Al-Salim Al-Sabah, Abdullah (Kuwait)

Reference work entry


Abdullah al-Salim al-Sabah ruled from 1950–65, succeeding his cousin Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah. During Abdullah’s reign, Kuwait achieved full independence from Britain and was transformed into a wealthy, oil-producing shaikhdom. He also oversaw the introduction of a new constitution and the inauguration of the first Parliament.

Early Life

Born in 1895, he was from the Salim (rather than the Jaber) line of the al-Sabah dynasty which has ruled Kuwait since the 1750s.

Career Peak

In domestic affairs, Abdullah made two significant policy decisions following his accession. The first was to distribute the revenues from the expanding oil industry sector more widely among the population as a whole. He inaugurated a programme of public works and built up comprehensive and subsidized social services, particularly education and health care. The second was to broaden political participation, albeit on a limited basis, in the form of a National Assembly. Under a new constitution drafted in 1962, this Assembly of 50 members was elected and inaugurated in early 1963.

In foreign relations, Abdullah oversaw Kuwait’s transformation into a formally independent state in June 1961. He signed new letters of friendship with representatives of the UK Government, terminating earlier agreements dating from 1899 under which Kuwait had become a British protectorate. Shaikh Abdullah then took the title of Amir. Shortly afterwards, he called for British military assistance as the new state was threatened by an Iraqi claim to sovereignty over its territory. Iraq agreed to recognize Kuwait’s independence in 1963, although the issue continued to simmer (culminating in the events of 1990–91).

Abdullah died on 24 Nov. 1965 and was succeeded by his brother, Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah, whose reign, until 1977 proved to be largely a continuation and consolidation of Abdullah’s policies.

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