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Meeting the growing demand for a

The
comprehensive, modern account of
“A new Gulf is rising – one that will be radically the changes sweeping the leading oil-
different to the one we know. This book is about

The New Gulf


exporting countries of the Middle East,

New
the economic, social and political transformation The New Gulf – How Modern Arabia is

Gulf
Changing the World for Good is a timely
sweeping the six Gulf states of the GCC . . . now explanation of how the region was made
the fastest growing part of the world economy.” and the potential political and economic
impact it will have on the world in the
years to come.
This absorbing new publication provides a concise The author, Edmund O’Sullivan,
but complete description of the Arabian countries delves into Arabia’s past to narrate a
remarkable story. It encompasses Adam
benefiting most from the affluence sweeping the and Eve, Alexander the Great and
Edmund O’Sullivan is Chairman of
MEED Events, the conference division of
the UK’s MEED Group.
Middle East in the 21st century. The New Gulf –
How Modern Arabia is Changing the World for How Modern Arabia the Persian Empire, Rome at its peak
and Byzantium in decline, the coming
Born in the UK, O’Sullivan went to
school in Slough and, after graduating Good focuses on the economic, social and political is Changing the of Islam, the rise of the Seljuks and
Ottomans, and the arrival of Portuguese,
in monetary economics from the LSE,
worked at Reuters Economic Services
and as a government economist. He
transformation sweeping the Gulf states: Bahrain,
Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
World for Good Dutch and British traders. Finally, he
describes the extraordinary dramas of the
20th century, including the discovery of
joined MEED in 1979 as a specialist It provides a timely explanation of how the region oil that made the Gulf one of the world’s
writer on energy and finance. In
was developed and the significant impact it will most vital regions.
subsequent years he travelled extensively
across Saudi Arabia and the Gulf,
reporting on developments during the
have on the world in the years to come. Edmund O’Sullivan Turning to the present, O’Sullivan
forecasts the six Arabian countries that
second oil boom and the subsequent oil make up the Gulf Cooperation Council
bust of 1986 and its aftermath. (GCC) are set to become the sixth largest
O’Sullivan continued his travels across economy in the world by 2030. He
the region and reported on economic and predicts the civilization emerging in the
political developments in every Middle New Gulf will help trans­form the wider

Edmund O’Sullivan
East country – including from Baghdad region for the better, with profound and
during the Iran-Iraq war. inspiring consequences.
In 1996, O’Sullivan was appointed O’Sullivan challenges the common
publisher, a position he held for seven assertion that the Gulf is a permanent
years. He was named Business Publisher
source of political instability and that
of the Year for 2003 by the PPA.
O’Sullivan is now based in Dubai. He conflict in the region is inevitable.
chairs conferences and writes ‘The Last He also foresees its growing affluence
Word’, a weekly opinion piece about as having a profound, positive and
economic and political developments in irreversible impact on some of the biggest
the region. issues both the region and the world face
O’Sullivan is married with one son. in the 21st century.
He has a passion for music and was a Putting years of experience and
member of the internationally renowned specialized knowledge into a single
London Welsh Male Voice Choir before volume, The New Gulf – How Modern
moving to the Gulf. Arabia is Changing the World for Good is
ISBN 978-1-86063-229-7
essential reading for residents in – or
visitors to – the Gulf.
Motivate Publishing

ISBN: 978 1 86063 229 7


The
New
Gulf
How Modern Arabia
is Changing the
World for Good
The
New
Gulf
How Modern Arabia
is Changing the
World for Good

Edmund O’Sullivan
Published by
Motivate Publishing CONTENTS
Dubai: PO Box 2331, Dubai, UAE
Tel: (+971 4) 282 4060; fax: (+971 4) 282 7898
e-mail: books@motivate.ae www.booksarabia.com Preface 1
Office 508, Building No 8, Dubai Media City, Dubai, UAE
Tel: (+971 4) 390 3550; fax: (+971 4) 390 4845 1 Rise of the New Gulf Civilization 17
2 In the Kingdom 108
Abu Dhabi: PO Box 43072, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Tel: (+971 2) 677 2005; fax: (+971 2) 677 0124 3 Kuwait and the Feminine Mystique 162
4 Making a New Eden in Bahrain 186
London: Acre House, 11/15 William Road, London NW1 3ER
e-mail: motivateuk@motivate.ae
5 Getting Rich Quickly in Qatar 206
6 The Last Arabian Sultanate 224
Directors: Obaid Humaid Al Tayer and
7 The UAE and the New Gulf 250
Ian Fairservice

