On May 4 1999, the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, decided to adjourn his nation's Council (Parliament). While the motives behind this decision were debated, the event marked the first time that Kuwait’s Parliament has been constitutionally discontinued. In general, the people's reaction to this measure was supportive, on the grounds that popular political participation would resume in the summer. Other voices, however, mainly from opposition circles, expressed their concern that this development would be used as a "sword in the neck of the next Council."
Two months after Kuwait’s Parliament was adjourned, opposition candidates captured two-thirds of the 50 parliamentary seats in July’s 1999 elections, with Sunni Islamist parties recording the most impressive gains. Pro-government parliamentarians now number 16, while Shi’ite Muslims, including two leading anti-corruption Islamists, increased their representation from 5 to 6 seats. The composition of the new cabinet makes it doubtful that legislation approved by the Council of Ministers in Parliament’s absence will be ratified.
The virtually unchanged makeup of Kuwait’s cabinet has sparked domestic controversy. The retention of key cabinet posts, including that of Prime Minister by Crown Prince Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, occurred despite calls from opposition candidates separate senior political postings from the royal family.
On the domestic front, the issue of women rights is high on the public agenda. Early in 2000, women protested Parliament's November 1999 vote against a bill that would give women the right to vote and run for office in the next elections in 2003. But the mostly Islamist and traditional tribal and all-male body shot the law down by two votes. This was in spite of Emir Sheikh Jabar al-Ahmad a-Sabah's decree in May 1999 after dissolving the parliament that gave women full political rights. It was a decree that received support from Kuwait's western allies and other Arab countries where women have suffrage rights.
At the international level, Iraq continues to pose a threat to Kuwait almost a decade after the invasion. Following a December 1998 U.S. and British attack on Iraq launched from Kuwait, Baghdad verbally berated Kuwait and even questioned the validity of the Kuwaiti border although it officially recognized it in 1994.
The sheikdom is, however, mending relations with Jordan, following the severing of ties due to the latter's support for Iraq following the invasion.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)