In 1613, the town of Kuwait was founded in modern-day Kuwait City. Administratively, it was a sheikhdom, ruled by local sheikhs. In 1716, the Bani Utbah settled in Kuwait, which at this time 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 Arabian Peninsula. By the mid 1700s, Kuwait had already established itself as the major trading route from the Persian Gulf to Aleppo.
During the Persian siege of Basra in 1775–79, 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, as the Indian trade routes with Baghdad, Aleppo, Smyrna and Constantinople were diverted to Kuwait during this time. 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.
Kuwait was the center of boat building in the Persian Gulf region. During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, vessels made in Kuwait carried the bulk of trade between the ports of India, East Africa and the Red Sea. Kuwaiti ships were renowned throughout the Indian Ocean. Regional geopolitical turbulence helped foster economic prosperity in Kuwait in the second half of the 18th century.Perhaps the biggest catalyst for much of Kuwait becoming prosperous was 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, who were fleeing Ottoman government persecution. Kuwaitis developed a reputation as the best sailors in the Persian Gulf.
British Protectorate (1899–1961)
In the 1890s, Kuwait was threatened by the Ottoman Empire. In a bid to address its security issues, ruler Sheikh Mubarak Al Sabah signed an agreement with the British government in India, subsequently known as the Anglo-Kuwaiti Agreement of 1899 and became a British protectorate. This gave Britain exclusivity of access and trade with Kuwait, and excluded Iraq to the north from a port on the Persian Gulf. The Sheikhdom of Kuwait remained a British protectorate from 1899 to 1961.
Following the Kuwait–Najd War of 1919–20, 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; as a result of British interference, 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.
The Great Depression harmed 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 the decline of European demand for goods from India and Africa, Kuwait's economy suffered. The decline in international trade resulted in an increase in gold smuggling by Kuwaiti ships to India. Some Kuwaiti merchant families became rich from this smuggling.Kuwait's pearl industry also collapsed as a result of the worldwide economic depression. At its height, Kuwait's pearl industry had led the world's luxury market, regularly sending out between 750 and 800 ships to meet the European elite's desire 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 pearl industry.
Historian Hanna Batatu explains how the British threatened to take the Kurdish area and Mosul out of Iraq provided that King Faisal granted Britain control of the oil in the region. In 1938 the Kuwaiti Legislative Council unanimously approved a request for Kuwait's reintegration with Iraq. A year later an armed uprising which had raised the integration banner as its objective was put down by the British.
1982 to present
In the early 1980s, Kuwait experienced a major economic crisis after the Souk Al-Manakh stock market crash and decrease in oil price.
During the Iran–Iraq War, Kuwait supported Iraq. Throughout the 1980s, there were several terror attacks in Kuwait, including the 1983 Kuwait bombings, hijacking of several Kuwait Airways planes and the attempted assassination of Emir Jaber in 1985. Kuwait was a regional hub of science and technology in the 1960s and 1970s up until the early 1980s; the scientific research sector significantly suffered due to the terror attacks.
After the Iran–Iraq 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 claiming that Kuwait was stealing its oil from a field near the border by slant drilling of the Rumaila field.
In 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; remains of approximately 375 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.
From 2001 to 2009, Kuwait had the highest Human Development Index ranking in the Arab world. In 2005, women won the right to vote and run in elections. In 2014 and 2015, Kuwait was ranked first among Arab countries in the Global Gender Gap Report. Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City was inaugurated in mid-2015.
The Amiri Diwan is currently developing the new Kuwait National Cultural District (KNCD), which comprises Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre, Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Centre, Al Shaheed Park, and Al Salam Palace. With a capital cost of more than US$1 billion, the project is one of the largest cultural investments in the world. In November 2016, the Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Centre opened. It is the largest cultural centre in the Middle East. The Kuwait National Cultural District is a member of the Global Cultural Districts Network. In 2016 Kuwait commenced a new national development plan, Kuwait Vision 2035, including plans to diversify the economy and become less dependent on oil.
