The Political Future .. of Islamic Trends in Kuwait

Abd Arrazaq bin Khalifa AlShaiji
22 Feb 2017

Kuwait has been witnessing an increasingly active political activity, especially after issuing the Necessity Decree which established the mechanism of one vote in exchange of four votes. This new mechanism sparked controversy in the country and opened up the chasm in the already tense political situation in the country, with increasing levels of polarization between the opposition and the loyalists. Among all the political trends and parties in the opposition, Islamists are believed to be the most organized and influential on the popular and political levels. In order to appreciate the stages of development of the current political situation in Kuwait in it is necessary to shed light on the Islamic movement in this country, and the differences within the movement regarding the Necessity Decree and the National Assembly. While some Islamists stand in opposition to the decree and the resulting National Assembly, others support it and affirm their loyalty to the status quo. These differences created two contradicting poles which led to an unprecedented levels of polarization in Kuwait. The Islamic Trend The Islamic trends in Kuwait are mainly represented by Sunni and Shia groups. While the Shia groups seem relatively unified in their positions, the Sunnis are not, since they are divided into the Muslim Brotherhood, known in Kuwait as “The Islamic Constitutional Movement” and the Salafis under the umbrella of “The Islamic Salafi Coalition”. In the recent years, the Islamic currents, both Sunni and Shi’a, Salafis and MB’s, fluctuated between being loyalists or in the opposition, and the recurrent National Assemblies witnessed serious political activity which was evident in a series of political alignments that tend to change based on the issues handled. The year 2006 is considered the year of political alignments for all the political currents in Kuwait, when Sheikh Nasir AlMohammad was appointed the Prime Minister, to become the sixth prime minister in the history of the state. He was preceded by HRH Sheikh Sabah AlAhmad. The first prime minister in the country was Sheikh Abdullah AlSalem, the second was Sheikh Sabah AlSalem, then Sheikh Jaber AlAhmad, and Sheikh Saad AlAbdallah. The Islamic trends, both Sunni and Shia, engaged in an uncertain relationship with the government. The Shia movement, along with the liberal trends, eventually decided to line with the government, since they were convinced that Sheikh Nasir AlMhammad achieved several political gains for them, and met some of the their demands and objectives. Although the Sunni currents in the country, both Salafis and MB were represented in the government since 2006, the Salafis chose later to take an oppositional stance, and they met with HRH the Prince of Kuwait in 2008 demanding not to appoint Sheikh Nasir AlMhammad as a Prime Minister. The MB on the other hand decided to stay in the government. A Fragile Situation In 2008 the Salafi movement left the government, while the MB remained in it until 2009, when the Sunni currents, both MB and Salafis lined in the opposition front, and became the largest opposition bloc in the National Assembly. There was a series of demands and sit-ins to force Sheikh Nasir AlMhammad to step down as Prime Minister, and to dissolve the National Assembly. These actions were taken after suspicions of financial corruption against some members of the Assembly in 2009, and accusations entailing the Prime Minister, which led to popular protests, and HRH the Prince responded to the demands of the opposition, and dissolved the Assembly. He entrusted Sheikh Jabir AlMubarak, who was the deputy prime minister, and the Minister of Defense in the dissolved cabinet, to form a new government. In February 2012, a new National Assembly was elected, which included the largest Islamic bloc in the political history of Kuwait, and the largest opposition in the Parliament. The parliament members affiliated with the opposition was 35, mainly Islamists. Nevertheless, the Constitutional Court dissolved the Assembly in 20 June 2012, after less than five months of forming it. Accordingly, the 2009 Assembly was considered constitutionally functional, although never convened, until a decree was issued in October 7 in that year dissolving the Assembly, and in October 21 another necessity decree was issued to amend the voting mechanism in the elections, where voters would have one vote instead of four. The decree was rejected by the opposition, since it was issued while the National Assembly is not convened, and without consultations with the MP’s. Therefore, the opposition movements another other political, social and tribal actors called the people to boycott the elections. The Salafi current “The Islamic Salafi Coalition” was divided between those who opposed the one-vote system and those who opposed it. Among those who were in favor of the system was MP Ali Alomair, while other opposed it, such as MP’s Khalid AlSultan, Abullatif AlOmeiry, and Mohammad AlKondary. There were fissures among the Salafis in Kuwait, which led to a split among the member of the movement in the second electoral district, and a youth group was formed calling itself “Herak”. The MB represented by “The Constitutional Islamic Movement” were among those who opposed the one-vote system, and called to boycott the elections completely. One member of the movement, Khudeir AlEneizi, was expelled for disobeying its decision and running for elections. Awaiting Constitutionality As the political situation grows more polarized, it became clear that the future of the Islamic currents in Kuwait, especially those in the opposition, will be shaped by the opinion of the constitutional court in regards to the one-vote system. The court decided to hold its first session in mid January 2013. If the court cancels the decree as unconstitutional, the opposition will be able to resume its position in the parliament working according to the constitution. On the other hand, if the court’s rules that the decree is constitutionally sound, the opposition might probably step up its political and popular protests. It is not unlikely as well for the opposition, if faced with crackdown, to extend its activities even outside of Kuwait, which is the probable scenario, since the authorities depend solely on security measures against the youth movement, and curbing the freedom of speech and the media. The government recently ordered to close AlYawm TV channel, which is the only channel through which the opposition partially express its opinions. This indicates a deadlock in the political situation in the country, which might lead the opposition to launch a TV channel abroad to defend its position, which also means that some opposition figures might leave the country to escape oppression. Security Crackdowns The government of Kuwait has followed suit other gulf states in the crackdown against the opposition, which created a stampede in the political life in these countries and pushed the opposition figures away to lead their activities from abroad. Since last year, Kuwaiti security forces arrested and jailed several political activists and bloggers, and the Attorney General is pondering the arrest of several media activities for some of their Tweets, two of them have already been sentenced two years for insulting the Emir o twitter, the first sentence of its sort in the history of the country. The government has alluded to pull nationality of some political activists in the opposition. It has been increasingly bringing about the issue of double-nationality, which might be an indirect threat to deprive some activists of their citizenship based on their political positions. The UAE was the first Gulf country to use this measure, followed by Bahrain, and now Kuwait is using it as a means to clamp on the opposition. The Security Cooperation Council Some leaders in the opposition are accused of being loyal to foreign powers, especially the MB, who are accused of receiving support from Qatar and Egypt. Such accusations were repeatedly discussed in the mainstream media in Kuwait, and were rejected by both Qatar and Egypt. Likewise, the UAE brought such accusations against the opposition as being loyal to the MB in Egypt and Kuwait. It seems that the security perspective of the Gulf countries witnessing internal political pressure is similar, despite the relative differences in the shape of the political system and the margin of freedoms in each one. The similarity in the manner in which the governments of the Gulf are dealing with the opposition movements enables us to understand why the leaders of the GCC were quick to approve the Gulf Security Pact in the Manama summit, without discussing it with their peoples. In this respect, the Secretary General of the GCC, Abdullatif AlZayani, clarified to the reporters the reasons behind the secrecy of the articles of the pact saying: “We shall keep you informed, and the reason for not publishing the articles of the pact before is that we have been waiting this remarkable day in order to get the pact approved by the leaders of the GCC. Now, and after they have signed the pact, you shall be able to read it and you will be able find it on the internet, Inshallah!” It is known that this pact has been pending for over 30 years because of reservations by some members in the GCC. This articles of this pact reveals that it mainly targets the peoples of the Gulf countries and the opposition movements, since the whole pact is concerned with the internal “threats” instead of focusing on the external ones, despite the classic political discourse that the security of the Gulf countries is concerned with external factors. The social media such as Facebook and Twitter were clearly present in the summit, where issues about “optical fiber” data, especially those related to such websites, were discussed. This gives us a sense of the true objectives of this agreement, which is, in the opinion of most observers, a sort of conspiracy against the peoples of the Gulf, aimed at protecting the status of the leaders of the Gulf countries and their ruling families, especially after the political activity in most of these countries. The security-oriented measures that share a lot of similarities in the Gulf countries depend on crackdowns and clamping down on the opposition movements, forcing those in the opposition to leave their countries and resume their activities abroad. The Opposition Options The opposition in Kuwait is probably going to leave the country and run its activities from abroad, a thing that would spark increasing international criticism against the Kuwaiti government in terms of freedoms and declining democracy. The discourse of the opposition would elicit sympathy abroad, especially that the demands it presents are in line with the international agreements and standards related to freedoms and human rights. The international declaration of human rights issued by the UN in 1958, in addition to the agreements of civil right and economic, social, and cultural right approved by the UN in 1976, all support the demands of the opposition. This necessarily means that the Kuwaiti political situation could become internationalized, which in turn might even increase the gap between the authorities and the opposition, leading both of them to adopting more obstinate positions and escalation. The authorities might be inclined to restrict freedoms and impede democratization in order to curb the influence of the opposition in the country. On the other hand, the opposition might raise the ceiling of their demands, and call to reject the motto of “constitutional emirate” and “popular government”, and demand the establishment of new constitutional assembly to write a new constitution that reshapes the whole political establishment. The aftermath of such scenario is gloomy, and the future of the whole country would become at stakes. Internationalization of the Current Situation The opposition in Kuwait has not yet interacted with international organizations or foreign countries, and still hope to annul the one-vote system and return to Parliament. Nevertheless, there are several international stances that might encourage the opposition to take the issue to the international stage in case the dialogue with the government came at a stampede. Importantly, a number of human rights organizations have recently commented on the political situation in Kuwait, calling the government to ensure freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protests. Human Rights Watch in 26 December, 2012 reported that “the Kuwaiti security forces used excessive violence to disperse peaceful protestors in a series of protests related to the political process in the country since 2012. Some protestors were injured and a larger number were arrested.” The organization also demanded the Kuwaiti authorities to “respect the right to peaceful gathering” and said that article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights , on which Kuwait is a signatory country, states that “the right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized”. It also criticized the actions of the Kuwaiti government that are not in line with its own constitution and laws that guarantee the right to peaceful assembly, mentioning that the constitutional court in Kuwait in 2006 dropped the necessity to obtain permits for any gathering, although the authorities are still demanding them, and the protestors refuse this situation. Eric Goldstein, the deputy executive director of the MENA division at Human Rights Watch commented on the situation in Kuwait saying “attacking peaceful protestors could not be justified, and the authorities in Kuwait should prove that it does not condone any violations against human rights committed by officials.” He also said that the government of Kuwait should fully respect the right to peaceful assembly, and if the protestors did not get authorization to gather this should not be a pretext for the police to assault them.” The World Watches The international media outlets have been concerned with the crackdown against the protestors in Kuwait, which reflects a general concern about human rights violations in Kuwait. Several newspapers and channels shed lights on the situation. The Washington Post in 6/1/2013 said that protestors in Kuwait were being assaulted by the police using tear gas, and a number of protestors were arrested, others were injured. The Guardian in the UK and the Middle East in Australia published reports about clamping down on the protests, in addition to televised reports by Fox News and Russia Today channels. Other newspapers said that the Western countries that supported Kuwait in 1991 against the Iraqi occupation are embarrassed by lack of freedoms in Kuwait, and the use of violence against the protestors instead of dialogue. This is considered by many as a regression of democracy in the country that was once considered a peaceful democratic state in the region occupied by an aggressive dictatorship, which causes a kind of embarrassment to these countries. The American administration declined last December a visit by a Kuwaiti political delegation, while its Department of State stated the US does not accept jailing people because of what they write on Twitter and their political opinions. It also said that they have discussed the matter with the Kuwaiti government, which indicates that the US is angered by the security measures against the protestors in Kuwait. In this respect, the Gulf states would face similar international pressures against the oppressive measures against protestors. The European Parliament demanded the countries of the European Union to take action against the UAE because of the continued violations against human rights, tortures, and violation of the law. It called the people and the international community to stand in support of the political prisoners in UAE and their families, flagging it as an enemy of freedom. The statement by the European Parliament called to put a limit on the “practices of the authorities in the UAE” against the protestors, criticizing at the same time the silence of the European governments regarding the severe violations of human rights in this state. It said that “partnership in economic areas is useful for both sides, but there should be shared and respected values.” The same calls and language might be used against the Kuwaiti government if the authorities insisted on the security solution to deal with the protestors, especially if the constitutional court approves the one-vote system. These are decisive indicators for the opposition in Kuwait in their options to stay in the country or leave it to work from abroad. A Standoff Situation It is clear now that the National Assembly in Kuwait has been, beside its legislative role, an all-inclusive institution where opposition has its voice and space of work. The authorities, in light of the increasing protests and rising opposition, came up with the one-vote system, which is viewed by Kuwaitis as an attempt by the authority to silence these voices and prevent them from being in the National Assembly. Most Kuwaitis feel that the democratic process in their country was negatively impacted by the attempt of the authorities to produce a weaker Parliament, at a time where some politicians and media figures started openly discussing the importance of moving to a constitutional Emirate. Jasim Boudi, in 4/1/2012 said in an article titled “Kuwait and Gulf States, who’s First to Fall? That “if (Kuwait) does not adopt a more developed system, it would be difficult to sustain its presence.” He added that “after 50 years of writing the constitution, the ruling family has not succeed in convincing the people that there are others who are as qualified and capable to lead the country and shoulder the responsibility, by standing at the same distance from everybody, to rise above differences and respect the rule of law and the constitution. After 50 years of approving constitution, the performance of the Parliament and the government has not witnessed any development. The government succeeds only in weakening the Parliament, forging deals, and preserving the status quo and those who represent it.” He adds that “if the political regime in Kuwait holds a vision for the country and its future, it would have been more concerned about representing all the constituents of the country in the political process, embracing the values of political pluralism and partnership. This could have created a healthy political atmosphere in the country instead of creating currents based on sectarian or tribal affiliations, moving gradually towards constitutional emirate , instead of being forced into certain measures imposed by a crisis.” He argued against those saying the Kuwait is safe and could not be affected by the situation in the region, saying “the facts on the ground say that it could be the first country to affected.” The question raised at the moment is about the prospects of the political situation in Kuwait in case the authorities go further in their security measures to solve the political standstill in light of a general security-oriented mindset in the Gulf, evident in the Security Pact approved in Manama. Would the opposition trends in the Gulf countries adopt similar mechanisms in their political activities in the future? These questions shall have their answers in the coming period ˜˜ ˜ CEO of Al-Mashoura & Al-Raya for Islamic Financial Consulting. Professor of Hadith in the faculty of Sharia and Islamic Studies. B.A in Islamic Sharia, Kuwait University 1986, M.A in Fundamentals of Islam, Al-Azhar University 1990, and received his PhD from the same faculty in 1992 with honors

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