Tuesday, June 19, 2007


My P sent me the link to this post by Fonzy today and asked me if today, June 19, really is Kuwait’s “independence day” (which it is). Being a historian, I of course wrote a long comment on that post about the history of the day and what it all really means. I was just about to write another equally long comment but I decided to stop hijacking his post and write one of my own, combining my comment over there as well as what I was just about to write, while giving Fonzy recognition for inspiring me to write this post (since I would have totally overlooked the fact that today was June 19). So here it is.

Although 19 June 1961 is usually classified as the day that Kuwait obtained its “independence”, technically what really happened that day was the termination of the Anglo-Kuwaiti Agreement of 1899 that had established British protection over Kuwait. According to the agreement (see image below), the Sheikh of Kuwait (i.e. Mubarak) pledged that he and his successors would not receive the agent or representative of any power or government in Kuwait, nor cede any portion of its territory to the government or subject of any other power, without the previous consent of the British Government. In exchange, the British offered Mubarak the loose assurance that they would protect him and Kuwait from external interference. It was not until 1915 that Kuwait was made an actual protectorate of the British Empire (meaning that the latter was now contractually bound to protect Kuwait). Although the termination of the agreement in 1961 meant that Kuwait was now free to make its own foreign policy decisions, a new “friendship” arrangement remained through which the British promised to continue offering Kuwait military assistance, something which was needed only days later due to renewed Iraqi claims over Kuwait. (This was the Cliffs Notes version of the story.)

Although it is most commonly used to describe the events of 19 June 1961, the term “independence” can be misleading because it implies that Kuwait was colonized or more formally incorporated into the British Empire than it really was. Rather, Kuwait was a protectorate, and what it had was an agreement with the British that held each party accountable for certain responsibilities towards the other. After the agreement was terminated in 1961, Kuwait was still dependent on Britain for military protection (as it had been for the past sixty years), and it wasn’t until 1975 that the Kuwaiti government took 100% control over the Kuwait Oil Company (which was originally owned as an Anglo-American joint venture between British Petroleum and Gulf Oil, now Chevron, with Kuwait only receiving 13% of the revenues). As such, Kuwait’s relationship with Britain both before and after 1961 was not as clearly defined as the use of the term “independence” implies.

But despite these details and ambiguities, in essence yes, 19 June 1961 was the day that the state of Kuwait obtained its “independence” from the British through the termination of the agreement. It was declared an “Emirate” and the ruler became officially known as the “Emir”. However, June 19 should not be confused with what is considered Kuwait’s “National Day”. National Day was chosen to be celebrated on February 25, which was the day in 1950 that Abdullah Al-Salem came to power, as a tribute to the ruler who actually phased out the British. Rather than simply celebrating the day the agreement was terminated, it was apparently decided to celebrate the reign of Abdullah Al-Salem for all of his achievements (including the creation of the National Assembly, the ratification of the Constitution, and of course terminating the agreement with Britain).

However, it is a bit misleading that in Kuwait we celebrate National Day on February 25, but count the years from 1961. It combines the two events of Abdullah Al-Salem’s accession to power and the termination of the agreement with the British. Furthermore, it does seem strange that June 19 goes by every year without causing so much as a ripple, since the date certainly holds some local meaning considering that the country counts the years of its "nationhood" from 1961. So for example, this past February 25 marked Kuwait's 46th National Day celebration - but in reality "25 February 1961" (counting back 46 years) means absolutely nothing.

Personally, I find all such token celebrations meaningless because most people celebrate without knowing a single thing about why or what they are celebrating. If we're going to honour 25 February 1950 and 19 June 1961 (or, in reality, a combination of the two) - then we should give equal recognition to August 1910 and 24 June 1938, etc. I don't mean in terms of a national holiday or anything like that. What I'm getting at is, the choice of the date of our "National Day" is arbitrary. As a Kuwaiti, to me 25 February 1950 is no more significant a date than 24 June 1938. In fact, I would have chosen the latter, but somebody else thought it more prudent to celebrate the former.