On 30 September 2020, Kuwait’s Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah became the 16th Emir of Kuwait and the successor to Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, who died at the age of 91. On 7 October 2020, Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah was nominated to be the Crown Prince by Emir Sheikh Nawaf. On 8 October, Kuwait's National Assembly approved Sheikh Mishal as the Crown Prince, where he took the oath of office, and pledged commitment to democracy and peace.
Kuwait has the oldest modern arts movement in the Arabian Peninsula. Beginning in 1936, Kuwait was the first Gulf Arab country to grant scholarships in the arts. The Kuwaiti artist Mojeb al-Dousari was the earliest recognized visual artist in the Gulf Arab region. He is regarded as the founder of portrait art in the region. The Sultan Gallery was the first professional Arab art gallery in the Gulf.
Kuwait is home to more than 30 art galleries. In recent years, Kuwait's contemporary art scene has boomed. Khalifa Al-Qattan was the first artist to hold a solo exhibition in Kuwait. He founded a new art theory in the early 1960s known as "circulism". Other notable Kuwaiti artists include Sami Mohammad, Thuraya Al-Baqsami and Suzan Bushnaq.
The government organizes various arts festivals, including the Al Qurain Cultural Festival and Formative Arts Festival. The Kuwait International Biennial was inaugurated in 1967, more than 20 Arab and foreign countries have participated in the biennial. Prominent participants include Layla Al-Attar. In 2004, the Al Kharafi Biennial for Contemporary Arab Art was inaugurated.
Kuwait is the birthplace of various popular musical genres, such as sawt. Kuwaiti music has considerably influenced the music culture in other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Traditional Kuwaiti music is a reflection of the country's seafaring heritage, which is known for genres such as fijiri. Kuwait pioneered contemporary Khaliji music. Kuwaitis were the first commercial recording artists in the Gulf region. The first known Kuwaiti recordings were made between 1912 and 1915.
The Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Centre contains the largest opera house in the Middle East. Kuwait is home to various music festivals, including the International Music Festival hosted by the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters (NCCAL). Kuwait has several academic institutions specializing in university-level music education. The Higher Institute of Musical Arts was established by the government to provide bachelor's degrees in music. In addition, the College of Basic Education offers bachelor's degrees in music education. The Institute of Musical Studies offers degrees equivalent to secondary school.
Kuwait has, in recent years, produced several prominent contemporary writers such as Ismail Fahd Ismail, author of over twenty novels and numerous short story collections. There is also evidence that Kuwaiti literature has long been interactive with English and French literature.
Most Kuwaiti citizens are Muslim; it is estimated that 60%–65% are Sunni and 35%–40% are Shias. Most Shia Kuwaiti citizens are of Persian ancestry or of Iraqi origin. The country includes a native Christian community, estimated to be composed of between 259 and 400 Christian Kuwaiti citizens. Kuwait is the only GCC country besides Bahrain to have a local Christian population who hold citizenship. There is also a small number of Kuwaiti citizens are follow the Baháʼí Faith. Kuwait also has a large community of expatriate Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs
Kuwait has a petroleum-based economy, petroleum is the main export product. The Kuwaiti dinar is the highest-valued unit of currency in the world. According to the World Bank, Kuwait is the seventh richest country in the world per capita. Kuwait is the second richest GCC country per capita (after Qatar). Petroleum accounts for half of GDP and 90% of government income. Non-petroleum industries include financial services.
In the past five years, there has been a significant rise in entrepreneurship and small business start-ups in Kuwait. The informal sector is also on the rise, mainly due to the popularity of Instagram businesses.
Kuwait is a major source of foreign economic assistance to other states through the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, an autonomous state institution created in 1961 on the pattern of international development agencies. In 1974, the fund's lending mandate was expanded to include all developing countries in the world.
In 2018 Kuwait enacted certain measures to regulate foreign labor. Citing security concerns, workers from Georgia will be subject to heightened scrutiny when applying for entry visas, and an outright ban was being imposed on the entry of domestic workers from Guinea-Bissau and Vietnam. Workers from Bangladesh are also banned.
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