x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Kuwait's political problems are constitutional

Regional Arabic-language newspapers consider the rising tide of political Islamism and reticence to express political opinions in the Gulf.

Kuwaiti elections will not bring change so long as the basic system of politics remains the same

Kuwaitis bid their 13th National Assembly adieu last week, just two years after electing it, and are preparing now for new elections despite the fact that "this cycle" of parliament dissolutions is likely to continue, columnist Mohammed Al Rumaihi observed in yesterday's edition of the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, dissolved parliament just a few weeks after anti-corruption protesters calling for the Kuwaiti prime minister to step down stormed the house of parliament. New elections will have to be held within 60 days.

"You can't keep on doing the same thing the same way, and expect the results to be different," the columnist said. "We're going to see in these forthcoming elections about the same results as in the many previous elections in Kuwait … Some faces may replace others, but, in essence, the outcome will be the same, because the structural malfunction in Kuwaiti politics has not been redressed until now."

And this structural malfunction is three-pronged, the writer added. It starts with the country's constitution, which begs for reform, and in which there are provisions that have come to constitute "a burden on politics".

"No reasonable person can make the case that a man-made document would remain relevant, to the last word, half a century after it was drafted," the writer said. "The demographic mass in Kuwait has changed, and with it perceptions, values and people's demands …

"Even [Kuwait's] founding fathers foresaw that and included a provision in the constitution stipulating a review of the text five years after it goes into effect."

The second issue has to do with Kuwait's elections law, the writer went on. "It, too, is not in keeping with our time … and impedes real representation of the people."

The election system in Kuwait is not majority-based - that is, a member of parliament can win a seat without winning the majority of votes in a given constituency.

Introducing changes to this law would reduce reliance on tribal and sectarian affiliation, which has always stalled the efficiency of the National Assembly in getting legislation passed, the writer said.

The third problem in Kuwait is the lack of real pluralism, the writer noted. "And there is no democracy without a genuine and modern pluralism."

Pluralism, as embodied by various parties and ideological platforms, would deliver Kuwait from "the individualism" that has characterised its political life for half a century, he added. "Because when such pluralism is not available, people resort to the pluralism they know: tribes and sects."

These are Kuwait's structural political problems. If they're not fixed, new cabinets and parliaments will keep being dissolved.

Pragmatic Islamists will remain in office

The question on everyone's mind since Islamists started winning elections by wide margins in Tunisia and Morocco - and are now poised to prevail in the Egyptian elections - is this: What are their real priorities?, said Jamal Khashaggi, a Saudi contributor, in yesterday's edition of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

"If you mistrust them and are worried about them winning, your answer will be: they plan to stay in power," he wrote.

But one must remember that Islamists are not homogeneous.

There will always be those who shout from the rooftops that they want to establish the "Islamic state" and "liberate Palestine". Others will go even further and possibly seek to reinstate the ancient caliphate.

Yet there are also "more serious and skilled ones", whose priorities would be to create jobs and shore up the economy, the writer said. "And these are the Islamists who will stay in power."

Last year, Turkey's moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) won for the third consecutive time. In fact, its margin has increased with every election since 2002.

The AKP did not achieve all that success merely because of their appeal to Muslim conservatives. They flourished as a party mostly because they came to be associated with "a remarkable economic success".

And that should be the priority for Arab Islamists too.

Emiratis often too shy to state their views

The UAE is not wanting for local artists and intellectuals, but the reluctance of many young Emirati men and women to get involved in their country's intellectual and social movement is "a veritable public crisis", columnist Yasser Hareb wrote in the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan yesterday.

"The reason, perhaps, is that most members of the community are too shy to voice their opinions in public. And it may be just that they don't care to express themselves in front of others," he said.

"The Emirati person is always careful not to upset anybody with his or her opinion. And I don't mean political opinions here. I'm talking about one's outlook on life and one's ideas. The Emirati person has a preference to listen rather than speak."

The same applies to Omanis and Qataris. "I call it the 'Gulf triangle of bashfulness'," the writer said, referring to the three states where bashfulness, he maintained, is a characteristic of the local communities. For some reason, things are different in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, he noted.

"Lively societies are the ones whose members swap opinions and thoughts; they agree on some and disagree on others," he went on. "So this is just call for a more efficient participation in developing the community and critiquing it constructively."

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi

aelbahi@thenational.ae