The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged Kuwait
In Translation: Kuwait's political crisis

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 2005 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.

As always, our In Translation series is made possible by Industry Arabic, which provides professional translation services for corporations, NGOs, and anyone else who needs fast, accurate and specialized translation from or to Arabic. If you or your company has need of these kind of services, give them a go.

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.

This move is rejected by the opposition – i.e., the majority of the dissolved Assembly – which sees it as an attempt to bring in an Assembly that is more convenient for the government. The government considers the decree as a way out of the crisis that is both fair and constitutional. Holding its ground, it has decided to hold elections in early December. Registration has begun in earnest for those who would like to run. Furthermore, the Interior Ministry has announced that it will not allow the opposition to hold its planned march, which was scheduled for Sunday. The opposition declared in turn that it is boycotting elections until the Emiri Decree is revoked, and not content to stop there, it resolved to put pressure on the government using the power of the street in the form of popular marches and conferences. Sunday is the planned date for the second march under the banner “Dignity of the Nation 2.” In the previous march, “Nation 1,” it was reported that approximately 100,000 people attended —a large number in proportion to the size of Kuwait’s population, which barely exceeds one million. Sunday will determine the course of the political crisis. Will the opposition maintain its stance and hit the streets in today’s march, or will it settle on canceling or postponing it? Will the government back down from the recent decree and agree to go back to the old election law? What will be the turnout for today’s march? How will the security forces deal with it?

It is a very tense moment indeed, and opens up on more than one possibility. There are many attempts to find an exit to the crisis, but the proposed exits seem to have as their starting point the revocation of the Emiri Decree, which means that the first step towards a solution must begin with the government’s backing down. There is no indication that this will occur (I am writing this on Saturday morning), and significantly in this context, the Democratic Forum has called for today’s march to be cancelled or postponed as a goodwill initiative. The scale of the current crisis indicates that the political system in Kuwait is entering a new phase. The democratic experiment in this small country has become accustomed to the mechanism of consensus, and clings to it in order to avoid crises and political flare-ups. Consensus within the ruling family, between the government and the National Assembly, and between the family and political and business interests within society. In the present crisis, it seems that the landscape is changing in an unprecedented fashion. The language of politics has changed, tending toward confrontation and conflict, and escalating demands. Many Kuwaitis complain that the scope of consensus is narrowing, and that Kuwait is entering a trial whose outcome is uncertain.

Nevertheless, there is consensus around the Al Sabah family and their right to rule. What needs to be done – people are saying – is to change the nature of the relationship with the family. There are demands to put an end to corruption, for a “constitutional emirate” and parliamentary government, and an end to using influence to skirt the law and the constitution. These demands may seem large, but the democratic experiment in Kuwait is now reaching the half-century mark. Over this period, the experiment has stalled, then tribalism, political Islam and sectarianism entered the mix as new political actors, and development came to a halt. Kuwait went from being “a model for democracy” in the Arab world and the Gulf to a model for a half-democratic mix with political and developmental stagnation.

Does the political crisis in Kuwait have a causal relationship with the “Arab Spring”? Not at all: it resembles, with all differences taken into account, the crisis in Bahrain. The Arab Spring has offered a different political framework for both of them, and perhaps given them additional momentum, but it did not cause either crisis to occur. In Bahrain, the roots of the crisis go back to the decades before the “Arab Spring,” while in Kuwait, it could be said that the stagnation and repeated crises persisted until the Arab Spring came along, changing Kuwait, the region and the world. As a result, the time for change in the experiment arrived – to develop it and not to overturn it. This, it seems, is what Kuwaitis are calling for.

The current crisis did not start days or weeks ago: it goes back to 2006, when the late Emir Sheikh Jaber III Al-Ahmed, and the late Crown Prince Sheikh Saad Abdullah were both ill at the same time. The crisis broke out after the Emir’s death, when the Crown Prince was unable to assume to role of Emir. A constitutional crisis emerged then in the form of a question: who will become Emir, the Crown Prince or Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed, who came after Sheikh Saad in the political hierarchy? With the death of the Emir, and the Crown Prince’s incapacity, there was no clear constitutional text governing such an exceptional circumstance. There was a hidden conflict within the ruling family and outside of it, between those who thought that Sheikh Saad should become Emir despite his illness, and between those who believed that the illness was a constitutional obstacle, particularly since the Crown Prince’s state of health is stipulated in Article 8 of the constitution.

