When talking about Kuwait’s political crises you feel as though you are in Lebanon; whenever you search for a solution, you get lost in a more complicated maze. This is simply because the political regime there is a modern one built on old standards. In Lebanon, there are elections, and nevertheless it does not matter who gets the most votes. The President of the Republic is a Christian, the Prime Minister is a Sunni, the Speaker of Parliament is a Shiite, and nearly a thousand government positions are filled in accordance with this spiraling ladder. In Kuwait, regardless of the voting results, the parliament continues to oppose the government and therefore crises are endless.
I do not want to go into the controversy surrounding Kuwait this time for one simple reason: I cannot understand it despite listening to the arguments of numerous friends of mine, and despite my extensive readings about the new developments there. In my opinion, the most important thing to be decided is not who is right and who is wrong, but rather who is the authority; what is the frame of reference for this Kuwaiti political struggle? Is it the Emir, the constitutional court, the judiciary or the street? As for the disagreement itself, this is a natural occurrence in a vibrant community such as that of Kuwait. But who has the final say whenever there is a disagreement over dividing electoral districts, who decides whether a citizen has one vote or four, who determines the parliament's powers? Clearly the worst is yet to come.
As far as I’m concerned, the constitutional court is normally the frame of reference in most democratic states. Certainly in Kuwait the Emir must command respect, for he is a symbol of the system as a whole, but he himself acknowledged that “constitutionalism” was the frame of reference during a previous political disagreement. Part of the opposition, by marginalizing the constitution and seeking to magnify the parliament's role, are seeking to eliminate the balance of power between authorities, which is the basis for any political system in the world. As for those who consider the street as the sole frame of reference, they are virtually discounting the existing regime in its entirety, but this can only be the case when a revolution erupts. Only then can statutory frames of reference be discounted.
The strong sentiments in Kuwait today are reminiscent of early last year in Egypt, when a noisy uproar escalated in the name of the “people.” Now, many are admitting that mistakes were committed at the beginning, and are attempting to rectify them. Yet it is too late for the majority of these mistakes to be rectified because presidential elections have taken place and the government and parliament have been selected before a consensus was reached on a constitution.
In Kuwait there is a clear desire for reform, but this must be accompanied by an acceptance of the constitutional frame of reference in the first place. There seems to be considerable controversy, and the opposition is consistent in its opposition against the government, yet it is not united from within. Some have limited objections, such as those concerning the number of electoral districts and votes and so on, whilst others have more comprehensive objections against the regime as a whole, and are seeking to curb its powers and promote the parliament as the sole legislator and ruler. Between these two points there is an extremely large gap, and both in turn are greatly distanced from a third point; namely who is the authority in the first place.
Hence a state’s frame of reference is the key for all differences to be solved. Without respecting the constitution, Kuwait will become a chaotic state, and it may lose all it has achieved over the past half century. Observers are well aware that the majority of those who took to streets are already part of the political system, and that they want to maintain and promote it rather than destroy it.
Finally, the Kuwaiti people themselves will be the most aggrieved if they discover, later on, that all these political escalations did not lead to the development of Kuwait, and blame here would fall upon executives and legislators.
(Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. This article was published in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on Nov.16, 2012)