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Kuwait or Kowait (ko͝owātˈ), officially State of Kuwait, constitutional emirate (2015 est. pop. 3,936,000), 6,177 sq mi (16,000 sq km), NE Arabian peninsula, at the head of the Persian Gulf. Kuwait is bounded by Saudi Arabia on the south and by Iraq on the north and west. The capital is Al-Kuwait, or Kuwait City.

Land and People

The country is a low, sandy region that is generally barren and sparsely settled. It has a warm climate, dry inland and humid along the coast. The population is about 80% Arab; however, somewhat more than half the population are non-Kuwaitis. Native Kuwaitis have an extremely high per capita income, pay no taxes, and enjoy numerous social services. Since the development of the oil industry, large numbers of foreigners have found employment in Kuwait; non-Kuwaitis represent about 80% of the labor force. Foreign ethnic groups include South Asians, Iranians, and others. Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken. Some 85% of the population is Muslim, with about twice as many Sunnis as Shiites. There are Christian, Hindu, and Parsi minorities.


Kuwait's traditional exports were pearls and hides, but since 1946 it has become a major petroleum producer and oil now dominates the economy. The country is mostly desert, with some fertile areas near the Persian Gulf coast; there is virtually no agricultural industry aside from fishing.

Kuwait has the third largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The main concession for oil exploitation was held by a joint British-American firm until 1974, when Kuwait took control of most of the operations; it had previously retained a large part of the oil profits. Much of the profits have been devoted to the modernization of living conditions and education in the country. The petroleum industry, which accounts for about 95% of Kuwait's export revenues, was severely damaged in the Persian Gulf War. However, by the end of 1992, the country had repaired nearly all the damage to its war-ravaged oil fields and its oil output was at about prewar levels. Huge amounts of natural gas complement Kuwait's oil and petrochemical production.

To provide against the possible future exhaustion of the oil reserves, in the 1960s the government launched a program of industrial diversification and overseas investment. Present industries include shipbuilding and repair, water desalinization, food processing, construction, and fertilizer production. Food, construction materials, vehicles, and clothing are the principal imports. Kuwait's major trading partners are Japan, the United States, South Korea, Taiwan, and Germany.


Kuwait is a monarchy governed under the constitution promulgated in 1962. The emir, the hereditary monarch of the Mubarak line of the ruling al-Sabah family, serves as head of state. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the monarch; until 2003 the prime minister traditionally was the crown prince. The unicameral legislature consists of the 50-seat National Assembly, whose members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. There are no official political parties, although several political groups act as de facto parties. Administratively, the country is divided into six governorates.


The development of the nation of Kuwait dates to the early 18th cent. when the town of Kuwait was founded by Arabs. The present ruling dynasty was established by Sabah abu Abdullah (ruled 1756–72). In the late 18th and early 19th cent. the emirate, nominally an Ottoman province, was frequently threatened by the Wahhabis. In 1897, Kuwait was made a British protectorate. In June, 1961, the British ended their protectorate, and Kuwait became an independent emirate, with Emir Abdullah al-Salim al-Sabah as its ruler. However, the British supplied troops in July at the request of the emir when Iraq claimed sovereignty over Kuwait. A short time later the British forces were replaced by detachments from the Arab League, of which Kuwait is a member. In Oct., 1963, Iraq officially recognized the nation of Kuwait.

Oil-rich Kuwait was a founding member (1961) of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The country's oil revenues have been used to provide financial aid to other Arab countries, and the nation became a supporter of Palestinian causes. Although Kuwait has maintained strong ties with Western nations, it also established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1963, the first of the Persion Gulf states to do so. In 1965, Emir Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah succeeded to the throne. Kuwait took part in the oil embargo against nations that had supported Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and during the war Kuwaiti troops stationed in Egypt along the Suez Canal fought against Israeli forces. Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah succeeded to the throne in 1977 on the death of Emir Sabah. In 1981, Kuwait became a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Kuwait supported Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, which caused the country's oil income to decrease by nearly 50%. An oil refinery was attacked by Iran in 1982, Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf came under Iranian fire, and Iran instigated terrorist activity in Kuwait through radical Muslim groups. An assassination attempt on Emir Jaber occurred in May, 1985. In 1987, Kuwait sought U.S. protection for its oil tankers in the Persian Gulf; U.S. forces patrolled the gulf's waters until the end of the war in 1988.

