It was with great sadness that I witnessed the violence Sunday night outside Kuwait’s iconic towers. As those who follow my blogs and articles will know, I have often lauded the freedom so intrinsic to Kuwaiti society and the democratic instincts of the Kuwaiti people. As I’m sure all will agree, it is a great shame to see such positivity replaced by violence on the streets.
It is not my place to apportion blame for the escalation that has led to such scenes; and I have heard and understand the arguments made by all sides of the political spectrum. The tear gas clouds have dispersed out over the Gulf, but the political problems remain. Both the government and the opposition have been forthright in their opinions and both believe that right, and the constitution, is on their side. Both have raised the stakes. The country has reached an impasse. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that this is a bad thing for Kuwait, for the country’s development, for the economy, and for any kind of political reform, no matter what your priorities.
At the root of this dispute is a quarrel about power, about the nature and meaning of the Kuwaiti constitution, about the checks and balances in the system, about the ability of the system to function. None of these big questions have easy answers, and none of them will be solved quickly. It took the UK more than 350 years to arrive at its political settlement. Kuwait’s is still evolving. And this is a good thing – peaceful reform should always trump violent revolution as a method of change.
But in this context the one thought that I have been offering to all my Kuwaiti friends is about compromise. Political progress, in any country, cannot happen when people don’t listen to each other and aren’t prepared to moderate their positions or find the middle ground. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone here, merely stating fact, but the same is inevitably true in Kuwait. And it seems to me, as an observer, that there is much to unite the disparate forces in Kuwait politics behind a common agenda, even if only in the short term, for the good of the country.
The opposition – rightly – sees fighting corruption as a key priority. The government has stated the same thing. All sides have talked about the importance of an independent electoral commission. This, as is the case in most democracies, could move the poisonous issue of electoral legislation – the proximate cause for Sunday’s clashes – out of the realm of politics. No one can disagree with the assertion that real and rapid economic reform is needed in Kuwait for the country to move forward and to meet the challenges of the future. The government and the opposition have both committed to the speedy resolution of the Bidoon issue – the most pressing human rights problem hanging over the country. The two sides, it seems to me, are in reality not that far apart on most of the pressing issues.
That’s why, in spite of this week’s events, I remain an optimist, with faith in the Kuwaiti people, in their sense of decency and of fairness and of friendship and I hope that all sides will find a way to cooperate and address their concerns, fears and aspirations.