Kuwait borders Iraq to the North and West, Saudi Arabia to the South and the Arabian/Persian Gulf to the East.
Kuwait emerged as an autonomous sheikhdom in the mid-eighteenth century, when a sheikh from the Al Sabah family was chosen as ruler by the six leading notable families. In 1899 Britain acquired control of Kuwait’s external affairs and defence matters until its independence in 1961. Iraq claimed Kuwait both then and during its 1990 invasion.
Main languages: Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hindi, English
Main religions: Sunni and Ithna’ashari Islam (Muslims compose 85% of the population. 70% of nationals are Sunni and 30% are Shii (US State Department, www.state.gov); Christianity and Hinduism among migrant workers
Main minority groups: Ithna’ashari Shi’is 612,000, Bidoun 120,000 (5% of total population, this was higher – almost three fold – before the 1990 invasion), Palestinians 25,000 (this went down 16 fold after the Iraqi invasion of 1990)
The total population stands at 2.8 million, 1.8 are non-nationals (www.kuwaittimes.net). Non-nationals compose almost 80% of the work force and consist of Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Sri Lankans and others.
Kuwait has been ruled by the Al Sabah family since the mid-eighteenth century. Its 1962 constitution allows for a National Assembly, albeit one that can legally be dissolved by the Emir. In 1986 it was dissolved and the constitution suspended. It was revived after the Iraqi occupation of 1990-91.The National Assembly (50 seats, elected by popular vote for 4 year terms) finally passed legislation in May 2005 allowing women the vote and the right to run for office – although an amendment to the legislation requires women to conduct themselves in accordance with the Sharia in their political activities. This had been resisted by the National Assembly for years, in the face of strong protests. Women now serve at the municipal council, Ministerial, Cabinet and Ambassadorial levels. Political parties are illegal, but clear and openly operating blocs within the National Assembly include those representing Shiis, Islamists and secular liberals. A Salafi Islamist attempt to establish a political party, Hizb Al-Ummah, was quashed. Under civil and parliamentary pressure, the government was forced to accept a rearrangement of the electoral districts, reducing them from 25 to 5 electoral districts, which was thought drastically to reduce opportunities for political corruption.
Minority based and advocacy organisations
Kuwait Journalists’ Association
Tel: + 965 484 3351
Kuwait Society for Human Rights
Tel: + 965 481 1593
Shia Association of Kuwait
Tel: + 965 539 8395, 244 3408
Sources and further reading
Ali Mohammad, N. S., Population and Development of the Arab Gulf States: The Case of Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
al-Mughni, H., Women in Kuwait, London, Saqi Books, 2001.
Hicks, N. and al-Najjar, G., ‘The Utility of Tradition: Civil Society in Kuwait’ in Norton, A. R., Civil Society in the Middle East, Leiden: Brill, 1995, vol. 1.
‘Kuwait’, in The Middle East and North Africa 2007 [Europe regional Surveys of the World]. London: Routledge, 2006 (pp. 640-675).
Longva, A. N., Walls Built on Sand: Migration, Exclusion, and Society in Kuwait, Boulder: Westview Press, 1997.
Nonneman, G., Political Reform in the Gulf Monarchies: From Liberalisation to Democratisation? A Comparative Perspective. Durham: IMEIS, Durham University, 2006. “retrieved 20 July 2007, http://eprints.dur.ac.uk/archive/00000222/”
Rizzo, H. M., Islam, Democracy and the Status of Women: The Case of Kuwait, London: Routledge, 2004.
Tetreault, M, Stories of Democracy: Politics & Society in Contemporary Kuwait. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000
Human Rights Watch, The Bidouns of Kuwait: Citizens without Citizenship, New York and Washington, DC, 1995.
Fuller, G.E. and Francke, R.R., The Arab Shi’a: The Forgotten Muslims, New York, St Martin’s Press, 1999 and Palgrave, 2001