The wind of revolt is blowing on the small monarchy of Kuwait as the Emir in power has been resisting the population’s call for a more democratic governance. Unlike revolutions in rogue states like Syria, however, the power struggle in the oil rich and western-friendly Kuwait has not made the headlines.
When Kuwait gained its independence in 1961, it became the first gulf monarchy to have an elected parliament.
However, the Al-Sabah family, which has reigned over the country for 250 years, retains significant control over the country and have been reluctant to satisfy the growing requests from the population for more democracy. This has resulted in a number of political crises and the dissolution of 5 parliaments since 2006.
In December 2011, the parliament, which was close to the Emir’s family, was dissolved following protests amid corruptions allegations. Early elections were held in spring 2012, which led to the victory of a coalition of opposition groups. However, the Constitutional Court ruled in June that the 2011 dissolution was unconstitutional and reinstated the contested parliament.
Popular protests in Kuwait led to another dissolution of the parliament in October 2012, opening the way for new elections. However, a change in the country’s election laws was made by the Emir and is seen by opposition groups as an attempt to alter the election process in a way that favor’s the reigning family.
The Emir’s decision led to more protests and a boycott of the elections by the oppositions groups who did not present any candidates. The new parliament, which was elected with a record abstention rate of 70%, approved the electoral change on January 8th.
This decision does not come as a surprise as this parliament was elected because of this law, explained Ghanim al Najjar, professor of Political Science at the University of Kuwait. What will matter will be the ruling on this issue by the Constitutional Court.
With opposition groups holding protests asking for the dissolution of the new parliament regularly, protests that have led to violent confrontations with the police, the dissent is unlikely to die down.
Recent attacks against members of the opposition indicate the regime is taking a hard stance towards protesters. Last week, two political opponents were sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the Emir on Twitter and the shutdown of one of the only television channels that favors the opposition has been confirmed.
The gap between the growing old urban elite, the young (70% of Kuwait’s population is under 25), and the tribal population, which is increasingly participating in the political scene, will continue to grow if the reigning family is not willing to loosen its power grip.
The Emir and his allies have an opportunity, like they did fifty years ago, to lead the way to more democracy in the region. It could inspire neighboring countries as well, since most of them have not been completely immune to the liberating fever of the Arab springs.