x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 December 2017

Youth movement helps to set Kuwait’s political agenda

Many of MPs have been in politics longer than Kuwait's politically active youth have been alive but it was these young men and women who set the tone at recent meetings about the future of the country's political structures.

The opposition MP Ahmad Al Saadun at a meeting with Kuwaiti youth in Kuwait City last weekend. In the background is Kuwait's constitution and a portrait of late emir Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Al Sabah.
The opposition MP Ahmad Al Saadun at a meeting with Kuwaiti youth in Kuwait City last weekend. In the background is Kuwait's constitution and a portrait of late emir Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Al Sabah.

KUWAIT CITY // Kuwait's majority opposition bloc appears to be courting a growing youth movement in the country in a drive to bring about political reform.

Before issuing a "declaration to the nation" on Monday calling on the rulers to legalise political parties, reform the judiciary and fight corruption, the parliamentarians — who won a majority in the country's February elections - held three nights of meetings with young activists.

"The proposed constitutional and political reforms aim at strengthening the principles of rational governance and to limit the dominance of the executive authority on the political decision-making process," said Monday's statement.

Kuwait's opposition - a rough grouping of parliamentarians who campaigned along Islamist and tribal lines and now call themselves simply "the majority" - said that the state was passing through "the worst political phase of its modern history", citing stalled development, rampant corruption, political instability and non-stop crises.

The statement was endorsed by 35 of the 50 members of the parliament that was scrapped last month by a court ruling. Youth activists also supported the moves but said the calls for reform did not go far enough.

Many of the MPs have been in politics longer than Kuwait's politically active youth have been alive but it was these young men and women who set the tone at the meetings.

Days earlier, they announced that they would not support the opposition if it failed to demand reforms — such as a popularly elected prime minister - that would push Kuwait towards a full constitutional monarchy.

"We had our own position and we have submitted it to the opposition bloc," said Salem Al Ghadhoori, the deputy secretary general of the youth group calling itself the Civil Democratic Movement (CDM).

"Our position is that all Kuwaiti political players should be united ... with one objective: political reform," he added.

The roots of the CDM - one of the first among a growing number of youth movements in Kuwait - date to 2006, when dozens of young men and women led calls for changes in the electoral law.

They began calling for the removal of the former prime minister, Sheikh Nasser Al Mohammad Al Sabah in 2009, two years before he resigned in a corruption scandal.

Its tactics at the beginning were to focus on a single target, centred around catchy slogans and simple messages. The CDM's appeal was widespread - unlike many political groups in Kuwait, the youth movement has avoided fracturing along sectarian or tribal lines.

Now, the youth are eager for more change - and they are more organised than ever. After several years of leaderless operation, the CDM now has bylaws, internal elections and a political platform that is among the most progressive in Kuwait, calling for a full constitutional monarchy. Other youth coalitions are following suit.

Because of its popular power, the youth movement's relationship with Kuwait's oppossition MPs can be tense. Parliamentarians, who know that they have the youth in part to thank for their electoral success in February, were eager to bring them on board again.

"The youth are a major factor in achieving change," said the former MP Mohammed Al Dalal. Many of their proposals had made it into the final opposition platform, he added.

Where the two movements often disagree is the speed of reform. While the youth demand immediacy, the political opposition imagines a slower period of interim steps. Before reading their official statement, MPs gathered on July 16 warned that the changes the youth demanded would not - and could not - happen overnight.

Tensions are heightened by the possibility that the youth movements could become active political players if reforms come about to allow political parties.

"We are pushing to legalise parties, and once this goes into effect, next year we are going to declare ourselves a party," said Tariq Al Mutairi, the secretary general of the CDM.

Regardless of whether and how the CDM and other movements enter politics formally, with about half of Kuwait's population under the age of 25, nearly everyone acknowledges that youth will be a vital part of politics in years to come.

edickinson@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse