Kuwait, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sheikh Sabah al Ahmed took over the reigns of control in Kuwait last January after 10 long days that have come to be known as the ‘dynastic crisis’. The events commenced with the death of Sheikh Jaber al Ahmed al Sabah after which Sheikh Saad al Abdullah, then the crown prince, was placed into the position of emir. Since that time the winds of change have started to blow and have yet to show signs of abating. The new Kuwait is still in the making, and it will remain so for a short time before it can emerge into a new age of political participation and action.
Over a year following that period, it has become evident that a new age was starting to establish itself in Kuwait to steer it towards being a leading country in the region where everyone bows down to the law and exerts every possible effort for the country’s advancement while adhering to the national agenda, all of which will propel Kuwait, which has lagged in recent years, back to its former glory.
The events that unfolded last year revealed a hidden struggle over the seat of power between a group that seeks to establish and secure a foothold for itself in the new era and prove that its word is the final one, versus another group that seeks to tie the past era with the present one by flexing brawn and exhibiting power by showing that it still holds onto the reins of power.
Today, the war of polarity waged between the power centers in Kuwait has become evident, and uses the country’s political, economic, media and sports arenas as locations for their battles. There are two fronts: the first includes the current President of the National Security Bureau and former [energy] minister Sheikh Ahmed al Fahd al Sabah, and Parliament Speaker Jasim al Khurafi, along with a number of influential figures versus the second front that follows political reform trends and includes among its ranks prominent figures from the ruling family, led by Kuwaiti Prime Minister Nasser al Muhammad al Sabah.
An understanding of the nature of the conflict between those two sides will reveal the reasons behind the conflict since Sheikh Sabah al Ahmed was sworn in as Kuwait’s emir. The beginning of the new age was heralded in with the formation of the first government [of three formed within the last year only], headed by Sheikh Nasser Muhammad al Sabah, in addition to the removal of a number of ministers who were reform minded and liberal oriented such as Faisal al Hiji and Abdullah al Tawil, former minister of commerce, and Salafi representative and Minister of Justice Ahmed Baqir, after which Dr. Anas al Rashid, former minister of information resigned for reasons relating to electoral reforms which were the reason behind the dissolution of the parliament.
The second crisis confronted in this new age was the battle that raged when the cabinet started looking into redrawing the division of constituencies [intended to counter alleged vote-buying] in March of last year. The conflict escalated between the two camps, the first led by Sheikh Ahmed al Fahd in alliance with Jasim al Khurafi, various MPs and the head of the Citizens Service Department, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah al Mubarak, against the movement that was calling for the reformation of the electoral system, demanding five constituencies so that they became known as the ‘five constituencies’ group. This camp included various MPs, politicians and a significant number of youth who were responsible for mobilizing the street – all of which led to the dissolution of the Kuwaiti parliament last May.
However, as the conflict was rising, it started to become clear that Sheikh Ahmed al Fahd and his alliances were on the losing side as they were confronting a huge wave that they could not easily overcome, especially since they were making matters more difficult, as attested by various parliamentary candidates. The balance of power had started to tip in favor of the reformist MPs after several MPs from the opposing camp were voted out and some loyalists retreated from their constituencies, which ultimately led to Sheikh Ahmed al Fahd’s removal from the cabinet. This was followed by his brother, Ezabi’s, resignation as the head of the National Security Bureau.
After the opposition’s victory, the National Assembly approved the amendment on the electoral constituencies so that they were slashed down to five in total. Next up was the men ‘from the old age’; a parliamentary committee requested the suspension of the Head of the Citizens Service Department, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah al Mubarak’s functional activities, pending the completion of an investigation into violations committed by his department. However, the electoral process did not run smoothly and the parliament was unable to pass that recommendation by virtue of the PM’s intervention and his affirmation that the recommendations passed by the MPs will be followed upon by the government. This shook Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah al Mubarak’s image, but also removed him from the spotlight since that time despite having always formerly occupied center stage.
