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The State of Kuwait ( , dawlat al-kuwayt) is a sovereign Arab emirate situated in the northeast of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia. It is bordered by Saudi Arabiamarker to the south and Iraqmarker to the north and lies on the northwestern shore of the Persian Gulfmarker. The name Kuwait is a diminutive of an Arabic word meaning "fortress built near water." The emirate covers an area of 18,098 square kilometres (6,880 sq mi) and has a population of about 2.9 million.

The Bani Utbah tribe were the first settlers in the region and laid the foundation of the emirate. By 19th century, Kuwait came under the influence of the Ottoman Empire and after the World War I, it emerged as an independent sheikhdom under the protection of the British Empire. Kuwait's large oil fields were discovered in the late 1930s. After it gained independence from the United Kingdommarker in 1961, the nation's oil industry saw unprecedented growth. In 1990, Kuwait was invaded and annexed by neighboring Iraq. The seven month-long Iraqi occupation came to an end after a direct military intervention by United Statesmarker-led forces. Nearly 750 Kuwaiti oil wells were set ablaze by the retreating Iraqi army resulting in a major environmental and economic catastrophe. Kuwait's infrastructure was badly damaged during the war and had to be rebuilt.

Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government, with Kuwait Citymarker serving as the country's political and economic capital. The country has the world's fifth largest oil reserves and is the eleventh richest country in the world per capita. CIA - The World Factbook - Rank Order - GDP - per capita (PPP) Petroleum and petroleum products now account for nearly 95% of export revenues, and 80% of government income. CIA - The World Factbook - Kuwait Kuwait is regarded as one of the most economically developed countries in the Arab League and is designated as a major non-NATO ally of the United Statesmarker.

History

In the 4th century BC, the ancient Macedonians colonized an island on Kuwait's coast, now known as Failakamarker, and named it "Ikaros". Earliest recorded history of the State of Kuwait goes back to the year 1613. Tribes from central Arabia settled in Kuwait in the 17th-century after experiencing a massive drought in their native land. Kuwait would later emerge as a major center for the spice trade between Indiamarker and Europe. By late 18th-century, most of the local people made a living selling pearls.

In 1756, the people elected Sabah I bin Jaber as the first emir of Kuwait. The current ruling family of Kuwait, al-Sabah, are descendants of Sabah I. During the rule of the Al-Sabah, Kuwait progressively became a center of trade and commerce. It now served as a hub of trade between India, the horn of Africa, the Nejd, Mesopotamia and the Levant. Up until the advent of Japanese pearl farming, Kuwait had one of the largest sea fleets in the Persian Gulf region and a flourishing pearling industry. Trade consisted mainly of pearls, wood, spices, dates and horses.

As the influence of the Ottoman Empire increased in the region, Kuwait was assigned the status of a caza of the Ottomans. After the signing of the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, then emir of Kuwait, Mubarak Al-Sabah, was diplomatically recognized by both the Ottomans and British as the ruler of the autonomous caza of the city of Kuwait and the hinterlands. The 1922 Treaty of Uqair set Kuwait's border with Saudi Arabia and also established the Saudi-Kuwaiti neutral zone, an area of about 5,180 km² adjoining Kuwait's southern border.

Oil was first discovered in Kuwait in the 1930s and the government became more proactive in establishing internationally recognized boundaries. After World War I, the Ottoman Empire was financially crippled and the invading British Indian Army invalidated the Anglo-Ottoman Convention, declaring Kuwait to be an "independent sheikdom under British protectorate".

On 19 June 1961, Kuwait became fully independent following an exchange of notes between the United Kingdom and the then emir of Kuwait, Abdullah Al-Salim Al-Sabah. The Gulf rupee, issued by the Reserve Bank of Indiamarker, was replaced by the Kuwaiti dinar. The discovery of large oil fields, such as the Burgan field, triggered a large influx of foreign investments into Kuwait. The massive growth of the petroleum industry transformed Kuwait into one of the richest countries in the Arabian Peninsula and by 1952, the country became the largest exporter of oil in the Persian Gulfmarker region. This massive growth attracted many foreign workers, especially from Egyptmarker and Indiamarker.

