Mubarak al-Sabah: Founder of Modern Kuwait, 1896-1915

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In this political life of Mubarak Al-Sabah, ruler of Kuwait from 1896 to 1915, B. J. Slot examines his career in unsurpassed detail, analysing its significance and presenting a balanced assessment of the man and his achievement. In doing so, he draws on a much wider range of sources than any previous biography.

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In this political life of Mubarak Al-Sabah, ruler of Kuwait from 1896 to 1915, B. J. Slot examines his career in unsurpassed detail, analysing its significance and presenting a balanced assessment of the man and his achievement. In doing so, he draws on a much wider range of sources than any previous biography.

Mubarak Al-Sabah took control of his tiny state in 1896, just as the Ottoman Empire seemed on the point of swallowing it up. He then played for time, kindling a hesitant British interest in Kuwait by deftly exploiting the rivalry among European powers interested in Kuwait’s strategic possibilities as the terminus of a railway – conceived as the vital link in rapid communication between Europe and India.

By the Agreement of 1899, concluded secretly, Mubarak contrived to make Kuwait a British protectorate, but in the vaguest and most deniable way. The Agreement’s very secrecy afforded him wide freedom of action, especially in tribal conflicts in the Arabian hinterland. He could be confident that well-timed overtures to Turks, Russians, Germans, French or even Persians would serve to keep Britain engaged in Kuwait’s protection.

Only with the outbreak of the First World War did Britain dare publicly to declare Kuwait a protectorate, by which time its autonomy had become an accepted fact. Mubarak’s reign was thus pivotal in establishing Kuwait as a separate and sovereign entity under international law.

 

Author

  • Dr Ben J Slot is a Dutch historian specialising in the early modern history of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. His work has focused on the origins and early history of Kuwait and the Gulf States