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Kuwait’s Self-Flagellation Continues 24, April 2013

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The following article appeared on RUSI.ORG

 

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Kuwait’s fractious politics has once more transcended protest to violence as the authorities sought time and again to arrest the former Member of Parliament Musallam Al Barrack. In mid-April, Al Barack was sentenced to five years in jail for undermining the status of the Emir when at a protest on 15 October 2012 he said ‘we [the people] shall not let you, your Highness, take us into the abyss of autocracy.’

However, four attempts to arrest Al Barrack later and he is still not in police custody. The farce of the attempted arrests involved the police not finding Al Barrack and sometimes with the former MP refusing to go with the police without a signed copy of the arrest document and the authorities’ inexplicable ability to actually come up with such a document. The escalating situation has led to increasing clashes at his residence.

The night of 17 April saw up to 10,000 supporters congregate at his house in a show of solidarity. An initial decision not to march that night soon changed with the crowd attempting to storm a near-by police station. The results were predictably bloody. A court decision on 22 April granting him bail to appear in May to appeal his sentence settled the issue, but only temporarily.

Al Barrack is at the centre of Kuwait’s political theatre and has become the focal point of the opposition. He is undoubtedly popular politician. He was famously elected with over 30,000 votes in the February 2012 election; a huge number in Kuwait and by far the most number of votes that a candidate has ever received. Even though the charges may be upheld in the May appeal and he may eventually go to jail in unjust circumstances, he is a long way from a Nelson Mandela figure.

Despite writing an article in The Guardian, Al Barrack is no liberal statesman and has supported some of the most distasteful conservative policies to emerge from Kuwait’s Parliament in recent years. In the context of a crackdown on Twitter users, Sunni MPs proposed the death penalty for Muslims who insulted God, the Quran, the Prophet or his wives. This move was made after a Shia Twitter user, Hamad Al Naqi, was arrested for blasphemy. Al Barrack, like many of his fellow Parliamentarians, vocally supported this motion. Only the intervention of the Emir using his privilege to strike down the law prevented it from being enacted. In a similarly sectarian vein, as Mona Kareem notes, Al Barrack has been a defender of the Bahraini regime and their crackdown on their Shia population. He also supports segregation in Kuwait’s education establishments.

A Pro-Government Parliament?

Al Barrack and a variety of other MPs who may loosely be described as ‘the opposition’ in Kuwait did not enter the December 2012 Parliamentary elections. The opposition boycotted the election after the Emir decreed changes to the voting procedures when Parliament was not in session. Although the Emir is allowed to take such actions, it is a grey area as to whether such an act needs to be voted on before it can directly affect the voting procedures. The opposition feared (probably correctly) that the new voting regime would have weakened their ever increasing grip on power in the Parliament. Rather than have their support adversely affected – and badly miscalculating that their burgeoning support in late 2012 could allow them to force the Emir to back down – they pulled out of the election.

Inevitably the Parliament elected in December 2012 was pro-government but with a lower turnout of just under 40 per cent. Shia candidates, who have often supported the government against the majority Sunni opposition, made large gains in particular winning 17 seats of the 50-member Parliament, more than doubling their representation in the previous Parliament.

However, as predicted at the time, by boycotting the elections, the opposition only left themselves with negative power: they can only affect politics in Kuwait by being as obstructionist as possible: Barrack’s thwarting of the police being the latest example of their tactics to whip up support against the government.

Any hope that the pro-government Parliament would help get Kuwait’s politics and projects moving again has been slow to materialise. While its intransigence does not reach the levels of previous opposition-led Parliaments, there has still been less cooperation than expected. Moreover, the government again finds itself trying to stave off splurging its budget surplus on debt-forgiveness and writing off interest on personal loans. The government in the form of the Finance Minister Mustafa Al Shamali rejected these proposals offered in early March 2013 and was ‘grilled’ (interpolated) in Kuwait’s showboating Parliament for his troubles.

Political Deadlock Over the Economy

One of the prime issues that divided the Kuwaiti Government and the Opposition was the former’s desire to avoid frittering away the Government’s surplus on buying people’s support. The government take the longer-term economic view that such actions are a cancerous factor in the Kuwaiti economy, hugely dis-incentivising the workforce at a time when Kuwait needs to be preparing for its post-hydrocarbon economy. Kuwait has plenty of oil left, but it is over dependent on this one source with over 90 per cent of the state budget coming from oil, the highest in the Gulf region. The opposition would counter-accuse the Government of trying to block a greater distribution of the state’s wealth.