Kuwait settled its boundary disputes with Saudi Arabia and agreed on sharing equally the neutral zone's petroleum reserves, onshore and offshore. After a brief stand-off over boundary issues, Iraq formally recognized Kuwait's independence and its borders in October 1963. During the 1970s, the Kuwaiti government nationalized the Kuwait Oil Company, ending its partnership with Gulf Oil and British Petroleum.

In 1982, Kuwait experienced a major economic crisis after the Souk Al-Manakh stock market crash and decrease in oil price. However, the crisis was short-lived as Kuwait's oil production increased steadily to fill the gap caused by decrease in Iraq's and Iran's oil production levels following the events of the Iran–Iraq War. In 1983, a series of six bomb explosions took place in Kuwait killing five people. The attack was carried out by Shiite Dawa Party to retaliate Kuwait's financial support to Iraq during its war with Iran.



Kuwait had heavily funded Iraq's eight year-long war with Iran. After the war ended, Kuwait declined an Iraqi request to forgive its US$65 billion debt. An economic warfare between the two countries followed after Kuwait increased its oil production by 40 percent. Tensions between the two countries increased further after Iraq alleged that Kuwait was slant drilling oil from its share of the Rumaila fieldmarker.

On 2 August, 1990 Iraqi forces invaded and annexed Kuwait. Saddam Hussein, then President of Iraq, deposed the emir of Kuwait, Jaber Al-Sabah, and installed Ali Hassan al-Majid as the new governor of Kuwait. After a series of failed diplomatic negotiations, the United Statesmarker-led coalition of thirty-four nations fought the Persian Gulf War to remove the Iraqi forces from Kuwait. On February 26, 1991, the coalition succeeded in driving out the Iraqi forces, restoring the Kuwaiti emir to power. Kuwait paid the coalition forces US$17 billion for their war efforts.

During their retreat, the Iraqi armed forces carried out a scorched earth policy by damaging 737 oil wells in Kuwait, of which approximately 600 were set on fire. It was estimated that by the time Kuwait was liberated from Iraqi occupation, about 5 to of oil was being burned in a single day because of these fires. Oil and soot accumulation had affected the entire Persian Gulf region and large oil lakes were created holding approximately 25 to of oil and covering 5% of Kuwait's land area. In total, about of oil was released into the Persian Gulf and an additional 2% of Kuwait's of crude oil reserves were burned by the time the oil fires were brought under control. The fires took more than nine months to extinguish fully and it took Kuwait more than 2 years and US$50 billion in infrastructure reconstruction to reach pre-invasion oil output. Kuwait has since largely recovered from the socio-economic, environmental, and public health effects of the Persian Gulf War.

Politics

Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy and has the oldest directly elected parliament among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The head of state is the Emir or Sheikh, a hereditary office. A council of ministers, also known as cabinet ministers, aids the Prime Minister in his task as the head of Government of Kuwait which must contain at least one elected member of the Kuwaiti parliament, known as Majlis Al-Umma (National Assembly). The National Assembly has the power to dismiss the Prime Minister or any member of cabinet through a series of constitutional procedures. All cabinet ministers are answerable to the National Assembly.

The National Assembly consists of fifty elected members, who are chosen in elections held every four years. Government ministers are also granted membership in the parliament and can number up to sixteen excluding the fifty elected members. According to the Constitution of Kuwait, nomination of a new Emir or Crown Prince by the ruling Al-Sabah family has to be approved by the National Assembly. If the nominee does not win the votes of the majority of the assembly, the royal family must submit the names of three other candidates to the National Assembly, and the Assembly must approve one of them to hold the post. Any amendment to the constitution can be proposed by the Emir but it needs to be approved by more than two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly before being implemented.

There have been several conflicts between the Emir, the government and the National Assembly over various policies. The National Assembly was suspended from 1976 to 1981, from 1986 to 1991 and from May 1999 to July 1999 due to irresolvable conflicts between some members of the government and the Assembly. The Assembly was dissolved again in May 2009 by the Emir leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Sheik Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah and the rest of the Cabinet. Nationwide elections were held on May 16, 2009.

