After the sentencing of three former MPs to three years in jail for defaming the Kuwaiti emir, the opposition’s confidence in intimidating authorities has significantly decreased. The few weeks before the December 2012 parliamentary elections marked the last victory for the opposition.
The new parliament is putting on a good play to distract the public from the current power clashes. It is important to realize the implications stemming from the arrests of the former MPs in relation to the parliament, the opposition and the state.
Right after the sentence was announced, the head of the Awazim tribe held a press conference expressing his criticism of the judiciary. The ‘sheikh’ outlined the position of many tribes toward the ongoing struggle.
I have emphasized in previous posts how authorities have presented the political clash as between the tribes and the Hadhar, or natives of Kuwait City. Shortly before the last elections, some tribal sheikhs visited the Emir and concluded after their meeting that they renew their ‘submission’ to the Emir. However, the latest arrests have messed up the calculations.
Naively enough, Kuwaitis used to believe in the independence of their judiciary system. Although the constitutional court is still trying to resist state manipulation (as shown in its rejection of amending the electoral districts system), the judiciary has completely failed to protect freedom of speech in Kuwait. The number of people facing prosecution for criticizing the Emir in 2013 has exceeded the number of those who faced the same charge throughout Kuwait’s modern history.
To openly realize how their judiciary system is completely manipulated and politicized in its verdicts, Kuwaitis have a new reason to believe in the impossibility of a negotiated process of change.
Losing the judiciary is not the only implication of those jail sentences. The relationship between the tribes and the ruling family is now undergoing change. Those tribal heads are respected around the Arabian Peninsula and need no support from the ruling family in Kuwait. The only support they care to keep is the support of their men. The tribal sheikhs realize that they are now forced to get into the political game and take sides or become marginalized and symbolic for their supporters.
The Awazim tribe is a good example, considering their strong historical ties with the ruling family, which are now being jeopardized by the clash of tribes with state power. It is also one of the rare times that this tribe has taken a political position rather than claiming to be ‘neutral and patriotic’ as they’ve done before. This only reflects their feeling threatened by the state police’s latest moves.
Right now, there are two plays being staged simultaneously in Kuwait. One that keeps proposing a national dialogue to rescue the country from its tension, arrests, and opposition rallies. The other inside the ‘puppet-parliament’ that keeps discussing issues controversial enough to distract the public, such as having the state pay bank loans taken by citizens.
The current parliament realizes that its power is limited, so they keep criticizing the government so as not to sound too submissive. Yet they realize that the Emir is the red line they cannot cross. They sound like a typical Kuwaiti parliament prior to the Arab Spring as they emphasize that those arrested for defaming the Emir cannot be released except if the Emir gives them a pardon. Such a statement shows the irony of how those politicians think; you claim to be in a democracy that had voters bring you to power, but you want the freedom of others to be decided undemocratically!
As for the opposition, they refused to make any comments. They do not want to show that they are intimidated following the jail sentences of their members. I believe the opposition is waiting for the 11 February court hearing at the trial of Musalam al-Barrak, the opposition’s front man. The opposition is surely eager for dialogue to claim any kind of victory, but they are in a sensitive position after the youth coalitions announced their refusal for dialogue. All that is now needed to start the dialogue is the release of detainees and the dropping of some cases to give the opposition a chance to show off its power. It is no longer a struggle to push for ‘some changes,’ it is now a game of compromises.