Is Kuwait Headed for Yet Another Election? (After this one)

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah has said that he will accept any decision by the constitutional court regarding his decree reducing the number of votes citizens are allowed to cast from four to one. He said this in a speech during which he urged citizens to vote, and the government has also launched ads urging citizens to cast their ballots. The opposition is planning a rally organized by @KarametWatan for November 30th, the eve of the election that will be called “Dignity of the Nation 3.”

The opposition’s boycott is largely due to the decree issued by the Emir in which he reduced the number of votes that citizens are allowed to cast from four to one. With the Naitonal Assembly consisting of 50 members, with ten each elected from five districts. With the one-vote system, this means that it will be easier for the government to manipulate the electoral process to ensure success by pro-government candidates. Even with the opposition boycotting there are still 389 candidates running for 50 seats, meaning that those elected would likely need less than 10 percent of the vote to win – which is why the opposition views it as favorable to government allies and why they refuse to participate.

Legal challenges may be filed against the Emir’s decree – and this is where it gets interesting. A challenge to the electoral law may be referred to the Constitutional Court by ordinary trial courts, at which point the Constitutional Court can consider making a ruling on the constitutionality of the decree. If the court does decide to overturn the decree – and that’s a big if – then its interesting to see what would happen.

I foresee one of two things – the court itself ordering the dissolution of the national assembly because it was elected improperly (or it being dissolved) or an attempt by the government to resist holding new elections, which would escalate the country’s political crisis further. My guess is that they take the first route, which could lead to yet another general election for Kuwait, which would be the sixth since the current Emir assumed the throne in 2006. If the court decides to maintain the decree then the opposition boycott will continue.

Either way the political crisis is likely to escalate over the coming months, with no clear resolution in sight.

Coordinating Against Democracy

The interior minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Humoud Al-Jaber Al-Sabah attended a GCC security meeting in Riyadh, shortly before returning to Kuwait from Saudi Arabia he announced, through the state news agency KUNA, that there was “a high-level security coordination among the GCC countries to facing future challenges.” According to KUNA, “The final statement of the one-day meeting included resolutions and recommendations that would activate common security challenges and plans.”

The article goes on to say that “very important” decisions were made at the meeting that were “aimed at addressing present, urgent, and future security challenges.” It also said that the Sheikh Ahmad sent a cable to Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, the interior minister of Saudi Arabia thanking him for organizing the meeting. This article is very bland, if not cryptic. It provides absolutely no details at all about what was discussed at the meeting, or its purpose. What are the “present, urgent and future security challenges” that are being addressed? But there is more.

There’s more however, as another article about the same meeting, also on KUNA, describes more about what was discussed. The Saudi Interior Minister said that he hoped for increased security cooperation among the GCC states. Meanwhile, the Interior minister of the UAE, (who is also Deputy Prime Minister) Sheikh Saif bin Zayed al-Nahyan urged the GCC states to develop “unified security policies” that would contribute to “cementing security, stability, and sustainable development.”  A third article also mentions that the six states signed a security agreement. The article also mentions that the Interior Minister of Bahrain thanked the other GCC countries for “standing by Bahrain in the face of terrorism and violence,” and that the Secretary General of the GCC gave condolence to Bahrain for members of the security forces who were killed in “terrorist acts” that were committed by “terrorist gangs.”

It is clear then, that this meeting was held to arrange ways to further clamp down on dissent among the GCC states. When Mohamed Abdul Qader al-Jasem wrote an article urging Saudi Arabia and the UAE to stay out of Kuwaiti affairs, this is what he was warning about. The “very important” decisions that were made almost certainly involved the “challenge” of preventing the people from attaining their rights. “Unified security policies” is, therefore, a codeword for more interventions of the type that happened when Saudi Arabia and the UAE moved to protect an authoritarian regime in Bahrain from the demands of the people.

