WASHINGTON, June 25—Kuwait must enact further electoral and constitutional reform to break the country’s longstanding political paralysis. Continued gridlock could lead the emir to override the constitution and dissolve the parliament, dealing a major setback to democracy in Kuwait and the region, concludes a new commentary by Nathan J. Brown.

The contentious stalemate between Kuwait’s ruling family and parliament has called into question the sustainability of its democracy. There is a growing sense that an unconstitutional dissolution of parliament is imminent—the emir has moved beyond subtle hints to direct warnings.

Key Conclusions:

  • Kuwait’s political system gives every small group not only a voice but a veto and thus is easily paralyzed.
  • The 2006 electoral reform measure failed to diminish vote buying and tribal voting. The electoral system must encourage the formation of political blocs, rather than single-issue voting.
  • Amending the constitution to treat cabinet ministers as a cohesive unit—subject to a vote of confidence from the parliament—would force them to coordinate policy rather than focus on individual issues.
  • The political crisis in Kuwait provides an opportunity for the United States to begin rebuilding its discredited commitment to democracy in the region. The United States should encourage real reform through “polite discouragement” of an unconstitutional dissolution of the parliament.

Brown concludes:

“In earlier decades, Kuwait served as a positive model for some Gulf states. Kuwait no longer seems like such a positive model—in fact, the political stalemate in the country now serves as a negative model. A revival of Kuwaiti democracy will not lead to a ‘Gulf spring’ much less an Arab one. But it will prevent elections and parliaments from becoming symbols of stagnation and paralysis.”

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NOTES

  • Nathan J. Brown is director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University, a nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, and a distinguished scholar and author of four well-received books on Arab politics.
  • The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, socio-political, and strategic interests in the Arab world to provide analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region.
  • Carnegie's Arab Reform Bulletin offers a monthly analysis of political and economic developments in Arab countries.