Kuwait country profile

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Map of Kuwait

Oil-rich Kuwait is a tiny country nestling at the top of the Gulf. Flanked by powerful neighbours Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, its strategic location and massive oil reserves make it one of the world's richest countries per capita.

A conservative state with a Sunni Muslim majority and a US ally, Kuwait stands out from the other Gulf monarchies for having the most open political system.

But tensions have persisted between parliament and the cabinet, controlled by the ruling Al-Sabah family, and the government is facing increasing calls for radical political reform from the opposition.


Emir: Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah

Image source, Getty Images

Sheikh Nawaf took over on the death of his half-brother Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah in September 2020.

Sheikh Sabah reigned from 2006, having previously served as a highly influential foreign minister for 40 years. He maintained Kuwait's pro-Western stance and pursued a policy of cautious reform, which Sheikh Nawaf, aged 83 when he ascended the throne, is expected to continue.


Image source, Getty Images

The authorities place limits on media freedom, and legislation provides for punishments for criticism of the emir and the government. State broadcasters operate alongside privately-owned outlets. Internet use is among the highest in the region.


Some key dates in Kuwait's history:

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A multi-national force came to Kuwait's aid during the 'Desert Storm' offensive to expel Iraqi invaders in 1991

1700s - Nomadic tribes from central Arabia settle in the bay of Kuwait City, among them the Al-Sabah family whose descendants now rule Kuwait.

1899 - British protectorate: Britain assumes control of foreign and defence policy amid fears of an expanding Ottoman Empire.

1930s - Oil: The discovery of massive oil reserves revolutionises the country's economy.

1961- Kuwait gains independence from Britain.

1963 - British military intervention forces Iraq to abandon its territorial claims and recognize Kuwait's independence. Kuwait becomes the first Arab country in the Gulf to establish an elected parliament.

1990-91 - First Gulf War: Iraqi invasion leads to a US-led military campaign to liberate Kuwait. A US-led and UN-backed bombing aerial campaign begins in Kuwait and Iraq. By late February 1991, allied forces reach Kuwait City. Iraqi forces torch oil wells as they pull out.

2003 - Tens of thousands of soldiers converge on the Kuwait-Iraq border for a US-led military campaign to disarm and oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in Second Gulf War.

2003 - Political reform: Emir issues a landmark decree separating the post of prime minister from the crown prince.

2005 - Kuwaiti women win the right to vote and run in parliamentary elections.

2012 - Unprecedented protests call for government reforms.

2015 - Kuwait and four other Gulf states take part in Saudi-led air strikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen.

2020 September - Sheikh Nawaf takes over as emir on the death of his half-brother Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Kuwaiti women display their passports as they vote during the September 2022 parliamentary elections

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