Kuwait saw its largest demonstrations on 21 October, as tens of thousands of Kuwaitis gathered for The March of Dignity to challenge an emergency decree issued by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah revising the Gulf state’s electoral laws. It was met by volleys of tear gas and baton rounds from security forces determined to enforce the Interior Ministry’s ban on marches.
The situation has become progressively intense and there is little reason to think it will improve soon. Sheikh Sabah has taken matters into his own hands. Fresh elections are set for 1 December with a new rule the government hopes will prevent the return of the opposition-dominated parliament elected in February.
The reaction from some members of the opposition, criticising the emir directly, has caused alarm, breaking Kuwait’s cultural norms of respect for the ruler enshrined in the constitution. The opposition comprises disparate groups with little clear direction, except to challenge the status quo. Nonetheless, this was a step too far for many in the opposition, which now risks becoming radicalised and losing support.
Kuwaitis used to pride themselves on having led the rapid cultural and economic growth in the Gulf since the 1960s. More recently, a sense of being left behind has taken hold. To an extent, it is still ahead of its Gulf neighbours with a vibrant if raucous parliament, albeit excluded from government. This is what happens when you experiment with democracy in the Gulf.