With the Government not budging on this issue, the new Parliament is not passing the large and necessary infrastructure projects that Kuwait as a country has been needing for decades and the Kuwaiti political merry-go-around continues.

It was hoped that this Parliament might be more amenable to work with the government given the backdrop of the fractious months before the last election and the agreement among all Kuwaitis that Kuwait badly needs investment. Yet each parliamentarian wants to carve out his or her pound of flesh to take as a trophy to their constituents. In a political environment with no political parties, this is one of the key ways that a parliamentarian can distinguish themself in a given constituency: promising and bringing home the cash.

There are no easy answers for Kuwait’s troubles and no end in sight to the fractious politics, which seem destined to continue apace for some time to come. No sides are willing to compromise or subsume their goals to Kuwait’s overall longer term interest. In the meantime, the bitterness increases and the intransigence grows, while most Kuwaitis who simply want to get on with their life grow more and more exasperated as the factions fight it out.

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On Kuwait’s latest issues 5, December 2012

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A couple of quick thoughts on Kuwait:

1) Had the numbers of protesters continued to be in the range of the first major protest back in October then I think we would have to look very carefully at Kuwait as in a dangerous place. Yet this is not the case. Even on the occasion in October despite claims from the opposition that there were over one hundred thousand people there I am yet to come across reliable evidence for this fact (though I am happy to be corrected).

2) Subsequent protests have – from what I can gather – been significantly smaller. The protest at Musallam Barrack’s arrest that was expected to be 100,000+ (and the opposition gave out tickets to try to prove this) but was much smaller. And so has every other protest since. The litmus test for this was the long planned protest on December 1. Again it appears that this was no where near 100,000.

3) Nevertheless, one cannot forget that Kuwait is a small country with around 1 million Kuwaitis. Thus several tens of thousands of protesters is still a significant number.

4) I am still of the opinion that the opposition have badly miscalculated. The Parliament will now be significantly less intransigent than its predecessors where the Islamist/Tribal opposition dominated and blocked anything and everything. There is a chance, therefore, that – shock, horror – Kuwait’s Parliament may actually get things done.

5) The Government now can undertake a relatively easy strategy to severely undercut a lot of the opposition support. a) Doll out some cash in the short term. b) Get something tangible done via the Parliament; show it is working and makes a difference to Kuwaitis. c) Give the newly appointed anti-corruption body some teeth and ideally a sacrificial lamb to show the elite is taking top level corruption seriously. None of this may be necessarily easy to do but it is surely easier now than it was before and nor is such a plan necessarily the best thing for Kuwait, but these are the options facing the Government if it is sensible from its perspective.

6) While such a plan would not undercut the hardcore tribal/Islamist elements it does not need to. Such a plan would take away broader support and sympathy leaving the opposition whittled down somewhat and their demonstrations getting ever smaller (as they already appear to be). This would place the opposition in an ever smaller minority, vociferously obstructing the continuation of Kuwaiti life and the normalization of Kuwaiti politics.

7) The opposition’s power has only ever been a blocking, negative power only now they have moved from intransigence in the Parliament to the streets (I don’t say this to denigrate the opposition  you can only play the hand you’ve been dealt). Without the legal scaffold of Parliament they are simply demonstrating and will need to ever more increase the intensity of their protests to force the Government to change. They run the real risk that after several months of this dragging on – of them protesting and disrupting and especially if the Parliament can make headway – the wider population will become increasingly disenchanted or even angry with their cause in the search for reconciliation or simply in the desire to get on with normal life.

 

 

 

 

 

Qatar is not Bahrain or Kuwait 8, November 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar.
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The following article appeared on Dohanews.co last week

While media outlets find it convenient and practical to generalize when it comes to reporting on “The Gulf” or the now 24-month-long “Arab Spring,” these terms can be problematic as they simplify complex issues.

For example, take the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman. On the surface, these countries have many similarities in terms of tribal structure, intermingling of families, cultural traditions, religious beliefs, and economic and political systems.

But the differences between the nations, and even in cities within one country, are stark. Riyadh and Jeddah – let alone in comparison to somewhere like Muscat – are poles apart and – to engage in a different sort of generalization – Kuwaitis are far more politically garrulous than their Qatari cousins.

