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Kuwait: Politics
Country Study > Chapter 8 > Reconstruction After the Persian Gulf War > Politics


The invasion also changed the dynamics of Kuwaiti politics. The crisis of invasion, occupation, and exile further solidified the Kuwaiti opposition, which had begun emerging in the Constitutional Movement before the invasion. During the invasion, much of the opposition and the government regrouped in exile in Saudi Arabia. There, opposition leaders reiterated their preinvasion concerns and called on the amir to promise a return to a more democratic system in restored Kuwait.

The showdown came in October 1990 when the ruler met with 1,200 opposition leaders in Saudi Arabia and publicly promised liberalization following liberation. The elite opposition, however, finally unified just as it was losing its popular base to the resistance groups inside Kuwait. Kuwaitis who spent months fighting the occupation had little need for those who spent the war in relatively comfortable exile. To them, opposition leaders in exile became figures as distant as the amir. These divisions surfaced as goods waited in warehouses while resistance leaders argued with returned administrators over the right to feed the population. The opposition, so briefly united, redivided. Several identifiable factions emerged. These included the Democratic Forum, representing the liberal progressives. In defiance of the law, the Democratic Forum declared itself a political party in 1991. The Sunni Islamist opposition broke into the historically Muslim Brotherhood-oriented Islamic Constitutional Movement and the Islamic Alliance. The National Islamic Coalition represented Shia.

Had the amir returned quickly to Kuwait, stood above the factions, and appealed to the natural desire of a population tired by war to retreat from politics to the private world of reunited families, he might have scuttled the prodemocracy movement and reimposed a relatively benign authoritarianism. Instead, the amir hesitated and unwittingly forged a broad united prodemocratic front that could truly challenge his rule. Instead of fracturing, the Kuwaiti opposition came together, voicing a unified demand for a more open, participatory political system. The amir finally agreed to hold elections for the National Assembly in October 1992. In the interim, the National Council continued to meet.

There is little postwar change in the ruling family's dominant position in the country, although probably more grumbling occurs in private about the family's behavior. The Al Sabah continue to control the highest posts, although there have been changes in personnel. In April 1991, the government announced a new cabinet. Whereas the overall presence of the ruling family changed little, the number of cabinet members from the Salim branch rather than the Jabir branch increased, a shift that usually had occurred only after a succession. In the cabinet, Sabah al Ahmad Al Sabah, minister of foreign affairs since the 1960s, was replaced by Salim as Salim Al Sabah, formerly minister of interior. In addition, Minister of Finance Ali al Khalifa Al Sabah stepped down, and Minister of Defense Nawwaf al Ahmad Al Sabah was appointed to the less significant post of minister of social affairs and labor. The opposition hoped that the primary check on the royal family and the cabinet would be the National Assembly. Following the October 1992 election, the Salim and Jabir branches' representation in the cabinet became more balanced.

In 1993 the government continued to express a profound ambivalence about political liberalization. Although it lifted press censorship in January 1992, journalists face some continuing restrictions and criticism of political coverage and debate by the government. The government has banned several public meetings by opposition groups and private associations. The October 1992 election revealed the basic forces that are likely to continue to shape Kuwait's political future into the twenty-first century. The first force is an historically grounded and popular impulse toward political liberalization. Although the prodemocracy movement may experience times of relative quiescence as it has in the past, it is unlikely to be extinguished. The second is what appeared in the immediate postinvasion period to be a growing impulse toward more authoritarian rule. Whereas Kuwait historically has not experienced heavy-handed government, pockets of its population (some foreigners and Shia) have felt the heavier hand of the state at times. The amir's efforts to develop a larger internal security apparatus to use first against the resident Palestinian population and then against the national opposition threatens Kuwait's prodemocracy movement. These efforts also ran into strong opposition when the National Assembly convened in October 1992. Like the prodemocracy movement, the new security force will not vanish unless compelled to do so. The invasion thus appears to have activated both a more authoritarian impulse in the government and a more prodemocratic impulse among the population. The postinvasion period has seen the struggle between these two forces.

Ahmad Abu-Hakima's Modern History of Kuwait provides a good historical overview. Jill Crystal's Kuwait: The Transformation of an Oil State offers a general overview of Kuwait; her Oil and Politics in the Gulf provides a more analytical survey of Kuwaiti politics. On politics, Hassan Ibrahim's Kuwait: a Political Study and J.E. Peterson's The Arab Gulf States are helpful. On the ruling family, a most useful book is Alan Rush's Al-Sabah: Genealogy and History of Kuwait's Ruling Family, 1752-1987. The best general introduction to Kuwait's foreign policy environment is Abdul-Reda Assiri's Kuwait's Foreign Policy.

A general sociological introduction to Kuwait is found in Jacqueline Ismael's Kuwait: Social Change in Historical Perspective. Suad al-Sabah's Development Planning in an Oil Economy and the Role of the Woman looks at women's issues in Kuwait. With regard to expatriates, Shamlan Alessa's The Manpower Problem in Kuwait is helpful.

Books on Kuwait's economy include M.W. Khouja and P.G. Sadler's The Economy of Kuwait; Y.S.F. al-Sabah's The Oil Economy of Kuwait; Ragaei El Mallakh and Jacob Atta's The Absorptive Capacity of Kuwait; and Suad al-Sabah's Kuwait: Anatomy of a Crisis Economy. Fida Darwiche covers the stock market crash in The Gulf Stock Exchange Crash.

A wealth of statistical information is available in the annual reports put out by the Kuwait Ministry of Planning's Central Statistical Office in its Annual Statistical Abstract. Current economic events can be followed in the Middle East Economic Digest, Economist, Wall Street Journal, and Financial Times (which usually surveys Kuwait in February). (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of January 1993

Last Updated: January 1993

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Kuwait was first published in 1993. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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