Kuwaiti Youth Emerge as Force In Protests Against the State

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Kuwaiti youth are emerging as an important part of protests against the government. Al-Hayat’s Rima Baghdadi reports on the youth movements seeking to end corruption and impunity in the Gulf state.  

Blood was shed and youth clashed with security forces, dropping barriers on a night unlike any Kuwait had seen before.

Monday, Oct. 16, is a date that history will mark as the start of a new era within the youth movement, which has slept for long periods of time, and according to observers, woke up all at once with a bold new rhetoric.

The opposition forces in Kuwait are no longer limited by any ceiling of rhetoric; the opposition MP directly addresses the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah, with a loud voice, while the youth repeats his words.

On this day, the opposition rallied in a protest organized by the opposition Nahj movement, which consists of political forces and blocs, gathered under the slogan “Enough Absurdity.”

They are opposed to the emir issuing a decree altering the voting system [five electoral districts and four votes], resulting in a new system that would change the National Assembly’s composition, where the opposition forces won the majority of seats in the last elections.

This voice of opposition was raised until it broke through the established political ceiling.  Former opposition MP Musallam al-Barrak went out of the ordinary by delivering a fiery speech that wasn’t limited to the relationship between the governor and the people — which is a relationship that has distinguished Kuwait by its social and cultural dimensions.

From that platform, in Eradah square, Barrak summarized his position by saying: “I gave up my pen, the newspapers dried up and I will join the dignity of the homeland march.”

The youth chanted his words in a brave way that the country has never seen before. Once the speakers at the rally finished their speeches, the crowd insisted on marching in an attempt to cross a security barrier.

Clashes occurred between protesters and security forces, injuring several from both sides and ending with several youth activists being arrested.

Versions of the story varied between witnesses and security forces. One said that security forces established a cordon around Salhiya police station, near the protest, after participants demanded the release of detainees, adding that only a small number of lawyers were allowed to enter.

Another said that “while marching, some crossed the security barriers in the streets that lead to the Palace of Justice and the Seif Palace. However, the Interior Ministry forces blocked their way. This created a rush and clashes between the two sides, injuring several people from both sides and leading to the arrest of several others. This pushed the MPs who participated in the rally to stay at this location until the arrested youth were released.”

However, in all versions of the story, the protest began on a violent note. The clashes that erupted between the youth and security forces led to the arrest of a number of youth, including Abdelaziz Ahmed al-Saadoun (son of the opposition member Ahmad al-Saadoun), Munther al-Habi, Mohammed al-Ariman, Omar al-Ariman and Mubarak al-Matiri.

This has pushed former MPs and jurists to resort to the Kuwaiti Association of Human Rights to file a complaint against the Interior Ministry leaders that they accused of beating and insulting the people of Kuwait.

Moreover, the National Front for the Protection of the Constitution organized a symbolic solidarity sit-in to demand the release of detainees, and said that the sit-in will continue until the detainees are released.

However, the question that is raised today in Kuwait is the following: Did the youth start a new era of political movement?

The head of the Civil Democratic Movement (CDM), Tariq al-Mutairi, admitted that a new actor is present on the Kuwaiti political scene. This player is represented by the Kuwaiti youth political movements that are independent from traditional political movements. This presence will reflect “a very positive impact on society’s progress towards real democracy and greater freedoms and benefits,” he said.

Mutairi is a prominent young activist in Kuwait, leading the CDM, which is a key component of the National Front for the Protection of the Constitution. Mutairi said he believed that youth groups have evolved over time, regarding their practice, form and ideas.

Since 2006, there has been several youth-led initiatives. These include the Nabiha Khamsa campaign  (Arabic for “we want five” — a reference to the amount of individual votes sought), demanding change to the electoral constituencies voting system; the Irhal campaign (Leave) demanding the departure of former Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammad in 2009; the as-Sur al-Khames (the Fifth Fence) group in 2011 that followed the incident of former MP Jamaan al-Harbash, known as Black Wednesday because of the clashes that took place between security forces and participants in the rally; and finally the youth Kafa (Enough) group that issued a statement on Feb. 28, 2011.

Kuwaiti youth groups have begun to emerge and increase in number. This happened since the youth discovered their ability to engage in independent political action that is not restricted by traditional parties and their slowness, which contributed largely to the deterioration of Kuwaiti society.

Mutairi said: “The distinction is back between new political forces — which are mainly led by young people, who are the most numerous in the society — and the traditional political forces.”

However, he believes that the movement has just started, as new political forces — exemplified by a modern and dominant youth movement — are still taking their first steps.

The CDM is the ultimate achievement of this youth movement for the moment, as it is a genuine political organization based on lists and regulations, which exceed 90 articles setting the mechanisms of taking decisions and political stances, electing representative leaders, all the while putting in place a specific political project and a political discourse that distinguishes the group and proves its independence.

Concerning the CDM's position on the current political situation, Mutairi said: We "will continue to put pressure on the authorities until they realize the magnitude of the problem in a country plagued by political corruption, and until they are convinced of the need to shift to a real democratic system and carry out political reforms which can lead to an elected parliamentary government and a constitutional monarchy.

“We believe that the authorities are thus far opting for the security option, all the while seeking to clash with the people to delay political reforms, but this will obviously not work because we are living in an era where people have a say, and the authorities ought to understand and deal realistically with the great and important transformation happening in the region since the start of the Arab revolutions in order to get rid of the tools and rhetoric of an era that will never return,” he added.

Badr Anzi, a member of the Nahj Movement, believes that the situation in Kuwait has completely changed given the successive political events.

He said: "In the past, candidates to the parliament would traditionally be supported by a tribe, a family or a sect, keeping young people in the shadows. Today, however, a quantum leap has taken place and the proof is that former MPs have complied with the wishes and aspirations of the youth. Those who have led and are currently leading the political movement are loyal young Kuwaitis who are directly linked to Kuwait.”

Concerning the presence of youth in the Nahj Movement, which is currently leading the sit-ins, Anzi said that “Nahj consists of political forces that are effective in the political movement, and all those who represent these political movements are young.”

In other words, the youth are coming, not only according to Mutairi and Anzi, but also according to prisons, which house some of the youth who took to the streets to protest.

Found in: kuwaiti politics, kuwait elections, kuwait crisis, kuwait
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