In 1989, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein accused Kuwait of flooding the international oil market and consequently forcing oil prices down. Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, and Hussein declared Kuwait annexed. Many native Kuwaitis, including the royal family, fled. Western and Arab coalition forces, the largest part of which were American, drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War. Thousands of foreign workers who were based in Kuwait fled to Iran, Turkey, and Jordan, or were housed in temporary refugee camps throughout the Middle East. Iraqi forces devastated the country, setting fire to Kuwaiti oil wells before retreating. Over 80% of all wells were destroyed or damaged, causing phenomenal environmental hazards. The emir returned to Kuwait from Saudi Arabia in Mar., 1991. The Palestinians remaining in Kuwait after the war were expelled because of the Palestine Liberation Organization's support of Iraq.

In the war's wake, Kuwait concentrated on restoring its oil industry and on rebuilding the country. Parliamentary elections in 1992 resulted in the victory of a majority of the opposition candidates, but despite promises of democratic reform, the al Sabah family continued to dominate the government. In Oct., 1994, Iraq massed elite troops along the border with Kuwait, but it removed them when Kuwait and the United States moved forces into the area. Parliament was dissolved by the emir in May, 1999; new elections held in July gave Islamist and liberal candidates the most seats. Also in 1999, the emir issued an edict giving Kuwaiti women the right to vote and to run for office, but parliament failed to ratify it. In the July, 2003, parliamentary elections Islamists won 42% of the seats, while liberals retained only a handful; government supporters won 28% of the seats. The government finally succeeded in securing parliamentary ratification of political rights for women in May, 2005.

In Jan., 2006, Emir Jaber died; he was succeeded by Emir Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, who was himself in poor health (and died in 2008). Emir Saad was soon removed from office for health reasons by the parliament, and the prime minister, Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, succeeded him. Clashes in parliament over consolidating voting districts, which opposition members wanted in order to prevent vote-buying, led the emir to call new elections. In the June vote, women voted for the first time, but no female candidate won a seat; reformers, both largely Islamists, won 36 of the 50 seats.

Differences between the cabinet and the parliament led the government to resign in Mar., 2008. The May parliamentary elections largely repeated the results of two years before, with Islamists again controling the largest number of seats. A power struggle over some legislators demands to be allowed to question the prime minister, Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, about the circumstances of an Iranian cleric's visit led the government to resign in November; the emir reappointed Sheikh Nasser the following month, and a new cabinet was formed in Jan., 2009.

In Mar., 2009, however, legislators and the government were again in a standoff, and when the government again resigned, the emir dissolved parliament. Sunni Islamists suffered some losses in the May elections, which also produced Kuwait's first female legislators; the emir again asked Sheikh Nasser to form a government. In Mar., 2011, the cabinet again resigned in order to avoid parliamentary questioning. Sheikh Nasser formed a new cabinet in May, but corruption protests led to that government's resignation in November.

Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah, the former defense minister, was appointed prime minister, and in December parliament was dissolved. The Feb., 2012, elections resulted in a majority of the seats being held by opposition Islamist groups, with Sunni Islamists winning nearly half the seats. Sheikh Jaber was reappointed as prime minister after the elections. In June, however, amid renewed tensions between parliament and the government, the courts ruled that the February elections were unconstitutional, and reinstated the earlier parliament, and Sheikh Jaber was again reappointed as prime minister in July.

The opposition boycotted parliament, however, and in October it was dissolved. The opposition also boycotted the Dec., 2012, elections (turnout was roughly 40%), objecting to new voting rules that could diminish its power; this led to the election of progovernment legislators, including a few women. The previous government was essentially reappointed. Opposition leaders denounced the result as illegitimate and mounted a series of protests. In June, 2013, the constitutional court ordered the parliament dissolved because of problems before the December vote. New elections in July were again boycotted by the opposition; turnout was roughly 50%. After the election Sheikh Jaber was appointed prime minister.

In Nov., 2016, early parliamentary elections resulted in successes for opposition candidates, due in part to voters' opposition to government austerity measures that had been introduced as a result of weak oil prices. Sheikh Jaber was reappointed prime minister. In Nov., 2019, the government resigned, and Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah, the foreign minister, was named prime minister; a new government was formed in December. The emir died in Sept., 2020, and was succeeded by Emir Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah. In the Dec., 2020, parliamentary elections, opposition candidates again did well. The emir subsequently reappointed the prime minister. The government resigned in Jan., 2021, when faced with a no-confidence vote, but the prime minister was again reappointed.


