25 January 2006

Kuwaiti Ruler - Which One Is It?

The last few days saw a strange and subtle spectacle play out across the front pages of Gulf News. It announced a different new ruler for Kuwait 4 times in 5 days.

What happened is that the old ruler of Kuwait, Shaikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah died last week. His successor, in a country ruled by a single family, but with recent moves towards democracy with a parliament and discussions of voting rights for women, was going to be Shaikh Sa'ad Al Abdullah Al Sabah (Shaikh Sa'ad), the crown prince. But parliament wanted to nominate Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah (Shaikh Sabah), the prime minister, saying that Shaikh Sa'ad was too ill to perform the job. As both Shaikhs belong to the same family, this is obviously an internal struggle between different branches, but the fact that parliament got itself involved is significant. In the region these parliamentary bodies are often not elected and have merely an advisory function. Kuwait has been trying to implement a more democratic system, but is constantly undermined by religious hardliners who see the end of the world as nigh if there is any democratic participation in the political process.

So all week there has been a back and forth between the prime minister's supporters and the branch of the family supporting the crown prince, as witnessed by poor Gulf News who had to reverse the news every day:

Sabah nominated as Kuwait Emir (Saturday)

Kuwait cabinet to replace Sa'ad (Sunday)

Sa'ad to be sworn in as Kuwait Emir tomorrow (Monday)

Kuwait Emir (Sa'ad -ed.) voted out (Wednesday)

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