Police raise stakes as anti-government unrest grows in Kuwait

Hooded policeman using baton against protesters
 
After three months of anti-government protests, the winds of change are blowing stronger than ever in the kingdom of Kuwait. An election held at the beginning of December was supposed to calm things down, but it intensified the situation instead.
 
Protests began in Kuwait last October after the Emir, taking advantage of a dissolved parliament, changed voting rules in a way that favoured the ruling Al Sabah family, according to opposition parties.
 
The change, which reduced the number of votes per person from four to one, led to the opposition to call for a boycott of parliamentary elections schedule for December 1, 2012. As a result, the rate of abstention reached a record level of nearly 70 percent.
 
Against this backdrop, 200 to 300 people demonstrated on Sunday January 6, 2013 in the suburbs of Kuwait City, the capital of the emirate. Police were soon mobilised to break up the demonstration. They arrested 70 people including France 24’s correspondent in the Gulf, who has since been released.
 
The events coincided with the jailing of two Kuwaiti Twitter users to two years in prison for criticising the Emir and the Kuwaiti government on the microblogging site.
 
Even though it is the first monarchy in the Gulf to have an elected parliament, Kuwait has suffered political crises due to brewing discontent against the Al Sabah dynasty, which has ruled the country for more than 250 years and seems to be unwilling to share its power any time soon.
 
Video showing policemen mobilised to stamp out the protest  (January 6)
Contributors

“Kuwaitis have never been treated this way before”

Hamad Al Olayan, 30, is an activist within youth opposition groups. He says he is not affiliated with any party.
 
The demonstration on Sunday was the fifth in a series of marches that we’ve called ‘dignity marches’.
It’s the first time we left Irada square [in front of the parliament], where the opposition protests were centred, to march in other areas of the city, such as Qortoba. Some people reproached us for bringing the protests into residential neighbourhoods and thus provoking the authorities, who have allowed us to protest on Irada square. But this logic is absurd, because a protest that has the blessings of those in power is not really a protest. Furthermore, Article 44 in the constitution allows us to protest without seeking permission, which means we did not break any laws by doing what we did. By seeking to contain us at the square, the government wanted to control the opposition and dampen its voice.
 
We were shocked by the degree of violence the police demonstrated on Sunday. They fired tear gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets. They didn’t hesitate to fire at women and arrested a number of people, including two former parliamentarians. Kuwaitis have never been treated like this before. The police’s response was disproportionate to the pacified nature of the march.
 
"The Emir and his government must reverse October’s electoral reform and stop the abuse of power"
 
In addition to the violence on the streets, the political atmosphere is becoming increasingly tense. The parliament does not represent the Kuwaiti people at all. On the one hand, as the electoral changes reduced the number of votes necessary to elect each parliamentarian, elected officials no longer serve the population as a whole, but rather their own clan, in order to guarantee the minimum number of votes necessary to secure a seat. Therefore, politics has become more and more sectarian. On the other hand, large tribes such as Mtir or Al-Awazem are not represented because they boycotted the election.
 
As part of the opposition, we can’t keep quiet when confronted with this injustice. Kuwait is a democracy and its citizens know their rights. I only hope that the people in power don’t become blind. I hope they renounce the use of force and listen to our demands. The Emir and his government must reverse October’s electoral reform and stop the abuse of power. But we don’t want Kuwait to fall into a cycle of violence that other countries in the region have witnessed. 
Night protest, the placard denounces the recent changes to the voting system

 

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