See J. Daniels, Kuwait Journey (1971); S. Demir, The Kuwait Fund and the Political Economy of Arab Regional Development (1976); N. A. Abraham, Doing Business in Kuwait (1981); S. N. Ghabra, Palestinians in Kuwait (1987); A.-R. Assiri, Kuwait's Foreign Policy (1989).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Dawlat al-Kuwayt), a state in the Middle East, in the northeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula and islands in the Persian Gulf, including Bubiyan, Qaru, Umm al-Maradim, Failaka, and al-Warbah. Bounded by Iraq to the northwest, by Saudi Arabia to the southwest, and by the Persian Gulf to the east. Area (according to the 1971 UN Demographic Yearbook), 17,800 sq km, including part of the former neutral zone, with an area of about 2,500 sq km; population, 910,000 (1972, estimate). The capital is Kuwait City (al-Kuwayt). Kuwait is divided into three governorates.

Constitution and government. Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy, a “hereditary emirate.” The present constitution came into force on Jan. 30, 1963. The head of state is the emir, who enjoys broad powers: he has the right to approve laws, and he is the supreme judge, the commander in chief of the armed forces, and the religious head of the country.

The supreme legislative body is the National Assembly, a unicameral parliament elected for a four-year term. The suffrage is limited to males who have attained the age of 21, are native-born Kuwaitis, and fulfill the literacy requirement. The executive body is the Council of Ministers, whose head is appointed by the emir; it exercises executive authority together with the emir and under his supervision.

Natural features. Most of the territory of Kuwait is a plateau, gradually decreasing in elevation from west to east and giving way to a lowland along the Persian Gulf that is swampy and covered with salt marshes.

Kuwait is located in the northeastern part of the African Platform, within the Basra-Kuwait syncline. The platform mantle, a layer of Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic arenaceousargillaceous, carbonaceous, and evaporite rock 7,000-8,000 m thick, rests on extrusion-fretted Precambrian bedrock that slopes toward the northeast. The bedrock extrusions are revealed in the sedimentary mantle in the form of large, gentle, dome-shaped anticlines, in whose vaults the largest natural-gas and petroleum deposits are found. The main oil pools are associated with the porous limestone and sandstone of the Barremian layer: Aptian, Albian, Cenomanian, and to a lesser extent Neocomian and Miocene. The oil reserves of Kuwait (9.1 billion tons as of 1972) are among the largest in the capitalist world. Natural-gas reserves (more than 1 trillion cu m) are also significant. Of Kuwait’s eight known locations of gas and oil reserves, the largest are at Burgan, Maghwa, Ahmadi, and Rawdatayn. There are also asphalt deposits.

The climate is dry and tropical. The temperature is about 11°C in January and about 34°C in July, occasionally rising to 53°C. Annual precipitation is 100-150 mm and occurs mainly in winter. Rocky desert predominates in the north; in the central and southern regions there is sandy desert with sparse grasses and shrubs growing in primitive sierozems.

Population. Arabs make up about 90 percent of the population; about half of them are native-born Kuwaitis, and the rest are immigrants from Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries. The number of nomadic Bedouin (belonging to the Mutayr tribe) is estimated at 20,000. There are also Iranians (about 20,000) and emigrants from India and Pakistan (Hindustanis, Punjabis, Sindhis, Gujaratis, and Tamils; a total of about 15,000). The official language is Arabic. The majority of the population is Sunni Muslim, but there are some Shiites and about 10,000 Christians. Both the Muslim (lunar Hegira) and Gregorian calendars are used.

The population of Kuwait is growing rapidly. It approximately tripled between 1960 and 1970, primarily as a result of immigration. The Kuwaiti government is taking measures to limit immigration, but it is taking into account the need of the developing petroleum industry for various specialists and trained workers. The Arab population is given special advantages. The annual average natural population growth is 2.7 percent. The average population density is 51 persons per sq km. Most of the inhabitants are concentrated along the Persian Gulf coast, mainly in the region of Kuwait City and the oil fields.

In 1970 more than 32 percent of the population was economically active, with more than 80 percent employed as wage-earners. In 1966, 46 percent of the labor force was employed in the service sphere, and about 17 percent were in construction, more than 12 percent in trade, about 10 percent in the processing industry, 6 percent in transportation and communications, about 4 percent in the mining industry, and about 5 percent in agriculture, fishing, and other sectors. The urban population was 56 percent (1970). The main cities are Kuwait City (population 80,400 in 1970, exclusive of suburbs) and al-Ahmadi.

Historical survey. Kuwait’s ancient history is associated with the history of Babylonia, Assyria, and ancient Persia; in the third and second centuries B.C. it is associated with that of the Seleucid kingdom.

At the end of the first millennium B.C., the territory of presentday Kuwait was part of Kharacena, the first Arab state on the northeastern shore of the Arabian Peninsula. The territory subsequently became the object of struggle between various states of the Near and Middle East. In the seventh century A.D., Kuwait was made part of the Arab Caliphate.

