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Critical Perspectives on the Evolution of a Rentier Constitutional State: Kuwait, 1950-1962

ALNAFISI, SALEH (2013) Critical Perspectives on the Evolution of a Rentier Constitutional State: Kuwait, 1950-1962. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The political economies of the oil rich GCC countries are generally contextualized within the framework of rentier state theory. The picture the theory portrays is that of an autonomous state with abundant revenues generated from oil which are in turn distributed to the larger population to gain political legitimacy within prevailing non-democratic cultures. Albeit having a democratically elected parliament with a vibrant political environment for a comparatively long time, rentierism is also applied to the political economy of Kuwait.

This study, hence, aims to explore the development of Kuwait into a rentier constitutional state beyond the generally accepted notions put forward by rentier state theory. Its focus is to understand the perceptions and ideas behind the economic and political policy decisions in the context of the oil boom of the 1950s and early 1960s. Economically, therefore, the main aim is to explore and critically analyze why distributive policies, which constitute a main feature characterizing the country’s economy, were initiated in the post-oil era.

The study also critically analyzes the diverse influences oil had on the concurrent rise in political activity and direction towards democratization, crowned by the framing of the constitution in 1962. In examining these developments, the study stresses the importance of looking not only at internal factors, but also at foreign and international influences that are brought about by oil booms. In the case of Kuwait, these include the primary role Britain played, in light of its oil interests, in the country’s internal affairs, and the ways in which oil sparked, for a small and newly rich Arab state, international dynamics that shaped the thinking of policymakers as to the importance of undertaking certain crucial reforms.

An examination of the relevant archival record makes it is clear that the framework provided by rentier state theory is insufficient in capturing the complex factors that influence the economic and political decisions of policymakers in countries experiencing oil booms. The findings, therefore, challenge rentier state theory’s core assumptions, such as its stress on ‘political utility’ as the main, if not sole, driver of socioeconomic policy, and the ‘materialistic approach’ in which political activity is contextualized.

The study shows that much of the socioeconomic policies that created what is referred to as a ‘distributive state’ stemmed from much deeper influences than those postulated by the theory, such as certain perceptions of tradition and culture; views of citizen ‘rights’ and social justice in a specific historical context; and influences of social currents overtaking the region at the time. Furthermore, the study demonstrates how, in the period concerned, contrary to the position of the rentier state literature, oil played a significant role in the democratization of Kuwait, transforming it from a primitive patriarchal autocracy to a modern ‘rentier constitutional state’. The latter embodies, as the study argues, the concept of a rentier state combined with a constitutional form of government in which citizens are directly involved in the economic and political decision-making process.

The study concludes that Eurocentric theoretical frameworks as expressed in rentier state theory may not always be sufficient in explaining the complex realities of countries such as Kuwait. There is a need, therefore, for a new approach that engages directly with the internal and external dynamics of individual countries in order to understand their respective political economies beyond assumptions imported largely from foreign experiences.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Government and International Affairs, School of
Thesis Date:2013
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:07 Jan 2013 10:23

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