Middle East

Kuwait profile - Overview

Map of Kuwait

Kuwait is a small, oil-rich country nestling at the top of the Gulf, flanked by large or powerful neighbours - Saudi Arabia to the south, Iraq to the north and Iran to the east.

Its oil fields were first exploited in the 1930s, and since the development of the petroleum industry after World War II and independence in 1961, oil has dominated the economy, making up around 90% of export revenues.

In 1991, the country was the scene of a massive US-led international military campaign to oust Iraqi forces, which had invaded the year before. Operation Desert Storm saw their eventual removal, but Kuwait's infrastructure was left in bad shape and had to be rebuilt. Oil exports stopped for a time.

Image caption Kuwait's wealth is based on its oil exports

Twelve years later, Kuwait played host to another massive military presence as thousands of soldiers massed on the Iraqi border for the US-led campaign in 2003 to disarm and oust the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Kuwait was the first Arab country in the Gulf to have an elected parliament. Moves to change the male-dominated political structure culminated in the granting of full political rights to women in 2005.

In May of that year, parliament gave women the right to vote and stand as candidates in elections for the 50-seat National Assembly.

More generally, the growing assertiveness of parliament has led to frequent confrontations with the government, especially after Islamists made major gains at elections in February 2012. The annulment of those elections and subsequent changes to the election law prompted an opposition boycott of fresh polls in December 2012, putting Kuwait's relatively liberal political credentials in doubt.

Despite large oil revenues, the economy has been badly affected by the global financial crisis. Economic policy-making has been held back by disputes between the ruling royal family and parliament.

Image caption Kuwait keeps alive the tradition of pearl diving, the basis of an important trade before the discovery of oil

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