From the 13th through 15th century Kuwaiti territory was frequently raided by the Turks and Iranians. In the 16th century it was made part of the Ottoman Empire. In the early 18th century, Kuwait became a sheikhdom enjoying de facto independence from the Ottoman Empire. In the mid-18th century, power in Kuwait passed to the hands of sheikhs of the al-Sabah dynasty.

In the 1760’s, the English East India Company began to penetrate the areas of the Persian Gulf adjacent to Kuwait. In the 1870’s, a period of temporary consolidation of the power of the Ottoman Empire on the Arabian Peninsula, Kuwait became a kaza (district) of the Basra vilayet. In the 1890’s, as a result of Anglo-German rivalry in the Middle East and the appearance of plans to build the Baghdad Railroad, the terminal point of which was intended to be Kuwait, the sheikhdom of Kuwait became an object of conflict among the imperialists. The drive of the British authorities in India and their associates in Indian merchant circles to place the economy of Kuwait under their control led to internal political complications, in particular to a coup d’etat (May 1896) during which Sheikh Muhammad (ruled 1892-96) was killed and Sheikh Mubarak (ruled 1896-1915) came to power. Great Britain imposed a secret agreement (Jan. 23, 1899) on Mubarak, granting Britain exclusive rights in Kuwait; a de facto British protectorate was established there.

By the 20th century, the situation in northeastern Arabia had become tense as a result of attempts by the Turkish authorities to bring troops into Kuwait and because of Germany’s determi-nation to obtain a concession to bring the Baghdad Railroad as far as Kuwait. The British government attempted to take advantage of the situation in order to turn the Kuwait City harbor into a naval base. Under these circumstances, Mubarak addressed a plea for protection to the Russian government (April-May 1901); however, the request was rejected by the tsarist authori-ties, who did not wish to endanger relations with Britain. On Sept. 6, 1901, Great Britain and Turkey signed an agreement by which the sheikhdom remained nominally a district of the Basra vilayet but retained autonomy. Both sides pledged not to bring troops into Kuwait, and Britain retained its position in Kuwait. (The conditions of the agreement were ratified by the Anglo-Turkish Persian Gulf Convention of July 29, 1913.) On Oct. 27, 1913, Mubarak signed an agreement granting Great Britain exclusive rights to the development and extraction of petroleum resources in Kuwait. On Nov. 3, 1914, after Turkey entered World War I on the side of Germany, the British government announced its abrogation of the Anglo-Turkish agreement of 1913 and recognized the sheikhdom of Kuwait “as an indepen-dent state under British protectorate.”

In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, rich oil deposits were discovered in Kuwait. A struggle began between British and American monopolies for Kuwaiti oil, ending in the creation, on a parity basis, of the Kuwait Oil Company, an Anglo-American joint-stock company, which in 1934 obtained a concession to prospect for and extract oil on Kuwaiti territory. The intrusion of foreign monopolies and the worsening economic situation resulting from the world economic crisis of 1929-33 led to the growth of an anti-imperialist movement headed by the Young Kuwaitis—representatives of the intelligentsia educated abroad. In June 1938, under these circumstances, Sheikh Ahmad (ruled 1921-50) established the Legislative and Consultative councils, which were formally supposed to become the bodies of a “new regime.” However, in early 1939, with the active support of Great Britain, bloody reprisals were taken against the Young Kuwaitis; reactionary policies returned in force.

During World War II (1939–45), all drilling was halted in the oil fields and the British garrisons were reinforced. Fascist Ger-many showed particular interest in Kuwait. In February 1942, German headquarters promulgated a special directive providing for occupation of the oil-producing regions of the Middle East, including Kuwait. The resounding defeat of the fascist German divisions on the Volga and in the Caucasus thwarted these plans.

After World War II, as a result of the increasing petroleum extraction that began in 1946, Kuwait’s economy developed rap-idly, and a working class was formed, of which the petroleum workers are the best-organized group. In 1948 and 1950-52 the petroleum workers held major strikes, and the democratic, anti-imperialist movement increased in strength. Sheikh (Emir) Abdullah al-Sabah (ruled 1950-65; succeeded by Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah) was compelled to promise reforms, improvement in living conditions, and measures to dissolve the British protectorate. An agreement was reached with the Kuwait Oil Company to increase the concessionary payments to Kuwait beginning in 1952. In November 1956, demonstrations and meetings were held in Kuwait in support of Egypt, which had been subjected to Anglo-Franco-Israeli aggression.

