Which does Kuwait choose, a hard or soft option?
Anyone attempting to understand or interpret what is happening in Kuwait these days must be genuinely perplexed. Powerful opposition voices are being put forward extremely vocally and strongly. The rational Kuwaitis have the absolute conviction that the stances adopted by the regime's loyalists and the opposition go beyond the declared reasons, and they reject the claim that the disagreement is over "technical" details of the proposed election and voting system. The rational Kuwaitis believe that what is happening in the country is not a matter of demanding a change in votes and constituencies, or the dispute over whether each voter actually has four votes or one.
In fact, Kuwait is suffering from a multi-faceted problem that has accumulated gradually. It has been caused primarily by the state of deep anxiety and uncertainty that has prevailed in the Kuwait people’s mindset ever since the Iraqi invasion. If one looks closely at the economy, namely the developmental situation in Kuwait, they would be amazed: Why has the country's infrastructure and government spending shrunk although incomes and oil prices are on the rise? Why is the Kuwaiti private sector suddenly nowhere to be seen, despite the fact that it is famous for its pioneering mobility and intellect, represented in its previous local investments and its inclination to invest abroad, whether in the Gulf states, the Arab world, Asia, Europe or North American? The Kuwaiti people are well-known for their enormous appetite for sovereign investments in international funds and companies; Kuwait’s distinguished domain in the Arab arena. Through this Kuwait earned enormous revenues and created what is known as the Kuwait Future Generations Fund, reflecting its bold sovereign investment future. Yet subsequent investigations into those in charge of these funds have led to a marked deterioration, causing Kuwait’s performance and role to shrink and allowing other countries steal the limelight in this particular field.
In the political sphere Kuwait came to be known as a state with a degree of freedom of expression superior to the rest of the Gulf, which was clearly reflected in its media, literature and arts. Of course, this was also reflected in the state of mobility and vibrant political life where the elites attempted to build a state of institutions, namely the judiciary and the parliament, and draft constitutional articles. However, present-day Kuwait is suffering from the political ambitions that cannot be contained. The parliament wants the right to form the government in order to overcome the suffocating state of affairs it is experiencing now. Many believe there will be a permanent struggle over the tiniest details, and that governance progress will be hindered, as long as parliament remains unable to form a government. For its part, the government believes that allowing the parliament's majority to form the government would tear society apart and lead to a suspicious atmosphere that could provoke riots.
Prominent parties have now emerged in the Kuwaiti crisis with considerable impact on political mobility. For example, the tribes have significant "weight" on the political street owing to their strength and ability to influence public opinion. This is particularly significant considering how the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi ideologies, in their own directions, have infiltrated the tribal structure, hence giving the political discourse a striking religious and social dimension. We must also not neglect the role of the economy, the media and sectarianism as effective tools to target certain social classes. Within the political family itself there are also different trends. There are doves and hawks that incite members of parliament, businessmen, scholars and media representatives, all being manipulated towards mobilizing the street in a certain way.
The Kuwaiti scene is worrying because the issue at heart has nothing to do with "a starving people's revolution" or "victims in the slums". Rather, it is a quest for political gains and the redistribution of votes and seats in a new manner. There is no more room in the Kuwaiti constitution or in the Kuwaiti parliament to contain the new ambitions of some elements of the Kuwaiti political street. Therefore, the solution for such a stifling situation will either be entirely "innovative" or enormously costly!
By Hussein Shabokshi
Share your view on Kuwait's political crisis - are there elelments common to other Arab uprisings at play or do Kuwait's particular circumstances and history have more to bear on this current electoral turmoil?