More than two-thirds of those who reside in Kuwait do not hold Kuwaiti citizenship and thus cannot vote in parliamentary elections. Additionally, prior to 2005, only 15% of the Kuwaiti citizen population was allowed to vote, with all "recently naturalized" citizens (i.e. those of less than thirty years' citizenship), and members of the Kuwaiti Armed Forces excluded. On 16 May 2005, Parliament permitted women's suffrage by a 35-23 vote.

The decision raised Kuwait's eligible voter population from 139,000 to about 339,000. In 2006, Kuwaiti citizens were estimated to be more than 960,000. In 2005, the former Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah announced the appointment of the first women as a cabinet minister, Massouma Mubarak. She was designated the post of Planning Minister and Minister of State for Administrative Development Affairs. During the 2008 parliamentary elections, 27 of the 275 candidates were women. However, none of them won. In the parliamentary elections on 16 May 2009, 16 female candidates contested for 50 seats for a four-year term. Four female candidates won their seats and became Kuwait's first female lawmakers.

Geography and climate

Located in the north-east corner of the Arabian Peninsula, Kuwait is one of the smallest countries in the world in terms of land area. The flat, sandy Arabian Desert covers most of Kuwait. There is little difference in the country's altitude with the highest point in the country being 306 m above sea-level. It has nine islands, all of which with the exception of Failaka Islandmarker are uninhabited. With an area of 860 km², the Bubiyanmarker is the largest island in Kuwait and is connected to the rest of the country by a 2,380 m long bridge. The land area is considered arable and sparse vegetation is found along its 499 km long coastline. Kuwait City is located on Kuwait Bay, a natural deep-water harbor.

Kuwait has some of the world's richest oil fields with the Burgan field having a total capacity of approximately of proven oil reserves. During the 1991 Kuwaiti oil fires, more than 500 oil lakes were created covering a combined surface area of about 35.7 km². The resulting soil contamination due to oil and soot accumulation had made eastern and south-eastern parts of Kuwait uninhabitable. Sand and oil residue had reduced large parts of the Kuwaiti desert to semi-asphalt surfaces. The oil spills during the Persian Gulf War also drastically affected Kuwait's marine resources.

Kuwait has a hyper-arid continental climate. Summer, which lasts from May to September, is extremely hot and dry with temperatures easily crossing 45 °C (113 °F) during daytime, with temperatures usually around 52 °C at midday. Kuwait has a fairly high day-night temperature range. Winter, from November through February, is cool with some precipitation and average temperatures around 13 °C (56 °F) with extremes from -2 °C to 27 °C. Annual rainfall averages less than 127 mm (5 in.) and occurs chiefly between October and April.

The spring season in March is warm and pleasant with occasional thunderstorms. The frequent winds from the northwest are cool in winter and spring and hot in summer. Southeasterly winds, usually hot and damp, spring up between July and October; hot and dry south winds prevail in spring and early summer. The shamal, a northwesterly wind common during June and July, causes dramatic sandstorms.

Climate

Governorates

Map of Kuwait
Kuwait is divided into six governorates (muhafazat, sing. muhafadhah):

The governorates are subdivided into districts.

The major cities are the capital Kuwait Citymarker and Jahrah (a thirty-minute drive northwest of Kuwait City). The main residential and commercial areas are Salmiyamarker and Hawallimarker. The main industrial area is Shuwaikhmarker within the Al Asimah Governoratemarker. The main palace is the As-Seef Palace in the old part of Kuwait City where the Emir runs the daily matters of the country whilst the government headquarters are in the Bayan Palace and the Emir lives in Dar Salwa.

Economy

An oil refinery in Mina-Al-Ahmadi, Kuwait.
Kuwait has a GDP (PPP) of US$138.6 billion CIA - The World Factbook - Kuwait and a per capita income of US$60,800, making it the 5th richest country in the world. Kuwait's human development index (HDI) stands at 0.912, the second highest in Middle East after Israelmarker, and the highest in the Arab world. With a GDP growth rate of 5.7%, Kuwait has one of the fastest growing economies in the region.

