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Regional Transformations, Democracy and Openness in Kuwait


Many indications tell that the Middle East, including Kuwait, is entering into a stage of drastic changes because of the new American strategy in its various political and economic aspects, after the tragic events of September 11, especially with the fall of the two political regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Because of its strategic geographic position, Kuwait witnessed in the past years many events, particularly those related to the security of the region, as represented by the Iraqi invasion in 1990 and the efforts during the eighties of exporting the revolutionary type of Iran.

At present Kuwait and the Gulf region are facing huge challenges that are concentrated on the political and economic aspects, e. g. the challenge of democracy which entailed the big transformations that took place in Iraq recently, in addition to the pressures on the Iranian political regime, as posed by the student movement, not to mention the conditions and consequences of liberating of world trade and economy.

The question to be posed here in relation to Kuwait: as we are on the threshold of a new parliamentary stage, shall the country be able to cope with the arising challenges or not? In other terms, shall we be to face the successive waves of regional and international changes? The following article shall try to define the most remarkable new regional trends and the extent of their possible suitability to comply with the march of democracy and openness in Kuwait.


I. The new American Strategy for a democratic middle east

            The tragic event of September 11 left new changes of quality in the American set of values, leading to the domination of certain concepts related to national security and national unity matters over the democratic values in the USA and the search by the American Administration for home public support to its foreign policy as can be read from the military, technological and economic excellent performance of the present Administration.

            In this light the USA wanted to review its strategy towards the Middle East. The American National security document of the Bush Administration in September 2002 said: “during the 21st century only the countries that share in the defense of basic human rights and respect political and economic freedoms shall be able to release the powers of their nations and achieve future prosperity.” The document stressed on the concern of the USA in spreading the “benefits of freedom and the will to introduce into any area in the world the principles of democracy, economic development, free markets and free trade. “  The document went on to say that the USA possesses unprecedented power and influence, which are unique in the world. They are supported by respecting the belief in the principles of freedom, the values of free society, and making them at the same time face responsibilities and duties, it is a unique opportunity which the great power should exploit to keep the right balance for the freedom loving forces.”

            The document also focused attention on the right of the American policy to defend its security outside its national borders after the September events, by encouraging America’s allies, limiting the world  spread of mass destruction weapons and giving enough support to open economy and free trade, by means of development of the basics of democracy.

            In his speech in the Carolina University on 9 May 2003 Bush stressed the same ideas. “ The open market economy and free trade all over the world,” he said, “ have helped in fighting down poverty and made men and women learn amore about the habits of freedom.” He added “I propose establishing within a decade a free economic zone between the United States and the Middle East, in order to introduce the Middle East area into a wide circle of opportunities which can ensure better hopes for the nations of the area.”

            Contrary to the previous Clinton Administration diplomacy which was based on negotiations in foreign policy, the present Bush Administration together with what are called the new conservatives have now adopted the diplomacy of preventive wars to implement political and economic changes.

The new conservative group of the Bush (jr.) Administration, particularly in the wake of the September events, has gained great recognition. In fact, they are becoming a power group which seeks to control the decision making process.

            Speaking of the war in Iraq, one of the conservatives, Bill Christi, said, “ in one of its main features, this is a war against a barbarian regime that possesses mass destruction weapons. But in a deeper sense it is a war of reshaping a new Middle East. It is a war intended to change the political culture of the region as a whole. What had happened on September 11 is that the Americans opened their eyes to discover that the world is different from what they imagined it to be; that it is a very dangerous world. The problem with the Middle East is that the whole area is void of democracy, and lacking in freedom. So, the only means to put restrain on people like Saddam Hussain and Osama bin Laden is to spread ideas democracy and freedom.”


Another man, Charles Krutheimer, said that “ America has got to know there is no other alternatives left to it, and is now committed to implementing the duty of reform in the Arab world. The war in Iraq, according to this opinion, is a historical experiment which aims at implementing in the Arab world the same measures that have been tested in Germany and Japan…… The American presence in Iraq now will inspire power to the area; it will provide the rebel men in Iran, the with courage to and energy, deter and curb Syria and make faster the types of change.”

            Reviewing the above articles as well as other related addresses that were issued in the United States, and when watching America’s behavior in the area after the September events one can see that the following steps might be followed in the future:

  • the conventional strategy of the USA in the middle east, which in he past was confined to ensuring the continuous flow of oil and defending Israel, has now been shifted on to include basic changes which would ensure more democracy and openness in the pan-Arab political regime;
  • American demands in relation to reforms in the Arab countries and the Middle East are by no means confined to the radical and hostile systems in the region; they could also include America’s friendly countries.  
  • USA will not rely only on the ruling elites in its plans to establish stability in the region; America will work inside the Arab area to implement the required basic changes in the social, political and cultural fields.
  • The American Administration is not convinced that Israel and the aggressive Israeli policy are the real cause of failure of stability in the region; rather it is looked at and regarded as featuring the Arab regimes, one that is latent in the relations of Arab rulers with their nations and the neighboring countries.
  • Diplomatic pressure and economic incitement are not the only  means the USA will use to complete its Middle East project; other alternatives are likely included, direct intervention in the form of partnership under the pretext of implementing plans and proposed enterprises.

Within the efforts to activate this strategy, the American Assistant Secretary of State, Liz Chaney ( American Vice President daughter,) during her meeting ( last week ) with some Arab pressmen in London said that the USA has taken steps to start two bureaus for running partnership programs with the Middle East which were proposed by the American President, George Bush. It is more likely now that the first of these two bureaus will be located in Tunisia and the other in one of the Gulf countries. The two bureaus, she added, are helpful in bringing about political and economic reforms progress required to building up a better future in the region which has so far been ignored by the United States. Chaney also stressed the fact that democracy is not merely a matter of elections, but it includes freedom of press, the right of non-Governmental organizations to play some role and the participation of women in the political life. She also stressed the importance of reforming the educational institution and systems in the Arab countries and the introduction of contemporary syllabi with the aim to teaching the values of toleration, competition and creativity, and set the examples of the educational reforms in both Qatar and Jordan.

            As Kuwait is entering a new parliamentary term, the question to be posed here: are we in Kuwait prepared enough to cope with such transformations and changes?


II. Democracy and openness in Kuwait              

            In the following lines we shall try to examine the political and economic fields in addition to the most eminent challenges which face the country in the light of international and regional changes.

A) Policy:

     The democratic experiment in Kuwait is nearly more than forty years old, out of which fourteen years went without any parliamentary life in some way or another. Even though democracy in the country is still suffering from certain failure and deformations that need to be tackled, particularly in such an environment of successive and possible changes which are taking place in the region.

One of the main causes of the failure of democracy in Kuwait is that women here are still denied the right to representation in the National Assembly, in spite of the 1999 Amiri Decree that women in Kuwait should have political right to the National Assembly. On the other hand, Kuwaiti young people less than 21 years old, as well as the army soldiers (except for members of the National Guard) a ratio totaling 13 per cent of the voters in the country, also are illegible for such participation in the general elections. Moreover, political work in Kuwait is up till now still marginalized because there is no law to control the work of the various organizations and political parties with their political and economical programs. This results in making the election process seem more focused on the nominees themselves, with their tribal, sectarian and sometimes even intellectual loyalties.

The concept of democracy shall remain incomplete if not pushed forward by organized political work which can be ensured by clear development programs that the political parties adopt, and which should meet the national interest and aspiration, away from the narrow individual interests. Such programs of the political parties are necessary for voters to decide which party is at fault indeed.

    Kuwait is not the only country with democratic orientation as a basis for rule in the third world to suffer from the ills of political practice.  However, problems of social and cultural retardation and imbalanced development are still persisting in the country. It might be said that in spite of the 40 years of parliamentary life Kuwait is still facing difficult political problems, which preclude the start of real democracy that is based on the freedom of culture, justice and the human rights.

Some people might find ready answers to define these problems, and might see that they are the responsibility of the political authorities; but the question in fact is related to interpretations that lie deeper in the  cultural and societal retardation, to the influences of the prevailing value systems and to the failure of the educational systems to assimilate the current developments in the world.

      Once again, review of the present election conditions does not seem to encourage us to say that the political Kuwaiti community has really developed enough thoughts in his vision about the future of democracy; the ideas put forth can not be considered to represent consistent election programs emphasizing the ability of the present political groups to touch upon the future picture, or the question of how present problems should be met and overpassed.  Moreover, the proposed ideas accompany and are mostly restricted to the election period.


Democracy in Kuwait needs clear treatment by all the relevant parties. No doubt, the Government must be aware that the country’s, as well as its own, interest lies in promotion and continuity of democracy. This would entail avoiding passiveness in work and showing increased interest in the importance of developing the legislative institution by means of introducing proposals related to reform of the election system; it also would even put an end to the deformations which have so far happened and led to the spread of evil phenomena such as tribalism, sectarianism, corruption and bribery.

            The political forces, on their part, should decide things for themselves; they should decide about their commitment to the question of development in the country, avoid the ideological categorization and recognize the crucial need of the country, as a political regime, to join in the world human civilization. It would be a sorrowful surprise if the new Assembly Members would have only poor ideas about the requirements of reform and development of the country. Undoubtedly, the elected Members to the National Assembly, whose concerns are focused around self fulfillment and confine their activity to meeting individual occupations of the voters, such Members will play only very humble role in the final reform process and development of the country. There is in Kuwait an urgent need for the people to be aware of the importance of the current transformations in the region and the world too, within a comprehensive vision to make our country play a major regional role .


b) Economy

            The current regional and international changes, no doubt, have a great impact on the economic path in Kuwait. The new world is running towards real liberation of world trade, enlargement of the role of private sector and encouraging of investment. From the political point of view, the region has just emerged out of a situation of comprehensive disorder; the change that was brought about Iraq would ensure a period of reasonably better stability to the whole area as matters of security concerns would be ended and a new stage of economic development is expected to start.

            Kuwait in the statusque has only one alternative to follow: move quickly to tackle the present and future challenges which would otherwise pose a real danger that threatens the the country. One of the challenges is related to the employment policy, e.g. finding suitable jobs for the new generations; among other problems are diversification of income sources, and decreasing Governmental role, not to forget other factors related to activation of the role of the private sector in our economic life.

     The continuous dependence on unilateral source of income, in view of what might take place as a result of the political and economic circumstances, may be indicative of a future catastrophe, especially if ignorance of finding out other substitutes persists, and if other relevant programs and radical solutions for the various problems of labor, force labor, Governmental performance and social services are duly found out.    

As the world is directed to privatization it is very crucial for us to implement clear programs and policies which would ensure larger participation of the private sector, with less dependence on the general sector in producing of various commodities and services; this, I think, would ensure enough job opportunities for national labor force, better distribution of the national economic resources, in addition to serving as a real contribution to the tackling of the continuous State budget deficiencies.

Encouragement of foreign investment in Kuwait shall add a new aspect to the economic development: bringing about political and security stability, which could contribute to put an end to the drainage of the national capital money outside of the country. It also would be crucial in activating the national economy, and could be one of the good means of relating the national interest to that of the great powers; this step is deemed useful in our foreign policy, as winning card in international relations. In this respect Kuwait should take relevant measures with an aim to facilitating the initiation of legislations which are required by foreign investors. No less important is the elimination of the difficulties and hardships which might face foreign enterprising and investment.

      The Government of Kuwait has established a commission concerned with the correction of the economic path, but the commission is still met with parliamentary opposition, where first priority is given to local matters. However, that is something that is most expected, since it is commonly known in most of the countries of the world that attention of the electors is concentrated on home matters of everyday life. Kuwait is no different a country in this respect. That is why other questions like future planning and the State policy are considered the responsibility of the political, social and economic elites that are represented in the Cabinet, National Assembly and specialized experts and investors in country.