The state of Kuwait is a country that is found in Western Asia in an area known as the Arabian Peninsula on the northern end of the Persian Gulf. The republic of Iraq borders Kuwait to the north and west and to the south and south west it is bordered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Arabian Gulf makes up a 290 kilometer coastline to the east of the country. The region that encompasses Kuwait was part of what is thought to be a 3rd century BC civilization that was heavily based on trade with surrounding communities and peoples. The region was a gateway to Mesopotamia. By the 4th century BC there is proof that the Greeks colonized an island off the coast of Kuwait and named it Ikaros. This island was used as a base for trading and as a platform for entry into the region. Even before the beginning of the spread of Islam and the conquest that followed in the greater Arab area, there are documentations that there were some sort of civilization in the area and that they were led by kings. Around the 2nd century AD the region had fallen under the rule of the Sassanid dynasty that led the Parthian Empire, the last great Persian Empire before the rise of Islam and the Islamic empires. The state of Kuwait was brought together by the Nejd tribe around the mid-1700s and the first leader or king was Abd Rahim Sabah bin Jaber who was given the title Emir. This created the sheikdom of Kuwait. The sheikdom became a British protectorate in 1897 as a result of the fear of the Turkish Ottoman Empire encroaching on their land and establishing a colony. This protection was held till 1961 when Britain gave Kuwait full independence and the State of Kuwait was established however, aid in terms of military or economic assistance was promised on request.
Kuwait is governed under a nominal monarchy government. This means that the leader of the country is a title that is passed on by merit of birth and kinship. It is led by an Emir. However the people elect members of parliament to represent them in the matters pertaining to governance. The Emir or Amir, are descendants of Mubarak al-Sabah and the first elected sheik of the region.
The government is divided into three main parts: the legislative, executive and judiciary. The legislative is the law making arm of the government and it is tasked to making and amending the laws and statutes of the land. It is made up of the Amir as head of legislature and the parliament that is made up of people voted in via a free democratic process held every four years that elects fifty members of parliament. The parliament also has some members of the cabinet or the executive as sitting members. The ministers take part in parliamentary motions and they vote except when the members are passing a vote of no-confidence on one of their members of the executive.
The second arm of government is the executive which deals with the running of the country and implementing the policies passed by the Emir and the parliament. The executive is made up of cabinet ministers who may or may not be members of parliament. The cabinet is led by the Prime Minister and he is tasked with coordinating and running state matters. The Prime Minister is appointed by Emir directly. Under the Prime Minister is helped in his duties by the three deputy premiers. These offices are appointed by the Emir and all appointments to the cabinet have to be approved by the head of government: the Emir.
The state judiciary is seen as the most independent arm of government. There are judicial offices and courts in every administrative district, followed by (in rising order of jurisdiction and powers) a Court of Appeal, the Cassation Court and the Constitutional Court. Rulings made by any lower court can be appealed and overruled by the higher court. The laws that govern Kuwait are a mixture of English common law, French law and elements of Islamic sharia law. The head of judiciary is the president of the Supreme Court who is assisted by the vice-president of the court and the attorney general. There is also the president of the high court who is assisted by the under-secretary in the ministry of justice. There is also a state security court that was established to deal specifically with matters of internal and external security issues in the country.
In Kuwait there are not many political parties. Many of the candidates that run for public office do so as independent candidates. This is mainly due to the fact that there is no provision in the constitution that recognizes political parties. However there are many groups with similar interests both political and religious that have come together to push for their agendas and take candidates to the legislature. The main groups are the Nationless and the Muslim Brotherhood who push for legislation that furthers their principles such as laws that lean more towards Islamic teachings. These groups have formed voting blocs in parliament and they are mainly divided along their religious beliefs such as Shi’a and Sunni Muslims.
Kuwait is a relatively small country with a small population of slightly more than 3 million citizens and so it might not have as much political clout in the international world. However, the country has vast oil reserves and its location in the heart of the Middle East means that it is a vital player in global politics that concern these two areas: the Arab world and oil. It has been the country’s unofficial policy not to take strong stands to either side of the political divides that occur in the region. It is considered a very neutral country in Arab affairs: taking a passive stance in many issues.