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

Kuwait has a proven crude oil reserves of 104 billion barrels (15 km³), estimated to be 10% of the world's reserves. According to the Kuwaiti constitution, all natural resources in the country and associated revenues are government property. Being a tax-free country, Kuwait's oil industry accounts for 80% of government revenue. Petroleum and petrochemicals accounts for nearly half of GDP and 95% of export revenues. Increase in oil prices since 2003 resulted in a surge in Kuwait's economy.

Kuwait's current oil production of 2.8 million bpd is expected to increase to 4 million bpd by 2020. To realize this production target, Kuwait Petroleum Corporation plans to spend US$51 billion between 2007 to 2012 to upgrade and expand the country's existing refineries. However, the country's economy was badly affected by the global financial crisis of 2008. In 2009, the Central Bank of Kuwait devised a US$5.15 billion stimulus package to help boost the economy.

Other major industries include shipping, construction, cement, water desalination, construction materials and financial services. Kuwait has a well developed banking system and several banks in the country date back to the time before oil was discovered. Founded in 1952, the National Bank of Kuwait is the largest bank in the country and one of the largest in the Arab world. Other prominent financial institutions based in Kuwait include the Gulf Bank of Kuwait and Burgan Bank, which is named after the largest oilfield in the country.

Kuwait's climate limits agricultural development. Consequently, with the exception of fish, it depends almost wholly on food imports. About 75% of potable water must be distilled or imported. The government is keen on decreasing Kuwait's dependence on oil to fuel its economy by transforming it into a regional trading and tourism hub. The planned US$77 billion City of Silkmarker is the largest real estate development project in the Middle East. The Central Bank issues Kuwait’s currency, the Kuwaiti dinar. In December 2007, the dinar is the highest-valued currency unit in the world.

In 2007, estimated exports stood at US$59.97 billion and imports were around US$17.74 billion. Petroleum, petrochemical products, fertilizers and financial services are major export commodities. Kuwait imports a wide range of products ranging from food products and textiles to machinery. Kuwait's most important trading partners are Japanmarker, United States, India, South Korea, Singapore, China, European Union and Saudi Arabia. Japan is the largest customer of Kuwaiti oil followed by India, Singapore and South Korea.

Demographics

Shoppers at "The Avenues", a local mall.
As of 2007, Kuwait's population was estimated to be 3 to 3.5 million people which included approximately 2 million non-nationals. Kuwaiti citizens are therefore a minority of those who reside in Kuwait. The government rarely grants citizenship to foreigners to maintain status quo.

About 57% of the Kuwaiti population is Arab, 39% Asian, and 4% are classified Bidoon. Bidoons are a group of stateless Arab residents of Kuwait. In 2008, 68.4% of the population consisted of expatriates most of whom are from other Arab nations and South Asia. In 2009, more than 580,000 Indian nationals lived in Kuwait, making them the single largest expatriate community there.

In 2003, there were also an estimated 260,000 Egyptians, 100,000 Syrians and 80,000 Iranians in Kuwait. After Kuwait was liberated from Iraqi occupation, most of the 400,000 Palestinians living in Kuwait were expelled because of their government's open support for the Iraqi forces. Only a few thousand Palestinians remain in Kuwait. The population of ethnic Armenians in Kuwait also shrank drastically following the events of the Iraq-Kuwait war.

Kuwait's official language is Arabic, though English is widely spoken. Other important languages include Persian, Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and Filipino.

Majority of Kuwait's population identify themselves as Muslims. Estimates of the percentage of people in Kuwait who practice Islam vary between 85% and 95%. Despite Islam being the state religion, Kuwait has large a community of Christians (est. 300,000 to 400,000), Hindus (est. 300,000), Buddhists (est. 100,000), and Sikhs (est. 10,000). Hindus account for the largest number of expatriates in Kuwait. Members of religious groups not sanctioned in the Quran, such as Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, are not allowed to build places of worship or other religious facilities. However, these groups are allowed to worship privately in their homes and can engage in religious activities, including public marriage and other celebrations, without government interference.

