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Whitaker's Almanack: Kuwait

Information on Kuwait

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Dawlat al-Kuwayt – State of Kuwait

Whitaker's Almanack Definitions

  • Area – 17,818 sq. km
  • Capital – Kuwait City (Al Kuwayt); population, 2,229,990 (2009 est)
  • Currency – Kuwaiti dinar (KD) of 1,000 fils
  • Population – 2,646,314 rising at 1.88 per cent a year (2012 est); Kuwaiti (45 per cent), other Arab (35 per cent), South Asian (9 per cent), Iranian (4 per cent) (est)
  • Religion – Of citizens, Muslim (Sunni 70 per cent, the remainder predominantly Shia) (est); Christian, Hindu and Parsi minorities, mostly expatriates
  • Language – Arabic (official), English
  • Population density – 154 per sq. km (2010)
  • Urban population – 98.4 per cent (2010 est)
  • Median age (years) – 28.5 (2011 est)
  • National anthem – 'Al-Nasheed al-Watani' ['National Anthem']
  • National day – 25 February
  • Death penalty – Retained
  • CPI score – 4.6 (2011)

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Climate and Terrain

Kuwait is an almost entirely flat desert plain, with elevation extremes ranging from 306m to 0m (Persian Gulf). Its territory includes the island of Bubiyan and others at the head of the Persian Gulf. The climate is arid, with little rainfall but high levels of humidity. Average temperatures range from 13°C in January to 37°C in July.

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History and Politics

The area was under the nominal control of the Ottoman Empire from the late 16th century, but in 1756 an autonomous sheikhdom was founded that has been ruled by the al-Sabah family ever since. Kuwait entered into a treaty of friendship with Britain in 1899, in order to protect itself from Ottoman and Saudi domination, and it became a British protectorate in 1914. The borders with Saudi Arabia and Iraq were agreed between 1922 and 1933. Full independence was achieved in 1961, although Britain retained a military presence in the country until 1971.

An attempted Iraqi invasion shortly after independence in 1961 was discouraged by British troops in the Gulf. However, in August 1990 Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait, proclaiming it a province of Iraq. In 1991, a short military campaign by a US-led alliance expelled the Iraqi forces, although there were further Iraqi incursions in 1993 before Iraq renounced its claim and recognised the new UN-demarcated border in 1994. Extensive damage was caused to the country’s infrastructure and environment during the Iraqi occupation and the liberation campaign, and reconstruction was a priority throughout the 1990s. In 2003, Kuwait was a base for forces involved in the Iraq War, and it remains an important transit route for military and civilian traffic into and out of Iraq.

In recent years, there have been clashes between security forces and militant Islamists, some of whom are alleged to have links to al-Qaida.

Although Kuwait was the first Arab country in the Gulf to have an elected legislature, this was suspended from 1977–81, 1986–92 and in 1999. Since 1999 it has sat regularly, and its assertiveness has caused clashes with the government; two elections were held in 12 months in 2008–9 owing to its efforts to subject the government to parliamentary scrutiny. Pro-reform demonstrations took place in spring 2011 forcing Sheikh Nasser al-Muhammad al-Ahmed al-Sabeh's government to resign from office; the cabinet was replaced by a new government headed by Sheikh Jaber Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabeh who retained power until the next election. The 2012 legislative election saw Islamists retain the largest bloc in the National Assembly, after which Sheikh Jaber was re-appointed prime minster.

The 1962 constitution was amended in 2005 to extend the franchise to women. The head of state is the emir, chosen from among the ruling family. He exercises executive power through the council of ministers; in 2003, the post of prime minister was separated from the role of heir to the throne for the first time. The unicameral National Assembly has 50 members directly elected for a four-year term. There are no political parties.

The country is divided into six governorates: Capital, Hawalli, Al-Ahmadi, Al-Jahrah, Al-Farwaniya and Mubarak Al-Kabeer.


HH The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, born 1929, acceded 29 January 2006
Crown Prince, HH Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah


Prime Minister, Sheikh Jaber Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah
First Deputy Prime Minister, Interior, Sheikh Ahmad Hamoud al-Jaber al-Sabah
Deputy Prime Minister, Defence, Sheikh Ahmad Khalid al-Hamad al-Sabah
Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah


2 Albert Gate, London SW1X 7JU
T 020-7590 3400 E
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, HE Khaled al-Duwaisan, GCVO, apptd 1993


PO Box 2, Arabian Gulf Street, Safat 13001
T (+965) 2259 4320 W
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, HE Frank Baker, OBE, apptd 2010

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All aged 16–49, 2010 estMalesFemales
Available for military service1,002,480616,958
Fit for military service840,912523,206

Military expenditure – US$5,178m (2011)

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Economy and Trade

Oil was discovered in 1938 and the development of the oil industry after 1945 transformed the country from one of the poorest in the world to one of the richest. Petroleum accounts for 95 per cent of export revenues and 95 per cent of government income. Income from foreign reserves and investment is also high, cushioning the economy from the effects of dependency on oil. Economic reform is slow owing to the tensions between the government and legislature, but a development plan passed in 2011 aims to diversify the economy, attract more investment and stimulate the private sector.

The climate and terrain limit agriculture and, with the exception of fish, all food is imported; the primary sector contributes only 0.3 per cent of GDP. Services account for 51.8 per cent of GDP and industry for 48 per cent. Apart from the oil and petrochemical industries, activities include the production of cement and construction materials, shipbuilding and repair, water desalination and food processing.

The main export markets are Japan, South Korea, India, the USA and China, and the main sources of imports are the USA, China, Saudi Arabia and Japan. Principal exports are oil and refined products, and fertilisers. The main imports are food, construction materials, vehicles and vehicle parts, and clothing.

GNI – US$117,187m (2009); US$47,790 per capita (2007)
Annual average growth of GDP – 5.7 per cent (2011 est)
Inflation rate – 5.6 per cent (2011 est)
Unemployment – 2.2 per cent (2004 est)
Total external debt – US$44,450m (2011 est)
Imports – US$22,000m (2010)
Exports – US$66,000m (2010)


Trade – US$44,000m surplus (2010)
Current Account – US$36,884m surplus (2010)

Trade with UK20102011
Imports from UK£530,434,798£506,464,078
Exports to UK£958,351,509£1,469,137,436

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Airports – There are seven airports and airstrips; the international airport is at Kuwait City

Waterways – The main seaports are Ash Shu’aybah and Ash Shuwaykh

Roadways and railways – Kuwait has 5,749km of roads, most of which are surfaced, but no railway

Telecommunications – 566,300 fixed lines and 2.2 million mobile subscriptions; there were 1.1 million internet users in 2009

Internet code and IDD – kw; 965 (from UK), 44 (to UK)

Major broadcasters – State-run radio and television broadcasters compete with commercial stations; satellite television is also widely watched

WPFI score – 23,75 (87)

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Education and Health

Education is free and compulsory from six to 14 years.

Literacy rate – 93.9 per cent (2008 est)
Gross enrolment ratio (percentage of relevant age group) – primary 106 per cent; secondary 101 per cent (2008 est)
Health expenditure (per capita) – US$1,416 (2009)
Hospital beds (per 1,000 people) – 1.8 (2004–9)
Life expectancy (years) – 77.28 (2012 est)
Mortality rate – 2.13 (2012 est)
Birth rate – 20.96 (2012 est)
Infant mortality rate – 7.87 (2012 est)

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