Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Kuwait Transformed: A History of Oil and Urban Life

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Kuwait Transformed: A History of Oil and Urban Life

Article excerpt

Kuwait Transformed: A History of Oil and Urban Life. By Farah Al-Nakib. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016. 278 pp. $24.95, paper.

Nakib's book assesses the influence of massive oil wealth on Kuwait's rapid urbanization and failing social cohesion. Urbanization, she maintains, has brought about "growing intolerance toward outsiders ... volatile tensions between social groups ... inertia of the average citizen, [and] the lack of concern for the public good."

Kuwait City, founded in 1716, soon became the seat of power of the Sabah royal family, which rules the country to this day. Development was initially haphazard, motivated by the family's attempts to enrich itself although initially this was done through trade and boat building. Oil, discovered in 1938, extended the reach of the state, and this was reflected in the city's development where state and merchants cooperated in moving townspeople to the suburbs while the urban centers declined. Bedouin and foreigners were also kept separate.

According to the author, Kuwait City had once been a center of "hybrid, open, tolerant cosmopolitanism," but after the discovery of oil, the city became a hub of wealth and power, at the expense of those positive attributes. …

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