Kuwait’s Struggle to Create a Modern State

The country’s reputation as a liberal Middle Eastern state obscures the underlying social tensions.

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With a free press, active parliament and dynamic political system, Kuwait is the most liberal member of the Gulf Cooperation Council. But its reputation as an open society masks the country’s abysmal human rights record and underlying social tensions. It’s a small, oil-rich country with a relatively prosperous population whose economic wealth far exceeds its level of social and political development. Its deficiencies in this regard are best seen in the treatment of nonnationals – including both foreign laborers and those considered stateless people who have roots in the country extending centuries. Origins Kuwait’s modern history began in 1716 when three tribes from north-central Arabia – al-Sabah, al-Khalifa and al-Jalahima, which together formed the al-Utub confederation – immigrated to Kadima on the northwestern coast of the Persian Gulf. In 1775, the Persian Zand dynasty seized Basra in southern Iraq, turning Kuwait’s port into a vital lifeline in the Persian Gulf’s northwest. But as the turmoil in Persia and Iraq persisted, wariness of foreigners grew and helped shape government decisions. Adverse local and regional conditions helped further divide Kuwaiti society along tribal, religious and sectarian lines. (click to enlarge) Thus, throughout Kuwait’s history, citizenship has had little meaning other than entitlement […]

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Hilal Khashan
Hilal Khashan is a Professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. He is a respected author and analyst of Middle Eastern affairs. He is the author of six books, including Hizbullah: A Mission to Nowhere. (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2019.) He is currently writing a book titled Saudi Arabia: The Dilemma of Political Reform and the Illusion of Economic Development. He is also the author of more than 110 articles that appeared in journals such as Orbis, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Middle East Quarterly, Third World Quarterly, Israel Affairs, Journal of Religion and Society, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, and The British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies.