Sunday, June 07, 2009

KUWAIT, BROTHER AND SISTERS, WHERE ARTH THOU GOING?

KUWAIT, BROTHER AND SISTERS, WHERE ARTH THOU GOING?

By Kevin Stoda


Kuwait is a tiny land geographically. It is not any larger than Belgium, but with its Petrodollars, its national global investment fund, and its geographic location near the ancient Euphrates River and the modern states of Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait has great influence in its region.

Moreover, at times, Kuwait with both its money supply and occasional political suasion has had huge influence on two Bush administrations: George H. W. Bush, 1989-1993 and George W. Bush, 2001-2009.

Therefore, the USA-Kuwait relationship has played itself out influentially on the world stage for over two decades. The strong ability and know-how of political propaganda (some of propaganda was, of course, very well-founded in facts on the ground in terms of Iraqi’s military subjugation and mistreatment of Kuwaitis after its August 1990 invasion) by exiled Kuwaitis in North America and in Europe established in autumn 1990 through 1991 had enabled the members of the United Nations to come together in war- against Iraq.

Similarly, Kuwait in 2002-2003 gave the Bush regime pretty much carte blanche in its invasion of Iraq. It certainly influenced US banks in the intervening decade, too. Some of Kuwait’s citizens have since benefited greatly financially from the US military as large amounts of supplies (and large numbers of soldiers) from and to the US pass through Kuwait to Iraq and back each day.

Then as now, Kuwait has continued to demand war reparations from Iraq dating from 1990-1991--nearly two decades ago and long after Saddam Hussein has been ousted. NOTE: I do not begrudge Kuwait’s demand for obligations from the new Iraqi regime to be fulfilled before full- and good relationships between the two formerly warring neighbors can finally be realized. For example, Iraq and Kuwait definitely need to permanently (once and for all) fix their international borders in order for harmony to truly have a chance in the region.

I do think Kuwait, with its great monetary wealth (including nearly a trillion dollars in sovereign wealth funds), however, can do much more to rebuild Iraq and build a better, more just, and enjoyable life for all in the Gulf region.


PART OF THE PROBLEM


Naturally, one of the main problems in Kuwait has historically been the government’s inability to plan and think very far ahead. This results partially from the fairly weak constitutional design of the government and parliamentary relationship under a royal family’s direct and indirect control. One can thank the British for that—as the British protectorate of Kuwait had undermined democratic development from the 1910s through the 1950s.

This continuing constitutional crisis has led in the last five to seven years to five different national parliamentary elections—i.e. after the Prime Minister, who is always from the royal family had determined to arbbittrairly closed the Parliament. In short, the current turnover rate of elected Parliaments in Kuwait since the USA invaded Iraq in 2003 is approaching that rate of Italy in the immediate post-WWII era—whereby the Italian regime had nearly 45 governments in 45 years.

In turn, some of the problems in the parliament of Kuwait have had to do with the fact that money so obviously buys elections in Kuwait—to an even greater degree than in my homeland: the USA. This is partially the result of the fact that too many Kuwaiti families are super rich and can find little to do wisely with their money—due to bad social-economic training, poor education in terms of governance, and due to bad political policies in place to unfairly support particular businesses and government leaders over the past two decades. In other words, collecting political power and buying off Kuwaiti voters with vacations or medical holiday packages abroad has become a way of life for the politically addicted in Kuwait over the past few decades.


WOMEN ELECTED--FINALLY

Naturally, it was certainly a positive sign these past May 2009 elections to see that four Kuwaiti women were finally elected to the Kuwaiti National Assembly for the first time in the tiny state’s history. These 4 female victors are all considered wise Kuwaitis—and professionals in their fields. There names are: Thekra Al-Rasheedi, Rola Dashti, Fatma Hussein, and Maasouma Al-Mubarak.

However, disappointingly, none of these 4 women—nor numerous other intelligent female Kuwaitis have since been invited to take a role in the important cabinet positions, usually chosen directly by members of the Kuwaiti royal family.

The Education Ministry in Kuwait has the only female head currently, and this woman has been charged with flip-flopping on national policies in the past—as have almost all of the current Kuwaiti cabinet officials over the past few parliaments. This blowing in the wind has been the result of the fact that Kuwaiti parliamentarians and the cabinet ministry leaders don’t really trust each other. This has left the country with many ever-changing short-term decisions being made--and medium- or long-term flip-flopping staying on each Minister’s agenda.

It would appear that just as finally occurred in Italy in the 1990s, Kuwait needs to seriously look into a revision of its own constitution so that long-term planning and stability can be undertaken. Moreover, the fact is that less than 30% of the adult population in Kuwait are currently allowed to vote. This is because citizenship is essentially a blood citizenship in Kuwait. This means that businessmen and educated peoples who may have lived in Kuwait for three to four generations (but who are not married into traditional Kuwaiti families) have no voting stake in the government.

A similar problem, whereby huge numbers of the local population do not have either citizenship or voting rights, exists in all Arab states in the region, however, because a larger percentage of stakeholders have no voting right in Kuwait (in comparison to the neighboring Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or Iran regimes), Kuwait’s elections are bereft with election fraud and vote buying that will be harder to get under control until the number of eligible voters is significantly larger to offset the costs of vote-buying.


PLURALISTIC THINKING IN KUWAIT

One of the many hopeful signs in Kuwait remains the fact that although the country is tiny, it constantly reveals a great variety of points of views in- and out- of the election cycle. This pluralism in thinking is revealed quite obviously in the country’s diverse newspapers. Along with eight Arabic dailies, Kuwait has three major English daily newspapers. Moreover, in these English papers, one often finds more variety in editorializing and reporting than you find in any German, British, or American newspaper.

For example, when I flew to Kuwait last week to visit my wife, I picked up a single KUWAIT TIMES (dated May 27, 2009) and observed on a single page the varying visions of the Kuwaiti authors writing in English these days. On page 5, i.e. the national news page, there were four quite different views sharing opinions about the recent elections and on pluralism in Kuwait, in general.

Muna a-Fuzai, one of my favorite writers, had written a piece entitled: “Political Future: Dreaming On . . .” al-Fuzai began, “Are we merely dreaming of a major overhaul to take place in the soon- to- be formed government? Are we seeking new faces or policies? What exactly are we looking for at this stage? Well, we need to be realistic about what to expect in the first place. I mean we should learn to look beyond our noses. Take a look at the great mix of new and old MP's who were chosen by Kuwaitis, men and women, on their own will. I recall the calls made by most candidates, to bring in reform.”

However, al-Fuzai was not sounding very confident as she wrote directly about these newly elected parliamentarians, “Now it is time for them to show us just that, minus the noise. I mean the use of unparliamentarily language, shouting, and displays of anger have not helped further our cause. Also, let's not be fooled into construing silence as a gesture of wisdom. Some who adhered to this policy couldn't usher in much- needed change. They turned every election win to their advantage and will continue to do so until death would force them to part ways. Why do some veterans still contest even after all these long years? I leave this to our political analysts to dissect because I can't find any logic in it.”

An article reprinted from the newspaper AL-QABAS on this same page 5 also asked warily in its title, “Will PM’s new Cabinet last?” These authors began by noting that the public is now relieved that finally women have representation in parliament. On the other hand, there is a “lingering” fear of the new cabinet and parliament failing again. However, these AL-QABAS authors remain hopeful that stability might reign as for the first time in several elections, the voters have chosen representatives of the people who seem prepared to support the emir’s cabinet rather than to charge it with crimes, fiscal irresponsibility or incompetence at every turn.

In contrast, on that same KUWAIT TIMES page, Nassir al-Abdaly makes a completely different prediction that the cabinet will continue to fail to comprehend “what’s going on around them”. The author continued himself saying, “The five previous cabinets have always believed that their ’foes’ formed an obstacle in [their] way of achieving development projects.” Al-Abdaly explains that these cabinets’ approach to criticism has been, “[f]or example, if they were criticized by Liberals, they would blame Islamists, and if they were criticized by Islamists, they would blame the Public party, and so on.”

Finally, since for the first time in several elections, liberal candidates did fairly well in this recent May 2009 Kuwaiti election, Dr. Ebtehal al-Khateeb gloats in his article entitled “Kuwaits are Liberal”. al-Khateeb charges the Salafists ( a group of an Islamist party) of being a simple minority in the country--whose voice needs to be reduced in the public sphere and media. “Kuwaitis are liberal …they are liberal with their respect of the other opinion, in their allowing others’ freedoms besides theirs, in their love for their religion without trying to impose it on others, in their rejection of using religion as a tool of threatening or enticement, in their evaluation of woman as a creative human-being and not a body for pleasure and hatching . . . .”

In short, the views on that single KUWAIT TIMES page portray a Kuwait full of pluralistic political engagement—regardless as to whether one is man or woman—or whether one is an Islamist or a liberal. There is certainly hope for Kuwait. Alas, Kuwaitis are currently the richest people on the planet—earning more per capita than the Swiss over the past two years. Therefore, Kuwait must put its government efforts into a higher gear and use its intelligence & great wealth to make a better and more peaceful Middle East and world.

I wish the new Kuwaiti regime all the best in 2009-2010 but I do not hold my breath until intelligent governance, more democratic developments, and national & social planning are improved and more firmly entrenched. This will require reforms that have not even been discussed in prior parliamentarian elections to take forum in Kuwait’s great newspapers and on national TV stations. This will require truly pluralistic participation in developing the land.

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