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2023

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Near East Kingdoms

Arabic States

 

Sheikhdom of Kuwait
AD 1718 - 1899

The Ottomans had already battled against Egypt at the start of the sixteenth century to seize control of Syria and Palestine. It took longer, until the seventeenth century, for the north-eastern section of the Arabian peninsula to be similarly seized. The previously dominant Safavid shahs of Iran had been weakened across the Near East during the reign of the alcoholic Shah Safi I, and had also lost Baghdad, so a change of ownership in Arabia also become possible.

It was not until the following century that settlers first arrived from Arabia's interior into what had in the ancient world been known as Mesopotamia. These settlers at the site of present-day Kuwait were members of the Bani Utbah federation of clans. They are thought to have migrated to the Persian Gulf in the sixteenth century from Najd, in the centre of modern Saudi Arabia. The Ottomans are known to have ejected them from their traditional lands due to their mercenary tendencies, raiding caravans and trade routes. From the clans it was the al-Sabah family which gained control of Kuwait in 1718 following an election. Initially answering to the nearby emirate of Al Hasa, in 1752 Kuwait was able to agree independence on an equal footing in return for a promise not to oppose Al Hasa.

The Kuwait settlement grew into a busy trading hub within a century. The arrival of the British in the early nineteenth century saw them so keen to allow trade with the region that they became the security force for the Persian Gulf. The Kuwaiti state embraced British protection as it was a perfect means of avoiding potential direct rule from Anatolia.

In 1899 Sheikh Mubarak 'the Great', the state's seventh ruler, struck a deal with Britain to make his now-emirate a British protectorate, on 23 January 1899. His relatives in Bahrain, the al-Khalifas, had already agreed a similar deal and were prospering.

Cairo's Sultan Hasan Mosque, Egypt

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the John De Cleene Archive, from Travels Through Arabia and Other Countries in the East, Carsten Niebuhr, 1792, from The Politics of Protection in the Persian Gulf: The Arab Rulers and the British Resident in the Nineteenth Century, James Onley, 2004, from The Cambridge History of Iran, William Bayne Fisher, P Avery, G R G Hambly, & C Melville (Cambridge University Press), from The Ottoman Gulf: the creation of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, Frederick F Anscombe (Columbia University Press, 1997), and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Royal Ark.)

1718 - 1762

Sabah I bin Jaber

First emir of Kuwait. Bani Utbah clan federation.

1748 - 1750

The increasing instability in the Iranian lands allows several groups of tribal Arabs to attempt the occupation of Bushire (Bushehr) in the south, although they fail. To strengthen their hand they later side with Dutch-German trading companies and attack the city again. It takes a year for a two thousand-man mounted army to get rid of all of the invaders.

Nadir Shah
Nadir Shah rose spectacularly from his early life as the son of a maker of sheepskin coats to the leading general and then ruler of the Persian empire, until his assassination in 1747

1751

Karim Khan defeats other contestants for power, including the leading Afsharid, Shah Rukh. Then he pacifies most of western and central Iran, from the Caspian littoral and Azerbaijan to Kerman and Lār and the Zand regent of Iran.

1752

Sheikh Sabah I bin Jaber has been Kuwait's ruler since the sheikhdom's formation in 1718. Having remained a dependent of the nearby emirate of Al Hasa, now he is able to reach an agreement which means that Kuwait is effectively a state of equal standing. In return he promises that Kuwait will not oppose Al Hasa or its interests.

1762 - 1814

Abdullah I

Son.

1782 - 1783

War breaks out between the Bani Utbah federation on Zubarah and the Al-Madhkurs. The Battle of Zubarah in 1782 between the Bani Utbah and the army of Nasr Al-Madhkur must result in the defeat of the latter, as Governor Nasr Al-Madhkur loses the islands of Bahrain to the Bani Utbah in the following year (and of course they already control Kuwait).

1814 - 1859

Jaber I

Son. Agreed first treaty with Britain.

1841

Despite having rebuffed attempts by Britain to establish a trading presence in the region, in his later years Sheikh Jaber moderates his position. He agrees a one-year naval truce which focuses on freedom of navigation and anti-slavery measures. Even thought the truce is not renewed, the door has been opened to greater future British involvement.

Bahrain Fort
The Bahrain fort is based on a mound which has been inhabited since 2300 BC, possibly by Sumerians or their trading partners, although this cannot be proven with real certainty

1859 - 1866

Sabah II

Son.

1866 - 1892

Abdallah II

Son.

1892 - 1896

Muhammad Al-Sabah

Son. Father of Mubarak al-Sabah 'the Great' of Kuwait.

1896 - 1899

Following the death of Muhammad Al-Sabah, his son rules. Mubarak gains power following the controversial death (and potential murder) of his brother, Muhammad. In 1899 he agrees the Anglo-Kuwaiti Treaty with the British government which hands power over foreign affairs to them, thanks to which Mubarak is viewed as the founder of the modern state of Kuwait.

