Political issues in Kuwait
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Important political issues in the Kuwaiti National Assembly include rights for women, rights for immigrant workers, gun control, and education reform.
- 1 Education
- 2 Foreign workers
- 3 Election reform
- 4 Women's rights
- 5 Individual rights
- 6 Religious minorities
- 7 Banking and finance
- 8 Corruption
- 9 Oil industry
- 10 Relation between the Parliament and the Ruling Family
- 11 References
Government funds for college tuition
In 2002 Kuwait started opening private universities in the country, beginning with the Gulf University for Science and Technology. On September 28, 2008, MPs Abdullah Al-Roumi, Marzouq Al-Ghanem, Ali Al-Rashid, and Adel Al-Saraawi proposed a law to have the government pay half of Kuwaiti students' tuition at these private colleges.
Mandatory retirement age for teachers
On November 28, 2008, MPs Abdullah Al-Roumi, Khaled AlـSultan Bin Essa, Hassan Johar, Musallam Al-Barrak, and Marzouq AlـHubaini Al-Azmi proposed a law to extend the mandatory retirement age for Kuwaiti teaching staff at Kuwait University from 65 to 70 years. The MPs argued that Item 32 of Law no. 15/1979 has denied the country services of able and intelligent professors by restricting the retirement age of Kuwaitis to 65 years.
On December 26, 2003, the Kuwaiti cabinet informed the parliament that it was modifying Kuwaiti textbooks to remove references to alleged Islamic intolerance and extremism. In the ensuing debate, MP Hassan Jawhar said, "I hope the government will not bow to external blackmail and threats... and be forced to delete important sections of Islamic education." MP Mohammad Al-Busairi claimed the United States had been pressing Gulf states to change school textbooks since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and rejected accusations that school syllabi in the Gulf breed terrorists.
Coeducation in Kuwait has been a contentious issue since the Islamists gained slight power in parliament in the 1990s. In 1996, conservative lawmakers banned coed classes at Kuwait University and The Public Authority for Applied Education and Training. In 2000, when foreign universities were first opened in Kuwait, the ban was extended to those institutions as well. However, the government has opposed the ban and does not adopt the ban thus universities are still co-ed.
Foreign worker sponsorship system
In August 2008, MP Abdullah Al-Roumi declared that he was going to draft a law to scrap Kuwait's "kafeel" foreign worker sponsorship system, under which expatriates must be sponsored by a local employer to get a work permit: "The government should be the only kafeel... We have scores of bachelors residing in Kuwait with an equal number of crimes. Many are caused due to the 'trading with humans' issue which taints the reputation of Kuwait."
Citizenship for stateless
On December 4, 2008, MPs Hassan Jawhar, Musallam Al-Barrak, Marzouq AlـHubaini, Ali Al-Deqbasi, and Abdullah AlـBarghash submitted a draft law calling for the granting of Kuwaiti citizenship to all bidun (stateless) residents in the country. The bill proposes that citizenship be granted to all bidun who were included in the 1965 census and who have no criminal record. The new draft law differs from previous bills as it does not impose any restrictions on the naturalization of bidun and does not set a ceiling for the number of bidun that can be granted citizenship. They also suggested that the families of individuals who have died in service to the country be naturalized.
In addition, the lawmakers affirmed their belief that the families of POWs and the children of those who were martyred during the invasion be granted citizenship. The latest statistics reveal that more than 80,000 bidun currently reside in Kuwait.
In the parliamentary debates over the Kuwaiti minimum wage, MPs Askar Al-Enezi and Sadoon Al-Otaibi have dismissed past wage increases as "too small" and not enough to meet the steep hikes in consumer prices. On February 21, 2008, the parliament approved a 120 dinar ($440) monthly pay rise for nationals in the public and private sectors after inflation hit 7.3%, a 15-year high. It also decided to raise by 50 dinars ($183) the pay of foreigners employed by the government. In response, Al-Enezi said, "We reject this increase because it is well below expectations. We urge the government to review its decision."
