The country of Kuwait lies on the Persian Gulf, between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It is one of the smallest Arabic-speaking countries, covering an area slightly smaller than that of New Jersey. Most of the land consists of flat desert plain. In fact, the highest point in the country is only 306 meters. Less than one percent of the country has arable land and the majority of Kuwait’s natural resources are in the form of petroleum and natural gas. In addition, the country also relies on its fishing industry, which includes both fish and shrimp.
Kuwait is also one of the youngest Arabic-speaking countries, however the recorded history of settlement in the region of modern-day Kuwait spans as far back as the third century BCE. However, prior to settlement, there is evidence that the region was used as a trading post during Sumerian times. It was at this point that the Island of Failaka, just off the coast was inhabited by the Greeks of the Persian Empire. In 127 BCE, the kingdom of Characene was established on the area of modern-day Kuwait under the Greek Seleucid Empire. The capital of Characene was Charax Spasinou. After the rise of the Parthians, the kingdom operated as an autonomous state. However, it was eventually conquered by the Sassanid Empire by the third century CE.
For centuries, the area of modern-day Kuwait was prized for its proximity to trade routes. It was not until 1705 that the next major settlement was established in the area, when the Uteiba of the Anaiza tribe founded the city of Kuwait under its initial name Guraine. The name Kuwait developed out of the Persian for “little fort.” This may be due to the fact that in the early sixteenth century, the Portuguese had captured the area and had built a fort on the same location as where the city of Kuwait would eventually be built. As a new city, it flourished due to its trading economy as well as its pearl industry.
The pearl industry created some very wealthy families in Kuwait. At the foremost was the Sabah family, who took control of politics for the country. The result was that a kingdom was established with power being passed from father king to son. This led to a more stable system of governing than many of the other societies in the region. The stability allowed Kuwait to play a role in foreign politics as well. The British East India Company, in particular established a relationship with the royal family by the end of the eighteenth century.
With the rise of the Ottoman Empire in Iraq, Kuwait faced foreign pressure to submit to Ottoman rule. This happened under Abdullah Il Al-Sabah, who was given the new title of provincial governor. Mubarak Al-Sabah became provincial sub-governor, after he assassinated his brother in 1896. He would later take the throne and become known as Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah the Great. He would also sign an agreement with the British government that surrendered certain powers to the foreign state in exchange for protection, both military and monetary. The lineage of Kuwati leadership today may be traced back to Mumbarak’s two sons Jabir and Salim.
In 1922, the official boundary between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia was established. Ten years later, the border between Kuwait and Iraq was also established. The discovery of oil within the country prompted the creation of these boundaries and also renewed interest in the region by the British. However, by 1961, Kuwait officially gained its independence from the United Kingdom. This led to a period of prosperity in the country.
Shortly after gaining independence, Iraq claimed sovereignty over Kuwait, due to the fact that the country was once part of the Ottoman Empire. However, these claims were quelled with the assassination of Iraqi Prime Minister Abd Al-Karim Qasim and the instatement of a new ruling party. Small clashes still occurred between Iraq and Kuwait over this issue for the next two decades. By the 1980’s the hostilities eased when Kuwait sided with Iraq in the Iraq-Iran War. Iran retaliated and Kuwait turned to the United States for assistance.
In 1990 Kuwait once again clashed with Iraq. On August2 of that year, the Iraqis invaded the country with 100,000 troops. In addition, Palestinian foreign workers helped with the plight of the Iraqis. They successfully took control of the country and annexed Kuwait. In 1991, retaliation against Iraq begins when a coalition, consisting of 28 countries, attacks Iraqi forces within Kuwait. Their victory was swift and Iraq and the Palestinian supporters are withdrawn from the territory. One of the most lasting results of Iraqi occupation in the country was the damage to the country’s infrastructure, including the setting of fires on multiple oil wells. Tensions between Kuwait and Iraq remained throughout the 1990’s. However, there were no more hostilities between the two.
In 1999, the parliament was dissolved by the emir and creation of a new parliament took place under constitutional conditions. Additionally, suffrage for women was introduced and passed in 2005, first occurring during the 2006 parliamentary elections. By 2009, a historical election of four women to the country’s legislative body took place. Today the government is still a hereditary monarchy, led by the emir. There is also an elected prime minister, appointed by the monarch. The legislative branch of the government is unicameral and is known as the National Assembly.
Just over the majority of the people in Kuwait are not native Kuwaitis. Most are foreign workers who are drawn to Kuwait for its rich oil industry. In fact, native Kuwaitis actually receive more benefits from the government than those who are not of Kuwaiti descent. Nationals are not required to pay taxes and get benefits such as social services. Although Arabic is the official language of the country, most Kuwaitis also speak English.