After its success in removing the former Prime Minister Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, the newly elected Islamist/conservative majority in the Kuwaiti parliament is waging new battles. Over the past two years, Kuwaitis had taken to the streets to demand Al-Mohammed’s resignation. Nevertheless, despite allegations of corruption and fomenting tensions, the former Prime Minister was not voted out by parliament. As a result, as time passed, the protests became increasingly tense and eventually helped the opposition, which includes the Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the conservative Popular Action Bloc, to win the majority of seats in the country’s February 2012 parliamentary elections.
Before the new parliament’s first session, the Salafis brought up an old discussion, dating back to the First Gulf War in 1990, about changing the second article in Kuwait’s 49-year-old constitution, which states that Islamic Sharia is one source of law in the country. In Kuwait, laws regarding prohibitions against drinking alcohol and drugs, adultery, stealing, and other such ‘sins’, as they are referred to in Islam, are based on Sharia, although the punishments themselves are not conducted according to Islamic law. For example, a person who steals spends time in jail rather than having his hand cut off. While the Islamists’ objection to the second article revolves around its reference to Sharia as one, instead of the only, source of law, they have not specified how they intend to further ‘Islamize’ the laws of Kuwait.
Any change in the constitution requires support from two thirds of parliamentarians as well as the ruler’s approval, making it nearly impossible to change the second article. It was, however, surprising to see the conservative Popular Action Bloc side with the Islamists, considering the more liberal views of the Bloc’s leader Ahmed Al-Saadon. Many have viewed the Bloc’s position as politically motivated, intended to increase its popularity and guarantee Islamist support for Al-Saadon’s bid to become the head of parliament, which he recently won. When the Bloc announced its position on this debate, the leftist and liberals issued a statement denouncing attempts to amend this core constitutional provision.
With Kuwait entering a new political era, parliament was expected to have a more calm relationship with the government. However, the opposition, which many believed would fulfill its promises of reform and accountability and present a substantive reformist agenda, has instead created new fault lines not only about amending the constitution’s second article, but also on the related issue of having opposition members appointed to ministerial positions.
Traditionally, the prime minister is responsible for choosing his cabinet, although political parties are allowed to suggest names in closed-door meetings with him. While the opposition’s push for ministerial appointments may seem in line with its general calls for reform, questions remain as to why the opposition focused for the last two years only on removing Al-Mohammed and not on establishing an elected cabinet. While some liberal and leftist youth protestors called for a constitutional monarchy during this period, the opposition and media neglected and marginalized their requests. When asked to comment about the establishment of a constitutional monarchy, opposition MP’s avoided discussing the subject or thought ‘it is too early to be brought up.’ At the same time, the opposition refused to stay out of the demonstrations, ignoring requests by the youth to leave the protests to the people.
The debate over amending Kuwait’s second constitutional article reflects the opposition’s failure to fulfill its promises of reform and its tendency to involve itself in controversial debates. As a result, Kuwait’s national assembly remains a hollow institution, reflecting the authoritarian behaviors of its elected representatives.