Magazine article Geographical

Kuwait

Magazine article Geographical

Kuwait

Article excerpt

Klaus Dodds is professor of geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London and editor of the Geographical Journal

Last December, elections held in Kuwait were boycotted by opposition groups. This story is of interest for two reasons. First, it usefully focuses attention on Kuwait's domestic politics; and second, it reflects more generally on the Arab Spring and growing pressures regarding democratisation in the Middle East and the wider Islamic world.

Nestled at the top of the Persian/ Arabian Gulf, Kuwait is partially surrounded by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. After the break-up of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, it became a British protectorate, before gaining independence in 1961.

The country covers an area of only 17,000 square kilometres but possesses vast oil reserves, estimated to be the world's fifth largest. Oil makes up 95 per cent of all government income, and Kuwait has the region's highest per capita income.

The country captured global headlines following its invasion in August 1990 by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. The ensuing Operation Desert Storm saw US-led forces expel the Iraqi army, and the Kuwaiti royal family eventually restored as rulers. Kuwait continues to be regarded as a strong ally of the USA and in 2003, it hosted US troops on the eve of the invasion of Iraq.

The recent election boycott was hailed as a success by the groups involved, claiming that not more than 30 per cent of the eligible population voted, although official estimates placed the figure at 43 per cent; previously, turnout was around 60 per cent.

The boycott was triggered by a change to Kuwaiti election law that reduced the number of candidates that a voter could elect from four to one. Carrying the imprimatur of Sheik Sahah al-Ahmed Al Sabah, the measure was supposed to produce more 'efficient' government, but critics claimed that it was designed to reduce the power of the opposition.

Kuwait is considered to be one of the more progressive Arab states. It was one of the first to have an elected parliament, it gave women the right to vote in 2005, and it elected four women to the parliament in 2009. Nevertheless, it isn't a liberal democracy. Political parties are banned and the ruling Al-Sabah family regards the parliament as confrontational, and has dissolved it five times since 2006.

Recently, opposition journalists and political leaders have been arrested and in November 2011, parliament was stormed by anti-government protestors. …

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