There was near consensus with the National Assembly on one side, and most of the ruling family – the Al Jaber branch in particular – on the need to avoid a repeat of the impasse that the country faced during the concurrent illnesses of the Emir and the Crown Prince, and the choice of Sheikh Saad along with his worsening condition meant that the impasse would continue. In this case, the way out would take place either through Sheikh Saad’s abdicating his right to become Emir, which had fallen to him automatically, or through implementation of Article 3 of the Emirate Succession Law, which would sideline Sheikh Saad and entrust the Emirate to Sheikh Sabah. Seeing as no consensus was reached within the ruling family, it was only possible to implement Article 3 through the National Assembly, which gave the Assembly significant political heft for the first time in deciding the succession issue.

The situation was unprecedented, since the question of selecting the Emir had never been decided outside the ruling family. However, since no consensus had been reached, this was not possible, especially in the wake of the demographic change within the family in favor of the Al Jaber branch and at the expense of the Al Salem branch that Sheikh Saad belonged to. In a single moment, social sensitivities overlapped with constitutional requirements, and interests and balances within the ruling family overlapped with those on the outside. In the end, the issue required the intervention of the National Assembly – for the first time – as a party directly involved in deciding the succession issue.

The role of the National Assembly in selecting the Emir is stipulated in the constitution, but political custom has meant that, since the start of the constitutional experiment – for more than four decades – this role has not gone beyond rubber stamping what the ruling family has decided. Then these unprecedented circumstances arose granting the National Assembly greater scope to assume real responsibility in deciding who will be the Emir.

As a result, it could be said that Sheikh Sabah is the first Emir of Kuwait whose reign was born within the National Assembly, rather than from outside. The Assembly seemed an “Emir-maker” at the time, which granted it unprecedented political power. It is not at all an exaggeration to say that since that time, crises between the government and the ruling family on one side, and the National Assembly on the other, have been constantly escalating – over electoral districts, the political system, and interpretation of constitutional articles. This reflects a hidden political conflict between two sides: the Assembly trying to build on the political gains it made in 2006, and the government and the ruling family trying to place a limit on this political ambition. Here, as I have indicated, forces are driving the political process toward a constitutional Emirate, and a parliamentary government separate from the ruling family. All this favors the National Assembly’s growing power. In this framework, the role of political forces and actors comes into play: tribalism, sectarianism, political Islam and civil and liberal forces. What counts for the forces of change is that they want everything to take place with the existing political system, and not to overthrow it. As a result, change must take the form of a cumulative process, and not a political upheaval that puts everyone at risk. The region is going through a tumultuous phase, and needs much political wisdom and intelligence. There must be a rapprochement between a government resisting change, and an opposition pushing for change.

Kuwaitis Denied Justice in Guantanamo Bay

Jenifer Fenton reports from Kuwait. This month marks the third year that President Barack Obama's campaign promise to "close Guantanamo" (modified soon after his inauguration to close the detention facility by January 2010) will have gone unfulfilled. A chronology of the Obama administration's postponment of the closure can be found at the LA Times.

The worst of the worst, they were called. Twelve Kuwaitis were “captured” in Afghanistan and Pakistan and sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in the months following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Unproven accusations of associations with the Taliban and Al Qaeda robbed them of years of their lives. The 12 said they left Kuwait to do charity work or to teach Islam or to live more Islamic lives. Many were sold to the Americans for bounty and all said they were tortured by US forces.

Eventually 10 would be freed.

