To change things up around here from the usual Egypt focus, I decided last week to look for something happening in a region we do not cover much here, the Gulf. The protests taking place in Kuwait are unprecedented for the region — they represent a revolt from inside a formal political system that in many respects was the most representative, if not wholly democratic, of the Arab Gulf — rather than a revolt stemming from outside it like the Bahraini uprising, where the Shia do represent a substantially under-represented community. I’ll let others do the explaining on the background of the current Kuwaiti political crisis, but one important aspect of this crisis is that it is being watched closely by Kuwait’s neighbors: in a sense, Kuwait may either serve as a model for controlled democratization in the Gulf or an argument against empowering the elected (or appointed) assemblies that begun to exist in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the last decade or so.
I chose an article from al-Hayat, the Saudi-owned London-based newspaper, that discussed this issue. It’s by Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi university professor often labeled as a “liberal” in the Saudi context — someone will no doubt correct me, but I find that label means that he was among the Saudis who were hopeful about the limited reforms of King Abdullah starting in 2003 but do not question the al-Sauds right to rule. The article is informative as much in its explanation of the Kuwaiti crisis as the implied lessons for other Gulf monarchies.
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Kuwait’s crisis: The National Assembly wants to be emir-maker
Khalid al-Dakhil, al-Hayat, 4 November 2012
The political situation in Kuwait has reached the utmost crisis. There are marches, clashes between protesters and the police, and MPs from the dissolved Assembly have been arrested. The political climate is tense, and has been marred by escalating political statements that raise a tone of defiance on all sides. The crisis is not new: it is only the latest chapter, which was initiated by the recent Emiri Decree amending voting mechanisms in parliamentary elections allowing voters to select only one candidate instead of four.