In the July, 2003, parliamentary elections Islamists won 42% of the seats, while liberals retained only a handful; government supporters won 28% of the seats. The government finally succeeded in securing parliamentary ratification of political rights for women in May, 2005.

In Jan., 2006, Emir Jaber died; he was succeeded by Emir Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, who was himself in poor health (and died in 2008). Emir Saad was soon removed from office for health reasons by the parliament, and the prime minister, Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, succeeded him. Clashes in parliament over consolidating voting districts, which opposition members wanted in order to prevent vote-buying, led the emir to call new elections. In the June vote, women voted for the first time, but no female candidate won a seat; reformers, both largely Islamists, won 36 of the 50 seats.

Differences between the cabinet and the parliament led the government to resign in Mar., 2008. The May parliamentary elections largely repeated the results of two years before, with Islamists again controling the largest number of seats. A power struggle over some legislators demands to be allowed to question the prime minister, Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, about the circumstances of an Iranian cleric's visit led the government to resign in November; the emir reappointed Sheikh Nasser the following month, and a new cabinet was formed in Jan., 2009.

In Mar., 2009, however, legislators and the government were again in a standoff, and when the government again resigned, the emir dissolved parliament. Sunni Islamists suffered some losses in the May elections, which also produced Kuwait's first female legislators; the emir again asked Sheikh Nasser to form a government. In Mar., 2011, the cabinet again resigned in order to avoid parliamentary questioning. Sheikh Nasser formed a new cabinet in May, but corruption protests led to that government's resignation in November.

Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah, the former defense minister, was appointed prime minister, and in December parliament was dissolved. The Feb., 2012, elections resulted in a majority of the seats being held by opposition Islamist groups, with Sunni Islamists winning nearly half the seats. Sheikh Jaber was reappointed as prime minister after the elections. In June, however, amid renewed tensions between parliament and the government, the courts ruled that the February elections were unconstitutional, and reinstated the earlier parliament, and Sheikh Jaber was again reappointed as prime minister in July.

The opposition boycotted parliament, however, and in October it was dissolved. The opposition also boycotted the Dec., 2012, elections (turnout was roughly 40%), objecting to new voting rules that could diminish its power; this led to the election of progovernment legislators, including a few women. The previous government was essentially reappointed. Opposition leaders denounced the result as illegitimate and mounted a series of protests. In June, 2013, the constitutional court ordered the parliament dissolved because of problems before the December vote. New elections in July were again boycotted by the opposition; turnout was roughly 50%. After the election Sheikh Jaber was appointed prime minister.


See J. Daniels, Kuwait Journey (1971); S. Demir, The Kuwait Fund and the Political Economy of Arab Regional Development (1976); N. A. Abraham, Doing Business in Kuwait (1981); S. N. Ghabra, Palestinians in Kuwait (1987); A.-R. Assiri, Kuwait's Foreign Policy (1989).

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Official name: State of Kuwait

Area: 17,820 square kilometers (11,073 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Unnamed (290 meters/950 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 3 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 176 kilometers (109 miles) from northeast to southwest; 205 kilometers (127 miles) from northwest to southeast

Land boundaries: 464 kilometers (288 miles) total boundary length; Iraq 242 kilometers (150 miles), Saudi Arabia 222 kilometers (138 miles)

Coastline: 499 kilometers (310 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Kuwait is a small Middle Eastern country located at the head of the h2rsian Gulf and surrounded by the much larger neighboring states of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. With an area of 17,820 square kilometers (11,073 square miles), it is almost as large as the state of New Jersey.


Kuwait has no territories or dependencies.


Kuwait has a desert climate, with elevated humidity in the coastal region. Summer temperatures average about 32°C (90°F), with daytime highs commonly reaching 43°C (110°F) or higher. Readings as high as 54°C (130°F) have been recorded. Winter temperatures average between 10°C and 15°C (50°F and 60°F). The prevailing northwesterly wind, which exerts a cooling influence in summer, is called the shamal. Average annual rainfall is less than 25 centimeters (10 inches), and less than 13 centimeters (5 inches) in the southern part of the country. The rainy season, which occurs between October and April, is characterized by sudden, violent storms.


Kuwait is located on the coastal plain that rings much of the Persian Gulf. Its terrain consists largely of flat or rolling desert land, with maximum elevations reached at its western and southwestern corners.


Kuwait is linked to the Arabian Sea through the Persian Gulf.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Kuwait is located at the northwestern edge of the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf, which empties into the Arabian Sea by way of the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman. Kuwait has one deeply indented bay, Kuwait Bay, which has the only deepwater harbor on the western coast of the Persian Gulf.

Another coastal indentation is the site of several uninhabited islands.

Islands and Archipelagos

There are nine islands off the coast of Kuwait. The largest are Būbiyān and Warbah, both uninhabited. The only one that is inhabited is Faylakah, at the edge of Kuwait Bay.

Coastal Features

Kuwait's low-lying coast is characterized by areas of marshland, as well as mud flats, sand-bars, and islets.


There is an oasis at Al Jarah, at the western end of Kuwait Bay.


Some of Kuwait's wadis, or desert basins, fill with water during the winter rains, but the country has no permanent rivers or lakes.


The Kuwaiti desert is undulating and gravelly, with few hills or ridges.


Kuwait's terrain gradually rises, from near sea level at the coast, to elevations of about 198 meters (650 feet) in the northwest, nearly reaching 305 meters (1,000 feet) at its westernmost edge. The country's two other noticeable points of elevation are the Az Zawr escarpment on the northern shore of Kuwait Bay (145 meters/475 feet), and the Al-Ahmadī ridge south of the bay (137 meters/450 feet). Also of note is AshShaqāyā Peak in the western corner of the country, rising to a height of 290 meters (951 feet).


Kuwait has no actual mountain ranges.


Kuwait has no canyons or caves.


Distilled water is the main source of drinking water in Kuwait, which has some of the world's most sophisticated desalination facilities.


Kuwait has no distinct plateaus or monoliths.


Although Būbiyān Island is uninhabited, there is a large bridge linking it to the mainland. Kuwait and Iraq both claim rights to the island. Since there is no actual reason to visit the island, this bridge has been called "the bridge to nowhere."



Facey, William, and Gillian Grant. Kuwait by the First Photographers. London: I. B. Tauris, 1999.

Rahman, H. The Making of the Gulf War: Origins of Kuwait's Long-standing Territorial Dispute with Iraq. Reading, England: Ithaca, 1997.

Robison, Gordon, and Paul Greenway. Bahrain, Kuwait & Qatar. London: Lonely Planet, 2000.

Web Sites

Kuwait Information Office. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Kuwait Online. (accessed April 24, 2003).

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Kuwait (Al Kuwayt)


17,820 sq km (6880 sq mi)



capital (population):

Kuwait City (32,100)

Independent state in the ne Arabian Peninsula, n of the Persian Gulf. Kuwait was founded in the early 18th century. In 1899 it became a British protectorate, gaining full independence in 1961. In 1990, it was invaded by Iraqi forces, precipitating the Gulf War. In 1991, the Iraqis were ejected by an international coalition led by the USA. In 1992, Kuwait held its first parliamentary elections. The Emir, Jaber al-Sabah (r.1977– ) wields executive power. Huge oil reserves have made it one of the world's richest countries. Industries: shipbuilding, petrochemicals, fertilizers.

Political map

Physical map


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Culture Name


Alternative Names

State of Kuwait, Dawlat al Kuwayt


Identification. Modern day Kuwaitis are the descendants of several nomadic tribes and clans who ultimately settled on the coast of the Arabian Gulf during the eighteenth century to avoid the persistent drought of the desert. When they arrived at the coast, the clans built forts to protect themselves from other nomadic tribes who still traversed the desert. The name Kuwait is derived from kut, an Arabic word for "fort."

Location and Geography. Kuwait is a small country located in the Middle East on the Persian Gulf, between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It is a desert country with intensely hot summers and short, cool winters. The terrain varies minimally, between flat and slightly undulating desert plains.

Demography. The population of Kuwait in 2000 was estimated at 1,973,572, including 1,159,913 non-Kuwaiti citizens. A variety of ethnic groups reside in this country, and only around 40 percent of the population is Kuwaiti. People from surrounding Middle Eastern nations, such as Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, constitute 35 percent of the population. This make up is often in flux, depending on the dynamics and relationships between surrounding countries. After the Gulf War the entire population of Palestinians was expelled from Kuwait, because they were believed to sympathize with Iraq. In addition to these Arabian and African populations, approximately 9 percent of the population is Indian, 4 percent of the population is Iranian, and the remaining 7 percent is consists of other foreign nationals. Approximately 29 percent of the population is 14 years or under, 68 percent is between the ages of 15 and 64, and 2 percent of the population is over 65 years of age. Around 60 percent of the population is male, while 40 percent of the population is female.

Linguistic Affiliation. Arabic is the official language, and English is widely spoken.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. For centuries Kuwait was merely a transitory home for Arabic nomads. Located between Mesopotamia and the Indus river valley, this arid terrain was a trade link between these two civilizations. In the early 16th century Portuguese invaded the Arabian Gulf and built a fort where Kuwait City now stands. The Portuguese used the area as a base from which to make further excursions north, but their residence in the Arabian Desert was short-lived. Thus, up until the 18th century, Kuwait was a territory of shifting communities.

It was in 1710 that the Sabahs, a nomadic community of people of Arabian descent, settled in what is now Kuwait city. In the mid 18th century, members of the Utab clan, from what is now Saudi Arabia, began to settle in Kuwait. Within a span of fifty years, the town burgeoned into an important trading post, with boat building and the excavation and cultivation of pearls being the two main industries.

National Identity. Kuwaitis are increasingly a minority in their own country. The fear that has arisen from this loss of dominance, compounded by the country's precarious relationship with neighboring nations such as Iraq, has led to extremist policies and practices regarding the assertion of nationality and the rights of Kuwaiti nationals.

Ethnic Relations. Ethnic Kuwaitis struggle to maintain their cultural dominance in an increasingly complex society. Dominant Kuwaiti culture is homogeneous, and adheres to traditional values developed in the desert plains in accordance with the teachings of Islam. There is tension, however, between these cultural norms and the other ethnic groups who reside in Kuwait. Most Kuwaiti workers have government jobs, an opportunity generally denied to foreign nationals. Also, there are restrictions against foreigners owning property and businesses. These social and economic gaps between nationals and other ethnic groups increases the friction between Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis residing in the country.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Over the span of just two hundred years, Kuwait shifted from a nomadic population to an urban population. The development of the urban environment has largely been influenced by Islam, and Kuwaiti homes reflect the tenets of Islam as clearly as they reflect the influence of desert life and culture. Most homes are rectangular in shape and are organized around an inner courtyard. This courtyard allows for an enclosed yet open environment, and at the same time protects from the wind and direct sunlight in the arid desert climate. Generally homes are clustered together to unite and serve the needs of an extended family. As family size increases, more rooms are built on to accommodate the new members.

The manner in which space is used in Kuwait reflects the traditional relationship between men and women. In nomadic times, tents would be separated by screens or a cloth, so that men could entertain unrelated men, as is their custom, without having the guests come into contact with female kin. With the advent of urban living, homes were built with what is known as a "double circulation system" so that men and women could avoid contact with one another, and most importantly so that women were not in contact with strange men.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. After centuries of living as nomads, surviving off of subsistence farming and animal husbandry, the relatively recent increase in the income of many Kuwaitis has lead to a rapid rise in the relative obesity of the general population. Still operating under the precept that plump children are healthy, Kuwaitis eat a very rich diet, and do not engage in physical exercise like they did in the past. The shift from a nomadic to sedentary lifestyle happened quickly with industrialization and urbanization coinciding with the advent of the oil industry in the past century, and habits of nutrition have not completely changed to accommodate the present environment.

An average Kuwaiti person eats three meals each day. Breakfast often includes some meat, such as fried liver or kidneys, and a dairy product such as cheese or yogurt. For lunch and dinner, several meat dishes may be served. In the desert, vegetables and grains were largely unavailable. Subsequently, meat was a staple of the desert nomad's diet. As in the past, meat remains a central part of the Kuwaiti diet.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. For Kuwaitis, it is very important to be generous in providing food for guests. For ceremonial occasions such as weddings, people will roast an entire sheep and serve it on a bed of saffron rice.

As Kuwait is predominately an Islamic country, alcohol is illegal within its borders. Islam influences many customs regarding food, the most prominent of which is the fasting month of Ramadan. During Ramadan, practitioners of Islam fast between sunrise and sunset. Also at this time, the consumption of food, drink, and tobacco in public is forbidden.

Basic Economy. With only 5 percent of the land suitable for farming, Kuwait is dependent on international trade for the provision of most basic necessities, including food, clothing, and construction materials. However, that dependency is tempered by the fact that Kuwait is one of the largest oil producing countries in the world, an energy source upon which virtually every developed nation is dependent. Kuwait's relationship with trading partners is thus defined by the countries respective interdependence.