It is unclear why eight, including Nasser Al Mutairi (ISN-205), the first Kuwaiti released in January 2005, were transferred home. Al Mutairi said he traveled to Afghanistan for ribat, according to Combatant Status Review Tribunal transcripts:

Ribat means waiting. It's a form of worship, a kind of practice. There is a great reward in my religion for doing ribat. If someone dies while on the line while doing ribat they are considered martyrs and go to heaven. Ribat is the opposite of Jihad because ribat is defending the line and Jihad is attacking the line.

He was in Afghanistan to wait on the border and discourage anyone from making attacks. Al Mutairi said this was similar to what US forces do in Kuwait, they train and keep the peace.

However, upon his release Al Mutairi told the press that the US made up the record of his statements before a military court.

In November of 2005, the Department of Defense also transferred five more prisoners to Kuwait including Adel Al Zamel (ISN 568), who had been a wanted man in his country prior to 9/11. He had been convicted and sentenced to a year in prison for previous charges of assault against a female college student, an attack known as the Takfir Seven Incident.

In Afghanistan, Al Zamel lived with his family and worked for Al Wafa, an Islamic Charity the US said supports terrorism. The US also suggested that he had advanced knowledge of the 9/11 terrorists attacks. Al Zamel, who had eight children, was placed in what looked like a small metal box on his fifth day at Guantanamo. "The cell was hot. I couldn't sleep at night. The pillow was soaked with my sweat. There was a small opening in the cell wall; I used to push my nose to it," Zamel told McClatchy Newspapers. "I used the bathroom on the floor; there was nothing else to do."

Abdulaziz Al Shammeri (ISN 217), released at the same time as Al Zamel, lived a “normal life” before he wound up in Guantanamo. He was married and had two children, who in 2001 were six and two years old. He was an Islamic scholar and worked at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Kuwait. He was planning to get a Master’s degree in Egypt, but decided before doing so he would spend some time teaching Islamic law in Afghanistan. “In my case I don’t even know why I was transferred there (Guantanamo)... and then I have no idea how I was released,” he told me last year. (You can read more about Al Shammeri here)

He too was tortured.

Yes, by God. I was tortured. If the devil would have been there and witnessed these torture sessions, he would... have said ‘how would you come up with such twisted thoughts.’ Satan would say ‘please come on.’ These thoughts would be even surprising to the devil himself.

The following year, in 2006, after a direct appeal by the Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah to then-President George W. Bush, Omar Rajab Amin (ISN 65) and Abdullah Kamel Al Kandari (ISN 228) were freed, according to US embassy files published by WikiLeaks.

Prior to being imprisoned, Amin had attended the University of Nebraska in the US and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. He said he went to Afghanistan after the attacks of 9/11 because he wanted to help orphans and refugees. Charity work was not new for Amin. He had worked in Zagreb, Croatia. “

"The orphans from Bosnia were coming in to a new place, so we would meet with them. We would do many things to make them more comfortable... talking with them, saying kind words, giving them food,and paying for the houses they were staying in,” Amin said according to Guantanamo tribunal transcripts. He then worked for years in Sarajevo. He married a Bosnian woman. When he left his family in Kuwait in 2001, he did not plan to be gone for long. His son was in the hospital and would have heart surgery soon. “It was imperative I returned quickly... I had ... a specific date for [my son's] operation in November, so I had to return quickly.”

Kamel Al Kandari had been a star volleyball player, who played for Kuwait’s national team. Because he was a sports star he had traveled the world, including trips to South Korea, Thailand, Bulgaria, Hungary, Lebanon, Egypt and Iran. Al Kandari went to Afghanistan for charity work as well. He was married with four young children, one who was born when he was locked up by the Americans. Al Kandari was captured wearing a Casio watch, model F-91W — that was evidence against him. The US said the watch was a common watch used by Al Qaeda to detonate improvised explosive devices.

“We have two watches in Kuwait, Fossil and Casio. The watch shows the direction of Mecca,” Al Kandari said according to Guantanamo tribunal transcripts. It also had a compass. “I go all over the world. I am Muslim and pray five times a day. I need it. Many people in Kuwait have this watch. It's not tied to an Al-Qaeda company is it? I swear I don't know if terrorist use it or if they make explosives with it. If I had known that, I would have thrown it away. I'm not stupid. We have four chaplains [at Guantanamo] all of them wear this watch. I am not Taliban or Al-Qaeda.”