Consultant Editor: David Steele Chronology of Arabia 318
Production Editor: Albert Harvey Pincis
Deputy Editor: Moushumi Nandy Index 335
Assistant Editor: Zelda Pinto
Senior Art Director: Fredrick Dittlau
Senior Designer: Cithadel Francisco
Designer: Charlie Banalo

General Manager Books: Jonathan Griffiths

© Motivate Publishing and Edmund O’Sullivan 2008

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form
(including photocopying or storing in any medium by electronic means) without the written
permission of the copyright holders. Applications for the copyright holders’ written permission
to reproduce any part of this publication should be addressed to the publishers. In accordance
with the International Copyright Act 1956 and the UAE Federal Law No. (7) of 2002,
Concerning Copyrights and Neighboring Rights, any person acting in contravention of this
will be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

ISBN: 978 1 86063 229 7

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data. A catalogue record for this


book is available from the British Library.

Printed by Rashid Printing Press, Ajman, UAE


For Justin Gibbons
and Charlotte Thompson
C H A PTE R 1

RISE OF THE NEW GULF


CIVILIZATION

This story starts with an ending.


It was the afternoon of Wednesday November 3, 2004. Leaders of
the Islamic World had gathered to honour Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al
Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emir­
ates (UAE) since it was founded; Sheikh Zayed’s death had been an­
nounced the day before. With the shadows lengthening, they assembled
in Abu Dhabi’s main mosque before a wooden coffin. It contained
Sheikh Zayed’s body, wrapped in the flag of the federation he created.
The mourners were greeted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nah­
yan, pilot son of the late ruler, who’d been named Abu Dhabi’s new
crown prince.
General Musharraf, president of Pakistan, was among the first to ar­
rive, followed by President Karzai. (The next day, Karzai was elected
president of Afghanistan after the first democratic polls in its history.)
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president of Algeria, pressed into the front row
on Karzai’s right. Yemen’s President Saleh, another former general
and a 1960s republican rebel, was followed by King Abdullah of Jor­
dan, the half-British son of the late King Hussein. Sultan Qaboos,
Ruler of Oman since 1970, joined the throng. Hurrying in last was
Bashar Al Asad, an opthalmologist who succeeded his father Hafiz as
Syrian president in 2000.
Sheikh Sayed Ali Al Hashemi, Sheikh Zayed’s religious affairs advi­
ser, led the prayers. Standing with him before the coffin was the ruler
of Ra’s al-Khaimah, Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qassimi, the old­
est of the seven rulers of the UAE. Sheikh Saqr’s dark, full beard be­
lied the fact that he was then 87 and had been ruler since 1948. He
was now the final survivor of the UAE’s founders. Facing the coffin
was Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the mastermind be­
hind Dubai’s drive to become a global city, who was to succeed his
brother, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, as vice-President
and prime minister of the UAE and the emirate’s ruler 14 months later.
Qatar’s crown prince, Sheikh Tameem bin Hamad Al Thani, repre­
senting what will soon be the richest country on earth, stood close by.
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Abdullah bin Abdelaziz Al Saud, crown prince
18  THE NEW GULF RISE OF THE NEW GULF CIVILIZATION  19

since 1982, was at the centre of the front row. (The following August,
he became the Saudi king and ruler of the world’s biggest oil exporter

PAKISTAN
and guardian of Islam’s holiest sites.) To Prince Abdullah’s left was

ARABIAN SEA
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who succeeded his father in
AFGHANISTAN
1999 and reintroduced parliament and elections. On Abdullah’s right
was the principal mourner, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who
had succeeded his venerated father as ruler of Abu Dhabi. That eve­
ning, he was to be elected president of the UAE by the six other UAE
rulers. His inheritance is the world’s fifth greatest petroleum reserve
TURKMENISTAN

and more than US$500 billion worth of financial assets.


Next to King Hamad, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al

OMAN
Sabah represented the ailing emir Sheikh Jaber Al Sabah, who was too
ill to attend and was to die in January 2006. Sheikh Sabah succeeded.

