June 11 (Bloomberg) -- Kuwait’s leading government critic railed against alleged official corruption at a rally late yesterday that marked the first show of opposition strength in more than a year.
“The battle starts tonight,” former lawmaker Musallam Al-Barrak told thousands of supporters outside parliament in Kuwait City, who braved temperatures of about 50 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit). “This gathering is considered open till we punish the corrupt and return to announce our victory.” Al-Barrak accused former officials of stealing public funds and brandished documents that he said showed bank details and transfers.
The protest may mark a return to the confrontational politics that swept Kuwait after 2011. The Kuwait Stock Exchange index dropped 1.4 percent on June 8 on news of the planned rally. It pared the losses over the past three days, rising 0.6 percent.
The documents that Al-Barrak displayed at last night’s rally were just “blank papers with names and numbers that can’t be taken seriously,” Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah told parliament today, according to the state-run KUNA news agency. The government accepted a parliamentary recommendation to refer the documents and other allegations made at the rally to the Public Prosecution.
Fueled by the Arab Spring, unprecedented street demonstrations in Kuwait, OPEC’s third-biggest producer led to the ouster of a prime minister in November 2011. Protests peaked the following year amid calls for more power sharing with elected politicians. The tensions have slowed economic growth and delayed key investment projects.
The opposition, a mix of Sunni Islamists, liberals and youth groups, hadn’t rallied since April last year when thousands marched to protest a prison sentence against al-Barrak for insulting ruling Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah and challenging his power. He was later freed on appeal and a retrial ordered.
“There’s a deep problem, it doesn’t go away on its own and will only get deeper without a political solution,” Shafeeq Ghabra, a political science professor at Kuwait University, said today by phone. “The opposition works in waves and every time it comes back, it comes back strengthened.”
The opposition coalition in April announced a political reform program which calls for a full parliamentary system, an elected government and laws to fight corruption. It also wants to legalize political parties among other demands.
To contact the reporter on this story: Fiona MacDonald in Kuwait at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Shaji Mathew at firstname.lastname@example.org Ben Holland