Kuwait: Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy Page: 4 of 26
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Kuwait: Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy
Government and Political Reform1
Kuwait's optimism after the 2003 fall of its nemesis, Saddam Hussein, soured after the January
15, 2006, death of Amir (ruler) Jabir Ahmad al-Jabir Al Sabah. From then until 2013, Kuwait
underwent repeated political crises that produced economic stagnation.
Under Kuwait's 1962 constitution, an Amir (Arabic word for prince, but which is also taken as
"ruler") is the head of state and ruler of Kuwait. He is Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces,
appoints all judges, and can suspend the National Assembly. The Amir appoints a Prime Minister
as head of government, who in turn appoints a cabinet. The Prime Minister has always been a
member of the Sabah family, and until 2003 the Prime Minister and Crown Prince/heir apparent
posts were held by a single person. Some in the Sabah family argue that the Prime Minister and
Crown Prince positions should again be combined because the National Assembly is not
constitutionally able to question the Crown Prince. In typical Kuwaiti cabinets, most of the key
ministries (defense, foreign policy, and finance) are led by Sabah family members.
At the time of Amir Jabir's death, his designated successor, Shaykh Sa'ad bin Abdullah Al Sabah,
was infirm, and a brief succession dispute among rival branches of the ruling Al Sabah family
ensued. It was resolved with then Prime Minister Shaykh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir Al Sabah, the
younger brother of the late Amir, succeeding him on January 29, 2006. The succession dispute
was unprecedented in Kuwait and the broader Gulf region for the first involvement of an elected
legislature in replacing a leader. The resolution of the succession in 2006 produced a suspension
of the tacit agreement to alternate succession between the Jabir and Salem branches of the family.
Amir Sabah appointed two members of his Jabir branch as Crown Prince/heir apparent and as
prime minister (Shaykh Nawwaf al-Ahmad Al Sabah and Shaykh Nasser al Muhammad al-
Ahmad Al Sabah respectively). The current Prime Minister is Shaykh Jabir al-Mubarak Al Sabah,
who took office in December 4, 2011.
Kuwait's Amir can be as involved in or detached from day-to-day governance as he chooses, and
Amir Sabah tends to be more directly involved in governance than was his predecessor. At about
86 years old, he remains actively engaged in governing. Still, there reportedly is growing
discussion within Al Sabah circles about the potential succession.
Elected National Assembly
The National Assembly, established by Kuwait's November 1962 constitution, is the longest-
serving all-elected body among the Gulf monarchies. Fifty seats are elected, and up to 15
members of the cabinet serve in the Assembly ex-officio. The government has expanded the
electorate gradually: in the 1990s, the government extended the vote to sons of naturalized
Kuwaitis and Kuwaitis naturalized for at least 20 (as opposed to 30) years. Kuwait women
obtained suffrage rights when the National Assembly passed a government bill to that effect in
May 2005. In recent elections, about 400,000 Kuwaitis have been eligible to vote.
Kuwait's National Assembly has more scope of authority than any legislative or consultative
body in the Persian Gulf It can draft its own legislation, rather than merely act on legislation
1 Much of this section is from the State Department's country report on human rights practices for 2014.
Congressional Research Service
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Katzman, Kenneth. Kuwait: Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, report, December 1, 2016; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc958685/m1/4/: accessed October 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.