Kuwaitis Are Insisting on Genuine Democracy
by DR. SAMI ALRABAA
December 10, 2012
For more than a year now Kuwait has been in turmoil. The Arab Spring has reached the oil-rich Arab country at the Persian Gulf.
On December 2, 2012, hundreds of opposition protesters, opposition leaders, and former members of parliament (MPs) gathered in the gorgeous villa of Ahmed Al Saadun, a veteran Kuwaiti politician who has been an MP over the past 30 years.
Al Saadun gave a short speech in which he summarized the opposition's attitude towards the latest parliamentary election.
Al Saadun said, "The parliamentary election which was held last Saturday, (December 1) is illegal and invalid. Thus the emerging parliament is not representative, and the new parliament doesn't genuinely represent the Kuwaiti people. Besides, the constitutional decree which the Emir Subah Al Ahmad Al Subah issued, supported by his friends in the Constitutional Court is also illegal. It was designed to enable Al Subah-friendly MPs to be elected."
With the last part of his speech, Al Saadun referred to the Emir's decree before the last election. In the past Kuwaitis had been allowed to elect four candidates for parliament. The decree slashed that to one.
The old election system was opposition-friendly. In the parliamentary election which was held last February, the Islamists, for instance, won 23 seats. Now in last Sunday election they won only 4 seats. Therefore, the Emir urged the Constitutional Court to cancel that parliament and replace it with the one which was elected in 2009, which was more favourable to the Emir and his government. The opposition in that parliament (of February) accused several MPs of corruption. They were allegedly paid huge sums of money by the government led by a brother of the Emir, Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al Ahmed Al Subah.
Unlike all the oil Arab states at the Persian Gulf, Kuwait has enjoyed a kind of democracy since its independence in the 1960s. Parliamentary elections were held from time to time and open debates were conducted on all kinds of issues.
However, all elected parliaments have never had any executive power. The Emir, and only he has been entitled to appoint the prime minister, always from members of the ruling family, Al Subah family. Key ministries were also led by members of Al Subah family.
According to the Kuwaiti constitution, political parties are not allowed in Kuwait. This is based on a verse in the Quran, which prohibits the formation of parties in an Islamic state. However, on the ground there have been the so-called "gatherings", groups of common ideologies, for example, Al Haraka Al Disturia Al Islamia (Islamic constitutional movement), Al tahalof al watani al dimoqrati (national democratic coalition), etc.
The opposition in Kuwait is now demanding a change of the current political structure and practise. They are demanding genuine democracy, rule of the law, transparency and a constitutional monarchy, like those in Western Europe.
One of the key opposition figures and former MP, Mussallam Al Barrak has since the uprising in Kuwait reiterated, "Al Subah family can further rule Kuwait (can have a representative role, like the British royal family, he explained to me later), but we must have the right to form a government by a parliamentarian majority or coalition." In other words, the Emir and his family, the opposition insists, must be stripped off any executive power.
Waleed Al Tabtab'i, another veteran Kuwaiti politician, but very Islamist, blames lack of real democracy in Kuwait and in other Arab countries on the West, particularly on the Americans.
He told me, "America would support the devil if that enhances its interests. The Americans, the Brits and the French brag about democracy all the time, but at the same time they have wholeheartedly supported all authoritarian Arab regimes; in Egypt, Tunisia, and in all the Arab oil countries at the Arab Gulf. After Husni Mubarak was toppled in Egypt, they started calling him a dictator. This is bizarre, isn't it? This is sheer hypocrisy."
Bader Sultan, an academic at Kuwait University told me in his office, "The West, including America, prefer the so-called cemetery peace to real democracy. They call Saudi Arabia, which is actually a despotic regime and formerly Mubarak's Egypt, vital stability states. This kind of stability is shaky, built on sand. Saudi Arabia supports Islamic fanaticism, Wahabbism, from which the whole world is suffering, including the Arab world. The stability which the West is talking about and supporting serves in the first place authoritarian Arab regimes and those of the West."
Most Kuwaitis I recently talked to reject violence. They want a peaceful change of politics in Kuwait. They resent the violent uprising in Syria and the almost daily bombs in Iraq. Kuwaitis aspire for a peaceful transition to democracy.
Al Saadun insisted that there is no back to the old regime in Kuwait. "We are blatantly determined to carry on our protest until genuine democracy is established. We want the wealth of this small nation to be fairly distributed in a transparent manner."
"We hope that the current leadership of this country will learn from the Arab Spring in Syria, Yemen, Egypt, and Tunisia. Have you seen the demonstration which we had on Saturday (December 1) and we called Karamat Al Watan (dignity of our home land)? We are a small nation, of less than one million people. The streets were packed with demonstrators, tens of thousands took to the street. This is a unique phenomenon in Kuwait. We have never had such a manifestation of will, good will for change to the better. I hope that our rulers, Al Subah family have got the message. An escalation of this public uprising is not in the interest of the ruling family." Said Jam'an Al Harbash, a former MP.
Faisal Al Mussalam, a former MP insisted that the Kuwaitis would demonstrate until our demands are met. "We'll demonstrate daily, and next Saturday there will a huge demonstration which Kuwait has never seen before." He said.
The majority of people in the Arab world believe that the Arab Spring is moving on in the right direction towards democracy. It is an irreversible process with ups and downs.
Political observers also believe that the democratization process in the Arab world might take decades to bear good fruit.
Increasingly widespread education in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Arab world, access to the Internet and international satellite TV stations are enhancing the democratization process.
The West has thus far supported theocratic Arab regimes for fear, the Islamists might take over.
Ziad Al Mutairy, a Kuwaiti academic and former MP is quite optimistic about the future of the Arab Spring. He said, "The Islamists will be defeated by democratic tools. Now in the euphoria of the Arab Spring they have come to power in Egypt and Tunisia by means of the ballot box, but I'm sure that they won't be able to deliver practical reforms which the majority of people would accept. In the next parliamentary elections they will be defeated via free elections. People are not dumb. They want practical solutions, not preaches. They reject sweet rhetoric. We Arabs, we don't want to fall form political oppression into religious oppression."
Saad, a colleague of Al Mutairy, who didn't want his last name to be mentioned, agreed, and added. "Read the Quran. It's filled with violence and discrimination against women and non-Muslims. It says, kill the infidels, don't take Christians and Jews as friends, women inherent half what their bothers get. Thieves' hands must be amputated, etc. It is bunch of atrocities. Do you want all this to be part of our constitution? If you consider all that in a historical context, fine, no problem. But Islamists reject any interpretation of the Quran, otherwise you're dubbed as heretic. For Islamists, the Quran is valid for all times and for every part of the universe."
In sum, the Arab Spring is a golden opportunity for Arabs to introduce democratic reforms and reformation of their religion, Islam.
Dr. Sami Alrabaa, an ex-Muslim, is a professor of Sociology and an Arab-Muslim culture specialist. He has taught at Kuwait University, King Saud University, and Michigan State University. He also writes for the Jerusalem Post and is the author of the book: “Veiled Atrocities”, published by Prometheus, New York 2010 .