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Located on the north-eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, Kuwait borders Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Independent from the British since 1961, Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy, with the succession of emir and head of state being hereditary but subject to the approval of an elected parliament. While Kuwait has a relatively free press compared to the rest of the region, there is still little space for public criticism of the government or ruling family, alongside persistent issues of human trafficking, the treatment of foreign workers and the rights of women.
Kuwait is a flat and arid country situated on the Persian Gulf, and shares borders with Iraq to the north and west, and Saudi Arabia to the south. The capital city is Kuwait City.
Population and language
Kuwait has an estimated population of 2.8 million people. With the exception of the period surrounding the 1990/1 Gulf War, this figure has been growing rapidly over the past 30 years, and continues to grow at an annual rate of around three to four per cent. The majority of the population is made up of non-Kuwaiti citizens, who make up between 60 and 80 per cent population.
The official State language is Arabic.
History and politics
Kuwait has been under the rule of the Al-Sabah family since 1756, but did not assert its full independence as a sovereign state until 1961. During the 1980s the country played a key role in financing the Iran-Iraq war and refused to forgive Iraq's debts when hostilities ceased. Economic tensions ensued between the two countries particularly with regards to allegations on behalf of Iraq that Kuwait had engaged in slant drilling of oil from Iraqi oil fields. Hostilities culminated in 1990 when Iraqi forces invaded and annexed Kuwait. A United States-led coalition drove the occupying forces out of the country by February 1991, but the damage to Kuwait's infrastructure following the war was substantial and it took the country more than two years and US$50 billion to return to pre-invasion oil output. Reports were made that the fires set by the retreating Iraqi army continued to burn for as much as nine months, causing serious environmental as well as economic damage.
Kuwait has been relatively untouched by the 2011 protests throughout the Arab world, but Prime Minister Sheik Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah resigned in November 2011 along with his government following criticism in the National Assembly surrounding alleged corruption. The Emir subsequently dissolved the National Assembly, and new elections must be held by February 2012.
The political system of Kuwait takes the form of a constitutional monarchy in which the Emir is the Head of State and the military, but rules in conjunction with his Cabinet and the National Assembly. The cabinet operates under the leadership of the Prime Minister in devising and implementing government policy and the National Assembly has the primary role in legislating while in session, though the assent of the Emir is necessary for any Bill to become law. The Emir must appoint a Crown Prince within a year of ascending to the office and, with the consent of the National Assembly, that Prince will become the heir apparent. It is customary, though not mandatory, for the Crown Prince to act as Prime Minister.
The 1990/1 war with Iraq caused substantial damage to the nation's infrastructure and economy, particularly in relation to the oil industry, but this damage has now been largely repaired. Kuwait has control of around eight to nine per cent of the world's oil reserves which provides a substantial proportion of the national income, indeed an estimated US$65 billion in the 2010 financial year. The country holds substantial foreign reserves and investment income is substantial. The public sector accounts for an estimated 95 per cent of national employment. The country's population is also among the wealthiest on earth based on per capita income, which was estimated to be more than US$47,000 in 2007.
Media and civil society
Since the 2006 press law reforms, Kuwait has been among the more liberal countries in the middle east with regards to press freedom. This law abolished many prison sentences in relation to "media offences", though prison terms remain for offences of “defamation” or “attacks on religion” and judges have handed down heavy fines in recent cases involving local and foreign press. In 2010 a lawyer and blogger was sentenced to a three-month jail term for defaming the Kuwaiti Prime Minister, and though the Supreme Court overturned his conviction, he served 62 days of his sentence before the judgement.
Reporters Without Borders rated Kuwait 60 out of 178 in its 2010 Press Freedom Index.
Human rights and children's rights
The status of women has been a considerable flaw in Kuwait's progress with respect to human rights and many discriminatory laws remain in force. Some important steps have been taken over the past decade, however, notably women gained the franchise and the first female Minister was appointed in 2005. In the 2009 elections, four women were elected as Members of the National Assembly. The issue of stateless Bidoon residents of the country has also been a substantial human rights and humanitarian concern. Human Rights Watch has estimated that around 120,000 stateless persons, including a large number of children, currently live in Kuwait and that they face restricted access to healthcare, may not register in free schools and cannot register births, deaths, or marriages.
- UNDESA, Population Statistics 2011
- Constitution of Kuwait, Article 3
- BBC, "Kuwait's Prime Minister resigns after protests" 28 November 2011
- BBC, " Emir of Kuwait dissolves parliament" 6 December 2011
- World Bank, Data: Kuwait
- Reporters Without Borders, "Blogger freed after Supreme Court overturns conviction" 24 January 2011
- Reporters Without Borders, World Report: Kuwait
- Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011, pp. 551-554
- OHCHR, Kuwait Homepage
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Country Profiles: Kuwait
- Reporters Without Borders, World Report: Kuwait
- Hauser Global Law School Programme, Ahmed Aly Khadr,"Kuwait's Legal System and Legal Research"
- BBC, various news items (see footnotes)
- Reporters Without Borders, various news items (see footnotes)