History of Kuwait



Modern Kuwait began more than 300 years ago when the country emerged as an independent political entity under the rule of the present Al- Sabah family.




The earliest evidence of human presence in Kuwait is the existence of Mesolithic tools, dating from about 8,000 B.C.found in Burgan and Wafra. There are no signs of a later Neolithic culture in Kuwait.

However, excavations on the Kuwaiti island of Failaka strongly suggest that Failaka was part of the Bronze Age Dilium civilization and a center of international trade between 2200 and 1800 B.C.

The Battle of Chains was won by the Muslim warrior Khalid Ibn Al-Walid against Persians in the Name of Islam at Kadhima on the north side of Kuwait Bay in 632. For a thousand years thereafter Kuwait was part of a nameless region. Then the seeds of nationhood were planted when ancestors of old Kuwait families arrived to establish their settled community.


Early History of Independence:


In the 17th century the Bani Khalid were the overlords of Eastern Arabia and their domain stretched from Kuwait down to Qatar. In about 1672, Barrak bin Ghurair, the Emir of the Bani Khalid, built his Kut (a small house in the shape of a fortress situated near water) in Qarane, a small fishing community. This may have been in the area in Kuwait City known today as Wattiya. The name Kuwait is the diminutive of Kut.

The Utub, a federation of Arab families, were driven out of Al-Aflaj in central Arabia by the droughts of the middle 17th century. In Qatar they learned sea-faring and then scattered into various Arabian Gulf ports before coming to Kuwait in the early 18th century where they settled with the permission, and under the suzerainty, of the Bani Khalid.

Family disputes within the ruling Bani Khalid in 1722, gave the Utub in Kuwait a chance to practice some independence and Kuwait began to emerge as a distinct political entity. After 1752, further internal disputes among the Bani Khalid and the rise of the Wahhabis, their bitter enemies in central Arabia, gave the Utub of Kuwait defacto independence. In about 1756, they elected Sabah bin Jabir bin Adhbi as Emir of Kuwait to administer justice and the affairs of the town.

As the regional influence of the Bani Khalid waned, Kuwait’s lack of protection made the rise of a strong local power necessary. But Al-Sabah rule was not despotic. The Utub had changed from nomads to settlers since their departure from Al-Aflaj and the first Al-Sabah was chosen by the other families as their leader.

Sabah’s fifth son Abdallah (1762-1812) was selected to succeed his father. Under his rule Kuwait changed from a small Sheikhdom to a prominently prosperous and influential independency and entered its first golden age in the latter part of the 18th and early 19th centuries as a major port of call on several international trading routes.

Pearls were Kuwait’s only natural resource and each year hundreds of pearling ships made for the lucrative pearl banks to return at the end of summer. Shipbuilding, using imported materials, became an important industry.

Jaber the First (1812-1859) ruled mildly in consultation with the merchants of Kuwait, and managed to maintain good relations with all the major powers of the day. However, as Kuwait prospered throughout the 19th century, it’s independence came under threat from regional and European powers.


Independence under British protection:


To counter growing Turkish ambitions, Sheikh Mubarak the Great (1896-1915) signed a treaty with Britain in 1899 which defined Kuwait as : "An independent Country Under British Protection". Britain promised to protect Sheikh Mubarak and his heirs, and in turn the latter agreed to conclude no treaties with other powers, to admit no foreign agents and to cede no part of Kuwait’s territory without British consent.

Though Sheikh Mubarak increased taxes, thus making himself unpopular with local merchants, the country benefited greatly from his rule. Hundreds arrived to settle in Kuwait, attracted by its orderly administration and increasing commercial activity.

But trade declined sharply in Kuwait from the 1920’s onwards due to the World Wide Recession, Kuwait’s reduced importance as a major link in 20th century international trade routes and because of hostilities from the Ikhwan tribesmen from the interior of Arabia, who were only finally defeated in 1930. Kuwait’s pearling industry, which once boasted 800 pearling ships, almost disappeared with the introduction of Japanese cultured pearls and the worldwide fall in demand for luxury goods following the Wall Street Crash of 1929.




The first oil concession was granted in 1936 by Sheikh Ahmad (1921-1950), a shrewd negotiator, who obtained terms which were more generous than those obtained by other less independent states in the region.

Oil was first discovered in Burgan in 1938. Because of the Second World War, exports did not start until 1946. As oil exports increased Ahmadi, named after the Emir, was created near the oil fields as a township for oil company personnel. In the 1950’s & 60’s, Kuwait underwent its transition from a small Emirate to an internationally influential modern state.

A modern infrastructure rose from the arid desert as roads, ports, factories, power generating stations, and desalination plants came into being. The boom continued as new mosques, clinics, hospitals, schools, markets, supermarkets, houses and villas were built. The population increased as thousands of foreign technicians, advisors and workers arrived to service the huge development schemes. Many Kuwaitis, members of a privileged minority, found themselves in new roles as importers, contractors, landlords, and government officials.

Government’s role in the economy and administration naturally increased under the impact of the new wealth and development. Modern business laws were promulgated. A new administration order was devised as the government expanded. Though Shura (consultation) had always been a part of political life in Kuwait since the reign of the first Al-Sabah the government began developing a new style of constitutional rule.


International Recognition:


Though Kuwait had been an independent political entity for more than two centuries, it gained international recognition as a sovereign state when, in June 1961, the Treaty of 1899 with Britain was replaced by a new Treaty of Friendship. A few weeks later Kuwait joined the Arab League. In 1963, the country became a member of the United Nations.

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