Constitutional rule for Kuwait Global Viewpoint


Ahmed Nafisi is a leading member of Kuwait's main opposition movement, called the "National Constitutional Front." This coalition supports the return of constitutional rule -- which the emir suspended in 1986. Nafisi is currently the editor-in-chief of the Kuwaiti opposition magazine "El Taliyah." He fled Kuwait two weeks after the Iraqi invasion and is now living in Cairo, but expects to return to Kuwait shortly.

Cairo--THE IRAQI army has been driven from Kuwait, but my people have not yet been fully liberated.

The "legitimate" government of Kuwait, which the war was fought to restore, is not the government of absolute power of the al Sabah family. It is the constitutional government first established in 1962, but dissolved by Emir Jaber al-Ahmed al Sabah on July 12, 1986.

Martial law may be necessary in Kuwait for the next few months to re-establish order in the country, but that decision ought to be made by a national unity government, not the discredited al Sabah family.

Despite Crown Prince Sheik Saad al-Abdullah al Sabah's promise to the opposition at an October meeting in Jiddah that democratic reforms would be pursued after the war, martial law may well be used to crack down on the resistance movement, to suppress liberties and to lay the groundwork for a dummy parliament -- in other words, as a means to perpetuate monarchic rule.

We shouldn't forget that the National Assembly, or parliament, was dissolved and the constitution voided in 1986 under the pretext of the threat posed by the Iran-Iraq war. When that war was over in 1988, the al Sabah family continued to rule unconstitutionally until the Iraqi invasion last August.

Throughout 1989 and 1990, there were large demonstrations in Kuwait City demanding restoration of constitutional rule, which led to a violent government crackdown and arrests of opposition figures that included myself.

Given this recent history, stability can only be restored and reconstruction initiated if the al Sabah family is joined by the Kuwaiti resistance and the democratic movement. To attempt to exclude these forces from power is to choose a path toward even more social turmoil, and possibly civil war.

It would be especially unconscionable to exclude those who stayed in Kuwait during the last several months. In the face of torture and execution, the whole organized society of Kuwait -- from the mosques to students, professional associations and trade unions to the actual military resistance -- literally ran Kuwait from the underground during the Iraqi occupation.

Why shouldn't their participation be continued now that the tribal lords have returned from their luxury hotels in Taif?

Once stability is restored, our program is aimed at returning Kuwait's government to constitutional legitimacy, which mandates direct election for the National Assembly under terms of the 1962 constitution.

Article 6 of that constitution says that the political system of Kuwait is democratic, with free, one person-one vote elections for a 50-member parliament. It also guarantees freedom of speech, which is why Kuwait has often had the freest newspapers in the Arab world.

It says that sovereignty resides in the people, and the people are the source of all power -- including the appointment of the emir. Under constitutional rule, the emir must come from the al Sabah family. After he is named emir, he proposes candidates from the al Sabah family to be named crown prince -- his successor. The parliament could reject all of them.

The constitution also establishes three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. The executive branch is run by an emir, who delegates power to a prime minister whose government is accountable to the parliament. All the emir's powers must be approved by the parliament.

We hope to develop a system similar to the British one, which democratically circumscribes the role of the royal family in British affairs.

As with any form of undemocratic rule -- be it autocracy, monarchy or dictatorship -- abuse and corruption ultimately undermine the credible authority of the rulers. This has now happened with respect to the ruling family and their government.

Their weakness and corruption, which resulted from their aversion to democratic accountability, contributed greatly to our tragic vulnerability in this war. Those in charge of defense were totally unprepared for the Iraqi invasion. Some of our top commanders, incredibly, were vacationing in Europe as Saddam massed his troops at the border.

I am convinced that one of the reasons the National Assembly was not reconstituted after the Iran-Iraq war was that it had become a forum for exposing and criticizing the corruption of the ruling family.

The task of reconstruction requires a national unity and international sympathy that the al Sabah family alone cannot possibly muster.

Our democratic constitution was imposed on the al Sabah family in 1962 when Kuwait was threatened by invasion by another Iraqi -- Abdul Karim Qassem, who was later overthrown and killed by the Baathist Party.

The British, who had just terminated the treaty under which they would have defended us, told the al Sabah family that they couldn't justify Kuwait's defense internationally if they appeared the world as tribal sheiks. As a result, the ruling family reluctantly submitted to the people's demands for more democracy. Kuwait faces much the same situation today.

The people of my small country realize that driving the Iraqis from Kuwait was, in the eyes of the allies, an act in defense of the rule of international law and the "new world order," despite the fact that we were subject to absolutist rule. But the democratic world will not show the same commitment to rebuilding Kuwait if our country does not move toward democratic reform.

As we rebuild our country, the al Sabah family should join with the people of Kuwait and recognize that democracy is our shield. It is our best post-war defense.

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