Culture

Kuwait Towers, one of the country's most famous landmarks.
The influence of Islamic and Arab culture on its architecture, music, attire, cuisine and lifestyle is prominent as well. The most distinctive characteristic of local Kuwaiti culture are the dewaniya's, a large reception room used for social gatherings attended mostly by close family members. While, unlike neighboring Saudi Arabia, the Islamic dress code is not compulsory, many of the older Kuwaiti men prefer wearing dish dasha, an ankle-length white shirt woven from wool or cotton while the minority of women wear abaya, black over-garment covering most parts of the body. This attire is particularly well-suited for Kuwait's hot and dry climate. Western-style clothing is also fairly popular, especially among Kuwait's youth.

Seafood has been the mainstay of the Kuwaiti diet for centuries. The Arabs in the Persian Gulf region played a crucial role in the spice trade between India and Europe and spices have remained an important ingredient of Kuwaiti cuisine. Traditional Kuwaiti cuisine includes Machboos or Kabsa which borrows heavily from South Asian cuisine. As in other Persian Gulf states, Kuwait takes part in the tradition of Qarqe'an during the month of Ramadan.

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

Kuwait's architecture is largely inspired by Islamic architecture. The most prominent landmark in country, the Kuwait Towersmarker, were designed by Swedishmarker architect Sune Lindström and are a unique blend of traditional minaret and modern architectural designs. The National Assembly of Kuwait, another famous landmark building, was designed by the famous Danish architect Jørn Utzon and completed in 1972. Sawt is the most prominent style of Kuwaiti music and is performed by 'ud (plucked lute) and mirwas (a drum), with a violin later supplementing the arrangement. The Bedouins are known for an instrument called the rubabah, while the use of oud, tanbarah (string instrument) and habban (bagpipe) are also widespread.

Transportation

A highway in Kuwait City.
Kuwait has an extensive, modern and well-maintained network of highways. Roadways extended 5,749 km, of which 4,887 km is paved. In 2000, there were some 552,400 passenger cars, and 167,800 commercial taxis, trucks, and buses in use. Since there is no railway system in the country, most of the people travel by automobiles. The government plans to construct US$11 billion rail network which will include a city metro for its capital. Bus services are provided by City Bus and state-owned Kuwait Public Transportation Corporation.

There is only one civil airport in Kuwait.Kuwait International Airportmarker serves as the principal hub for international air travel. State-owned Kuwait Airways is the largest airline in the country. In 2001, the airline carried 2,084,600 passengers on domestic and international flights. In 2004, the first private airline of Kuwait, Jazeera Airways, was launched. In 2005, the second private airline, Wataniya Airways of Kuwait was founded.

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

Media

Kuwait has one of the most vocal and transparent media in the Arab World. In 2007, Kuwait was ranked first in the Middle East and the Arab League in the freedom of press index. Though the government funds several leading newspapers and satellite channels, Kuwaiti journalists enjoy greater freedom than their regional counterparts. State-owned Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) is the largest media house in the country. The Ministry of Information regulates all media and communication industry in Kuwait.

In 1998, there were 15 media stations, which are 6 AM and 11 FM radio stations and 13 television stations. In 2000, there were 624 radios and 486 television sets for every 1,000 people. In 2001, there were 165,000 Internet subscribers served by three service providers. Kuwait - MediaKuwait has ten satellite television channels of which four are controlled by the Ministry of Information. State-owned Kuwait Television (KTV) offered first colored broadcast in 1974 and operates five television channels. Government-funded Radio Kuwait also offers daily informative programming in four foreign languages including Persian, Urdu, Tagalog and English on the AM and SW.

In 2009, Kuwait had seventeen newspapers companies in circulation. In 2002, the Arab Times was the most popular English daily, followed by the Kuwait Times. Al-Anabaa, with a circulation of 106,800 copies, was the most widely read Arabic daily. Currently, there are around 15 Arabic daily newspapers besides the English newspapers. A press law forbids insulting references to God and Islamic prophet Muhammad. Another law which made leading newspaper publishers eligible for hefty fines for criticizing the ruling family was lifted in 1992. Leading newspapers continue to impose self-restraint while being critical of the emir. However, no such restraint is observed while criticizing the government.

See also



References

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