After Sheikh al Fahd and Sheikh al Mubarak, the battle shifted to the economic arena, when a committee affiliated to the Kuwaiti Stock Exchange found that the company owned by Parliament Speaker, Jasim al Khurafi’s family had violated the law and as such, sentenced that the company shares in contributing companies in the Kuwaiti Stock Exchange not be touched for the duration of two rounds [six years]. Next, the battle moved to court, which ruled in favor of the committee and withdrew several Buy-Operate-Transfer (BOT) projects that real estate companies were supervising over – this was based on reports by the Kuwait Audit Bureau and still remains to be a matter under litigation.
Moving into the sports arena, the parliament approved a number of laws to remedy the country’s weak athletic performance of late, and once again the battle between the old and new ages erupted again. There was a reduction of the influence that the sons of al Shahid al Fahd al Ahmed (Ahmed, Talal and Khaled) had over the country’s sports, especially since the slack in performance took place during the time they were in control. Sheikh Talal, especially, is known for his huge dominance and influence over the sports clubs and unions wherein he is a member in a multitude of organizations, including chairing the al Qadsia Sporting Club and heading the Olympics committee, among others.
The time to interrogate Minister of Health Sheikh Ahmed Abdullah had arrived, at the request of three MPs (of which two are Islamists) who had decided to support a vote of no confidence on the health minister. The government resigned last week, March 5th, in a move that is apparently aimed at thwarting the no-confidence motion against Sheikh Ahmed Abdullah despite what had been presented to it of reassurances. The cabinet’s resignation is believed to have been tendered to pre-empt the vote so as not to be implicated in the decision since the minister is a member of the ruling family. The results of the investigation were interpreted as the Sheikh Ahmed al Fahd’s intentional attempt to remain in power in the government and to distance the representatives of the al Ahmed family wing away from the government (the al Ahmed and al Salem branches of al Sabah family have been rotating the rule in Kuwait since 1886) by virtue of Sheikh Ahmed Abdullah’s close ties with Islamic trend affiliates, a fact he openly acknowledged on the television program hosted by Turki al Dakhil on the satellite TV channel Al Arabiya early last February.
Political analysts could not apprehend what was going on the blogs and websites, which were overflowing with opinions and comments about the events on a daily basis. Leading the internet debate was lawyer Mohamed Abdel Qadir al Jasim’s website which was devoted to criticizing the political system and the ruling family warning it of the vainglory associated with power and the dangers resulting from what the head of parliament was doing. He also warned of the role that Sheikh Ahmed al Fahd was playing, sometimes issuing advice to Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al Muhammad, or discussing the means of reforming and developing the political regime.
However, the most important thing that al Jasim mentioned was in early January of last year about what the Audit Bureau had revealed in a report. It has said that, “there was a defect in the accounting related to the production and export of oil during the period in which Sheikh Ahmed al Fahd was energy minister that was approximately worth US $1 billion over the past three years.” Al Jasim added, “Therefore, I urge everyone who is connected to this disruption, among them Sheikh Ahmed al Fahd by virtue of being the former minister of energy, to officially request that the cabinet to submit a proposal to the National Assembly to commission an investigation and form a committee based on Article 114 of the constitution. Everyone implicated will be exposed and it will eliminate the remains of Sheikh Ahmed al Fahd’s hopes of returning to the political arena. Even if it were to remain within the framework of a rumor, as long as it is mentioned in an official report attributed to the Audit Bureau. It is therefore in his own personal interest and that of Kuwait that the matter be dealt with openly, the public opinion in the regime will be shaken forever if the government does not deal with this matter seriously.”
On that same show with TV moderator Turki al Dakhil, Sheikh Ahmed al Fahd responded to the accusation when he said, “This issue has been viewed inaccurately; the Audit Bureau’s report did not make a criminal charge but rather called for adopting a technical approach for handling the matter. It is a technical issue within the Ministry of Energy – and besides, where would a person put 20 million barrels? This is not logical or rational in any way. I think the problem is subsiding as the picture is starting to become clear to everyone. There was a meeting held by the financial committee of the National Assembly in which experts in the oil industry attended who explained this problem.” In answer to the alleged political manipulation of the issue, Sheikh al Fahd affirmed, “there is no doubt that this issue was used politically, however I hope that they will consider holding a special meeting to discuss it as the brothers and members of the National Assembly have requested so that this issue may be followed up upon.”
