Explaining the Jordanian Regime’s Strategy

As the parliamentary elections scheduled for January 23rd, 2013 continue to approach, the regime’s behavior in the face of public disapproval triggered by decisions such as the fuel price increase may seem puzzling. King Abdullah’s reaction, in his interviews and public speeches indicate that the regime’s actions may be part of a broader strategy to retain the greatest possible degree of political power following the elections. The regime’s strategy, in short, appears to be to win the greatest possible legitimacy for the upcoming elections while marginalizing both the Islamist and reformist opposition groups. This would likely attract the strongest degree of popular support. In particular, they seek to marginalize the IAF by portraying the political situation as a binary one with the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood as the two main political alternatives.

The regime’s strategy appears to have three crucial components: First, limiting the scope of reform by seeking its implementation by the next parliament. Second, attempting to marginalize opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic Action Front or reformist groups such as the National Front for Reform. Third, attracting the support of other opposition parties to legitimize the election. Then, following the election, a new Prime Minister will likely be appointed from among the King’s allies in parliament, which means that the system of choosing the government is cosmetically different although in fact no real reform has been made. Where have we seen this before?

King Abdullah has stressed the importance of participation in the upcoming elections in numerous interviews and public appearances. In an interview on December 5th, King Abdullah said “The future of reform is in the hands of the Jordanian voters as they go to the polls early next year. They are the ones who will decide the composition of the coming parliament and government.” By setting stage for reforms to be implemented in the next parliament, the regime is ensuring that they remain limited in scope. The upcoming election will be boycotted by most of the opposition, while the parliament itself will be elected under an electoral law which sets aside most of the seats to be elected from districts that are drawn with unequal populations which favor the regime. Under this electoral law only 27 out of 150 seats will be elected from party lists, while the opposition including the Islamic Action Front demands 50 percent be elected this way. Needless to say, politicians are unlikely to support electoral reform if they benefit from it, so it creates another constituency opposed to fundamental reform.

Second, the regime has worked to marginalize opposition groups such as the National Front for Reform and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. The NFR is headed by a former Prime Minister and Intelligence Chief, Ahmed Obeidat, so the regime does not repress it in the same manner as the IAF, but it has been excluded by the regime failing to meet its demands for electoral reform. The Muslim Brotherhood, by contrast, has been the subject of implicit attacks by King Abdullah during hisrecent dispute with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi over gas supplies to Egypt and Egyptian workers in Jordan, and a regime source stated that the actions of Morsi would have an affect on the way the regime deals with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. By opposing the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt he seeks to bolster his regime’s credentials in this way, and is aided by the recent protests in Egypt against Morsi’s decree and the constitutional referendum. This gives ammunition to the regime to say that the alternative is between the current regime and a Morsi-type government. With the recent events in Egypt the regime feels more confident in its attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood and the IAF and its ability to wait out their political boycott.

Third, the regime is seeking to legitimize the election by attracting participation of leftist and nationalist parties, which would provide for a token degree of opposition that at the same time lacks the support of the Brotherhood, and broadens the support for the regime. King Abdullah recently reached out to several of these parties in a series of meetings held at the homes of several political figures. Why did he do this? He did it because these parties are not a fundamental threat to the regime, and their participation also helps legitimize the election.

This, in short, is the regime’s strategy for handling the upcoming parliamentary elections and retaining the greatest degree of support. It is yet another cynical attempt to extend an authoritarian system and resist fundamental and necessary political reform. How much longer will King Abdullah’s tactics work on his people? We’ve all seen across the Middle East what happens when a leader underestimates the will of his people.

In London, King Abdullah Talks About Reform. In Jordan He Jails Protesters

King Abdullah concluded his visit to the UK by saying that reform in Jordan is proceeding “strongly and steadily.” When one reads what he talked about and notes the sophistication of many in the audience, it leads me to wonder what was going through the minds of many of them. The event’s attendees included people from the media, politics, and other fields – and surely at least some of them are familiar with King Abdullah’s history of promises for reform that were made and then just as quickly broken. Perhaps he likes going to events like this because the reception he gets abroad is likely better than the one he would get at home.