Land Tenure and Property. Many people live in urban areas because of the necessity of sharing scarce resources in the desert. This factor also influences the price of available property: prices are high and the general population has limited ability to actually own property.

Major Industries. The economy of Kuwait is dependent on the oil industry. During the war with Iraq many oil refining facilities were destroyed, but this industry remains of enormous importance to Kuwait. To protect oil interests, and to protect against larger countries taking advantage of Kuwait, the country was one of the founding members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Trade. Kuwait was built on the trade between Mesopotamia and the Indus river valley. Throughout its history Kuwait has depended on trade, and today exports total $13.5 billion each year in oil, refined products, and fertilizers. Japan, India, the United States, South Korea, and Singapore are the major recipients of their exports. Kuwait imports $8.1 billion a year in food, construction materials, vehicles and parts, and clothing from the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy.

Division of Labor. The labor force includes 1.3 million people. The government and social services employ 50 percent of the labor force, businesses employ 40 percent, and the remaining 10 percent are employed in agriculture. This labor force is divided along ethnic lines, with Kuwaitis holding most of the government jobs and owning most of the of businesses in the private sector. Non-Kuwaitis generally labor in various businesses and in the oil industry.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. There are five levels of social stratification in Kuwaiti society, and these divisions are based on wealth. At the apex of the social hierarchy is the ruling family. Below that are old Kuwaiti merchant families. In the middle of the strata are former Bedouins, Arabian Desert nomads, who settled in Kuwait with the advent of the oil industry. Next come Arabs from neighboring countries, and at the bottom of this hierarchy are foreigners.

Within classes there are strong kinship bonds, which help maintain the social structure. Social stratification is perpetuated by the state, as in the legal ability to own property by cultural factors, such as marriage patterns, and by social rights, such as the provision or lack of state funded education, healthcare, and housing. Within this hierarchy there are enormous gaps between the vastly rich, the middle class, and the extraordinarily poor migrants.

Political Life

Government. Kuwaiti government is nominally a constitutional monarchy, headed by the Amir. The constitution was approved and implemented on 11 November 1962. Upon the development of this constitutional monarchy, Kuwait developed a National Assembly. This form of democracy was short-lived, however. In August 1976, Sheikh Sabah dissolved the assembly under the premise that legislation was being manipulated to increase private gain for officials. As a political system built on a hierarchy of clans, nepotism is rampant in the Kuwaiti government. Therefore, it is in the Amir's power to dissolve the parliament, and within two months it must be re-elected, or the previous parliament will be instituted again.

Leadership and Political Officials. There are not any national political parties or leaders, yet several political groups act as de facto parties; these include the Bedouins, merchants, nationalists, Sunni and Shi'a activists, and secular leftists. These de facto parties are divided along the lines of class and religion.

Social Problems and Control. Social problems stem predominantly from the various systemic hierarchies. Within these structures, groups and individuals are constantly struggling to either improve or maintain their position. As of late, the position of women within these structures has been a subject of great debate. Similarly, the degree to which Islam should influence political structures is also a source of debate and contention. Presently, political and social controls are influenced by a combination of Islam and tradition, but this is being questioned in the increasingly multicultural environment of Kuwait.

Military Activity. Kuwait has an army, navy, and air force. The national police force, national guard, and coast guard are also part of the military. During 1999-2000, $2.5 billion (U.S.) was spent on the military.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Social service programs have long been an important agenda item for Kuwait's government, with education and health being two of the country's major expenditures. In the past there have been many programs providing housing and subsidizing services such as water, electricity, and gasoline. Recently, however, these programs have been cut back and are being re-evaluated, as they have lead to an extreme amount of reliance on the state for basic services.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

In the past the Kuwait Fund for Arabic Economic Development was one of the largest and most influential nongovernmental organizations in the country. Founded in 1961, the organization made massive loans and provided technical expertise to assist Arab and other developing nations develop their economies. In the aftermath of the war with Iraq, Kuwait has been the recipient of assistance from neighboring countries.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Both Kuwaiti custom and law enforce a division of labor by gender. Unlike other Arabic countries, women are involved various aspects of the labor force, but the percentage of women involved in labor outside of the home is small. Those women who are gainfully employed often work in the social services, in clerical positions, and as teachers. Few women are owners or managers of small businesses.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. The tension between traditional Kuwaiti Islamic values and Western values is evidenced in the roles and status afforded to men and women within Kuwaiti society. Many women still go veiled and wear the traditional black, but many girls in the younger generation follow the dictates of western fashion. Female students are a majority at Kuwait University, and women are prominent in the country's commercial life and in the civil service. Women are openly agitating for the relaxation of social restrictions on females, more women's rights, and an increase in job opportunities.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Most marriages in Kuwait are arranged, in accordance with tradition. Intermarriage occurs within clans, but not between social classes. Women, regardless of their age, need their father's permission to marry. Also, a woman cannot marry a non-Muslim, although a man is afforded this privilege. In addition, a woman can only marry one spouse, while a man has the legal right to four wives.

