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Kuwaiti Family

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The family (aila) is the central institution around which practically all aspects of Kuwaiti society, including the economic and political, revolve. This fact is emphasized by Article 9 of the Constitution, which asserts that ‘the family is the cornerstone of society. It is founded on religion, morality, and patriotism’. This article shows that the family is viewed by the authorities as the breeding ground, guardian, and transmitter of both traditional ‘Islamic’ and more modern patriotic values. Although the patriarch or husband is considered the formal head of the household, it is the women who, while raising their young children, are assigned the sacred task of upholding morality in society. It is revealing that, when a couple separates, Kuwaiti law punishes the woman by substantially limiting her rights to social benefits.

Although the moral function of the family and the specific roles assigned to its members have stayed more or less the same in the mind of the average (still quite conservative) Kuwaiti, the institution has undergone radical changes in outward appearance. As in all traditionally tribal Arab societies, the term aila in Kuwait used to denote the extended family, clan, or even tribe. Its numerous members used to live concentrated in certain neighbourhoods. Individual households typically comprised more than two generations, often also including uncles and aunts. Today, however, traditional tribal settlement practices have lost their appeal. Young married Kuwaitis want a private place of their own to live, and in choosing a neighbourhood their main priority is not the location of their kin. This modern inclination has been strengthened by government housing projects, which have provided new residential areas where young married couples settle side by side irrespective of tribal backgrounds.

Intra-family marriages

In the Gulf, the institution of marriage has traditionally been considered an important means of strengthening the extended family network. As a result, marriages within the aila have been the rule. According to a 2000 study by the GCC Council of Health Ministers, 42 percent of all married couples in the Gulf are related to one another. For Kuwait, 36 percent of the couples were related, in Oman 54 percent, in Saudi Arabia 52 percent, in Qatar 45 percent, in the UAE 40 percent, and in Bahrain 31 percent.

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