And just for fun: Kuwaiti National Anthem: 1978-present / Kuwaiti "Amiri Salute" and National Anthem: 1961-1978 (apparently). I've never heard the older one before and never even knew we used to have an old anthem before the 1978 one. I like it - it's cheerful! And the very first bars sound like the opening of "Le Marseillaise". But for some reason I thought our "Amiri Salute" sounded different. I'm trying to imagine those old scenes on KTV of the Amir landing at the airport and walking down the red carpet with the salute playing - it sounds different in my head. Or what am I thinking of? Anyway, I like this one. I keep playing it over and it makes me smile.


  • thanks for the history lesson :) i learned a lot from it :) and even linked it to my post.

    btw, what does P stand for?

    By Blogger Fonzy, at 6/20/2007 7:56 am  

  • Thank you for the informative post Kleio. I do not see that the exact date of "independence day" is very important. However, making the most of that day is what matters. I mean we should know what we are celebrating and how to celebrate. Unfortunetly we don't. And I blame the government for that AND the writers and historians in Kuwait.

    I know a bit about the 1899 agreement or treaty because Al-Qabas newspaper recently serialized the letters of the British government representative in Kuwait (something ghloum I think). It was very intreseting and useful.

    By Blogger Traveleer, at 6/20/2007 10:53 am  

  • Fonzy: Good collaboration between posts here! :)

    And P is my partner.

    Traveleer: Hmmm...the closest Political Agent whose name sounds like "ghloum" would be Daniel Vincent MacCollum, who was in Kuwait from 1918-1920. But he was hardly one of the most prominent PAs so I'm not sure why they would serialize his letters. If it was around the time the agreement was signed the Political Resident to the Gulf was M.J. Meade, while the first PA to Kuwait in 1904 was S.G. Knox. I wonder who it was they wrote about in Al-Qabas...?

    Anyway, at least the newspapers (usually Al-Qabas) take an interest in these things. They quite often publish articles and information on Kuwaiti history. Too bad it's non-academic though, and they sometimes get things wrong or just don't question the information they print. But hey, at least they're trying, and are reaching a wide audience!

    Some of the more academic local writers are good, especially the historians associated with the Centre for Research and Studies on Kuwait. They are real historians, although they are only a handful, and the research they do is extensive and thorough. But at the same time, history is just not taught in Kuwait. The history department at KU is in a shambles - to the point that Kuwait's best historians don't even teach there! Meanwhile, private universities are not allowed to offer history as a major because KU offers it. It's just a mess...

    By Blogger Kleio, at 6/20/2007 6:52 pm  

  • Btw, I added a bit more on the anthem at the end of the post. Maybe it should have been a new post but oh well, it ties in with the 1961 theme!

    By Blogger Kleio, at 6/20/2007 7:09 pm  

  • Thanks for the history lesson. It has been very hard to find anything in English on Kuwait's history!

    By Blogger Red Shoes, at 6/21/2007 8:13 am  

  • I was not talking about MacCollum. Mr. Ben Ghloum is an Irnian who came to Kuwait a few years after the agreement of 1899 to represent the British government and to see closely that Kuwait is sticking by this agreement. He wrote letters to the British governer in Basra I believe to update him on the situation in Kuwait at that time. It was an interesting series. Maybe you should look it up on their site.

    By Blogger Traveleer, at 6/21/2007 9:36 am  

  • As a matter of fact, Kuwait is not the only country to change the date of its National Day celebrations. Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire, ساحل العاج) became independent on 7 August 1960, but -for some reason- they changed the date of their National Day to 7 December!

    .. don’t ask, it’s a long story!

    By Anonymous moayad, at 6/21/2007 3:33 pm  

  • Red Shoes: I can recommend some titles in English to you, if you'd like. There isn't much, but if you're interested I could give you some good references on Kuwait.

    Traveleer: That's strange - I have never once come across the name Ben Ghloum in the records on Kuwait, nor have I ever heard of the British sending an Irani native agent to Kuwait to represent the British government. If there was such a person, he must have played an exteremely minor role, considering I've never noticed his name in any of the records I've seen (which are practically all!). The British had official representation in Kuwait from 1904 onwards, through a British Political Agent, so this guy must have been in Kuwait between 1899 and 1904. I'm certainly interested in looking that up, though. Do you remember when it was published in Al-Qabas? What a random thing for them to serialize!

