KUWAIT // Juggling a series of calls and texts during a 20-minute period, Mohammad Qasem locked his eyes on his mobile phone as a tweet is composed by committee.
The energetic Mr Qasem became the general coordinator on Tuesday for citizens who wants Kuwaitis to boycott the country's election on December 1. The group's Twitter account, run by a dozen or so people, gained 20,000 followers in its first 24 hours.
"It has to be right," he said, "because I'm sure this tweet will be all over Kuwait."
Kuwaitis are following Mr Qasem because his new organisation, the Public Committee for the Election Boycott, is at the centre of a political crisis that has raised questions about whether Kuwait, which has avoided the mass protests of the Arab Spring, can continue on its path of slow and steady change or whether it is destined to plunge into turmoil.
Since the summer, the political opposition has organised increasingly boisterous protests in central Kuwait City to contest changes to the electoral system that they say would dilute their vote in the next parliament. Numerous MPs from the recently dissolved parliament have promised not to stand in the coming election.
Until recently, these protests seemed to be just the latest iteration of Kuwait's proud history of participatory politics. But analysts now say tensions have reached a new peak. A growing divide in Kuwait has exacerbated policy disagreements, just as restrictions on the limits of protests and political critique, such as ban on criticising the emir, have been issued.
The boycott is now the flashpoint of the divide. Mr Qasem hopes his campaign will reduce voter turnout in the parliamentary elections to just 15 or 20 per cent, so that "parliament will lose its legitimacy in public opinion." He says the committee is trying to put peaceful and legal pressure on the government to reform.
Kuwait's government has pitted the conflict as one between "stability" and "chaos" and promised that elections will go ahead.
"We are required to choose now between the state of constitution and law, which is the right path for stability, or the path of chaos and rejection of the constitutional powers of the state responsible authorities," Kuwait's emir, Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, said on Tuesday after a meeting with the country's security forces.
They have responded to protests with tear gas, sound bombs and stun grenades. During the most recent incident on Sunday, the army was called out to the streets to contain the demonstrations.
Opposition MPs announced that their next demonstration will take place on Sunday, a particularly provocative day. November 11 marks the anniversary of Kuwait's constitution, and the government will mark it with fireworks and a festival.
The immediate catalyst for the vocal opposition discontent is a change to the country's electoral system. Kuwait is divided into five voting districts, each holding 10 parliamentary seats. Previously, voters could select four candidates with each ballot, but the emir announced in October that the number would fall to one.
The opposition says that these changes are intended to reduce their influence in parliament, because it would be more difficult for politicians to organise voting coalitions.
But the electoral dispute is "just what you see on the surface" of the opposition's demands, says Dr Mohammad Al Rumaihi, a sociologist at Kuwait University.
"The issue is sharing real power. Democracies are majority rule, and in Kuwait, you have a majority that doesn't rule."
Who this new majority is, however, is itself a matter of contention.
Many who voted for the opposition say their candidates have long been excluded from the running of the country's politics and economy. Some affiliate themselves with tribal or Islamist groups, but an increasing number of them are simply young and looking for jobs.
Mr Qasem says that the opposition's demands centre around improving the judicial system and moving toward an elected cabinet and prime minister. The prime minister is now named by the emir.
Another primary concern is corruption, which the opposition alleges has stunted Kuwaits' economic development compared with that in other Gulf states such as Qatar and the UAE.
"It's corruption to the core of the system," says one journalist who was reluctant to say he attended the protests. He says that everything from receiving speeding fines to promotions in the civil service run along family lines.
Yet unlike in Tunis or Cairo, the Kuwaiti opposition is not advocating the fall of the regime. Nor are their demands economic; Kuwait has been among the world's ten richest countries for the last two decades, according to the World Bank. Foreign residents in Kuwait knew something was happening ahead of the last demonstration when lines of shiny SUVs started parking in the city centre.
"Irada Square [where many of the demonstrations have taken place] comes from the Arabic root word for 'I want,' and that's what we're trying to figure out," said Hassan Hayet, an architect who does not participate in opposition protests. "Who are they and what do they want?" he asked.
Some liberals say they fear the opposition is simply looking for populist handouts. The country is running record budget surpluses, but that is largely because political tussles have halted investment in infrastructure, points out one western diplomat, who declined to be indentified. Spending on allowances and government salaries — a major demand of the opposition — is the highest it has ever been.
The government has yielded to some opposition demands, including promising new anti-corruption measures this week. Such measures could calm the tensions, the diplomat suggests.
The opposition could also end up marginalising themselves if they bet wrong, and the new parliament goes ahead and their candidates are excluded.
For now, Mr Qasem is fixated on his mobile phone and trying to prevent that from happening.