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Kuwait in political fray: emir dissolves parliament and grabs authority

Photo: First session of the Kuwaiti parliament after elections on February 2, 2012 -. Flickr

In an unprecedented move, the emir of Kuwait, Mishal al-Ahmed Al Sabah, has suspended the country's parliament for a period of no less than four years. He has also invalidated several articles of the Constitution. This has given him free rein to make laws without parliamentary approval. The announcement, made on Friday the 10th of May, has raised concerns about the future of the country's 'semi-democratic' system.

Battle between monarch and parliament

Kuwait is far from a traditional democracy: the ruling structure is headed by a hereditary monarch and political parties are banned. Emir Mishal al-Ahmed, who came to power last December after the death of his half-brother and predecessor Emir Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, inherited a political landscape marked by instability and disputes. Frequent impasses between parliament and the executives, multiple changes in parliament and frequent cabinet resignations have made it difficult for officials to make consistent progress. Lawmakers have repeatedly accused ministers of corruption, while the cabinet accuses parliament of blocking development plans for the country.

Members of parliament, elected in April, remained unconvinced to cooperate with ministers chosen by the royal family. The emir's drastic move is therefore being justified as a necessary response to the resulting political unrest, which he said threatened the state: "The recent unrest in Kuwaiti politics has reached a stage where we cannot remain silent, so we must take all necessary measures to achieve the best interest of the country and its people." He firmly stated, "I will not in any way allow democracy to be exploited to destroy the state". The royal family and 13 ministers will now take charge of Kuwait.

Desire for political reform

In Kuwait, there are calls for political reforms, for instance, desires to diversify the economy and be less dependent on oil revenues. Recent elections in April were also seen as an opportunity for renewal, with the hope for real and radical change. In these elections, which took place before parliament was dissolved, the so-called opposition in Kuwait won the majority with 29 seats. This political group seeks changes to the current political system. In addition, members of Salafist and Islamist parties also won some seats, including the Islamic Constitutional Movement, the Kuwaiti branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which captured one seat.

These elections marked the third time since 2022 and the fourth time in the past five years that elections have been held. The parliament has been dissolved no less than 12 times since 2005, most recently in February this year. The repeated dissolutions of parliament in Kuwait show the ongoing political turbulence - it is a consistent struggle between different institutions of power in the country.

Democratic hope fades

However, experts warn of the consequences of the emir's manoeuvre. Sean Yom, an expert on Middle East politics, highlighted that this move could harm Kuwait's unique pluralism and liberalism, which is a rare bastion of democracy amid authoritarian regimes in the region. Indeed, Kuwait has the only elected parliament in the Gulf.

According to researchers, Kuwait represents a special alternative, because it cherishes elements of democracy. Kuwait's unique democratic character, however fragile, has long given hope to advocates of political reform in the Gulf region and beyond. Kuwait's elected parliament, though limited in its power and influence by the monarchy, nevertheless provided a platform on which citizens could voice their concerns and hold their representatives accountable. The elections also had a consistently high turnout.

Kuwait at a crossroads

Kuwait is currently at a political crossroads, with the recent dissolution of parliament and the emir's increasing grip on power raising questions about the country's future. The next few years will be crucial for Kuwait's future as it balances between authority and democracy, between stability and change. If the country slips into a more authoritarian course, it could not only undermine hopes for democratic reforms in the region, but also threaten Kuwait's domestic stability itself.