Editor (Asia – Middle East & Central)
KUWAIT CITY – In stark contrast to the rest of Middle East, Kuwait seems like a mirage of prosperity. Apart from a prosperous oil industry, it has a free media and a more lenient outlook towards religious practices. So when one hears of protests in Kuwait, it is hard to believe such a wealthy and prosperous nation could have trouble at all.
However, the trouble in paradise stems from some deep-rooted political problems. Kuwait has a population of 3.6 million, two-thirds of which are non-citizens and cannot vote. Adding on to this, there are also no political parties, thus allowing easier scope for the manipulation of power by the MP’s. Kuwait has gone through the ‘Arab Spring’ relatively unscathed, despite being surrounded by countries that are in the midst of political upheaval. Now, the mood of the neighbouring nations is spilling into the country and spreading fast.
More demonstrations erupted following the election results on the 1st December. The opposition claims that the election only had a 28% turnout, against the official figure of a 43% turnout, after they held successful boycotting attempts. The election was called after Al Sabah dissolved parliament on the 7th of October.
Amidst hoards of orange flags, largely in protest of the governments amendment of Kuwait’s electoral law, thousands of Kuwaitis can be seen on streets on an almost daily basis.
The recent amendment, which is the epicentre of the protests, reduces the number of votes per person from four to one, the argument being that a candidate can now be elected after receiving as few as 50 votes. This means that the government is able to manipulate the polls and a strong pro-government Cabinet can be put in place.
The head of state in Kuwait is the Emir, currently of the Al Sabah dynasty. The Emir Al-Sabah possesses the power to dissolve the National Assembly and call a national election, dismiss the National Assembly in a national emergency and assert supreme authority over the country. As a result of the Emir’s abuse of power, the current opposition, who had been fairly elected during the February elections, had to step down as the election had been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court.
The present government is accused of being a puppet to the Emir and not representing the tribes, youth groups, Islamists or women. Only three women have been elected in the present elections. The protests are largely developing peacefully but on a rapid scale.
The Kuwait government has long be plagued with problems and this is the latest in political disputes since 2006. This period has seen the government change power nine times. However, the ongoing Arab Spring has re-energised political opposition in the midst of a political crisis. This September, an allegation broke out, which accused Al Mubarak of political corruption, in which 16 kuwaiti MPs were reportedly bribed to support government policies.
The youth movement is playing a pivotal role in Kuwait, and, once again, in the Arab Spring. So far, the protests have spread to over fifteen different places within the country. Twitter is being used actively as a tool for political communication and resultantly, encouraging more people to participate and lead to much larger protests. There are also calls for people to camp outside the square opposite to the Parliament building until Emir Sabah al-Ahmed Al Sabah inaugurates the first session of parliament.