UAE
Beside the future emir was Ghazi Al Yawar, then interim president of
IRAN

Iraq. Before Al Yawar, the presidency had been held for almost 24
BAHRAIN
QATAR
years by Saddam Hussein who that day sat in a Baghdad prison.
CASPIAN

Al Hashemi began the Islamic prayers for the dead. Allahu Akbar, he

YEMEN
SEA

intoned four times. Assalaamu alaikum. The mourners repeated the


words. The funeral service was over. Sheikh Zayed’s family carried the
KUWAIT

coffin to a waiting vehicle. The funeral cortege slipped through silent


SAUDI ARABIA

streets to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. On its east side, a grave had been
prepared and Sheikh Zayed’s body was tenderly laid in its final resting
place. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed threw off his headdress and step­
IRAQ

ped into the grave to arrange his father’s body as Islam required. Su­
dan’s President Omar Al Bashir and Iyad Allawi, then interim prime
minister of Iraq, joined the group around the grave. The tie-less Shiite
Iranian vice-president, Dr Mohammed Reza Aref, and Lebanon’s Chris­
SYRIA
TURKEY

tian President, Emile Lahoud, circulated discreetly.


RED
SEA
LEBANON

Every government in the Islamic World was represented. That night,


DAN emissaries from everywhere else arrived to salute Sheikh Khalifa. But
JOR
the funeral was principally an Arabian occasion.
CYPRUS

When Sheikh Zayed was born, the peninsula was unrecognizably


different. It had no oil, the people were poor and Britain controlled
most of the Middle East. Arabia’s map had radically changed during
SUDAN

This map is not an authority


on international boundaries.

Sheikh Zayed’s long life. But Arabians of all ages knew the austere fu­
EGYPT
MEDITERRANEAN

neral rites of an honoured leader. So, with the sun setting swiftly, an
era ended.
It was witnessed by men controlling the destiny of almost 400 mil­
SEA

lion people, a region stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian
Sea, the future of Islam and most of the world’s oil reserves. At that
GULF

moment, more than 6,000 miles to the east, America was waking to
THE

LIBYA

the news that President George W Bush, conqueror of the Taliban and
Saddam Hussein, had defeated Senator John Kerry in the race for the
White House. Where would Arabia go now?
IN THE KINGDOM  109

SAUDI ARABIA
CH APTE R 2

IN THE KINGDOM
CASPIAN
SEA
Riyadh is a sprawling city of more than five million people, occupying
1,500 km2 of desert plateau at Arabia’s heart. Lying 1,550 m above the
sea, Saudi Arabia’s capital scorches in summer and chills in the heat-
less winter sun. Its centre lies in the Wadi Hanifa, the dry bed of a river
that once drained into the Gulf at the foot of the Qatar Peninsula. The
water disappeared from the surface, but seeps invisibly eastwards in IRAN
aquifers below the wadi floor. It fed springs and wells that sustained a IRAQ
faithful band that, less than a century ago, conquered the peninsula
and made a kingdom.
This is the homeland of the Al Saud and their people. Ar Riyadh KUWAIT
means ‘The Garden’ or ‘The Meadow’, a tribute to its original role as Doumat al-Jandal
an oasis haven. In winter, its air is fresh and clear. Even in high sum-
Tabuk
mer, the surrounding desert is a cool retreat at night. Only 16 km away Jubail
are the cliffs of the Tuwaiq Escarpment, a limestone ridge that rises Dhuba Hail
Dammam/ Ras Tanura
hundreds of metres from the desert floor and runs in a north–south Wajh Buraidah Dhahran/Al Khobar BAHRAIN
line west of the city. To the east, a broad band of sand desert separates Unaizah QATAR
Diriyah
the Saudi capital from the great palm city of Hofuf. N Hofuf

