Late on Wednesday, dozens of Kuwaitis stormed into the parliament building and demanded that Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah step down. Hundreds of people were amassed outside; Mussallam al-Barrak was among several politicians and youth activists who led the protests and demanded the dissolution of parliament on charges of corruption. Said al-Barrak:
“Now, we have entered the house of the people.”
The protesters broke open the gates of the parliament building and entered the main chamber, where they sang the national anthem before leaving after a short time. The guardsmen did not intervene. As junior doctor Mohammed told the BBC:
“Some people managed to get inside. No confrontation happened with the national guard who are guarding the building.”
“People are asking for more reforms, and especially as recently the government has not been going with the spirit of the constitution, which some regard as the absolute minimum of democracy.”
As the protesters reentered the square outside the parliament building, the crowd outside chanted “The people want to bring down the head (of government),” a phrase echoing words that became a rallying cry of protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo during Egypt’s revolution earlier this year.
At least five people were reported injured by riot police with batons and treated on site. Some activists said they will continue to camp out in front of parliament until the prime minister resigns.
Protesters had marched earlier on Wednesday to Sheikh Nasser’s house where they demanded his resignation, but were driven back by police wielding batons. Sheikh Nasser is a nephew of the emir.
Charges of Corruption Among Members of Parliament
Wednesday morning had seen about 20 opposition members of parliament boycott the session. The day before, the ruling party and its supporters had succeeded in quashing a bid by the opposition to question the premier about the corruption allegations. Over the past three months, about 16 of the 50 MPs have reportedly received bribes totaling $350 million.
In recent months, opposition members have been calling on Kuwait’s leadership to investigate corruption and to question the premier about attempts to limit political freedoms. They have also been leading a campaign to demand that Sheikh Nasser step down for failing to run the nation and stop corruption.
Among Arab countries, Kuwait’s parliament is one of the few whose members are elected. The country’s generous welfare system has, it is said, prevented wide-scale protests like those that led to the ouster of Tunisia’s Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. The 71-year-old premier was appointed in February 2006 and has resigned six times, due to criticism from the opposition. In the same period, parliament has been dissolved three times.
Kuwait celebrated the 49th anniversary of its constitution on November 11, 2011. According to Article 29, “All people are equal in human dignity and in public rights and duties before the law, without distinction to race, origin, language, or religion” — will Kuwait’s leadership respect these words?
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Photo of the Kuwaiti Parliament from Wikimedia Commons