Domestic Unit. Family forms the basis of Kuwaiti society. Extended families live together, both out of necessity caused by limited housing space, and so that all family members can be involved in the socialization of future generations and maintain familial and cultural traditions.

Inheritance. In accordance with Islam, both men and women have equal property rights.


Child Rearing and Education. All schooling for Kuwaitis is free, and between the ages of six and fourteen, attendance is compulsory. While the government stresses the importance of education regardless of gender, most schools are segregated on the basis of gender after kindergarten. The definition of literacy used by the government is that one must be over the age of fifteen and capable of reading and writing. With this in mind, 79 percent of the population is literate, with 82 percent of men and 75 percent of women meeting these criteria.

Higher Education. There is only one university in the country, but because of the great value placed on education, the government awards scholarships for many Kuwaitis to pursue higher education. There are also several post-secondary technical institutes where one may pursue knowledge of electronics, air-conditioning, and diesel and petrol engines, all necessary to the major industries of Kuwait.


Kuwaitis, like other Arab populations, have different personal boundaries than Westerners. In general, they sit, talk, and stand closer to one another. It is common for members of the same sex to touch one another during their interactions as an expression of their friendship, and men often shake hands upon greeting and departure. Socially, physical contact between men and women is not acceptable. To Kuwaitis, honor, reputation, and respect are primary concerns.


Religious Beliefs. The main religion in Kuwait is Islam: approximately 85 percent of the population is Muslim. There are two main sub-sects of Islam in Kuwait, 45 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, while 40 percent of the population is Shi'a Muslim. The remaining 15 percent of the population practices Christianity, Hinduism, Parsi, and other religions.

Rituals and Holy Places. For practitioners, the most essential tenet of Islam is the purification of the soul through prayers, known as salat, five times each day. The purpose of this activity is to strengthen one's commitment to god. Cleanliness and proper hygiene are prerequisites for the ritual prayersin Islam good physical health and good spiritual health are intertwined.

Medicine and Health Care

In Islam the importance of good health cannot be overemphasized. With this in mind every Kuwaiti citizen is provided both care in sickness and preventative medicine.

Secular Celebrations

Both New Years Day on 1 January and Kuwaiti National Day on 25 February are celebrated.

The Arts and Humanities

Graphic Arts. In Kuwait, as in many Islamic countries, the art of calligraphy is one of the most longstanding and thriving forms of expression. Arabic calligraphy is considered to be the ultimate expression of god's words. Because in traditional Islam sculptural and figurative forms of art were perceived as idolatry, calligraphy was considered an acceptable, alternative form of art and expression.


Al-Rabie, Ahmad. "The Absence of Plans for the Future." Asharq Al-Aswat, 1997.

Crystal, Jill. Kuwait: The Transformation of an Oil State, 1992.

Devine, E. and N. L. Braganti, eds. The Travelers Guide to Middle Eastern and North African Customs and Manners, 1991.

Hasan, Alia F. "Architecture 101: Some Basics," Arabic and Islamic Architecture, July 26, 2000.

. "The Art of Calligraphy." Arabic and Islamic Architecture, November 7, 1999.

Ismael, Jacqueline. Kuwait: Social Change in Historical Perspective, 1982.

Milmo, Sean, ed. The Gulf Handbook 1978, 1977.

Osborne, Christine. The Gulf States and Oman, 1977.

Web Sites

Amnesty International 1999 Human Rights Reports. Available at

"Arab Net-Kuwait." Available at

CIA Fact Book. Available at

"Islamic Architecture." Available at

"Kuwait On-Line." Available at

U.S. Department of State 1999 Report: Kuwait, Available at

Heather Loew

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The people of Kuwait are called Kuwaitis. Forty percent of the residents of Kuwait are citizens of the country; the remainder are divided roughly in half between Arabs and non-Arabs.

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