BEIRUT

Middle East

Kuwait seeks change, not revolution

Protesters hold a Kuwaiti national flag as they demonstrate against proposed changes to election laws in Kuwait City October 21, 2012. (REUTERS/Stringer)

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait will see more protests and clashes in the wake of an unprecedented demonstration that ended in violence, analysts said Monday, adding however that regime change is not on the opposition’s agenda.

More than 100 protesters and 11 policemen were hurt Sunday night after a massive anti-government demonstration protesting a controversial amendment to Kuwait’s electoral law turned violent.

“Unfortunately, we are heading toward the unknown ... I expect more protests, more demonstrations and more confrontations,” political analyst Ayed al-Manna said.

“The regime may declare martial law, leading to an open and bitter confrontation between it and the people,” the political science professor told AFP.

Riot police used tear gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets against the protesters, who were estimated to number around 30,000 by independent onlookers, though the opposition claimed some 200,000 were present.

The latest round of political strife was triggered by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah ordering an amendment to the electoral law which the opposition claims is aimed at manipulating poll results.

Former MP Abdullah al-Barghash told AFP that the opposition will continue its protest campaign until the controversial amendment is withdrawn by the government.

“I think we have entered a new phase in which youths are playing a pivotal role,” said independent political analyst Dahem al-Qahtani.

“If no peaceful solution is reached, we could be moving into a scenario similar to Bahrain,” Qahtani told AFP, in reference to sporadic but persistent street protests against the ruling family in the neighboring country.

“After reaching this stage, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for the popular movement to back down ... the solution is in real democratic reforms,” he said.

In 1962, Kuwait became the first Arab state in the Gulf to draft a constitution and introduce parliamentary elections, but the emir and the Sabah ruling family continue to hold major Cabinet positions and enjoy tremendous powers.

The opposition, comprised of Islamists, nationalists and liberals, wants to reduce the ruling family’s grip on power and on public administration.

They have called for an elected government, new legislation to increase accountability and to fight corruption and the legalization of political parties, all with the aim of “activating” the constitutional monarchy.

The Gulf state is nominally a constitutional monarchy, but although parliament has legislative powers and monitors the government, it cannot vote a Cabinet out of office.

The opposition has accused the government of seeking to involve the judiciary in the ongoing political crisis.

Persistent political disputes have stalled development in Kuwait despite abundant oil-driven surpluses of over $400 billion.

Anwar al-Rasheed, secretary general of the Gulf Forum for Civil Societies said protests will not stop in Kuwait without real and fundamental reforms.

“There must be political parties, a premier from outside the ruling family and fundamental political reforms, otherwise we will remain stuck in a vicious circle” of political strife, Rasheed told AFP.

Overthrowing the Sabah family, which has ruled Kuwait virtually unchallenged for over 250 years, is not part of the plan, analysts argued.

“This is totally ruled out. No one has demanded the overthrow of the regime or to change the ruling family,” Manna said.

Qahtani said the opposition is working for a “Kuwaiti-style” constitutional monarchy where the people will have a greater say in running their affairs, adding that the protests are also aimed at preventing Kuwait from sliding back into “an absolute monarchy.”

“There is a real fear among Kuwaitis that their country could become like the rest of their Gulf neighbours which have no democracy and [political] freedom,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 23, 2012, on page 9.

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