So, will the similarities mean that the Arab Spring will sweep across all Gulf States, or will some difference impede its passage? Let’s take a case-by-case approach.

Kuwait

Kuwait has relatively a long, mercantile history. One author even dubbed Kuwait “the Marseilles of the Gulf” – such was the port-city-melting-pot nature of the place. This helped give rise to a rich and relatively independent merchant elite that exists alongside the ruling Al Sabah family.

This dynamic in which the ruling family must contend with other powerful players has set the feisty tone of politics in Kuwait. In contrast, Doha was never as cosmopolitan or as prosperous a city and consequently no merchant class could develop independent of Al Thani power. This meant that politics was, as it remains today, dominated by the Al Thani family.

Today the merchant families in Kuwait have mostly “joined sides” with the Al Sabah against those dubbed “the opposition.” Much of the opposition are referred to as tribal and Islamist in nature and were enfranchised later on in the 20th century when the Al Sabah needed more support. Initially they were grateful to the Al Sabah for giving them a passport and supported them in Parliament.

More recently, however, they have realised that they are in the majority in Kuwait and now feel that they deserve more power. In the ( annulled) previous election, they won 34 of the 50 seats, demanded nine Cabinet posts (of sixteen), were offered three and took none.

The battle lines are thus set broadly between the older, established, richer elites and the “younger” interlopers looking to get their share and upset the status quo.

Bahrain

While there has historically been tension of varying degrees between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Bahrain, the key dividing line was largely a socio-economic one. Though there was certainly a correlation between Sunni and Shia in terms of greater opportunities for Sunni Bahrainis, the tension was typically not manifest in an overtly sectarian way.

The Arab Spring changed that entirely. To some degree this was a state-sanctioned ploy to specifically and overtly use the sectarian angle as an effective way of corralling support against the uprisings in Bahrain. Though they may have been successful in halting any significant changes, this came at a terrible cost not only in terms of deaths and arrests but in terms of profoundly polarizing Bahraini society.

Qatar

Qatar possesses none of these key dynamics. It has neither a highly active public, political debating culture; latent sectarian concerns; nor deep and widespread socio-economic disparities among citizens. Moreover, it has a tiny indigenous population and prodigious riches to shower upon them.

Yet Qatar’s stability is not obtained through this alone, for its leadership has been putting Qatar on the international map in largely positive ways for over a decade now. This has changed the international perception of Qatar from having no reputation whatsoever – or being “known for being unknown” – to now being known for its mediation, Al Jazeera, sporting initiatives and supporting various factions in the Arab Spring. Overall, I believe that most Qataris are – if anything – pleased with this burgeoning reputation.

Just like every other state on Earth, Qatar does have its problems and its population has its grumbles. The pace of change and apparent “Westernisation”concerns some, while others want more transparency and a say in how the country is run.

By virtue of its proximity and its fraternal ties, Qatar will remain deeply concerned and interested in what transpires as its fellow GCC States wrestle with the Arab Spring. But barring a black swan event or a sea-change in attitudes, Qatar will remain as insulated as ever from the Spring.

Read more: http://dohanews.co/post/34966683468/guest-post-why-qatar-is-not-bahrain-or-kuwait#ixzz2BdVgYPGD

Kuwait: putting the toothpaste back in the tube 30, October 2012

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I’m fairly sure that getting arrested was next on the ‘to do’ list of Musallam Al Barrack. He was already the most prominent opposition figure who received the most votes of any candidate ever and he was instrumental in breaking the taboo of overtly criticizing the Emir. Clearly what would augment his image further would be arrest and some time behind bars to really give him that oppressed, little guy against the system edge. And how sporting of Kuwait’s secret service to oblige and arrest him on 29th October.

He was arrested for openly criticizing the Emir with offensive remarks: as my Kuwaiti kids in class used to say:

“Mr David…he say bad word for meeee!”

Barrack is not the first to have been arrested on such charges, nor will he be the last; but he’s certainly the most popular.

Needless to say, this will galvanize and energize his support even more. This, though, is not the problem. There are, I suspect, many Kuwaitis who are not natural followers of Barrack who may feel increasingly uneasy with the Emir’s tactics of arresting opponents for mild criticism. It is these middle-ground voters who are the key.