On June 19, 1961, the government of Great Britain and Emir Abdullah al-Sabah announced that the treaty of 1899 had been abrogated. Kuwait was proclaimed an independent state. In late June 1961, under the pretext of protecting Kuwait from the territorial claims of Iraq, British troops were redeployed to Ku-wait. They were removed in 1962 at the demand of the Arab countries and the UN Security Council.

In 1966, under pressure from democratic forces, a series of reforms were effected: the amount of money provided in the state budget for the personal and court expenses of the emir was reduced, a plan for economic development was drawn up, and free education was introduced in the schools. The country’s political life became more active. The Kuwait Federation of Trade Unions (affiliated with the IFTU) was formed in 1967. In 1971, 15 of the 50 seats in the Kuwait National Assembly (to which the first elections took place in 1963) were held by sup-porters of the Arab nationalist movement, who called for social reforms, a limit on the activities of foreign companies, and closer relations with the other Arab countries. The government of Kuwait announced that it would follow an official foreign policy of positive neutrality and active cooperation with all Arab coun-tries. Kuwait expressed support for Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, which were subjected to Israeli aggression in 1967. According to a decision of the Khartoum conference of the heads of Arab states (August-September 1967), Kuwait pays about $110 mil-lion annually to Egypt, as a country that suffered from Israeli aggression. Until September 1970, Jordan was receiving similar aid (about $45 million) from Kuwait.

In the 1960’s, Kuwait’s income from oil drilling began to grow significantly: in 1970 it was more than $800 million; in 1971-74, more than $1 billion. In December 1972, Kuwait and other Persian Gulf states signed a general agreement with ten Western oil companies under which Kuwait would gradually buy up the assets of all the oil enterprises, equipment, and pipelines located on its territory by 1975. All payments had been made by December 1975. This will significantly increase Kuwait’s revenues. Ku-wait extends loans and credits to a number of Arab countries and other developing countries through the Kuwaiti Arab Economic Development Fund (active since 1964) and other organizations. In 1976 Kuwaiti loans were more than $1 billion.

Kuwait has been a member of the UN since 1963. Since the late 1960’s, the Kuwaiti government has taken an active part in talks directed at alleviating the consequences of Israeli aggression against the Arab countries and reestablishing the legal rights of the Arab people of Palestine. In 1969-71, the Kuwaiti government supported the demand for withdrawal of British armed forces from the Persian Gulf zone and took an active part in talks concerned with the formation of the United Arab Emi-rates and with the elimination of the British protectorate in Qatar and Bahrain.

Diplomatic relations with the USSR were established in March 1963. Kuwait and the USSR concluded an agreement on economic and technical cooperation in February 1965 and an agreement on cultural cooperation in March 1967. The joint Soviet-Kuwaiti communiqué of Dec. 5, 1975, on the visit of Kuwait’s foreign minister to the USSR signified a further step in the development of relations between the two countries.

G. L. BONDAREVSKII [section updated]

Economic geography. Until World War II (1939-45), Kuwait’s main economic sector was nomadic livestock raising, with marine industry (fish, shrimps, and pearls) important along the coast. Exploitation of petroleum deposits began in the postwar period.

Kuwait is one of the richest petroleum regions in the world. The petroleum-extraction industry was primarily in the hands of foreign monopoly capital. Until 1952, Kuwait received only one-tenth of the profits from the sale of oil. In 1952, its share in-creased to 50 percent, and in 1971 it was 55 percent of the profits realized from the sale of crude oil. In 1971-72, oil revenues accounted for 92 percent of all state budgetary income (333.1 million Kuwaiti dinars). The gross national product in 1969-70 was valued at 983 million dinars (at current prices), of which 56.7 percent was generated by the petroleum and natural-gas industry, 11.1 percent by the service sphere, 1.8 percent by banking and finance, 3.7 percent by the processing industry, 3.9 percent by construction, 8.6 percent by wholesale and retail trade, 0.5 percent by agriculture and fishing, 3.6 percent by transportation and communications, 5.6 percent by the government apparatus and defense, and 4.5 percent by other sectors. Most national companies are mixed, with participation of both state and private capital. Agriculture plays no role at all in the contemporary economy; the majority of landholdings are in the hands of oil monopolies.

INDUSTRY. Petroleum extraction is the main industrial sector. It is concentrated mainly in the hands of monopolies such as the Kuwait Oil Company (a subsidiary of British Petroleum and the American Gulf Oil Company), the American Independent Oil Company, and the Japanese-owned Arabian Oil Company.

