In less than 12 hrs, i will be flying back to Dubai. I spent Eid holidays with my parents who have been living in Kuwait for the last 3 decades. It was a great stay, I will post more details on my visit soon.
“Whats Kuwait like?” I get that question a lot. “I love it!” is always my answer.
But I listen to what other people have to say about Kuwait and the thing I hear most is related to Kuwaitis, their Alfa-GCC national attitude and their over-exaggerated sense of style (both men and women). The way I see it, and as far as Kuwaitis are concerned, once you break the big thick wall that surrounds them, they are wonderful people to know and to deal with. Plus they are very very good business people.
But why do I love and respect this nation?... Here is a bit more on Kuwait – something up-close and personal.
In 1961, Kuwait was granted sovereignty and became one of the first GCC nations to run its own business thru the ruling Al Sabah Family. The combination of wise leadership and the discovery of oil resulted in a country that became a landmark destination for the Levant intellect, especially fleeing Palestinian and Lebanese teachers, doctors and engineers from war-torn areas.
Kuwaitis saw the potential and value these experienced Arab expats carry and syndicated more specialists, especially from Egypt and Syria. Soon enough and during the 70s, Kuwait was exporting and sharing its experience in education, judicial systems and medical services to its young GCC nations – including the UAE.
Before 1990, Kuwait was spearheading the GCC on many different levels. Commercially, Kuwaiti companies were known to be some of the most professional and almost every major MNC had a representative office in Kuwait. Socially and culturally, Kuwait was the home of many great artists, musicians and scholars – Kuwaiti media production was the best in the GCC, if not the best after Egyptian.
Kuwaitis were also good philanthropists. Backing up the arab and muslim causes and housing many NGOs, like The Kuwaiti Development Fund, a Kuwait based NGO that looked after many social and economic development projects all over the middle east and the rest of the 3rd world, especially in Africa.
Kuwait looked after its people – medication and schooling is free – it was only until 2 years back, expats started paying for their medical checkups (a flat fee of KD 1 ($3.5)) for all general checkups and it includes medication. And although Kuwait operates the world’s largest water desalination plant, energy (water, electricity and fuel) is very cheap – the water/electricity bill for a 2br apartment never exceeds $10 to $13 a month.
On the internal political front, there has always been a 2 way dialogue between Al Sabah and the Kuwaiti people. The first exercise of democracy (The Nation’s Assembly) in the GCC was in Kuwait.
August 2nd, 1990 (Iraqi invasion) is marked by observers as the beginning of almost a decade of recession. After an 8-month brutal occupation, Kuwait was suffering from a traumatized community (Kuwaitis were never exposed to the brutality of war, occupation and terror A la Saddam). The issue of Bedoun (people with no nationality) also struck hard after the invasion.
The financial bill Kuwait had to pay to get the Iraqis out of Kuwaiti was a hefty one. the Kuwaiti civil society was demanding a more active role in the political process and it was divided between an overwhelming Islamic current against a liberal, democratic minority.
And on top of all that, neighboring Saddam was holding about 700 Kuwaiti POWs as hostages and he occasionally stirred up the area by randomly mobilizing a few militarily pieces along the Kuwaiti borders from time to time.
During that time, few sectors were performing well in Kuwait. Telecommunications was one of them. Kuwait was the first Arab nation to offer Internet to the public. The mobile telecommunication sector has always been open and deregulated and Kuwaiti based Mobile Telecommunications Company (MTC-Vodafone) is one of theeee major telco players in the region.
By 2003 – things were getting better. No more Saddam upnorth and Kuwait didn’t have to pay heavy security fees to the Americans anymore. Starving Iraqi consumers and businessmen flooded the Kuwaiti markets. Shipping orders from Iraq operating companies were pouring on Kuwaiti service providers, especially shipping, logistics and transportation: (PWC Logistics, a $2.6 billion Kuwaiti-based logistics company that is considered one of the largest in the world.)
Soaring oil prices helped create a public surplus for 2 consecutive years and the tight-grip policy on public budgets is there no more, pushing Government expenditure to the limit and leaving local businesses singing with joyful profits.
Socio-politically, reforms were taking place with passing the Woman-Vote law. The National Assembly is slowly moving toward a moderate majority, and the 13 years old POW file was closed when -sadly- most of the POW remains were found in Iraqi mass graves after the US lead invasion. The closure of the POW file got the country out of a morning that lasted for over a decade.
Less than 2 years ago, Kuwait rolled out a new and well defined regulation that allows foreigners to own property on a renewable 99 years lease, that evoked a healthy and steady construction sector growth.
Also, a few months back, Kuwait announced that all expats with +30 years residency are eligible for Kuwaiti citizenship. Applicants with professional qualification like doctors, engineers get and expedited application process (my Egyptian dentist got it).
And if you carry a western passport, traveling into Kuwait is much easier than before. Like the UAE, you get your visa from the airport. Though, unless you have a pre-issued VISA, non GCC Arabs will find it difficult to enter Kuwait.
These last few years witnessed many Kuwaiti businesses aggressively moving to the regional and international market place. Specifically companies like Al Shayaa (Starbucks, River Island, Debinham’s ..) Group Seven/Zaman (Zara, Mango, Massimo Dutti, Virgin) and Americana (Pizza Hut, Hardee’s, KFC, Chilies’ ..etc). Kuwaiti companies like Habchi & Chalhoub and Villa Moda helped men and women look and smell better by bringing A-list brands like Dior, Gucci, Prada and LVMH.
Retail business isn't the only thing Kuwaitis were good at. There are major companies like Al Bahar, the regional representative of Caterpillar (CAT) construction machinery that’s building houses, towers, malls, airports ..etc all over the Middle East. Also, if it wasn't for companies like KIPCO (Showtime), western entertainment would still take a few years to make it your silver screen.
There is still a great deal of issues that needs to be addressed in Kuwait. However, everyone is anticipating a major Kuwaiti comeback and they are waiting for things to cool down in neighboring Iraq.
I hope this gives a better idea on Kuwait, because as for myself, Kuwait will always be on my Radar..