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Democracy in Kuwait and the social contract

By Khaled Al-Abdulhadi


KUWAIT: The National Assembly has been an influential part of the Kuwaiti political process and a fundamental factor in the social contract between the ruler and the people. In fact, communication between the ruler in Kuwait and the people has always been the norm, ever since the Kuwaiti people elected Sheikh Sabah bin Jaber Al-Sabah I in 1752 to be the ruler of Kuwait at the time, asserting Kuwait as an entity of its people.

In ‘The Origins of Kuwait’s National Assembly’, Dr Michael Herb, a professor of political science at Georgia State University, writes the strength of the Kuwaiti parliament is in its power to withdraw confidence from any minister, including the prime minister. He also considers six arguments on the power of the National Assembly in Kuwait, evaluating them from the time of the 1962 constitution and the people’s perspectives at the time.

Herb observes experts’ views regarding the effect of the power of merchants with regards to the social contract, as the power of the merchant class played a vital role in the formation of the parliament. “The position of merchants in Kuwaiti society prompted the Al-Sabah family to put in place a powerful National Assembly to counterbalance the influence of the merchants,” he said.

Herb also describes another variant on the argument which focused on the ruler-merchant coalition’s beginning, as internal and external challenges resulted in negotiations between the two sides, which formed “a durable coalition built on an alliance between the ruling family and the merchant class”. Moreover, he sees the social contract also played a role when facing external threats, as Kuwait has been under foreign pressure since its inception.

Herb also writes that rulers of Kuwait contributed greatly to the expansion of the social contract. “The degree of power enjoyed by the National Assembly under the 1962 constitution also owes something to the political inclinations of the Amir at the time, Abdullah Al-Salem. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem ensured the National Assembly had several key powers, including the ability to withdraw confidence in ministers via a majority vote by the elected members of the body,” he wrote.

In her study, “The parliamentary experience in the state of Kuwait and its development paths”, Dr Nadia Fadhli, assistant professor at the University of Baghdad, writes: “Practices of shura appeared in Kuwait for the first time in the 1930s. This was represented by the formation of the country’s first legislative council, which was formed to build an emerging democratic society based on power-sharing. This was clearly represented when Kuwait got its independence in 1961. The political currents and forces in Kuwait contributed to the development of the concept of democracy and the exercise of parliamentary order through the Kuwaiti National Assembly.”

Fadhli describes Kuwait’s parliamentary experience has a character and a political culture that has emerged from the society. “The Kuwaiti constitution then came to regulate the relationship between the ruler and the public and set the beginning of the modern state of Kuwait in terms of parliament and law and tried to establish a state of modern institutions,” she added.

Rulers of Kuwait has almost always listened to citizens’ problems, from its inception to this day. People in history used to sit and discuss matters with the ruler, and today we have seen the same in HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah’s speech on behalf of HH the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah last year, which was again solidified by another speech last month, that the people are an integral part of democracy, taking significant steps in the future of democracy in Kuwait.

In conclusion, the nature of the relationship has always been cohesive, regardless of disagreements that may arise from the government and the people. Kuwait always came first, symbolized in the ruler who brings critical situations to stability. The democratic process in the country has its own unique identity that needs time to flourish, and needs that we look at it from the perspective of the good of Kuwait and not from the perspective of self-interest.

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