H
Riyadh is the locomotive of a nation looking to the future with grow- Medina a UAE
Yanbu j d Riyadh

e j
ing optimism. Capital of the largest economy in the Middle East and
Rabigh

a
seat of government of the region’s most powerful state, the city is being KINGDOM

z
transformed by the new wave of prosperity caused by high oil prices and Jeddah OF SAUDI ARABIA
Mecca
mounting world energy demand. The figures are not precise, but E m p t y
Taif
Riyadh’s population could be growing by as much as 10 per cent a year. Q u a r t e r
The heart of modern Riyadh is the Olaya district, once the retreat for RED Baha
OMAN
King Faisal who ruled the kingdom from 1964 to 1975. The road run- SEA Abha
ning north out of Riyadh towards the airport passes through Olaya, now Khamis Mushait
Najran
the site of the two most striking icons of contemporary Saudi Arabia: Jizan
the Faisaliah Tower, built by the children of King Faisal, and the
Kingdom Centre, where Prince Alwaleed bin Talal labours into the
night on Arabia’s greatest private fortune. YEMEN
Saudi Arabia is embracing the future, but its history still echoes. GULF OF ADEN
From this region, 250 years before, fighters and missionaries carried
the purified message of Islam across the peninsula. The kingdom cre-
ated in 1932 defined the limits to this mission of faith. Within its bor-
ders, peace came while the region and the world was wracked by war This map is not an authority
and revolution. on international boundaries.
110  THE NEW GULF IN THE KINGDOM  111

Saudi Arabia could not insulate itself from the new tide of radical Saudi Arabia’s Washington envoy, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, to a
Islam that swept the region and seized power in Iran in February 1979. meeting with Colin Powell, then chairman of the US joint chiefs of
Its first eruption inside the kingdom came in November 1979 when staff; Paul Wolfowitz, then under-secretary in the defence department;
militants captured the Great Mosque of Mecca (Makkah) at the start and Richard Haas, a member of staff in the national security council.
of Islam’s 15th century. After a two-week siege in which more than Prince Bandar was shown aerial photographs of Iraqi divisions moving
100 died, the Holy Haram was regained but the comfort of half a cen- through Ku­wait and heading for Saudi Arabia. Saddam Hussein,
tury’s domestic calm was lost. The rebel leaders, tried and sentenced, Prince Bandar was told, planned to strike at the kingdom.
were executed according to Sharia law. The flash of the headsman’s On August 5, Cheney travelled to the kingdom for talks. The follow-
blade marked the beginning of a new time of rage at an intrusive world ing day, he called President Bush to report that Saudi Arabia was pre-
hostile to God’s final word. pared to accept US troops. The conventional wisdom had been turned
That month, Shiite rioting in Qatif in the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern upside down. Saudi Arabia would allow foreign armies into the land of
Province, which was repeated in 1980, drew inspiration, it seemed, from Islam’s holiest cities and join a war against another Arab country.
the new Islamic Republic of Iran. It was fuelled by divisions between Criticisms of the decision to join the US-led coalition were voiced in
rich and poor, the rulers and the rest, and the centre and the periphery mosques and universities. Petitions signed by Saudis who’d previously
in Saudi Arabia’s first age of prosperity. As oil income fell in the 1980s, been impeccably loyal to the regime were circulated. The regime’s ene-
discontent smouldered. mies connected its dependence on America with the difficulties of a
For Saudi Arabia, the occupation of Kuwait in August 1990 exposed barely-solvent government. One critic stood out from the rest.
the tension at the centre of the kingdom’s policies since King Abdelaziz A head taller than his contemporaries and an Afghan War veteran,
Al Saud, founder of Saudi Arabia, met US President Roose­velt in the Osama bin Laden had something none of his comrades could match: a
Suez Canal in 1945. Guardian of the holiest shrines of Islam and lead- fortune that made him independent of the Saudi state. In September
er of an Arab state that had never been conquered or controlled by a 1990, Bin Laden met Saudi officials and presented a plan to raise an
foreign power, the king sealed a relationship that seems to be based on international force of Islamic militants to defend the kingdom. The of-
the attraction of opposites. fer was rejected.
The glue in the deal that has satisfied both sides for more than six After a tense autumn and winter, Iraq was tossed out of Kuwait in a
decades is implicit but real. Saudi Arabia provided the oil in the amount six-week bombing campaign followed by a 100-hour land war. For
and at the price needed by America and the West. The US guaranteed some, Riyadh had become a collaborator with Islam’s enemies. Seeds
the status quo and promised it would end the conflict between the Arab that were to produce violent fruit were sown in soil made fertile by the
World and an Israeli state America helped to deliver, finance and arm. emotions provoked by the Kuwait War.
Since 1945, Riyadh and Washington have marched in step on prac- Bin Laden fled the kingdom in 1991. He initially found haven in
tically every issue. And, in the partnership’s finest hour, the US and Sudan and then in Afghanistan when it was about to fall to the Taliban
Saudi Arabia collaborated to finance, train and supply thousands of (the students), a Sunni Muslim movement backed by Pakistan, a Saudi
fighters that eventually forced the Soviet Union to withdraw from Af­ ally. Bin Laden’s unbending attitude, charisma and wealth, combined
ghan­istan in 1989. with the assistance of a sympathetic regime, produced the atrocity of
But America’s inability to impose the comprehensive settle­ment of 9/11. It subsequently emerged that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi
the Palestine tragedy that Saudi Arabia, since King Abdelaziz, demand­ Arabian. The FBI complained it was not getting full cooperation from
ed was a festering sore. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was as un- the Saudi authorities. Saudi Arabia’s antagonists were in full cry. The
welcome in Riyadh as it was in Washington. The differences about evacuation of dozens of Saudi business people and royals after 9/11
Palestine complicated the Saudi response. was the final public act of sympathy towards a regime that was to be
As the Iraqis dug in, it became clear that the US wanted complete systematically denigrated in the US. In Crawford in May 2002, Crown
Iraqi withdrawal, not talk. The Saudi leadership debated Riyadh’s op- Prince Abdullah and his delegation were cordially greeted by President
tions. King Fahd favoured supporting President Bush. His condition Bush but the wheels of war were turning.
was that America should make a commitment that, this time, it would In July 2002, Laurent Murawiec, an American neo-conservative, told
use its powers to bring peace and justice to Palestine. a meeting of the Defense Policy Board, a Pentagon think-tank, that the
On August 3, 1990, US Defence Secretary, Dick Cheney, invited kingdom was the kernel of evil. Saudi Arabia, nevertheless, shrugged
KUWAIT AND THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE  163