While I’m sure the Emir would love to turn the clock back to more peaceful days when he sauntered above the fray untrammeled and unsullied by the dirty game of Kuwaiti politics [I exaggerate, of course], it is highly questionable as to whether he can fix the taboo that disallowed criticism of him by brute force.

 

 

Kuwait enters an uncertain and more violent era 25, October 2012

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The following article appeared on RUSI.org

Kuwait is heading for a period of unprecedented turbulence; distinct even in Kuwait’s recent history which has seen Parliament dissolved six times in six years and escalating clashes between protestors and police.

A protest held on Sunday 21 October is thought to have been one of the largest ever held in the Gulf State. The opposition claim that over 100,000 people attended, though independent sources note that 40-60,000 is more realistic. Either way, it was a substantial protest. Though parts of the protest were peaceful; there were also clashes with the State’s Special Forces and Police who used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.

A Disputed Election

Tensions between the government and the opposition have been growing for years with increasing acrimony displayed on both sides. February 2012 saw the election of a heavily pro-opposition Parliament. Despite taking 34 of the 50 seats in Parliament the loosely defined opposition demanded nine out of sixteen Cabinet seats. They were offered three and accepted none. Consequently this Parliament argued more and got even less done than its predecessors, who had already set a low bar for accomplishment in the past decade.

Amid the usual acrimony and intransigence, two remarkable decisions in June changed the status quo. First, the Emir constitutionally suspended Parliament for one month, the first time that this had occurred in Kuwait’s history. Then, only two days later, the Constitutional Court annulled the February Parliament on a point of procedure and reinstalled the previous more pro-Government Parliament. This was vociferously denounced by the opposition and they refused to sit in the reconvened 2009 Parliament.

Parliament was dissolved on 7 October and elections called for 1 December. However, Kuwait’s constitution allows the Emir to amend laws when Parliament is not in session. Having threatened of the need to ‘correct mistakes’, on this occasion the Emir asked his Cabinet to adopt three laws including one that changed the voting system to one-man-one vote.

This move enraged the opposition who preferred the previous system where each voter could cast four votes. Though the permutations of this change are yet to be worked through, it is most likely that the opposition groups would lose out and they subsequently announced that they would boycott the elections.

This kind of strategy involves a huge amount of jeopardy. With no opposition running, the Parliament will be pro-Government. The Emiri decree, which needs to be ratified by a sitting Parliament, will likely be strongly upheld. This will institutionalise and legalise the system which the opposition fear will, to a greater degree, disenfranchise them.

Competition for Domestic Support

While there is widespread support for the opposition it is by no means universal. Wavering supporters may well be brought over to the Government’s side if it decides to use a portion of its budget surplus, currently running at nearly $50bn. to increase support through government largess. Debt forgiveness, wage rises, and increased subsidies are a common tactic in Kuwaiti politics and will likely be used again at some stage. Indeed, without the permanent intransigence of the opposition, if the December 2012 Parliament can actually get laws and investment packages passed, then this too will diminish the popular support for the opposition.

Crucially, the fear for Kuwaiti politics as a whole is that the opposition will be left with no tactic or strategy other than confrontation. It is now in the opposition’s best interests to force the Government into as much of an overreaction as possible to maintain support and sympathy. The Government have indicated that they will meet any illegal confrontation head-on, as Sunday’s protests indicate. Additionally, the Government announced a ban on protests of more than twenty people, a move that will strike at long-held principles among many Kuwaitis.

Far from cowed, in response the opposition announced another protest on 11 November and a ‘grand march’ on 1 December; an attempt to undercut the legitimacy of the vote and the Parliament.

Already the political divisions reflect deepening social divisions and these recent events will only worsen the divide. The pro-Government forces see the opposition as deeply obstructionist and resolutely focused on wresting power from their grasp. Both points are true to some degree but the opposition would note that it is only fair that power is shared more equitably given their majority-status and the fact that they have been relatively disenfranchised economically and politically for so long.

Part of this dynamic stems from deep-seated concerns about corruption in the elite, which is seen by the opposition in particular as yet another way that the entrenched elite secretes away more of Kuwait’s money. Aware of this concern, one of the other laws that the Emir asked the Cabinet to adopt referred to the creation of an anti-corruption authority with wide-ranging powers to request financial information from all public employees including Cabinet members, Parliamentarians, and even the Prime Minister. If the Government can establish this institution and instil public confidence in it by making it independent and endowing it with the necessary power and resources, then this could undermine popular support for the opposition.

The Taboo Breaks

Aside from the immediate concerns as to the upcoming political, rhetorical, and literal skirmishes between the opposition and government supporters, the escalation of the opposition in reaction to the Government’s policies has had more profound effects. Previously the Emir was an almost politically untouchable figure. However, this taboo, which had been under pressure for some months if not years, has been thoroughly broken with speeches and marches explicitly criticising his decision to change the electoral law. Any notion that the Emir could remain above the fray is finished. While monarchy as a concept is still resolutely the preferred system, Kuwait is entering a new era. Exactly what this new era will construe is difficult to predict, but it is certain to be more violent as the Kuwaiti elite faces its most significant challenge since the 1990 invasion.

Kuwait reaps the sectarian Gulf whirlwind 8, July 2011

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Kuwait’s Parliament is undergoing another crisis. The Deputy Prime Minister, Sheikh Ahmed Al Fahad Al Sabah, resigned in June rather than face an interpolation by disgruntled Members of Parliament (MPs). Though these interpolations are supposed to be a standard Parliamentary questioning tactic, in Kuwait they are described as ‘grillings’. They are usually highly accusatory, hostile and an ordeal that can last for hours on end. A grilling can be brought by any MP over any topic, though a quorum is needed to follow the grilling with a motion of no confidence. In the past MPs have used and abused interpolations to pursue their own partisan and disruptive agenda.

It is only since 2006 that it has been possible for the Prime Minister (PM) himself to be subject to a grilling. Previously, the Crown Prince was also the Prime Minister. But from 2003 to 2006, Sabah Al Sabah officially took over the title of PM from the ailing Crown Prince, Saad Al Sabah. This broke with tradition and the PM was now no longer also directly in line to the throne. The possibility of interpolating the PM thus emerged, though Sabah Al Sabah never faced this problem as it was clear that he would soon be Emir. His PM, Nasser Al Sabah and his governments, however, have had repeated problems.

Nasser’s first government was dissolved by the Emir when it was barely four months old after reformist MPs, in an unprecedented move, sought to grill the PM over issues regarding changes to electoral districts. In the new government there were, as always, a handful of changes in personnel, but the MPs had a solid majority and forced through the district changes that the Government and the Emir sought to block. Any notion of opposition unity after this success soon evaporated ‘leading to a situation in which highly factionalized parliamentarians use their tools with abandon in pursuit of no coherent agenda.’ [1]

Since then, the PM has faced another eight grilling requests by MPs and has formed seven cabinets in five years. In 2009 the Minister of the Interior became the first Royal Minister to face an interpolation and a subsequent vote of confidence as opposed to simply resigning beforehand. He passed and this ushered in a brief era of reconciliation. The PM followed suit in December 2009 and was grilled along with four other cabinet members in a twenty hour marathon session finishing at 5:30 in the morning. A motion of non-cooperation with the PM was soundly defeated with only thirteen of fifty MPs in support.

More recently, at the start of 2011 the PM faced another nine hour grilling and a subsequent motion of no confidence. Though he again passed, he did so only by a narrow and unconvincing three votes.  Similarly, in June he passed though twenty four members of the fifty member Parliament either abstained or voted to oust him: hardly a resounding vote of confidence.

What exactly are the key issues which so frequently flare-up and cause such anguish in the Parliament?

Corruption and privatisation

An abiding concern of the Parliament is corruption. Given the billions upon billions of dollars swilling around Kuwait, MPs are in a perennial state of fear that the elite is creaming off millions of dollars that rightly belong to the Kuwaiti people. As with every country on earth, they have some justification for these fears. Examples range from classic ‘company fraud’, such as the long ago but not forgotten Kuwait Oil Tankers Company saga to examples involving individual MPs or even the Prime Minister himself. In the latter example, an MP paraded one of the PM’s personal cheques around Parliament which was, he claimed, a clear example of the PM trying to bribe a fellow MP. The PM wholly denied the charge.

