The present State of Kuwait was founded less than three hundred years ago when the ancestors of today’s leading Kuwaiti families arrived in boats to establish a new homeland. These settlers are said to have inhabited central Arabia before moving to the Gulf littoral to take up a new life as pearl-divers and fishermen. As their community grew Kuwait became a busy pearling and trading centre. Besides supplying the tribes of the Arabian interior, deals were made with European merchant-adventurers and some prosperity was achieved as cargoes of ‘Bengal Soosies, Coffee, Pepper…and Cotton Yarn’ were transferred from ships to camel caravans bound for the Levant and Europe. In the late nineteenth century the Ottomans, previously content with nominal suzerainty over Kuwait, tried to establish direct control. Russian and German interest also developed when Kuwait was suggested as a terminus for a proposed railway linking Europe and the Gulf.
The British, viewing the Gulf as their special preserve, deplored these trends and formed an alliance with Kuwait’s rule, Mubarak Al-Sabah, who had seized power in 1896. In 1899 an Agreement was signed by which the Shaikh exchanged promises of non-alienation of territory and the exclusion of other powers for the ‘good offices’ of Britain. Five years later the first British Political Agent arrived to promote British interests in the area.
Ottoman support for Germany in World War I prompted a declaration of Kuwait’s independence under British protection. Subsequent threats from expansionist neighbours and the discovery in 1938 of local oil reserves sustained the pact until 1961 when the Ruler and the British acknowledged that it had become obsolete and announced the State’s attainment of full sovereignty.
In compiling this work the editor has selected documents focusing on Kuwait itself – on the events that occurred there and on the lives of the people in the region. Non-Kuwaiti matters such as the advancement of Britain’s economic and strategic interests take second place.
Apart from issues standing quite clear of the mainstream, material is presented chronologically. The subjects treated fall into the following main categories: