Current Affairs

History of Kuwait

History of Kuwait
Excavations on Failaka Island unearthed a Bronze Age settlement; this is suggested as the starting point of Kuwait’s history. Strong evidence for this theory is provided by some tablets, dating from 325 BC, which recorded the lifestyle on the Island. Following a visit from Alexander the Great’s Admiral Nearclus, the island was named Ikares, after a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. Kuwait was an important trading center with the Orient, China, Africa and India. The latter was a particularly important link. In the early days, before highspeed travel and communications, Kuwaitis with business interests in India would often keep a family member there to look after their business. India was a supplier of rice and sugar and also the timber needed to make dhows, the traditional Kuwaiti boats. The Indian Rupee was used as currency until Kuwait’s independence in 1961 when the Kuwaiti Dinar became the national currency. Kuwait was traditionally a pearl diving community. Merchants owning ships would lend divers money with which to sustain their families while the men were at sea. The debts would be repaid from the season’s profits. If the June to September season was poor the debts would be carried over and could mount up. Selfemployed divers would also work on the merchant’s ship, paying him a percentage of their earnings.

The modern State of Kuwait traces its origins to the early 18th century when the Utubi clan of the Anaza tribe settled in the area. As a sign of their influence and the respect with which they were viewed, the Sabah family was elected as the hereditary ruling family. Nominally under the Ottoman Turks, Kuwait became affiliated with Great Britain by treaty in 1899. A British protectorate was established in 1914, but in 1961 Kuwait gained its full sovereignty. From 1752 until the present, there have been thirteen rulers from the Sabah family. The current ruler is His Highness Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.

In 1962, the Emir Abdullah Al-Salim Al-Sabah, in association with the Constituent Assembly, promulgated the Constitution of the State of Kuwait. Executive power rests with the Emir, the Head of State, who exercises it through a Council of Ministers under the Prime Minister’s leadership. Legislative power rests with a unicameral National Assembly consisting of 50 members elected for four-year terms. Literate, adult Kuwaiti males may vote, excluding members of the armed forces. In 1986, severe internal pressures in Kuwait caused by the Iran-Iraq war led to the National Assembly’s dissolution and the suspension of elections, but they were reformed after the Iraqi invasion of 1990-91.

Iraqi invasion and occupation from August 1990 to February 1991 seriously, if not traumatically, affected Kuwaiti life and attitudes. Perhaps more than any of the other Gulf peoples, Kuwaitis are familiar and at home with Western ways, while they are also deeply conscious of their Arabness. The Iraqi invasion, coming from what was regarded as a “brother” Arab state, has of necessity led to a re-evaluation of basic social and political relationships. A feeling of betrayal on the part of Kuwaitis towards many of their fellow Arabs who seemed to sympathize with Iraq has led to serious social cleavages. To some extent, the attitude of Kuwaitis who remained under Iraqi occupation will also be at variance with the attitudes of business acumen and common sense which has tended to avoid all economic, political, religious, and cultural extremes. Kuwaitis in the post-war period have displayed a variety of attitudes on all issues with considerable fervor. Accustomed to more personal freedom than are most of their neighbors, including the freest press in the Arab world, Kuwaitis are unafraid to express themselves forcefully on all issues.

The Rulers of Kuwait 

  • 1756-1762: Sabah
  • 1762-1812: Abdullah
  • 1812-1859: Jaber 
  • 1866-1892: Abdullah 
  • 1892-1896: Mohamed 
  • 1896-1915: Mubarak 
  • 1915-1917: Jaber 
  • 1917-1921: Salem 
  • 1921-1950: Ahmad 
  • 1951-1965: Abdullah
  • 1966-1977: Sabah 
  • 1977-2006: Jaber 
  • 2006: Saad
  • 2006-to present: Sabah 

Kuwait, independent since 1961, is a Constitutional Monarchy governed by a Hereditary Emirate. The Chief of State is the Emir, currently His Excellency Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, who selects the Prime Minister in consultationwith 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.

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