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Kuwait emir suspends parliament citing political unrest

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Kuwait’s emir announced on Friday that he would suspend the elected parliament for four years, raising concerns that he could move to dismantle one of the Middle East’s last semi-democratic political systems.

“I will not allow democracy to be used to destroy the country,” Emir Sheikh Mishal Ahmed Al Sabah said in a televised address, declaring that the recent period of political turmoil required “tough decisions to be made. Come and save the country.”

The emir also suspended several articles of the constitution and said the transition period would be used to review “all aspects of the democratic process” in oil-rich Kuwait, on the Persian Gulf coast. During the suspension, the emir and the cabinet will take over the legislative powers of the 50-member parliament.

The decision was made a month later election Kuwaitis elected a new parliament, whose members have yet to start a new session. While Kuwait’s parliament is often dissolved to support new elections – most recently by Sheikh Mishal in February – prorogations have only occurred twice in Kuwait’s history, in 1976 and 1986.

“This is a serious setback for democracy in the Middle East,” said Michael Herb, a political science professor at Georgia State University. “The prorogation of parliament could leave Kuwait as authoritarian as other Gulf monarchies.”

He added that there was still hope that the country would be on a different path. Parliament finally resumed after the past two prorogations.

In Kuwait, frequent deadlocks between parliament and the executive have led to political instability that has intensified over the past five years.The country has experienced numerous parliamentary changes and frequent cabinets Resign, officials had little time to implement their agenda. Kuwait also lags behind other hydrocarbon-rich Gulf states in infrastructure development and economic diversification.

Kuwait is far from a complete democracy: its ruler is a hereditary monarch and political parties are illegal.But across the Middle East, many countries are becoming more depressingKuwait is a rare choice, academics say, as countries such as Tunisia and Egypt began to cultivate elements of democracy even after the Arab Spring uprisings more than a decade ago were suppressed. return Toward authoritarianism.

Kuwait’s parliament has far more power than the symbolic parliaments in neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia. Its members have the power to publicly question cabinet ministers; exert influence over the state budget; and approve the emir’s appointment of a new crown prince as heir to the throne.

Sheikh Mishal, who came to power in December, said in a speech on Friday: Former emir dieslamenting that the country’s wealth has been “wasted”.

“The interests of the Kuwaiti people are above all else and are entrusted to us and we need to safeguard and protect them,” he said.

He referred to unspecified political actors “overstepping their boundaries” and complained that “unfortunately, some have interfered with the emir’s core powers and his choice of crown prince.”

The position of Crown Prince (the next ruler-designate) is currently vacant and Sheikh Mishal must appoint one. He did not clarify who was interfering. It is unclear why Parliament will be suspended for up to four years. But four years is a typical parliamentary term.

Some Kuwaitis expressed optimism that the suspension could break the country’s political deadlock, giving the government space to pursue its agenda unimpeded.

“Important policies such as the national budget have been delayed and blocked due to political dysfunction,” said Clemens Chay, a researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.

But the emir’s speech also raised concerns that he would limit Kuwaitis’ relative political freedoms.

“To our brothers in Kuwait: If you need any help in finding ways to live, survive and persevere under authoritarian regimes without public freedoms, your neighbors in the other Gulf countries have extensive experience in this regard,” said Saudi Sultan Alaa Sultan Alamer said. wrote a political science scholar living in the United States on social media platform X. “We are together.”

Sean Yom, an associate professor of political science at Temple University, said he worries about how domestic dissidents will now be treated.

“What will happen to political critics and opposition groups if they no longer have a parliament that has always reflected the diversity of Kuwaiti society?” he asked.

Mr Yom noted that the coming years are likely to bring constitutional amendments, the dilution of parliamentary powers and the key appointment of the crown prince; Sheikh Mishal, 83.

Badr Al-Saif, assistant professor of history at Kuwait University, said the main challenge was to save the system through constitutional amendments while keeping Kuwait “relatively open.”

“The government will be under more scrutiny because there will be no parliament to blame,” he said.

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