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Kuwait  , officially the State of Kuwait, is an Arab country in Western Asia. Situated in the northern edge of Eastern Arabia at the tip of the Persian Gulf, it shares borders with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. As of 2013, Kuwait has a population of 4 million.

In the eighteenth and ninKuwaiteteenth centuries, Kuwait was a prosperous center of trade and commerce. In the early 20th century, Kuwait declined in regional economic importance and by 1934, Kuwait had lost its prominence in long-distance trade. Kuwait’s economy was devastated by several trade blockades; before the blockades Kuwait was prosperous. During World War I, the British Empire imposed a trade blockade against Kuwait because Kuwait’s ruler supported the Ottoman Empire.Following the Kuwait–Najd War of 1919–1920, Saudi Arabia imposed a trade blockade against Kuwait for 14 years from 1923 until 1937.

In 1990, Kuwait was annexed by Iraq. The Iraqi occupation came to an end after direct military intervention by United States-led forces.Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. Kuwait City is the country’s capital. Kuwait is classified as a high income economy by the World Bank.

History

Kuwait was historically the site of settlements from the Ubaid period (ca. 6500 to 3800 BC). The earliest evidence of sailing has been found in Kuwait, the world’s oldest reed boat was found in Subiya in northern Kuwait. The Kuwaiti island of Failaka was first inhabited by Sumerians in 2000 BC. In 224 AD, Kuwait fell under the control of the Sassanid Empire. In 636 AD, the Battle of Chains between the Sassanid Empire and Rashidun Caliphate was fought in Kuwait near the town of Kazma. As a result of the Rashidun victory in the seventh century, an early Islamic settlement known as Kazima was founded in Kuwait.

Economic prosperity

In 1613, the town of Kuwait was founded in modern-day Kuwait City. In 1716, the Bani Utubs settled in Kuwait. At the time of the arrival of the Utubs, Kuwait was inhabited by a few fishermen and primarily functioned as a fishing village.

In the eighteenth century, Kuwait prospered and rapidly became the principal commercial center for the transit of goods between India, Muscat, Baghdad and Arabia. By the mid 1700s, Kuwait had already established itself as the major trading route from the Persian Gulf to Aleppo.[28] During the Persian siege of Basra in 1775—1779, Iraqi merchants took refuge in Kuwait and were partly instrumental in the expansion of Kuwait’s boat-building and trading activities. As a result, Kuwait’s maritime commerce boomed.

Between the years 1775 and 1779, the Indian trade routes with Baghdad, Aleppo, Smyrna and Constantinople were diverted to Kuwait.The East India Company was diverted to Kuwait in 1792. The East India Company secured the sea routes between Kuwait, India and the east coasts of Africa.After the Persians withdrew from Basra in 1779, Kuwait continued to attract trade away from Basra.

Regional geopolitical turbulence helped foster economic prosperity in Kuwait in the second half of the 18th century. Kuwait became prosperous due to Basra’s instability in the late 18th century. In the late 18th century, Kuwait partly functioned as a haven for Basra’s merchants fleeing Ottoman government persecution.By 1800, it was estimated that Kuwait’s sea trade reached 16 million Bombay rupees.Kuwait’s pre-oil population was ethnically diverse. The population consisted of Arabs, Persians, Africans, Jews and Armenians.

Kuwait was the center of boat building in the Gulf region. Ship vessels made in Kuwait carried the bulk of international trade between the trade ports of India, East Africa, and Red Sea. Boats made in Kuwait were capable of sailing up to China. Kuwaiti ship vessels were renowned throughout the Indian Ocean for quality and design. Kuwaitis also developed a reputation as the best sailors in the Persian Gulf.

In the 19th century, Kuwait became significant in the horse trade, horses were regularly shipped by the way of sailing boats from Kuwait.By the mid 19th century, it was estimated that Kuwait was exporting an average of 800 horses to India annually. Pre-oil Kuwait was divided into three areas: Sharq, Jibla and Mirqab. Sharq and Jibla were the most populated areas. Jibla was inhabited by immigrants from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Bahrain. Sharq was mostly inhabited by Persians.

