Six people were arrested last night after a demonstration by Kuwait’s opposition movement turned violent and protesters clashed with security forces.
More than 5,000 people had assembled outside the parliament building in Kuwait City to demonstrate against what the opposition says is an attempt by the government to amend the election law to weaken their chances of dominating the assembly. Clashes broke out when security personnel tried to block streets, the first since demonstrators stormed parliament in December. Processions are illegal in Kuwait without prior permission.
“Last night was a show of strength, a kind of physical pressure to show the government their insistence on not giving up their demands,” said Ayed Al-Manna, a political analyst at Kuwait’s Public Authority for Applied Education. If Kuwait’s ruler decides to issue a decree to amend the election law, “it will be a new era and that will lead us to a real conflict,” he said.
One of the protesters arrested is AbdulAziz Al-Saadoun, the son of veteran lawmaker Ahmad Al-Saadoun, a leading opposition member. The opposition is planning another sit-in tonight outside parliament. Kuwait has stepped up security around the country as it hosts the First Asian Cooperation Dialogue Summit.
Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah dissolved parliament on Oct. 7, a move welcomed by the opposition that paves the way for fresh elections. It was the third dissolution of parliament in less than a year, and followed a Constitutional Court ruling against a government bid to amend the electoral system.
“If we don’t get reforms we will stay put,” opposition member and former lawmaker Abdullah Al-Barghash told last night’s crowd. “Jaber Al-Mubarak and Nasser Al-Mohammed are not fit,” Al-Barghash said, in reference to the current and former prime ministers. Also speaking at the rally, leading opposition member Musallam Al-Barrak said Kuwaitis “won’t let you govern through autocratic rule.”
No date has been set for the elections, which must be held within two months of parliament being dissolved, according to the Constitution. The 2009 parliament was first dissolved by the emir in December after a dispute over corruption allegations sparked unprecedented anti-government protests. A new parliament was elected in February, with the opposition winning most of the 50 seats, only to be dissolved four months later when the Constitutional Court voided the vote and reinstated its predecessor. The opposition had considered the reinstated parliament to be illegal.
Kuwait’s steps toward democracy have led to repeated clashes between parliament and governments chosen by the ruling Al-Sabah family. The economy of OPEC’s third-biggest producer has trailed Gulf peers with investment projects being derailed by political disputes. Street protests last year, amplified by the wave of unrest across the Arab world, drove out a government headed by the emir’s nephew amid calls for more power-sharing with elected politicians.
Kuwait’s opposition includes Islamists, liberals and independents, as well as youth groups that draw inspiration from the Arab Spring uprisings. Some groups want a constitutional monarchy and an elected government, while others say their focus is fighting corruption and bringing about reform without amending the Constitution.