On June 25, Kuwaiti Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah hit the airwaves in an unusual and unprecedented address to the nation. He probably felt that things were almost getting out of hand and needed to be addressed from the highest office. The speech was straightforward, bold and alarming. What was happening in the political arena in Kuwait was not acceptable, he declared. He said the stability of the nation was being threatened under a carefully-crafted plan to destroy the “well-being of the state”. These were the strongest words from the Emir since he took office six years ago. He went on to describe what was going on as a conspiracy to destroy the constitution and the state. He noted: “I feel deep pain about what the country has seen lately. The accusations, if true, could threaten the security and the constitution of the country.” But he emphasised on “if it is true”. Perhaps he was expressing his doubts.
What is going on, to most observers in the political arena in Kuwait, has no precedent in the political history of the country. Accusations are against two of the most prominent politicians — one is a former prime minster and belongs to the ruling family, while the other had served as a minister for a long time and even longer as the speaker of the house of representatives. Both have been accused by a prominent member of the ruling family of wrong-doing, corruption, money laundering and having links with Israel. Moreover, there are also accusations against prominent people in the judiciary. They are accused of corruption and taking kickbacks. All this was a great shock to the community and there was disbelief.
Soon, the opposition, which was waiting for such an opportunity to bounce back, took to the streets on the basis of these unfounded accusations, trying to galvanise the public. Immediately, the matter went to the public prosecutor’s office and those in opposition, who were involved in accusing the judiciary of wrongdoing, were brought to the public prosecutor’s office and questioned. This inflamed the situation further and opposition supporters took to the streets, demanding their immediate release. What followed were nightly demonstrations, which sometimes also degenerated into clashes between police and demonstrators. A war of words has saturated social media. This is why the Emir pleaded with everybody to wait until the court delivered its verdict. But there was no positive response.
The opposition does not want to wait to see the findings of the investigations or hear the final word from the court. It pronounces the accused as guilty, thereby acting like both, the prosecutor and the judge at the same time. Public opinion is split. But the rifts are based on what people want to see, rather than what the facts are. Authorities want the issue to be resolved as per the law of the land, but the opposition wants to politicise the issue, in order to destabilise the government and achieve their long-standing demand for greater participation in and changes to the disputed electoral law. And probably early election.
What is unprecedented in the whole episode are the strong differences, to put it mildly, between a few members of the ruling family on one side and the state on the other. Those few members have allied themselves with the opposition. This kind of bickering has been seen before, but it was very low profile and was usually settled behind closed doors. This time, the situation is very different. It is public and very harsh. As some observers see it, this amounts to punching below the belt and can be devastating in the long term for the integrity of the ruling family and the country as a whole .
Given what is happening in Kuwait’s neighbourhood, the Emir specifically eluded to events in Iraq. According to him, Kuwait does not have the luxury of having political divisions. The crisis has added an unexpected burden on the administration and made it difficult for the public to tell the head from the tail. What the current political crisis in Kuwait will lead to is anyone’s guess, but it will definitely have an impact on the future of prominent political figures. Kuwaiti politics will not be the same again — neither within the circles of the ruling family nor in the relationship between the opposition and the authorities. The people involved occupy the highest positions in the land and even if this episode passes away, it will leave a deep scar. It appears that it is a lose-lose situation for all sides.
Mohammad AlRumaihi is a professor of political sociology at Kuwait University. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@rumaihi42