He talked about the upcoming elections on January 23rd as though the boycott by the opposition and an unjust electoral law maintaining highly unequal district sizes for most of the seats simply don’t exist. A parliament elected in that manner isn’t progress, because politicians from the smaller constituencies will owe their election to the status quo and its difficult to envision them wanting to try and change it. He claims to be implementing reform even as the electoral law creates a natural base of lawmakers who would have a vested interest in opposing it.

Worst of all, he said these words about progress even as the regime continues to hold detainees from the protests in November. Many of the 113 who were scheduled to be released have not been freed yet, and the regime is refusing to release 13 of the detainess who it says were gulity of vandalism and “criminal conspiracy.” Among those still in custody is Emad Abu Hattab along with numerous other Muslim Brotherhood figures figures from the Muslim Brotherhood, which was why Islamist protesters were prominent in protests on Friday across Jordan calling for the regime to free the remaining detainees.

If the elections are being boycotted by the opposition, is that “steady and smooth” progress? If criticizing the King or participating in protests can land you in prison, is that “steady and smooth” progress? Reform is not merely the regime agreeing to certain changes in order to retain power, it’s final destination (indeed, it has one) is a government that is chosen by a parliament freely elected by its citizens who can express their wishes and criticize anyone. That’s real reform. That’s progress.

King Abdullah’s Quotes on Reform Speak for Themselves

Image by Troy Carter (@CarterTroy

“I am the type of person that wants everything done yesterday, and that doesn’t only apply to the peace process and regional stability, but also economic reform.”

-King Abdullah, answering questions at the National Press Club in Washington DC, on April 9 2001.

Since assuming the throne in 1999, King Abdullah has had a lot to say about reform and democracy. He has repeatedly stressed the need for Jordan to implement political and economic reform. He talks the talk very well, he knows exactly what to say. The part that he seems to have difficulty with is in actually taking action with these commitments.

What is clear from these quotes is that King Abdullah and the regime are not serious about the implementation of political reform, and it is time for those who have not realized this to wake up. We should not have to dig up quotes from 1999 to demonstrate our point.

May 18, 1999: “Well, I think his late Majesty started the procedure of democratic reforms, and will continue–we will continue to move in that direction. There’s a lot that needs to be done. There’s a lot of maturing that we have to go through, but it’s a process that his late Majesty started, and, and we will continue to, to see it through.”

“The sky is the limit for what can be done on, on democracy and demo–democratic reforms.”

October 13, 1999: “In fact, this is the major challenge that faces us today as we approach the dawn of a new century. A modern state with functioning institutions, and an economy that is based on sustainable growth and on private sector enterprise, guaranteed by an independent judiciary. This is our aim and this is what I have set out to guarantee and protect.”

October 14, 1999: “Through our partnership with America, we have built a unique model in our region. It is a model of peace that is cemented by the respect of the principles fo democracy, freedom of expression, political pluralism, free economic enterprise and human dignity. It is being continually reinforced through our positive interaction with our neighbors.”

October 15, 1999: “At the top of this agenda is our determination to deepen our democratization process and to ensure that the culture of democracy becomes embedded in society through daily practices. An important aspect in this regard is the issue of national unity. Jordanians, men and women, regardless of origin, religion, or ideology need to feel equal before the law, as guaranteed by our constitution.”

October 21, 1999: “We, in Jordan, are continuing the process of democratization and in developing a proper system of checks and balances. We are taking steps to ensure that the democratization process is not just a set of laws establishing the framework for political activity, but a process by which the culture of democracy becomes intertwined in our society through daily practice.”

November 1, 1999: “My esteem for your Honourable Council is unlimited. Your council is the symbol of the free Jordanian will and it is the stronghold of our democratic path and its fortress. It is the beacon of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.”

June 2, 2000:  “Cementing democracy and pluralistic ideals, in a lawful environment that safeguards our national interest, continues to be the pillar of our strategy.”

