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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 17,818 sq km
Population: 3.6 million (2011 Est.)
Capital City: Kuwait City
People: Kuwaitis (est. 33% of population), Egyptians, Syrians, Iranians, Palestinians, Asians (Indians, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Afghanis, Chinese), Americans and Europeans
Language(s): Arabic (official); English (the official second language)
Religion(s): Kuwait is an Islamic society and the overwhelming majority (85%) of its citizens are Muslim (Sunni 70%, Shi’a 30%). There are Christian churches in Kuwait. The practice of other religions is restricted.
Currency: Kuwaiti Dinar. (KD)
Major political parties: None. Parties are illegal.
Government: Constitutional Hereditary Emirate
Head of State: HH the Amir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah
Heir Apparent: HH the Crown Prince, Sheikh Nawwaf Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah
Prime Minister: HH Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah
Foreign Minister: HE Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah
Membership of international organisations: Most international organisations, including: The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC); Organisation of the Islamic Council (OIC); Arab League; United Nations; OPEC; WTO.

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ECONOMY

Kuwait is a rich country with a high per capita income (USD 46,460 in 2011), sitting on between 8% and 9% of world oil reserves. The economy is heavily reliant on the oil sector. Oil revenues account for more than 90% of government revenue, 95% of export earnings and 49% of GDP.

Having bounced back economically from the huge losses caused by the Iraqi invasion, and the costs of its contribution to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it remains a generous donor of aid. Kuwait earned around US$65 billion from oil revenues in the 2010 financial year. Foreign reserves and investment income are substantial, and the Kuwait stock market’s recent performance has been good. Kuwait is actively promoting itself, albeit with limited success thus far, as a base for foreign investors in Iraq. The Government is also looking at wider economic reform, including moving some of the 95% of Kuwaitis who work in the state sector to the private sector.

Basic Economic Facts

GDP: USD 131 billion (2010)
GDP per head: USD 37,849 (2010)
Real GDP Growth: +1.97% (2010)
Consumer Price Inflation: 4.1%
Major Industries: oil; food processing; textiles; furniture; fertilisers
Major trading partners: UK; Japan; US; Germany
Exchange rate: KWD 1.00 = £2.29 (February 2012)

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HISTORY

The Al Sabah family has ruled Kuwait since 1756 and the current Amir, His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad, is the fourteenth ruler. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries the Al Sabah were able to maintain Kuwait's independence from more powerful Ottoman and Saudi neighbours. In 1899, Sheikh Mubarak Al Sabah ('Mubarak the Great') entered into 'The Special Treaty of Friendship' with Great Britain. This guaranteed both Kuwait's security and its independence in internal affairs, and ended in 1961 when Kuwait assumed full independence. Kuwait established its borders with Iraq and with Saudi Arabia in the 1920s and 1930s.

Issued in 1962, the Kuwaiti Constitution vests legislative authority in the National Assembly, which was first elected in 1963.

In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the country remained occupied for seven months until its liberation in February 1991 by an international military coalition in 'Operation Desert Storm'. Since then, Kuwait has had to recover from the economic, environmental, and psychological damage caused by the occupation. In 2003, Kuwait was the launchpad for the invasion of Iraq.

At the end of the 1991 Gulf War, 605 people of both Kuwaiti and other nationalities remained unaccounted for. After 1999, Saddam Hussein refused to play any part in the Tripartite Commission established under the chair of the International Committee of the Red Cross to investigate the whereabouts of the missing. The remains of some of the missing were recovered from mass graves in Iraq since the liberation of Iraq.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Kuwait is a member of the Gulf Co-operation Council alongside Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. As Kuwait grows in confidence as an international player, it is playing an increasingly assertive role in support of regional stability.

CULTURAL RELATIONS With the UK

Many Kuwaitis have studied in the UK, and efforts are being made to further develop the long history of educational links with Kuwait. The British Council in Kuwait plays an important role in promoting UK education and providing English language tuition and UK exam services. A number of schools using the English curriculum exist in Kuwait and many Kuwaitis attended them.

British Council Kuwait (http://www.britishcouncil.org/kuwait/index.htm)

Recent Visits

Inward
-- July 2011: HE Sheikh Dr Mohammed Al Sabah, (former) Kuwait Foreign Minister
-- January 2011: HE Sheikh Jaber Al-Khaled Al-Sabah, Kuwait Minister of Interior, as a Guest of Government

Outward

-- December 2011: Alistair Burt, Minister for the Middle East
-- December 2011: Lord Marland, Lord Sassoon, Baroness Symons and Nicholas Soames MP
-- November 2011: HRH The Prince of Wales
-- November 2011: Alistair Burt, Minister for the Middle East
-- September 2011: Lord Astor, Defence Minister
-- May 2011: Lord Howell and Lord Marland
-- April 2011: Chief of Defence Staff
-- February 2011: The Prime Minister and Lord Green
-- February 2011: Sir John Major