On September 22, 2008, MP Saleh Al-Mulla demanded from Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Bader Al-Duwailah a list of companies involved in human trafficking. Mulla also asked about the measures taken against the violating companies and other steps that would be taken in the future to prevent such violations from taking place.
Blacklist for those who mistreat foreign workers
On October 2, 2007, Waleed Al-Tabtabaie called for the interior ministry to draw up a blacklist of employers who mistreat their domestic helpers and urged stiff penalties for physical abuse. Al-Tabtabaie said that employers who abuse their maids "physically or morally" should be added to the blacklist and prevented from hiring new maids. Al-Tabtabie, a member of parliament's human rights panel, argued that the phenomenon of maid abuse "has lately increased to a disturbing level and a large number of abuses are committed annually, with most cases failing to reach the court." In September 2007, Kuwait opened a temporary shelter to house runaway maids until their disputes with employers are resolved. The Kuwaiti government plans to open two permanent centres for males and females to be housed separately.
In 2004 there was a push by the Kuwaiti parliament to reorganized Kuwait's voting districts. At the time, each of Kuwait's twenty-five districts had only about 10,000 voters. The plan was to cut down on vote-buying by reorganizing Kuwait into five districts with about 50,000 voters each. Although the redistricting reforms eventually went through, the Emir initially opposed them. At that time, Al-Awadhi stood with the Emir and against the majority in parliament, saying "I don't believe reducing the number will eliminate electoral malpractices such as vote buying and bribery. These violations should be dealt with using other effective methods rather than reducing the number of constituencies." On May 13, 2007, the parliament voted 60-2 to reduce the number of districts from 25 to five. Ashour was critical of the redistricting on the grounds that the districts were uneven in size: "No one in the chamber is opposed to the five constituencies, but there are differences about the geographic distribution." Later that week, Ashour held a rally outside the parliament building, telling the crowd: "The government bill is unfair and racist. It discriminates between Kuwaitis. It gives 70,000 Kuwaiti voters twenty MPs and the remaining 250,000 thirty MPs. Is this fair?" Ashour also argued that the redistricting would promote tribalism. A grassroots campaign called Nabeeha 5 meaning we want it five in Arabic was formed, which was spearheaded by the National Democratic Alliance and some independents, and the Youth Association of Kuwait (then National Democratic Youth Association) opposed the redistricting, claiming that it marginalizes sects of society and it is unfair to the people, adding that it is a government idea to take over parliament.
Legalization of political parties
In an August 11, 2008, interview with the Arab Times, Al-Mulla underscored the importance of recognizing political parties in Kuwait, arguing that these parties have been operating unofficially in the country since the 1930s: "The time has come for the enactment of a law to recognize and legalize political parties in the country."
When voting was first introduced in Kuwait in 1985, Kuwaiti women had the right to vote. This right was later removed. In May 2005, the parliament re-granted Kuwaiti female suffrage. The bill, which passed with 35 votes for and 23 against, allows women to vote again and run in parliamentary and local elections.
Women in the army and police force
In an August 11, 2008, interview with the Arab Times, Al-Mulla said, "Accepting women in the police force is a step in the right direction. We also hope to see women in the army soon. Like men, women are capable of securing the nation and its people. The Interior Ministry is the sole authority for determining the security duties of women."
On November 28, 2007, the Interior Ministry announced that the first group of female police force were to begin. Face-veils will not be allowed. The female police force came in implementation of Amiri Decree number 221 of 2001 and cabinet decision number 109 of 2001.
In February 2005, in the wake of a wave of Al-Qaeda violence, the parliament unanimously passed a law giving police wide powers to search for and seize illegal weapons. MP Abdullah Al-Roumi was one of the main proponents of the bill, which makes it easier for police to obtain a warrant to search a private house for illegal weapons. The law also allows female inspectors to search women's quarters in private homes—quarters which are off limits to men according to Islamic rules. The parliament passed a similar law in 1992 to deal with a jump in gun ownership after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Lawmakers refused to extend that law in 1994, arguing that possession of weapons was a right.