By the way, it seems as though the Arabic version of the article and put it through Google Translate. What does it say about the government if they can’t even find someone to translate their articles properly.

Protests in Kuwait Come Closer to Boiling Point

More protests are scheduled in Kuwait for this Sunday, November 11th, following protests last Sunday that were repressed by security forces with stun grenades and tear gas. The choice of November 11th is pointed – it is the anniversary of Kuwait’s constitution, which has recently been threatened by the actions of the Emir and his government. This Sunday’s protest is a joint rally that will take place at Erada Square, which is opposite parliament, and is a designated area for protests. Recently many protests have spread beyond Erada Square, giving the authorities a pretext to crack down on them.

These protests come as the Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, seems to still be out of touch with the demands of the people. He said that the constitutional court might be called upon to decide the fate of his recent decree that reduced the number of votes that Kuwaiti citizens have from four to one for the elections that are scheduled to be held on December 1st.

The opposition’s movement to boycott these elections has been gaining momentum recently, as evidenced by the fact that an account created by Mohammad Qasem, founder of the Public Committee for the Election Boycott gained 20,000 Twitter followers within 24 hours of its creation.

The Emir claimed that he keeps an equal distance between supporters and opponents, and would abide by any decision by the constitutional court regarding his decree on the electoral process. However, this sidesteps a very important issue – why is it that that Emir, simply by issuing a decree, was able to rearrange the entire process of selecting members of the National Assembly in a way that might more probably be favorable to his supporters? Also, how can he keep his distance from both sides at a time when he has vowed to crack down on demonstrations which he referred to as “chaotic rallies.”

There have been more ominous developments in Kuwait recently, a country which for a long time was considered more open than its neighbors in the Gulf. The Interior Ministry stated that it would seek to crack down on social media to “safeguard the cohesiveness of the population and society.” Also, recently-freed former MP Musallam al-Barrack confirmed Jordanian involvement in the crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators.

As of now the protests have remained moderate and few have called for the fall of the regime. However, if the government continues its repression and ignores the demands of the people it is questionable how long this will remain the case. It seems that the Kuwaiti government is, much like the Jordanian government, making pledges of reform while continuing with more of the same unaccountable government and manipulated elections for legislative bodies that remain relatively powerless.

Hasn’t Kuwait Learned Anything From the Arab Spring?

The actions by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, Kuwait’s actions by the Emir, have shown that the country’s government is not going to give into the demands of its people. The Associated Press reports that Kuwait will “take all possible measures to quell growing opposition protests.” Is this the right decision? Absolutely not.

We’re living in a time where people have certain inherent rights. One being the right to protest peacefully against an oppressive regime. Sheik Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah is not only oppressing his people by threatening to take tougher measures but is also demeaning his people by calling their protests “chaotic rallies.”

This will hurt Kuwait in the long term. The people of Kuwait are not going to stand for such measures and opposition against the monarchy will only grow. Authorities are taking such harsh measures in an attempt to oppress the protesters and instill fear in the citizens. But as seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere this doesn’t necessarily work, and is in fact counterproductive. These measures to oppress people have proven to be the true catalysts for change as it pushes the political situation further towards the brink.

Ironically, Jordan has rushed to Kuwait’s side, for $6 billion. According to reports, in October an agreement was reached during a visit by former Jordanian intelligence chief Samih Battikhi under which Jordan would dispatch 16,000 soldiers to Kuwait to assist in a crackdown on demonstrations there, in return for funds to help address Jordan’s budget shortfalls. This arrangement is yet another example of collaboration between authoritarian elites in the region desperate to stay in power.

This is yet another example of regimes underestimating the power of the people. These regimes continue to assume that if they crack down hard enough, people will stop protesting and the situation will go back to the way it was in 2010 before the term Arab Awakening was ever in anyone’s vocabulary. What happens if the protests continue? Will Kuwait implement true reform or will it be like Jordan, with repeated promises of change while the government delivers simply more of the same?