Linked with the fear of corruption is a fear of privatisation. Numerous MPs see the privatisation of Kuwait’s industries as the legalised theft of Kuwait and bitterly oppose such laws when they come to Parliament. They cite fears that either Kuwait’s elite or foreign speculators will come in, take over and make huge profits while the price will rise for the services that they charge. To some degree, these fears are well founded. Profits can be made if an industry is well run and when heavy subsidies are taken away prices can go up as the market adjusts to the real price of the service. It was only under the temporary hiatus of tensions in mid-2010 that a privatization bill and other desperately needed economic stimulus packages (some eighteen years in the making) finally made it through Parliament.

Royal intrigue

Kuwait typically operates under the unwritten understanding that power in the form of the Emir would alternate between the Jabr and the Salim branches of the Al Sabah family. However, this cycle has been broken recently. Not only did Saad Al Sabah – from the Salim side – only reign for nine days due to severe illness, but the current Emir, Sabah al Sabah – from the Jabr side – installed his half-brother Nawaf Al Sabah as Crown Prince and his nephew Nasser Al Sabah as the Prime Minister. The Salim side have thus been significantly emasculated from power and this dynamic is believed to be contributing to the rancour and acrimony in the Parliament.

More generally, many MPs seem to be persistently aggrieved by the lack of changes in the makeup of the Cabinet. As has been noted, the current PM has formed seven Cabinets. Rarely do more than two or three Ministers change from one to the next. Moreover, the key posts of Defence, Interior and Foreign Affairs are always held in Al Sabah hands.

Iranian issues

The institutional and nigh-on perennial issues that have plagued Kuwait’s Parliament in recent decades have been further complicated and embittered by the recent surge in Sunni-Shia tensions in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia, ably and willingly abetted by Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, has deliberately foisted a sectarian lens onto the troubles in Bahrain. This has been done not only so that the states in question do not have to consider whether the Shia in Bahrain have legitimate grievances but because this suits their geopolitical world-view and fits their prejudices. Indeed, despite persistent accusations that Iran is ‘behind’ events in Bahrain there has been a stunning lack of evidence presented.

In contrast, specifically in Kuwait there is in fact evidence of Iranian involvement. A spy ring was discovered operating in the country and those involved were sentenced in May this year for passing on sensitive information to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. This news stirred Kuwait’s Salafi MPs and the Iranian Ambassador in Kuwait was expelled.

Subsequently they protested loudly and demanded to grill the PM over the fact that Kuwait did not contribute troops to the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) military support of Bahrain. Also, in the face of what they see as blatant Iranian aggression, the PM hosted Iran’s Foreign Minister and agreed to the return of the Iranian Ambassador – all in a bid to dampen tensions. This further irritated the Salafis. Indeed, they accuse the PM, who speaks Farsi and is a former Ambassador in Tehran, of weakening Kuwait’s national security by taking these calming actions. A group of MPs sought and failed to force him to resign in June over these matters. Within minutes of their failure, they had again tabled another motion to grill the PM.

Nevertheless, while he is ever more the focus of these tensions, they are not confined to the PM. Indeed, a serious fist-fight broke out in Kuwait’s Parliament in May between Shia and Sunni MPs under the gaze of a group of American lawyers invited to watch proceedings.

Impasse

Sectarian relations in Kuwait are, therefore, at a low ebb. The Prime Minister is wholly caught up in this conflict and has countless other detractors; he is the lightening-rod for all criticism from large sections of MPs and the public alike. Indeed, at least two youth groups Al Soor Al Khamis (the fifth wall) and Kafi (enough) have emerged recently, that have protested for the ousting of the Prime Minister.

The way forward for Kuwait is not at all clear.

It seems inconceivable that the Prime Minister could ever marshal an effective and compliant Parliament; his bitter history as the focus of the opposition’s ire, now compounded by his involvement in sectarian issues, makes him profoundly estranged. Even if this Parliament can stumble to its four month-long recess, the chances of everyone ‘forgiving and forgetting’ when the new term starts are slim to nil, even if the worst of the sectarian tensions are over.

Twice before has the Kuwaiti Emir unconstitutionally dissolved Parliament (i.e. dissolved it but did not reinstate it within the stipulated time frame). Sabah Al Sabah has insisted that he will not do this, even though he would be able to pass numerous important laws and packages that are currently jammed in the Parliament. Were he to do so, while some may feel that this would be a reasonable response to Parliament’s unedifying and damaging behaviour of late, in an era of Revolutionary fervour, there would soon be immense pressure on him to re-instigate the Parliament. Choosing another PM would be seen as a sign of weakness and would by no means guarantee a more pliant Parliament, yet, for lack of other options, it is one of the few tenable alternatives available.

