x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Kuwait's cabinet quits in new crisis

All 16 ministers resign as government supporters argue that even if royal family members are re-appointed to the same posts they need not answer parliament’s questions

KUWAIT CITY // Kuwait's Cabinet resigned yesterday in an apparent effort to avoid ministers being questioned by Parliament.

The resignations of all 16 ministers followed weeks of demonstrations by young people and other groups opposed to the government and to Kuwait's participation in the Saudi-led GCC intervention in Bahrain.

The minister of state for cabinet affairs, Roudhan al Roudhan, said the decision to resign was made after "recent local developments" had threatened to harm the country's "national unity".

Meanwhile in Washington, Sheikh Fahad Salem al Sabah, a member of the Kuwaiti royal family, said the unrest in the region was "a chain".

Regimes that do not change would "be forced to change by the people", he said, and Middle Eastern and North African leaders were "hearing the message".

Yesterday's resignations are the latest in a series of political crises, including three dissolutions of parliament, since Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al Sabah became prime minister in 2006.

Falah al Sawagh, an Islamist member of parliament who wants the prime minister to be replaced, said: "This government has completely failed." sThe government is in need of a strong leader "especially in the wake of the tension facing this region", Mr al Sawagh said.

Abdulrahman al Anjari, a liberal MP, called for a cabinet with "fresh blood" under the leadership of Sheikh Nasser, who narrowly survived a vote of non-cooperation in December. Jassim al Kharafi, the speaker of the house, said the selection of the prime minister was in the hands of the emir.

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution's Doha Centre in Qatar, said: "The whole point of reshuffling the cabinet is to create an image of change without any real substance for change, I don't think we are going to see a drastic shift in overall policy. The underlying political structure remains."

The resignation may block parliamentary attempts to question ministers, all senior royals. Government supporters argue that a new cabinet, even with ministers in the same portfolios, would not have to comply with the parliament's request.

Some opposition MPs have accused cabinet ministers of corruption, while government supporters accuse elected officials of using their positions to benefit relatives, sectarian affiliates or tribes. The friction has prevented parliament from passing legislation that could aid economic development.

Despite Kuwait's huge oil reserves - the world's fourth largest - many Kuwaitis believe the country is falling behind other Gulf states.

Kuwait has also experienced heightened tension in recent weeks over the government's decision to allow navy ships to take part in the GCC intervention in Bahrain, which Kuwaiti Shiites oppose.

In his speech in Washington, Sheikh Fahad, who founded the Centre for Dialogue Among Civilisations and Defence of Liberty, said it was important for leaders to make domestic policy a priority.

He said he had "tried to promote this in Kuwait first, because I believe that to fix your house gives you more credibility" before you seek "to fix your neighbour's house". Sheikh Fahad said his country, a constitutional monarchy, can be "a role model for the Middle East and the Gulf".

On the conflict in Libya, Sheikh Fahad pointed out that in 2003 the US had been able to persuade Col Qaddafi to accept responsibility and pledge compensation for the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, and to abandon the pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

He said that was a significant opportunity for world powers to change the political dynamics in Libya. "The whole world missed an opportunity" to press Col Qaddafi then to make political changes that would have allowed for greater representation and perhaps addressed the demands underlying the rebellion that began last month, Sheikh Fahad said.

He said the world was "too late" in its response to the Libyan crisis, and that with "blood now on the streets" it would be "a long time before Libya stabilises", regardless of when the fighting ended.




* With additional reporting by the Associated Press and Bloomberg