x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Arabic news digest

Kuwait election outcomes mean nothing when people prioritise allegiance to tribes and sects, according to Al Ittihad's columnist. Other views: Tunisian assassinations and Palestinian peace talks.

Kuwaiti citizens queued outside polling stations on Saturday despite the searing heat and long Ramadan fasting hours to select 50 parliamentary representatives out of the 350 candidates, including eight women.

Although the opposition groups, which include liberals, Islamists and tribal leaders, boycotted the elections, turnout was estimated at about 52 per cent of Kuwait's 439,715 eligible voters.

In comment, the columnist Dr Shamlan Yussuf Al Issa wrote in the Abu Dhabi-based daily Al Ittihad: "Based on past elections, we know that the rate of change brought about with every round of elections hovers between 40 and 50 per cent. Those re-elected representatives are usually affiliates of Sunni or Shia political Islam, tribal representatives or what are known as services representatives. The biggest losers every time are the young political elite and the nation as a whole."

Saturday's legislative elections day yielded gains for tribal groups that maintained their 24 seats, including 10 seats won by conservative candidates from traditional tribes. The country's minority Shia MPs lost more than half of their seats, going from 17 seats at the last election in December down to eight.

This is Kuwait's second election in less than a year and the sixth since 2006. Previous parliaments were dissolved either by the emir or by the constitutional court. Since 2003, none of the country's elected parliaments has completed a full four-year term.

"Kuwait has long suffered from the faltering of its democracy," the writer said. "The Kuwaiti democratic experience, which has been practiced for over half a century, has made major accomplishments in matters of freedom of press and the media. However, it failed to secure a modern democratic society that believes in the precepts of democracy," the writer added.

The concept of a constitutional state where governmental power is constrained by the law has yet to take root in the rich oil-producing nation. Everyone, including government officials, talks about laws, but they are the first to sacrifice them at the altar of political alliances. Practices of nepotism, corruption and bribery continue unbridled at the expense of competence, education and good management.

"We don't expect any change to the relationship between the parliament and the government with the new parliament. A government that doesn't hold the majority in the legislative has its hands tied; it can't pass laws."

Hence, the government resorts to buying off MPs through financial rewards or political deals with political Islam, tribes or other powers. It allows MPs to recruit relatives, tribe members and sect members in various state institutions.

Election outcomes mean nothing as long as the community continues to prioritise allegiance to tribes and sects.

Assassinations strike Arab Spring birthplace

With the burial on Saturday of Tunisia's murdered opposition leader, Mohamed Brahmi, in a cemetery next to Chokri Belaid, a fellow opposition figure who was gunned down last February, Tunisia has plunged into a dangerous trend of political assassinations, the Cairo-based newspaper Al Ahram said in an editorial yesterday.

Tunisia went down in modern history as the birthplace of the Arab Spring; it laid the foundations of peaceful protest so that the country could enter a new era when all forces have a say in public life, the editorial noted.

Yet some of those forces, as it turns out, have a greater propensity for guns than dialogue, seeking to transform the political dispute into an existential conflict where adversaries are eliminated intellectually and physically.

The Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jedou said that the same radical Salafist group involved in the killing of Mr Belaid is also behind the murder of Mr Brahmi; the opposition blamed the country's ruling moderate Islamist Ennahda party for the crime through turning a blind eye to extremist groups.

To be sure, dialogue involving all Tunisia's actors is the only way to steer the country out of the current crisis. All Tunisians must stand firm against assassinations and the terrorist groups behind them. Dialogue alone will shape Tunisia into a template for Arab Spring and participatory democracy, the paper said.

Will the peace talks resume this week?

Palestinian developments have been largely overshadowed by the war in Syria, while the deadly clashes in Egypt have eclipsed both. But the Palestinian cause remains at the heart of regional conflicts and settling it would precipitate the resolution of other crises, wrote columnist Mazen Hammad in yesterday's edition of the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

So will the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks really kick off tomorrow in Washington?

Even at this stage, the columnist said, the prelude to these prospective talks has been puzzling.

"Some Israeli ministers are saying that they are interested in making progress in the negotiations and are hoping for a breakthrough soon, but their hopes … are not matched by the Palestinian side, which seems more sceptical and reserved," according to the columnist.

At the same time, as The National reported last week, top allies of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have dismissed the attempts to restart the peace process, which collapsed in 2010 over Israeli settlement building, as a waste of time.

The sure thing is that both parties are unwilling to budge on the borders' issue and the status of Jerusalem, issues that can easily turn the talks into a shambles, the columnist said.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk