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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Kuwait : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Kuwait : Overview, 2007, available at: [accessed 5 September 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Kuwait borders Iraq to the North and West, Saudi Arabia to the South and the Arabian/Persian Gulf to the East.


Main languages: Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hindi, English

Main religions: Sunni and Ithna'ashari Islam (Muslims compose 85% of the population. 70% of nationals are Sunni and 30% are Shii (US State Department,; Christianity and Hinduism among migrant workers

Main minority groups: Ithna'ashari Shi'is 612,000, Bidoun 120,000 (5% of total population, this was higher – almost three fold – before the 1990 invasion), Palestinians 25,000 (this went down 16 fold after the Iraqi invasion of 1990)

The total population stands at 2.8 million, 1.8 are non-nationals ( Non-nationals compose almost 80% of the work force and consist of Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Sri Lankans and others.


Kuwait emerged as an autonomous sheikhdom in the mid-eighteenth century, when a sheikh from the Al Sabah family was chosen as ruler by the six leading notable families. In 1899 Britain acquired control of Kuwait's external affairs and defence matters until its independence in 1961. Iraq claimed Kuwait both then and during its 1990 invasion.


Kuwait has been ruled by the Al Sabah family since the mid-eighteenth century. Its 1962 constitution allows for a National Assembly, albeit one that can legally be dissolved by the Emir. In 1986 it was dissolved and the constitution suspended. It was revived after the Iraqi occupation of 1990-91.The National Assembly (50 seats, elected by popular vote for 4 year terms) finally passed legislation in May 2005 allowing women the vote and the right to run for office – although an amendment to the legislation requires women to conduct themselves in accordance with the Sharia in their political activities. This had been resisted by the National Assembly for years, in the face of strong protests. Women now serve at the municipal council, Ministerial, Cabinet and Ambassadorial levels. Political parties are illegal, but clear and openly operating blocs within the National Assembly include those representing Shiis, Islamists and secular liberals. A Salafi Islamist attempt to establish a political party, Hizb Al-Ummah, was quashed. Under civil and parliamentary pressure, the government was forced to accept a rearrangement of the electoral districts, reducing them from 25 to 5 electoral districts, which was thought drastically to reduce opportunities for political corruption.

Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

Seven Christian churches – Anglican, Coptic, Evangelical and Roman Catholic and Armenian, Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox – operate openly in Kuwait. The first four also officially run churches, and can bring in some staff and clergy. Other religious communities are denied official places of worship but they worship in private. Organised religious education of religions other than Islam and proselytising and conversion of Muslims is prohibited but that of non-Muslims to Islam encouraged. Citizenship has been denied non-Muslims since 1980.

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