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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

Kuwait’s Lost Constitution: A Struggle Between Corruption and Rights

Today, twenty-one years into the twenty-first century, 40 years after the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and after decades of close alliance between the GCC states and the United States, the oldest modern democracy in the world and the largest supporter of democratic movements, the citizens of the GCC states have fallen prey to the illusion that democracy and the existence of a constitution are a recipe to resolve all of their problems.

Perhaps Kuwait presents an exceptional example in the GCC, as it has had a constitution since 1962, which has remained continually in effect since then (excepting the events of 1990-91). While democracy in Kuwait has ebbed and flowed, and periods of relative restrictions on political activity have alternated with periods of liberalization, the Constitution has remained the foundation for Kuwaiti democracy and electoral participation for nearly sixty years.

Generally, Kuwaitis today believe that part of the government resists the Constitution and consider it an obstacle in political life, and that strict adherence to the Constitution is not always achieved. However, the Kuwaiti Constitution is no longer a wish; it is a reality that is actually practiced. The Constitution is in itself the source of authority, from which the government derives the legitimacy of its existence and survival. Simply put, without the Constitution, the government is illegitimate.

At least, this is the principle. Today, in view of the political crisis in the country and in light of the inability of the Kuwaiti National Assembly to progress, events in Kuwait present a picture of a real and disturbing conflict, which raises this question: Is the Constitution a reality, or has it become a dream?

 

Corruption Has Frozen Kuwaiti Politics

The answer to the question takes us back to the last parliamentary elections held in Kuwait, in December 2020. This election was groundbreaking; two-thirds of the incumbents lost their seats, and a parliament was formed with a majority for the opposition. The new Parliament opposed the government, and the networks of nepotism and corruption that it accused the government of fomenting. This corruption permeates the highest levels of government in Kuwait; to understand its extent, it is enough to say that the former PM and Minister of Interior have both been placed under investigation for corruption allegations.

As the dust settled, however, it became clear that the Kuwaiti establishment had no intention of relinquishing its power, Constitution or otherwise. In any democratic society, the party with a majority of seats forms the government. Strangely, however, the Kuwaiti Constitution does not give the Parliament this right; instead, the prime minister is selected by the Emir. Consequently, the majority in Parliament tried to cast a vote of no confidence in this PM and remove him, but it failed to exercise this right because of the government’s tight control over the parliamentarians’ work. In reality, the Kuwaiti Parliament has become frozen. The texts that have historically given deputies the right to question the prime minister have been circumvented and disrupted, in an alliance with the undemocratic minority. Unfortunately, this conflict was directed to produce a strange legal image, the abolition of the right to raise any upcoming questioning of the PM, which is a provocative situation from the government and networks of corruption. Without any doubt, the idea that the Constitution is the guarantor of society’s rights has already begun to dissolve in the current Kuwaiti reality.

The Social Contract Under Strain

The Kuwaiti Constitution can be described in the current period as a block of ice. At a certain temperature, it is firm and hard, protecting its interior from harm. However, in a heated atmosphere of corruption, collusion, and disregard for the law, the rights of Kuwaitis disappear as the Constitution, enacted to guarantee those rights, melts away.

Those who stand to gain from corruption are most likely satisfied with their ability to block meaningful change. They should not be. Increasing societal awareness of the deteriorating situation, and the inability to create the required change through legal means, will inevitably produce more anger. We should remember that the current situation in the Gulf is similar to the situation described by European thinkers in the Enlightenment period, when scholars and political thinkers such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau described the importance of the “social contract” between the monarchy and the authority, and the scenarios under which it might break down.

Based on realistic experiences that are more close and appropriate than the Gulf situation as a whole, human experiences confirm that empowering corruption networks and depriving people of their rights – and depriving them of any ability to change their reality for the better – does not produce any good for society. Indeed, if the alliance of corruption networks continues with the government’s approval, it will lead to no good for everyone.

The Kuwaiti Constitution, properly understood and implemented, is a powerful symbol of law and justice. However, any constitution, even the American Constitution, is ultimately only a piece of paper, with no power on its own. For the Constitution to be useful, it is not sufficient for it to exist; instead, the authorities must respect the Constitution as the basis for a country’s laws. This conviction, and the peoples’ participation in creating a political reality, is the only peaceful and safe way to create a functioning state and maintain its stability.

 

Dr. Abdul Hadi Nasser Al-Ajmi has held many academic and research positions since 2004. He is Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs and Graduate Studies in the College of Arts, Kuwait University, as well as the Head of History Department and the Deanship of Consulting, Training, and Development. 

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. Abdul Hadi Nasser Al-Ajmi has held many academic and research positions since 2004. He is Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs and Graduate Studies in the College of Arts, Kuwait University, as well as the Head of History Department and the Deanship of Consulting, Training, and Development. Dr. Al-Ajmi is also the Secretary-General of the Kuwaiti Historical Society and member of the Board of Trustees of Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah, and recently assumed the presidency of the Association of History and Antiquities of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Dr. Al-Ajmi’s research interests are in Islamic history, the concept of political and legal systems and their relations with societies. Dr. Al-Ajmi has published more than 30 researches, books, and other publications in English and Arabic in Kuwait, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Germany, U.K., Egypt, Greece, and other countries. Dr. Al-Ajmi holds Masters of Middle East Studies from the University of Chicago and PhD in Islamic History from Durham University.


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