Kuwait country profile

  • Published
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.


The State of Kuwait

Capital: Kuwait

  • Population 4 million

  • Area 17,818 sq km (6,880 sq miles)

  • Major language Arabic

  • Major religion Islam

  • Life expectancy 74 years (men), 76 years (women)

  • Currency Dinar

Getty Images


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

Image source, Jaber Abdulkhaleg/Anadolu Agency/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

2000-1000 BC - Greeks colonise the island of Failaki then named Ikaros. It becomes an important trading post on the route from Mesopotamia to India.

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 - Gulf War: Iraqi invasion leads to a US-led military campaign to liberate Kuwait.

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.

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