The Kuwaiti Government’s Hypocritical Foreign Policy

A look at the website of KUNA, the Kuwaiti state news agency, includes many articles about Kuwait’s support for human rights and international institutions – though given the recent actions of the government, this does not appear to extend to Kuwait itself. These articles are an example of the government appearing to support reform and democratization while stalling and attempting to clamp down on dissent in Kuwait.

The government of Kuwait has urged that Sri Lanka take additional steps to improve its human rights record. Human rights in Sri Lanka is indeed a serious issue, as the country has only recently emerged from a civil war and the current government has frequently faced criticism over its human rights record. Indeed, the candidate who President Rajapska defeated in 2010, Retired General Sareth Fonseka, was recently released from prison in July after being prosecuted following the election – allegedly for corruption. This is an important issue that should be addressed, but is supporting human rights in Sri Lanka while arresting members of the royal family who tweeted in favor of the opposition, and also arresting Musallam Al-Barrack for mildly criticizing the Emir, and going after Mohammad Abdul Qader al-Jasem for a blog post urging Saudi Arabia and the UAE to stay out of Kuwait’s affairs.

The Kuwaiti Ambassador to Bahrain met with the Deputy Prime Minister of Bahrain to discuss relations between the two countries – it is worth noting that both of them clamped down on dissent when faced with protests. Meanwhile, at the United Nations, Kuwait urged nations to strengthen support for UN peacekeeping efforts. Perhaps they view these peacekeeping operations as being in line with the involvement of Jordan in the crackdown on demonstrations. Kuwait also urged Japan to ratify the UN Convention on Handicapped Rights and to improve the treatment of the disabled within their society. There’s more – the Ministry of Information has announced it is participating in the Sharjah Book Fair, at an event where, according to Kuna, readers expressed interest in Kuwait’s political system.

What all this adds up to is a government that is focusing on improving its image elsewhere in the world while ignoring the situation at home. They are trying to improve their image (clumsily) while doing little to nothing in the way of real reform. This is why the opposition is set to boycott the December 1st elections, and why next Sunday we may see a rally the likes of which has not been seen in the history of modern Kuwait.

Update 1: Kuwaiti Government Takes Action Against Mohammad Abdul Qader al-Jasem

Update: We have included an English translation of al-Jasem’s blog post below.

In a recent blog post, Mohammad Abdul Qader al-Jasem urged that Saudi Arabia and the UAE stay out of Kuwait’s internal affairs, and warned that protests in Kuwait could spread to those other countries as well. It is important to recall that both Saudi Arabia and the UAE dispatched forces to participate in cracking down on protests in Bahrain. The Foreign Ministry responded by threatening legal action against him, and he was banned from entering either the UAE or Saudi Arabia. This is not the first time that he has had problems with the authorities, as he has been detained before and was most recently released last year. He is also serving as the attorney for Musallam al-Barrak, the former MP who was jailed for urging the Emir not to be autocratic, and at the end of the post he urges that Barrack be freed. We have translated his blog post into English (the original post in Arabic can be found here), and it is included below:

A letter to a king and a Sheikh

Custodian of the two holy mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz
Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed AlNahyan

Peace be upon you, and God’s mercy and blessings,

I never imagined that I would talk to you through this website, so I am here to talk about what comes to mind when I think about Kuwait’s affairs. I am writing with complete freedom and I am saying what my mind and love of my country guide me to. However, these days Kuwait is reluctant because the government is trying to get rid of the relative freedom that we enjoy. It is also reluctant that your acceptance is under the influence that you are convinced that the atmosphere of political freedom in Kuwait threatens the political stability in the Gulf Cooperation Council and that it is inevitably limiting the freedom of an Arabian spring breeze.

This indifferent news is entirely accurate and could be the opposite. However, in any case, I wanted to draw your attention to an issue I believe is very important to us in Kuwait and to you in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as it is in the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

50 years passed on the “Democracy” of Kuwait, but with that, this democracy didn’t move to your cities; perhaps there were flaws with our parliamentary practices, flaws that made our democracy not subject to exportation. However, I would like to turn your attention to what is occurring in Kuwait today, such as “movements for change” which have expanded into traditional political movements and huge protests. The people have demolished all barriers to expression of opinion, and in the beginning, the government was using power and arresting people who opposed. This method may appeal to you, and perhaps for this reason, it was said that you encouraged moving forward in this new policy. This is why I found it important to point out to you that if Kuwaiti democracy has failed to move to your countries during the past five decades, the movement of change, the protests, the marches, and the demonstrations will be a lot easier and quicker. The sessions of the National Assembly of Kuwait and the Kuwaiti press is no longer alluring for follow up in the Gulf Cooperation Council; the demonstrations and protests will inevitably receive intensive follow up in the Gulf, and this will help speed up the process of transmission.

Custodian of the two holy mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz
Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed AlNahyan:

  • We in Kuwait are not in a feud with the family of Al Sabah at all. We are working, however, to preserve our rights as a people and our national wealth and dignity. Not one of us wants to bring down the regime; the change we seek is no more than constitutional. We do not have a “phobia” of our Muslim brotherhoods and tribes.
  • We in Kuwait believe that the nation is the source of authority, neither the state nor the princes.
  • We in Kuwait believe that the national wealth belongs to the people not to the king, the state, or the princes.
  • We in Kuwait believe that our ruler is just the head of state who is exercising his powers in accordance with the constitution, not a guardian ruling in the name of religion.
  • We in Kuwait believe that freedom is the value of humanity that cannot be seized by a Sheikh or a prince.
  • We in Kuwait do not accept oppression.
  • We in Kuwait do not believe in the theory of “Al-Seif w Al-Mansaf.”
  • We in Kuwait love our elders, even if we disagree with them.
  • And I don’t think that the convictions of the Saudi people or the people of the United Arab Emirates are different than previous.

