Shaikh Abdullah Al-Salim Al-Sabah, 1895-1965
Alnajdi, Abdullah Ahmad
Date: 9 July 2014
University of Exeter
PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies
This is the first monograph-length academic study of Shaikh Abdullah al-Salim al-Sabah, Ruler of Kuwait between 1950 and 1965. It is based on British and US government records, interviews, and a wide range of secondary sources in Arabic and English. It traces the development of modern Kuwait from the mid-eighteenth century under the ...
This is the first monograph-length academic study of Shaikh Abdullah al-Salim al-Sabah, Ruler of Kuwait between 1950 and 1965. It is based on British and US government records, interviews, and a wide range of secondary sources in Arabic and English. It traces the development of modern Kuwait from the mid-eighteenth century under the al-Sabah up to the accession of Shaikh Abdullah in 1950. It considers the succession question in Kuwait before 1950, and Abdullah’s lengthy period as a candidate for succession, which enabled him to develop and expand his ideas for his country before becoming ruler. The study also examines the way that Abdullah transformed Kuwait into the first rentier state in Eastern Arabia and analyses his impact on the development of Kuwait’s administrative system. The influence of Arab nationalism and Britain on his decision-making and his relationship with Arab nationalists and the British Government, as well as his subtle handling of Kuwait’s border dispute with Iraq, are also investigated in detail. This study focuses on the six major challenges that Abdullah overcame in order to transform Kuwait into a rentier state: (1) his political victories and defeats prior to his reign that shaped his political ideas, (2) his twenty-nine-year struggle to become ruler of Kuwait, (3) how he changed the direction of Kuwait’s development process by moving away from the politics of his predecessors, (4) his troubled relationship with the al-Sabah in Kuwait’s government administration, (5) how he dealt with the pressure exerted by Arab nationalists and the British Government on his political decisions, and (6) how he handled Kuwait’s troubled relationship with Iraq. This thesis argues that Shaikh Abdullah al-Salim al-Sabah was an exceptional leader not only among the rulers of Kuwait (1752 to present), but also among the rulers of the Gulf Arab states in general. He was the first ruler to introduce a rentier state system that provided extensive welfare services for all of his country’s citizens, securing his family’s position in government in the process. He led Kuwait to independence in 1961 and oversaw the drafting of its constitution in 1962. He was a skilled politician and diplomat, who negotiated a delicate balance between the competing interests of the Kuwaitis, the ruling family (the al-Sabah), the Arab nationalists, the British Government, and the Iraqi government. As a result, he has enjoyed a popularity within Kuwait second only to the founder of modern Kuwait, Shaikh Mubarak al-Sabah (r.1896-1915).
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