Kuwait (Arabic pronunciation) is a small country situated between Iraq to the north, Saudi Arabia to the south and west, and the Persian Gulf on the east. It has an area of 17,818 sq km (11,072 sq miles), roughly the size of of the state of New Jersey. Kuwait’s climate is mostly dry with very hot summers, reaching up to 46.9° C (116.4° F), and short cool winters, with low temperatures between 8.5-10° C (47.3-50° F). Kuwait is a relatively flat country and has a peak elevation of 306 m (1004 ft) above sea level.
Kuwait suffers from a limited supply of fresh water. As of 2011, there was an estimated .02 km³ of renewable water in the country. One of the ways Kuwait obtains fresh water is through desalination of water in the Persian Gulf. According to the Water Resources Division of the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, desalinated water accounts for 92% of domestic and industrial water needs, and supplies 60% of all general water needs. Six plants produces 620 million imperial gallons per day (1 imperial gallon = 4.545 liters). According to the United Nations Environment Program, Kuwait has 15% of the world’s desalination productive capacity.
HISTORY & GOVERNMENT
The earliest settlers in Kuwait were Mesopotamians (6,500-3,800 BCE) who lived on Failaka Island, a part of modern-day Kuwait. In the fourth century BCE, the Greeks settled on Failaka under Alexander the Great, and called it Ikaros after the mythical being Icarus and a similar island in the Aegean Sea.
By 123 BCE, the Persian Characene Empire had established itself in the city of Charax in present-day Kuwait. In 224 CE, the Persian Sassanid Empire took control of Charax and ruled until 626 CE, when the Rashidun Caliphate armies defeated them. The Rashidun Caliphate ruled the region for a short time and was replaced by the Ummayad Caliphate in 661. The area surrounding Charax came to be recognized as a strategic location for Muslim armies due to its proximity to the Persian Gulf; by the 9th century it had also become a well-known trading center. The Portuguese came to the region in 1507, and conquered the area surrounding the Persian Gulf in 1521. Locals began to rise against the Portuguese shortly thereafter and by 1660 the Portuguese were ousted and control of Kuwait was passed into the hands of the indigenous tribes.
In 1705 Kuwait was known as Guraine and was home to the Bani Utbah tribe. They founded a small fishing port named Kuwait that became very successful. Much of the port’s success was due to its proximity to the pearl banks along the Persian Gulf. The pearls made Kuwait an important stop along Ottoman trade routes that linked the Ottomans to distant markets in India. In 1775, seeking to gain a share of Ottoman wealth in the region, the Persian Empire invaded the rich agricultural region of nearby Basra in present-day Iraq. Many wealthy merchant families escaped to Kuwait after the invasion and Kuwait became a prominent trading hub along the Persian Gulf due to the influx of wealthy merchants. The al-Sabah clan came to Kuwait in the early 18th century and swore allegiance to the Ottoman Empire who, in turn, made the family rulers of Kuwait. Their willingness to cooperate with the Ottomans gained Kuwait partial autonomy from the Empire.
As the British expanded their influence in the Persian Gulf during the 1800s, they looked to incorporate the affluent trading center of Kuwait into the British Empire. The British reached an agreement with the ruling al-Sabah family in 1897, which designated Kuwait and the surrounding desert as a British protectorate. Two years later, the country’s leader, Sheikh Mubarak al-Sabah, signed another agreement that gave the British full control over Kuwait’s foreign policy. Kuwait continued to drift farther from Ottoman influence and closer to the British in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The British and Ottomans agreed to designate Kuwait as an autonomous region within the Ottoman Empire in 1913, although the British continued to administer Kuwait as a protectorate. After the defeat of the Ottomans in World War I, the British separated Kuwait from the newly created Iraq mandate and drew Kuwait’s present-day borders.
History and Government Resources
PEOPLE & EDUCATION
The largest ethnic group in Kuwait is Arabs: Kuwaitis Arabs make up 31.3% and other non-Kuwaiti Arabs constitute 27.9%. Asians (37.8%) and other ethnic groups (3%) make up the remainder of the population. Kuwait was a destination for Palestinian refugees who moved to Kuwait for employment in various industries. Some 80,000 Palestinian refugees are in Kuwait but there were upwards of 400,000 before the Gulf War; many fled due to the negative backlash caused by the PLO’s support of Saddam Hussein in the conflict. The population of Kuwait is growing at a rate of 1.62%.
Demographics in Kuwait
Kuwait’s constitution states that education is a fundamental right of every citizen. Schools in Kuwait consist of four levels: kindergarten (2 years), primary (5 years), intermediate (4 years) and secondary (3 years). The primary and intermediate levels are compulsory, so school is mandatory for children 6-14 years of age. The government encourages students to continue education after their secondary year and students have the option of going to vocational school or university. Kuwait University is a public university established in 1966. Originally, it only had two colleges: a college of science, arts, and education, and a college for women. There are now 16 different colleges as well as graduate programs. The Australian College of Kuwait was Kuwait’s first private technical college and offers courses in vocational skills. In addition, the government sponsors citizens studying abroad, offering scholarships and stipends, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. Consequently, there is a large population of Kuwaitis who study in America, and elsewhere, and then return to Kuwait.
The literacy rate in Kuwait is 96.3%. Men are slightly more literate than women (96.5% vs. 95.8%), although men spend less time in school than women (13 years vs. 15 years). The Kuwaiti government provides free state-run education for all children. This free education includes food at school, clothing, transportation, and books. Schools below the university level are typically segregated by gender, but offer the same programs.
Literacy Rate in Kuwait ( Men)
Literacy Rate in Kuwait ( Women)
People and Education Resources
Islam is the official religion of Kuwait and nearly 77% of the population is Muslim. Of that amount, 70% are Sunni, and 30% are Shia. Christians make up 17.3%. The remaining population practices other and unspecified religions such as Hinduism, or Parsi. Parsi adherents are generally descendants of Persian followers of Zoroastrianism who fled from religious persecution. Zoroastrianism is based on the philosophy of Zoroaster who in the 6th century BCE reduced the traditionally many Persian gods into two spirits: Ahura Mazda (illuminating wisdom) and Angra Mainyu (destructive spirit), which are constantly fighting.
The government has strict laws concerning non-Muslim religions: they must be recognized by the Quran in order to be legal in Kuwait. Adherents of a legal religion can apply for permits to build places of worship although the government limits the number of clergy allowed.
Traditionally, art in Kuwait has focused on calligraphy based on Quranic writings or abstract art due to Islamic beliefs. The representation of people in art is seen by some religious authorities as a form of idolatry for Muslims. However, there is a vibrant contemporary arts movement taking place in the country. ArtKuwait.org is a blog that monitors the arts scene there with information on museums and galleries, exhibits, initiatives, and feature artists. The website features the Abolish 153 Initiative which seeks to remove article 153 from Kuwait’s penal code. Article 153 effectively gives men regulatory, judicial and executive power over their female kin in cases where alleged sexual misconduct is accused; men who kill female relatives are charged with misdemeanors. The movement is bringing attention to gender inequality and violence through arts and other creative channels.
Folk arts are also popular in Kuwait. Bedouin women weave camel hair, goat hair, and wool into long strips called qatas. These strips are then woven into rugs or curtains used to divide a tent. The Kuwaiti Society of Formative Artists; the National Council of Culture, Arts, and Literature; and the Free Art Studio all promote visual art in Kuwait and are active in assisting local artists by displaying their work or granting them scholarships.
The Kuwait National Museum was the original home of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, an organization founded to create an exhibition from the collection of Sheikh and Sheikha al-Sabah in 1983. The collection contains many objects from the history of Islam. In 1990 the museum was looted by the Iraqi forces and everything was taken. Most of the collection has since been recovered, although many objects have been damaged.
Kuwait is home to ruins from ancient civilizations. Failaka Island houses the barest remnants of Dilmun culture, which date back to the third century BCE. There are ongoing archaeological digs on the island; a few of the sites are Al-Khidir, Al-Quraniya, and Al-Qusur. These digs have revealed the foundations of various structures and some pottery.
Sweco, a water distribution company in Kuwait, built the Kuwait Towers, a popular tourist attraction that contains a mixture of contemporary western and traditional Islamic architecture. The combination of the two separate worlds is seen a sign of the progressive nature of Kuwaiti society. There are three different towers, two are water towers. The tallest holds 4,500 cubic meters of water and has a restaurant at the top. The middle tower is just a water tower, holding the same amount of water as the tallest, and the third and shortest tower houses electrical equipment for the other two towers.
The Kuwaiti government kept examples and records of music throughout its history until most of these records were destroyed during the Iraqi invasion in the early 1990s. Women, mostly in private settings, perform traditional music in Kuwait which sets it apart from the other Gulf States.
A few of the traditional songs are Al-Fann, performed at weddings; Al-Fareesa, performed on national and religious holidays; and Al-Arda Al-Bahariya, a seafaring song celebrating sailors’ return home.
Khaliji is traditional Arabic music native to the Persian Gulf countries played with an oud and tabl (drum). Abdallah Al Rowaished is a khaliji performer in Kuwait. Rowaished has been playing since 1983, and has released over 30 albums and toured throughout the world. Nawal El Kuwaitia is another popular khaliji artist from Kuwait. She released her first album in 1983 and still records music today.
The most popular sport in Kuwait is football (U.S. soccer). The national team, “The Blue,” has had some success competing in the Asian League. They won the championship in 1980, were runners up in 1976, and the team took third place in 1984. The Kuwait Football Association was banned from international play by FIFA in October 2015. It is unclear when the ban will be lifted.
Kuwait also has an active men’s basketball team. They won the Gulf Cup in 1981, 1983, and 1986. Kuwait has made 12 appearances at the Summer Olympics, and has won two bronze medals, one in 2000, and 2012. Fehaid Al-Deehani won both of them in the shooting event men’s trap and men’s double trap. Recently, Kuwait has been sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee for government meddling in official proceedings; as a result, the country’s participation in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics is in question.