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Kuwait Country Report

Country Risk Level

Low

Overview

Executive Summary

Kuwait's economy is likely to be significantly affected by contraction in the global economy as a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) virus pandemic. Real GDP is expected to contract by 9.83% in 2020, and this is likely to be exacerbated by a prolonged decrease in the global price in crude oil. Regional conflict, limited structural reforms and private-sector development, and partial implementation of the current five-year (2015–20) development plan will limit non-oil economic growth in 2020. Kuwait is ruled by the Sunni al-Sabah family; the current emir, Sabah al-Sabah, has ruled since 2006. A new cabinet was sworn in on 17 December 2019, and in doing so the emir replaced his eldest son, Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, as defence minister and deputy prime minister. The decision by the emir to not re-appoint Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah to the cabinet indicates that he may be attempting to distance his son from any scrutiny surrounding corruption allegations. There is an increased risk of Iranian attacks on US assets in the Gulf following the killing of Qods Force General Qassem Soleimani on 3 January. Kuwait's traditionally neutral position in the confrontation between the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Iran in the Gulf means that its port facilities and marine assets are less likely to be targeted, outside of a full war scenario. Compared with its neighbours, Kuwait has an effective parliamentary opposition, which consistently impedes government attempts to implement economic austerity, oil services sector privatisation, and subsidy reforms. Indicating this, the government has delayed the implementation of a 5% value-added tax until mid-2021.

Operational Outlook

The adversarial relationship between the government and the parliament presents a high risk of tit-for-tat stalling of reforms, as well as the revision and cancellation of contracts with foreign firms. The causes for the existing parliamentary deadlock – competition between rival branches of the ruling family and disagreement over austerity measures – are unlikely to abate. This undermines Kuwait's business environment despite the Foreign Investment Promotion Law 2013. Kuwaiti bureaucracy is notoriously slow, and corruption remains a problem.

Terrorism

The risks of Islamic State-affiliated IED and shooting attacks on Shia targets are elevated. Successful attacks against Shia targets have the potential to be highly destabilising, given the political activism by Kuwaiti Shia. An escalation in government crackdown on individual sympathisers of Islamic State or financiers of terrorism would increase the risk of jihadist attacks on government targets. There is sustained moderate risk of jihadist attacks against US military personnel and other Western expatriates, most likely from shooting or vehicle-based attacks, particularly around military bases such as Camp Doha and Camp Arifjan. The risks of attacks by Iran's proxies would increase in the event of US or Israeli strikes on Iran.

Crime

Low

Petty and violent crimes are rare in Kuwait, especially against foreigners, largely because of high salaries and stiff penalties. Although drug offences and the importation and consumption of alcohol are subject to prison sentences and fines, the number of drug-related crimes in the country has increased in recent years. There is a visible police presence in Kuwait, with uniformed and plain-clothed police officers patrolling the streets. The General Department of Criminal Investigation (GDCI) is responsible for Kuwait's crime-prevention measures. Particular areas of concern for the GDCI are terrorism, embezzlement, money laundering, and drug trafficking.

War Risks

The United States' more aggressive posture towards Iran and its opposition to the Iranian nuclear agreement have increased the risk of interstate war in the Gulf. This increased after a US drone on 3 January 2020 attacked a vehicle on the Baghdad Airport road carrying Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force (QF) commander General Qassem Soleimani, killing him. Despite Kuwait's good relations with Iran, such a conflict would pose a severe risk of Iranian retaliatory missile strikes across the Gulf, given the concentration of military assets in Kuwait, raising risks to energy and marine assets in the country.

Social Stability

The extensive Al-Sabah patronage system and high standard of living among Kuwaitis reduces the likelihood of prolonged protests capable of challenging the emir's position. Despite losing two seats to independent candidates in the supplementary elections in March 2019, the opposition's parliamentary gains in November 2016 reduced the risk of it organising mass protests to express its grievances. The risk of economically motivated protests would increase should the government apply significant fiscal austerity measures, such as major cuts in public-sector wages across the board. In the event of sustained protests, an internal coup by the ruling family would be the most likely outcome.

Health Risk

Vaccinations required to enter the country

No vaccinations are required to enter the country.

Routine Vaccinations

Hepatitis A: A vaccine is available for anyone over one year of age. The vaccine may not be effective for certain people, e.g. those born before 1945 and who lived as a child in a developing country and/or have a past history of jaundice (icterus). These people can instead get a shot of immune globulin (IG) to boost their immunity against the disease.

Hepatitis B: A vaccine is available for children at least two months old.

Diphtheria-Tetanus-Polio: A booster shot should be administered if necessary (once every ten years).

Other Vaccinations

Typhoid Fever: If your travels take you to regions with poor sanitary conditions (for children two years old and up).

Rabies: For prolonged stays in an isolated region (for children from when they can walk).

For Children: All standard childhood immunizations should be up-to-date. In the case of a long stay, the BCG vaccine is recommended for children over one month and the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine for children over nine months.

Natural Risks

Finally, summers in Kuwait can be extreme; temperatures occasionally rise above 50°C (120°F). Similarly, the country is occasionally affected by sand storms which reduce visibility and thus disrupt driving. Torrential rains are common from November to March and sometimes lead to flooding due to a lack of infrastructure, including proper drainage systems, to deal with excess water. In October 2015, violent flooding hit parts of the country leading to road and school closures, including in the capital, as well as flight delays and cancelations.

Transportation

Kuwait International Airport (KWI) is the only commercial airport in the country. Security is problematic, although security measures are improving.

Although Kuwait has a bus network, the car remains the main mode of transportation. Taxis are available at the entrance of major hotels and at the airport. Roads are in good condition but driving can be dangerous in Kuwait as locals drive fast and aggressively. According to a report by the Interior Ministry, about 500 people die on Kuwaiti roads each year. These accidents are less due to the state of the roads, which are well-maintained, and more to blame on reckless drivers and heavy traffic.

Desert excursions should be avoided due to the presence of unexploded mines left after the First Gulf War of 1990-1991 (Iraqi invasion of Kuwait).

In the case of an accident, contact the police, whose phone number is 112.

Surrounding waters are heavily militarized. Maritime boundaries are yet undetermined in the northern Persian Gulf (i.e., the area between Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait) and any boat in the area may be detained and/or searched at any time for security purposes.

Practical Information

Climate

Kuwait has an arid climate. Summers (May to October) are very hot (40°C) with high levels of humidity; during this time the Shamal, a violent and dusty wind, can provoke sandstorms. Winters (November to April) are milder (8°C to 19°C) with cool, even cold nights and low levels of rainfall.

Useful Numbers

Country Code:  +965
Emergency Services:  112
Police-Emergency:  538 20 00
Civil Defense:  539 51 31/32/33/34/35

Electricity

Voltage: 240 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

Risk Level
Critical High Medium Low Minimal