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Opinion: Debating Kuwaiti Democracy | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Kuwaiti judges (TOP) and their aides count the ballots at a polling station after closure of voting in al-Khaldeyya district of Kuwait city, on July 27, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/YASSER AL-ZAYYAT)

The question of whether democracy in Kuwait has been successful or not is a legitimate one that is mentioned every time Kuwaiti governance is brought up.

Many opinions have been expressed and discussed in this regard. Some view it as an experiment that didn’t succeed because democracy in its comprehensive sense is supposed to convey a civilized transformation which, according to this view, has not yet happened in Kuwait!

Other consider that Kuwait’s democracy has been successful in that it contributed to creating a climate of political and intellectual affluence, and led to the birth of a community immersed in dialogue.

To be fair, given the age of nations and peoples, the process is still at the beginning. This why although Kuwait can be compared to, for instance, another constitutional monarchy like Britain, this comparison is destined to fail. However, in making any comparison is important to notice the gradual growth and productive shift towards the consolidation of democratic practice in general.

If the other side of the comparison is considered, it is fair to say that the democracy in Kuwait will inevitably be successful. Between 1963 and 2013 the council has expanded, and democracy is not limited to the few lucky enough to enter the council, but everyone participates in and contributes to its resolutions. With this came the awareness of responsibility for hundreds of Kuwaiti youths who stood in Irada Square, which has become like a public parliament or platform for communicating demands from the electoral system. The youth sought to change the composition of the government in what has become known as the “prophet of five” campaign, which brought down the ministry, the first instance of its kind in the Gulf.

The gatherings in Irada Square and the political mobilization of the youth cannot be taken lightly, and should not be perceived as temporary enthusiasm that will fade. The fact that tens of thousands of people took to the streets raising their political demands in a country whose population doesn’t exceed one million, indicates that democracy in Kuwait is headed in the right direction.

The democratic experience in Kuwait succeeded in creating awareness among youth about its own role and responsibility and the need to overcome divisions. They have even managed to overcome the obsession with Sunni, Shi’ite separation.

I won’t say that Kuwait’s democratic experiment has succeeded. That is a goal that still requires more effort. But I can say with confidence that there is a process of change in Kuwait that started with the first elected national assembly in 1963. This movement is gaining momentum every day and aims to forge a new social contract between the ruling family and the people of Kuwait—a contract imposed by current conditions.

Today, Kuwait enjoys a parliament which is the product of fair elections, free and influential press, an independent judiciary, active civil institutions and bodies, cultural and intellectual organizations, rich dialogue platforms, and a solid and effective opposition. These are all outcomes of 50 years of exercising free will and the open political and intellectual climate without restrictions or censorship.

This reality makes the discussion of failure or success of the democratic experiment a minor issue. A true evaluation of the experiment lies in noticing its effects. The fair reader has the freedom to make a decision regarding the failure or success of democracy in Kuwait, provided that the youth movement, clearly active since 2006, is recognized.