KUWAIT CITY, (AP) – Kuwait’s embattled interior minister stepped down Sunday amid rising political tensions that include calls for the first major Gulf street protests inspired by uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere.
Opposition groups have sharply escalated pressure on Kuwait’s leadership in recent months over claims of corruption in the oil-rich state and perceived attempts to roll back political freedoms. Kuwait’s political system is the most open in the Gulf and its parliament is one of the few elected bodies in the region capable of demanding reforms from rulers.
The change at the Interior Ministry could signal an attempt to weaken the calls on social media sites for street demonstrations Tuesday outside parliament to protest “undemocratic” practices by Kuwait’s government. If major crowds gather, it would mark the first anti-government rallies in the Gulf since the toppling of Tunisia’s strongman ruler last month touched off other Arab protest movements, including Egypt’s groundswell against President Hosni Mubarak.
Kuwait’s official KUNA news agency reported that Kuwait’s leaders accepted the resignation of the interior minister, Sheik Jaber Al-Khaled Al-Sabah, and replaced him with a close relative of Kuwait’s ruler.
Sheik Jaber has been the target of a political storm after a man arrested for illegal liquor sales was allegedly tortured to death while in police custody. Kuwaiti authorities declared that the detainee was murdered and the case was referred to the public prosecutor.
Sheik Jaber had submitted his resignation after the post-mortem report last month, but he was asked to stay on. He is now replaced by Sheikh Ahmed Al-Hamoud Al-Sabah, a cousin of Kuwait’s emir.
The shake-up is the latest struggle for the government and showed the growing force of opposition groups in Kuwait’s parliament.
In December, lawmakers grilled the prime minister in a rare parliamentary questioning session called after security forces clashed with opposition deputies and their supporters at a Dec. 8 rally.
The prime minister, who took office in 2006, survived a no-confidence vote in December 2009 after allegations that public funds were misused.