Jamal Saidi / Reuters A protester waves the Kuwaiti national flag in Kuwait City, November 30, 2012.

Kuwait: A Super-Affluent Society

Stretching over some 6,000 square miles of the hard, gravelly and waterless northeast corner of the Persian Gulf, Kuwait has been thrust from oblivion into sudden prominence by her hidden wealth and the creative genius of Western enterprise and technology. In less than two decades, since the first shipment of oil left her shores, material riches have changed the face of her barren territory, and Kuwait is now experiencing a host of complex social, political and economic problems which are shaking her essentially tribal and primitive structure. The purpose of this essay is to discuss the nature of the challenge presented by this transitional phase and to examine Kuwait's response to it. But in order to appreciate the magnitude of the task that confronts this city-state, the reader must first know something of the static society that used to exist and of the main events that have so radically transformed it into what it is now.

Present-day Kuwait was reportedly founded in the early eighteenth century by tribesmen driven from their home in inner Arabia by warring kinsmen. The tiny fishing village they founded offered few and meagre resources; but its very austerity was perhaps its main asset. For the rigorous physical environment rendered the individual tough, imaginative, enterprising and excellent in team-work. These qualities have, for over two centuries, distinguished the Kuwaitis as the Gulf's most successful businessmen, sailors and sea-farers.

Broadly speaking, Kuwait was comprised of three main groups: a ruling family, an oligarchy of merchants and a working class-mostly fishermen, pearl-divers and shipbuilders. Of these groups, the second has been by far the most powerful and dynamic social force. It was the merchants' enterprising spirit that provided the ruling family with their meagre income in the shape of customs duties and provided employment for the rest of the community. A triple social structure still exists in Kuwait, although, as we shall see, new circumstances are altering it.

This small community needed peace first and foremost to enable it to

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