Kuwait, officially the State of Kuwait Listeni/kuːˈweɪt/ (Arabic: دولة الكويت Dawlat al-Kuwayt ), is an Arab country in Western Asia. Situated in the northeastern edge of the Arabian peninsula at the tip of the Persian Gulf, it shares borders with Iraq to the north and Saudi Arabia to the south. The name "Kuwait" is the diminutive of Arabic كوت kūt, meaning "fortress".
Located in the north-east corner of the Arabian Peninsula, Kuwait is one of the smallest countries in the world in terms of land area. It lies between latitudes 28° and 31° N, and longitudes 46° and 49° E. The flat, sandy Arabian Desert covers most of Kuwait. The country is generally low lying, with the highest point being 306 m (1,004 ft) above sea-level. It has nine islands, all of which, with the exception of Failaka Island, are uninhabited. With an area of 860 km2 (330 sq mi), the Bubiyan is the largest island in Kuwait and is connected to the rest of the country by a 2,380 m (7,808 ft) long bridge. The land area is considered arable and sparse vegetation is found along its 499 km long coastline. Kuwait City is located on Kuwait Bay, a natural deep-water harbor.
Kuwait has some of the world's richest oil fields with the Burgan field having a total capacity of approximately 70 billion barrels (1.1×1010 m3) of proven oil reserves. During the 1991 Kuwaiti oil fires, more than 500 oil lakes were created covering a combined surface area of about 35.7 km2 (13.8 sq mi). The resulting soil contamination due to oil and soot accumulation had made eastern and south-eastern parts of Kuwait uninhabitable. Sand and oil residue had reduced large parts of the Kuwaiti desert to semi-asphalt surfaces. The oil spills during the Gulf War also drastically affected Kuwait's marine resources.
As of 2013, Kuwait's population was estimated by the CIA to be 2.7 million people, which included 1.3 million non-nationals. According to the CIA, 55% of Kuwait's population are Kuwaiti citizens. Kuwaiti's own government population estimates differ greatly, in January 2014 there were 3.9 million people nationwide, of which 1.2 million are Kuwaitis, 1.4 million Asians, 1.1 million foreign Arabs and 76,698 Africans. The government rarely grants citizenship to foreigners. The net migration rate of the country stood at 16.01.
Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy and has the oldest directly elected parliament among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The head of state is the Emir or Sheikh, a hereditary office. A council of ministers, also known as cabinet ministers, aids the Prime Minister, and appoints and dismisses diplomats. The Al Sabah family has been Kuwait's monarchy since 1938, before 1938 Kuwait's local merchants enjoyed a supremacy over the Al Sabah family.
Legislative power is vested in the National Assembly parliament and the Emir in accordance with the Constitution. The appointment of a new Emir needs the approval of the Kuwaiti parliament (per article 3 of the Constitution), therefore the parliament has the authority to remove an Emir from his post. The parliament effectively removed Saad al-Sabah from his post in 2006 due to his illness. Kuwait's judiciary system is independent from government influence and is often viewed as the most independent judiciary system in the Arab world. The judicially independent Constitutional Court and the Emir both have the authority to dissolve the National Assembly but must subsequently call a national election.
The National Assembly consists of fifty elected members, who are chosen in elections held every four years. Government ministers are also granted membership in the parliament and can number up to sixteen excluding the fifty elected members. According to the Constitution of Kuwait, nomination of a new Emir or Crown Prince by the Al-Sabah monarchy has to be approved by the National Assembly. Any amendment to the constitution can be proposed by the Emir but it needs to be approved by more than two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly before being implemented.
There have been several conflicts between the Emir, the government and the National Assembly over various policies. The National Assembly was suspended from 1976 to 1981, from 1986 to 1991 and from May 1999 to July 1999, due to irresolvable conflicts between some members of the government and the Assembly. Approximately half of those who reside in Kuwait do not hold Kuwaiti citizenship and thus cannot vote in parliamentary elections.
When voting was first introduced in Kuwait in 1985, Kuwaiti women had the right to vote. Moves to change the male-dominated political structure culminated in the re-granting of full political rights to women in 2005. In May 2005, the Parliament decided by a 35–15 vote to give women the right to vote and stand as candidates in elections. The decision raised Kuwait's eligible voter population from 139,000 to about 339,000. In 2006, the number of Kuwaiti citizens was estimated to be more than 960,000. In 2005, the former Prime Minister Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah announced the appointment of the first female cabinet minister, Massouma Mubarak. She was designated Planning Minister and Minister of State for Administrative Development Affairs. During the 2008 parliamentary elections, 27 of the 275 candidates were women. However, none of them won. In the parliamentary elections in May 2009, four female candidates won their seats and became Kuwait's first female lawmakers.
