Kuwaitis flock abroad on National Day holiday after two years of Covid-19 restrictions

Government buildings and private institutions were illuminated last night with the colours of the Kuwaiti flag

Kuwait on Friday celebrated its 61st National Day with special events and activities across the country.

Government buildings and private institutions were illuminated with the colours of the Kuwaiti flag on Thursday night as families strolled the markets to enjoy the celebrations.

The national day marks the ascension of Sheikh Abdallah Al Salem Al Sabah to the throne in 1950. Considered by many to be the founder of modern Kuwait, he died in 1965.

Kuwait was under the protection of the United Kingdom from 1899 until 1961 when Sheikh Abdallah negotiated the complete independence of his country and issued the first constitution, which granted his country full sovereignty in all of its territories. Kuwait observes the day after National Day, February 26, as Liberation Day, which is also a public holiday.

Since the early morning hours, streets of the capital, Kuwait City, were crowded with residents and citizens celebrating in traditional clothes.

Cafes and cake shops offer themed products for Kuwait National Day. Photo: Kuna

Restaurants and cafes offered all sorts of delicacies adorned with the flag and national symbols of the small, oil-rich country.

The defence and interior ministries organised a special event for children and their families around the landmark Kuwait Towers.

Kuwaitis flock abroad

Kuwait announced a nine-day holiday for National Day this year, starting today and running until next Saturday, which encouraged thousands of Kuwaitis to travel abroad after two years of restrictions because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

About 242,000 travelled through Kuwait airport on Thursday, and 663,000 in total during the past 12 days, local media reported.

“There are no central celebrations this year,” Ayman, 59, told The National from Kuwait City.

“Before the pandemic, celebrations would start on January 29 with the prince raising the flag and Hala February festival events kicking off across the country. But this year the celebrations were muted and rather individual and limited,” he said.

He said that during his childhood, all schools, universities and institutions would participate with special costumes in a parade from Kuwait Towers to the capital's waterfront.

Kuwait National Day illuminations at Dubai Festival City. Photo: Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment

“The young generation, unfortunately, doesn’t know this kind of collective celebrations when all the nation would be taking part in independence day activities,” he said. "Kuwaitis now prefer to go abroad to celebrate the holidays."

Artists said changing times meant that concerts and shows were no longer the centrepiece of celebrations throughout the month of February.

“Kuwait as a nation has unfortunately abandoned in a shocking way its role as a sensor for renovation and creativity and entertainment, as a result many of the festivities and celebrations that were artistic highlights in the year’s calendar have slowly been eliminated over time,” Sulayman Al-Bassam, a prominent Kuwaiti playwright and theatre director, told The National.

“The country is left without the vocabulary of joy and national pride that is the natural consequence of the abandonment of a national cultural project,” he said.

Independence gained a more significant meaning in Kuwait after the invasion by Iraq in August 1990.

A US-led coalition expelled the Iraqi forces the following year on February 26, which Kuwait declared a national holiday to honour the thousands of Kuwaitis who were killed or went missing during the invasion.

World leaders congratulate Kuwait

Kuwait Emir Sheikh Nawwaf Al Sabah received cables and messages from fellow Gulf Co-operation Council and world leaders on the national and liberation days.

“We congratulate the leaders and people of Kuwait on their glorious national day,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said on Thursday.

A traditional dance to celebrate Kuwait's National Day. Photo: Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent a cable of congratulation to Sheikh Nawaf.

He wished the emir good health and happiness and the government and people of Kuwait steady progress and prosperity, according to the Saudi state news agency.

Updated: February 25, 2022, 12:58 PM