Islamist Victory in Kuwait: What Happened, and What Next?

Article Summary
Abd-al-Malik al-Tamimi discusses the reasons behind the success of Islamist parties in Kuwait’s recent National Assembly elections. He provides a thorough overview of why Kuwait’s liberals lost their seats, and what they can learn from their defeat.

The Kuwaiti National Assembly elections, which were held early February 2012, led to unexpected results, namely the majority of seats garnered by the religious parties and the tribes; the crushing defeat of the liberal party, and the failure of female candidates, including four former MPs.

Since the atmosphere that preceded and accompanied the elections was intense and what some might call extreme, the results of the elections were also perceived as such. Without going into details and figures, it is important to know the reasons behind the election results, which some considered natural and positive, while others saw them as negative and dangerous.

First, it is worth saying that these results expressed the opinion of the people and that is why we should respect and accept them.  As to the reasons behind these results, we can summarize them as follows:

  1. The good organization and the capabilities of the religious and tribal parties, which surpassed those of the liberal party, [despite] its having over 50 years of experience.
  2. The religious forces’ focus on mass social and media organization, rather than on the political elite, making use of all available platforms and opportunities.
  3. The alliance between the religious and tribal movements and the fact that all [these movements] are conservative.
  4. The religious forces’ adoption of a moderate rhetoric rather than a radical political and religious one.
  5. The indirect impact of the Arab Spring revolutions, which saw religious movements achieve significant victories in a number of Arab countries.
  6. The disunity and weakness of the liberal party, which has suffered structural, organizational, and intellectual problems - not only domestically, but also at the regional level. It seems that the liberals are unable to take control of the current stage; its awakening has not yet begun, because the main component of the party - namely, the middle class - was destroyed, along with other classes. [This is so even if] the Marxist theory of class struggle has not been in use for more than a quarter century.

The positive aspects of the Kuwaiti elections can be summarized as follows:

  1. The candidates of the tribal and sectarian far'iya [tribal consultations that select consensus candidates for elections] lost these elections, which is a political gain that signals a newfound awareness could result in the practice of far’iya dying out without the need to criminalize them or otherwise exert a great deal of effort in fighting them. This means that whoever wants to succeed in the future must stay away from tribal far'iya.
  2. All the “mafia” MPs lost in the elections except for one. This is a good lesson and to be read as a mass punishment of the corrupt - especially the former MPs who were elected by the people and who swore to be honest and loyal to the homeland. However, this does not mean that a number of candidates did not use political money in these elections. Some of them have received their punishment and the others will get it in the future, God willing.
  3. The success of young people in these elections is to be regarded as a positive phenomenon. It proves that they currently enjoy political and cultural significance in our [Arab] societies, and that they will have similar importance in the future.
  4. Everyone agrees that the Kuwaiti National Assembly elections of 2012 were in general fair and that the conduct of the judiciary and the government was honorable. 
  5. One of the significant positive aspects of these elections is that the civil, liberal party suffered a massive shock. The party needed this shock to rouse it from its slumber, [address its own shortcomings] before fighting others, and restore its glory. The result will be positive [for the party] in the long run, because it will now be forced to carry out a comprehensive [self-]evaluation on how to build a national organization while avoiding the mistakes of the past and present. [It must also develop] strategic vision and political awareness that go beyond racism, sectarianism or individualism. This will require the creation of a new culture and the renewal of the existing one. Furthermore, the liberal party needs to branch out from the circles of the political and cultural elite and reach out to the masses through a change in its rhetoric.

Some liberals have drifted toward racism and sectarianism, which contradict the nature of their movement and its principles. All Kuwaitis should coexist with one another [in harmony], for they have always been part of a tolerant community. The extremism that has recently been introduced into this community is not part of its nature and the loser of today is the winner of tomorrow if he exerts great efforts, since politics is a changing game, whereas principles are fixed. There is no doubt that our culture, behavior and principles are witnessing a serious decline and ought to be evaluated. It is in the face of adversity that deviations can be rectified and things put back on track. The results of the recent elections were based on democratic and popular choices, which is why we should accept and respect them. Any rational analysis done before the elections would have predicted the same results; [now,] however, the most important thing is to benefit from this experience and learn the lessons for the future.

Found in: tribal politics, kuwaiti politics, kuwaiti national assembly, kuwaiti elections, islamists, islamist victory kuwait, islamist-tribal alliance, islamist

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