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Spotlight on the history of Kuwait

kuwaitHistorical studies indicate a flourishing civilization in Kuwait, and recent archaeological excavations have revealed an ancient settlement on the mainland as well as on the island of Failaka. One site clearly shows that the island was an important port of call for commerce with India as far back as 5,000 years ago, while the Kuwaiti mainland became famous in AD 636 as a scene of great Islamic battles.

Till the beginning of the 17th century, the region was known as Kazma. Historical manuscripts and data show that Kuwait City was founded in the year 1713 AD ,when a group of families and tribes began to arrive here as migrants from Najd in central Saudi Arabia, insightfully realizing the importance and advantages of this location.

Arab Syrian traveler Murtadha bin Elwan, who visited Kuwait in 1709 while returning from a pilgrimage to Makkah, described Kuwait’s stability and prosperity. His writings about the state are considered the first written mention of Kuwait. Famous manuscripts in British archives show that the rule was in the hands of the Al-Sabah family from 1716, which indicates that the society enjoyed stability long before the famous Danish explorer Niebuhr discovered Kuwait, which was called “Kout” (fort) in 1756. He described it as a most pleasing place - small and inhabited by hardworking fisher folk. In July 1961, the state of Kuwait became fully independent by virtue of an exchange of notes with the United Kingdom.

Throughout its history, the relationship between the Kuwaiti people and their rulers had a special trait described by local and foreign historians as completely distinct and different from surrounding entities.

The Early Rulers of Kuwait

- Sabah I bin Jaber (1718 -1762) was described by Kuwaiti historian Saif Al- Shamlan as a leader who “used to consult with the people of Kuwait about important matters and would not take a decision without their advice”.

- The second ruler Abdullah bin Sabah bin Jaber (1762-1813) was described by historian Sheikh Yousef bin Essa Al-Qenai as a decisive, just and good politician who would not take a decision before consulting with his folks and would not disagree with what they considered to be right. Sir Howard Jones (1793) described him as “a dignified man with a strong personality, held in great esteem by the townspeople. He was like their father, not a ruler.”

- The third ruler Jaber bin Abdullah Al- Sabah (1813-1859), a rational and tolerant man, was nicknamed Jaber Al-Aish on account of his charity to the needy. He frequently gave the poor bread and rice, and helped the Ottoman Empire free Basra even when he could not afford to do so. He won the love of all Kuwaitis. n The fourth ruler Sabah bin Jaber (1859- 1866) was a wise man. During his reign, trade and revenues increased significantly, and his extensive knowledge of international affairs greatly impressed Colonel Pelly, who visited Kuwait in 1865.

- The fifth ruler Abdullah bin Sabah (1866-1892) was a humble man loved by his people. Official British records show Kuwait’s commercial and military fleet had grown during the past 100 years, and in 1868 - the year of famine - he exerted great effort to shelter victims.

- During sixth ruler Mohammed bin Sabah’s (1892-1896) short period of rule, Kuwait’s independence and prosperity increased.

- The seventh ruler Mubarak Al-Sabah (1896-1915) was known as Mubarak the Great, and is considered the founder of modern Kuwait. Sheikh Mubarak signed the Anglo-Kuwaiti Treaty with Great Britain on Nov 23, 1899. During the reign of Sheikh Mubarak, Kuwait saw its first hospital and school open. He also built palaces, some of which remain close to our hearts today and are part of modern Kuwait - the Red Palace in Jahra in 1898 and Seif Palace in 1906.

- The eighth ruler Jaber Al-Mubarak (1915-1917) was a generous benefactor of Kuwait. Trade flourished greatly during his reign, as Kuwaiti goods reached Syria, Najd, Hejaz and Turkey.

-  The ninth ruler Salem Al-Mubarak (1917-1921) was aware of the importance of Kuwait’s foreign trade, establishing the first formal road network as well as funding the building of the third city wall.

- The years that had passed had seen Kuwait forge permanent bonds through trade and diplomacy and had established Kuwait’s credentials as a sheikhdom of high international regard. Earlier in 1938, oil had been found and extraction had begun in what became known as one of the world’s largest oilfields. It was the ability of the tenth ruler Ahmad Al-Jaber (1920-1950) to spend the income from these fields wisely that shaped Kuwait since that time. Sheikh Ahmad also oversaw the establishment of Kuwait’s first national library and the first literary club, and instructed the first issuance of Kuwaiti postage stamps.

- The eleventh ruler Abdullah Al-Salem (1950-1965) ensured that Kuwait was ready in 1961 to break free from Great Britain and once again claim its independence. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah became the first Amir of independent Kuwait. The Amir and the Al-Sabah family were at the forefront of discussions in formulating Kuwait’s constitution - an important signal of its belief in democracy.

The early years of independence saw an acceleration of change. At the international level, Kuwait joined the United Nations, OPEC and the Arab League. Locally, Sheikh Abdullah oversaw the promulgation of Kuwait’s constitution and this was followed by successful democratic elections for Kuwait’s first parliament and the first Cabinet.

By Mahmoud Zakaria

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This article was published on 21/05/2015