More generally, the growing assertiveness of parliament has led to frequent confrontations with the government. The Assembly was dissolved again by the Emir in May 2009, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah and the rest of the Cabinet. Nationwide elections were held on 16 May 2009.
In April 2010, Kuwait's government deported 17 Egyptians for trying to organize a local chapter of Mohamed ElBaradei's National Association for Change in Kuwait.
After opposition candidates made major gains in the elections of February 2012, the Constitutional Court annulled the elections and later the Emir made changes to the election law, changing the number for votes given from a person from four to one. This prompted a largely opposition boycott of the new elections in December 2012.
Kuwait follows the civil law system based on French and Egyptian models. Kuwait's legal system is a mix of British common law, French civil law, Egyptian civil law and Islamic law. Kuwaiti courts are competent to hear all disputes concerning personal status, and civil, criminal and commercial matters. For the application of personal status laws, there are three separate sections: Sunni, Shia and non-Muslim.
Kuwait has a GDP (PPP) of US$167.9 billion and a per capita income of US$81,800, making it the 5th richest country in the world, per capita. In 2011, estimated exports stood at US$94.47 billion and imports were around US$22.41 billion. Petroleum, petrochemical products, fertilizers and financial services are major export commodities. Kuwait imports a wide range of products ranging from food products and textiles to machinery. Kuwait's most important trading partners are Japan, United States, India, South Korea, Singapore, China, the European Union, and Saudi Arabia. Japan is the largest customer of Kuwaiti oil followed by India, Singapore and South Korea. Kuwait city is ranked as one among the 25 largest GDP cities in the world along with New York, Tokyo, Moscow, Chennai and other financial hubs including Singapore and Dubai.
According to the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom, Kuwait has the second-most free economy in the Middle East. In March 2007, Kuwait's foreign exchange reserves stood at US$213 billion. The Kuwait Stock Exchange, which has about 200 firms listed, is the second-largest stock exchange in the Arab world with a total market capitalization of US$235 billion. In 2007, the Kuwaiti government posted a budget surplus of US$43 billion.
Non-petroleum industries include shipping, construction, cement, water desalination, construction materials and financial services. Kuwait has a well developed banking system. The National Bank of Kuwait is the largest bank in the country and one of the largest in the Arab world. Other prominent financial institutions based in Kuwait include the Gulf Bank of Kuwait and Burgan Bank, which is named after the largest oilfield in the country.
The government is keen on decreasing Kuwait's dependence on oil to fuel its economy by transforming it into a regional trading and tourism hub. The planned US$77 billion Madinat al-Hareer (City of Silk) is the largest real estate development project in the Middle East. The Central Bank issues Kuwait's currency, the Kuwaiti dinar. As of May 2012, the dinar is the highest-valued currency unit in the world.
The influence of Islamic and Arab Culture on its architecture, music, attire, cuisine and lifestyle is prominent as well. The most distinctive characteristic of local Kuwaiti culture are diwaniya, which involve large reception rooms used for male social gatherings attended mostly by family members and close friends.
Seafood has been the mainstay of the Kuwaiti diet for centuries. The Arabs in the Persian Gulf region played a crucial role in the spice trade between India and Europe, and spices have remained an important ingredient of Kuwaiti cuisine. Traditional Kuwaiti cuisine includes machboos diyay, machboos laham, and maraq diyay laham, which borrow heavily from South Asian cuisine and Arab cuisine. Imawash is another popular dish. As in other Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Kuwait takes part in the tradition of Qarqe'an during the month of Ramadan. According to Forbes magazine, 74.2% of Kuwait's total population have an unhealthy weight.
Before the discovery of oil, pearling formed a crucial part of Kuwait's economy. Pearl fishery, known as ghaus, suffered decline after the advent of Japanese pearl farming. However, Kuwait's pearl industry laid the foundation of its rich maritime history. Dhows, large wooden ships made from teak wood imported from India, became an indistinct part of Kuwait's maritime fleet and dhow building is still practiced in this Persian Gulf state.
Kuwait's architecture is largely inspired by Islamic architecture. The most prominent landmark in country, the Kuwait Towers, were designed by Swedish architect Sune Lindström and are a unique blend of traditional minaret and modern architectural designs. The National Assembly of Kuwait, another famous landmark building, was designed by the famous Danish architect Jørn Utzon and completed in 1982.
Sawt is the most prominent style of Kuwaiti music and is performed by oud (plucked lute) and mirwas (a drum), with a violin later supplementing the arrangement. The Bedouins are known for an instrument called the rubabah, while the use of oud, tanbarah (string instrument) and habban (bagpipe) are also widespread.
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