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Kuwait’s Decade-Long Political Crisis Might Finally Be Ending

Over the last few years, Kuwaiti society has been preoccupied with discussing and debating a 2011 incident in which Kuwaiti protesters forced their way into the country’s parliament and demonstrated against the country’s prime minister, before being forced out by police. The events have been viciously condemned in some corners of Kuwaiti society, but they have also been supported by some politicians. Kuwait has been divided into two groups; the first has tended to view the incident as purely political, considering the motives behind the attack, while the second has viewed it as an illegal riot for which the perpetrators should be punished.

A Decade of Tension

After the passing of former Emir Shiekh Sabah Al-Ahmad, many thought that the new Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad would immediately issue a pardon for the protesters, some of whom were later tried and convicted themselves. Over the last year, public debate over social media and other platforms has increased as the issue of a pardon has become a public affair. So far though, the state has not seemed intent to make any decisions. It is important to note that many of those who were involved in the incident have apologized and were granted a special pardon under the last emir that canceled their years of imprisonment, at the cost of being banned from taking political roles or running in any future elections. Other participants in that day’s events, however, have refused to give an apology, even ten years later.

After the last parliamentary election in Kuwait in December 2020, which resulted in a surprising and significant victory for the country’s anti-establishment figures, a new bloc was formed in the parliament that claimed the majority and decided to run for the speaker’s election. However, largely due to infighting, it failed, and the incumbent speaker, Marzouq Al-Ghanem, kept his position. Rather than concede the loss, the opposition escalated and demanded the resignation of the elected speaker and the prime minister, but the new bloc could not do much to change the status quo according to the established bylaws of the parliament and norms in the country. In response, its members have resorted to blocking the meetings of parliament by occupying the seats of the government’s ministers, preventing discussions and the convening of parliament. This tactic has successfully prevented affairs of state from taking place throughout almost the entirety of the first session of the legislative term.

The opposition hoped that the authorities would dissolve parliament and call for early elections so the bloc could elect a new speaker. However, the authorities did not take that option, and so the country remains at an impasse. The country’s options are binary: either it will enter another legislative session with the current impasse persisting, or the emir will call an early election. While the opposition would be expected to win as it did in 2020, this outcome is far from certain, since part of Kuwaiti society has been infuriated by the opposition’s divisive tactics.

A Solution to the Crisis

During the last four months, parliament has been in recess, preventing confrontations and cooling tensions. Over the break, some members have suggested initiating a national dialogue trying to resolve many of the difficult issues with the support of the emir, and the emir has agreed. The factions collectively initiated a committee composed of three members of the parliament, three members of the government, and three members of the royal palace. The committee has reportedly recommended a special pardon for participants in the 2011 incident who did not offer an apology and fled the country.

Details about this decision are still unclear; if a final agreement is reached, it will probably be a middle-of-the-road solution in which participants will not offer an apology, and subsequently will formally or informally be barred from taking part in any future political activities, including running for office. This solution has likely been accepted by most of the members in exile, who are anxious to return in hopes that they may one day be allowed to resume their former positions as members of parliament. This solution could diffuse the tension that has obstructed the work of the parliament and government and precipitated the current crisis.

After the signing of the pardon, the government submitted its resignation on November 8, in hopes of forming a new government that could include members of different political factions and more participation among elected members. The precedent has been to give only one member of the elected MPs a position in the government, but now there is a discussion of expanding it to three members. It remains unclear if the current political crisis will end in the wake of the opposition figures’ return and the formation of a new government, but it is indisputable that Kuwait requires more democratic reforms to bring stability to the relationship between the government, the parliament, and the different political factions within the country.

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