Kuwait’s National Petroleum Company, in which 60 percent of the stock belongs to the government and 40 percent to private capital, handles primarily sales and distribution of petroleum products within the country. The Kuwait-Spanish Petroleum Company, in which 51 percent of the stock belongs to the National Petroleum Company and 49 percent to a Spanish government corporation and private Spanish capital, prospects for oil. The prime cost of Kuwaiti oil is low as a consequence of low expenditures for extraction and transportation (the deposits are at a shallow depth and close to the shore, the wells are of the gusher type, and the oil flows into the pipelines under natural pressure) and low wages for labor.

The oil yield was 82 million tons in 1960, 107 million tons in 1965, 129 million tons in 1969, 137 million tons in 1970, and 167.2 million tons (including the yield from the Neutral Zone) in 1972. Kuwait occupied fifth place in the capitalist world (after the USA, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Venezuela) in oil production in 1972. The richest deposits are in Burgan, Maghwa, alAhmadi, Rawdatayn, al-Bahra, Sabriya, and Minaghish. Natural gas is also extracted (4 billion cu m in 1972).

Oil and natural gas fuel steam power plants in Kuwait City, Mina-al-Ahmadi, and Fahahil. Production of electric power in 1973 was 3.3 billion kilowatt-hours. Refinery capacity (mainly those of the Kuwait Oil Company and the American Independent Oil Company) was 32.3 million tons in 1972. The main refining centers are Mina al-Ahmadi and Mina-Abdallah.

There are chemical plants in al-Shuaybah and in Mina alAhmadi. A chemical-fertilizer plant began operations in 1971, with an output of 400,000 tons the first year. The output of petroleum products was 20 million tons in 1971. As of 1973 a liquefied-gas plant was under construction.

Because of the lack of potable water resources, desalting of sea water has been significantly developed. There are five desalting plants, producing the largest quantity of desalted water in the world.

Kuwait produces cement, brick, tile, and other building materials. The metalworking industry is represented chiefly by small workshops that smelt metals from scrap, repair equipment for the petroleum industry, build fishing boats, and assemble and repair radios, television sets, and refrigerators.

AGRICULTURE. Agriculture is poorly developed; it is mainly the occupation of the Bedouin (nomadic herdsmen) and oasis dwellers. The livestock population in 1970-71 was as follows (in head): sheep, 83,000; goats, 67,000; camels, 6,000. Grain crops (wheat and barley) and vegetables (onions, yams, melons, and pumpkins) are grown in small plots in oases, which are watered by artesian wells. There are small groves of date palms. Kuwait imports its food necessities.

FISHING AND MARINE INDUSTRY. A number of national companies, which have 198 vessels with a total tonnage of about 30,000 (1969), are involved in fishing (sardines, mackerel, tuna, barracuda, and shark; 12,000-14,000 tons annually) and shrimping in the Persian Gulf. The fishing centers are Shuwaykh and Kuwait City. As of 1971, Kuwait was a leading shrimp supplier. The traditional pearling industry has gone into decline, since natural pearls cannot compete in the world market with the cheaper cultured pearls.

TRANSPORTATION. Kuwait is linked with other countries by air and sea routes. Air transportation is handled by international companies and by the national enterprise, Kuwait Airways Company. Shipping between Kuwait and other countries is mainly handled by foreign companies. The national Kuwait Shipping Company (in which 75 percent of the stock belongs to the government) owns 14 dry-cargo ships with a total displacement of 195,000 tons; the Kuwait Oil Tanker Company owns eight tankers totaling 1,045,000 gross registered tons (as of 1972). The leading ports are Kuwait City, through which about 70 percent of all Kuwait imports pass, and Mina al-Ahmadi, the main port for export of Kuwaiti oil.

In 1970 there was about 825 km of paved roads, mainly in the eastern and southeastern parts of the country. There were 181,700 motor vehicles, including 141,300 passenger cars (1971). There are no railroads.

FOREIGN TRADE. The leading export item is oil, which accounts for more than nine-tenths of the value of all exports. About 75 percent of the oil is exported to Western Europe (1970); of this amount, more than 21 percent went to Great Britain, more than 10 percent to Italy, and 9 percent each to the Netherlands, France, and Ireland). The remaining oil is exported mainly to Japan (about 13 percent). Machinery, manufactured goods, food, and consumer goods predominate among imports. The main suppliers are Japan, the USA, Great Britain, and the Federal Republic of Germany. Trade is developing with the USSR, which supplies Kuwait with lumber, cement, other building materials, and construction machinery.

The monetary unit is the Kuwaiti dinar.


