Youths take wealthy Kuwait into Arab Spring



KUWAIT CITY, Omar Hasan- Winds of change that swept the Arab world are finally blowing on oil-rich Kuwait as a concerted youth-led campaign has forced the government to resign amid further calls for wider reforms.
Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, a senior member of the Al-Sabah ruling family, on Monday tendered his government's resignation, the seventh in just over five years, over allegations of corruption.



"The resignation of the government is the first fruit of a campaign against corruption launched under the leadership of youths," opposition Islamist MP Faisal al-Muslim said Tuesday on his Twitter account.
Kuwaiti opposition figures have been careful not to link the political unrest in the OPEC member state to the Arab Spring revolutions that have so far unseated four Arab leaders, noting that their campaign is not directed against the emir or the ruling family.
"The Arab Spring has reached Kuwait but with a difference," said Abdulrahman al-Mutairi, a law student studying in Egypt.
"No one (in Kuwait) is calling for toppling the regime or is challenging the ruling family," Mutairi told AFP as he camped outside the palace of justice to protest against the detention of 24 youth activists.
A record number of some 90,000 protesters took to the streets of the Kuwaiti capital Monday demanding political reforms and an end to corruption.
Kuwait, which sits on about 10 percent of global oil reserves, provides a cradle-to-grave welfare system with public sector jobs almost guaranteed for citizens, services offered at highly-subsidised rates and no taxation.
The emirate has amassed over $300 billion in reserves following 12 consecutive years of surpluses thanks to high oil prices.
Much of the surplus was used to raise salaries for citizens, a fact that leaves outside observers wondering why Kuwaitis are protesting.
"We want to fight corruption and expand democratic freedoms... (Arab) countries around us are making democratic gains and we want to expand our democracy," youth activist Nassar al-Khaledi told AFP.
Kuwait embarked on democratic reforms long before its Arab Gulf neighbours by introducing a parliament and a more liberal constitution as early as 1962. But many believe the need for even more democratic change is necessary.
The Kuwaiti system, often described as a "half democracy," offers an elected parliament with powers to unseat the prime minister and cabinet ministers.
But the unelected 16-member cabinet holds equal powers to elected MPs and can reject legislation passed by parliament.
Kuwait's emir has the ultimate power to appoint prime ministers, all of whom have so far been picked from the Al-Sabah family which has ruled the country for over 250 years.
Speakers at Monday night's rally insisted their campaign is not directed against Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah or the ruling family.
The youth group "September 16" has called, however, for a constitutional monarchy, a premier from outside the ruling family and a reformed electoral system.
The Islamic Ummah Party on Monday called on the government to legalise political parties, an elected government and an independent election commission.
The Progressive Movement, a liberal group, demanded a "full parliamentary system" to end the Al-Sabah monopoly over the premiership and the ministries of defence, interior and foreign affairs.
The opposition, a loose alliance of Islamists, liberals and nationalists with often conflicting political views, are united against the premier and the fight against corruption.
"I think the best solution is to draw up an entirely new constitution," said political analyst Dahem al-Qahtani, insisting it should be done with the realms of a national conference, not in parliament or by the government.
The opposition also has been pressing for economic reforms to end the country's heavy reliance on oil which provides 94 percent of public revenues.
According to prominent Kuwaiti economist Jassem al-Saadun spending has grown from $14.5 billion in 2000 to $70.5 billion this year while the bill for subsidies and wages rose almost six fold to $47 billion during the same period.
About 500,000 young Kuwaitis are expected to enter the job market in the next 15 years, most of them seeking government jobs, putting further strain on a budget that currently pays 286,000 employee salaries, he said.
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Wednesday, November 30th 2011
Omar Hasan
           


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