After the biggest march in Kuwait’s history on Sunday, people from different countries asked me through my blog or twitter for explanations of this demonstration and that’s why I’m writing this brief post explaining the story behind it and other relevant issues. As reported in the media, the march was planned to protest the emir’s decree to change the electoral law. The new amendment forces Kuwaiti citizens to vote for one candidate instead of four. Certainly, an outsider would not understand why voting for four is more important but this is not what is at stake.
If one imagines voting for one candidate instead of four in a country of four electoral districts, then one can understand how a candidate might win with few thousands of votes due to the small population of the Emirate, and thus will not be fairly representative of the majority of his/her district. Before 2006, Kuwait had 25 electoral districts, but with the demands of the “orange youth movement,” it was changed to five. The movement rightly campaigned that this change would decrease deals of buying votes and of candidates winning because their bases consist of their tribes, families, or sects. Meaning, the operation was made more political than social.
The major objection that led to Sunday’s “Dignity March” was against having an authoritarian regime. The decree was made under the “necessity decree” which is a right given to the emir to issue decrees if change is necessary to save the country from some danger. This particular decree states that it is made to save the country from division. Those protesting did not think that this constitutional right was used correctly and more importantly thought that such a law was only made to manipulate next December’s election results. The protesters and the Islamist-conservative opposition stated that such a change should be made by the elected parliament.
The decree became more problematic after the constitutional court turned down the government’s request to rule out the electoral law as unconstitutional. It shows how the current government in Kuwait is paying for a reformative decision made in 2006 by popular demand. Right after the court’s decision, the head of the judiciary in Kuwait resigned from his position and took back his resignation in 24 hours. This shows how there is a conflict between the higher powers of the state.
The state foolishly decided to crack down on thousands of protesters this Sunday. There were over 20 arrested (released the next day to calm the situation down) and tens injured. Such oppression is not usual in Kuwait, but in the past months everything turned upside down. Some Kuwaitis exaggerated saying “the shield of the peninsula” will come to repress Kuwaitis. However, I think it is true that the country has radically changed its foreign policies lately. Last year and before, the foreign policy was based on staying away from any regional conflicts but now is based on cooperating with fellow Gulf monarchies. A good example is the one billion Kuwaiti Dinars aid given to the Bahraini regime. The latter was upset with Kuwait for not sending troops last year to repress the February 14 Revolution.
Where is Kuwait going with this? No one can tell. I can only tell that the way authorities are dealing with this situation is completely meaningless and does nothing but further complicate the situation.
* Published in Al-Akhbar