June 5, 2000: “We are providing a model for our region where political stability, democratic principles, and the rule of law are offering Jordanians the opportunity to excel, to contribute to the develpment of their country, and be assets to the region”

June 9, 2000: “ We have to realize, me dear brothers, that such substantial changes affecting all aspects of our lives cannot be done away from our democratic course. We should endeavor to establish democratic open horizons for it, protect it from all forms of abuse and harm effecting it under any pretence. We believe that deepening the awareness in democracy…”

April 4, 2001: “In the next 10 years, we will see a dramatic, positive transformation in our democracy. There is criticism that I’ve concentrated on the economy, and that politics take second place. If you can concentrate on the economy, make life better for people, improve the standard of living, you’re actually, in the long run, accelerating the process of political reform.”

April 9, 2001: “Well, for our country the priority is the economy, getting, as I’ve said from day one, food on the table. We have problems with poverty; we have problems with unemployment. If we are going to progress, if we are going to move forward on political reforms, economic reforms, we have to make the economy of paramount importance, and we’ve seen over the past two years a real improvement in that.”

November 8, 2001: “We, in Jordan, also take pride in our democracy and democratic institutions.”

“Jordan is committed to preserving, protecting and developing our democracy. And I am dedicated to ensuring that every Jordanian continues to enjoy his basic and inalienable human rights.”

June 12, 2002: “Above all, it means speaking clearly and forcefully about the principles we stand for: democracy, freedom, respecting diversity, honoring the individual and the heritage each represents.”

January 26, 2003: “Early on, we realised that for reform to last, democratic consent must be built in. Today, Jordan’s progress towards democracy and pluralism is irreversible, and we are committed to it.”

May 25, 2003: “In Jordan, we seek to promote our democratic march, through the development of political and partisan activities, and the reinvigoration of civil society institutions, which form the basic core of our renaissance and comprehensive development that we strive to achieve.”

April 16, 2004: “Long-term stability and economic growth cannot be sustained without political reform, and Jordan has made this its priority.”

April 16, 2004: “We in Jordan are already committed to the work of reform. It’s driven by a vision, a vision that builds on our society’s strengths, values and history, while it reaches out to global opportunities. And we are succeeding.”

July 2, 2004: “In Jordan, an extensive reform program is well underway. We in Jordan are already committed to the work of reform. It’s driven by a vision, a vision that builds on our society’s strengths, values and history, while it reaches out to global opportunities. And we are succeeding.”

April 27, 2005: “Reform has many aspects. It obviously includes political reforms to give citizens a stake in progress. There must be transparent, accountable institutions. We are serious about combating corruption, which is an enemy of public confidence and drains a nation’s resources.”

October 9, 2005: “The reform process is irreversible. It stems from our conviction that our people always deserve the best.”

February 3, 2006: “In recent years we have accelerated reforms across the board to meet our country’s needs. The goal is tangible, genuine progress – economic, social, and political.”

Those who like the status quo find excuses to reject reform; often, they will claim it is being imposed from outside. But Jordan’s message is: reform is ours, and our future will not be stopped.”

July 12, 2006: “As you know, there have been a number of efforts over the past few years, from governmental and nongovernmental institutions, to draft goals, plans, agendas and executive programmes that embody my vision for Jordan’s future, for reform, modernisation and development and for confronting challenges and problems that must be faced.”

September 19, 2006: “In Jordan and elsewhere, there is a serious commitment to good governance and reform.”

September 20, 2006: “We occupy a key position in the global economy. We have led the developing world in driving the reforms needed to create economic growth and opportunity.”

May 19, 2007: “Our success anchors our respective regions in prosperity and stability. And it provides a crucial model, for other countries, of what structural and economic reform can achieve.”

July 1, 2007: “We believe that economic reform is inevitable and there is no alternative to it, and we will continue our reform programme until the end.”

December 2, 2007: “Our vision for Jordan’s future is clear and ambitious; its pillar is comprehensive reform and modernization – political, economic and social – for the sake of attaining the ultimate goal: improving citizens’ standard of living and providing the means for a decent life to every Jordanian family. This is the duty of all: myself, the government and you, the two houses of parliament. I repeat: what is required is to improve the citizen’s standard of living. This for us is a principle to which we are committed in governance and administration, and not just a slogan that some reiterate to achieve interim or momentary goals.”

