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The government of Kuwait consists of a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, whereby the Emir is the head of government. The State of Kuwait (Dawlat al Kuwayt) has been ruled by the al-Sabah dynasty since approximately 1752. The constitution, approved and promulgated on November 11, 1962, calls for direct elections to a unicameral parliament (the National Assembly). Despite the regular holding of relatively free and fair elections to the National Assembly, Kuwait is not a democracy by the usual definition of the term because the prime minister is not responsible to parliament. Nonetheless, Kuwaitis enjoy more civil and political freedoms than the citizens of most non-democratic states. Kuwait's parliament is the strongest of those found in the monarchies of the Gulf. Kuwaitis take some pride in the rarity of political violence in their country, especially given the frequently high levels of violence found in neighboring states and elsewhere in the Arab world.


Executive branch

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah 29 January 2006
Prime Minister Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah 7 February 2006

The Emir

The Emir's powers are defined by the 1962 constitution. These powers include appointing the prime minister, dissolving parliament, promulgating laws, referring bills back to the parliament for reconsideration, and appointing military officers. According to the Kuwaiti Constitution, the Emir's person is immune and inviolable. Therefore, criticism of him and his actions are not permitted in the national media.

Upon the death of Emir, the Crown Prince succeeds. The new Emir then selects a crown prince, though in practice he can do this only after the members of the ruling al-Sabah family arrive at a consensus on who should be appointed. The crown prince must be approved by an absolute majority of the members of the National Assembly. If the new crown prince fails to win approval from the Assembly, the emir submits the names of three eligible members of the family to the Assembly, and the Assembly selects one to be the crown prince. The emir and the crown prince must be direct descendants, in the patrilineal line, of Mubarak the Great. Successions were smooth in 1965 and in 1978. The succession of 2006 caused a major political crisis.

Kuwait experienced an unprecedented era of prosperity under Emir Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah, who died in 1977 after ruling for 12 years, and under his successor, Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, who died in January 2006. The country was transformed into a highly developed welfare state with a free market economy. During the seven month occupation by Iraq, the Emir, the government, and many Kuwaitis took refuge in Saudi Arabia or other nations. The Emir and the government managed Kuwaiti affairs from Saudi Arabia, London, and elsewhere during the period, relying on substantial Kuwaiti investments available outside Kuwait for funding and war-related expenses. His return after the liberation in February 1991 was relatively smooth.

Current events in early 2006

On January 24, 2006 the parliament voted to remove the ailing Emir Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah from power. Such a vote is unusual in the Arab countries. He was Emir only briefly, after the death of Emir Jaber al Ahmed al Sabah on January 15, 2006.

The cabinet nominated the previous Prime Minister, Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir Al Sabah, to be elected Emir. He won the majority of the votes in the parliament and then became the 15th Emir of the state. He then appointed the minister of Emiri Diwan Naser Almohammad to be prime minister.

The Government

The constitution gives the Emir the authority to appoint the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister in turn appoints the ministers who forms the government, conditional on the approval of the Emir. A new government does not require a positive vote of confidence from the National Assembly. In practice some Cabinet portfolios - Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Defense - are reserved for members of the ruling family, though the constitution does not require it. The Prime Minister, as a matter of political custom, is also a member of the ruling family.

The post of the Prime Minister has historically been reserved in practice to the Crown Prince. This has changed, due in part to popular demands, on July 13, 2003 by appointing Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah to Prime Minister while Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salim Al-Sabah was holding the position of Crown Prince.

At least one member of the government must be a deputy who won election to the National Assembly. The 1992 cabinet included six elected members of the National Assembly, the most of any cabinet in Kuwaiti history. The current cabinet has two elected members of the Assembly.

All members of the cabinet, elected or not, also hold seats in the National Assembly. The size of the cabinet is limited to one-third the number of elected deputies of the National Assembly - that is, sixteen.

The Prime Minister is currently the Emir's nephew, Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah.


Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah formed a 16-member government on 25 March 2007 with six new ministers. This is the 23rd Kuwaiti cabinet since independence in 1961.

