As Kuwait celebrates its glorious 62nd anniversary of National Day and the historic 32nd anniversary of Liberation, The Times Kuwait extends its congratulations and felicitations to His Highness the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, to His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, to the Government of the State of Kuwait, and to the honorable people of Kuwait, wishing everyone peace, prosperity and progress.
THE TIMES KUWAIT REPORT
Celebratory occasions, especially ones as emotionally charged as National Day that commemorates the country’s independence, and Liberation Day which celebrates the country’s rebirth after seven months of occupation and oppression by Iraqi forces, may not be the right occasion to voice doubt and dismay over how political developments have evolved over the decades since the country gained its independence in 1961.
But then, there is also probably no occasion more timely than now, to look back with pride on what we have achieved so far, and to look forward with hope for a sustainable and prosperous future. It is also an apt opportunity to reflect on how far we still need to go before achieving the benefits that democracy, democratic traditions, and inclusiveness brings to the country and its people.
For more than six decades, before attaining independence in 1961, Kuwait was a protectorate of the British Empire, in line with an agreement inked in 1899 between then ruler Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah and the British government in India, aimed at warding off potential threats to Kuwait’s independence from the Ottoman Empire. In 1961, following discussions between Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, and the British Chief Political Resident in the Arabian Gulf, Sir George Middleton, it was mutually agreed to abrogate the protectorate status and grant Kuwait full independence on 19 July 1961.
Following independence, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Sabah became Kuwait’s first Amir and under his sagacious leadership supported by the flow of new-found oil wealth, the country developed on economic, social and political domains. Shortly after independence, Kuwait formally applied for membership in the United Nations, and on 14 May, 1963 the United Nations General Assembly welcomed Kuwait as the global organization’s 111th Member State.
A few months after independence, Sheikh Abdullah also formed a popular committee to draft a modern constitution for the newly independent nation. A draft constitution was compiled and discussed over several months before eventually being approved on 11 November, 1961. The constitution outlined Kuwait’s system of governance as a ‘fully independent Arab State with a democratic style of government, where sovereignty rests with the nation, which is the source of power’.
A year later, under the guidance of the new constitution, the first parliamentary elections were held in Kuwait, making the country the first Arab nation in the region to have a constitution, an elected parliament, and a democratic style of governance. In the wake of its new found global recognition following its membership of the United Nations, Kuwait became an important player in the international comity, leveraging its growing surplus oil wealth to become a major foreign-aid donor. The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, which was founded in 1961, became an active supporter and enabler of development projects throughout the Arab world and beyond.
From the early 1960s to well into the 70s, Kuwait was the most developed country and the largest oil exporter in the region. It was among the first countries in the world to diversify its new found oil wealth by establishing the world’s first sovereign wealth fund through the Kuwait Investment Authority.
On the cultural front, theater, art and literature flourished, and the media in Kuwait was described as one of the most free and outspoken in the area, expressing and propounding ideas and ideologies that were until then taboo in much of the region. Liberal ideas and Western attitudes and lifestyle were conspicuously visible in society during this period.
It is to the credit of Kuwait’s first Amir, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah and to the founding fathers of the nation, who crafted a versatile constitution for the country that Kuwait continues to remain an independent, democratic country committed to the principles enshrined in its constitution. In recognition and honor of the contributions of Sheikh Abdullah and his role in establishing the country’s independence, and in laying the foundation for a strong democratic and constitutional nation, it was decided in 1965 to shift the celebration of Independence Day from 19 July to 25 February, the day of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem’s accession in 1950.
The discovery of oil in 1939 and its first export in 1947 changed the fortunes and future of Kuwait. From the 1960s well into the 1980s, Kuwait experienced a period of oil-driven prosperity that allowed the country to fashion a ‘cradle-to-grave’ welfare state that catered to every need of citizens, pampering them with lavish subsidies and offering free childcare, education, health, housing and job security to them. The immense oil wealth also propelled major public-work programs that transformed the landscape of the country and allowed Kuwaitis to enjoy a modern and unprecedented standard of living.
The new infrastructure construction projects and developments also attracted a large influx of foreign workers mainly from Egypt, India and Palestine.
During this period, Kuwait was recognized in the region and beyond as an epitome of progress and development and a pioneer in the cultural renaissance of the Arab world. The democratic and liberal environment in the country also allowed Kuwait to become an ideal crucible for testing out various political thoughts and ideologies that were prevailing in the region then, including pan-Arabism and socialism. This much is history.
In Kuwait we have all the accouterments of a functioning democracy — a magnificent and iconic parliament building, a quadrennial election exercise that in recent decades have been held with almost clock-work precision every four years; we have universal suffrage among citizens, even though women gained this right relatively late and are still testing the political waters. Kuwait also enjoys a generally unfettered media space, with an entire street frontage lined with newspaper offices that jostle with each other to report on the latest political, economic, social and cultural events unfolding in the country.
We also have a vociferous and contentious parliament that constantly monitors, evaluates and censors the government over its functioning or for not functioning. Lawmakers are also constitutionally allowed to challenge the executive through grilling and no-confidence motions that could bring down the government. The parliamentary proceedings are broadcast live, and, as in most democracies, the parliamentary debates in Kuwait often evoke passionate and captious discussions in the public sphere; though in recent years these live broadcasts have conveyed more entertainment than information to the public.