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Kuwait: A constitutional emirate or the “Arab Spring”? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Kuwait is currently experiencing unprecedented social mobility, ranging from endless strikes, mass-gatherings, popular movements, and most recently the issue of bribery; where accusations of certain MPs “inflating their accounts” has preoccupied the local press. However, what is more important than all of this is the talk of the “Arab Spring” approaching the coast of Kuwait. While supporters insist on this as a means of forwarding their demand for a “constitutional emirate”, the government responded in a decisive manner through the words of Kuwaiti National Assembly member, Ali al-Rashed, who said on a television interview that those talking of the “Arab Spring” in Kuwait are “traitors to the nation and are calling for a coup against the government”.

So what is really happening in Kuwait?

Needless to say, the talk about changing the way in which the Kuwaiti Prime Minister assumes office, to be elected rather than appointed, is nothing new on the Kuwaiti street. There have been calls for decades, within the Abdullah Al-Salem hall in the National Assembly itself, advocating this direction. However, it is interesting that there are those calling for a constitutional emirate, while nothing in the constitution itself prevents the principle of an elected Prime Minster. The Kuwaiti Constitution of 11/11/1962 stipulates that the form of governance in the country should be in accordance with the constitutional emirate system, whereby the ruling family holds the positions of Emir and Crown Prince. As for the executive power (the government), there is no article that attributes any position to the ruling family. In the past, it was customary for the Crown Prince to assume the role of Prime Minister, yet these two posts have since been separated. Who knows, perhaps Kuwait, ahead of its parliament’s forthcoming session this month, will issue constitutional reforms from the Emir, stipulating the appointment of a prime minister from outside the ruling family.

However, the most important issue with regards to this call for a “constitutional emirate” is the fact that the National Assembly has held seven votes of confidence with regards to Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad, since he was appointed by the Emir. However, on each occasion the elected MPs were unable to oust him. Thus, the constitution itself does not prevent the Kuwaitis from changing their Prime Minister, or how he comes to office. Those who prevent them are the MPs themselves, who came to power via the votes of the electorate, and not through appointment. On each occasion there were those who voted for al-Mohammad to remain in office, so do we blame the constitution here, or do we blame the MPs who were installed in parliament by the people?

An observer of the Kuwaiti scene would hardly notice that there is a feverish movement to bring reforms to the ruling house; even these reforms are contrary to the constitution. Indeed the MPs opposed to al-Mohammad, having failed to topple him under the dome of the National Assembly, have now sought to make their demands outside the Assembly. How perverse matters must seem to the observer, when he sees these MPs violating the constitution, yet at the same time calling for it to be invoked?

It is not possible to criticize the Kuwaiti experience without the voters themselves bearing some responsibility for the serious errors in their voting and candidate choices. The MPs were unable to overthrow the Prime Minister through a vote of no confidence, as noted above, but the message was clear to the Kuwaiti leadership that there is a popular desire to choose a Prime Minister from outside the ruling family. However, the Assembly itself has insisted, session after session, on keeping the man who was appointed by the Emir, something no-one understands except the elected MPs themselves, seemingly satisfied with the Emir’s selection. This means that the Emir’s choice reflects the MPs, and thus represents the choice of the people.

If the majority of Kuwaitis insist that their Prime Minister should be a member of the general populace, then they should apply this in practice by voting for an MP who supports this theory. Otherwise, this means that their choice of MPs was wrong from the start, and this is another problem altogether, but the constitution is certainly not to blame!