Armed forces. The armed forces consist of ground troops, an air force, a navy, and a national guard. The commander in chief is the emir. The defense minister, a civilian, is the army’s general administrator; the general staff and the commanders of the armed services are subordinate to him. The army is manned through the recruitment of volunteers. There were about 18,000 men in all the armed services in 1971, including about 14,000 in ground forces. Armaments are foreign-made. The air force, with about 500 men, has five airborne squadrons, 20 fighter planes, and about 30 auxiliary planes and helicopters. The navy, with about 500 men, has about 20 patrol boats. The national guard has about 3,000 men.

Medicine and public health. In 1965-70 the average annual birth rate was 43.3 per thousand, the mortality rate was 7.4 per thousand, and the infant mortality rate was 39.4 per thousand live births. The leading causes of death are heart and circulatory diseases, malignant tumors, and infectious diseases. Trachoma and tuberculosis are common, particularly in rural areas (in the cities the chief victims are foreign laborers living in unsanitary conditions). Immigrants are a serious source of tuberculosis. Diseases of the intestinal tract, helminthiases, venereal diseases, and leprosy are also common. Dracunculosis is endemic to the Kuwait City area, where an excess of fluorine in the drinking water also leads to a high incidence of fluorosis.

In 1970, there was a total of 3,600 hospital beds in Kuwait (4.7 per thousand inhabitants), and outpatient service was provided by ten hospitals, 11 health centers, 38 dispensaries, and six firstaid stations. There were 710 physicians (1 for every 1,200 inhabitants), 61 stomatologists, 169 pharmacists, and about 3,000 secondary medical personnel. Doctors are trained in the medical school of the University of Kuwait and abroad; there are training courses and a nursing school.


Education and scientific institutions. In 1958, Kuwait had 100 secular schools, with separate instruction for the 22,500 boys and more than 13,000 girls. There were no institutions of specialized secondary or higher education. The adult population was almost entirely illiterate.

After the declaration of independence in 1961, state expenditures for the development of education increased (36.6 million Kuwaiti dinars in 1971, as against 10.8 million in 1960), the network of educational institutions was expanded, and new pro-grams of instruction were introduced. The present public educational system consists of kindergartens, four-year primary schools, four-year secondary preparatory schools, and four-year secondary comprehensive schools. Education is free, and instruction for boys and girls is separate. The study of Islam is compulsory.

In 1969-70 there were 12,800 children in kindergartens, 54,400 pupils in primary schools, and 56,700 students in the secondary schools. Great attention is devoted to combating illiteracy in the adult population: by 1965, 32 centers for the elimination of illiteracy were in operation, attended by 8,000 men and 3,000 women; the first three primary schools for adults were opened. By 1970, 70 percent of the population of Kuwait was literate.

Vocational training is given in the secondary schools. The term of study in vocational institutions is four years. In 1967-68 there were 4,600 students in these institutions.

The first institution of higher learning was the University of Kuwait in Kuwait City, which opened in 1966. As of 1971, the university had departments of natural sciences, the arts, and teacher training (and a parallel women’s college of teacher training); law; commerce, economics, and the social sciences; medicine; and engineering. The university had 1,258 students in 1970-71.

Scientific research is conducted at the Institute of Economic and Social Planning for the Middle East (founded 1966), the Science Institute of Kuwait (founded 1967), and the University of Kuwait, all of which are in Kuwait City. Research is conducted in petroleum geology, agricultural sciences, marine biology, and economics. A special group of scholars writing the history of Kuwait has been organized under the Council of Ministers. Most of the scientific workers are foreigners.

The Central Library (founded in 1936; 95,000 volumes), the library of the University of Kuwait (100,000 volumes), and the Museum of Kuwait (with collections of ethnology and archaeology) are located in Kuwait City.


Press, radio, and television. In 1975, Kuwait had seven daily newspapers and 21 other periodical publications. Arabic-language dailies were Akhbar al-Kuwayt (founded in 1961; circulation, 4,000), Al-Ray al-Amm (founded in 1961; circulation, 15,000), and Al-Siyasa (founded in 1968; circulation, 2,000). English-language dailies were the Daily News (founded in 1963; circulation, 10,000) and the Kuwait Times (founded in 1961; circulation, 6,000). Among other publications, the largest are Al-Risala, a daily newspaper in Arabic (founded in 1961; circulation, 3,000); Al-Taliya, a political weekly in Arabic (founded in 1962; circulation, 10,000); and the monthly science and literature magazine Al-Arabi (founded in 1958; circulation, about 125,000). Radio and television broadcasting belongs to the government. The government organization, the Radio and Television Service, was founded in 1951. Radio broadcasts in Arabic, English, and Urdu are made to countries of the Middle East and Europe. Television broadcasting in Arabic began in 1961.

