Bahrainization of Kuwait

Update (October 21) below.

Has the Arab Spring eventually arrived in Kuwait? Well, not really. The current ongoing and longstanding parliamentary crisis won’t lead to more democracy in the autocratically ruled, oil-rich, tiny emirate. It’s not based on popular movements, although the country has seen in the previous 1 1/2 years some protests and demonstrations of largely outlawed bedouns, some 100’000 stateless residents in the country.

In February this year, elections had yielded a majority for Islamists, but on June 20, a top court annulled the opposition-dominated Parliament. When, on October 7, current ruler Sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah dissolved the just re-installed 2009 Parliament (which since did not hold a session),  former MPs of the opposition immediately feared amendments of electoral laws which even would allow manipulation of poll results. It is clear now that these concerns were well-justified. The Emir addressed the Kuwaiti citizens yesterday in a televised speech and announced that “he had instructed the government to prepare a draft law including partial amendment to the electoral system to protect national unity, bolster the democratic practice and achieve equality among all Kuwaitis,” as Arab Times reports.

“We will not condone street chaos, riot or any action that stymies public life and work. We will not allow seeds of seditions to be grown in our dear ountry. We will not allow violence and chaos to spread among our youth. We will not let anybody mislead our dear youth with illusions and lies. We ill not allow the hijacking of the nation’s will through empty calls and false heroism.”

What a rant. For the first time ever, the Emir of Kuwait had directly and publicly  been addressed, warned, even verbally attacked by worried and angry lawmakers who were assembling in diwaniyas and outside the Palace of Ministry of Justice cautioning the Emir, a grave legal offense in Kuwait. Protests were cracked down, of course. Currently, four actvists and even three former opposition MPs remain under arrest.

Recalling the brutally cracked-down uprising of the Shi’a majority in Bahrain in early 2011, which has been part of the Arab Spring but had led to mixed feelings among President Obama’s administration, the to-be-reelected American president has to make sure that his strategically important ally in the corner of the Persian Gulf does not descent in chaos. The date for new elections, which, according to the current law have to be conducted in December at the latest, have not been set. While the Sabah family autocratically rules the country for centuries, parliament had been established after Kuwait gained independence in 1961. But parties are not allowed and the Emir appoints the Prime Minister, can dissolve parliament and may even amend the constitution.

The whole parliamentary system seems not to to function well in Kuwait. While the various governments had resigned since 2006 nine times, parliament had been dissolved on six occasions, mainly by the Emir himself. Democracy could not be developed over the years but is rather used as decoration in a society which likes to fervidly discuss, is to a large extent corrupt, mainly oppresses an expatriate workforce on which it heavily relies; and is now split between the traditional submissive obedience toward any authorities and, in particular, the ruling family and frank rebellion. Either mannerism seem to be very much tribal indeed.

20 October 2012 @ 10:38 am

Last modified October 20, 2012.

Update October 21. While the opposition calls for boycott of upcoming new elections in Kuwait (now the date of the poll is set to Dec 1) and new rallies, Arab Times’ Editor-in-Chief Ahmad al-Jarallah calls for “Obedience to His Highness the Amir” (emphasis as such). Once again, obedience to “the captain of the ship”, that’s what is conveyed to the people of Kuwait only one day after Sheik al-Sabah’s speech. “Kuwait is blessed with a democracy which does not exist even in the most democratic country in the Arab world” (my emphasis), Editor-in-Chief Ahmad al-Jarallah claims. How democratic is it when the autocrat amends the electoral laws in order to get parliament assemblies in favor of the government? And, which country does al-Jarallah mean? “Kuwait is not a police (…) state,” al-Jarallah stresses. We’ll see.

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