By: Jon Nordenson
“..and everyone is a politician”. The words are not mine, but I`ve heard them several times during my stay here in Kuwait. From the local co-ops to the unlucky football referees, it`s all politics.
To start off with football: the royal family is very involved in Kuwait`s football association, as well as in other sports associations, sometimes with conflicting agendas. Many view this as a problem, as for instance this blog, and Kuwait Times reports that the parliament has formed a committee to investigate the issue. Furthermore, the football clubs are – naturally – run by boards, to which there are elections. Joining these boards is seen as a good start to a political career, making the competition though. As I was told: “it`s basically a competition of who is willing to spend the most money to get elected”. Thus, the clubs are politicized, and, to a certain extent, their supporters as well. This – in turn – leaves the referee in a rather difficult position, and I`ve been told it`s not unusual for referees to get beaten up after games. And as I witnessed Kuwait`s Cup Final on Monday (22.06.2009), I did indeed see a somewhat frightened looking ref, who blew his whistle every single time someone fell, perhaps not wanting to upset the wrong people.
The local co-ops are another example. Residential areas in Kuwait are organized around local centers, which all contain a co-op. Who gets to run these co-ops, “is political”. As this illustrates, “politics” is sometimes synonymous with personal interests, as – I suppose – you can say about politics in pretty much every country in the world. Still, these interests, many times conflicting but sometimes coinciding are a dominant feature in Kuwaiti politics, that needs to be taken into account in order to understand how this country is run.
I pretty good example is the ongoing controversy around interior minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Khaled Al-Sabah. As I`vewritten earlier, MP Musallam Al-Barak “grilled” (interpellated) the minister this Tuesday (23.06.2009), around three issues: a contract for setting up boards during last year`s election, surveillance cameras in front of the parliament, and his alleged lack of effort to stop vote-buying. Seemingly straightforward, many interests are involved.
For one thing, MP al-Barak is said to have promised his electorate to go forth with the interpellation, and indeed he did. The “grilling” took place in a special session of the parliament this Tuesday. After the debate, ten lawmakers put forth a motion of no confidence against the minister. The vote on the motion will be held next Wednesday (1st of July), and if 25 or more MPs support it, the minister will have to go.
9 of the 10 MPs who signed the motion were tribal, which – when talking about interests – may be important. As interior minister, Sheikh Jaber struck down on tribal primaries – officially forbidden – before the 2008 election, much to the annoyance of tribal candidates. Facing the no confidence vote, he claims the tribal MPs are out for revenge.
As mentioned, the vote will be held next Wednesday. Until then, the cabinet on the one side and al-Barak and his supporter on the other, will battle for the votes of still undecided MPs. A minister actually ousted through a vote in parliament is unheard of in Kuwait, so the vote will only take place if the cabinet is confident in having a majority. If not, the minister will resign, or be assigned to another ministry through a cabinet reshuffle. Therefore, the battle of the undecided is of every importance. As of Wedensday (24.06), al-Qabas newspaper reported that 18 MPs support al-Barak, 21 the government and 10 are undecided. Rumors hold that these ten MPs have close ties to minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahd (who also has a leading position in many of the country`s sports associations, and who was ousted from government in 2006), and that he is using their importance in this issue to gain influence in the cabinet. Though such claims are difficult to verify, I haven`t met anyone who objects that Kuwaiti politics is a mixture of many, many agendas.
And of course, in a country where everyone is a politician, very many follows these events closely. On Tuesday, people started queuing in front of the parliament at 7:00 am to follow the session. Several bloggers reported live from the parliament`s gallery, and newspaper al-Jaridah provides all details from the session as well.
So whatever one might think of Kuwaiti politics and Kuwait`s political system, one cannot ignore that it engages the Kuwaiti public. Still, whether or not this translates in active participation obviously varies; only 20,56% of the electorate cast their vote in Thursday`s (25.06) local elections.