Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jaber and Salim

Kristin Smith Diwan links Kuwait's parliamentary issues to divisions in the royal family:
"However the election of Kuwait's most pro-government Parliament since liberation did not end the political intrigue. For the conflict between Kuwait's executive and legislative branches has been matched by the in-fighting within the ruling family itself. Since the contentious succession of 2006, rival princes have been fighting a proxy battle for influence through Kuwait's expanded private media and through the Parliament itself. This leadership struggle has stymied government-led economic diversification plans, further eroded the effectiveness of public services, and sown corruption throughout Kuwait's governing institutions.

"New evidence of the growth in corruption has been mounting for months. In August reports leaked to the media indicated that Kuwait's two largest banks were looking into the transfer of $92 million dollars into the accounts of two members of Parliament. By September, Kuwait's Public Prosecutor took the unprecedented move of opening an investigation into an ever-broadening number of politically suspicious transactions, resulting in allegations that around 16 MPs received about $350 million in bribes to vote in support of the government earlier this year. In October, the scandal spread to the Foreign Ministry on accusations by the parliamentary opposition members that the Prime Minister had diverted public funds to personal accounts abroad. This prompted the resignation of Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Salem al-Sabah, the lone minister from a rival branch of the ruling al-Sabah, who cited his unwillingness to serve in 'a government that does not carry out true reforms regarding the multi-million bank deposits.'"

The two branches of the Al Sabah royal family Diwan refers to are the Al Jaber and the Al Salim. Jaber and Salim were the two sons of Mubarak the Great, who reigned from 1896-1915 and is considered the "Father of Modern Kuwait." Jaber and Salim both briefly succeeded him as rulers, and then when Salim died in 1921 power passed to one of Jaber's sons. Power alternated more or less regularly between regularly between the two branches until 2006, when the longtime emir Jaber III of the Al Jabir died. His heir, Shaykh Saad of the Al Salim, was old and ill, and reigned for only a few days before being forced out due to his incapacitation. Thus began the reign of the current ruler, Sabah IV of the Al Jabir, who named another one of the Al Jabir as heir and a third, his nephew Nasir b. Muhammad, as prime minister.

In this way, the Al Jabir managed to monopolize the country's main executive power centers, and the idea seems current that the Al Salim have sought to avoid complete marginalization by mobilizing parliament against the monarchy. This clearly intersected with a grassroots interest in greater democracy seen throughout 2006. Although Kuwaitis had little interest in the subsequent institutional maneuvering, the corruption revelations, public sector employee dissatisfaction, and "Arab Spring" climate have converged to create a space where the opposition, latching on to the disputes among the ruling Al Sabah, is clearly hoping to push the envelope further.



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