“When talking about political reform, the first thing that we want to emphasize is the importance of entrenching awareness of democratic culture, and developing political parties that enable Jordanian citizens’ real participation in decision-making, provided that intentions are loyal to the homeland and to the preservation and defence of our immutable national principles, and not subject to outside agendas.”

February 10, 2008: “Many of us, including Jordan, have undertaken extensive reforms and with great success.”

March 16, 2009: “We have initiated reforms that have enabled our economy to do well in the hardest of times. We believe Jordan offers an extremely lucrative environment for investment and we are trying to lure investment that can create jobs and contribute to economic growth.”

June 8, 2009: “We are determined to comprehensively review and evaluate our experience of the past years. This is essential to avoid the pitfalls and inefficiencies that may have occurred and to revive the role and performance of institutions so as to accelerate the process of reform, modernisation and development, whose results are felt by citizens and will make Jordan a strong and prosperous nation.”

November 10, 2009: “Reform and improving the economic situation are linked to stability. Therefore, it is not an issue of prioritising one over the other; stability is a priority, reform is a priority and improving economic conditions is a priority. We are working on establishing mechanisms that allow us to develop our country and improve Jordanians’ standard of living and provide our citizens with best opportunities for achievement and creativity. I said several years ago that there’s no economic reform without political reform. We are committed to reform in all its aspects out of our conviction of its necessity and the need for development and modernization that stimulate the energies of Jordanians.”

April 29, 2010: I am optimistic that with this serious effort, we will overcome the challenges and advance in our reform and development process in all political, economic, administrative and social fields.

February 20, 2011: “And when I say reform, I want real and quick reform, because without genuine reforms, the situation will remain as it was, when many officials wasted opportunities because of reluctance to move forward and fear of change… when they retreated before people with private agendas who resisted reform to guard their own interests. I will not allow that to happen again.”

“When I talk about political reform, I want real reform consistent with the spirit of the age.”

June 12, 2011: “We direly need to activate the reform programme and accelerate its implementation; for we are moving forward in the process of reform, modernisation and comprehensive development within a system of freedom, justice and equal opportunities. There will be no postponement or reluctance in dealing with the files of reform, freedom and democracy.”

August 14, 2011: “With the completion of this step, we assert that the roadmap of political reform will be achieved within a timeframe that observes institutional processes and the existing constitutional channels, and no later than the fourth quarter of this year.”

September 20, 2011: “On the issue of political reform, yes. And again four months from now, God willing, I want to feel much better.”

October 17, 2011: “Political reform characterises the current phase in the journey of our beloved Jordan.”

October 22, 2011: “The second major player in job growth is government. Let’s be clear. Political reform is economic reform. For businesses to invest and expand with confidence, they need a predictable, level playing-field… transparency and accountability… the rule of law… and a strong, stable foundation of inclusive political life.

These are key elements of Jordan’s reform effort. For us, the Arab Spring has been an opportunity to move our nation’s interests forward. We seek a consensual and evolutionary path, engaging citizens at all levels.”

October 26, 2011: “The sensitive regional circumstances and the transformations that our region is undergoing compel us to assert our firm conviction that public participation, a clear roadmap, and unwavering commitment to reform are the only way forward. We need to overcome and rectify mistakes, and uphold meritocracy and accountability, which guarantee balance between the branches of government.

 Our priority today is political reform.”

January 17, 2012: “I think luckily in Jordan, we’re going from Arab Spring to Arab summer, which means we’re rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard work of reform. I think the Arab winters that we’re beginning to see around us have had impact on Jordanian society, to invigorate [us] to make sure we continue into the Arab summer and not into the Arab winter.”

January 26, 2012: “The Arab Spring was a positive opportunity for Jordan and an impetus towards real and comprehensive reforms, an opportunity that we seized to re-invigorate the political process in our country, setting a unique reform model for the whole region that would be a source of pride for all Jordanians.”

March 25, 2012: “The process of reform, development and modernisation is a continuous one and is necessary for Jordan’s interest. We have made great strides in that area, but the road ahead is still long and there must be concerted efforts to push the reform process forward. I have said more than once that we are committed to reform in all its aspects – political, economic and administrative – out of conviction that it is an inevitable requirement to develop the country and unleash the potential of Jordanians. And as I stated in the Letter of Designation to the government that we consider economic reform a priority due to its direct impact on people’s lives. We believe that economic reform will not achieve the results that we seek unless it becomes part of comprehensive political, social and administrative reforms that ensure the highest degree of public participation in decision making through efficient institutions that work transparently to exemplify achievement and address deficiencies and shortcomings wherever they may occur.”

June 20, 2012: “Since the start of the Arab Spring, I have had open and public stands. What I meant, more specifically, was that the Arab Spring had an impact on the pace of all aspects of reform in Jordan; add to that the general climate in our region, which constituted another catalyst for development and modernisation. The pace of reforms in the last decade in Jordan has often been described as progressive, but “two steps forward, one step backward”. The reasons are many and complicated, including the existence of certain powers that deem reform a threat to their interests. Other reasons included lack of a clear agenda and scale of priorities pertaining to reform or consensus over it, in addition to other factors and the regional developments that we all know. The situation today, mostly due to the Arab Spring, is better in Jordan in terms of clarity on the reform agenda and priorities, in addition to a general conviction among large segments of the population that reform is essential and inevitable. I am with my people, on the same boat when it comes to the belief that comprehensive reform is our ultimate goal, which we shall not give up. God willing, we will achieve our goals.”

April 18, 2012: “I am confident that 2012 will be a year of key political reform in Jordan.”

September 13, 2012: “Regional challenges are no excuse not to proceed with reform. We are confident enough with the reform process not to use regional challenges to step away from what Jordanians want to achieve – a strong drive for reform. We will continue with the reform process and our drive for elections by the end of this year”

September 25, 2012: “In Jordan we have charted our course guided by our heritage of mutual respect and moderation. Our Arab Spring journey is one of opportunity, to accelerate home-grown reforms and achieve national goals.”

October 23, 2012: “Here, I would like to assure you that our country is on the right track towards the reform we aspire to, and I would like to reiterate that we will have a new Parliament by the new year, following parliamentary elections that will be conducted with the highest degree of integrity and transparency.”

December 4, 2012: In Jordan, the pace of reform has been consistent with our national political priorities.

December 5, 2012: I look at the reforms achieved so far — the constitutional amendments, Constitutional Court, the IEC, the development of laws governing political life, early elections slated for January, and then starting to pilot a parliamentary government in line with the people’s aspirations and the nature of Jordan’s political structure…. All this is part of phase one, which will give us a boost but is not in itself the end of our democratisation course…The future of reform is in the hands of the Jordanian voters as they go to the polls early next year. They are the ones who will decide the composition of the coming parliament and government.

 

 

Kuwait After December 1st: A Divided Political Sphere

Protests in Kuwait have been held every day since the election on December 1st, and show no sign of abating, although at present their size is limited and the regime retains a degree of support. Today, a protest was held in Kuwait City that attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators who chanted slogans against the Emir’s decree, demonstrating that even as the regime has moved to dominate the formal political arena the opposition has the clout to demand that its voice be heard.

It seems from the results of the election that the opposition’s decision to boycott the polls means that there are two separate (but related) political processes occurring in Kuwait at the same time. There is the regular political process – now dominated by forces allied with the government – who are by no means homogenous (as will be outlined below in greater detail) consisting of the royal family and the executive branch, the National Assembly (now dominated by government allies) and the judicial system.

Then there is the opposition, which by boycotting the election removed itself from much of the formal political system. The political sphere of the opposition consists of protests, both authorized like the massive December 1st protest on the eve of the election, which was supported by @KarametWatan, the anonymous organizers of several previous protests. The rally was attended by numerous opposition figures, including Ahmed Al-Saadoun, former Speaker of the National Assembly who most recently held that position in the Assembly elected in February 2012, which was dissolved by the constitutional court. Also speaking at the rally was former Islamist MP Jamaan Al-Herbesh. Musallam Al-Barrak, a former MP who was arrested and later released on bail in October after urging the Emir not to rule in an autocratic manner, attended the rally and chanted slogans against the regime.