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GEOGRAPHY

Roughly the size of Wales, Kuwait is almost entirely flat and arid. It borders Saudi Arabia to the south, Iraq to the north and west, and the Arabian Gulf coast to the east. At their nearest points, the Kuwaiti and Iranian frontiers are fewer than 20km apart.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT WITH THE UK

The UK-Kuwait trading relationship is a healthy one; Kuwait is the UK's third-largest trading partner in the Gulf. British exports of goods in the period January to November 2010 totalled £438 million. Exports cover a number of sectors, including industrial and electrical machinery, transport, metals, food, clothing, and other consumables. Services include consultancy, financial services, investment banking and insurance, aviation, shipping and others.

Kuwaiti exports to the UK are almost entirely refined oil products, particularly aviation fuel, and vary wildly, depending on oil markets.

Kuwait, through Government institutions, private sector companies and private individuals, is one of the single largest investors in the UK in terms of liquidity, investment portfolios and property. There has been an office of the Kuwait Investment Authority in London for 50 years.

Kuwait possesses between 8 and 9% of global oil supplies, and is moving ahead with its plan to open the state-controlled oil sector to multinational companies. Project Kuwait envisages a US$7 billion first stage investment by major international companies to develop its northern oilfields. Three international consortia are involved in bidding to develop Kuwait's northern oil fields. BP and Shell are involved in separate consortia (BP lead one; ExxonMobil lead the one in which Shell are concerned).

The UK is keen to encourage economic reform, and welcomes recent Kuwaiti moves to open up the Kuwaiti Stock Exchange to foreign investors.

UK Trade & Investment Country Profile: Kuwait (https://www.uktradeinvest.gov.uk/ukti/appmanager/ukti/countries?_nfls=false&_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=CountryType1&navigationPageId=/kuwait)

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POLITICS

Political parties are not yet permitted in Kuwait, but recent years have seen the development of a number of loose political blocs within the National Assembly, including those consisting of Islamists and liberals.

On 5 December 2011, the Amir dissolved the National Assembly due to deteriorating political conditions. The decree was recommended by the newly-appointed Prime Minister, Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah. This is the latest twist in a dramatic few months in Kuwaiti politics. On 28 December 2011, the Amir accepted the resignation of his government. The immediate cause of this was the interpolation (questioning) motion tabled by opposition MPs in Parliament. This is the seventh time in six years that the Cabinet has been dissolved in such a way (on each previous occasion, the former PM – Sheikh Nasser – was re-appointed). The last occurrence was in April 2011, against the background of disagreements over Kuwait’s reaction to events in Bahrain.

Following the dissolution of parliament by the Amir, the elections for the new National Assembly took place on 2 February. Polling day was peacefully conducted and official observers declared the elections free and fair. As predicted, Islamists were the major winners – securing 22 out of 50 MPs (the highest number of Islamists ever elected to the Kuwaiti Parliament). These factors make up a large part of the “opposition” movement, which was pivotal in bringing down the former Prime Minister. The major losers were the liberals, whose representation was cut to six MPs. All four women elected in 2009 lost their seats.

Women and the Vote

There has been an active campaign in Kuwait to grant its female citizens the right to vote. A decree by the Amir, issued in May 1999, enfranchised Kuwaiti women but the National Assembly narrowly rejected this. On 16 May 2005, following full debates on the issue, the National Assembly voted in favour of giving women the right to both vote and stand for election.

The municipal elections in April 2006 gave women their first opportunity to vote. Women participated fully in the May 2008 elections, but no women were elected to the chamber. In the May 2009 elections, despite there being no quota system for women, four were elected as members of Parliament, with one coming first in her district. Following the February 2012 elections, there are no longer any women in the National Assembly, although 26 women contested a seat in Parliament.

The Bidoon

Kuwait introduced legislation in May 2000 to attempt to resolve the issue of the Bidoon (stateless Arabs resident in Kuwait). This included a provision to extend citizenship to up to 2,000 Bidoon per year who met certain citizenship criteria. Despite this, little progress has been made. A few Bidoon have been granted citizenship since then, but there are estimated to be over 100,000 Bidoon still in Kuwait. The Prime Minister has declared his intention to push for a solution of the long-standing problem.

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HUMAN RIGHTS

Kuwait has ratified all six of the core UN human rights conventions. Press freedom is guaranteed by the Kuwaiti Constitution, although despite this a small degree of self-censorship is exercised. There is a high level of freedom of expression and tolerance of Christianity. Kuwait retains the death penalty, although rarely uses it. The issue of the Bidoon remains a sore point in Kuwait’s Human Rights efforts.

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Last Updated: February 2012

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