NOTES

1 Nathan Brown ‘Moving Out of Kuwait’s Political Impasse’ Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (June 2009)

2 Habib Toumi ‘Kuwait no-cooperation motion unlikely to pass’ Gulf News 19 June 2011

Kuwaiti PM survives vote of no confidence 5, January 2011

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Kuwait’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Nasser Al Mohammmed, a nephew of the Emir, today survived a vote of no confidence. This is despite small rallies outside MPs’ houses to pressure them to vote against the PM. In the end 25 MPs supported the PM while 22 were against with one abstaining. 25 votes are needed to pass the motion.

This is the eighth time that he has had such a motion lodged against him. On six of these occasions, Parliament was dissolved, he resigned or the Cabinet was reshuffled by the Emir to avoid the spectacle of the Royal PM being subjected to such a fate. The penultimate occasion saw Al Mohammed stand his ground and win comfortably. This ushered in a period of relative calm and cooperation between the Government and the Parliament where – for once – crucially important long term projects were pushed through.

The current ‘grilling’ (interpolation) and subsequent vote of confidence stems from a growing anger by opposition groups who feel that the Government is slowly but surely seeking to reduce their influence. A peaceful gathering outside an MPs house that was harshly broken up by Kuwaiti Special Forces a few weeks ago injuring several MPs was the final straw.

Many at the gathering were protesting to preempt what they  feared was the government plotting to amend the 1962 constitution to weaken political and other civil guarantees therein.  Al Jazeera was banned from Kuwait after covering the reaction of the police.

The key question now is whether the Parliament will return to its intransigent past or move on. Around the 6th and 7th attempted grilling of the PM in 2009, there were real fears of an unconstitutional break in the Parliament by the Emir, such was the degree to which necessary bills and laws were not being passed.

Unfortunately, the opposition appears to be set on removing the PM and could resort to their earlier tactics of seeking to ‘grill’ him over minor, relatively inconsequential matters. They know perfectly well that this is likely to anger the government and once again policy decisions will grind to a halt.

 

 

The typical and predictable Gulf dialogue 21, February 2010

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Overall, there seem to be but two types of comments that come from Arab Gulf leaders about Iran. Either Iran is being castigated for spreading fear, threatening its smaller neighbours and generally acting like a regional bully or Iran is portrayed as a country with justifiable rights to enrichment which has a close and interlinked history with its neighbouring states.

After a visit of Qatar’s Crown Prince to Iran last month, he came out with a statement of the latter. He highlighted Iran and Qatar’s common interests and stated that Iran was “a strategic force in the region”. Stating the obvious it may be, but it is still interesting.

A perfect example of the opposite comes, rather unsurprisingly, from the loud-mouth Kuwaiti Parliament. A conservative Parliamentarian castigated Iran’s Parliament speaker Ali Larinjani for implicitly threatening the Gulf countries in a statement saying that US bases in Arab countries must not be used for an attack on Iran.

Kuwait’s Parliament: breakthrough? 8, December 2009

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So, several years and several Parliaments later and Kuwait’s Prime Minister has finally agreed to be cross-examined in Parliament. Previously, Kuwait’s Parliament has been dissolved (numerous times) because the Prime Minister, always a prominent member of the ruling Al Sabah family, had refused to lower himself to the humiliating position of being asked questions by Parliamentarians. Theoretically – very theoretically – this might help with the paralysis that Kuwait has been suffering in recent years. Indeed, there was (and remains to some degree) the very real possibility that the Emir would be forced to disband the misfiring and perpetually deadlocked Parliament to actually get something done. Though this is far from off the table, at least, for now, it is not quite as likely.

Kuwait splurges its surplus & political reforms afoot? 20, October 2009

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Business Intelligence Middle East reports that Kuwait will be spending some $63bn in the next four years on various projects which include fulfilling its oft-mooted Silk Road project, building a modern harbor and a railway and metro system.

Also in Kuwait, Michael Collins Dunn draws attention to an article in the Kuwait Times suggesting that they might revamp (again) their electoral district system by merging all areas into one large super constituency. Such a system would, theoretically, curtail the gerrymandering and buying of votes that has gone on when the districts were small and ‘buyable’. Whether or not this will aid in Kuwait’s political paralysis is, however, a different question.