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Kuwait: Back to the Beginning - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In Kuwait, I experienced in a single day what could summarize the whole Kuwaiti scene or perhaps even that of the entire Gulf.

Here in Kuwait, the focal political and media issues are constitutional amendments, dissolution of the parliament and the words of the Emir in a large meeting for members of the Al-Sabah ruling family, 15 April 2007. The meeting was attended by members of the ruling family aged forty and above. In their session that was held earlier this week, members of the National Assembly agreed that this royal meeting was a crucial one that eliminated all clamor surrounding the issue of amending the constitution or dissolving the parliament at least for a certain period as some have suggested.

I attended the parliamentary session that was scheduled to discuss the issue of “bird flu” with the Minister of Health, Dr. Massouma Mubarak who rather chose to talk about the issue of political flu, from which Kuwait has suffered during the past few days. Relief from this flu came in the form of the Emir’s words in which he completely negated rumors surrounding amending the constitution and the dissolution of parliament. In fact, he had already said these words before and cautioned some representatives in their discussions. There is great value for the words that were spoken in a meeting that was intended to be confidential between the Emir and members of the ruling family, yet [details were] published in the press and praised by MPs from all factions and blocs. The great value is in the Emir’s criticism of some members of the ruling family who failed to keep their disputes discreet. The Emir had explicitly stated that the problem was not related to the constitution but rather to the aspirations of some royal family members and the fact that they publish their disputes publicly at a time when the royal family should be an example for the people of Kuwait. The Emir went further and said that the famous opposition representative and leader of the Popular Block, Ahmed al Saadoun was misunderstood by some loyalist newspapers and was attacked unfoundedly. He also said that he believed that there was nothing wrong with what Saadoun had said since he was defending the achievements of the constitution and democracy. Such praise given by Sheikh Sabah in favor of the fierce MP Ahmed Al-Saadoun was put under the spotlight of Kuwaiti observers as Dr. Ahmad Al-Khatib, the most famous secular symbol in Kuwait and Vice-President of the Constituent Assembly which passed the Constitution of Kuwait in 1962, had told me himself. Al-Khatib mentioned his observation of the Emir’s defense of Saadoun when I saw him at Al-Tale’a magazine, where he said that he considered this praise a turning point.

Does this mean that political life in Kuwait has recovered and that the controversy and debate and misgivings about the future of governance and its formation are over? Despite their happiness with the royal downpour that has extinguished the flames of rivalry between opposition and some government supporters concerning the amendment of the constitution, many people who I met in Kuwait do not believe that this controversy is over. Strangely, and in contrast with absolute opposition to constitutional amendment, some people believe in the principle of constitutional amendment since the constitution itself had developed mechanisms for this change. Thus it is not a rejected principle, but their fear erupts from the inappropriateness of the current circumstances to begin debate for this change due to the “instability of the atmosphere” as lawyer and member of the political bureau of the Islamic Constitutional Movement (the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood) Mohamed al Dallal said. As once said by the president of the nation’s council Jassem Al-Kharafi, al Dallal agreed that the constitution is not the Holy Quran that is untouchable or unchangeable. But the problem lies in the hearts of people and the tense atmosphere, especially after a number of experiences in dissolving the parliament that failed to lead to a better political performance. As one of the senior members of the Al Sabah family said to me, “We tried to dissolve the council in an unconstitutional manner on more than one occasion. However, the outcome was that there was no improvement nor were the laws completed or the movement accelerated. So why should we go through the same unsuccessful experience again!”

But there are fears in Kuwait for the basic achievements of the constitution; the constitution had endowed Kuwait with a civil nature. It is feared that amendments would be used as an excuse to change the identity of Kuwait either in favor of fundamentalist forces or for the benefit of other forces.

Kuwaiti political issues are rich in excitement. I had always believed, regardless of the circumstances of each case, that the Kuwaiti scene could, to a large extent, be considered a minimized or an enlarged model for other Gulf countries that have not experienced the Kuwaiti political experience, as our scholars would say, “comparing the non-existent to the existent.”

However the issue that I believe draws a lot of attention from politicians and observers in Kuwait, apart from internal clamor, is talk about an American strike against Iran on consideration that Kuwait is a stone-throw away from Iranian shores. One night, in the house of a Kuwaiti politician, we tackled the issue of an attack on Iran. He then told me that they are very worried. He pointed to his window that overlooks the sea and said, “Do you see? Behind this beautiful landscape lies the Iranian Bushehr reactor. During the Iran-Iraq war, I used to see the flames of war flashing from Al-Faw peninsula.” He added, “We are looking down the barrel of a gun. The problem is the ambiguity surrounding the strike. Neither Americans tell anyone what they will really do nor do we know what exactly will happen.”

But this ambiguity has not reached the Kuwaiti press. An investigation was conducted by the Kuwaiti “Al-Anba’a” newspaper whereby its representatives conducted a journalist-military visit to the American aircraft carrier that sits on the Gulf’s waters; a remarkable investigation to many journalists. Mohammed al-Husseini, the journalist who took part in this investigation with another colleague said, “I asked the commander of the carrier about a war on Iran and he replied saying, ‘we have not been given any orders yet but we are ready.”

Of course, such an issue is disturbing for all people of the Gulf. But it is more disturbing to Kuwaitis owing to the consequences of war on its stability. But what is the solution? Should Iran be left alone to have nuclear power?! It already wants to dominate and attack without nuclear weapons so what would happen when it develops uranium claws and fangs?!

Oil! Do not forget oil, since it is the basic Kuwaiti commodity. In the past two years, Kuwait recorded a surplus in the national budget even though a deficit in the budget was declared publicly. But to the people of the economy, this meant that there had been a “paper deficit” in that according to the calculations of the Ministry of Finance, oil revenues calculated as part of the budget are calculated using oil prices before the price of oil increased to approximately seventy dollars. It might even hit the 100 dollar mark, as one trustworthy colleague told me.

Kuwait has no other outlet to export oil except the Gulf. Consequently, any closure or problems in the Strait of Hormuz would be very dangerous for Kuwaiti oil.

In this country that overlooks the Gulf, there are too many issues and internal and external Kuwaiti concerns, the majority of which are Gulf concerns. The question is: do any of the long-term Arab fighters and revolutionists against the United States realize that there is a language other than the language of revolution and slogans, of which there is no benefit. There are fundamental interests and resources at risk that have nothing to do with what theorists remotely love or hate in the way that the “good” political parties in Jordan and others called for solidarity with Ahmadinejad against the Great American Satan.

The conclusion reached on the Iranian issue is that there is an entailed danger in striking Iran, such as the Iranian chaos and possibly Iranian terrorism, as well as some environmental problems, not to mention the media incitement of Iran against Gulf States even if they expressed their opposition to striking Iran. All of this is true; no sane person would wish a war to be waged upon any other humans; war is a plague of life. Yet on the other hand, there is also a risky and serious scenario that lies in the fact that Iran of revolutionary Ahmadinejad is heading towards nuclear armament. This means that Iran would be equipped with unconventional forces through which it will try to impose its own agenda on the “Persian Gulf” especially after its mission to “oust” the Americans from Iraq succeeds, just as it hopes, plans and implements in Iraq. Thus, after Americans leave and runaway from Iraq, Iran will be completely free after its two major enemies in the region have been eliminated, namely Saddam Hussein from the west and the Taliban from the east. Here the question is one based on the Gulf: How could Iran be left to become a fully equipped monster? How can we sit and watch whilst Iran is about to tighten its grip on us all?

Two difficult choices, but life is full of them. Who said that life is a choice between right or wrong or black or white? Sometimes white may be streaked with black and black may be streaked with white; one may have to swallow bitter colocynth to get better.

This is the impression that I had observed on Kuwaiti shores and in the hearts of many of its intellectuals. Whilst watching the heated internal debate, one can see in their eyes that they would rather “live in my family’s hell than in a stranger’s paradise.”

Perhaps the waters of the Gulf may transport the same concerns to other Gulf shores and note the same apprehensions…

Kuwait is a platform from which one can see the burning palm trees of Iraq and the Iranian reactors which are about to burn, as well as the sands of the Arabian Peninsula, which is used to tranquility and swallowing up all dangers only to return to calmness once again.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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