On December 10, 2007, the parliament passed a bill, supported by Al-Omair and Faisal Al-Muslim Al-Otaib, which amended the penal code so that anyone "imitating the appearance of a member of the opposite sex" could be jailed for up to a year or fined up to 1,000 dinars. When NGO Human Rights Watch criticized the law, Al-Omair accused the human rights organisation of luring other nations to practice vice and lewdness in the name of personal freedom.
Construction of new Christian churches
Church sources told AFP that Kuwait has eight churches, four of which have their own permanent buildings and the rest are in rented homes. According to the sources, there are between 150 and 200 Kuwaiti Christians and up to 350,000 foreign Christians mostly from India, the Philippines, Egypt, Lebanon and the West. The government has recently allotted Christians two large pieces of state land to build churches, a measure that was welcomed by the head of parliament's human rights committee, MP Ali al-Rashed.
Kuwait was the first Gulf Arab state to establish direct links with Vatican City and Emmanuel Benjamen al-Ghareeb became the first Kuwaiti pastor of the Anglican church in 1999. Other Gulf states like Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates have churches, while Qatar announced in October that it will donate land to build the gas-rich emirate's first church.
- Shiite mini-series controversy
On September 16, 2007, Abdulsamad and fellow Shia MP Saleh Ashour spoke out against a planned Ramadan soap opera miniseries titled Sins Have a Price which was to revolve around and criticize the Shiite form of temporary marriage known as "Mutaa." In a public statement, Abdulsamad accused the series of giving "a total distortion of Shiism ... It also incites sectarianism... It is very provocative and comes at a sensitive time amid the sectarian tension in the region."
- Attacks on Shia mosques
On October 10, 2005, Ashour asked the authorities to ensure protection for a Shiite mosque which was attacked by a fifty-person mob on a Friday night. The teenage mob, mostly non-citizens, set fire in a car in front of the mosque in al-Jahra city and threw stones at worshippers. Ashour added that the gathering raised banners against the Shiites, accusing them of helping the American forces in Iraq.
Ashour further requested that the non-citizens who took part in the incident be deported: "the young persons who took part in the incident were not small children who did not know the results of their actions or the consequences of attacking a house of God."
- Zakat law
In November 2007, the parliament voted 51-2 to approve a law requiring all Kuwaiti public and shareholding companies to pay Zakat every year. Ashour voted against the law, arguing that it was discriminatory and that Shiites should demonstrate against it: "Passage of anti-minority laws in the Parliament will force us to voice out our objections through demonstrations and we will exhaust all legal means including the media to oppose such laws."
Banking and finance
Al-Qallaf criticized the government's October 2008 stock-market bailout, alleging that it short-changed small investors and reasoning that the bailout money would be better spent on social allowances for the masses.
On December 19, 2006, parliament voted 39-20 to reject a bill that would have seen the government write off $27bn of its citizens' private debts. Al-Rashid voted against the bill, accusing its proponents of succumbing to pressure by constituents so that they would be re-elected: "It is very easy for me to become a hero and to forget Kuwait, public money, the interest of our children and future generations."
Guaranteeing bank deposits
On October 28, 2008, the parliament voted 50-7 to insure all types of deposits in all local banks within Kuwait. Al-Qallaf opposed the bill, along with Jabir Al-Azmi, Daifallah Bouramiya, Mohammed Al-Obaid, Mohammed Hayef AlـMutairi, and Musallam AlـBarrak and Waleed AlـTabtabaie. Al-Qallaf accused the Cabinet of speeding up the bill's passage for the benefit of monetary tycoons.
Future Generations Fund
In November 2008, Al-Saraawi submitted a request for an expanded debate on the impact of the global financial crisis on Kuwaiti investments abroad, specifically the Future Generations Fund and the State Reserves Fund. The two funds are managed by Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), the country's sovereign wealth fund, mostly in the United States and Europe. Its assets were estimated at close to $300 billion before the outbreak of the global crisis. Saraawi said that it is no secret that there is a direct impact from the global financial meltdown on Kuwaiti investments. He added that MPs also want to know the extent of this impact on the country's financial surpluses in the past few years. A number of top officials, including the finance minister and the governor of the Central Bank, have explicitly said that Kuwaiti foreign holdings have been impacted by the crisis but stressed that the effect has so far been "small."
