The Myth of Kuwaiti Democracy
“We just want to be like Kuwait” is a sentence that one might often hear from people of the Gulf – specifically Saudis and Bahrainis. The sentence reflects either their desire for greater individual freedoms or to be able to express themselves freely in politics. In the 1960s and '70s, Kuwait was one of the centers of the Arab world in hosting politicians, intellectuals, and a dominant, powerful progressive opposition – a place where movements of all kinds were active in demanding change and greater freedoms. Kuwaiti women were involved in sports, the arts, and politics decades before their counterparts in the rest of the Arab Gulf. It is for all these factors that Kuwait has been referred to as the only democracy in the Gulf – factors that have disappeared in the past three decades.
In the 1980s, supporting political Islam was the government’s response to counter the dominance of leftist movements. The game did not succeed at the beginning, but it surely did after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The stance of Arab regimes and Arab leftists in support of Saddam’s invasion was the bullet that killed leftism in Kuwait. A new page was turned and the political map was dominated by the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), Salafis, old-money conservatives, tribes, and liberals (as the alternative to leftists).
Right now, the political map in Kuwait is confusing and points to a state totally dominated by the government since the constitutional court dissolved the parliament last June. The country is waiting for the reinstalled 2009 parliament to be dissolved by the emir and for new elections to take place. All of this comes after last February’s victory by the Islamist-Conservative majority. The Arab Spring is definitely having an impact on Kuwait; on political citizens and on the stateless (Bedoon) community.
All this time, authorities in Kuwait have been trying to fabricate proof against anyone political in Kuwait. It has been trying to conceal its violations against the stateless and migrant workers. It has been silent towards all those online users sentenced to jail for criticizing authorities or expressing their views toward religion. Why? Simply because the country does not want its ‘democracy’ to die; at least not in front of the world.
All those violated in Kuwait have been paying the price for this dead myth; the councilors of Kuwait keep warning of the perils of letting this myth die. Kuwait does not receive the criticism it deserves, not only because it ‘pays’ to stave off attention, but because violations and conditions across the Gulf are comparatively worse and well-publicized, especially in the media. But there is no Kuwaiti democracy; tear gas and shotguns have already arrived and are in use!
How can there be a Kuwaiti democracy when the country gives money to the regimes of Bahrain and Jordan without parliamentary approval? How can there be a Kuwaiti democracy when the parliament is dissolved and frozen at whim? How can there be a Kuwaiti democracy when protesting is continuously criminalized by the state despite all constitutional rights? How can there be a Kuwaiti democracy when women are still unequal to men despite having obtained their political rights and being publicly elected? How can there be a democracy when the stateless (Bedoon) of Kuwait are always illegally arrested, interrogated, tortured, and threatened? How can there be a Kuwaiti democracy when migrant workers are beaten, tortured, insulted and raped without legal recourse to protect themselves?
On Tuesday, a Bedoon protester was shot in the eye. Let’s open our eyes to the real state of Kuwaiti democracy.