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Kuwait's Problem Is That It Has None?

As much as the recurrence of the electoral process in Kuwait constituted a sign of political instability, it has led to frustration and boredom of this game seen four times in five years, especially after it almost paralyzed the wheels of the state. What increased this feeling is the talk circulated by many circles regarding the fact that the new assembly chosen by the Kuwaitis last Saturday will not have better luck than the two previous ones, both disbanded by the prince with a decree following the escalation of the conflict between the legislative and executive powers. Indeed, some observers believed there were flaws or gaps to which legal experts pointed out and that could constitute a reason for the disbandment of the new assembly in the future. However, political authorities completely excluded this scenario, saying that the presence of a bloc of influential deputies could activate the political game, far away from the clashes that characterized the previous stage and deepened the crisis.

What is new about the recent development is that the opposition, which boycotted the elections of the assembly that was deemed illegitimate by the constitutional court and disbanded later on, failed to push voters to abstain from participating this time around as it had done at the end of last year. True, the former deputies who led the opposition for around twenty months boycotted these new elections, but the forces that had supported them headed to the ballot boxes on Saturday. Hence, the visits to the tribes by the Prince of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah alleviated their boycotting, at a time when their leaders definitely saw that their exit from the last assembly - which did not last long - damaged both their national and private interests. For their part, observers, who also believe that the new assembly will not complete its term, do not exclude a possible understanding between the country's leaders over the activation of the new assembly to ensure the amendment of the one-man one-vote system, in order to allow the voters to choose two candidates instead of one and please the remaining detractors.

The slogans and escalatory positions, to which some in the opposition resorted, provoked wide factions of Kuwaiti society. The latter reject for example the calls to change the constitution, although some of them believe that this has become in order but without it necessarily causing them to raise their voices in this or that rally. In addition, the obstruction of the wheel of power weakened the state institutions and halted many vital and developmental projects in the country, although the disbanded assembly and the government which accompanied it ratified many laws within a short period of time, thus exceeding what was witnessed in previous terms. Eventually, everyone accepted the ruling of the constitutional court that gave legitimacy to the decree of necessity the prince had issued last year, by which he granted the voter one instead of four votes in a constituency of ten seats despite the opposition's disgruntlement.

The participation of most of the powers that had previously boycotted the elections, from the tribes to the liberal blocs, the urban forces of the Democratic Forum and the National Alliance, the Salafi and Islamic powers and independent figures was clear, and pointed to the fact that wide factions of voters turned the page of boycotting. This was also noticed in the absence of the action which swept Kuwait at the end of last year from Irada Square, and in the weak turnout at the seminars and gatherings of the boycotters and even the meetings of the candidates. Nonetheless, this does not mean that the crisis which paralyzed the country throughout twenty months was solved. The forces that accessed the new National Assembly and the upcoming government will determine the future of the political and social situation. However, the eventual consensus among the Kuwaitis to return to the democratic institutions is the only natural way to handle the causes which provoked the escalation of the situation in the last two or three years.

In the past decades, prior to the Iraqi invasion, Kuwait was an archetype for the remaining Gulf populations, whether at the level of its democratic experience or at the level of its cultural and economic vitality, even its foreign policy. But this model has started retreating, to the point where the neighbors which used to aspire to the Kuwaiti experience started to complain about it in the last few years. They even started to perceive the consecutive crises as being a threat to the country's security and that of the entire area, especially since Kuwait borders the major powers competing with each other to lead the Gulf region and the entire Arab region. This conflict was amplified by the storms which swept more than one Arab country and took various shapes, particularly in the absence of partisan frameworks which were not prohibited by the constitution but have yet to be legalized, and in light of the weak traditional, liberal and nationalist forces that have disintegrated and grown weaker in the last two decades.

Hence, the Kuwaitis' resumption of the democratic game or return to parliament's dome constitutes an opportunity to discuss a new consensual formula that would gradually defuse the elements of the crisis, in order to preserve and enhance the state. By doing so, the competition over power would not remain a factor contributing to the undermining of the relations between the constitutional authorities or the escalation of polarization between the various forces. At this level, the regime is responsible for setting the beat of this competition, in order to restore balance to the authority's relationship with the other power centers, meet their aspirations and dissipate their fears or feelings of marginalization from the political, financial and economic decision-making circles.

The duo, which managed the country since the beginning of last century and was enhanced by the 1962 constitution, witnessed many changes. Indeed, at the beginning, this duo was limited to a consensual contract between the ruling family and the capital's population among urban citizens and traders. Often times, the regime used to rely on the tribal and religious institutions to handle any disputes or divergences which emerged with its partners, in order to preserve balance and parity. However, the tribal demographic boom that accompanied the financial boom secured by the oil revenues - which served the education and training of youth factions - raised a challenge before the traditional duo. For their part, the religious forces and political parties found in the changes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt an opportunity to rebel, exit the regime's cloak and join the tribal disgruntlement. In the meantime, the number of educated and qualified youths seeking adequate job opportunities increased, although the government offered aid to the unemployed and provided jobs which constituted - in certain cases - disguised unemployment. In addition, the authority came up with drastic solutions to handle the social problems, but its project to secure a leading role for the state in the region remained obstructed and hindered by the political conflict. Moreover, Kuwait could not compete with many Gulf cities which preceded it in undertaking economic, financial, educational and media leaps.

So far, Prince Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad has managed to keep Kuwait away from the numerous repercussions of the transformations seen from Tehran to Iraq, and the winds of change from Tunisia to Syria, knowing that the latter crisis was present on the doors of some candidates that carried pictures of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah or the flags of the Syrian revolution. In addition, he gave momentum to the relations with the tribes, which did not hesitate to meet him halfway. What remains to be done is for the new assembly and the upcoming government to come together to settle the negative facets of the previous stage. This would require the deployment of efforts by all the parties to reunite all the components, as well as the integration of all the factions that have become part of the social structure, in order to prevent any sensitivities, injustice or belief that further participation in the political and economic decision-making process is being secured at the expense of this or that partner in the traditional duo. There should also be a just allocation of the wealth and the provision of the minimum level of equality at the level of developmental projects.

Kuwait has a rare opportunity to proceed with the reconciliation launched by the prince, as this is the only way to deepen the required integration in a society where the tribal and urban components have become divided and in which the required complementarity between the legislative and executive powers to manage the authority and the institutions has been shaken and has deepened the widespread corruption. As for the opposition that is still insisting on boycotting, it should join the process, since whether this new assembly completes its term or leaves earlier, it will face the emergence of a new political class which cast all sorts of accusations against it, not the least of which being that it practiced excessive opulence. It is this opposition's responsibility to return to the rules of the democratic game and limit the conflict to parliament, while it is the authority's responsibility to listen to it, instead of turning a deaf ear to its concerns and demands, even if some in it raised their voices way too high.

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Publication:Dar Al Hayat, International ed. (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7KUWA
Date:Jul 29, 2013
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