Returning to the talk of the new era, in which PM Nasser al Muhammad enjoys an unprecedented unanimity of votes for his progressive inclinations towards reform starting from the fiercest opponents of the government in the parliament, to the ‘national bloc’ led by Ahmad al Saadoun unto the liberal trend led by Mishari al Angari that opposes the nationalists, and the Islamists with all their different groups; independents, Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood (MB) affiliates. However, this did not prevent claims being made that choosing Sheikh Nasser as a leader and forming a new government is his last chance to carefully select his team so that he may be able to lay down a plan of action to fulfill progressive projects that would return Kuwait to its former glory, and to work with statesman. The other point expressed by the spokesman for the opposition Popular Action Bloc MP Musallam Al-Barrak, who had told Asharq Al-Awsat in a previous interview that he was calling for an investment in, “what he [Sheikh Nasser] enjoys of confidence granted to him by the emir and the political tends and parliamentary blocs to form a government comprised of statesman who have the parliament’s trust and who are capable of resolving ongoing issues and drive Kuwait forward.”
It is necessary to note that Sheikh Nasser al Muhammad has been granted a historical opportunity to change Kuwait’s political map after the relationship between the government and its staunchest ally within the parliament, the Islamists, had soured over the interrogation of Minister of Health Sheikh Ahmed Abdullah al Sabah and the proceedings to pass the no-confidence motion against him, especially since it was the Islamists who had initially been supportive of the health minister but nevertheless changed their position and participated in the demand which caused the government to resign last week.
The climate in Kuwait is signaling towards the breakup of the traditional government with the religious trends (Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi), which started happening at the beginning of the eighties during which time development of the constitution was suspended and the country witnessed various transgressions as well as financial misappropriations, which were revealed during the Iraqi invasion in 1990. These precursors signaling towards a new era are not compatible with the Islamists agendas, particularly what relates to opening up the country and transforming it into an attractive tourist destination in the manner the Kingdom of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are. This means that the Islamists must find a new ally also indicating that the government ship will veer closer to the oppositional popular and nationalistic trends, which have shown support for the government’s move towards reform, which also includes the ‘freeze’ on the shares that were found to have violated the law in the Kuwaiti Stock Exchange and the cancellation of the Buy-Operate-Transfer (BOT) projects, which had become a hub for corruption as the Audit Bureau reports had revealed. This is as opposed to the Islamists who reneged their promises and put themselves in an awkward situation with the PM and embroiled the government in a political crisis that ended with its resignation.
Regarding this matter, the blogger named ‘aagil’ (urgent) who posts on his internet blogspot ‘in classical Kuwaiti dialect’, wrote a letter addressed to the PM in which he said, “your choice to form or preside over the government on three different occasions in less than a year cannot mean except one thing: that you are under pressures and irregular situations do not allow you the opportunity to strive seriously and calmly for the good of your country, Kuwait. We are aware of the truth that the person with the title is interfering in every single thing that you do as we know that those with malicious intentions, who are the closest to you, are creating obstacles and placing one trap after the other for you without cease. What is the most dangerous is the group that expects for matters to remain unchanged in the new government yet to be formed and this is precisely what we do not wish for Kuwait or for you once again. The situation has reached its climax, and we as Kuwaitis can no longer withstand this deterioration and the delays in every field and level.”
