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Opposition groups


Polity: Traditional monarchy and limited parliament
Political Rights: 4
Civil Liberties: 5
Status: Partly Free
Economy: Capitalist-statist
Population: 2,300,000
PPP: $15,799
Life Expectancy: 76
Religious Groups: Muslim (85 percent) [Sunni 70 percent, Shi’a 30 percent], other (15 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Kuwaiti (45 percent), other Arab (35 percent), South Asian (9 percent), Iranian (4 percent), other (7 percent)
Capital: Kuwait City
Ten Year Ratings Timeline (Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Status): 

Brief Overview

There is a growing consensus, particularly among liberals, that the main reason the government has not been able to further political and economic progress is the emirate's aging leadership. The 76-year-old emir, who returned in January 2002 from a four-month stay in London for medical treatment, is totally incapacitated. Age and illness have also sapped the strength of the 73-year-old crown prince and prime minister, Saad Abdullah al-Sabah, who reportedly cannot recognize his own ministers at times. De facto authority is presently exercised by the 72-year-old deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, but infighting within the family is said to have led to the resignation of the cabinet in January 2001. Since there is no set mechanism of succession in Kuwait and Sabah has banned newspapers from discussing the issue, a veil of uncertainty clouds the country's political future. In early 2002, businessmen reportedly formed a committee to press members of the royal family to openly address the issue.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Kuwaitis have only a limited ability to change their government. The emir appoints the prime minister (who, by tradition, is also the crown prince) and cabinet. The elected, 50-member National Assembly can veto the emir's appointment as crown prince, but must then select one of three alternates selected by the emir. It can also impeach, by majority vote, members of the cabinet. While the emir can dissolve parliament, he must call elections within 60 days and cannot dissolve it twice for the same reason. Political parties are illegal, but the government allows de facto parliamentary blocs and civic groups to be politically active. Legislative elections are relatively free and fair, but suffrage is restricted to males who are 21 years of age or older, do not serve in the armed forces, and were not naturalized within the last twenty years-14.8 percent of the population.

The emir appoints all judges, and the renewal of many judicial appointments is subject to government approval. Sunni and Shi'a Muslims have their own Sharia (Islamic law) courts for family law cases. Trials are open and relatively fair, and defendants have the right to appeal verdicts and to be represented by legal counsel, which the courts provide in criminal cases. Suspects may be detained for four days before being brought before an investigating official; arbitrary arrests and detentions are rare. Prison conditions, according to the U.S. State Department, "meet or exceed" international standards.

Freedom of expression is restricted. The broadcast media are government owned, but access to foreign satellite stations is legal and widespread. A variety of independent newspapers exist. Although several laws empower the government to jail or fine journalists for a variety of offenses, indictments have become increasingly rare and convictions virtually nonexistent. Although media outlets openly criticize the government, even on matters of security and foreign policy, direct criticism of the emir is uncommon because of self-censorship. Some Web sites regarded as "immoral" are blocked by Internet service providers.

Freedom of assembly and association is limited. Public gatherings require government approval, and the law requires nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to obtain licenses from the government. In practice, however, unlicensed associations are free to organize informally. Informal social gatherings, called diwaniyas, provide a forum for political discussion. Unions are legal, though only one is permitted per industry or profession, and private sector workers have the right to strike. Roughly 100,000 foreigners who work as domestic servants are not protected under labor laws. Licensed NGOs and labor unions are influenced by government subsidies, which provide up to 90 percent of expenses for the latter.

Islam is the state religion. Both Sunnis and Shi'as worship freely, though the latter complain of insufficient government funding for mosques and religious training. The Christian community of around 150,000 is allowed to practice without interference. Hindus, Sikhs, Baha'is, and Buddhists can worship privately, but may not construct buildings for public worship. Some 80,000 bidoon, or stateless people, are considered illegal residents and denied full citizenship rights. A program initiated in 1999 allows them to apply for citizenship if they can prove that they or their forebears have resided in the country since 1965.