Kuwait Airways investigation
On September 9, 2007, Kuwait Airways' board of directors, headed by ruling family member Sheikh Talal Mubarak al-Sabah, resigned following differences with the government over a multi-billion-dollar deal to buy new aircraft. In July, Al-Awadi had accused the corporation of squandering public funds and led the parliament to approve a recommendation by a three-MP inquiry committee, which called for top airline executives to be referred to the public prosecutor over alleged financial and administrative irregularities.
on April 17, 2007, Al-Harbash and other MPs submitted documents to parliament claiming that several falcon shipments for "influential people" had been imported recently without proper testing. Kuwat banned bird imports as an avian influenza precaution, but the ban was eased since July 2006. Al-Harbash sees the smuggling as an example of corruption that puts the country at risk for bird flu: "Lifting the ban on falcons was a catastrophe. Why were they exempted from the ban despite warnings by doctors?" Al-Harbash says he will ask the parliament's health committee to study the situation and report back.
Kuwait reported 20 birds, including 18 falcons, were tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain of the bird flu on February 25 and so far the bird flu cases have risen to 132. In November 2005, Kuwait detected the first case of a bird infected with the H5N1 strain—a flamingo at a seaside villa.
In November 2007, FIFA had suspended Kuwait from all international matches because of governmental interference in the national football program. The dispute originated with Kuwait's October 9 elections for key posts in the country's soccer federation. FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) refused to recognise the polls. FIFA said Kuwait had ignored the two bodies' "road map" of reforms requiring them to set up an interim board to organize fresh elections and draft new guidelines to prevent governmental interference in the game.
Project Kuwait is a $7 billion, 25-year plan, first formulated in 1997 by the SPC, to increase the country's oil production (and to help compensate for declines at the mature Burgan field), with the help of international oil companies. In particular, Kuwait aims to increase output at five northern oil fields (Abdali, Bahra, Ratqa, Raudhatain, and Sabriya) from their current rate of around 650,000 barrels per day (103,000 m3/d) to 900,000 barrels per day (140,000 m3/d) within three years.
Al-Sane opposes Project Kuwait and allowing foreign oil companies into Kuwait. On December 23, 2005, Al-Sane told the press that he opposed the entry of these foreign companies because it is barred by the constitution: "The step the government wants to take is against the law, and we have to stand against it strongly... The constitutional issue is the main one. We're not against foreign investments, but the problem is that you have to stick to the constitution."
Proposed joint venture with Dow Chemical
On December 28, 2008, Kuwait's Supreme Petroleum Council scrapped a $17.4 billion joint venture with U.S. petrochemical giant Dow Chemical. The Cabinet argued that the venture, known as K-Dow Petrochemicals, was "very risky" in light of the global financial crisis and low oil prices. The move came just days before the Jan. 1 startup date for the joint venture.
The project, in which Kuwait was to hold a $7.5 billion stake, had been criticized in the country as a waste of public funds, and lawmakers threatened to question the prime minister in parliament if it was launched. As criticism over the deal mounted in Kuwait, Oil Minister Mohammed al-Eleim defended the venture as profitable, saying it was carefully studied by international consultants for over two years.
Relation between the Parliament and the Ruling Family
Grilling of Prime Minister Nasser
In November 2008, Al-Mutairi joined with fellow Islamist MPs Waleed AlـTabtabaie and Mohammed AlـMutair in filing a request to grill Prime Minister Nasser Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah for allowing prominent Iranian Shiite cleric Mohammad Baqir al-Fali to enter Kuwait despite a legal ban.
Dissolution of the Parliament
On November 21, 2008, AlـShayji criticized calls for unconstitutional dissolution of Parliament, saying that such a move would avail thieves to plunder public funds: "Despite all the drawbacks within the National Assembly, the Parliament plays a crucial role in serving the country and the people."
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