Kuwait’s foreign policy is geared more towards establishing itself as a sovereign and independent state. In 1991, Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein sent forces into the country to take over its massive oil deposits. This invasion however was stopped mainly through international efforts with forces provided by the United States and other international soldiers. This was the most recent blatant threat to the country’s sovereignty. However it established the independence of the country as well as solidifying relations with the west, mainly the US. Kuwait went on to be the US greatest ally in its efforts to oust Saddam Hussein by providing a base from which US forces could coordinate and launch its attacks. The country has been a key element in the war on terror in the Middle East mainly due to this fact that it has a high presence of international soldiers.
There are also a large number of foreigners in the country: mainly working in the oil industry. Many of these workers came in in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion. Initially there was a requirement that all foreigners who wanted to work in the country should have a Kuwaiti citizen act as a kafeel, or sponsor in order for them to get a work permit. This was instituted in order to regulate the number of expatriates in the country as they were viewed to be the cause of crime and increase in human trafficking. However, this law was contested in 2008 and the requirement for foreigners to have sponsors.
Women and Politics
In the area of women in society and politics, Kuwait is a very typical Arab country. Women have been marginalized in most of these areas and many of their rights have been curtailed. However, the country being somewhat more liberal and open to reform and change than many other Arab countries has seen some gains being made in this area. In voting as an example, women did not have the right to vote or participate as candidates in an election. However in 2005 a law was passed that made it possible for all female Kuwaiti citizens that met the required criteria for participating in an election to do so. The stand for women was further improved when later on in the year, the first woman minister was appointed by the Prime Minister. However, like in many Middle Eastern countries, women are still marginalized and they do not have many of the rights that all people should enjoy, such as the right to work freely (a limit to the times that they can work is still in place). Also they are heavily under the influence of traditional Islamic ways of thinking when it comes to dress and association with men and their role in society in general.
The Role of Islam
As earlier stated, Kuwait’s laws are influenced greatly by Islamic laws. There are many elements of the Sharia law that are in the constitution, making them laws that govern the state as a whole and not just Muslims. Many of these laws mostly concern women and how they are to act in public but there are also many other legislations that govern music and entertainment as well as dressing. The influence of Islam in the laws has been seen as many as archaic and draconian but since the country still has a strong element of traditionalism and the Emir and those that run the country still subscribe to most of these beliefs, change is very hard to come by.
The Arab revolution
In early 2011, many Arab countries that had previously been ruled under regimes that were seen as oppressive and authoritarian began to experience widespread civil unrest. The people in these countries, mainly the youth and the young people who had been somewhat exposed to the greater outside world began demanding change in the way their leaders and government ran the countries. These unrests began in North Africa in Tunisia and Egypt but quickly spread to other countries in the region such as Yemen and Bahrain. People demanded for a complete reform of policies, demanding as a basic requirement for these reforms to occur, the change of their leaders who were seen as corrupt dictators.
In Bahrain, unlike many of the other cases, the assistance of outside governments was sought. This was mainly because the unrest in Bahrain was mostly conducted by Shiite members of the population who saw the government made up mostly of Sunni Muslims as the reason for their problems which included unemployment and government harassment. As a way of quelling the tension and unrest, the government called in mediators from the neighboring states: mostly Sunni-ruled. The mediations were to be led by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah and leaders from Saudi Arabia. The mediation efforts were however seen as one sided with the mediators being partial towards the government. These sentiments were further seen when troops were sent in on armored vehicles and carrying full combat gear. These soldiers were sent to Bahrain to combat protestors after they killed a Bahraini soldier. However, Kuwait did not send any of its soldiers: preferring to stick with its policy of dialogue and mediation as a way of resolving conflicts.
Kuwait may be a small country in terms of physical size and population, but it is in no way any less important than any of the other countries in the region. It is one of the few countries that are open to the west and other countries outside the Arab League and so it is a crucial stepping stone for infiltration of the region on both an economic and social level. Kuwait is not only a key military ally in the war on terror but it is also important in fighting for change and reform in the region. Kuwait leans towards a modern reformist state and so has the potential of being an example for other countries in the Arab region.
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