Liberals without Liberalism: The Kuwaiti Example
In the 2011 year of protesting against former Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammed, Kuwaiti liberals were many times accused of being passive towards the corruption of al-Mohammed in fear of the raising power of the conservative Popular Bloc and its Islamist allies. These accusations might not be totally warranted in the light of last year’s events considering the Liberal voting inside the parliament against the prime minister and their participation in several rallies and protests. The Liberal youth openly criticized their representatives for not being able to lead the opposition movement the way tribal Islamists have done. However, the accusation against liberals might be true in the light of the latest events.
Last December, al-Mohammed was replaced to stop the political crisis and the continuous protests against him. A new parliament was elected in February. But last month, the constitutional court decided to dissolve the newly elected parliament and reinstall the previous one saying that the procedures of the dissolving decree that the Emir had issued were not constitutional and thus he needs to re-dissolve it and call for new elections. This surely enraged the conservative-Islamist majority but was welcomed by the supporters of former PM al-Mohammed.
On June 26, the parliament’s majority rallied in Erada square against the court’s decision. They stated that the court and the state need to respect the nation’s decision to dissolve the previous parliament. More importantly, they took the political struggle to a whole new level by saying that they are aiming for a constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister. Since then, the discussion has shifted and political groups became obligated to comment on this demand.
Unlike the parliament’s majority, liberals found the court’s decision satisfying – saying it is protective of the constitution. However, they also called on the Emir to re-dissolve parliament and have new elections which make them stand in the grey area between those rejecting and those welcoming the court’s decision. To further clarify the liberals’ stand, leading liberal, old-money merchant, and al-Jarida newspaper’s owner Mohammed al-Saqer called for a public meeting to discuss the aftermath of the court’s decision. The meeting was entitled “Kuwait.. Where To?” and was held on July 2.
In the meeting, liberal politicians spoke of many issues. They confirmed their opinion towards the court’s decision. Their ally Marzouq al-Ghanim (also of an old-money family) spoke of the political crisis as a result of the interior power struggle inside the ruling family itself. Liberals and their allies have been using this interpretation to explain political events since 2006; something that the parliament’s majority reacts to with sarcasm.
The speakers have all criticized the situation but did not demand a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister; something ironic considering how they were calling for this specific demand often few years ago. What is worth noting is that al-Ghanim, who is considered “open-minded” – as he tries to defend individual freedoms – has ironically voted in favor of the blasphemy death law last month and was heavily criticized by his liberal supporters for it.
The liberals, clearly, are afraid to call for such a change in the system. They witnessed how the Popular Bloc and Islamists strongly won the last elections and do not wish to extend their power to the seat of the prime minister. It is true that such a political majority does threaten individual freedoms considering their attempts to Islamize laws. What the liberals fear as well is to allow a change to the constitution. Liberals have been defending the constitution blindly saying it is perfect. In reality they have critiques of it but do not wish to see it changed once in fear of seeing it changed negatively in other cases. Simply, liberals are against any positive change in the system if it will make their enemies more powerful, even if by popular choice.
Where does this leave liberals standing? Well, they will have better chances in the coming elections as their high class/liberal voting base feels more intimidated by the parliament’s majority. Surely, those chances are by no means big enough to create a radical change but they might become so if they make the right alliances; something that I do not see them capable of making anytime soon. Yes, they are liberal enough to defend women rights, but surely not liberal enough to call for more power to the people!