Kuwait: Past and present
By: Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
One of the members of the GCC, Kuwait is smaller than the size of New Jersey, US. With a total population of about four million — only 50 percent of which are Kuwaitis — the total area of Kuwait is 7,000 sq. miles. Kuwait has a rich history and has been ruled by Al-Sabah family for hundreds of years. However, following the culmination of Kuwaiti-British treaty in 1961, the country became fully independent and late Sheikh Abdullah Al-Sabah became the emir of Kuwait.
Emir Abdullah is considered one of the most influential figures in the Arab world. He commanded great respect among the Kuwaitis, the Arab and in the world in general. Despite being relatively new in the world arena, it took little time for Kuwait to emerge as one of the most influential and prosperous countries in the world.
Since time immemorial, Kuwaitis had proven their mettle as successful and able merchants who took good advantage of their country’s strategic location by the shores of the Arabian Gulf. Kuwait riches saw a dramatic decline following the discovery of oil in 1937 and it could not effectively utilize the riches until the 1950s.
Perhaps the most significant event that took place after Kuwait’s independence was the Iraqi claim under the leadership of Abdul Karim Qasim over Kuwait. Iraq claimed Kuwait was part of Iraq and wanted to annex it. However, Iraqis realized that world would not stay still. Saudi and British forces were mobilized to stop the Iraqi invasion and Iraq had to pull back its forces and recognized Kuwait’s international borders. Kuwait remained under constant Iraqi threat but it continued moving on the road to progress. It developed its infrastructure, political and social system to ensure improvement in the living standards of its people. In a very short time, Kuwait became one of the richest countries in the world with the highest per capita income. The Kuwaiti Dinar was and still is the strongest currency in the world. One Kuwaiti Dinar equals about $3.5.
During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Kuwait enjoyed modern infrastructure, very good education system and introduced many social reforms. During that time, Kuwait had the best free media in the region. Kuwaiti magazines were the most widely circulated publications in the Gulf region and the state-run TV channel aired very creative programs and was known for its good coverage of global events. Kuwait also led the Gulf region in sports and its football team became one of the 16 teams to qualify for 1982 World Cup in Spain. Kuwait had the most transparent political system in the Arab world with legislative powers vested to the National Assembly Parliament. Movie theaters were all over the country showing the latest Hollywood flicks and the local shows in theaters were the most admired in the region. In other words, Kuwait was many years ahead of all the Gulf countries. In Kuwait, education and health care is free. The Kuwaitis enjoy having the third highest per capita income in the world with no income tax and was the first country in the area to have massive investments abroad. Kuwait and Kuwaitis have one of the most active philanthropic systems, which extended its support to millions throughout the world. Kuwait was very active in the world of foreign policies and foreign affairs issues. Kuwaitis were known to write and compose the most beautiful national and patriotic songs. This unity among its people played a vital part during the invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqis in 1990. So, what has changed?
Few years prior to the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring, things took a drastic turn. In the past, the Kuwaiti Capital was known to be the cleanest, most beautiful and most important cities of the world. It was the financial center of the Gulf. But some Kuwaitis these days have shifted their focus from developing the country to making unwarranted demands.
Unfortunately, the divide between its people is widening. Nowadays, the Kuwaiti parliamentary system has become a burden not only on the government but also on the Kuwaitis.
Surprisingly, the political turmoil in the wake of so-called revolutions influenced many Kuwaitis. It is true that Kuwaitis have the right to demand social or political reforms but they are many peaceful ways to do that. Unlike many countries in the Arab world, Kuwaitis enjoy an open and transparent system to call for reforms but these demands can never gain popularity among the masses through the use of violent means. Stability and security of the country is very important not only for Kuwaitis but for the entire region.
Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad and the ruling family has built one of the most prosperous countries in the world; it is now the duty of the Kuwaitis to protect it.