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Kuwaiti MPs react during a parliament session at Kuwait's National Assembly in Kuwait City on March 6, 2018. Yasser Al Zayyat / AFP

Is Democracy Dying in Kuwait?

Kuwait’s current political unrest is a topic of interest across the Middle East – both among the Arab citizens of the GCC and for the other Arab nations. Citizens of the GCC states have silently monitored the Kuwaiti political arena, anxious for new developments. Some of them see a stumbling block for democracy; a setback in Kuwait’s democratic system may well discourage others from approaching such an experiment. Other Arabs view the experience as a normal evolution for democracy after the passing of the modern nation’s founding fathers, and the current situation stemming from Parliament’s inability to develop new mechanisms for the political process and understand the changes that have led to the current impasse.

Kuwait has been divided into two antagonistic political blocs, which have found no common ground on policy issues and thus have no reason to trust one another and end the current unrest. The disconnection is unlike any other Kuwait has experienced in its modern political history; it has reached the use of expressions and language that was never used in Kuwait. In Kuwait’s modern history, there have always been disagreements, as there are in all countries. However, at the end of the day, these disagreements could be resolved in  “back rooms”, where corrupt and self-interested but ultimately accommodating politicians could make deals to keep the country running. These “back rooms” no longer exist today. Ironically, the transparency caused by social media has made state business impossible to attend to, as every new action is met with a reaction of angry online mobs. These quarrels invariably spread from the Internet to the real world sooner or later.

Caught in the Crossfire

None of this is inevitable; as the mobs rage, a silent majority of Kuwaitis watch apprehensively, fearing the consequences of saying the wrong thing. Much of society also simply remains outside of politics; this has meant that there are a few who are knowledgeable and a majority that are not knowledgeable. But on the internet, anyone can be an expert, and several of the latter group took the liberty to present themselves as such, driven by their egos and despite the implication of their statements in forming public opinion on which increase polarization and fear on the destiny of the country.

The basic idea of ​​democracy is that it is a system that recognizes difference, and establishes a mechanism that leads to a path that connects difference to a consensus station in order to achieve the common good. This idea has erred in Kuwait. The practice of democracy, instead of being a station to improve common good, has become a target which lowers confidence in the democratic and political process of the country. Instead of viewing democracy as the solution, practicing it has become part of the problem in unprecedented self-deception.

Many independent intellectuals and experts have spoken out, both in writing and other forms, and presented ideas of reform. But most of the time these voices are unheard; they are ignored in favor of “you are either with me or against me” rhetoric. Some of the silent majority have begun to leave the “watching mode” to express their opinions, not taking side, but thinking of contributing a solution for their country that faced several difficulties.

In this conflict, the fighting parties forget the risks facing Kuwait from the extremely chaotic region surrounding the country. Some of Kuwait’s neighbors are failed states facing a civil war, others are facing a deteriorating economic situation, and still others are pushing for an superstitious, theocratic ideological agenda. Above that is a ruthless pandemic that puts the state and society under severe pressure.

This complex and frightening scene worries the sane and loosens the grip of the rule of law. It is not new to say that political instability negatively affects the economic situation, the social fabric, and the state’s sovereignty. Some also believe that the negative impact of extreme polarization has escalated in the last decade. While it is expected that politicians and lawmakers behave in a way that supports the common good, many of them have evidently been biased towards personal gains, with the result that laws have been ignored, institutions have been damaged, and the politics have become personal.

There is A Way Out

What is the way out? It is a necessary question to ask. The old solutions are no longer useful in treating the shifting socio-political scene. The exit from this dilemma was presented by experts in the proposals submitted by many who adhere to the idea of ​​democracy. At the end, democracy is the salvation, and reforming its mechanisms, such as political steps to absorb social changes, and resolving the defects of the existing election law because its shortcomings became evident after experience.

Also amending electoral districts into twenty-five constituencies, provide fair representation for women in political work, and a true criminalization of political money and transfer of votes, and perhaps two-tier elections, provided that only those who obtain half or more of the district’s votes reach the parliament. Furthermore, if possible, it should be made legal to organize political platforms away from sectarianism, family ties, and tribalism. Finally, the appointees of the executive branch must be chosen on the basis of competence.

It is clear that leaving things as they are will not lead to a breakthrough, and the longer the tension lasts, the more instability Kuwait will face, negatively affecting the economy and society, and compromising national safety. The most important weapon that stands in the way of the tremendous changes in the region is national unity, without which societies enter into chaos.

Dr. Mohammad Al-Rumaihi is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Kuwait. He has been an Editor-in-Chief for prominent newspapers and magazines in Kuwait and other Arab Gulf states and was Secretary-General of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Literature 1998-2002.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.

Dr. Rumaihi is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Kuwait. He holds a Ph.D. from Durham University and has published more than 20 books about the social and political changes in the Arab Gulf states. He has been an Editor-in-Chief for prominent newspapers and magazines in Kuwait and other Arab Gulf states and was Secretary-General of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Literature 1998-2002.

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