While US intervention is often decried in the Arab world, Kuwait is in a unique position having been liberated by US forces during the 1991 Gulf War. But that has not stopped the government of Kuwait’s insistence that Kuwaiti prisoners held in Guantanamo should be returned. Kuwait’s leadership has often, according to cables published by WikiLeaks, complained that Guantanamo prisoners of countries who provide far less support to America have had their citizens returned. But as late as June 18, 2008, almost seven years after 9/11, Kuwait said that it has received "not one word" of information or evidence against eight of Kuwait’s former Guantanamo detainees who had been released by then, according to US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks).

Two prisoners — Fouad Al Rabiah (ISN 551) and Khalid Al Mutairi (213) — were ordered released by American courts in 2009. The ruling by which Al Rabiah, an aviation engineer, was freed stated [PDF] the US government’s evidence was “surprisingly bare,” noting that interrogators used “abusive techniques.”

Al Rabiah returned to Kuwait in December 2009. Like Amin, Al Rabiah, now 52, had a documented history of doing charitable work with reputable organizations in Kosovo, Bosnia and Bangladesh. He planned to help people in Afghanistan. Instead, he lost eight years of his life and missed watching his four children grow up. “I lost so many things, but I know that I was right,” he told me. “I know that they were wrong.” The US threatened to use drugs on him and render him to countries where he would be tortured worse than the treatment he received in Guantanamo, he said. He was also subjected to severe sleep deprivation.

All of the Kuwaiti prisoners held at Guantanamo were put on trial and acquitted upon their return to Kuwait, with the exception of Al Rabiah, who had extensive proof of his innocence. A Kuwaiti official told Al Rabiah when he returned to Kuwait, “There is no basis for a case (against you),” Al Rabiah said.

The US “evidence” against Al Mutairi was equally as damning in its lack of substance. “The Government believed for over three years that Al Mutairi manned an anti-aircraft weapon in Afghanistan based on a typographical error in an interrogation report.” (See this report.) Al Mutairi was unmarried and had no children at the time of his captured, but he cared for his elderly parents in Kuwait. He had traveled to Afghanistan with $15,000 that he planned to use to build a mosque.

Kuwaiti prisoner Abdullah Al Ajmi (ISN 220), 23 years old when captured, had trained as a solider in the Kuwait military - the only Kuwaiti prisoner with military experience. Al Ajmi would later blow himself up in a suicide attack in Mosul, Iraq in 2008. (The Washington Post has reported extensively on Al Ajmi.) Had he indeed been radical before 9/11 or was it his time in Guantanamo that made him that way? Perhaps more accurately the prison experience drove him crazy.

Upon returning to Kuwait he had spent time at a mental hospital. It is hard to know what acts and associations Al Ajmi, accused of being a Taliban fighter, freely confessed to and what he was coerced to say. “I couldn't take it. I couldn't bare the threats and the suffering so I started saying things. When every detainee is captured they tell him that he is either Taliban or Al-Qaida and that is it,” Al Ajmi said according to Guantanamo review board transcripts. “I couldn't bare the suffering and the threatening and the pressure so I had to say I was from Taliban.” The US said he was aggressive and non-compliant and held in disciplinary blocks while imprisoned in Guantanamo.

Two Kuwaiti prisoners Fayiz Al Kandari (ISN 552) and Fawzi Al Odah (ISN 232) could be indefinitely detained in Guantanamo Bay, where they linger outside of the reach of the law. Al Kandari has been tortured. He has been threatened with dogs, deprived of sleep, sexually humiliated, placed in stress positions, and subjected to extreme temperatures and loud music, according to what Al Kandari told his military defense attorney Lt.Col. Barry Wingard.

