Featured Speakers: Dr. Dania Thafer, Dr. Ayad Allawi, Dr. Abdulla Baabood, Dr. Naser Alsane, Sara Allawi, Dr. Khalid Al-Jaber, and Dr. Daniel Tavana.
Every nation in the Gulf has established a legislative or consultative body to form the country’s legislation or help the leadership receive popular input. Some of these bodies, which vary widely in scope and authority across the Gulf states, have historically been more attuned to public opinion. For this reason, they have often been incubators for dissent and vehicles for political and social change. Traditional Gulf leaders, seeking to preserve their power have sought to constrain parliaments’ authority. Some constraints are explicit, such as vetting candidates by ideology or political loyalty, limiting voting rights, supporting friendly candidates, or using state power to harass opposition candidates. Moreover, even when parliaments have de jure legislative authority, societal norms often restrict their roles.
Despite their differences, Gulf parliaments have consistently opposed attempts by executive authorities to challenge their roles and authority. Some parliaments have been more successful at resistance than others. In Kuwait and Iraq, the parliaments have remained relatively powerful, but also face increasing anger from their constituents for their inability to meet demands to solve economic and social problems. Although earlier Iranian parliaments had more leeway to operate, the Guardian Council’s strict vetting process now explicitly constrains the selection of candidates, barring candidates who have reformist agendas. Similar constraints exist in Bahrain, where the government has largely barred opposition candidates from office, keeping the parliament friendly to authorities’ interests but limiting its legitimacy in the eyes of the people.
What factors explain the success of some parliaments, such as Kuwait’s, to maintain their authority, while others, such as Bahrain, were unable to? What future developments in the Gulf states could influence parliaments’ authority? What options do weak parliaments have to strengthen themselves? Conversely, what other steps can monarchs or heads of state take to constrain their power? Finally, what outcomes in this contest have the best practical consequences for citizens of the Gulf?