As of March, 2008, the current Cabinet Ministers are:

  • Prime minister: Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah
  • First Deputy Premier, Defense and Interior Minister: Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah
  • Deputy Premier, Foreign Minister: Sheikh Mohammed Al-Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah
  • Deputy Premier, State Minister for Cabinet Affairs: Faisal Mohammad Al-Hajji Boukhadour
  • Finance Minister: Mustafa al-Jassim al-Shimali
  • Communications Minister, and Minister of Religious Endowment and Islamic Affairs: Abdallah Al-Saud Al-Muhaylbi
  • Minister for Social Affairs and Labor, and Justice Minister: Jamal Al-Ahmad Al-Shihab
  • Information Minister: Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah
  • Minister for Amiri Diwan Affairs: Nasir Al-Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah
  • Housing Minister, and State Minister of National Assembly Affairs: Abdulwahid Mahmoud Al-Awadhi
  • Oil Minister, and Minister of Electricity and Water: Mohammad Abdullah Hadi Al-Ulaym
  • Commerce and Industry Minister: Falah Fahad Al-Hajeri
  • Health Minister: Abdallah al-Abd al-Rahman Tawil
  • Public Works Minister, and State Minister for Municipality Affairs: Mousa Hussain Abdullah Al-Sarraf
  • Education Minister: Nouriya Sebeeh Barrak Al-Sebeeh

Legislative branch

The unicameral National Assembly (or Majlis al-Umma) can have up to 65 deputies. Fifty deputies are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. Members of the cabinet also sit in the parliament as deputies. Because cabinet members need not be elected members of parliament, this means that the Prime Minister can in effect appoint up to 15 unelected members of the National Assembly. The constitution limits the size of the cabinet to 16, and at least one member of the cabinet must be an elected deputy.

Although the Emir maintains the final word on most government policies, the National Assembly plays a real role in decision making, with powers to initiate legislation, question government ministers, and express lack of confidence in individual ministers. For example, in May 1999, the Emir issued several landmark decrees dealing with women's suffrage, economic liberalization, and nationality. The National Assembly later rejected all of these decrees as a matter of principle and then reintroduced most of them as parliamentary legislation.

The Cabinet ministers, together with the PM, are excluded from voting only on one occasion: when MPs - after questioning an individual minister - vote on a motion of confidence. MPs frequently exercise their Constitutional right to question Cabinet members. Parliament's sessions and interrogation of Cabinet ministers are aired on Kuwaiti TV uncensored. MPs also have the right (so far never exercised) to question the Premier, and then table a motion of non-cooperation with the government, in which case the Emir must either dissolve Parliament or replace the Cabinet.

Political parties and elections

The constitution calls for new elections to be held at a maximum interval of four years (or earlier if the Amir dissolves the parliament). Kuwait has universal adult suffrage for Kuwaiti citizens who are 21 or older, with the exception of (1) those who currently serve in the armed or police forces, (2) citizens who have been naturalized for fewer than 20 years.[1] The franchise was expanded to include women on May 16, 2005. In 1996 naturalized citizens were given the right to vote, but only after they had been naturalized for at least 30 years.

Most residents of Kuwait are not citizens and consequently do not have the right to vote. Kuwait's citizenship law, in theory, gives citizenship to those who descend, in the male line, from residents of Kuwait in 1920.

It can be difficult to summarize Kuwaiti election results because most candidates run as independents. In the 2003 elections the liberal/left Minbar al-Dimuqrati group lost both the seats it held in the 1999 parliament. The Salafis doubled their representation, to 6 seats. The Muslim Brotherhood, or Islamic Constitutional Movement (Hadas) lost several seats, winning only 2 in the 2003 elections. The Popular Bloc lost 4 of its 10 seats.

Once elected, many deputies form voting blocs in the National Assembly. Following the 2003 elections, 16 deputies joined the Islamist bloc; 6 joined the Popular Bloc (a populist group that includes both Bedouin and Shi'a deputies); 4 joined the liberal bloc.

Kuwaiti law does not recognize political parties. However, several major political groupings function as parties in elections, and there are blocs in the parliament. Several political groups act as de facto parties: the Muslim Brotherhood, two Salafist groups, a liberal/leftist group, a populist group, and so forth.

e • d  Summary of the 29 June 2006 National Assembly of Kuwait election results
Islamic Bloc (Sunni) 21
Popular Bloc 9
National Action Bloc (liberals) 7
Independents (mostly pro-government) 13
Total (turnout 80 %) 50
Source: Kuwait Politics Database

Judicial branch

The Judiciary in Kuwait is an independent body. In each administrative district of Kuwait there is a Summary Court (also called Courts of First Instance which are composed of one or more divisions, like a Traffic Court or an Administrative Court); then there is Court of Appeals; Cassation Court and lastly - a Constitutional Court which interprets the constitution and deals with disputes related to the constitutionality of laws. Kuwait has a civil law system; Islamic law is significant in personal matters. Kuwait has not accepted compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction.

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