The government on Tuesday pledged to take a hard line against opposition protests. The Interior Ministry vowed to not allow “any unauthorized gatherings whatever their aims and needs are,” and said that police officers had been injured in clashes on Monday by protesters who were throwing stones and had attempted to run over police officers. The government’s hard line led them to arrest eight teenagers between 15 and 17 years old without charges before a protest on Thursday, according to Naser AlAbduljalil (@NforNaser).

At the same time that protests are continuing, the government has moved forward with the formal political process without opposition participation. Despite recent events, an analysis of the turnout reveals that the regime still has a large degree of public support, or at least acquiescence. If the opposition’s calculation of 28 percent turnout is accurate (down from approximately 60 percent in previous elections) then theoretically about 53.3 percent of the electorate participate in the boycott. The official statistics indicate that approximately 40 percent of the electorate voted, which would mean approximately 33 percent of the population participated in the boycott.

The regime is thus moving forward with the belief that it has the support (or at least acquiescence) of between 46 and 67 percent of the electorate following the recent election, and it is to this political process that I now turn.

Official Political Process (Government allies)

The government is moving foward as though the election was a referendum in which it prevailed. The Emir reappointed the incumbent Prime Minister, Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah who has served since late 2011 when a corruption scandal led to the resignation of his predecessor. He has until December 16th to select a new cabinet, as that is when the new National Assembly will convene.

The National Assembly that convenes on the 16th will be substantially different than the previous one, as Shia candidates won an unprecedented number of seats, while tribal figures and Sunni Islamists chose to boycott. MPs are already competing for position in the next parliament. Ali Al-Omair thought to be one of the frontrunners for the Speakership, and Essam Al-Dabous has also announced he intends to stand. MP Askar Al-Enezi has announced his run for the Deputy speakership. Al-Enezi was the top vote-getter in the 4th constituency despite being initially barred from running due to his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal. (As a matter of fact candidates initially barred from standing did quite well, 9 of them were elected.) Both of these MPs – despite being government loyalists, have shown at least some degree of independence, as Al-Omair participated or supported two ministerial grillings in 2007 (including one member of the royal family), and Al-Enezi urged the government to apologize when the head of the Enezi tribe was arrested at the airport following pro-Bedoon protest tweets prior to a flight.

What these examples show is that the loyalists, just like the coalition opposing the government, cannot be considered a completely homogenous group. Some members of the new parliament have discussed making further changes to the electoral law, such as having 10 constituencies with 5 MPs and two votes per voter, which would be the same votes to seats ratio (40 percent) as under the 2006 electoral law, in the hopes of averting another boycott. However given the government’s decision to press forward in spite of the boycott the opposition is unlikely to take this as a suitable concession, and will likely continue to engage in protests and legal challenges, to which I now turn.

Opposition’s Political Process

The opposition decided to boycott the election following the Emir’s decree reducing the number of votes each voter is allowed to cast from four to one. The protests have continued following the election.

Today, tens of thousands of Kuwaitis protested near Kuwait towers and chanted “the people want the fall of the decree.” On Wednesday, protesters gathered at a roundabout outside Kuwait City and were followed by cars honking their horns in support as they chanted against the Emir’s electoral decree. The previous day police had fired tear gas at demonstrators protesting against the results of the election.

The opposition has refused to accept the legitimacy of the new parliament and is calling for the revocation of the one-vote decree. Their protests have been met by the regime with tear gas and batons as well as arbitrary arrests.

They have also vowed to challenge the electoral decrees through the courts. A few days ago several leading figures from the liberal National Bloc filed a petition, saying that they would respect the court’s verdict. The Emir had previously said the same thing. If the court rules against the decree it would result in the 2009 National assembly being recalled – yet again – and another election – yet again.

What does this mean?

The Emir’s decree was seen by the opposition as crossing a line, as they decided the regime wanted to increase its power at their expense. Meanwhile, following the election the regime feels confident that it can endure the protests. Maybe they are right, at least in the short term. However, over the long term if (even according to the regime’s own figures) one-third of the population rejects participation in the political process it does not bode well for Kuwait long-term. The regime may yet pull through this crisis without making any real concessions, but the people – as they have in the past – have been steadfast in demanding their rights. It is unclear whether any outcome can resolve the long-term political crisis, so the upheaval that has lasted for the past six years continues, and has entered a new phase with this most recent election.

