The relationship between the authority and the opposition political forces in Kuwait is complicated despite the legitimacy of Parliament and political activities. It is half-democracy — there are elections but party activities are prohibited. There is a parliamentary majority but the majority has no right to form a government. In contrast, the Parliament, which is the National Assembly, is the legislative and regulatory authority of the government, and one-third of government ministers are elected. Therefore, this cannot be described as a fraudulent democracy as the region is known to have.
Kuwait is in crisis today. In fact, it has been in crisis for quite some time: Five elections in six years; dissolution of the Parliament by the emir on the request of the opposition; and before that resignation by Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Sabah to appease the opposition. Now the dispute is over the distribution of constituencies.
A half-democracy cannot exist without problems as it has to seek the completion of its second half. I believe many people in Kuwait are convinced with the idea of the democratic development of a state that has had elections for nearly 40 years and has had political figures within the state itself. So why is there no political reform or democratic development?
My opinion is that everyone is to be blamed, since neither the political nor constitutional leadership provides a progressive plan that can complete the second half, contribute to the creation of political groups and grant the winning party their right to participate in government. Moreover, the opposition is not prepared to admit that its existing groupings are not proper political parties — they are sectarian and tribal groupings.
Still in Kuwait, as in many other Arab countries, a tribe is stronger than faith, and faith is stronger than nationalism. Therefore, democratic competition turns into a conflict between tribes, and pits communities against communities, which ultimately eliminates the value of democracy.
The circumstances under which the opposition stood up with their slogans worried Kuwait’s political system. Is it in the spirit of the Tunisian revolution that triggered the Arab Spring, or is it the spirit of Islamic groups, the Brotherhood and Salafists, which triumphed in Tunisia and Egypt and which believe it is their time and opportunity in Kuwait and other countries?
From the phenomenon of diwaniyas (indoor meetings) to demonstrations, now the opposition has increased its activities and emerged on the streets and is finally challenging the regime and not only the government. The regime has also decided to unilaterally change its electoral rules, raising fears of confrontation and clashes that would open a new front in the Gulf after Bahrain. But Kuwait is not Bahrain, at least not at this stage although there was a crisis in Bahrain similar to Kuwait. At first it started as a public opposition movement that turned into a political one. My opinion is that the biggest enemy of the reformist movement in Kuwait is the timing. The suggestion that it is an extension of the wave of political change sweeping the region frightens conventional Arab leaderships, which might not object to political reform and development, but fear the breakdown of boundaries at home and abroad.
The second thing is that they suspect that this is triggered by outside political forces, specifically the Brotherhood, whose victories inspired Islamists in the Gulf to move and pressurize the state to change the status quo.
And so the regime accuses the opposition of not being concerned with issues that address reform, but rather accuse it of trying to control the government rather than seeking to build a real democracy. I heard those, who preferred to stay on the sidelines, saying that these concerns and uncertainties are problems created due to bad timing.
They say that Kuwait and Bahrain should not be thrown together in the same basket. They urge the opposition to differentiate between calls for reform and calls from foreign elements to effect change. In addition, they must emphasize that this is not part of a political storm driven by foreign international movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood or anyone else.
So, does the dispute over constituencies deserve this battle, and where will this lead Kuwait and the whole Gulf region to?
(This article was published in the Saudi-based Arab News on Oct. 26, 2012)