Modern Kuwait / Sheikhdom & Emirate of Kuwait
AD 1899 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1899-2022)

Modern Kuwait is a small constitutional monarchy which lies on the north-western shore of the Persian Gulf. Its capital, Kuwait City, lies in Kuwait Bay which overlooks the Persian Gulf. The land here and closer to the Tigris river basin in the north is fertile, but this decreases towards the western side of the country, becoming desert before the border is reached. Kuwait is neighboured by Saudi Arabia to the south, Iraq to the north, and by Iran across the gulf waters.

The north-eastern section of the Arabian peninsula was seized by the Ottomans in the seventeenth century from the previously dominant Safavid shahs of Iran. Ottoman control was being applied across much of the Near East, with them already having seized Syria and Palestine.

It was not until the following century that settlers first arrived at the site of the present-day capital from Arabia's interior, but their settlement grew into a busy trading hub within a century. This was probably helped by the British-enforced peace in the waters of the Persian Gulf. In the mid-nineteenth century Britain was becoming a major force in the region, and the Kuwaitis saw this as a way of avoiding potential direct rule from Anatolia. Sheikh Mubarak 'the Great' struck a deal with Britain to make his emirate a British protectorate, on 23 January 1899, in return for allowing Britain control of its foreign affairs. Nearby Bahrain had already agreed a very similar deal which allowed it to prosper.

The country's name in Arabic is Daulat al-Kuwait, meaning 'little fort'. Its ruling family descend from the Bani Utbah federation of clans. These clans are thought to have migrated to the Persian Gulf in the sixteenth century from Najd, in the centre of modern Saudi Arabia. From the clans it was the al-Sabah family which gained control of Kuwait in 1756, governing it with a level of independence under the overlordship of the Ottomans. The related Khalifa branch gained control of Bahrain in 1783.

Kuwait owes much of its current wealth to rich deposits of oil beneath its very mixed terrain. The oilfields were first tapped in the 1930s and, since full independence was achieved in 1961, oil has made up around ninety percent of its expert revenues. Large-scale modernisation was undertaken between 1946 and 1982, largely thanks to oil income. The First Gulf War in 1990-1991 necessitated some rebuilding, but barely seem to impact the emirate's long term prosperity.

Cairo's Sultan Hasan Mosque, Egypt

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by John De Cleene, from the John De Cleene Archive, from Travels Through Arabia and Other Countries in the East, Carsten Niebuhr, 1792, from The Politics of Protection in the Persian Gulf: The Arab Rulers and the British Resident in the Nineteenth Century, James Onley, 2004, from The Cambridge History of Iran, William Bayne Fisher, P Avery, G R G Hambly, & C Melville (Cambridge University Press), from Times Atlas of World History (Maplewood, 1979), and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Royal Ark, and Gulf states share shock of terror attack (The Guardian), and Kuwaiti army allows women in combat roles (The Guardian), and Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah dies aged 86 (The Guardian).)

1896 - 1915

Mubarak al-Sabah al-Sabah 'the Great'

Kuwaiti sheikh. Oversaw transition to British protectorate.

1896 - 1899

Mubarak is the seventh ruler of Kuwait following the arrival in the region of the al-Sabah family in 1756. He gains power following the controversial death of his brother, Muhammad. Mubarak is implicated in that assassination, but the details are extremely unclear and vary wildly.

In 1899 he agrees the Anglo-Kuwaiti Treaty with the British government which hands power over foreign affairs to them in return for security and protection. Thanks to this deal, which is very beneficial to both parties, Mubarak is viewed as the founder of the modern state of Kuwait.

Old Kuwait
Effectively founded in 1756, the 'little fort' of Kuwait took until the early twentieth century to become a wealthy city state built on the prosperity of its oil reserves

1914

Britain formalises the status of Kuwait as a protectorate, on 3 November 1914. The state's external affairs are governed by British political agents who are subordinate to the British chief political resident of the Persian Gulf.

1915 - 1917

Jabar al-Mubarak al-Sabah

Son. Died aged 56/57.

1916 - 1918

The British-backed Arab Revolt is proclaimed with an attack on Medina (where the Prophet Mohammed had died in AD 632). The revolt liberates much of the Near East from Ottoman control, with Britain and the Hashemite Arabs taking control of Iraq and Kuwait, Palestine, and the Transjordan, and France controlling Lebanon and Syria. On 30 October 1918, Turkey signs an armistice at Mudros, on the Aegean island of Lemnos.

1917 - 1921

Salem al-Mubarak al-Sabah

Brother. Former governor of Kuwait City.

1921 - 1950

Ahmad al-Jabar al-Sabah

Son of Jabar. Founded military & public security force.

1921

Kuwait holds its first modern elections, making it one of the first Arab states in the Persian Gulf region to have an elected parliament. Much of Kuwait's modern infrastructure is created during this period.

