GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Political Reform in Kuwait: Demands and Limits of Response
Paper Proposal Text :

Political Reform in Kuwait: Demands and Limits of Response

Dr. Ashraf Mohammed Kishk
Researcher specialized in the Gulf and Regional Security Issues
Manager of the Diplomatic Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo

Would the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCCs) be part of the Arab world scene, which has lately witnessed dramatic shifts of different tracks and consequences, yet of a main goal in common, that's "regime change"? Or the GCC states have a political and social privacy making them an exception of these shifts? Actually, this question would be appropriate if proposed at the beginning of 2011, when the GCC countries experienced domestic tampering and upheavals calling for reform. While some of them were peaceful, others were violent as with Kuwait, the main theme of the paper, the purpose of which is to answer the question: With the continuous calls for reform, what are the limits of the Kuwaiti regime response, taking into account Kuwait's nature as a monarchy, the composition of population, the Geographic location, and its oil and strategic importance as embodied in security agreements with the west? Thus, the paper before hand is to tackle the following aspects in an attempt to answer the afore-mentioned question.

First: The background of the political regime in Kuwait and reform efforts:
Though Kuwait is a monarchy since Al-Sabah (1758) till now, a number of reforms have occurred in the political regime, such as separating the crown prince from the council of ministers after the parliamentary elections held in 2003. It was a crucial development in Kuwait's political life, as the prime minister and his ministers became accountable to the National Assembly of Kuwait, known as the Majlis Al-Umma, not to mention the recently issued decree by the Amir, which gives the Kuwaiti woman all her political rights, after years of deprive. This, indeed, necessitated the activation of the Articles of the Kuwaiti constitution, prohibiting sexual discrimination. In addition to that, there is a major role the National Assembly is now playing, a fact crystallized in its various clashes with the government more than once, after interrogations directed by Majlis Al-Umma to the government, some of them have to do with claims of corruption. As a result of these clashes, the Amir of Kuwait decided dismantling the national Assembly more than seven times over six years, after the resignation of many subsequent governments. In spite of a wide scope of development and modernization, Kuwait was not an exception of the Arab spring, in which the economic factors were not the main actor.

Second: Reform demands in Kuwait (parties and contents):
After examining the classes calling for reform in Kuwait during 2011, it was noticed that, they are three. The first is the youth movements, which are perceived as an extension of those in the Arab world. The youth movements are "kaffi" (enough), "Noreed" (we want), and "Al-sour al Khamis" (The Fifth Wall). They have two aims at common: firstly, protecting the constitution and public liberties, and preserving the family of Al-Sabah; and secondly, changing the Prime Minister "Nassser al Mouhammed" who has actually resigned in 2011. The second class is the political blocs, most prominently, Kuwaiti Democratic Forum, Kuwaiti Shi'a's bloc, The Popular Action Bloc, The Kuwaiti Bloc for Development, The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the aims of all of which are to reestablish a new structure for the governing institution, amending the constitution, especially as far as the fourth chapter related the National Assembly's powers and missions, is concerned. The third class is the non-states, who do not seek any political demands but to have the Kuwaiti nationality and, thus, to be on equal foot with the Kuwaiti people, having equal rights and duties. In fact, the different information sources refer that the number of the non-states has reached 120 thousands, that's 10% of the Kuwaiti population. However the non-states are mainly Shi'a, and merging them in the society of Kuwait will create a serious defect in the composition of the population, not to mention the possible consequences on security, which reduce the government's ability to give them the nationality.

Thirdly, the limits of the Government's response to demands:
Despite the fact that the demands of the Kuwaiti movements are legitimate, it is noticed that the government's response to them was governed by two perspectives, the security perspective and the economic one.
On the security level, in spite of the foreign ministry-issued instructions to the staff concerning the necessity of "understanding the situation and trying to calm the protestors down", various clashes have occurred, reflecting three dangerous indicators. First, among those arrested were members of the National Assembly and peoples of intellect. Second, one of the demonstrations comprised 90 thousands, a high percentage comparing the Kuwaiti populations with these of the other Arab countries, that's the number of those who take part in demonstrations in Kuwait exceeded the million-man marches in other Arab Countries. Third, the Amir of Kuwait allowed the interior ministry and the national guards to confront what would ever affect the national security, and provided them with the powers needed.
As for the economic perspective, the rise in oil prices, due to the Libyan crises, led to a similar rise in the general budget of Kuwait, with 168 billion dollar surplus. This, in turn, enabled the government to present monetary incentives to the citizens. However concrete political reforms did not take place, and that's why the relation between the government and the parliament became even worse. Consequently, the government resigned, the Amir of Kuwait took the decision to dismantle the National Assembly, and hold new elections in February 2012.

Fourthly: the future of reform in Kuwait:
The recent developments in Kuwait shed more light on the fact that the Kuwaiti people will never give up their reform demands, if they did not ask for more. This was clearly illustrated when the prime minister resigned, as by the time, he subjected to the desire of the demonstrators, new demands came into existence. They asked for having a new elected prime minister, though it is traditionally known that prime ministers are always selected by the Amir. Will Kuwait witness substantial reforms? The current situation refers to the possible occurrence of one of the two following scenarios. In the first scenario, the government preserves its current policies, responds partially to some of the demands, like those of the non-states, and proceeds its policy of financial grants. Yet, this does not necessary mean achieving stability, as the demands have to do with the political system as a whole. People now want to establish powerful political parties, which mean changing the governing regime into constitutional monarchy. Moreover, the demands include enhancing the powers and leverage of the national Assembly, either on the governmental or on the public opinion level. Besides, there lies the role of media in inflaming the political dissents, not to mention the increasing youth movements which play a more crucial role through the social networks. According to the second scenario, the country will initiate real political reforms, in order to gradually contain the demands, especially with the fact that the demonstrators have asserted that, (1) "there is no calls for changing Al-Sabah", and (2) that they "adhere to the current constitution as a substantial reference in the shift". Yet, this will require the government to take unprecedented decisions, which may affect the regime itself, especially with the emergence of new demands within the second row of the royal family, seeking a role in the political life.

Regardless all of these scenarios, if the Arab countries of recent political shifts succeeded in establishing elected political institutions, there would be a major challenge before the GCC countries in general, and Kuwait in particular. That is, they have to make a tangible democratic shift, and make a balance between preserving the monarchy as a political system for the country, and containing the revolution of demands by people yearning for more liberties