KUWAIT IN BRIEF
Kuwait lies in the northwestern part of the Arabian Gulf, between latitude 28 and 30 north and longitude 46 and 48 east. The country has an area of approximately 17,818 square kilometers and is, for the most part, flat. It has no rivers and no lakes. It is bounded on the west and north by Iraq, on the east by the Arabian Gulf and on the south by Saudi Arabia. There are nine islands, the largest of which are Failaka, Bubiyan and Warba, although none of them are inhabited. The Head of State is the Amir, who has appointed a Prime Minister to oversee all things political.
Kuwait is divided into six governorates:
• Capital Governorate (Kuwait): The capital of Kuwait. This governorate includes the House of Government and the Cabinet.
• Al Jahra: The largest governorate. It is regarded as an agricultural area.
• Hawalli Governorate: Densely populated governorate by various segments of the society. Many Arab communities reside in Hawalli.
• Al Farwaniyah Governorate: One of the smallest Kuwaiti governorates. Amongst its famous landmarks is Kuwait International Airport.
• Mubarak Al-Kabeer Governorate: Took its name from the seventh Amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Mubarak Al Sabah. He was well-known as Mubarak Al Kabeer. It is the latest governorate regarding its date of foundation.
• Al-Ahmadi Governorate: Named after the late Amir Ahmed Al Jabber. It is distinguished by the oil fields.
The official language in Kuwait is Arabic, though English is widely spoken and used in commercial circles. All official correspondence with government ministries and bodies must be in Arabic.
The ambient temperature is hot (to say the least) in summer, with official temperatures of 50°C being registered and 55 being the unofficial high in July and August. Humidity at this time of year is usually very low, due to the Northwestern winds being hot and dry. Southeastern winds, usually hot and damp, occur during July and October. Humidity can reach the 90% range at this time, making it extremely unpleasant, and spectacle wearers should take care when leaving air conditioning as a thick fog soon appears. What may also surprise you is how cold a winter morning can be. It has been known to approach zero, however very rarely freezes over. Sand storms are frequent especially in summer. Rain is almost nonexistent and comes in short bursts, when it can be bothered, and amounts to some six inches a year. Summer is deemed to run from May to October, only dry.
Time and Hours of Business
Local time is 3 hours ahead of GMT. The Hejira calendar is in use, so the weekend is Friday and Saturday. Government departments work 7.00 till 2.00 Sunday to Thursday except Ramadan which changes by 11 or 12 days each year depending on the cycle of the moon. Banks open 8.00 till 2.00 Sunday to Thursday, some also open one evening a week (usually around pay day) but this practice is variable and taken on chance. Shop hours are an unknown quantity but core hours are definitely 9.00 till 12.00 and 4.30 till 9.00. The large food stores are open 24 hours.
Fixed dates include: New Year’s Day (Jan 1), Kuwaiti National Day (Feb 25), Liberation Day (Feb 26). Variable holidays are based on sighting the moon and include: Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), Islamic New Year, Birth of the Prophet & Leilat al-Meiraj (Ascension of the Prophet).
The currency of Kuwait is Kuwaiti Dinar (KD) which is divided into 1000 fils (KD1=1000 fils). Denominations of the currency notes are one quarter, one half, one, five and ten and twenty Dinars while the coins are in denominations of five, ten, twenty, fifty, and one hundred fils.
Both cash and traveler’s cheques are readily converted at the various money exchange points, but it would help to bring about 20KD in case of any hassle at the airport. All major credit cards are accepted in most shops (often with 4% surcharge for all but the large ones), however the Co-op for instance only accepts Visa (with reluctance) and your cards will work in some ATMs.
The Kuwaiti Constitution states that Islam is the main, official religion of Kuwait. Most of the Kuwaiti population embraces Islam. Adherents of other religions are given the complete freedom to practice their own rituals provided that provided that no prejudice may occur against Islam. Christian families practice their own religious rituals with complete freedom in the churches found in Kuwait. This freedom is endorsed by the Kuwaiti government, a matter which enhances the coherence and interdependence of the nation.
The State of Kuwait was originally referred to as 'Qurain' (or Grane) in the early eighteenth century. This name is derived from the Arabic words 'Qarn' which means a high hill and 'Kout' meaning a fortress. Some historians believe that Barrak, Sheikh of the Bani Khalid tribe built Kuwait.
Kuwait is located at the upper northwestern corner of the Arabian Gulf, has an area of 17,818 square kilometres and is bounded on the west and north by Iraq, on the east by the Arabian Gulf, and on the south by Saudi Arabia.
Topographically, Kuwait is mainly flat desert land, the only relief areas being Muttla Ridge which fringes the north coast of the Kuwait Bay, and the Ahmadi Range, which runs between Burgan Oilfield and the sea.
A territory of 5675 square kilometers was shared by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as a neutral zone until 1969, when a political boundary was agreed upon. Each of the two countries administers one-half of the territory called the Divided Zone, but, as before, they share equally the revenues from oil production in the entire area.