In his statement, ‘aagil’ also wrote, “ the return of Ahmed al Fahd or Ismail al Shatti (deputy PM who is affiliated to the MB) indicates that you want to make the situation more difficult for yourself and that you will enter once again into the ongoing struggle of ebb and tide with the National Assembly MPs. Placing a Sheikh at the head of the Ministry of Information does not necessarily mean an end to its problems, especially when the candidate is former health minister [Sheikh Ahmed Abdullah], which lends the opportunity to easily interrogate him anew. Reappointing Seoud al Nasser [former energy minister and Islamist opponent] portends a confrontation with the six MB affiliates at one go; he is a strong man who is not afraid of confrontation, however he bears a special grudge against the ‘Hads’ MPs [the Islamic Constitution Movement – ICM, which is the MB wing in Kuwait]. Get rid of Abdul Hadi al Saleh [the Minister of National Assembly Affairs who is Shiaa inclined] for he is of no use to you but hugely useful for the Salafi MPs. The time has come to replace the only female minister with someone who can have an impact on the governmental and political work.”
“The keys to the extremist groups within and outside of the National Assembly are not in Ismail’s [al Shatti] hands, or anyone else but rather in the hand of the ministry of affairs [Ministry of National Assembly Affairs] and intimidating them by placing surveillance on their activities [regular activities not one’s that are questionable], which is enough to incapacitate them. As for the liberalist, there is no concern and it would be best to save their seats and give them competent ministers who have political expertise instead of the opportunistic MPs. Your highness is more knowledgeable in means of quelling them for what is required is qualified Kuwaitis not representatives of tribal kings.”
The blogger ‘Aagil’ concludes his statement by saying, “Confusing the parliament and silencing the people through activating delayed development projects are the best support that Nasser al Muhammad’s government has. Who could object or say ‘no’ to the building of five new hospitals and a new modern airport and purchasing 70 Boeing aircrafts and extending a bridge to reach Failaka Island and establishing a complete sports city…. etc. I advise when the new government is forced upon you, as has been imposed on you twice previously, to either resign or continue down the dead-end road and to take every difficult decision and draw the red lines that you will not cross.”
Finally, there can be no discussion of the political climate that has yet to subside since Sheikh Sabah al Ahmed came to power at the end of January before last without the subject leading to the constitution. There are voices that sometimes rise and fall in accordance with the occasion and the timing to amend the constitution at times, or during the temporary unconstitutional dissolution of the National Assembly’s (parliament) at others for a fixed period in which the government is able to implement a number of projects that it believes the parliament impedes in one way or another.
In a recent symposium held by the ‘Jamiya al Thaqafeya al Nisaeya’ (Women’s Cultural Organization) writer and journalist Ahmed al Diyan did not miss the opportunity to comment on the matter when he said, “amending the constitution under various excuses such as introducing a quota for women or a public referendum on the constitution, or increasing the number of MP in parliament must be closely observed, since the circumstances and the balances that were present when the constitution was promulgated in 1962 are no longer available.”
Al Diyan stated that the mechanisms with which to amend the constitution, “are clearly outlined in the constitution and they must not affect the principles of freedom and sovereignty because they are risks. The purpose behind amending the constitution is to ensure more freedoms. The problem does not lie in the constitution itself, but rather in its implementation and the faith in it [the lack thereof].” It should be stressed that 1962’s constitution has guaranteed the exercises of political freedom that operates Kuwait and determines the relationships between the key players; the emir, parliament, and the government. It is also the same constitution that decreed the transfer of power from Emir Saad al Abdullah to Sheikh Sabah al Ahmed.
Since this transfer of power and the manner in which it has been operating, a matter that is being observed both locally and internationally, there has been an increase in political participation. Sheikh Ahmed al Fahd has been removed at the hands of his representatives, and Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah al Mubarak, head of the Citizens Service Department is no longer in the limelight, and the interrogation of first minister to be among Mubarak’s descendents, which is constitutionally qualified to rule the country. Despite intersections in all these events indicate that what the new era has confronted of intentional and inadvertent conflicts it still continues to strive towards proving itself and all the events transpiring augur a rebirth for a new Kuwait where the main objective is to regain the country’s old glory and place it in a leading position in the region where everyone bows to the law and works for the good of the country.