The State of Kuwait is a small country in the Gulf. It was once a center for boat construction and pearl diving in the Arab region. After the discovery of its large deposits of oil after the Second World War, Kuwait rose to prominence. This is the recent phase of Kuwait, but its rich history goes back as far as the 18th century when it was settled by migrants from other regions in central Arabia. Kuwait was still under the domain of the Bani Khalid tribe of Arabia with members of the Al Sabah family ruling the country. From being a small fishing and pearl diving country, Kuwait today is one of the richest countries in the world, with numerous skyscrapers and oil refineries dotting its desert landscape. Most of the population live in and around the capital city, Kuwait.
Kuwait is a constitutional hereditary emirate headed by Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, with Crown Prince Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah expected to succeed his father. The concurrent prime minister is Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. The Bayan Palace is the seat of government.
:: Background of Kuwait ::
The earliest settlers of Kuwait, based on archeological findings are related to the Sumerians. This group was credited to have developed the first recorded human civilization in history. There were flint tools, used during the Stone Age that were discovered in Kuwait. There were also fragments of pottery, beads and knives that were discovered in archeological sites that were used by Ubaid settlers, the same group of people that inhabited Mesopotamia in ancient times. Evidence of settlers from the Dilmun Empire were found in Faylakah, one of the islands of Kuwait. The archeological finds included a complete example of a Dilmun town with public buildings, temple dedicated to Inzak, granaries and dwellings, and these were considered as the best structural examples from the Bronze Age.
In this Country Profile
There were several evidence that Alexander the Great and his troops had settled in Kuwait, with the discovery of ancient silver Greek coins, busts and terra cotta molds and figurines. It was later found out that the island named Ikaros mentioned in the annals of one of the admirals of Alexander the Great was actually present-day Faylakah (Failaka). Kuwait was used as a center of trade in the region.
According to records from the British India Company, Kuwait was the residence of the Utubi Sabah family as far back as 1716, descendants of the Utub tribe from Najd that first went to Qatar to escape the drought before moving to Qurain, an established community in Kuwait Bay. In 1756 the inhabitants of Qurain and the Utub tribe were one in the consensus to form a permanent government with the Sabah family to head it. The first emir was Sabah ibn Jaber, from whom all the rulers of Kuwait descended from.
Peace, security and prosperity were enjoyed by the community under the rule of the Sabahs. Mat and basket weaving were introduced, as well as embroidery and cotton textiles. The harbor of the Kuwait Bay became busy. There were numerous pearl oyster beds in the south. The Bedouins conduct their trade during the summer months. Trade merchants became rich. The pearl diving industry in Kuwait at that time was quite profitable and massive. Towards the end of the 1800s, more than 500 ships were devoted primarily for pearling.
As they were enjoying their prosperity and relative peace, outside forces became a threat. There were pirates pillaging the coast of the gulf and there also the Persians and the Ottomans that want to capture and extend their territories. Kuwait is very prime for invasion because of its fame as a rich merchant community and its vital importance as the route over land to the Mediterranean and its ability to handle all the transshipments in the in the region.
The contacts made by the Kuwaitis with the outside world have made their outlook more cosmopolitan. The existing mercantile business, their contacts with different people from other countries and the constant travels of the male members of the family units for long periods at a time shaped the women to be self-reliant and resourceful in rearing and tending to their families. These factors also helped shape and taught the Kuwaitis to excel in finance, contracting and investing.
Due to Kuwait’s prosperity during that time, many neighboring countries became envious particularly the Ottomans. The made repeated invasions to claim Kuwait particularly late in the 1800s. Then Emir Mubarak Al Sabah, also known as Mubarak the Great signed an accord with the British Empire to have Kuwait as a British protectorate in January 23, 1899. The treaty removed the fear of an occupation by Turkey and the country remained peaceful, with the British handling the foreign affairs of Kuwait. The Emir provided direction to Kuwait and more government programs, including welfare programs were instituted. He established the first public school in Kuwait and also the first medical services. Soon communication services were begun and the country continued to flourish.
However, there was a downturn during the 1920s and the 1930s when the paramilitary force from Najd, the Ikhwan tried to capture Kuwait in what became known as the battle of the Red Fort. It prompted the government to build a new wall for the city. British troops came and warned the Najd and commerce between them were stopped, causing Kuwaitis to suffer economic losses. It was also during this time that the cultured pearls from Japan were introduced into the market, seriously denting the pearl export industry of Kuwait. The global reach of the Great Depression also affected Kuwait’s economy, which nearly devastated the country.
Conversely, the Anglo-American Kuwait Oil Company established in 1934, which had been working silently in its oil explorations made a big discovery in its Burgan oil field in 1938 and started the complete 180-degree economic turn of Kuwait, which had to wait until the end of the Second World War, with Kuwait making its very first shipment of oil by 1946.
Emir Abdullah Al-Salem was known as modern-day Kuwait’s founder, ruling the country in 1950 and establishing many reforms for the government and its people. He was a visionary who wanted to use the country’s new-found wealth to benefit the people with social services and eventually created the greatest welfare state in the world – free comprehensive health services, free education from elementary to college, cradle to grave care, national housing, educational scholarships to schools abroad for further studies, guaranteed employment through an organized civil service system, generous benefits for retirees and construction of infrastructures that are world-class. The pact with Britain was abolished during his reign and Kuwait became independent on July 20, 1961.
Then Iraqi President Abdulkarim Qasim claimed that Kuwait is a territory of Iraq. The Emir sought the assistance of Britain once again but was referred to the League of Arab States. The League sent a joint Arab security force to Kuwait and rejected Iraq’s claim, recognizing Kuwait’s independence. Kuwait joined the Arab League in 1961 and became a member of the United Nations in 1963.
Such was the importance of Emir Abdullah Al-Salem to Kuwait that the day of his death, February 25 has been proclaimed as a National Day in Kuwait.
Kuwait provides support to the region through the Kuwait Fund for Arab Development. Its massive wealth allows the country to also support non-Arab and non-Muslim projects and provide generous amounts for foreign aid. Kuwait also helped form the Gulf Cooperation Council created in 1991 to ensure the progress, stability and regional security of the Arab States. Kuwait has completely rebounded from the ravages brought about by the 7-month Iraq-Kuwait war triggered by the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on August 2, 1990. Kuwait was fully liberated by the Allied forces on February 25, 1990.
:: Geography of Kuwait ::
Kuwait occupies the northeastern portion of the Arabian Peninsula, which is almost the top of the Persian Gulf. It is nestled between the Saudi Arabia and Iraq in the Middle East.
The State of Kuwait lies 29° 30’ 0” north of the Equator and 45° 45’ 0” east of Greenwich.
In terms of size, Kuwait is considered as one of the smallest countries in the world, measuring only 17,818 square kilometers. It size is slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey in the United States. Kuwait has 9 gulf islands comprising its total territory.
The Persian Gulf borders the eastern part of Kuwait for 195 kilometers. On its southern and western parts, the country shares a border with Saudi Arabia for 250 kilometers. It is the longest land border of Kuwait. Parts of its western section and the northern region is bordered by Iraq for 240 kilometers.
The Bay of Kuwait covers almost half of the 499 kilometer shoreline of Kuwait. The country has a maritime claim of 12 nautical miles of territorial waters.
Hot and dry is the prevailing climate in Kuwait, although it has four seasons. The country experiences dry desert climate, which is characterized by very hot summers. The summer is Kuwait is quite long. The winter is remarkably short and generally mild and cool, with the evening temperatures dropping to about 37.4 °F while daytime temperature can rise up to the upper 68 °F range.
The Arabian Desert covers most of Kuwait. The terrain is generally low and flat desert plain. The lowest point is the Persian Gulf. Some portions of the desert rise gradually, with the highest elevation reaching up to 306 meters. There are small hills on Kuwait, some of the highest are the Khashm Ghudayy at 110 meters, Al ‘Awjah at 61 meters and Jabal al Banaya at 10 meters.
While the country depended largely on its fish and shrimp industry as well as the exportation of pearls before the discovery of oil, Kuwait’s natural resources are now listed as natural gas, petroleum, shrimp and fish.
Due to the lack of water and the desert conditions, only a small part of the land is used for agriculture, with about 0.84% of the land being arable, and 0.1% planted with permanent crops. The majority of the land is utilized for its main product, natural gas and petroleum, other industries and residential areas.
Like most desert countries, Kuwait can also experience extreme weather conditions and most of its natural hazards come from heavy rains that commonly occur during the months of October up to April. The torrential rains are extremely heavy and can cause damage to homes and roads. Dust storms and sandstorms, normally occurring all year-round are more frequent between the months of March and August.
Current Environmental Issues
Kuwait has limited sources of natural fresh water. It also faces desertification due to the lack of water and heavy air and water pollution. To meet the demands for fresh water, Kuwait has one of the largest and most sophisticated water desalination facilities in the world.
Kuwait has entered into several international environmental agreements concerning climate change, biodiversity, law of the sea, hazardous wastes, ozone layer protection, environmental modification, endangered species, desertification and climate change-Kyoto protocol. Although it has already the agreement of marine dumping it has yet to ratify it.
:: People of Kuwait ::
The inhabitants of Kuwait are called Kuwaiti and the term is used as a noun and as an adjective to describe their nationality. The plural is Kuwaitis.
The current population of Kuwait according to the estimates done in July 2011 is 2,595,628. However the population estimate includes foreign nationals that number about 1.3 million. The estimated population growth in Kuwait is 1.986%, although the figures reflect the immigration of expatriates before the Gulf crisis. The net migration, according to the 2011 estimates is 0.65/1,000 population. Total fertility rate in Kuwait is calculated at 2.64 children born to every woman, based on 2011 calculations.
The age structure of the citizens of Kuwait is concentrated in the 15 to 64 age group, with 72.2% comprising 1,153,433 males and 720,392 females. The younger set belonging to the zero to 14 years age bracket is 25.8% of the total population, with 348,816 males and 321,565 females. The older generation, belonging to the 65 years and above age group, represents just 2% of the population with 25,443 males and 25,979 females, according to the 2011 estimates.
Of the total population, the median age is 28.5 years, with 29.8 years for the males. According to the 2011 estimates, the median age for women in Kuwait is 23.6 years.
Birth and Death Rates
Based on the 2011 calculations the birth rate is estimated to be 21.32 live births per 1,000 inhabitants while the death rate is 2.11.
Male births are slightly dominant in Kuwait. Out of the total population, based on estimated figures for 2011, there are 1.54 males for every female. Breaking it down, at birth there are 1.047 males/female, while at the under-15 age group, there are 1.04 males for every female. It increases slightly in the 15 to 64 and the 65 and over age groups, with 1.79 males/female and 1.65 males/female, respectively.
Infant Mortality Rate
There is a low level of infant mortality rate in Kuwait. The average for the total population is 8.07 deaths for every 1,000 live births. By gender, there are 7.76 deaths for male infants for every 1,000 live births. It is slightly higher with the females, estimated to be 8.39 deaths for every 1,000 children born alive.
Life Expectancy at Birth
For the total population, life expectancy average is 77.09 years. The females outlive the males slightly with 78.3 years, based on the 2011 calculations. For the males the life expectancy average is 75.95 years.
Religion and tradition play a majority role in the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS in Kuwait. Although there were about 479 identified HIV positive carriers in Kuwait since the first reported case in 1984, these people have already been deported. The adult prevalence of HIV/AIDS, according to the 2001 estimates is only 0.1%, and there have been no reported cases of people living or dying with HIV/AIDS in the country.
Although the majority of residents of the country is dominated by Kuwaitis at 45%, there are other Arabs living in Kuwait, comprising about 35%. There are also 9% Asian groups in the country. Iranians comprise about 4% of the population while other small ethnic groups represent 7% of the population.
Islam is the official religion and followed by 85% of the population. Some 70% follow Sunni Islam while about 30% are followers of Shi’a Islam. Other religions in Kuwait include Hindu, Parsi and Christian religions, which is followed by about 15% of the population due to its multicultural diversity.
The official language in Kuwait is Arabic while English is widely spoken and commonly used in the conduct of business.
Kuwaitis are highly literate, with 93.9% of the population age 15 and over able to write and read. Literacy is at a high of 94.4% for the males and about 91% for he women in the country. The average number of years spent in school by students in Kuwait is 12.
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