On Tuesday, the Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, announced that all those who were jailed for insulting him would receive a pardon. The fact that this comes so quickly after an election indicates that it might be part of a strategy by the regime to reduce tensions. The pardon announcement includes one name and one group of people that are conspicuous for their absence – Musallam al-Barrak is not included, and neither are those who participated in the storming of parliament. The announcement was made in a speech in which the Emir said that he was issuing the pardon on the occasion of the final ten days of the month of Ramadan.
Barrak’s lawyer said that the reason is because there has been no final verdict in his case. It also appears not to apply to those who are facing pending charges – and in Kuwait, insulting the Emir is subject to a potential five year prison sentence.
The fact that these pardons come in the wake of an election is very interesting, and telling. In this most recent election there were slight gains by liberals, but many of the major opposition factions decided to boycott. The regime’s decision to pardon many of the defendants (but not Barrak) may be an attempt to divide the opposition’s supporters from the political figures who play a leading role in the movement. In the election, Shi’ite MPs won eight seats which is a major drop from 17 seats in the previous parliament. Three liberals were elected compared with zero before (the last election for the now-annulled parliament was boycotted) and, Sunni Islamists increased their total to seven seats after winning five previously.
The major change was that major tribes which boycotted last time decided to participate, as well as some liberal voters, boosting the turnout to 52.5 percent. There were several tribes that participated this time but did not do so the last time, including the Awazem, the Mutair, and the Rashaida, although their electoral success was relatively limited prompting some observers to argue that the recent electoral system places the largest tribes at a disadvantage. One interesting element about the tribal vote was that there were several smaller tribes that gained seats at the expense of their larger counterparts.
This election appears to over little in terms of a long term settlement of Kuwait’s political crisis. 26 out of 50 MPs are new compared to the previous parliament, but the Prime Minister was just reappointed by the Emir. What remains to be seen is if this election ushers in a phase of tenuous stability and if this is enough to enable the country to achieve the economic diversification that it desperately needs to reduce the impact of swings in the price of oil and other petroleum products.
On Saturday, July 20, King Abdullah became the first Arab Head of State to visit Egypt since the military ousted former President Mohamed Morsi on July 3 following major protests. This was not just a simple meeting between two heads of state – there were numerous high-ranking officials on both the Egyptian and Jordanian sides who participated. King Abdullah was met at the Cairo Airport by Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem Bablawi, and he met with Interim Egyptian President Aldi Mansour at Ittihadiyah palace, the official residence of the Egyptian President. Meetings also involved Egyptian Defense Minister General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, as well as Vice President for Foreign Relations Mohamed ElBaradei.
King Abdullah said that Jordan supported the decisions of the Egyptian people and wanted to improve relations, and called for reconciliation among Egypt’s political factions. They also discussed regional issues including the Syria conflict and the recent agreement to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. They also said that the Egyptian-Jordanian Higher Committee would meet again as soon as possible.
The visit was undoubtedly intended to show support for the new Egyptian government, and King Abdullah likes sees an ally in the new regime. He had publicly criticized Morsi in an interview in The Atlantic, and Egypt’s gas supplies had been interrupted several times during Morsi’s tenure. It reached an extent that King Abdullah considered taking action against the Egyptian workers who were currently living in Jordan. It is also worth noting that the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood affiliate condemned the overthrow of Morsi as a coup led by the United States.
King Abdullah may view the Egyptian regime as facing a similar situation to his regime and views this as an opportunity to form an alliance of common interests. In this context, this visit should be seen as relating as much to cooperation on the domestic situations facing the two countries as it is to the broader situation in the region.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh met with Aldy Mansour, the Interim Egyptian President on Sunday in Cairo. According to Ammon News, Judeh said that he hoped Egypt would keep playing the role that it has played in the region internationally. Judeh also told Mansour that Jordan sought closer relations with Egypt, which was reciprocated by Mansour who said that he valued King Abdullah’s attempts to to conduct regional diplomacy aimed at bringing about peace. The article also mentions other topics they discussed including the crisis in Syria, as well as Judeh’s meeting with the Secretary General.
What does this mean? Was this an introductory meeting between Judeh and Mansour as the Jordanian regime attempted to gauge how Jordan would be affected by the political developments in Egypt? Or it it something more? Perhaps it is a mission intended to signify Jordan’s support for the military’s removal of former President Mohamed Morsi, although the Jordanian regime wanted to avoid stating this specifically. There are indeed some reports that Jordan was “relieved” by the downfall of Morsi but this should be taken with a grain of salt – this article does not quote regime officials but only analysts (though we should note the regime’s actions against the Islamic Action Front). Another obvious reason for this meeting is that Jordan considers its relationship to be extremely important, particularly because of the Jordanian economy’s reliance on frequently interrupted exports of Egyptian gas. About a week ago an attack on the pipeline in Sinai interrupted supplies once again.
Ultimately, the overthrow of former President Morsi may spur the hopes of many within the Jordanian regime who view it as a form of vindication of their resistance against reform. By taking action against the Islamic Action Front they perceive themselves as having taken steps to prevent events such as those in Egypt from happening in Jordan.
However, there is also another lesson to be learned from Morsi’s downfall. He was seen as incompetent, authoritarian, and unwilling to bow to demands of protesters due to the fear of being seen as weak. Much of the anger was no doubt due to the fact that he promised that he would govern differently and then failed to deliver on it. This lesson about Morsi’s removal may be less comfortable to loyalists – that he was removed for pledging reform and than failing to deliver.