M. A. SHLENOVA [section updated]

Architecture and art. Excavations on the island of Failaka have uncovered the ruins of an ancient temple, bronze figurines, and round seals (third millennium B.C.); the remains of Greek fortifications and a temple to Satyr with Ionic columns and acroteria (fourth century B.C.); ceramics of the third century B.C.; and the remains of a medieval fort.

The old dwellings of Kuwait City are of stone or raw brick, one or two stories high, with an inner courtyard and flat earthen roof. The dwellings of the nomads are tents made of woollen fabric. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Kuwait City was rebuilt along a radial network of wide tree-lined streets with multistory dwellings and gardens.

A great deal of construction is under way in the industrial centers, among them Mina al-Ahmadi, which has buildings of reinforced concrete and glass, with flat roofs, sun-deflecting ribs and trellises, ornamental ceramic tiles, and glass mosaics.

The characteristic products of folk craftsmen are wooden cups and hookahs decorated with silver or lead inlays, as well as turquoise rings and colored glass beads.

Music and theater. The musical traditions of Kuwait are in-separable from Arab musical art. Works close to the national folklore are popular. Music is taught by foreign and foreign-trained Kuwaiti musicians in the schools, where independent musicians’ groups are being formed. Amateur orchestras are being organized. Professional national orchestras were formed in the early 1970’s. The largest is the radio and television orchestra, for which music is written by local composers (Ahmad Bakir and others). Many theatrical productions also use the music of contemporary Kuwaiti composers.

The theater is in a formative period. The National Theater was created in 1957. The Arab Theater opened in 1959, with plays by Egyptian and local writers in its repertoire. The Egyptian producer Zaki Tuleimat took over direction of the troupe in 1964. He produced a number of works by Arab playwrights, including Tariq of Andalusia by Mahmud Taymur, and organized the first school of theater arts in the country. The Kuwait Theater of the Persian Gulf was formed in 1963, producing Barrier by the Kuwaiti playwright and director Saqar al-Rashid. In 1966 the troupe went to Cairo on tour. Another troupe, the Kuwait Theater, was organized in 1967. All the theaters are private but receive financial support from the government.

Motion pictures. Since the early 1960’s, Kuwait’s directors and producers have been making short newsreels and documentary films (primarily for television), which have received recognition even abroad. In 1971 a feature film, The Cruel Sea, was produced and directed by Halid Saddiq. It truthfully depicts the bleak life of the toilers of the sea. Kuwait has no film studios of its own. Its eight motion-picture theaters (as of 1972) show primarily American, British, Arab, and Indian films; 300-350 foreign films are imported annually.


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Busch, B. C. Britain and the Persian Gulf, 1894-1914. Los Angeles, 1967.
Kelley, J. B. Britain and the Persian Gulf, 1795-1880. Oxford, 1968.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: State of Kuwait

Capital city: Kuwait City

Internet country code: .kw

Flag description: Three equal horizontal bands of green

(top), white, and red with a black trapezoid based on the hoist side; design, which dates to 1961, based on the Arab revolt flag of World War I

National anthem: “Kuwait, My Country, May you be safe and glorious!” (first line in English translation), lyrics by Meshari Al-Adwani, music by Ibrahim Al-Soula

Geographical description: Middle East, bordering the Per­sian Gulf, between Iraq and Saudi Arabia

Total area: 6,880 sq. mi. (17,820 sq. km.)

Climate: Dry desert; intensely hot summers; short, cool winters

Nationality: noun: Kuwaiti(s); adjective: Kuwaiti

Population: 2,505,559 (includes 1,291,354 non-nationals; July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Kuwaiti 45%, other Arab 35%, South Asian 9%, Iranian 4%, other 7%

Languages spoken: Arab (official), English

Religions: Muslim 80% (Sunni 70%, Shi’a 30% among Kuwaiti citizens), other (includes Christian, Hindu, Parsi, Buddhist, Sikh) 20%

Legal Holidays:

Liberation DayFeb 26
National DayFeb 25
New Year's DayJan 1
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


, Koweit
1. a state on the NW coast of the Persian Gulf: came under British protection in 1899 and gained independence in 1961; invaded by Iraq in 1990; liberated by US-led UN forces 1991 in the Gulf War: mainly desert. The economy is dependent on oil. Official language: Arabic. Official religion: Muslim. Currency: dinar. Capital: Kuwait. Pop.: 2 595 000 (2004 est.). Area: 24 280 sq. km (9375 sq. miles)
2. the capital of Kuwait: a port on the Persian Gulf. Pop.: 1 225 000 (2005 est.)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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