During the reign of Mubarak Al-Sabah, Kuwait was dubbed the “Marseilles of the Gulf” because its economic vitality attracted a large variety of people. In a good year, Kuwait’s annual revenue actually came up to 100,000 riyals, the governor of Basra considered Kuwait’s annual revenue an astounding figure.A Western author’s account of Kuwait in 1905:

“              Kuwait was the Marseilles of the Persian Gulf. Its population was good natured, mixed, and vicious. As it was the outlet from the north to the Gulf and hence to the Indies, merchants from Bombay and Tehran, Indians, Persians, Syrians from Aleppo and Damascus, Armenians, Turks and Jews, traders from all the East, and some Europeans came to Kuwait. From Kuwait, the caravans set out for Central Arabia and for Syria.

H. C. Armstrong, Lord of Arabia”

In the first decades of the twentieth century, Kuwait had a well-established elite: wealthy trading families who were linked by marriage and shared economic interests.The elite were long-settled, urban, Sunni families, the majority of which claim descent from the original 30 Bani Utubi families. The wealthiest families were trade merchants who acquired their wealth from long-distance commerce, shipbuilding and pearling.They were a cosmopolitan elite, they traveled extensively to India, Africa and Europe.The elite educated their sons abroad more than other Gulf Arab elite. Western visitors noted that the Kuwaiti elite used European office systems, typewriters and followed European culture with curiosity.The richest families were involved in general trade. The merchant families of Al-Ghanim and Al-Hamad were estimated to be worth millions before the 1940s.

Downfall of economy

In the early 20th century, Kuwait immensely declined in regional economic importance, mainly due to many trade blockades and the world economic depression. Before Mary Bruins Allison visited Kuwait in 1934, Kuwait lost its prominence in long distance trade.During World War I, the British Empire imposed a trade blockade against Kuwait because Kuwait’s ruler supported the Ottoman Empire.The British economic blockade heavily damaged Kuwait’s economy.

The Great Depression negatively impacted Kuwait’s economy starting in the late 1920s. International trading was one of Kuwait’s main sources of income before oil. Kuwaiti merchants were mostly intermediary merchants. As a result of European decline of demand for goods from India and Africa, the economy of Kuwait suffered. The decline in international trade resulted in an increase in gold smuggling by Kuwaiti ships to India. Some Kuwaiti merchant families became rich due to gold smuggling to India.

Kuwait’s pearling industry also collapsed as a result of the worldwide economic depression. At its height, Kuwait’s pearling industry led the world’s luxury market, regularly sending out between 750 and 800 ship vessels to meet the European elite’s need for pearls. During the economic depression, luxuries like pearls were in little demand.The Japanese invention of cultured pearls also contributed to the collapse of Kuwait’s pearling industry.

Following the Kuwait–Najd War of 1919-1920, Ibn Saud imposed a trade blockade against Kuwait from the years 1923 until 1937. The goal of the Saudi economic and military attacks on Kuwait was to annex as much of Kuwait’s territory as possible. At the Uqair conference in 1922, the boundaries of Kuwait and Najd were set. Kuwait had no representative at the Uqair conference. Ibn Saud persuaded Sir Percy Cox to give him two-thirds of Kuwait’s territory.More than half of Kuwait was lost due to Uqair. After the Uqair conference, Kuwait was still subjected to a Saudi economic blockade and intermittent Saudi raiding.

In 1937, Freya Stark wrote about the extent of poverty in Kuwait at the time

“              Poverty has settled in Kuwait more heavily since my last visit five years ago, both by sea, where the pearl trade continues to decline, and by land, where the blockade established by Saudi Arabia now harms the merchants.  ”

Some prominent merchant families left Kuwait in the early 1930s due to the prevalence of economic hardship. At the time of the discovery of oil in 1937, most of Kuwait’s inhabitants were impoverished.

Discovery of oil

In 1937, the 15 year trade blockades against Kuwait were lifted and Kuwait’s large oil reserves were discovered by the US-British Kuwait Oil Company. Exploration was delayed until after World War II, the use of oil only began in 1951. Between World War II and 1948, Kuwait’s inhabitants were still largely impoverished. A few years following World War II, oil exploration finally began. In 1951, a major public-work programme began to enable Kuwaitis to enjoy a better standard of living. By 1952, the country became the largest exporter of oil in the Persian Gulf region. This massive growth attracted many foreign workers, especially from India.

Independence and beyond

On 19 June 1961, Kuwait became independent with the end of the British protectorate; the sheikh Abdullah Al-Salim Al-Sabah, became an Emir, and the country joined the Arab League. Iraq laid claim that Kuwait was part of its territory, but formally recognized Kuwait’s independence and its borders in October 1963. Under the terms of a newly drafted constitution, Kuwait held its first parliamentary elections in 1963. The exploitation of large oil fields improved Kuwait’s economy. During the 1970s, the Kuwaiti government nationalized the Kuwait Oil Company, ending its partnership with British Petroleum.

In the early 1980s, 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 due to the Iran–Iraq War.

During the Iran-Iraq war, Kuwait supported Iraq. In the 1980s, there were many terror attacks in Kuwait, including the 1983 Kuwait bombings, hijacking of several Kuwait Airways planes and attempted assassination of Emir Jaber in 1985. After the war ended, Kuwait declined an Iraqi request to forgive its US$65 billion debt.An economic rivalry between the two countries ensued after Kuwait increased its oil production by 40 percent. Tensions between the two countries increased further in July 1990, after Iraq complained to OPEC that Kuwait was stealing its oil from a field near the border by slant drilling of the Rumaila field.

On 2 August 1990, Iraqi forces invaded and annexed Kuwait. After a series of failed diplomatic negotiations, the United States led a coalition to remove the Iraqi forces from Kuwait, in what became known as the Gulf War. On 26 February 1991, the coalition succeeded in driving out the Iraqi forces. As they retreated, Iraqi forces carried out a scorched earth policy by setting oil wells on fire. During the Iraqi occupation, more than 1,000 Kuwaiti civilians were killed. In addition, more than 600 Kuwaitis went missing during Iraq’s occupation,approximately 375 remains were found in mass graves in Iraq.

In March 2003, Kuwait became the springboard for the US-led invasion of Iraq. Upon the death of the Emir Jaber, in January 2006, Saad Al-Sabah succeeded him but was removed nine days later by the Kuwaiti parliament due to his ailing health. Sabah Al-Sabah was sworn in as Emir. In 2011–2012, there were protests inspired by the Arab Spring. The parliament was dissolved in December 2011 due to protests against the parliament. The prime minister stepped down following protests and allegations of high-level corruption.

Religion

The majority of Kuwait’s citizen population is Muslim; there are no official figures, but it is estimated that 60%–70% are Sunni and 30%–40% are Shias.

In 2001, there were 525,000 Sunni Kuwaiti citizens, 300,000 Shia Kuwaiti citizens and 820,000 Kuwaiti citizens in total thus Sunnis formed 64% and Shias formed 36.5% of the Kuwaiti citizen population. In 2002, the US Department of State reported that Shia Kuwaitis formed 30%-40% of Kuwait’s citizen population, noting there were 525,000 Sunni Kuwaiti citizens and 855,000 Kuwaiti citizens in total (61% Sunnis, 39% Shias). In 2004, there were 600,000 Sunni Kuwaitis citizens, 300,000-350,000 Shia Kuwaiti citizens and 913,000 Kuwaiti citizens in total.

Kuwait has a native Christian community, in 1999 there were 400 Christian Kuwaiti citizens. There were 256 Christian Kuwaiti citizens living in Kuwait in June 2013. There is also a small number of Bahá’í Kuwaiti citizens, it is likely that 18 Kuwaiti citizens follow the Bahá’í religion.There are 400 Bahá’ís in total in Kuwait.

Kuwait also has a large community of expatriate Christians (est. 450,000), Hindus (est. 600,000), Buddhists (est. 100,000), and Sikhs (est. 10,000).

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/kuwait/
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  • writerPosted On: July 27, 2014
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