In conclusion, I tell you with all love and appreciation that the demonstrations and protests do not need fifty years to spread; they might spread within weeks, and with God as our leader and guider to goodness and righteousness.

Freedom to Mussallam Al-Burrak, Freedom to Mussallam Al-Burrak, Freedom to Mussallam Al-Burrak, Freedom to Mussallam Al-Burrak!

10/30/2012

The Foreign Ministry of Kuwait responded to al-Jasem’s blog post by releasing the following statement, which was posted here in Arabic on on the website of the state news agency, KUNA. In their response they accused him of interference in the affairs of the UAE and Saudi Arabia as well as threatening Kuwait’s relations with those countries, and threatened that action would be taken against him. The statement is as follows (we translated it from the original Arabic):

Statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kuwait

Kuwait 10-30 (Kona) An insider in the ministry of foreign affairs made a statement last night saying that the ministry was extremely disappointed in the announcement that was posted online by the writer Mohammad Abdelqader Al-Jasem, who, through the internet wrote a letter directed towards the custodian of the two holy mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz (may God protect him) and to the crowned prince of Abu Dhabi, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces in the United Arab Emirates , his highness, Alsheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed AlNahyan (may God protect him.)

The ministry confirms its refusal and full rejection of the letter because it represents a misuse and prejudice of brotherly relations, both historically and fatefully in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The statement also represents the bypassing of the constants in these fraternal relations as well as showing unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the brothers.

The source adds that the Kuwait also disagrees with what was said in the letter and at the same time it represents the serious damage of awareness in the country.

The source concluded by saying that the ministry will be taking the necessary measures with the concerned parties for what was said in the letter in order to keep their relations with their brothers.

Update 1: Turmoil in Kuwait?

Update: Mohammad Abdul Qader al-Jassem, the attorney for opposition leader and former MP Musallam al-Barrak, who is discussed below, was condemned by the Foreign Ministry of Kuwait in a statement. The foreign ministry said that it would be taking action against him. Al-Jassem has been detained multiple times, and was most recently released from detention in 2011.

In two days, on November 4th the Kuwaiti opposition plans rallies to protest recent changes in the election law for the upcoming parliamentary elections on December 1st (which the opposition has vowed to boycott). The government has responded by taking steps to repress protests and criminalize dissent. These include arresting prominent leaders of the opposition, such as former MP Musallam al-Barrak, who was recently arrested on bail, as well as imposing restrictions that prohibit more than twenty people from gathering at any one time.

It’s sad that Kuwait has come to this. While never perfect, the country was – until the recent political crisis – in many ways more open than some of its neighbors. It had the first real parliament of any state in the Gulf region, a fifty member National Assembly that has not hesitated to criticize the government when its members saw fit, despite the continued prohibition of formal political parties. Even as the al-Sabah family has dominated the executive branch (and the constitution prohibits criticism of the Emir) parliament has not hesitated to assert itself, particularly in recent years. Indeed the genesis of the current political crisis stems from the growing willingness of parliament to assert itself and to question ministers.

The current Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, was heavily involved in running the country’s affairs since he became Prime Minister in 2003, and subsequently assumed the throne in January 2006 amidst a succession crisis. Since assuming the throne, the emir has dissolved parliament four times, resulting in elections most recently in February 2012, and an upcoming election on December 1st. The four most recent elections, including the upcoming one, were all triggered by the refusal by the government to be held accountable.

The current political crisis started when a scandal emerged regarding payments to 16 out of 50 members of the National Assembly in return for supporting government policies. In November 2011, the parliament sought to question the then-Prime Minister, Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah (a relative of the Emir) regarding the scandal, but the Constitutional Court blocked this, leading on November 16th to the occupation of parliament by protesters, including opposition members of the national assembly.

Following this, the Prime Minister resigned and was replaced by another member of the al-Sabah family, Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah, and parliament was dissolved and elections were held in February 2012, in which Islamists won 34 out of 50 seats. Following a period of tension between the new parliament and the government as the new parliament sought to assert its authority, the constitutional court ruled in June that the parliament should be dissolved and the previous parliament reinstated. Subsequently, members of the reinstated parliament boycotted its sessions and the Emir ordered another dissolution in October with elections held in December. The election is scheduled to go forward but the opposition is vowing to boycott.

A major source of tension is the recent attempt by the government to reverse changes to the electoral law that were made in 2006, which divided the country into five constituencies and gave citizens four votes. The government wanted to return to a one-vote per constituency system but this was blocked by the constitutional court. The opposition remains committed to boycotting the election and protests have recently accelerated, with the government responding by attempting to clamp down on dissent.
Recently the government has used teargas against peaceful protesters, banned gatherings of more than 20 people, and arrested leading figures of the opposition such as Musallam al-Barrack, who was recently released on bail after being arrested for urging the Emir not to rule autocratically.

Perhaps it is a sign of the government’s attitude that al-Barrack’s lawyer, Mohammad Abdul Qader al-Jasem (also an opposition activist), was recently criticized by the Foreign Ministry for “unacceptable interference.” The ministry said it was considering legal action against him. Meanwhile, al-Jassem was banned (along with his immediate family) from entering the UAE or Saudi Arabia. What was al-Jassem’s crime? He wrote a column saying that Saudi Arabia and the UAE needed to stay out of Kuwait’s internal affairs.