CH APTE R 3

KUWAIT AND THE


FEMININE MYSTIQUE

In blazing heat on June 29, 2006, Kuwaiti women set their country on
an accelerated path to the future in elections for the region’s oldest
parliamentary body. In wealthier parts of Kuwait City, women voters
hurried from their chauffeured cars to polling stations. Elsewhere, they
braved temperatures of more than 40 degrees and walked to vote en-
veloped in all-encompassing, black abayas.
The ballots were counted at the end of the day. They showed candi-
dates supporting reform of Kuwait’s political system had won more
than half of the 50 seats open to election. No one will know whether
women, allowed to vote for the first time in 2006, made the difference.
What is certain however is that a political revolution had taken place.
All Kuwaiti adults, with the exception of members of the armed forces,
had been given the right for the first time to have a say in elections to
the National Assembly. Most of Kuwait’s estimated 340,000 electorate
exercised it.
Although parliamentary life in Kuwait is almost 70 years old, 2006
was the moment when Kuwaiti democracy finally came of age. A legis-
lative assembly had been formed in 1938. The government, dismayed
by its radicalism, closed it after six months. A generation later, the
1962 independence constitution established the National Assembly
that the government closed twice before its latest manifestation was
given life after the end of the Iraqi occupation. In the summer of 2005,
the assembly passed an important milestone. It had operated without
indefinite suspension for the longest period since it first opened. Ex­
tending voting to all adult Kuwaitis including women was the logical
way forward.
Previous attempts had been made to grant women votes. The first
proposal went to the assembly in 1971. At least five further attempts
followed and failed. The final push started in 1999 when the govern-
ment temporarily dissolved the assembly. New elections to the body
were called within the constitutionally prescribed 60 days. In this time,
the emir, Sheikh Jaber Al Sabah, issued 63 decrees including one that
conferred full political rights on women. But votes for women still re-
quired the assembly’s approval. A bill finally clearing the way for the
164  THE NEW GULF KUWAIT AND THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE  165

