Poet and Businessman

Poet and Businessman


Abd al-Aziz al-Babtain and the Formation of Modern Kuwait

by Leif Stenberg

Format: Royal paperback with flaps
Published: May 2022
Pages: 304
ISBN: 9781914983009


‘Poet and Businessman provides a wonderful insight into the tremendous change that has gripped the Gulf region, and Kuwait in particular, over the past 70 years. The book is an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the political and social changes in a country that only became independent in 1961. A significant addition to the existing literature.’

Dr Christian Koch, Director of Research, Gulf Research Center

‘Stenberg offers an illuminating lens on the history of modern Kuwait in the life of the founder of one of the country’s most successful and influential family-owned holding companies. A resourceful entrepreneur and a keen advocate of Arabic poetry and culture, al-Babtain is older than Kuwait itself and his story exemplifies the role his generation of business magnates and philanthropists have had on the country’s path to a national identity and economic prosperity.’

Lisa Anderson, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

‘This is an engaging and illuminating work on a period of history in the Gulf region that remains overlooked. A key aspect of Stenberg’s discussion is an analysis of Kuwait’s post-invasion transformations, shedding light on the hopes and struggles of its leadership and its people, citizens and residents, women and men. Al-Babtain’s career captures nuances of, and relationships between,Islam, Arabism, capitalism and culture, both state and popular.’

Dr Amal Ghazal, Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and Simon Fraser University



This book reviews and analyses the modern history of Kuwait by telling the story of Abd al-Aziz Sa‘ud al-Babtain (b. 1936), a businessman, philanthropist, and poet whose own story closely interweaves with the history of the state.

‘Poet and Businessman’ takes a uniquely wide-ranging view of this history and is a rare study of an individual from a generation in the Gulf who witnessed firsthand the discovery of oil and experienced the many benefits it brought. It was this discovery, which also came with societal costs and challenges, that has played a crucial part in the socio-economic and cultural development of Kuwait and the wider Gulf region. By constructing an overview of the modern history of Kuwait in parallel with the life of Abd al-Aziz Sa‘ud al-Babtain, Stenberg succeeds in filling a lacuna in contemporary scholarship on the Middle East, especially on a neglected area of Arabian history.

The result is a balanced account of the state of Kuwait enriched by the story of a remarkable and influential individual.


Leif Stenberg is the Dean of the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC). He is also a professor at AKU-ISMC and in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. From 2007 to 2017, he was the founding Director of the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden. Between 2010 and 2019, Professor Stenberg was the president of the Nordic Society of Middle Eastern Studies. Among his publications are The Islamization of Science. Four Muslim Positions Making an Islamic Modernity, 1996, Schaebler & Leif Stenberg (eds.), Globalization and Muslim World: Culture, Religion, and Modernity, 2004, Hooglund, Eric & Leif Stenberg (eds), Navigating Contemporary Iran. Challenging Economic, Social and Political Perceptions, 2012, Salamandra, Christa & Leif Stenberg (eds), Syria from Reform to Revolt Vol. II: Culture, Society and Religion, 2015, and Leif Stenberg and Philip Wood (eds), What is Islamic Studies? European and North American Approaches to a Contested Field, 2022.

Additional information


History, Literature & Poetry