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Kuwait Map and Description

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The area that became Kuwait was controlled by the main regional powers in the Gulf, principally various dynasties based in Mesopotamia and Persia. The most influential of these were the Safavids, a Persian dynasty which moved into the region around 1500 and established a commercial empire along the eastern seaboard of the Arabian peninsula. Later on in the 16th century, the northeastern corner of the Arabian peninsula became part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. It remained so until the latter part of the 19th century when the Al-Sabah family steered the country into a semi-autonomous position.

However, fearing that the Turks would try to reassert their control, the Kuwaitis made an agreement with the British allowing for British control of Kuwaiti foreign affairs in exchange for military protection. This danger passed with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, although Kuwait remained a British protectorate until 1961, when the country was granted full independence.

Since then, Kuwait has remained a puzzling but intriguing mix of Western liberalism and strict Islam. The capital, Kuwait City, is a bustling metropolis full of the high-rise buildings and luxury hotels that you would expect. Yet the country is also host to elaborate and opulent mosques and palaces, and its religion is an integral part of its affairs.

This juxtaposition perhaps stems from Kuwait's marrying of Islamism with oil-wealth, mostly traded with Western superpowers. Upon independence, Sheikh Abdullah assumed Head of State, adopting the title of Emir. The large revenues from oil production allowed independent Kuwait to build up its economic infrastructure and institute educational and social welfare programs. In the early 1990s, the Emir established a National Assembly (Majlis), which placed limits on the power of the ruling family. Since then, the National Assembly has clashed several times with the Emir and the Cabinet (which is still dominated by the al-Sabah family) over misuse of state funds and poor management of the all-important oil industry. Underlying these disputes is the growing impression that the aging and increasingly infirm al-Sabah clan is no longer capable of running the country. However, they continue to dominate Kuwaiti policies.

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