Over the last three decades, the government of Kuwait has pursued three methods of soft power that have helped preserve its influence and reputation in the Gulf region. The first and most important of these has been Kuwait’s foreign policy. The country’s belief in dialogue, peaceful solutions, and diplomacy has helped to relieve many regional disagreements, buying Kuwait critical goodwill throughout the greater Middle East. Second is Kuwait’s contribution to humanitarian aid and operations through its charitable organizations, and the economic and technological progress overseen by its Development Fund. Finally, in a region wracked by crises and instability, Kuwait has distinguished itself by its commitment to upholding the constitution, preserving the power of parliament, prioritizing human rights, and ensuring judicial independence.
In 2023, Kuwaitis reelected 38 members of the previous parliament, in addition to 12 other former MPs. The repetitive election results suggest that the new parliament will continue the practices of the old: intense interrogation of government ministers, unsuccessful attempts at procedural reform, and the emphasis on individual ambition over the common good. Wishing to avoid a repeat of the last parliamentary session, however, some of the newly elected members have highlighted three major issues for discussion and reform. The first of these is the role of the constitutional court and the extent of its power over parliament. The second is a proposed amnesty for exiled Kuwaitis. The final proposal is the restoration of citizenship to Kuwaitis for whom it was revoked. In discussing these ideas, it is important to understand the different priorities of Kuwait’s leaders, both within the parliament and the executive branch, and to take a flexible, realistic approach to bridging them.
Making Parliament Work
In spite of the difference in priorities, there is alignment between the government and the parliament in deliberations about the development and economic opportunities, which could lead to unity in the two sides’ assessments of priorities for the state and society. This harmony is probably a result of both branches of government sensing that development and economic prosperity are the main priorities for Kuwaiti public opinion, and bringing them about represents the surest way to remain in office. At the end of parliamentary terms, voters assess the work of both executive and legislative branches through what they achieved, and there is a clear public perception that Kuwait is falling behind other GCC states in commerce, investment, technology, and manufacturing.
Most importantly both branches agree on the importance of working together and prioritizing economic plans, even when they have serious disagreements about other political items. This process has also been assisted by the prime minister’s new leading role in guiding deliberations. It will likely be better for all to follow a flexible approach in order to present and pursue a unified government. Past experience has shown that openly challenging MPs will invariably lead to clashes between the branches. On the other hand, former MPs such as Shaikh Sabah Al-Khalid have succeeded in bringing both executive and legislative leaders into an agreement by emphasizing the importance of consensus-building—and ignoring provocations from the other side.
Through the success of previous experiences, it is clear that the Kuwaiti constitutional court must also be used when there are doubts in the legality of investigations and questioning and the use of parliament bylaws. What happened during the last two parliaments was instructive in this regard: the loose implementation of bylaws led to a chaotic scene within the parliament, and in many cases caused unnecessary confrontations between MPs and ministers, increasing the polarization in the country and causing further hurdles for economic plans.
Agreement and coexistence between different government bodies does not only lead to successful government policies, but impacts all aspects of Kuwaiti citizens’ lives. For this reason, it should be a high priority for the new prime minister to insist on this approach for the sake of national unity. Kuwait is located in the heart of a troubled region; the geopolitical tensions that surround it must naturally be factored into its national security concerns. The Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s nearly brought Kuwait to the brink of domestic crisis, and was a major cause of Saddam Hussein’s invasion in 1990. Further fragmentation between different government institutions will put greater risk on Kuwait’s position in the region. Conversely, better harmony between government bodies would not only secure Kuwait’s national interests and security, but would also improve its image in the region, after years of doubt and decline in Kuwait’s regional role.
The Kuwaiti constitution prioritizes unity between different institutions, and even describes risks resulting from government infighting. In the past half-century, Kuwaitis have seen the results of both synchronization and clashes between the branches of government, and valuable lessons can be learned from both conditions.
Historically, Kuwaitis have presented their constitution as a document that other regional states could be inspired by to take steps toward development. The Kuwaiti constitution has preserved the civil and political rights of citizens, the only constitution in the Gulf to ensure both. The constitution was presented to UN organizations, the international press, and academia, and was used as a reference to show that the region could have a working document that upholds the rule of law and equality. For the constitution to work, however, Kuwaitis must be committed to it in word and in spirit.
In the end, both developed and developing nations continue to look at Kuwait as a beacon of democracy in a troubled region. This reputation and governmental approach give Kuwait a prominent role, both within the Middle East and further afield. Only through strong and effective government work can Kuwaitis preserve this role and legacy, and, most importantly, uphold their national unity and commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.