Two Court Rulings in Kuwait

The Administrative Court ruled on Monday that the Emir’s decree reducing the number of votes from four to one is a “sovereign act” and is thus not subject to review by the Administrative Court. The Constitutional Court, which has the authority to rule on such issues is expected to hear an appeal from the opposition after the election.

Another Administrative Court bench ruled that many of the disqualified candidates could participate in the elections, but this is not the blessing for democracy that it seems. Many of these candidates are reported to have accepted bribes from the regime. The former MPs who are allowed to run include Saleh Ashour, Youssef Al-Zalzalah, Khalaf Dumaitheer, Saadoun Hammad, Askar Al-Enezi and Khaled Al-Adwah. They had previously been disqualified on the grounds that they did not enjoy a “good reputation.”

It is interesting that they were excluded on these grounds. The most significant allegation against many of them was that they accepted bribes from the regime (which was the cause of the scandal which led to the storming of parliament and the resignation of then-PM Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah.

This court ruling was perhaps the last opportunity to avert an escalation of Kuwait’s political crisis. The Constitutional Court will likely review the decision after the election, but even if they rule in favor of the opposition is would extend the crisis into new territory. If they annul the decree they would likely annul the election also, meaning that Kuwaiti citizens would be going to vote yet again.

Could Kuwait’s Courts Overrule the Election Decree?

On Monday, November 26th, Kuwait’s Administrative Court is expected to issue a ruling on a legal challenge to the decree by the Emir which reduced the number of votes that each citizen is allowed to cast from four to one. Riyadh Al-Sane, a Kuwaiti lawyer challenged the constitutionality of the decree and is also arguing that the election scheduled for December 1st (next Saturday) should be postponed until that challenge is ruled upon. The court has announced that it will issue its ruling on Monday.

According to an article from Al-Hayat that was republished and Translated by Al-Monitor, the court will be deciding whether or not the election should be postponed until the Constitutional Court can review the decree by the Emir. The Emir, it should be noted, has said that he would accept any ruling by the constitutional court on the issue.

In the event that the issue came before the constitutional court, it is not entirely certain how the court would react to it. Two recent rulings – one of them favorable to the government, the other unfavorable – illustrate that the court has acted contrary to the wishes of the executive branch before, making this another wildcard in Kuwait’s political crisis. In June, the Court dissolved the previous parliament (which was elected in February of this year) because it said that the Emir’s decree calling for the elections in February was not issued correctly.

However, in September they rejected the government’s appeal against the electoral law passed in 2006 which reduced the number of constituencies to five, with ten members elected from each one. On October 19th, the Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah issued a decree which kept the number of constituencies the same but reduced the number of votes that each citizen has from four to one, meaning that the election according to the opposition, is more susceptible to government manipulation. The protests (and the accompanying election boycott) which have erupted recently cite as a major demand the revocation of the Emir’s decree.

As the situation stands now the election – with virtually all opposition groups boycotting – is more of a referendum on the current political system than an election, as regardless of turnout it is guaranteed that the candidates elected will be favorable to the government. The government has launched a media campaign urging citizens to vote because it wants a higher turnout that would signify support for the current system. If the election goes forward as it is, it would mark a new phase in Kuwait’s current political crisis.

A ruling against the decree could – potentially – take the situation in a different direction. It would give a boost to demonstrations, and would likely set the stage for yet another election campaign with the central issues of the way Kuwait is governed still unresolved.

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.

Reform?

Is this just another attempt by King Abdullah of Jordan to legitimize his power?<br /><br /><br /><br />
al-monitor:</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>Jordan’s King Abdullah II has ordered his prime minister to release 20 activists accused of insulting him. Abdullah also called for all factions — including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been planning a boycott — to participate in forthcoming elections. Read more.

Is this just another attempt by King Abdullah of Jordan to legitimize his power?

al-monitor:

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has ordered his prime minister to release 20 activists accused of insulting him. Abdullah also called for all factions — including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been planning a boycott — to participate in forthcoming elections. Read more.