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State structure

Kuwait is an emirate based on succession and was under the leadership of Sheikh Jabr al-Ahmed al Sabah from December 1977 to January 2006. After his death on 15 January 2006, he was succeeded by the Crown Prince Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Salem al-Sabah. The 14 emir of Kuwait remained in office for only 10 days. After internal deliberations, Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah was sworn in as 15 emir on 29 January in the Kuwaiti Parliament. In early February 2006 Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammed al-Sabah was appointed Prime Minister. Important positions in the cabinet, such as Prime Minister and Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Interior and Oil Affairs are held by family members of the emir under the emir's responsibility. Sometimes elected members of parliament are appointed as ministers in the cabinet.

The emir rules by decree through his Council of Ministers. Laws passed by decree are subject to ratification by the National Assembly, the Majlis Al-Umma. However, the emir has an effective right of veto, which allows him to reject the blocking of his decrees by the Assembly. The power struggle between the government and the National Assembly, which has been going on for several years now, albeit in a weakened form, has had a major delaying effect on the decision-making process and on the economic restructuring initiated by the government.

In the legal field, Kuwait has a confusing and unclear regulatory environment, often based on old historical precedents. While the constitution guarantees a certain degree of judicial independence, the emir appoints all judges and legislative changes are only allowed after government approval.


There is a complex political relationship between the ruling elite and the traditional trading families based on an unwritten social contract. In practice, the powerful Kuwaiti families accept the Al-Sabah family as primus inter pares, as long as they can continue their trading activities.

Political parties are not allowed in Kuwait, but there are opposition movements in the form of various umbrella organisations. The Kuwaiti Democratic Forum and the National Democratic Rally represent the liberal currents within Kuwaiti society. The Sunni Islamic groups are affiliated with the moderate Islamic Constitutional Movement or the more fundamentalist Islamic Popular Group (Salafeen). The Shi'ite Islamic groups belong to the National Islamic Coalition or function autonomously.

The Islamic groups are generally more active and better organised than their secular counterparts. Unlike the liberal movements, the Islamic groups resist foreign influences. They therefore periodically put pressure on the Kuwaiti government to Islamise the judicial and political system and prevent westernisation. For several years, the Kuwaiti political arena has been dominated by the debate on economic restructuring, the admission of foreign companies to the exploitation of the northern oil fields, among other things, and the implications of this for the social system. Irrespective of their religious background, a large majority of better-educated, urbanised groups support social reforms, while the more conservative, tribal families in the non-urban areas are opposed to them. Traditional and religious affinities are blurring, intertwining secular and religious interests and leading to new social relations.

The current political situation is described in the history section.


Kuwait's economy is small but relatively open compared to other countries in the region. For several years, the government's economic policy has focused on a restructuring programme that promotes the diversification of the economy, privatisation and the stimulation of non-public investment. Despite these efforts, the growth of the private sector is lagging behind expectations. The economy is dominated by the oil industry.

Income from oil production amounts to over 80% of the government budget. In recent years, GNP has grown strongly because of the significant increase in oil prices. To benefit even more from this, the government is developing the northern oil fields with the support of foreign oil companies. Due to the strong growth of the economy, the government aims to initiate several large projects. In 2010, it decided to launch a five-year, $130 billion programme to make the economy less dependent on oil.

Some more key figures on the economy in 2017. Economic growth was -3.3%. GDP per capita was $65,800. 1.1% of the labour force is unemployed.


Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated June 2024
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