amendment to be voted on was put to the assembly in April 2005. 1981, during the assembly’s first suspension, the government issued a
Kuwait does not allow political parties, but assembly members have decree that divided the 10 constituencies into 25, with each one elect-
formed groups. The largest in 2005 was the Islamist bloc comprising ing two members. There are substantial differences in the number of
14 Sunnis and Shiites. Votes for women triggered their reflexive opposi- voters in each one and some of them are combinations of geographi-
tion. To get the amendment through, the government added a sentence cally disjointed neighbourhoods.
stating that a woman voting and running for political office “should do When the assembly was reconvened the following year, it had to rat-
so while fully adhering to the dictates of the Islamic Sharia”. ify or reject laws decreed during its suspension. Since its members had
Not everyone was appeased. After a heated debate, a vote was taken been elected under the very system it was meant to scrutinize, there
on May 16, 2005. The assembly divided by 35 to 23, with one absten- was no surprise that it voted to approve all the laws passed in this peri-
tion, in favour of the amendment. The votes of ministers sitting in the od, including the new constituency arrangements. The result is that
assembly were needed. Immediately afterwards, Dr Massouma Al Mu­ some constituencies in 2006 had less than half the voters in others.
barak, a US-educated political-science teacher at Kuwait University, Critics allege votes are effectively bought in the smaller constituen-
was appointed minister of planning and administrative development cies and the system is designed to appease sectional and tribal interests.
and became the first woman to sit in the assembly as ministers are en- The issue was the trigger for the June 2006 elections. The majority of
titled to do. elected members pressed for constituencies to be reduced to five of
A last-ditch attempt was made to block Dr Al Mubarak’s member- equal size, with each returning 10 members on a first-past-the-post ba-
ship. Opponents said she was not a registered voter – a breach of one sis, a measure that would radically increase the representation of low-
of the qualifications to be an assembly member. The objection was income Kuwaitis.
brush­ed aside. The irony was that Dr Al Mubarak had taught many of The government countered by proposing a reduction to 10. The re-
the MPs who had tried to keep her out. The government immediately formers said this would not change anything. The government then
set another precedent. The assembly had rejected a bill in April that changed course and ministers decided to support a resolution moved
would have allowed women to vote or stand in Kuwaiti municipal elec- on May 16, 2006, by tribal and conservative assembly members, to
tions in June 2005, but two women were appointed to sit on the mu- refer its 10-constituency proposal to the constitutional court. This
nicipal council the week after polling. move was interpreted as a delaying tactic that reflected the fact that
Kuwait has the Gulf’s oldest constitutionally constrained govern- ministers themselves were divided about the issue. Some said that the
ment. Yet, it has no circulation of power or legal political parties. The emir, Sheikh Sabah, who’d succeeded in January that year, preferred a
number of voters is not much more than 10 per cent of the people that single-constituency system.
live in the country. Kuwaiti nationality and the right to vote is restrict- With emotions rising, 28 of the 50 elected assembly members walk­
ed to those who can trace their ancestry to people who were native to ed out when voting began on a referral motion. The session was aban-
Kuwait before 1921 and a small number who have been naturalized for doned and the opposition returned to the assembly to demand the
at least 20 years. cabi­net’s resignation. Demonstrations in support of the reformers were
A further demographic anomaly is the existence of 70,000 people held outside the assembly building.
called Bidoun (Arabic for without). They are Arabs who have been res- Two days later, three elected members used their constitutional
ident in Kuwait for generations who either do not have, or fail to pro- right to call for the questioning in parliament of the prime minister,
duce, proof of nationality. The government says most entered Kuwait Sheikh Nasser Al Mohammed Al Sabah, about the constituency issue.
following the discovery of oil and it has, since 2000, deprived them of This threatened to bring the row out into the open and might have led
rights in an attempt to force them to disclose their original nationality. to a no-confidence motion, an unprecedented development that would
By the summer of 2006, 13,000 had been issued identity cards that al- have inevitably discredited more than the premier and his cabinet. On
low them to work and obtain education and healthcare. The status of May 21, Sheikh Sabah nipped the issue in the bud, dissolved the as-
the rest is still unclear. sembly and called for elections a year earlier than constitutionally re-
Kuwait’s assembly has no power to initiate legislation and can only quired. The reformers’ subsequent victory has set the scene for a new
veto and revise proposed laws drafted by the government. The elector- era in Kuwaiti political life. The consensus is that change in the con-
al system overstates some votes and understates others. For its first as- stituency arrangements will be only part of their agenda.
sembly elections in 1963, Kuwait had a 10-constituency system. In Kuwait was the first GCC state to establish a directly elected parlia-