Kuwaiti protesters face teargas

Despite a government ban on public gatherings of more than 20 people, thousands of Kuwaiti protesters succeeded in blocking the capital's outer ring road briefly before riot police confronted them with stun grenades and teargas yesterday.

AFP reports:

After elite special forces and police completely sealed off the original protest site in Kuwait City, organisers told supporters via Twitter to gather instead at Mishref, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the capital.

Although most roads leading to the new location were quickly closed off by police, thousands of people still managed to get through and immediately started marching.

They briefly cut off the sixth ring road, the main motorway in the south of Kuwait before calling off the demonstration barely an hour after it began.

Organisers later announced the end of the protest, declaring it a success but without announcing plans for further demonstrations.

"After we have expressed our message of rejecting any play in the constitution, we announce the end of the procession," said the organisers on their Twitter account named "The Dignity of a Nation".

The organisers appear to have been concerned that the situation was about to turn ugly. Gulf News says: "Many stressed that they were opposed to the government and not their 'brothers' in the security forces." (One much re-tweeted picture shows a demonstrator helping a policeman who was apparently suffering from the effects of teargas.) 

For local media reports of yesterday's events see the Kuwait Times and Arab Times.

This was the third major protest since 21 October and, with almost a month to go before the parliamentary elections scheduled for 1 December, it is unlikely to be the last – unless a deal can be worked out in the meantime.

Kuwait's latest political crisis was triggered by what Marc Lynch 
describes as "a series of unusually provocative steps by both the royal family and the opposition, in the context of a long-running battle over the powers of parliament and accountability for the royal family".

Reuters (via the Guardian) explains:

Next month's elections will be the second in Kuwait this year after an opposition bloc made up of Islamists, liberals and tribal leaders won a majority in polls in February.

That parliament was effectively dissolved by a court ruling in June that reinstated a more pro-government assembly, but the old legislature was unable to meet due to a boycott by lawmakers leading to another dissolution and a call by the emir for snap elections to end the deadlock.

The emir then announced changes to the electoral law last month which some opposition politicians say are an attempt to give pro-government candidates an advantage in the polls.

Opposition leaders have said they will boycott the elections and have called for demonstrations. 

Late yesterday, in an attempt to defuse the situation, the emir met four opposition figures – the first such meeting since the dispute began several weeks ago. The meeting seems to have been amicable but it's unclear whether the emir is planning to offer significant concessions or merely hoping to fob the protesters off. 

According to AFP, the emir hinted at a possible solution through the constitutional court:

Former MP Mohammad Hayef said on Twitter that the emir told them he would accept that the constitutional court rule on the disputed amendment to the electoral constituency law which triggered the current stand-off.

However, there is no mention of that in the official account of the meeting from the Kuwaiti government news agency, Kuna. It merely says the emir is "ready" to approve a demonstration if he receives a formal request:

A number of Kuwaiti figures praised on Sunday after meeting with His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, held at al-Seif Palace, with various comments of cordial and amicable sentiments towards His Highness, especially his ongoing meetings and candid conversations with his guests.

Iehyaa al-Turath (Reviving Heritage Society) member Dr Tareq Sami al-Issa said that the meeting was friendly and issues of the discussions highlighted developments in the country, stressing that the society adheres to his command and appreciates his leadership to end the standoff in the country.

Dr al-Issa added that His Highness the Amir has expressed readiness to cooperate and give approval of staging a demonstration, if the authorities receive a formal request to hold such a march, and to end the current standoff.

Meanwhile, Dr Wael Mohammad al-Hasawi said the meeting was like a gathering between a father and his sons, adding HH the Amir was keen on listening to them. His Highness also expressed keenness on preserving security of the country.

Al-Hasawi expressed wishes as well to keep Kuwait and its people safe during this ordeal.

For his part, Bader Shaikhan al-Farsi said the current crisis is temporary and "Kuwait will be restored as a country of security and safety under the leadership of His Highness the Amir".

Elsewhere in the Gulf, though, this is not viewed as a purely Kuwaiti affair. Common sense suggests the emir ought to make a deal before things get out of hand but other traditional monarchs in the region are watching nervously and may be urging him to hold firm.

A tweet yesterday from Dubai's police chief, Dhahi Khalfan, expressed what is probably a widespread view among the neighbouring regimes. The "whole" of the Arab Gulf, he said, is "standing behind Sabah and his government, and the loyal men Kuwait, for its security and stability".

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 5 November 2012.