The capital city of Kuwait, a true desert metropolis, is located on the southern shore of Kuwait Bay. With almost all of its population concentrated in or near the capital, Kuwait is one of the world’s most highly urbanized states. Its origin is usually placed at about the beginning of the 18th century, when the Banu ‘Utub, a group of families of the ‘Anizah tribe in the interior of the Arabian Peninsula, migrated to the area that is now Kuwait. The foundation of the autonomous sheikhdom of Kuwait is dated from 1756, when the settlers decided to appoint a Sheikh from the Sabah family. During the 19th century, Kuwait developed as a thriving, independent trading community. Towards the end of the century one ruler, ‘Abdallah II (reigned 1866-1892), began moving Kuwait closer to the Ottoman Empire, although never placing his country under Ottoman rule. This trend was reversed with the accession of Mubarak the Great, who came to power by assassinating his brother Abdallah, an act of uncustomary political violence in Kuwait. Mubarak cultivated a close relationship with Britain in order to keep other European powers and the Ottomans at bay. An 1899 treaty granted Britain control of Kuwait’s foreign affairs. Following the outbreak of World War I, Kuwait became a British protectorate.
At the 1922 Conference of Al Uqayr, Britain negotiated the Kuwait-Saudi border, with substantial territorial loss to Kuwait. A 1923 memorandum set out the border with Iraq based on an unratified 1913 convention.
The first Iraqi claim to Kuwait surfaced in 1938, the year when oil was discovered in the sheikhdom. Although neither Iraq nor the Ottoman Empire had ever actually ruled Kuwait, Iraq asserted a vague historical title.That year it also offered some rhetorical support to a merchant uprising against the Emir. Following the failure of the uprising called the Majlis Movement, Iraq continued to put forth a claim to at least part of Kuwait, notably the strategic islands of Bubiyan and Al Warbah.
On June 19, 1961, Britain recognized Kuwait’s independence. Six days later, however, Iraq renewed its claim, which was now rebuffed by first British, then Arab League forces. It was not until 1963 that a new Iraqi regime formally recognized both Kuwait’s independence and, subsequently, its borders, while continuing to press for access to the islands.
The Iran-Iraq War of 1980-90 represented a serious threat to Kuwait’s security. Kuwait saw no alternative to providing Iraq substantial financial support and serving as a vital conduit for military supplies. Iran attacked a Kuwaiti refinery complex in 1981 and inspired terrorist acts of sabotage in 1983 and 1986. In September 1986 Iran began to concentrate its attacks on gulf shipping largely on Kuwaiti tankers. This led Kuwait to invite both the Soviet Union (with which it had established diplomatic relations in 1963) and the United States to provide protection for its tankers.
The effect of the war promoted closer relations with Kuwait’s conservative Gulf Arab neighbours - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. With them, in 1981, Kuwait had formed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to develop closer cooperation on economic and security issues. With the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1990, Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations began to deteriorate. On August 2, 1990, Iraq unexpectedly invaded and conquered the country.
Although Iraq advanced several arguments in support of its actions, the basic causes of the invasion of Kuwait were the perennial ones that had led earlier Iraqi regimes to seek the same result: the desire to control Kuwait’s oil and wealth; the military benefits Iraq would gain from a greater frontage on the Arabian Gulf; the urge to Pan-Arabism, Iraq seeing the acquisition of Kuwait as the first step toward the union of all the Arabs under Iraqi leadership; the prestige of such an adventure, if successful, could confer on the political leadership in Baghdad; and the feeling held by most Iraqis (despite its historical inaccuracy) that Kuwait was genuinely part of Iraq. On August 8, Iraq announced the annexation of Kuwait, in spite of condemnations from the United Nations, the major world powers, the Arab League, and the European Community.
On January 16-17, 1991, a coalition of nations, acting under the authority of the United Nations and led by the United States and Saudi Arabia, began an air war against Iraqi forces. Just before the ground war began on February 24, Iraqi troops set afire hundreds of Kuwait’s oil wells, creating an unprecedented ecological disaster. By February 27 Kuwait was liberated from Iraqi control. As hundreds of thousands of Kuwaitis returned from foreign refuges to their homes in May, the full extent of the damage created by the invasion, looting, and war became clear.
The invasion and occupation affected every aspect of Kuwaiti life. More than half the population fled during the war. Although most nationals returned during 1991, many non-nationals, notably the Palestinians, were not permitted to do so.
The survival of the Iraqi regime in Baghdad spawned an ambient fear among the people of Kuwait that the events of 1990-91 would someday be repeated. In 1992 a United Nations commission formally delimited the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border in accordance with UN Security Council Ceasefire Resolution 687 (which had reaffirmed the inviolability of the Iraq-Kuwait border). The commission’s findings were generally favourable to Kuwait, moving the Iraqi border 0.035 mile northward in the area of Safwan and slightly north in the area of the contested Al-Rumaylah oil field, thereby giving Kuwait not only an additional six oil wells but also part of the Iraqi naval base of Umm Qasr. Kuwait accepted the UN’s border designation; however, Iraq rejected it and continued to voice its claim to Kuwaiti territory.