Both Al Kandari and Al Odah said that they went to Afghanistan to do charity work. As I wrote recently, though they stand accused, neither has had a trial - and no trial is scheduled - to determine their guilt or innocence. They have filed habeas corpus petitions challenging the basis of their detention without charges, but their petitions have been denied. (More on their story here)

It is a travesty of justice that Al Odah will not have his day in court as some of the evidence against him is clearly flawed. One of those who “testified” against Al Odah was Guantanamo prisoner Yasin Basardah, who the US decided was not providing credible information and "should not be relied upon," according to a report by the Washington Post. Basardah had previously been addicted to and trafficked drugs and was jailed numerous times in Saudi Arabia, according a Joint Task Force DoD document ).

A US analyst also said it was assessed that Al Odah was in Bosnia between 1994 and 1996, which “indicates detainee has an extensive history with international militant jihad, and based on his age at the time, probable support and encouragement from family members for his participation,” according to a DoD document.

Al Odah would have been 17 years old then and was in high school, according to his father Khalid Al Odah, a retired Kuwaiti Air Force pilot who fought with US forces to help liberate Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. “It is really, really outrageous,” said Khalid Al Odah, who also is the chairman of the Kuwaiti Family Committee, which lobbies for the rights of Kuwait prisoners held in Guantanamo.

But as the law stands now, the cells of Guantanamo will be Al Odah’s and Al Kandari’s homes forever. They will die without ever seeing Kuwait or their families again. That is justice, the Guantanamo way.

Links for 07.08.09 to 07.09.09
Bint Al-Beltway | Blog by Washington-based policy wonk, good stuff on Syria, Lebanon, US MENA policy, technology and military issues.
Middle East Report Online: The Day After “Victory”: Kuwait’s 2009 Election and the Contentious Present by Mary Ann Tétreault and Mohammed Al-Ghanim | On Kuwait's election.
Palestinians reject Netanyahu's 'economic peace' plan - Haaretz - Israel News | As well they should, Palestinians don't need an economic boost, they need independence and the end of the occupation.
A Renditions Scandal in Britain—By Scott Horton (Harper's Magazine) | On the case of Rangzieb Ahmed, an Ethipian rendited to Pakistan, which is currently being investigated by Britain. Which is more than you can say about Obama's decision not to investigate and prosecute these cases in America.
Hamas: Mubarak doesn't know soldier's condition - Yahoo! News | Mubarak had said Shalit was well, but Hamas says Hosni has no idea what he's talking about.
International Crisis Group - Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along The Trigger Line | Another ICG report on the important issue of how to settle resource-sharing, political rule among the Kurds and Arabs of Iraq, urges US to mediate resolution before withdrawal.
In Morocco, an Alternative to Democracy - Morocco Board News Service | Excellent critique of a stupid WaPo article on Morocco.
Q&A with Iranian Opposition Politician Ebrahim Yazdi Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | Essential interview with Iranian opposition figure.
The Israeli ambassador is a dual national. | Isn't that a problem?
Views | A veiled attack on freedom in France's niqab debate | Egyptian Muslim Brother Ibrahim al-Houdeiby on the France/niqab debate. Interesting use of Obama's Cairo speech at the end.

Links for 06.25.09 to 06.26.09
Note: Going back to the daily link dump, unless you prefer the individual posts. Most people I asked seem to prefer this method...

Tamim death sentences upheld - The National Newspaper | On HTM, case will now go to appeal, perhaps ultimately to Cassation Court.

Moving Out of Kuwait’s Political Impasse - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Nathan Brown on Kuwait's divisions between the ruling family and parliament.

Al-Ahram Weekly | Focus | Loyalty to racism | Azmi Bishara on Israel's demand that it be recognized as a Jewish state. He makes several really good points.

Obama to Send U.S. Ambassador to Syria After Four-Year Gap - | Move had been planned, but coming in the middle of Iran's crisis it signals an ambition to split the Syrian-Iranian alliance.

Calif. professor's Gaza e-mail cleared by panel - Yahoo! News | Bloody thought police.
Links for January 14th

Automatically posted links for January 14th: