One of the few remaining old fishermen's houses in Kuwait's old center. Photo by author

One of the few remaining old fishermen’s houses in Kuwait’s old center. Photo by the author

Since ancient times, Kuwait has been a hub on the sea route between Mesopotamia and the Levant to the west, and the Horn of Africa and South Asia to the south and east. The ancient Greeks established a colony on the island of Failaka in the 4th Century BC and the Parthians built a harbor in the 1st Century BC. After the Parthians, Kuwait became part of the Persian Sassanid empire, and with the rise of Islam the Emirate was incorporated into the successive caliphates (from the late 7th Century AD onwards).

Kuwait for a long time belonged to the Ottoman province of Basra, although the ruling Al Sabah family enjoyed considerable autonomy. In the second half of the 19th Century, the Ottoman Empire belatedly undertook the conquest of the east shore of the Arabian Peninsula (south of Kuwait), to protect itself against the encroaching British Empire. The Sheikh of Kuwait initially supported the Ottomans in subduing his rivals from British-supported Bahrain, but as the Ottoman Empire became dysfunctional, the Kuwaitis established an agreement with Great Britain (as had other Gulf states before it).

The English protected Kuwaiti autonomy from the start of the WWI through the establishment of Iraq, until independence in 1961. They have remained staunch supporters of the Al Sabah since then. The English presence, romanticized in the Dickson House (a small museum in the old house of Britain’s political agent in Kuwait) was however less lasting in Kuwait than in the other Gulf states.