Escalating Tension Threatens to Drag Kuwait Toward Collapse

Article Summary
Since 2006, four National Assemblies have been dissolved and nine governments have resigned in Kuwait. But the latest decision by the Constitutional Court to dissolve the Assembly is different, writes Haifa Zaaiter. The struggle is no longer over political power, but over the future of the country.  

What is happening in Kuwait is nothing out of the ordinary for the country's political scene. Since 2006, the National Assembly has been dissolved four times and the government has resigned nine times. But this is only how it appears from the outside. In reality, the escalating tension between the government and parliament threatens to drag the country toward political collapse. Some observers are describing this as Kuwait’s worst political crisis since the country was liberated and parliament was restored in 1992.

Things are moving fast in Kuwait. Only a few days after the Constitutional Court invalidated the National Assembly elections and reinstated the previous Assembly, the Kuwaiti government submitted its resignation to Kuwait’s Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah. In the meantime, the previous Assembly Speaker Jassem al-Kharafi returned from London to call together the 2009 Assembly and advise them on how to implement the required constitutional procedures. This all took place amid an atmosphere of escalating tensions as the Kuwaiti opposition called for street protests against the Constitutional Court’s decision.

Kuwaiti official discourse refuses to recognize any political dimension in the current crisis. The government sees it as a purely constitutional issue. Head of the first Kuwaiti national parliamentary bloc Ahmad al-Khatib explained this in detail to As-Safir: “The means by which the 2009 National Assembly was dissolved were unconstitutional... When the Constitutional Court began reviewing the electoral appeals submitted to it, it saw that the dissolution of the 2009 Assembly was not constitutional because the government at the time was also unconstitutional, and the Emir cannot dissolve the Assembly without it (the government).”

In this context, al-Khatib discusses the circumstances under which the Emir committed the “error:” the Emir met with two major constitutional experts who advised him against this step, and the Department of Jurisprudence and Legislation took seven hours to convince the Emir that the “solution” was constitutional.

With regard to the government’s status at the time, Kuwaiti writer Hamid al-Ajlan tells As-Safir that “what happened was the government that resigned yesterday was itself not constitutional because after Nasser al-Mohammad’s resignation, the Emir appointed a new prime minister via decree at the end of November 2011. The new prime minister was Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah, who did not change any of the cabinet members, which was illegal.” And since it was that government that approved the Emir’s decree to dissolve parliament and the decree calling for new elections, then it follows that the upcoming elections are illegal, according to al-Ajlan.

In this context, Shamlan al-Issa, a professor of political science at Kuwait University, told As-Safir that it is unclear how things will transpire in the coming days. He does not expect new elections anytime soon, and is certain that they will not take place before September because the government is dragging its feet. He expects the old Assembly to be reinstated, albeit with difficulty due to the resignation of the opposition bloc within it. But Ahmad al-Khatib thinks it is necessary to reinstate the old Assembly in order to form a new government that will work with the Assembly to create an impartial commission that can ensure fair elections in a democratic atmosphere.

On the other side, the opposition is mobilizing to face what it calls a plot against the opposition. It called for a big gathering at Al-Erada Square today [June 26]. Those who gathered in the office of Ahmad Saadoun, the 2012 parliament speaker, said the protest was being held to “correct the situation and put things back on track.” The head of the majority bloc in the dissolved Assembly, Musallam al-Barrak, described the Constitutional Court’s decision as “a coup against the constitution,” while MP Walid Tabtabai asserted that the 2012 Assembly is still in effect and that all of the Constitutional Court’s decisions are invalid. Some observers spoke of the current opposition’s growing fear that the Islamic and tribal majority will not be able to obtain the same number of seats nor prevent the return of the previous parliament’s “corrupt MP’s” if new elections were held.

With regard to the political dimension of the crisis, a report by Foreign Policy magazine said that these ambiguous movements do not come out of thin air. Instead, they are the culmination of a period of rising instability as well as the intersection of broader trends within the political opposition and deep divisions in Kuwaiti society.

According to the magazine, the election results reflected the complexity of Kuwaiti society. Specifically, this refers to the contrast between the traditional political class dominated by the urban elites, and the tribal people who came to stay in Kuwait thanks to the extensive naturalization projects during the 1960s.

Although the differences are social and political in nature, debates and clashes over policy often take cultural and intellectual dimensions. They are part of a battle over the future of Kuwait rather than a struggle for political power. Amid these continued clashes, the country may become politically paralyzed, and development projects may come to a halt. The future of Kuwaiti citizens is unclear.

Found in: al-sabah, kuwaiti national assembly, kuwait, bedouins

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