Arab Revolt 1916-1918
The 'Arab Revolt' of 1916-1918 was encouraged by the British as a diversion against Ottoman resistance which was also attempting to hold back the British main military advance, but even so the revolt played a vital part in destroying Ottoman hegemony over Arabia

1937

Large oil reserves are discovered in Kuwait by the US-British Kuwait Oil Company. Exploitation is delayed by the Second World War, but thereafter it fuels the country's development into a modern commercial centre.

1950 - 1965

Abdullah al-Salem al-Mubarak al-Sabah

Son of Salim. Became emir in 1961. Died after heart attack.

1951

A major public works programme begins in the state. Thanks to this, Kuwait's infrastructure is transformed, bringing it fully into the twentieth century and granting its residents a high standard of living.

1961

Kuwait is granted full independence from Britain on 19 June with the ending of the protectorate. The sheikh becomes an emir, a prince, and the state joins the Arab League. Iraq renews old claims that Kuwait is part of its territory but backs down following British military intervention.

1965 - 1977

Sabah al-Salem al-Mubarak al-Sabah

Brother.

1971

Bahrain declares independence on 15 August and signs a new treaty of friendship with Britain. Sheikh Isa becomes that island's first emir and the council of state becomes a cabinet. On 16 December, Bahrain gains formal independence from Britain.

Manama
The Bahraini port city of Manama became a major banking centre for the region following the start of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, which forced previously dominant banking activities there to find a new home

1977 - 2006

Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah

Son of Ahmad. 5 years of ill health. Died 15 Jan aged mid-70s.

1980 - 1988

Saddam Hussein of Iraq claims that the new revolutionary government of Iran is attempting to topple him from power. He declares war and the border between the two countries is a permanent battlefield for nearly a decade. Iraq is supported strategically and financially by Kuwait. Hussein occasionally employs chemical weapons on his enemy, but the two sides are evenly matched and the war ends in stalemate.

1990 - 1991

In July 1990, Iraq complains to Opec, accusing Kuwait of stealing its oil from a field near the border. Military action is threatened. The First Gulf War is triggered when Kuwait is subsequently occupied by Iraq.

A United Nations coalition army under the control of the USA is assembled in Saudi Arabia in 1991, and it causes the Iraqis heavy losses while they are being forced out. Kuwait's infrastructure is left in poor shape and has to be rebuilt. Oil exports stop for a time.

First Gulf War 1990-1991
Following its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Iraqi forces suffered heavy casualties at the hands of the popular alliance which removed it, but Kuwait itself also suffered damage which took time to repair

1993 - 1994

The UN demarcates a new Kuwait-Iraq border, awarding a port and a number of oil wells to Kuwait. US troops are despatched to Kuwait following Iraqi border incursions. The following year, Iraq officially recognises Kuwait's independence and the UN-demarcated borders following UN pressure and Russian mediation.

2003

An Anglo-American-led Second Gulf War leads to the collapse of Iraq's regime after just twenty-one days of fighting. Prior to the invasion, Kuwait serves as a base for a massive presence of mainly US and UK troops. A democratically-elected Iraqi government takes control of the country within two years in 2005, ending the allied administration of the country.

2005

Moves to change Kuwait's male-dominated political structure culminate in the granting of full political rights to women. In May of the same year, parliament gives women the right to vote and stand as candidates in elections for the fifty-seat national assembly.

Election victories in 2009's Kuwait
Kuwaiti candidate Acil al-Awadi (centre) celebrated with supporters after her victory in 2009 parliamentary elections in Kuwait City.

2006

Saad-al-Abdullah al-Sabah

Distant cousin. Health poor. Replaced after 10 days.

2006 - 2020

Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah

Distant cousin. Died 29 Sep.

2012

The growing assertiveness of parliament has led to frequent confrontations with the government, especially after Islamists make major gains at elections in February 2012. The annulment of those elections and subsequent changes to the election law prompt an opposition boycott of fresh polls in December, putting Kuwait's relatively liberal political credentials in doubt.

Despite large oil revenues, the economy has also been badly affected by the global financial crisis. Economic policy-making has been held back by disputes between the ruling royal family and parliament.

2015

Kuwait suffers its worst peacetime atrocity when Isis terrorists undertake a suicide bombing of a Shia Muslim mosque in Kuwait City during the holy month of Ramadan. Twenty-seven are killed and two hundred and twenty-seven injured. The common threat from Isis leads Kuwait, Qatar and UAE to lay aside minor political differences to offer a united front.

Victims of Kuwait's 2015 suicide bombing
Mourners carry the body of one of the victims of the mosque bombing during a mass funeral in Kuwait City on 27 June 2015

2020 - 2023

Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Sabah

Half-brother. Born 1937. Died aged 86.

2022

Having allowed female soldiers to take on combat roles, Kuwait's military decides they need the permission of a male guardian to be eligible, and are banned from carrying weapons. Pressure to restrict female advances is being driven by a small but vocal and influential band of conservatives, with Hamdan al-Azmi, a lawmaker, their apparent mouthpiece.

2023 - On

Mishal al-Ahmad al-Sabah

Half-brother. Born 1940.

 
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