    Moayad: Interesting! I wonder if they (and we) changed the date of the national day celebrations because of the heat in the summer. It seems like a perfectly logical reason, don't you think? Of course I doubt that's why, but it really is interesting. The arbitrary transformation of a single day into a national holiday. It's like how so many people in Kuwait have their birthdays recorded as January 1 in their passport or drivers license because the guy who renewed it couldn't be bothered to look up the real date!

    7 August is my birthday by the way. :)

    By Blogger Kleio, at 6/22/2007 12:41 am  

  • You know what... I remember when I was at school, either the teacher told us or it was written in the book, it really was moved to February because of the heat! How trusted is this information? I have no idea.

    You know what else is interesting..

    They were discussing on the radio the other day if there should be a National Day holiday in England or not, because I think they don't have one!

    By Anonymous moayad, at 6/22/2007 5:23 pm  

  • Kleio,

    The full name of that person is Ali ben Ghloum Redha and he is not well known because his presence in Kuwait was supposed to be a secret so the Russians and the Ottamns would not be alaramed and know of the signed agreement (at least for a period of a few years).

    your guess is right he was in Kuwait between 1899 and 1904.

    I collected the articles from Al-Qabas newspaper and I will email them to you soon

    By Blogger Traveleer, at 6/23/2007 8:35 am  

  • Moayad: For some reason I remember hearing it was because of the heat too at some point!

    I also heard on the radio the discussions here about making St. George's Day (April 23) a national holiday.

    Traveleer: OK, now I know exactly who you're talking about! I have seen the name "Ali Reza" come up in the unpublished British records before. If I'm not mistaken, he was known as the local "news agent" for the British before they set up a Political Agency. I have seen some of his news reports before as well.

    I was confused though because I've never seen the Bin Ghloum part before, and silly me when I read "Ben Ghloum" in your earlier comment I thought it was Ben as in "Benjamin" not "Ibn" (I thought perhaps he was a Jewish Persian). :)

    By Blogger Kleio, at 6/23/2007 11:41 am  

  • Yeah I should have mentioned the full name in the begning but I did not have the articles. Iranians love the name Ali Reza

    By Blogger Traveleer, at 6/23/2007 12:29 pm  

  • Great informative post, as usual, including the contributions from posted comments.

    I love it; we changed the date of our independence day because of the weather. Sooo q8t :))

    gotta love our sense of self-comfort and self-preservation. I mean, how could we have our maseeras in the summer lol.

    By Blogger Harmonie22, at 6/23/2007 9:30 pm  

  • I would love to have some titles in English. I happened to stumble across Haya al-Mughini's Women in Kuwait a month or so ago, I think on e-bay of all places. Any Kuwaiti fiction (in or translated to English) would also be welcome.

    Struggling to learn Arabic but so far have all the usual courtesies as well as a few odd phrases, like "yellah hajji" and "al-youm hawa harr ghobar".

    By Blogger Red Shoes, at 6/24/2007 5:34 am  

  • Traveleer: Thanks so much for sending me the articles. I haven't had a chance to look through them yet but I will today.

    Harmonie: I'm not positive that's why we chose February over June, but it does make sense! You know the American Embassy in Kuwait celebrates their 4th of July festivities in March or October because of the weather? In this day and age I would actually prefer it in June - then you wouldn't have those annoying kids taking over the streets and spraying your car. Even our national day has turned into a public spectacle that is an international embarrassment!

    Red Shoes: I'll send you some titles by Email. I don't know any Kuwaiti fiction in English that is any good. But there are several historical books - biographies, memoirs, etc - that you would enjoy.

    By Blogger Kleio, at 6/25/2007 10:37 am  

  • you are most welcome Kleio,

    what's the use of knowledge of it is not shared

    By Blogger Traveleer, at 7/02/2007 11:50 am  

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